Sometimes doing nothing is actually doing something--something good for your memory, that is. New research suggests that when trying to memorize new information, taking a break, dimming the lights and sitting quietly can reap benefits. This is known as reduced interference.
Of course, this is actually nothing new. In 1900, German psychologist Georg Elias Muller and his student Alfons Pilzecker conducted experiments on memory consolidation. When studying meaningless syllables, half the group was given a six-minute break. When tested 2.5 hours later, the group with the break remembered nearly 50% of their list, compared to 28% for the group with no break.
In the early 2000s, a study by Sergio Della Sala at the University of Edinburgh and Nelson Cowan at the University of Missouri. They followed Muller and Pilzecker's original study, but with a 10 minute break, and the participants with neurological injury (eg. stroke) improved from 14 to 49%, similar to healthy people. More impressive results came with listening to stories and answering questions. Without rest, they could only recall 7% of the facts; with rest, this jumped to 79% recall.
The process is not yet known, but generally memories, after encoding, are consolidated into long-term memory. This seems to occur during sleep, as communication between the hippocampus and the cortex build and strengthen the new neural connections for later recall. Perhaps surprisingly, Lila Davachi at New York University, in 2010, found similar neural activity during periods of wakeful rest, just lying down and letting your mind wander.
In terms of education, this could mean the difference between rapidly switching from once subject to the next, and giving students a five-minute break just to sit and contemplate and reflect on their learning (with dimmed lights), of course.
Source: David Robson, BBC Future, February 11, 2018
Zest is enthusiasm for and enjoyment of something. John Holt wrote in 1967 that since we don't don't what people need to know in the future, "we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned." This makes a lot of sense and is similar to lifelong learning.
The authors break down zest for learning into two bodies of knowledge: psychology of flourishing (psychology traits, theories of intelligence, positive psychology and psychology of motivation) and education for flourishing (purpose and pedagogy). So they cover a lot of varied but interrelated topics. This entry will be more of a brief summary of key ideas.
The psychological traits needed for zest can be summed up with the mnemonic OCEAN: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Embracing novel experiences, risk taking and taking on new challenges is a big part of zest.
Theories of intelligence related to zest are cognition, experiential learning, deliberate practice (expertise) and experience flow. Zestful learners find meaning, both in body and mind. Experiential learning began with John Dewey, Kurt Lewin and Jean Piaget, and the experiential learning cycle involves thinking, acting, experiencing and reflecting. The authors argue that the learning that happens in classrooms is as valuable as "real-life" learning. As much as teamwork and collaboration is held in high esteem in learning and society, deliberate practice is often best done alone, as in the case of elite athletes (Anders Ericsson). There is some disagreement with deliberate practice and flow, coined by Csikszentmihalyi. Angela Duckworth, who focuses on grit, explains that deliberate practice helps in preparation, but in the performance flow happens. Cal Newport and Jordan Peterson feel that flow might keep people in thrall but not actually improving. Duckworth is more positive about flow and feels grit is necessary to keep in the flow. Grit comes through four ways: 1) cultivate your interests; 2) develop a habit of daily challenge-exceeding-skill practice; 3) connect your work to a purpose beyond yourself; 4) learn to hope when all is lost!
Positive psychology studies well-being, self-actualization and flow. Similar to flow is the notion of "the zone" (Ken Robinson) when activities are "completely absorbing," A word of caution regarding the self-esteem movement, based on dispositions and character strengths, which carried to the extreme can lead to narcissism. The authors believe self-esteem based not on subjective feelings but rather the innate value and dignity of human beings is a wiser approach. Peterson and Seligman have identified 24 character strengths, based on six virtues, related to zest: 1) wisdom and knowledge; 2) courage; 3) humanity; 4) justice; 5) temperance; 6) transcendence. Carol Dweck's growth mindset also connects to this area of positive psychology; as well, maintaining optimism, physical activity and social well-being are all important aspects of zest.
