Digitally Savvy Young Children

By Deborah Williams

Today’s preschoolers don’t know a world without electronic media.  Understandably, they are drawn to tablets, smart phones, and computers.  As a matter of fact, much software and apps are devoted to this group.  In a recent NPR interview with Eric Westervelt, Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, explains that, while he is not completely against digital education tool for young children,  young children need appropriate ones.  He is concerned, however, “that Americans  are overcharging their infants’ developing brains.”

Dr. Christakis explained that the overstimulation of the brain is caused by fast paced media.  Young children are not learning the way previous generations did.  Previous generations played with things like blocks that allowed them to “interact with the environment and with adults.”  Those children learned in real time with activities that often are displaced when young children engage in digital activities.  He argues that today’s fast paced digital interactions are so fast that it taxes the young child’s brain.  “Watching such fast-paced programs diminishes what we call ‘executive function’ immediately afterwards.  It tires the mind out and makes it not function as well immediately after viewing it.”

So, what are some of these real time activities?  Dr. Christakis explained that playing with blocks, drawing, reading are examples.  The results of his randomized study of 200 children from a low-income environment who engaged with various forms of block play: stack the blocks, sort the blocks, divide the blocks by color, etc.  He found that those who engaged in block play scored “slightly above average and significantly and clinically different from the control group” in language development.

Topics: Child Development, Parenting | No Comments »

Getting Kids to Read More

By Deborah Williams

Parents know how important reading is to their children’s academic achievement, but sometimes, it is quite a challenge, especially as the children get older.  Writing for The Boston Globe, Ami Albernaz explains that the results from a report from Scholastic, a publishing company for children’s books, might help parents to intervene more effectively to get their children to read more.

The results of the 2014 biannual Kids & Family Reading Report are based on a survey of more than 2,500 parents and children.  Among its findings are the following:

Even though parents and children acknowledge the importance of reading, children spend more time viewing screens:

Fortunately, some screen time can enhance a child’s reading skills.  Assistant professor of early childhood education at the University of Massachusetts Boston, Lianna Pizzo explains, “Searching the Web and being online still give kids practice reading—they’re part of a broader scope of reading.”  She further explained that reading many kinds of writing is useful in helping children to compare and use those sources.

The report suggests the following ways to help parents to foster more reading by their children:

Topics: Lifelong Learning, Parenting | No Comments »

Keys to Reading Well

By Deborah Williams

Educators often identify students early who will be proficient readers and who will have reading difficulties, but specific information about how students learn to read eludes them.  Having information like that could offer clues about precise interventions that could help weaker students become better readers.  Writing for The New Yorker, psychology and science blogger Maria Konnikova reports on a study led by Fumiko Hoeft, a cognitive neuroscientist and psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco.

She and her colleagues studied five- and six-year old children for three years to learn where reading ability originates.   The researchers performed brain scans, surveyed the parents, and tested the children on general cognitive ability , and several other factors (e.g. how well they followed directions and how well they expressed themselves).  The children were scanned and tested again on reading and phonological tests three years later.

Hoeft and her team found one consistent predictor of reading ability:  white matter in the brain.  More precisely, it was not the amount of white matter that a child had when he or she arrived in kindergarten; it was the change in the amount of white matter between kindergarten and third grade.  White matter is the part of the brain that houses the “neural highway” of electrical signals.  These signals allow for “communication between the different parts of the brain:  you see something, you give it meaning, you interpret that meaning.”  Hoeft saw an increase in the area that is “central in phonological processing, speech, and reading.”  It seems that if the increase does not happen at a certain time in the child’s life, she or he will have difficulty making meaning of letters that form words.  She points to “the home environment, the school environment, the kind of reading instruction they’re getting” between kindergarten and third grade.

Hoeft believes that those three years must be established to develop executive function in the brain by using self-regulation instruction beginning in kindergarten.  She explains,   “That might mean that, in the earliest stages, we need to pay attention to that executive function,” she says. “We need to start not just giving flashcards, letters, and sounds the way we now do, but, especially if we know someone might be a problem reader, look at these other skills, at cognitive control and self-regulation.”

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Improving the Retention of New Vocabulary

By Deborah Williams

The results of a recent study suggest that there is a better way to remember things like new vocabulary than the widely-used rote memorization.  An article on the Science Daily website reports that scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany completed a study of how people learn vocabulary from another language.

The researchers found that people are more likely to remember new vocabulary if they engage more of the senses.  They conclude that  use of the motor system is important for learning.  Actually, the article reveals, “Learning methods that involve several senses, and in particular those that use gestures, are therefore superior to those based only on listening or reading.”  Educators are more likely to help their students learn new vocabulary if new words are presented with gestures; however, students could improve retention if they relate new vocabulary to an image and/or a gesture.  This could be a useful study tool for students.

Parents of young children might help their young ones to acquire more vocabulary if they present new words while using as many senses as possible.  For example, when presenting a food such as “banana,” the parent could show a picture at the minimum, but letting the child see an actual banana is better.  Eating one engages even more of the child’s senses.

Topics: Lifelong Learning | No Comments »

The Right Time to Take the SAT

By Deborah Williams

Traditionally, high school juniors take the SAT for the first time at the beginning of the second semester.  A major reason for this is because they have had enough math instruction to tackle that part of the test.  Many will take the test at least one more time, and they typically see an increase in their scores.  There is some disagreement, however, about the best time to take the SAT.  Writing for the Education Life column of The New York Times, Laura Pappano reports that the recommendations are varied and inconclusive.

