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30 Questions to Ask Your Kid Instead of “How Was Your Day?”

When I picked my son up from his first day of 4th grade, my usual (enthusiastically delivered) question of “how was your day?” was met with his usual (indifferently delivered) “fine.”

Come on! It’s the first day, for crying out loud! Give me something to work with, would you, kid?

The second day, my same question was answered, “well, no one was a jerk.”

That’s good…I guess.

I suppose the problem is my own. That question actually sucks. Far from a conversation starter, it’s uninspired, overwhelmingly open ended, and frankly, completely boring. So as an alternative, I’ve compiled a list of questions that my kid will answer with more than a single word or grunt. In fact, he debated his response to question 8 for at least half an hour over the weekend. The jury’s out until he can organize a foot race.

Questions a kid will answer at the end of a long school day:

  1. What did you eat for lunch?
  2. Did you catch anyone picking their nose?
  3. What games did you play at recess?
  4. What was the funniest thing that happened today?
  5. Did anyone do anything super nice for you?
  6. What was the nicest thing you did for someone else?
  7. Who made you smile today?
  8. Which one of your teachers would survive a zombie apocalypse? Why?
  9. What new fact did you learn today?
  10. Who brought the best food in their lunch today? What was it?
  11. What challenged you today?
  12. If school were a ride at the fair, which ride would it be? Why?
  13. What would you rate your day on a scale of 1 to 10? Why?
  14. If one of your classmates could be the teacher for the day who would you want it to be? Why?
  15. If you had the chance to be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?
  16. Did anyone push your buttons today?
  17. Who do you want to make friends with but haven’t yet? Why not?
  18. What is your teacher’s most important rule?
  19. What is the most popular thing to do at recess?
  20. Does your teacher remind you of anyone else you know? How?
  21. Tell me something you learned about a friend today.
  22. If aliens came to school and beamed up 3 kids, who do you wish they would take? Why?
  23. What is one thing you did today that was helpful?
  24. When did you feel most proud of yourself today?
  25. What rule was the hardest to follow today?
  26. What is one thing you hope to learn before the school year is over?
  27. Which person in your class is your exact opposite?
  28. Which area of your school is the most fun?
  29. Which playground skill do you plan to master this year?
  30. Does anyone in your class have a hard time following the rules?

The Stanford professor who pioneered praising kids for effort says we’ve totally missed the point

It is well known that telling a kid she is smart is wading into seriously dangerous territory.

Reams of research show that kids who are praised for being smart fixate on performance, shying away from taking risks and meeting potential failure. Kids who are praised for their efforts try harder and persist with tasks longer. These “effort” kids have a “growth mindset” marked by resilience and a thirst for mastery; the “smart” ones have a “fixed mindset” believing intelligence to be innate and not malleable.

But now, Carol Dweck, the Stanford professor of psychology who spent 40 years researching, introducing and explaining the growth mindset, is calling a big timeout.

It seems the growth mindset has run amok. Kids are being offered empty praise for just trying. Effort itself has become praise-worthy without the goal it was meant to unleash: learning. Parents tell her that they have a growth mindset, but then they react with anxiety or false affect to a child’s struggle or setback. “They need a learning reaction – ‘what did you do?’, ‘what can we do next?’” Dweck says.

Teachers say they have a “growth mindset” because not to have one would be silly. But then they fail to teach in such a way that kids can actually develop growth mindset muscles. “It was never just effort in the abstract,” Dweck tells Quartz. “Some educators are using it as a consolation play, saying things like ‘I tell all my kids to try hard’ or ‘you can do anything if you try’.”

“That’s nagging, not a growth mindset,” she says.

The key to instilling a growth mindset is teaching kids that their brains are like muscles that can be strengthened through hard work and persistence. So rather than saying “Not everybody is a good at math. Just do your best,” a teacher or parent should say “When you learn how to do a new math problem, it grows your brain.” Or instead of saying “Maybe math is not one of your strengths,” a better approach is adding “yet” to the end of the sentence: “Maybe math is not one of your strengths yet.”

The exciting part of Dweck’s mindset research is that it shows intelligence is malleable and anyone can change their mindset. She did: growing up, she was seated by IQ in her classroom (at the front) and spent most of her time trying to look smart.

“I was very invested in being smart and thought to be smart was more important than accomplishing anything in life,” she says. But her research made her realize she could take some risks and push herself to reach her potential, or she could spend all her time trying to look smart.

She and other researchers are discovering new things about mindsets. Adults with growth mindsets don’t just innately pass those on to their kids, or students, she says, something they had assumed they would. She’s also noticed that people may have a growth mindset, but a trigger that transports them to a fixed-mindset mode. For example, criticism may make a person defensive and shut down how he or she approaches learning. It turns out all of us have a bit of both mindsets, and harnessing the growth one takes work.