The psychology of motivation is related to performance (though there are differences, of course). Performance has been turned into an equation by Campbell and Pritchard (1976):
performance = f (aptitude level x skill level x understanding of the task x choice to expend effort x choice to persist x choice of degree of effort to expend x facilitating and inhibiting conditions not under the control of the individual)
Four key factors for motivation are based on two habits:
1) performing well (feedback from good performance; expectation of good performance; goals worth pursuing) and 2) finding meaning (a sense of purpose)
Maslow (1970) identified 15 characteristics of people who are able to self-actualise. The following 8 are related to zest:
Source: Zest for Learning, Bill Lucas & Ellen Spencer, 2020
Among teens, 13 - 17, 1 in 3 struggled with anxiety, and 8.3% suffered from a severe impairment. What's the cause? Well, about 30-40% stems from genetics. Nearly 1 in 5 adults have suffered from an anxiety impairment in the past year. So, anxious parents and their reactions/behavior towards their child can create anxiety in that child. So a parent who recalls his own experience of falling off a bike will be more reluctant and fearful for his child to ride, for both the child's safety and the parent's peace of mind. Unfortunately, all this protectiveness eventually leads to a child's accumulated disability: the inability to cope, adapt and function with life skills.
An example is of a boy named Theo with separation anxiety in kindergarten, followed by future worries, which led to sleep issues in elementary grades, so parents took turns sleeping with him. Eventually, his life's needs were being catered to and met, which led to more anxiety and fragility and stress on Theo's part. One part of the solution is for both parents and child to receive treatment for anxiety disorders. There's a 77% of success in that case compare to 39% if only the child is treated. Another treatment method is progressive desensitization, whereby the child takes incremental steps to face her fear or anxiety. Instead of avoiding dogs all the time, walk pass one, then the parent should pet one. This builds the muscles of tolerating anxiety and building competency. This is somewhat similar to gradual release of responsibility: I do it, we do it, you do it.
Anxiety disorders usually appear between the ages of 6 to 10. Some big ones include sleeping, eating, using the bathroom and playdates. Developing social skills from K - 3 are critical as most anxiety disorders at age 8 - 10 stem from social problems, not academic. If kids are not able to spend time in their peer groups, they will not develop the necessary interpersonal and conflict resolution skills needed as they get older. Then in middle school and high school, with higher academic and future educational stakes, parents may continue to provide accommodations and make excuses to account for their child's lack of sleep, cleanliness, use of tech late at night, and inability to cope academically. All the while, having responsibility and the maturity to do chores would actually aid in their overall development.
Source: Ready or Not, Madeline Levine, 2020
This book is chockful of excellent ideas, strategies and techniques, as well as great stories, to help people both acquire good habits and eliminate bad ones. I will attempt to note as much as I possibly can, and relate them to education and learning.
The title of the book and the thrust of it is scaling down to the "atomic" level, or to as small steps or manageable blocks of action. The author, James Clear, talks about the difference in improving by 1% a day over a year (37.78) vs. declining by 1% over the same span (0.03). So thinking small in the short term can amount to huge gains in the future. Of course, Clear talks about people and their desire for immediate gratification (the now), which is stronger than delayed gratification (the future). Short-term gains have longer-lasting negative consequences; long-term gains give you long-lasting benefits.
The waiting game is difficult, something the author calls the Plateau of Latent Potential. An ice cube sits in a room getting ever warmer, with little change. Suddenly, at 0 degrees C, it begins to melt. If our goal is like waiting for the ice to melt, we may be sorely disappointed. Instead of goals, focus on systems. If you're a teacher, your goal is to teach students to learn the curriculum. Your system is the way you manage the class, assess students, and create engaging and effective lessons.
I like how he talks about the importance of identity, and not just processes and outcomes. If we start from the outcomes and move towards identity, we may never reach our core identity. Instead, think every time you write a paragraph, you are a writer. The process is simple: 1) decide the type of person you want to be; 2) show it with small wins. Who do you want to be? Then do the small actions that demonstrate that kind of person. Are you a teacher who believes students should have a voice and choice? Do your actions reflect that belief system?
