Thursday, June 16, 2005

Busy Work

Too Much Homework = Lower Test Scores

"'Undue focus on homework as a national quick-fix, rather than a focus on issues of instructional quality and equity of access to opportunity to learn, may lead a country into wasted expenditures of time and energy,' LeTendre says."


Piles of homework, projects to finish, reading and comprehension to complete in a set time period -- sound like fun? You might think that homework only plagues children in a traditional classroom environment, however some homeschooled children also face this burden of busy work.

In my local community, homeschoolers may enroll their children into local home-based charter schools. These charters help to take off some of the burden of book keeping and lesson planning for parents. They are a great help to those who want it. Charter curriculums tend to be quite rigorous and furthermore overcompensate by giving students a workload heavy enough to break the camel's back.

Overcompensation may be taking place because of the fear that it looks like homeschoolers are not doing enough "time on learning" for their children. Knowing that you may be investigated is surely something that is on parent's minds. Charters certainly help to structure this time. However, busy work is often at the expense of the child's happiness.

As a teacher to homeschoolers, I understand the value of quality time spent on a project versus busy work. One project is loosely assigned, as student participation is always optional, per week. Students are also encouraged to tweak the assignment in anyway that they like. My flexibility as a teacher has encouraged my students to feel confident with their work. No stress, crying, or frantic parent calls -- just flexible fun and growth, that's teaching.

Kenadee, my eight-year old student, says it best, "You're the best tutor because you give us free choice!"


Homeschooling Success

Katherine Kersten: Home-schooling lets kids realize their potential

Another success for homeschoolers! Enjoy.


Go Out and Play

Author worries that 'nature-deficit disorder' in kids can lead to problems for body and soul

"Mintz acknowledges the environment in which kids are growing up has changed, as has our notion of childhood - a view captured in the title of his book, a lament about the disappearance of the Huck Finn-style childhood.

'The older notion of childhood in America was it should be a moratorium from the responsibilities of adulthood, that childhood is at best, a time of risk, experimentation and freedom,' Mintz says.

Now, childhood is overshadowed by adulthood aspirations - a time to hone skills and talents that carry children into and through their futures. Schools are rigorous, homework is demanding and whatever time is left over is scheduled to the minute."


Kudos to Mintz for saying it better than I could, "
Childhood is at best, a time of risk, experimentation and freedom." I am certainly in agreement with Mintz's view of childhood, however I also agree with Louv that outside play is an important part of development.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Hemispheric Integration and Juggling

Bright Idea: Can PE help youths with ADHD?

"Using one side of your body to move objects on the other side forces both sides of your brain to interact with each other, and something about [ADHD] appears to interfere with that process, Pedersen said.

'What I've noticed in my observations is that kids with disabilities tend to be all one-sided,' Pedersen said. 'They tend to do everything on the right side of their body with their right hand or foot and the same with the left. Kids that don't have disabilities, kids that are good at sports, they tend to be able to cross over their bodies with no problems.'

'I worked with her on a mini-trampoline,' he said. 'I'd cross her hands and hold them while she jumped up and down. Something as simple as that started building up those skills, and the interesting thing is it carried over into her class work. Her teacher told me her attention span improved and her ability to concentrate.'

We do exercises where the kids juggle beanbags with each other, which really trains the brain to integrate. Through that, we've found the kids read better, focus better and learn better."


Dr. Daniel Amen, author of "Change Your Brain: Change Your Life," hosts a Saturday morning talk
radio program where I was reminded of the benefits of "cross-training" one's brain. I'm glad to see that researchers in education are looking at this correlation, however -- they need a neuroscientist to give them a hand!

The idea (that is unmentioned in the article itself) is that doing cross-lateral exercises increases the connections in the cerebellum. In the past, it was thought that the cerebellum was only responsible for motor coordination and balance. Recently, scientists have found that the cerebellum is also responsible for processing information between the two hemispheres, which aids in cognitive functioning.

When one exercises the cerebellum, with an act like juggling, there is cross over to education because it strengthens connections that enhance cognitive abilities. Having a stronger cerebellum is like having a faster computer processor in the brain. By strengthening this cognitive muscle, our minds can perform at greater heights.

