Month: February 2014

In the Head & Out of the Head Factors

When parents come in to talk about their kids and why they are struggling there are the common list of factors that are usually discussed.  Some of these include:

  • Poor phonemic awareness
  • Limited decoding skills
  • Weak fluency
  • Family predisposition toward dyslexia and/or ADHD
  • Weak attention skills
  • Weak sustained mental effort/executive functioning
  • Weak language processing skills

The list can go on easily with at least 50 more cognitive (“in the head”) variables contributing to school struggling.

We tend to focus on those factors.  We medicate, remediate and accommodate these.  Sometimes we over-focus on them.

What about the “out of the head” variables?  These are important too.

Out of the head variables include the dreadful parade of worksheets given to the kids who can’t handle them.  They also include the school’s being required to adhere to a curriculum (Common Core) that seems to be sucking the joy out of education by teaching reading in a robotic fashion with little attention paid toward literature and the sheer joy of exploring new ideas.

Data drives all.  

“Come on, kid. It’s time to get in line with the program.  We have to chart Student Growth Objectives or we will get slammed.” 

Love of learning?  Who can quantify that?  That’s so yesterday.

All of this data driven education is fine for the 60%, the ones who are on what I call the “smooth road.”  They can handle virtually all of what is given to them whether it is stultifying or not. 

For the rest, the ones on the “rougher road,” just remember it’s not all in their head.

Anger You Can’t Make Me Parts II

In a recent blog post I discussed how anger can be depleting a child from the necessary emotional fuel to manage school. Many of the typical “ADHD” style behaviors such as avoiding responsibilities, procrastinating, not sustaining mental effort, may be due, in part, to anger that remains unexpressed or misunderstood.
Children do not tend to be very clear about their anger. In fact, most of us have difficulty with anger and its expression. Most of the time, children are angry because they feel over-controlled and over-punished.

Ask yourself, are your punishments reaching their desired goals?

Punishments tend to be reactive and usually result in a great deal of resentment. They rarely succeed in helping kids become more motivated. Usually, the anger that is underneath the surface needs some type of release, some type of understanding. It is through the understanding that the anger is often dissipated.

Rather than wait for your child to come out directly and state their feelings, which is often very difficult to do, one approach that may work would be to take a few educated guesses:
• You think I am being too hard on you, huh?
• I bet you are real angry with me right now, right?
• You think I am over- controlling, right?

Watch for the child’s nonverbal reaction to see if you are on to something. If you get a lot of head nodding, you probably are hitting the mark.
You may ask, “So how do you see me as over-controlling” or “Why are you angry with me right now?”

Perhaps in the car, when is just you in your child (with no siblings), it would be a good time to give it a shot. You don’t have to agree with what the child says, but listening can have powerful effects. Releasing some of the anger may lead to less of a desire to “stick it to you” and a perception that both of you are on the same team-not opposing ones.

Take Away Point
Anger is a strong force that can undermine all of your efforts with your child. Find ways to show your child to you understand some of his/her feelings, and he may find that there is greater energy for tackling some of the more difficult tasks, like schoolwork.

Piano Playing & Learning to Write

Let’s say a child knows a few notes and chords on the piano and can play a handful of very basic songs. Would it make sense to ask him to play a challenging song that was clearly beyond his level? Or even learn the art of creating music using great software from Amidio?

I don’t think so. I think it would create undue frustration. Best to get him set up on some proper piano stools and keep him on the basics, so that in time they can approach the more difficult compositions with confidence.

Well, young Ethan, age 10, isn’t taking piano lessons, but his writing class approaches the teaching of writing very similar to the above scenario. Ethan does not really know how to write a sentence, but every day or so he is asked to write to an open-ended essay.

Heres a recent writing sample Ethan completed to a picture prompt:

On a Saturday morning a dog broke from a leash it was Jays leash then the dog ran ascrost the street tom turned in his car he hit the frie hydren water went evry were Tom got up and complained to Jay about keep your dog on the leash then the teacher go t up from the car the police offerrer gave them a ticket.

Then there is the sample from 9 year old Jake when asked to write an essay about his favorite thing

My favrit thing to do is lern about spas. Spas is one thing I love. I like spas bechas I can larn about the Sun and all of the Planets and when the end the world is end. And I am not ciding about the end of the end of the world bechas siantists have Prof of it. Bechas of the suns Pul gravity the erth will be Puld into the sun ubilleen yers. They are sum reshens I lick to larn about Spase.

(Keep in mind that the typed samples above, do not do justice to the actual samples in terms of the way the words were organized on the page. They were very hard to decipher in terms of basic legibility.)

For both of these kids Occupational Therapy (OT) has been the only recommendation to address their writing. They each have had OT.

Doing more fine-motor exercises is not where the action is for them.

What they do need is good, structured instruction that will teach them how to write a sentence. Once the skill of writing a sentence is internalized and mastered, they may be able to work at the paragraph level. The ability to write a solid paragraph takes a lot of time and practice.

Getting back to the comparison of playing music, looking at these samples above, do you really feel that just doing more of it (open-ended writing) will result in improved skill with written expression?

I dont.

Its the equivalent of learning a few simple chords on the piano and then playing a very basic song. Anything more than that is simply too frustrating resulting in a product that receives a poor grade and leaves the child unnecessarily discouraged.


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