New Info on how the brain works.

The following is taken from the above article.  It ’s long but posses some interesting questions.  I wonder if there is any correlation between how the brain responds to learning an instrument early and how it responds to learning other skills early…like how to be organized, how to plan and how to use study skills to be successful. – Clayton

In musicians who play stringed instruments, for instance, the brain areas that affect the fingers of the left hand are larger than other people’s. This effect, described in Science magazine in 1995, is strongest for the four fingers — which do the bulk of the work manipulating the strings of, say, a violin — and weakest for the thumb. The earlier in life each musician had started to play, the more distinct were the differences in those parts of the brain.

Scientists have seen evidence like this for mental, not just physical tasks. In studies with strong implications for school, Shaywitz, codirector of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, has shown that teaching can alter the brains of disabled readers. She and colleagues spent a year helping children with reading disabilities build their phonological skills. Afterward, the children’s reading improved, and fMRI pictures showed that activity in parts of their brains crucial for reading had jumped.

What does all this mean for educators? First, a caution: Neuroscientists insist there is no concrete proof that certain teaching practices are best for the brain. But we can make some inferences based on brain research, and in time our understanding will grow.

Judy Willis, a neurologist, middle school teacher, and author of several books on the subject, says educators can achieve a lot just by designing lessons that appeal to multiple senses. She suggests that teachers lead a child into a new subject through his particular strengths and interests. Once he’s engaged, a teacher can challenge him to use a different, weaker skill set for another part of the lesson, helping him develop those parts of his brain.

Shaywitz advocates personalization as a key to nurturing children’s growth. She encourages teachers to allow struggling readers, for example, to use dictation or to tell and experience stories through pictorial storyboards and videos. Reading is the bedrock of almost everything that happens in schools, but Shaywitz urges educators to recognize and reward other skills, too, as she has found that many kids with reading disabilities have a flair for the creative and the visual.

“Schools like to talk about individualizing, but it’s within very narrow parameters,” says Shaywitz. “So if we can show that children’s brains are different — that they need different nutrients, if you will — that’s a tremendous step to say, ‘It’s not trivial; they’re built differently.’”

The next step for scientists is to directly link brain changes to the broad experience of school. McCandliss is researching the difference that a year of school makes in the brains of first graders compared with peers who just missed the birthday cutoff for enrollment.

Of course, educators don’t usually have to look inside a child’s brain to see that she has learned something. But a deeper understanding of how education shapes the brain could give us new insights into what and how children can most successfully learn. Who knows: Maybe in some far-off future, we could supplement the narrow results of standardized tests with images of changes in the brain.

Element 4 – Self Assessment

“How did I do today?  What worked?  What didn’t?”  Great questions that each of us would do good to ask ourselves at the end of the day.
When we were designing the AgenDuh, Jeremy at Study Smarts insisted that this self-assessment step was an important part of the daily
wrap up for students.  Self awareness and reflection is a key piece of improving future performance that is called out as an Academic Behavior necessary for college readiness.  Students must develop the ability to reflect on what worked and what needed improvement.

Another reason for the end of the day assessment is to create a bookend to the day with the planner.  We want them to start the day with the planner and a thought about study skills and their own personal motivations and to end the day with the planner and a recap of how it went.

Some schools have found the value in getting parent and teacher initials as a way to engage parents in the process of using the planner. With the inclusion of real planning tools including chores, parents have even more reason to encourage their children to use the planner both in school and out of school.

We have a beta test site that uses a “Student Planner Assessment Sheet” to help the teacher to assess the use of the planner and to give the student feedback on improvement.

Student Planner Assessment Sheet
Student Name: ___________________

Date: __________________

5—Monthly calendar, daily planning section, and overall quality of student planner is neatly and thoroughly completed.  Each day has the date properly and prominently labeled on the appropriate pages.  It is evident that the student is applying the student planner to academic life and is using it as a tool for time management in academic, extracurricular, and family activities.

3—Only parts of the monthly calendar and daily planning section are complete.  The overall quality and neatness of the planner indicates that the student is not taking care in managing and completing the required pages.  It is evident that the student is only somewhat applying the planner to everyday life and they are not fully using it as a tool for time management in academic, extracurricular, and family activities.

1—Few, if any, parts of the monthly calendar and daily planning section are complete.  The planner is sloppily maintained and is not being used as a tool for time management.  The student should seek further instruction from a parent or teacher on planner expectations.

Score: ___________

Element 3 – TO DO List

Element 3 – TO-DO list
What’s the point of a To-Do list and why should a student planner or student agenda have one?