During sessions with my students, exercise is a very important part of the day. Generally, we start with jumping jacks to get the blood flowing in the body and increased oxygen to the brain. The gifts of the cerebellum have reminded me to teach them "cross-training" exercises as well. But first -- I need to learn to juggle!

You know your kid has done a good job when they can solve a Rubik's Cube with one hand while juggling two cubes in the other!


Monday, June 06, 2005

Private tutoring versus commercial learning centers

Too young for tests - but not for tutors

"But many experts in early-childhood education adamantly oppose [commercial learning center] programs. They say the push for precociousness, even by parents with the best intentions, can put too much pressure on little ones and lead to burnout. Moreover, they argue that these kinds of programs are not suitable for children so young.

'It's that notion of education as a race, and it flies in the face of what we know about early-childhood education,' said David Elkind, author of The Hurried Child and professor of child development at Tufts University. 'All the evidence we have is it doesn't work, and it can do harm.'

'I'd say we are creating robots for the next generation," said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a developmental psychologist at Temple University and coauthor of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards. Like many education experts, she said young children learned best through exploration and play.

'If parents are demanding this service, it is because the education system has scared them to death,' said Mariaemma Willis, coauthor of Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten. 'Parents are afraid their children won't be tops academically, they won't go to the best college, they won't get the best jobs. The system has convinced them to push the 'determining' age lower and lower - that is, the age at which their child's success or failure in life is determined.'


Private tutoring and commercial learning centers are not created equally. I am bothered by the fact that this article makes it seem as though they are one and the same.

Commercial learning centers, like The Score and Sylvan, appear very good on paper. They tout that their programs foster a love of learning and increased "smarts." In reality, these programs foster a love of fast paced computer games and external reward systems. In San Diego, Sylvan offers,"individualized instruction" with a 3:1 student teacher ratio using prefabricated worksheets.

These centers do amazingly well because they appear to make big promises about long-term success and motivation. They even guarantee higher test scores after a month of preparation. What most people don't know is that these centers are banking heavily on "poor retest validity" measures. Meaning, when administered a test more than once, you should expect to perform better on the second assessment. In other words, being familiar with a test is enough to make us test significantly better which makes the second assessment invalid.

Furthermore, for young children, I agree that computer time should be limited. And for any child, burnout should be avoided at all costs. I am lucky enough to work with parents who want to give their child an edge, not an anxiety disorder.

A truly individualized education, anchored in love and respect for a child's wellbeing, is what I offer to my clients. Extreme presence is my best attribute. This presence leads to intense in-the-moment analysis that aids in steering present and future interactions with each student.

As an educational theorist, my goal is to be thinking about my students. Learning centers apply current theories to masses of students. I'd rather be a creator and innovator of education than a bricklayer

Friday, June 03, 2005

Direct from the Source

The power to choose by Sophie Curzon-Siggers (a 17 year old student at MacRobertson Girls High School)

"Ask any parent why they send their child off to school every day, and most will respond without hesitation - to learn! And to socialise! Indeed, to equip them with the skills to proceed successfully into adulthood.

And yet, more often than not, these are expectations unmet by our schools, hopes for our children never realised in the current education system."


This is a wonderfully powerful article. Sophie is fully onboard with educational systems such as homeschooling and Sudbury Valley. The beauty of it all is that she's 17 years old and advocating for herself...she's certainly taught herself a valuable lesson!


Laughing and Learning

Humor encourages participation

"Some teachers might laugh at this new study, but it seems classroom levity boosts student interest and participation."


Part of being a psych major in college involved becoming a guinea pig. One of my professors studied humor and even practiced his improv at a comedy club. His tests were always difficult, however he always made them funny which definitely made them more enjoyable to take. At the end of the year we were told that he had made different tests for each section of his classes, and that he would definitely look to see if the funny tests produced any significant difference in performance (unfortunately, he moved to Chicago before releasing the results).

When working with my students, I have found that the use of humor can readily help to change a frustrated emotional state to a more positive one. Furthermore, humor is a great tool for increasing participation in my classes (I teach classes to homeschooled students) as well as letting the students know that I am a real human and not a factoid robot!