Archive for May, 2011

May 11

During EdRev at the Giants Baseball Park in April, 2011, Parents Education Network (PEN) invited two specialists in social learning, Dominique Baudry, MS.,ED and Jahna Pahl, MA to present a seminar.  Their topic, The Art of Friendship, focused on tools a youngster, especially between the ages of 8 and 13, needs to embrace to be successful in building friendships.

These skills can be very challenging for kids with learning differences and ADHD especially those who are “hard-wired” for science.  Because these kids aren’t wired to notice, accurately interpret and respond to the “soft stuff” (the social stuff) that happens between people they need to learn how to “play the social game. Effective social behavior involves thinking about another person when you are with them. It also requires paying attention to how your words and behaviors are causing the other person to respond to you.  It might mean adjusting what you are doing to keep them comfortable with you while you are together.

One student defined a friend as someone who she sees every day.  There was no mention or indication of interaction. Our seminar leaders provided this definition:  A friend is someone you have shared interests with, you do things with, someone you spend time with outside of school building shared experiences. Friends care about each others’ feelings, don’t hurt each other on purpose, and work at fixing it if feelings do get hurt.  There is a give and take in the friendship.

Warning signs:

Kids who say:  nobody talked to me at school today.  Or, are the ones who read a book for recess are giving a message. They are challenged by the prospect of connecting with others.  Our social learning specialists encourage these youngsters to see that it’s important to be near other people, and to check out what that group is doing.  Most often friendships start out as an acquaintance – maybe in a workshop, or the school room. Moving to friendship takes time, repetition, and regularity.

Advice for  teachers:

 Be sure your student knows how to be an effective listener.  Encourage them to watch the other’s body language and facial expressions while listening to the tone of voice. An effective listener speaks and responds to what the speaker is communicating through their words and through their non-verbal communication.  This way the person who is speaking feels listened to. 

Skills of conversing.  The challenge for “rigid thinkers” is learning how to be a flexible thinker, someone who can bend and shift and change their ideas. This can mean letting go of being attached to your own idea.  ‘Rigid thinkers” have few options, everything is black or white. They might even use the phrase, “that’s the rule”.   Those are the kids who struggle the most and are the ones who tend to be “over reactors”.  Teach them how to assess the importance of the issue is:  is it a big one, or a small one? Who thinks it is big or small?  Remind the student that no one really cares who wins or loses but others will remember who had the temper tantrum. 

Skills of entering a group.  Kids sometimes need to be taught the rules of how to come into a group and how to leave it. Point out that when everybody in the group is quiet and a noisy person joins them, the group will likely become annoyed.  Encourage the student to take time before approaching a group.  Figure out the group energy first. Then, help them learn how to match that energy before entering the group.  

Staying connected with a group conversation if you are not really interested can be challenging for the student.  Suggest they ask a question or make a comment. There are two kinds of questions which our speakers have named:

  • World Wonder, such as “How tall was your hotel?” World Wonder questions ask for facts about the world or the things in it. 
  • Social Wonder, such as “Did you like the place you stayed on vacation?  Or, Did you have fun?  .In other words, Social Wonder questions ask about the thoughts, feelings and experience a person has.    

Boredom:  Teach the student how to handle boredom in a class by asking an interesting question. The key is learning how to fake it, to pretend interest.  Remember, everyone experiences boring moments every day.  Our kids need to learn how to tolerate them, how to make the most of them while staying connected to the other people they are with when the boredom occurs.

Finally, I found it interesting that several kids attending this seminar had no fear of asking questions as they shared their complex challenges of making friends. 

For more information contact:   

            Dominique Baudry –  http://www.socialskillgroupwork.com

            Jahna Pahl – http://www.growingsocialskills.com

Thanks to Jahna Pahl who provided additional insight for this blog.

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May 09

Recently Parents Education Network (PEN) in San Francisco sponsored a lecture for school teachers given by Dr. Todd Rose. Dr Rose is on the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he teaches a course on Educational Neuroscience. He is also co-chair of the summer institute for Mind, Brain, and Education sponsored by Harvard.  Add to these credentials is his work as a research scientist with CAST, a nonprofit research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through a program called Universal Design for Learning.

According to the Society for Neuroscience, neuroscience is the study of the nervous system which advances the understanding of human thought, emotion, and behavior. The focus of his talk was neuroscience and its relationship to learning.  He emphatically stated new learning science information is emerging.  “We are confronting what do students need for future learning, especially those with learning differences.” 

After showing us a view of the brain networks and their broad distribution encased in our head, he cautioned that it’s not just about knowing the networks, it’s the context that’s important.  It seems that the networks are variable in all persons and surprisingly most are not relevant to learning. The context refers to what is happening in the environment in which one is learning. 

Next he added the component of working memory which is the ability of the brain to actively hold information in the mind. Without this retention complex tasks such as reasoning, comprehension and learning become next to impossible.  Again it is important to remember that working memory is very variable.  In a classroom of thirteen year olds, the variability might include a student with the working memory of an eight year old  as well as a student who has a working memory like a dolphin.   It’s no wonder that teachers are challenged as they teach! 

When the student is under stress or threat the emotional component compounds the difficulty for one’s working memory.  On the other hand, the same student when feeling confident can do many tasks. The challenge for the teacher is to leave space in the teaching process for this variability.   

If a student can’t hold a goal in mind, it means that the working memory is no longer in operation.  Kids who are not able to automate the core basic skills are sending a signal that he or she is probably a learning challenged child.  