Clear describes the four stages of habit, a feedback loop: problem (cue, craving); solution (response, reward). For example, a student gets stuck on a math problem (cue); she wants to relieve the frustration (craving); she asks to go to the washroom (response); reward (to satisfy craving and avoid work, she escapes from the problem).
How to Create a Good Habit
To break a bad habit, we do the opposite.
Law #1: Make it obvious
To begin a good habit, use the implementation intention, essentially stating specifically what you plan on doing: I will [behavior] at [time] in [location]. I will exercise for one hour at 5pm in my gym. Once this habit is established, then move on to BJ Fogg's habit stacking formula: After I [current habit], I will [new habit]. Thinking: After I hang up my coat, I will sit down and work on the morning questions. Then add another habit, beginning a cascading effect of habits. After I finished the problem, I will hand it in. Then I will read a book in my desk.
In 1936, psychologist Kurt Lewin wrote the equation, B=f (P,E), where behavior is a function of the person in their environment. A clear example is the phenomenon tested by economist Hawkins Stern in 1952, called Suggestion Impulse Buying. Essentially the more available a product or service is, the more likely it will be bought or used. More expensive brand-name items are at eye level and at the end of aisles. This makes clear sense when you realize that about 10 million out of 11 million sensory receptors are for vision. Many teachers have realized that fact and have created their classrooms as environments that accentuate their values and desired behaviors. More books means more reading. More tech means more virtual learning. More sports equipment means more active children. If you have student art or work on the walls, you're sending the message that their efforts are worthy to be displayed.
Law #2: Make it attractive
You will need to use temptation bundling, created by professor David Premack, where "more probable behaviors will reinforce less probable behaviors."
To add a habit that is not as desired, use the habit stacking + temptation bundling formula: After I [current habit], I will [habit I need]. After [habit I need], I will [habit I want].
For example, if you want to watch YouTube, but you have to do homework:
1. After I open my web browser, I will do 20 minutes of homework (need).
2. After I do the homework, I will watch 10 minutes of YouTube (want).
Another important facet is realizing the power of peer pressure from three groups: the close, the many, and the powerful. First, we tend to imitate the behaviors of those closest to us, our family or friends. Your chances of becoming obese is 57% greater if you have a friend who became obese. So a good idea is join a group where you behavior is normal and you have a commonality. Second, the influence of the many (the tribe) is seen with reviews on Amazon or Yelp. Third, we copy those who are powerful or successful.
So, how do we enjoy hard habits, things we dislike doing? One way is to shift your mindset. Instead of saying I have to go to work, say you get to go to work. A man in a wheelchair was asked how it felt to be confined to it. Instead he replied that he was liberated! Without it he would be bed-bound and stuck in his house. It's a shift in perspective, mindset, and counting your blessings.
Law # 3: Make it easy
Habits are formed when behaviors become automatic through repetition. This is known as long-term potentiation, first described by neuropsychologist Donald Hebb in 1949, known as Hebb's Law: "Neurons that fire together wire together."
The most effective form of learning is practice, not planning; action, not being in motion. A film photography class at the University of Florida was conducted in an unusual way. Half the class would be graded on quantity (100 photos an A, 90 a B, 80 a C, etc.) while the other group would be grade on "quality." They only needed to produce one photo for an A, but it had to be nearly perfect. What happened? The quantity group produced the best photos, with all their practice with lighting, composition, making mistakes, while the quality group spent all their time thinking about the best photo, but ultimately producing a mediocre one.
So practice, practice, practice to create a habit.
Reduce the friction involved in doing good habits. The Law of Least Effort states that people will choose the easiest option between two. That's why scrolling on our phones or checking email is so commonplace. It takes little to no effort. Meal delivery services reduce the friction of shopping for groceries.
So to make your habit have less friction, prime your environment. Want to draw more? Then put your pencils and paper on your desk. Want to send a card to a friend? Have a box of cards all ready for all occasions. The opposite holds true. Want to use your phone less? Put it in a different room or tell a friend to hide it for a few hours. Out of sight, out of mind.