First – what busy adult doesn’t have a to-do list to keep track of stuff that needs to get done?  Sure there are some people that can function without any list at all, but none that I know.  Why do we think that a) students don’t need the same thing, and b) that we shouldn’t start teaching them to use a list when they are in school?

Second – there are some specific things that the list needs to be used for.  The AgenDuh includes 3 “memory joggers.”  These serve as permanent reminders to students about what needs to be on that list.  Namely they need to take daily action on upcoming tests and long-term projects.

Our Project Planning Templates included in each AgenDuh planner teaches students how to breakdown a project into manageable steps and accomplish the project by taking scheduled actions toward completion.  The TO DO section of the planner has a place to capture those steps in advance.  Students then find a place in the 15 hour schedule to get that particular action item done.

I can already hear the objections… “Come on, kids aren’t going to do that!”  Okay, so that means we don’t give them the tools or exposure on how to do it?  That makes no sense.  Will they do it on day 1?  Probably not, but over time, the tools are there in the planner and the opportunity is there…eventually, many of them will try it and once they do…they will forever know how to do it.

We also include a reminder about Chores and Errands – I don’t know about your parenting style but the war rages in our household about being a part of the team and learning to take responsibility for certain duties that were previously agreed to.  Parents love the fact that the school planner takes this little slice of the real world and incorporates it into a daily planning tool.  We are bridging the school world with the home world and that builds good will between both parties.

The entire TO-DO section of the AgenDuh Study Skills planner has been designed with an end in mind and it’s been successful in helping students become better organized for over 13 years.

Next time…self-assessment.

Element 2 – Hourly Schedule

How about turning to the Study Skills Tips in your favorite student planner. About paragraph 3 or so you will see a sentence that goes something like this… “Be sure to block off time in your schedule for study time and breaks…” Hmm…now what schedule would that be in? Obviously not the one in your “PLANNER” because it doesn’t have one. And if it does have a partial day schedule, your 15 sq. inches of assignment space just went down to about 9 sq. inches.

Student’s lives start early and go late. The AgenDUH study skills student planner has a 15-hour schedule to mirror the schedule of real life students. They appreciate seeing their day laid out in front of them. How else are they going to learn about self management unless they can get a grip on the hours in the day.

Middle and High School students have 14 – 16 hour days.  They need to start learning now how to plan their day like an adult.  Just like we don’t turn them loose in college not knowing how to balance a check book, the same thing applies for planning.  And they don’t figure this out in a class.  It needs to become a discipline that is developed and refined over time.

The AgenDuh planner does exactly this.

Element 1 – How about a full page to plan your day? Imagine that…

Every year I get several free “planners” with some company’s logo on the cover. These are throw away planners because what person with a busy life can fit a plan in such a small amount of space? And here we give kids a student planner formatted like a freebie all polished up like it’s going to really make a difference.

Sorry…on my rant again. No! Kid’s need a full page planner just like you and me! Look at a Franklin-Covey planner or a Day Timer for grownups. We have kids with poor penmanship trying to use 15 square inches of space to keep up with 6+ classes and outside activities!

Now compare those 15 square inches to the AgenDuh’s 50 square inches of planning space! Questions?

More tomorrow…

Student Planners and Study Skills

I can’t keep quite any longer.   I may be yelling into the void of cyberspace but at least I feel better when I’m done.

I’ve been watching the education business since I first started working at a local Sylvan Learning Franchise back in the early 90’s.  I’ve watched in amazement here in Texas how TEKS and the measuring stick TAKS test were implemented with the best of intention only to dump an inappropriate burden on both the schools and many of the students that just don’t test well (I was one of those kids).

What I didn’t have and what all student’s deserve is access to solid study skills.  If you check the Research page of our website, you will see that of the 5 skills that impact course achievement in college, only Organization and Planning skills and Study Skills are subject areas that can actually be taught in school.  This means that of all the things educators can do to help students be successful it’s teaching them organization and planning and study skills.

In most cases, that job is left up to individual teachers to do as part of their instructional duties.  Teachers are more than capable of doing this but what if they don’t?  What better way to impact the entire school than to roll out a campus wide, common study skills solution that gives lift to every student at the same time?   This gives the school the power to actually measure the results and determine if the solution is working or not.

Learning Study Skills is more than a one time event, these skills are developed over time and reinforced by repeative use.  In other words, they are learned through practice.  The AgenDUH by AgendaWorks and Study Smarts is the most effective, inexpensive and effective way to start building study skills in a school.

More to come on how the AgenDUH does this.