Turns out me getting strep was quite a blessing.

I’ll admit, I caught it early, so it wasn’t that bad.  It blessed me with two days to catch up on work while sequestered with my highly contagious disease.  This morning, while living out the last 4 hours of my sentence, I started to do a little research.  Here’s what happened:

I realized the other day that my old methods for teaching weren’t going to make the cut.  I was used to my 24+ students, who would, for the most part, sit, listen, and interact with text during my reading lessons.  However, with my new group, I’m noticing quite the opposite.  They need to get out of their seats, they need to wiggle, and they need other modes of processing information than the traditional shared reading modes that I’ve been providing.

For a while, I was in denial.

I didn’t want to admit that my well-researched and well-practiced methods were not the best fit for this group, in particular. But once I put my ego to the side, I found the new challenge to be quite enticing.  I wanted to find out what exactly was inhibiting these kids from engaging with the text an engaging with me during a shared reading lesson.  One of my most frequent observations of them was that they seemed to be extremely engaged when there was a video in front of them. I know what you’re thinking: It’s animated or it’s funny… or something of that nature.  But that doesn’t seem to fully be the case.  While BrainPop! is engaging, a number of them have watched videos from LearnZillion, or even videos of me explaining concepts.  They somehow still have managed to remain engaged.

I know what you’re thinking… it must be the technology, and yes, I’m sure that’s fun for them, but these kids are digital natives.  They see computers every day, and I find it hard to believe that the fact that this is simply delivered electronically makes it more engaging.  Instead, I think there is something the video is doing–something deeper than the electrons hitting the screen–that face-to-face instruction is not.

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 7.28.22 PMAnd so here’s where I hit the books.

I started researching motivation, because I naturally thought it was it was something that was motivating them, but as I started to look more into things, I started to realize it had nothing to do with motivation. Of course, they want to learn.  Instead, it had to do with attention and processing.  While ADHD is a bit over-diagnosed, in my opinion, I think that we all, in a way, have characteristics of attention deficit, similar to how we are all learning a language when we read–just like ELLs.  Things lose our attention when they become difficult to process, and as teachers, it’s our job to constantly maintain our students’ attention.  My students have the ability to sit still.  I’ve seen it firsthand!  There are simply certain situations that do not hold their attention, causing them to wiggle and meander off-task.  In fact, after some research, catering to students with attention deficit issues merely sounds like good teaching, just like how grounding vocabulary in experiences and using a variety of modalities  helps expand an ELL’s vocabulary–and the vocabulary of all our kids.  Here’s what I found:

Kids with attention deficit issues have trouble with their working memory.  

The definition for working memory is a hard one.  From what I can find, it’s related to short-term memory, but it entails attending to tasks, as well. Regardless, there are tons of training tasks out there that you can use to train a child’s working memory.  These training tasks help with things like encoding, shifting and controlling attention, inhibition, dividing attention, maintenance, and manipulation.  Luckily, I’m working with a neuroscientist, so I’ll be looking forward to finding more about these!

The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is critical to planning, attention, and executive functioning.  

A lot of you probably already knew this.  I didn’t.  But I found this to be important because it made me then look for ways to stimulate this part of the brain.  Clearly, the videos were stimulating this part of their brain in one way or another.  They were able to process the information–both visual and auditory–to the point where they were able to remain engaged for extended periods of time.  But clearly, this wasn’t happening in my reading lesson.

Working memory seems to be rooted in visuospatial processing and phonological processing.  

This was especially interesting to me, and helped me see just why children with ADHD generally have subpar spelling skills.  It would seem that phonological patterns and sounds are difficult for them to process, while semantic units are easier for them to process. Now, it totally makes sense why some of these children are extremely bright, but have trouble communicating in written language.  Spelling is hard because something within their working memory is inhibiting them from hearing certain sounds.  Moreover, the “visuospatial scratchpad” as Baddeley and Hitch call it, is where students process form, color, spatial stimuli, and movement.  It turns out that when visual tasks are paired with spatial tasks, that there is less interference in the brain, promoting success.

Finally, I found out about a strategy for improving attention and working memory called “High Intensity Interval Training.” 

This is similar to when someone works out.  It’s a bit counterintuitive, but it turns out that building “stamina” in mindfulness and meditation to more lengthy periods of time is actually counterproductive to helping them learn to focus and refocus their attention.  By creating “High Intensity Interval Training” (HIIT) periods where students practice mindfulness or meditation for approximately a minute, it has been shown to help students retain attention for longer and refocus themselves more easily.  Eventually, these intervals can be reduced even below the original minute, remaining in intensity.  Martin Boronson, author of “One Minute Mindfulness,” notes that “the point is to learn that you can change your state of mind quickly — that you can go from where you are to peacefulness in 60 seconds or less.”

And good golly, that would be helpful for our wiggly ones to learn how to do.

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