Clear talks about decisive moments in our day, and we have so many, but each individual choice will lead to further choices (good or bad), which will ultimately decide how good our day was. So choose wisely. Also, the Two-Minute Rule is key: a new habit should take less than two minutes to do. Start tiny. To start to exercise, change into workout clothes. That's it! Next phase is to step outside, and maybe walk. Eventually, you're get to exercising three times a week. This will also prevent procrastination.
Law #4: Make it satisfying
The Cardinal rule of Behavior Change: What is immediately rewarded is repeated. What is immediately punished is avoided. For a habit to stick, you need to feel some kind of reward, however small immediately. You can move money into a money jar to save for a vacation. You can track your habit with a measurement tool as a motivator. Just be careful that you're tracking the right thing.
There's a ton more, but that's about I can manage. Plus I have to return it to the library.
Dr. Paula Kluth - Supporting Inclusion in Challenging Times & Creating Schools for All
Below is a summary of my notes and thoughts based on Dr. Kluth's keynote message on inclusion.
First of all, I immediately liked the live speech-to-text (real-time captions) on the screen. It was a perfect example of inclusion, as well as UDL (universal design learning), as all people could partake in the presentation despite any sound issues.
Right away, Dr. Kluth showed us a video of a younger musician, Feng E, and told us to remember this one thing if nothing else: remember the chorus (of teaching); after all, kids will remember the human interaction, not necessarily the technology and all the little details. Belonging and inclusion are the key. Connection and community--that’s what kids will remember in these challenging times.
In fact, we did a brief but insightful activity where the teacher participants wrote what they remembered most from their high school days. Invariably it wasn't primarily academics, like math and chemistry; instead it was the good times together with friends, lunchtimes, PE, band, clubs, and the like. (Right now I'm listening to Feng E on YouTube and he's older and even more talented. Amazing!)
Five Big Ideas:
1. Keep “doing inclusion” - We are all doing it already, so keep it up. For example, a teacher named Sarah Brady started a virtual lunch table with a few of her students twice a week on Zoom, a form of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication). Communication devices, systems, strategies and tools that replace or support natural speech are known as augmentative and alternative communication (AAC).
2. Focus on inclusion as a process
Figure out how to include all students: Over, under, around or through. Find a way, make a way.
Essentially, what the speaker was saying was do not quit until you've tried every possible avenue, and then try something else. It may take a long time to figure out the specific needs because every child is unique and different. I love when she said that often teachers will say that "it" didn't work. Dr. Kluth would reply, "What is your 'it'?" In other words, you need to keep going until you find that "it" for that particular learner.
She also gave an example of a student who she thought was her match. But then she realized that maybe we can't solve the problem, but we can get to a better problem. In other words, something closer to the finish line, an incremental improvement. After all, Rome wasn't built in a day, and some of your most challenging students are like gladiators, battling with you day in and day out. But eventually, there will be cracks in the armor and you will find a way to work alongside instead of head-to-head.
Keep in mind some of these ideas:
Learners need need supports, not just a space (like the classroom). Teachers and support staff need to try all supports, not just some, including ones that don't even exist! Technology, peer support are some ideas. Also, keep in mind that inclusion means different things for different learners, so keeping that student in the classroom but not being an active participant might be defeating the purpose. If you're stuck, brainstorm with other educators a 20 ways list. Remember, kids aren't elastic so structures need to be.
3. Provide access to academics
Dr. Kluth showed a poignant example of a student as an adult and asked how we would have done things differently had we known her future. A woman named Kailey with Down's syndrome was currently working in the government. We need to presume confidence in learners and then help find it. Kids are very complex or competent, so they deserve rich and meaningful learning opportunities. Let's encourage joyful learning and give lots of entry points for our learners, making adaptations where and when necessary. What's really fascinating is that inclusion seems to improve overall class results.
“Sometimes being realistic isn’t being realistic.” Norman Kunc
WHAT IS POSSIBLE? Don't limit yourself.
4. Focus on all
UDL helps one student but also all. Currently social-emotional learning is bieng used for all students, though previously it was for students with autism. UDL helps bring success on multiple pathways for learners.
