Monday, February 23, 2015

Cultivating Cognitive Assets in Students

Over the past half-century, psychologists and neuroscientists have learned a great deal about the way our brains work. These discoveries have revolutionized our understanding about how people learn. We now know that academic achievement is greatly influenced by students’ abilities to apply thought processes in a systematic way. In education, terms often used are cognitive strategies (we use the term assets) and metacognition.

Cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists may use the term executive functions or skills to describe similar functions. For example, educators, psychologists and neuroscientists may all speak of the importance of capacities such as working memory, selective attention, and metacognition with regard to learning. All three groups of professionals are talking about skills that are linked to the brain's prefrontal region, as well as other areas of the brain depending upon the specific skill. Ongoing research continues to increase our understanding about related structures and functions.

Some students arrive at school with most of their cognitive assets (or executive functions) in place. They have the capacity to benefit from standard teaching practice if they are motivated to do so. Other students do not arrive with all these assets in place. They may start school motivated, but they can quickly lose ground as their reading, writing, and computing skills fail to develop at the prescribed rate.

One response is to require them to repeat the grade, which is both financially costly and largely ineffective, In our book, Thinking for Results: Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement by As Much as 30 Percent, we cite studies that show that students who are held back do not gain the skills they need to perform at grade level and that grade retention is highly correlated to dropping out of school.

Friday, February 13, 2015

On Valentine's Day, Love Your Heart

Maintaining a healthy Body-Brain System, including an emphasis on cardiovascular health, is essential for a long and productive life of learning and doing all the things that we love to do most. What better time than Valentine's Day weekend to celebrate the steps we can all take to adopt a cardio-protective lifestyle? The American Heart Association offers a simple prescription for heart health in the following "Simple 7" health guidelines:
  • Get active, with 30 minutes of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking, at least five times a week (60 minutes for children).
  • Control cholesterol through a healthy diet and regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Print-Rich Environments Enrich Learning

Helping young children develop literacy is a key task for parents and early childhood educators alike. We have found that one of the most effective strategies is to surround young children with visualizations of letters and words, both at home and in the classroom.

Magnetic letters, for instance, are a fun diversion for toddlers and preschoolers. If they are just learning to spell their names, they will love to pick out the letters and arrange them on a magnetic surface like a refrigerator or dry-erase board.

This is just one aspect of a print-rich environment that early childhood educators and parents should be encouraging both in a classroom environment and at home. Classrooms are particularly great places to post the letters of the alphabet, both upper- and lowercase, with corresponding pictures. These connections can be reinforced with regular group recitations (“A” is for “Apple,” “B” is for “Banana,” “C” is “Cat,” etc.).