Next Dr Rose addressed the topic of Executive Functions: His definition includes:  the ability to plan, organize, be goal directed and a self motivator.  He feels planning is a skill.  It involves working memory.  A child/student who struggles with this task needs to be given the tools to learn it.  Goals really matter.  Focus on one goal only. A secondary goal often means the child will get lost.  Teachers need to be careful not to ask more than what the child can handle to be successful. 

He re-iterated that working memory really matters now.  Adolescents are increasingly not able to organize their time because there is so much information.  They have to be taught how to use it. e.g:  Twitter and Facebook.  

These two following important skills are what teachers must take the time to teach. 

1.         Search:  It’s not simply a matter of finding the information, just as important is

discovering what to do with the information.  Kids with poor working memory get lost with the second step. 

2.         Organization:  We are past the point where kids can do stuff in their own heads.  We have to get better at cognition/working memory. Students need to learn how to better leverage  their environment and the numerous technologies. 

Other drawbacks to a good working memory.

Writing notes is a huge task for working memory.  Any kind of motion is distractible and a hindrance to working memory.

Tools that help a good working memory.

Meditation does help some.  Mindfulness exercises are important because the individual has to settle down and be quiet.  Exercise in the classroom can make a child comfortable and has a major effect on increasing the ability to succeed.  

Finally, the educational process has to improve so that new information reaches teachers and it includes details on how to use the information.  

Dr. Todd Rose can be reached at http://isites.harvard.edu/todd_rose or todd_rose@gse.harvard.edu

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May 02

During EdRev sponsored by Parents Education Network (PEN) at the Giants Baseball Park one of the seminar discussions focused attention on The Future of the Special Education Services in the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) who are transitioning from Youth to Adulthood.

The two leaders were: 

 Cecilia Dodge:  Assistant Superintendent for Special Education, San Francisco Unified School District

Juno Duenas, Executive Director, Support for Families

At the outset the speakers provided a brief outline on the approach being taken at SFUSD.  Their Special Education Services are guided by a US federal law, IDEA  (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  This legislation indicates how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to children with disabilities. It addresses the educational needs of children with disabilities from birth to age 18 or 21 in cases that involve 13 specified categories of disability. All States have elected to accept federal funding under IDEA.

Six Principles on which IDEA was built are:

  • Free and appropriate public education
  • Assessment
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP)
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
  • Requirement of parent participation
  • Procedural safeguards to ensure rights of children with disabilities and their parents will be protected.

 With this background, the speakers focused their presentation on the needs of a child who will be transitioning out of high school into the work force. They recommended that parents look at this transition process utilizing the following five-step outline.

  • What are the child’s goals for the future? 
  • What skills does the child have?  What skills do they need to pursue his or her goals?
  • What support and services will they need to pursue these goals?
  • Where should your child receive these supports and services and who should provide them?
  • How can a parent ensure that the plan for the child is being implemented?

The speakers commented that if a youth has an IEP, then, by age 16 the IEP should include transition planning.  Juno Duenas, Executive Director, Support for Families, informed us that her organization provides training for parents in the process of transition which also includes strategies to include the youth in this transition planning, ensuring the youth is leading their transition plan by providing input.

At this point, the attendees formed two groups to outline their recommendations for SFUSD. A format was provided:   How do you feel about the topic of transition? 

Some of the comments were:

Relating to the heart: 

  • Kids need to be invested in the process of transition.
  • SFUSD needs to provide employment choices for those who don’t know what they want to do. 
  • Parents, themselves, need to do goal setting.  Be a role model.  Show your child what you see doing when you are older and outline the skills you need to acquire to make that happen.
  •    Provide an environment which sets the student up for success.
    • Let the student/son or daughter  know that if they need you, you are here for them.   Give them space to explore to be sure they have a place to be happy.
    •  Remember fear goes with the unknown.  As a parent, work with your kid to expand the potential of opportunities.  Be careful not to say “no” too often. 
    • One teacher commented that she has a fear for one of her students because her student’s goal is to be a stripper.

 Relating to the Head:   What does your youth need to know and/or what additional questions do you have that would helpful to us in our planning at SFUSD?

  • Make unknown known.
  • Provide the necessary skills for what their heart wants.
    • Recommend that parents let go so their kids can have their head to explore and go for it.
    • Concerns: 

                               How will a supervisor or boss relate to our child?   Perceptions are at issue.

                               Disclosure:  How much do students need to tell future employers? 

                               If students are given a right they have a responsibility.  How do we re-enforce this?

 Relating to Hands:      What ideas do you have for SFUSD to improve the transition to adulthood?   What ideas do you have about community partners?

  • Let the students run the IEP rather than the professionals. Currently students speak the least at the IEPs. 
  • Provide means to assist the student to determine their likes and dislikes.  Students need to learn hands-on skills:  eg vocational
  • Offer more vocational and workablility opportunities.
    • Providing the family with links to organizations and services that the child is interested in.  Parents don’t have the time so school needs to do it. 
    • More mentors and, of course, a common theme, more funding
    • Develop links for networks including social networks: eg  Twitter, Facebook.

I found this seminar very useful.  As I am not involved with the school education process my only connection is through the press.  The details provided by the leaders of this seminar and the feedback from those attending has given me a different frame of reference.    

Contact Info:

            Juno Duenas,  Support for Families of Children with Disabilities (SFCD): 

                        phone:  425 282 7494, e-mail info@supportforfamilies.org

                        www.supportforfamilies.org

            Cecilia Dodge:   San Francisco Unified School District SFUSD

                        Phone:  415-379-7697, e-mail:  dodgec@sfusd.edu

Note:  Juno Duenas reviewed this blog before posting and added information to make the description more complete and accurate.  Thanks, Juno.

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