5. Let them lead
A rising tide lifts all ships. When we give learners agency, self-determination, self-direction, and self-advocacy, choices, then that is when we will truly see success. Let kids lead!
This workshop was timely and significant for teachers and students returning to school in these unsettling times. I enjoyed the idea of meaningful texts acting as windows, mirrors or sliding glass doors. Some texts allow us to see through a window and into another world from a safe distance, yet still have empathy and connection with those they come across. Other texts act as mirrors and reflect who we are and allow us to understand ourselves better. Finally, some texts are sliding doors, which allow us to actually step into another world, experience something life-changing, and bring back that "experience" to our real world and life.
More than ever, this year's start will need to foster shared experiences through texts. With shared connections and vocabulary, a community can be formed. This can come in the form of read alouds, heart maps/identity webs or the classroom library.
For texts to be most effective, keep in mind several things. Choice is important. If you give them a focus of a topic or theme, students can choose any type of text and level--poems, novels, picture books, graphic novels--and still come together to talk and share their opinions on the common theme. Relevance is another key component. The text needs to be significant to them and engage their senses and mind.
What do we as educators want learners to become? Critical, creative problem-solvers. Instead of students simply extracting information, they need to be able to transact and interact with the text. What do they connect with? What are they interested or frustrated with? What's important to them? They need to be able to feel safe to express their opinions, ideas and viewpoints. Building the courage and the capacity to share with others is essential. Disruptive thinking interprets the book in different ways; at the book level, head, and the heart. Being able to ask questions, not just answer them, is more important.
Source: Celine Feazel, Sept. 1, 2020, Summer Institute workshop
The following is a summary or highlights of a workshop I participated in. It is based on notes taken during the workshop, so any errors will be on my part.
There are a number of technologies available for ADST learning in the classrooms.
Micro:bit and Makecode allow for science experience and robotics and can be used up to the high school level. They are powerful options as you can code and simulate experiments online. The best part is the price: less than $30.
Scratch is a powerful tool for coding. It is based on block-based coding, a great starting point for young kids, which leads into script-based coding in high school and beyond. There are numerous tutorials available and the ecosystem for Scratch is vast. The best part for a classroom is that students can share their work and other classmates can learn from and modify or "remix" their programs. Essentially, Scratch can be used in ways only limited by the understanding of the coding language and one's creativity. Cross-curricular activities include telling a story, narrating, making music, showing science and socials understanding.
Tinkercad allows for 3-D design, circuit design and coding. There is an online classroom, lesson plans and tutorials. Examples of some items include First Nations pieces, math manipulatives, geometric math shapes, gears, car wheels and PPE ear savers.
Source: Eric Bankes, Sept. 1, 2020, Summer Institute workshop
Examples of Working Memories Difficulties
Reduce Memory Load
Source: CanLearn Society - www.canlearnsociety.ca ©2013
Here is a brief summary or highlights from the book, Boy Smarts.
Guideline 1: Gender exists along a continuum from extremely feminine and extremely masculine at each end. There is more variance within a gender than between genders. Takeaway: Provide a range of activities to meet varied needs--from rambunctious, physical play to quieter activities, such as chess and reading.
Guideline 2: Boys need movement. "Movement is central to multi-sensory stimulation and mimics real-world interactions." It also helps stimulate their brains, to process information and make sense of stressful situations. Boredom is stressful for boys. Takeaway: Provide movement activity breaks, centres or group rotations, and allow fidgeting and doodling whenever possible.
Guideline 3: Testosterone must be channelled, as high levels account for increased irritability and impulsiveness, as well as rambunctiousness. However, if testosterone dips too low, they may become grumpy, nervous or bad-tempered. Takeaway: Boys need activities to channel their boisterousness, instead of being reprimanded or medicated.
Guideline 4: "Men consistently outperform women on spatial tasks, including mental rotation, which is the ability to identify how a 3-D object would appear if rotated in space. A new study shows a connection between this ability and the structure of the parietal lobe." (Brain and Cognition, Nov. 5, 2008). Takeaway: Design activities that involved opportunities for spatial and abstract reasoning, such as measurement, pre-algebra and graphing in math. Also, building models, mind-mapping and using graphic organizers are great tools to analyze information.