Researchers are also discovering just how early a fixed and growth mindset forms. Research Dweck is doing in collaboration with a longitudinal study at the University of Chicago looked at how mothers praised their babies at one, two, and three years old. They checked back with them five years later. “We found that process praise predicted the child’s mindset and desire for challenge five years later,” she says.

In a follow-up, the kids who had more early process praise—relative to person praise—sought more challenges and did better in school. “The more they had a growth mindset in 2nd grade the better they did in 4th grade and the relationship was significant,” Dweck wrote in an email. “It’s powerful.”

Dweck was alerted to things going awry when a colleague in Australia reported seeing the growth mindset being misunderstood and poorly implemented. “When she put a label on it, I saw it everywhere,” Dweck recalls.

But it didn’t deflate her (how could it, with a growth mindset?). It energized her:

I know how powerful it can be when implemented and understood correctly. Education can be very faddish but this is not a fad. It’s a basic scientific finding, I want it to be part of what we know and what we use.

https://qz.com/587811/stanford-professor-who-pioneered-praising-effort-sees-false-praise-everywhere/

Why Don’t Teachers Get Training On Mental Health Disorders?

To make it worse, most teachers are given very little training on how to detect mental health disorders in students. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that one in five children has or will have a severe mental health disorder, so the lack of training is a huge disservice to teachers who are likely to encounter these issues in their students.

In an article published by The Atlantic, Jessica Lahey combines her personal experience dealing with mental health issues in the classroom with research on how teachers might be better prepared. She points out that often teachers aren’t even aware of mental health practices used by other staff in the building where they work. She writes:

As an increasing number of schools roll out evidence-based mental-health programs such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), teaching that promotes appropriate student behavior by proactively defining, teaching, and supporting positive student conduct, and Trauma-Sensitive Schools, programs aimed at reducing the effects of trauma on children’s emotional and academic well-being, educators need to be at least minimally conversant in the terminology, methods, and thinking behind these strategies. These programs provide strategies that can be highly effective, but only if the teachers tasked with implementing them are sufficiently trained in the basics of mental-health interventions and treatment.

Some teachers may feel this type of preparation is not their job, but it is easy to confuse the symptoms of a mental health disorder with run-of-the-mill misbehavior, and how a teacher handles those situations affects the learning of every child in the classroom. If the teacher’s job is to teach the whole child, mental well-being and support is part of the description.

https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/10/19/why-dont-teachers-get-training-on-mental-health-disorders/

Why Executive Function Is A Vital Stepping-Stone For Kids’ Ability to Learn

Neuroscientists and educational psychologists are constantly learning more about how children learn and the various influences beyond IQ that affect cognition. Some research, like Carol Dweck’s on growth mindset or Angela Duckworth’s on grit, quickly became catch phrases among educators. At the same time, critics have pushed back against the notion that students underperform only because of cognitive deficits, pointing to an equally pressing need for big changes to teaching practice. Many teachers are trying to combine the research about cognitive skills with more effective teaching practices. They are finding that whether students are working on self-directed projects or worksheets, executive functioning skills are important.

Bruce Wexler has been studying executive functioning — a group of cognitive abilities crucial for managing oneself and information — for the past 20 years. He first worked with adults, but he began to wonder if he could design interventions specifically for young children to get them started down a positive path before any of the negative secondary qualities associated with under-achievement — like disengagement, low self-esteem and behavior problems — began to manifest at school.

“The data just keeps coming in about the importance of focus, self-control and working memory for learning and life,” Wexler said in an edWeb webinar. One meta-analysis of six studies found that a child’s executive functioning skills in kindergarten predicted reading and math achievement into middle school and beyond. This research is particularly important because students who have poor executive functioning skills because of trauma, poverty, or diagnosed disorders are missing out on learning. Often these children haven’t had a chance to develop executive functioning skills required for school before arriving there.

Many kinds of interventions can work to improve executive functioning, another reason researchers feel confident that this cognitive ability is not innate, but rather taught. Martial arts, yoga and exercise, among others, help improve students’ ability to focus and control themselves. Wexler helped design his own intervention, called Activate, which uses a mixture of online games and physical activities to target focus, self-control and working memory, the skills most closely linked with academic achievement.

To test whether the program works Wexler’s company, C8Sciences, took executive function tests designed by the National Institutes of Health and made them Web-based so teachers could use them in class. These tests helped Wexler’s team learn about the relative areas of cognitive weaknesses in students before using the Activate program.

“Soon it became evident that not only did we want that information, but that it was very valuable for teachers,” Wexler said. It’s often hard for a teacher to know when a student isn’t learning something because of a lack of executive functioning capacity, because it hasn’t been taught well enough, or because the student just needs more time with the content. The online diagnostic tests helped give them valuable insight to tailor their teaching.