Some advise that to be competitive, students should take the test in middle school.  some schools like those in one Long Island, New York school district have SAT words and their definitions “at all elementary and middle schools.  Even kindergarteners draw the meanings of the “word of the week” in their journals.  Administrators believe that early instruction in SAT vocabulary should make students so comfortable that their anxiety about taking the test should diminish.  The school officials believe that this early intervention makes their students more competitive.

Most advisers seem to discourage taking the SAT early.  Even the Long Island officials do not advocate that their students take the test in middle school.  Others acknowledge that it is not easy to do well that early because students have not had enough math instruction.  Even though scores for tests taken before high school are taken out of student records, officials fear that a poor performance might make students even more anxious when they take the real test—or, worse yet, they might not take the test at all.

So, how should students prepare for  this test?  With the new SAT redesign coming in 2016, one adviser suggests that current tenth graders should think about taking the old test this spring and in the fall since there are no prep materials available for the new SAT.  Current ninth graders might consider taking the ACT, which will change as well—though not as drastically as the SAT redesign.  The PAT is another option.  One adviser suggests that freshmen take it and then take it again in their sophomore year.

View this video for suggestions about when to take this test: :

Topics: College Preparation and Advice | No Comments »

Snow Days and the Disadvantaged

By Deborah Williams

Many students in parts of the United States are missing many days of school due to snow.  While this is a welcome interruption for most of those students (and their teachers), an article by Matt Collette on The Hechinger Report website reports that it has serious ramifications for some students.  Too many snow days “are most harmful to low-income students and their families, who education experts say are already more likely to be behind academically and rely more on the social services public school provide.”

The following services or outcomes are affected when low-income students miss too many days from school due to snow:

  1. Widening of academic achievement gaps
  2. Elimination of two meals per day
  3. Lack of adequate heat
  4. Supervised childcare during and after school hours

School districts across the country are doing what they can to help these students to keep up—or not lose more ground:  virtual snow makeup days, texting students, etc.

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

College Graduates Guaranteed Minimum Salaries

By Deborah Williams

Almost everyone agrees that the rising cost of college  tuition is of great concern for most American families.  Well, a new program in Michigan is creating quite a buzz  as a way for students to handle their student loans.  An article in the USA Today reports that this program guarantees “every graduate would make more than $37,000 or get some or all student loans reimbursed.”  The program is not new.  It has been used for years at Yale Law School and for seminary and social work degrees.

Made possible by the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, the program is made available when colleges take out policies on a certain number of students.  Repayment at Adrian College in Michigan would be based on the following income levels:

Topics: College Preparation and Advice, Education Policies and News | No Comments »

Personality vs. Intellect

By Deborah Williams

The results of a new study shed light on the reason that people who are of average intellect become successful.  An article on the Science Daily website reports on the findings of Dr. Arthur Poropat from Griffith’s School of Applied Psychology.  Dr. Poropat reviewed the fundamental personality factors—Conscientiousness,   Openness, Agreeableness, Emotional Stability, and Extraversion—along with academic performance.   Dr. Poropat’s review showed that “Conscientiousness and Openness have the biggest influence on academic success.”

Because of this outcome, Dr. Poropat advises educational institutions to shift their focus from students’ intellect and to focus on their personalities.  He explains, “In practical terms, the amount of effort students are prepared to put in, and where that effort is focused, is at least as important as whether the students are smart.  And a student with the most helpful personality will score a full grade higher than an average student in this regard.”

This is a departure from the previous notion that if you are smart, you will do well in school.  Poropat found that students with certain personality traits are the most successful.  Parents and educators can improve students’ capacity to learn by teaching certain aspects of Conscientiousness and Openness.

Topics: Lifelong Learning | No Comments »

Getting Kids to Read on Their Own

By Deborah Williams

One of the more troubling truths for educators—and parents—is that most children do not read a book just for fun.  Motoko Rich, writer for The New York Times, explains, “In a 2014 survey of just over 1,000 children ages 6 to 17, only 31 percent said they read a book for fun almost daily, down from 37 percent four years ago.”

So, what factors contribute to more leisure reading?  Researchers found some interesting patterns among the students who do read on their own:

When students begin to read by themselves, many parents stop reading aloud to their children.  However, “reading aloud through elementary school seemed to be connected to a love of reading generally.  According to the report, 41 percent of frequent readers ages 6 to 10 were read aloud to at home, while only 13 percent of infrequent readers were being read to.”

Parents can help foster a love of reading by reading aloud to their children through elementary school. a recent report published by YouGov, a market research firm, looked at factors that predict future interest in leisure reading.  “Kristen Harmeling, a partner at YouGov who worked on the report, said that children in the survey frequently cited reading aloud as a special bonding time with their parents.”

Adolescent students are more likely to read on their own if they have time at school for reading a book that they chose.

Topics: Education Policies and News, Motivation and Self Improvement | No Comments »

Master Civics to Graduate

By Deborah Williams

Many stakeholders have pushed for more civics education, and the state of Arizona has responded to the call by becoming “the first state in the nation…to enact a law requiring high school students to pass the U. S. citizenship test on civics before graduation.”  Bob Christie, writer for The Huffington Post, reports that students must  correctly answer 60 out of 100 questions that are the same as those on the civics portion of the test that new citizens have to pass.  The Joe Foss Institute of Arizona is leading the effort to have all 50 states adopt this test by 2017.

This measure inspires both criticism and acceptance.  Some critics believe that it relies on memorization, and that does not engage students in civics.  Proponents believe that this is a good way to ensure that students have a basic knowledge of government.

What kind of questions are on the Civics (History and Government) Questions for the Naturalization Test?  Try a few of these questions from the test (Answers appear at the end.):

  1. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
  2. What are two rights in the Declaration of Independence?
  3. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
  4. How many U.S. Senators are there?
  5. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?

Topics: Education Policies and News | No Comments »

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