Source: Boy Smarts, Barry McDonald, 2005
Physiological Behavior Triggers
Sometimes behavior can be attributed to what children consume or don't consume. Sugar does not make children hyperactive. A 1994 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology clearly refuted this common belief. In a study of 5 to 7-year-old boys, parents were told they would receive large doses of sugar, and were then asked to rate their behavior. The majority of the parents rated their children as being more hyperactive, despite the fact that half of them didn't have any sugar! But based on parent expectations, they perceived their boy's behavior accordingly. However, the converse may affect behavior: low blood-glucose levels leads to an increased release of compensatory adrenaline, known as hypoglycemia. Children are hungry and angry, due to the change in glucose and adrenaline levels. In addition, artificial additives--found in cereals, chips and juices--are linked to hyperactivity. Lastly, a study in 2013, based on nearly 500 children between 7 and 9-years-old indicated that low levels of omega-3, long-chain polyunsaturated fats, were correlated with increased behavior issues, a lower reading level, and poorer memory.
Lack of Sleep
Nowadays with increased sports and activities, and a multitude of screens, children may not be getting the requisite amount of sleep necessary to feel refreshed for a school day. The recommended amount of sleep for children between the age of 6 and 13 is from 9 to 11 hours. For kids under 11, a good bedtime is around eight or nine o'clock. For teenagers, starting at ages 13 or 14, there is a phase delay, so they often sleep around eleven o'clock, despite the fact they still need at least 9 hours of sleep. The other major issue is lighting, in particular blue light, or short-wave; these light sources trick children believing it's still daytime, which inhibits the secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. Therefore, screens should be shut down completely at least one to two hours before sleep.
Many settings in a child's life can be overstimulating and overwhelming at times. This goes for a classroom and school as well. Among the bright lights, loud sounds and voices, smells, visual distractions, and technology, a classroom can be a very busy and challenging environment to successfully navigate around in. Research shows that 1 in 6 children experience auditory and tactile sensory symptoms that negatively impact their everyday life. One in 20 suffer from sensory processing disorder (SPD), a disorganization of sensory signals and responses in the brain. Children with SPD find it harder to process auditory or tactile stimuli. Some struggle with touching certain fabrics, others find lighting and sounds disturbing, and still others may not process certain sensations, such as cold and hot properly, leading to dangerous situations. Sensory objects have been known to help, but occupational therapy may be necessary.
Immature Verbal Communication Skills
These critical skills can be delayed or absent due to several reasons, such as the discouragement of outward displays of feelings and emotions. However, Ockwell-Smith believes "all behavior is communication." Therefore, instead of ignoring bad behavior, she recommends giving them attention, in order to get to the root of the problem and correct it.
Psychological Behavior Triggers
Lack of Control
There needs to be a fine balance between control and boundaries. Children need to have some sense of control over their lives (food, clothes, use of time), related to their respective ages and personal development. If they feel oppressed and resentful, they may counter with their perceived limited power: shouting, whining, violence, or tantrums. On the other hand, without boundaries and limits from a permissive parent, children will feel unsafe and insecure.
Undesirable Behavior in Others
Children model and imitate behavior around them at an early age. The famous Bobo Doll experiment in the 1960s by psychologist Albert Bandura clearly showed the powerful effects of mirroring (social learning) on children. The results showed that children were more aggressive if they witnessed an adult being aggressive. Also, boys were three times more aggressive than girls, and all children were more aggressive if they observed an adult of the same sex.
Lack of Connection
Children demand, crave and need attention, especially when they are younger. Younger kids may hit or kick if they feel you are ignoring them. Older children may not listen or stay away from home, as a subconscious way to get adult attention. Parents or other adults getting angry and giving punishments may compound the problem by weakening or even severing the connection they desire. A regular, daily check-in at least once a day is recommended to maintain a healthy connection and relationship. When a child feels loved, valued and heard, they gain a strong sense of security and belonging.
Source: Gentle Discipline, Sarah Ockwell-Smith, 2017
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.