Dr. Todd Rose advice to school teachers

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

Todd Rose at EdRev, April 16, 2011

The San Francisco Giants Ball Park stadium and field was the home on Saturday, April 16th, 2011, of EdRev, (Education Revolution) celebration. With the theme Stand Up, Speak Out this day-long event produced by Parents Education Network (PEN)  brought together the largest national gathering of students who learn differently. Their families, educators and professionals joined to support them and together they educated themselves on a variety of learning differences.  

With the Giants playing field as the backdrop, at the mid-morning point, the large number of attendees gathered in the bleachers to hear Dr. L. Todd Rose, a young and successful faculty member at Harvard. What made him unique to this learning challenged gathering was the fact that his schooling process and his learning difference, ADHD, had so hampered his ability to learn that he was a high school drop. By nineteen he had gone through twenty minimum-wage jobs, become married and fathered a son. Then eureka happened.  One day his father-in-law said to him: “You are lazy.”That statement confused Todd.  He knew he wasn’t lazy.  Something else was going on.  He decided to make notes every time he was fired.  This step brought him an important insight. The reason he got fired generated from his boredom.  As soon as he had learned the skills of the job, such as a checker at the check-out stand in the grocery store, he became bored.  Then he began acting out.  

One night he shared his insight with his father: “I know why I have trouble keeping a job.  I get bored so easily.  I need a job where everything keeps changing.”His father commented:  “Those jobs exist but you have to have an education.”  

This was the impetus Todd needed. Now, he had the drive to get his GED (high school graduation). Working fulltime, he continued taking college night courses and graduated at the top of his class with a 3.97 GPA. Next he was accepted into the doctoral program at Harvard University, followed by a post-doctoral fellowship at the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Todd is now Co-Chair of the Mind, Brain and Education Institute at Harvard University as well as being a research scientist with CAST, a non-profit organization focusing on creating next–generation learning environments that will work for everyone.  And, he is in his thirties! Todd’s personal story gave him the insight into his passion for his professional life. He remembers well how much he hated school where he was not learning anything.  Now, he has  become an outspoken advocate and scientist developing the next steps for the educational process.  

He claims there is good news!  A learning revolution is taking place in the science milieu.  At the moment it’s silent. These explorers have developed a simple equation to define their task.                                                  variability x context = outcome.   

At first I was mystified when he presented this.  What did he mean?  Here’s the answer.   

Learners today include a variety of learning differences (ADHD, dyslexia, hyperlexia, aspergers as well as learners who can digest new information as taught using the current education system.)   These differences with their special variations/characteristics define the Variability of the equation.  Context refers to what is happening in the environment in which one learns.  For Todd, he knew he was working very hard in school but his school environment was not addressing his learning needs.   

Predictable. Todd’s outcome was predictable:  boredom and then failure. With this equation as the basis of his presentation, Todd turned his attention to the students in this large crowd encouraging them to accept the fact that they can be in control by being an advocate for what the need.  How do you do it?  You have to know your own variability. Begin to document your patterns. As you start to know your variability you have control.  Then, you can find a way to put yourself in better contexts.   

And, Todd empathized:  I know there are many of you like me, smart, but unable to access the information. You need to say what you need to learn. You need to state your problem for the current education system is outdated.  And, ask the question:  Does your learning environment value curiosity as you take responsibility for shaping your behavior?    To the parents in the audience he said that he and his colleagues know now there is scientific proof that all sorts of variables exist in the brain which support the statement that learning challenged learners require different solutions.  Leave the space open for your child to discover his or her variables and value their judgments about their needs.  My colleagues and I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as “you having knowledge”. “We know absolutely for sure that we can vary what you know based on what context (environment) we provide for you in which to learn.”  

His parting comment to the students was: “ There aren’t easy answers.  However, you may have more control than you can possibly imagine.”  

Todd Rose contact info: (http://isites.harvard.edu/todd_rose).

Prior to the KeyNote address, the opening feature was a video welcome from Andres Torres, the San Francisco Giants Center-Fielder. In 2002 Andres was diagnosed with ADHD.  At the time he was struggling in the minors to become a major league baseball player. In 2007 he sought treatment, began taking medication, and learned to develop strategies and support systems to help him become a key player. Torres’ struggle to triumph was an important example to those present in the grandstand.  Torres made it clear that through struggle came the desired result.