After determining a baseline for students, Wexler’s team asked teachers to use the Activate program and then tested students after four months to see how it affected their cognitive abilities. Early tests showed the training improved working memory, but Wexler was more interested in whether the training would carry over into academic achievement, so he tested third-graders from a low-income school on reading proficiency. In the test group that used Activate, 83 percent of students reached third-grade reading proficiency, compared to 58 percent districtwide. On a first-grade math proficiency test, 92 percent of students in the test group reached proficiency, compared to 63 percent districtwide. In another first-grade class at the same school that did not receive the training, only 53 percent of students reached proficiency.

“Training these executive functions leads to improvement in achievement schools,” Wexler concluded. And the effects seemed to last through the summer. Another test showed kindergartners who received the training showed better executive functioning skills when they started first grade than their peers.

When Wexler compared the effects he was seeing to other interventions — like one-on-one tutoring, summer and after-school programming — improving executive functioning skills had a much bigger effect. “Training a whole classroom in focus, self-control, and memory has a bigger effect on math achievement than providing one-on-one tutoring,” Wexler said. Tutoring had the next strongest effect.

Executive functioning training also seems to make a difference regardless of student IQ. “Its effect was four times as big as the differences in IQ,” Wexler said. “Of course IQ is important, but executive functioning is something we can do something about.”

SCHOOLS FOCUSING ON EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING

Carlisle Area School District has taken the research on executive function and put it into practice, especially in K-5 schools where educators hope to improve these cognitive skills early so students don’t fall behind. District leaders started by educating teachers about different neural pathways and why problems with executive functioning could lead to problems with learning. In trainings, they give teachers scenarios, and ask them to identify a student’s cognitive weakness based on behavior, and then design an intervention. They also ask teachers to reflect on their own cognitive weaknesses and where they might be able to identify with a disorganized student or one who has a hard time staying on task.

Carlisle teachers also have a long list of strategies they integrate into the day with the whole class that emphasize brain breaks, exercise and routines. Additionally, some children need more help developing executive functioning, and educators differentiate strategies for them as well. They often talk to students about how their brain works and emphasize that when their “amygdala is hijacked,” they need to stop and think about the next action rather than lashing out.

STRATEGIES

  • Breathing buddies: Students lie down on the floor with a favorite stuffed animal on their chests. They slowly breathe in and out, watching the animal rise and fall. This helps students calm down when they are upset and gives them a strategy to implement when they feel themselves getting worked up.
  • Teachers keep “meta boxes” in their classrooms full of fidget toys students can use to help them pay attention when they feel like they need to move.
  • When transitioning between subjects or recess, teachers often play calming music and let only five kids in at a time to limit the chaos.
  • Many elementary school teachers have had the experience of asking a question, seeing many hands in the air, but then calling on a student who says he forgot. That could be a working memory problem. Some Carlisle teachers are proactively addressing this by letting those kids record their thoughts on paper or a device so they can contribute when they’re called on.
  • Carlisle was an early adopter of Wexler’s Activate program, too. The iPad lessons focus on typical working memory games that require students to remember the order of things, progressively getting harder as the game develops. The physical games reinforce the online learning with social interactions that help embed the memories in movement. Mass ball is one game that requires students to throw a ball in a specific sequence. Students have to juggle paying attention to the order and catching the ball.
  • Carlisle teachers also have students do a lot of balancing games, which help with executive functioning. Teachers might ask students to walk on a line balancing bean bags on their heads or to do the same walk on tiptoe. Teachers also use relay races to get kids moving, since exercise alone helps with executive functioning.

Adults have an attention span of about 12 minutes with a fully developed executive functioning system, so it’s no wonder kids can’t focus without a break. “It cannot be overemphasized that all of us need to be thinking about taking information in smaller chunks,” said Malinda Mikesell, the reading supervisor for the Carlisle Area School District. She said kids need an opportunity to do something with the information on their own before having the chance to reset for the next chunk of information.

“We have mature executive function systems as adults, so we have to be careful that we’re not putting our perspective onto very immature executive functioning systems,” Mikesell said. She also emphasized that teachers in her district have successfully involved parents in their effort to improve executive functions, educating the adults about the brain and what cognitive weaknesses look like. Often parents have noticed the same lack of short-term memory, difficulty focusing, and disorganization affecting kids at school, and are happy to learn tips to help their child.

Mikesell said Carlisle is in the early stages of evaluating data on how well their approach is working. Early data showed that kids in the Activate program were outperforming peers not in the program on reading tests. Teachers are also reporting stories about disorganized students improving, who never had what they needed for the day or activity. Now those students are able to follow the classroom routines and are benefiting from checklists and visual organizers that teachers put together to help them with their working memory weaknesses.

https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/12/13/why-executive-function-is-a-vital-stepping-stone-for-kids-ability-to-learn/