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Handwriting Blues? Hebbian learning to the rescue.

Wednesday, Jun. 28th 2017

One of the most frequently asked questions from our Seniors at this stage of the year is: ‘How can I write so many short answer and essay type questions within a short timeframe?’

The often unwanted answer is – practise. Practise. Practise and when you think you’re done, practise a little more but make it count. Make it meaningful for your brain as well as your hands and fingers. In a certain sense, one IS the extension of the other.

Simply writing tombs of straight copy from a book, is a very dull and uninteresting way of practising this vital exam skill. It can be done and often is but rarely does it last. Therefore it ceases to become practise and your frustration continues.

One of the easiest and often the most effective is what we call ‘automatic writing’. That is, you give yourself a topic you know a lot about. A topic or topics you most likely talk, read or research anyway.

The key to this practice is time. Once the topics are selected, practice begins. Making sure that your writing equipment is fully loaded, removes any daydreamy excuses to not write. Set your timer for no more than 5 minutes for the first five days. ( Believe me, if your topics are as good as you think they are, you’ll most likely want to write volumes. Stopping, rather than starting is the main concern here!). Connecting your brain and hand in this ‘effortless’ way, creates vital and new neurological connections and like all learning, the brain just loves repetition. Krebs law is then able to be used to your advantage.

Another important ke,y is to restrict yourself to increasing daily writing time by no more than 5 minutes weekly, i.e. by the fourth week, you should be writing no more than 20 minutes. After four weeks, the brain needs only twice weekly ‘top ups’ of 20 minutes each in order to further imbed the new skill.

Senior Subject Choices

Tuesday, Jun. 20th 2017

This time of the year can often be problematic and very confusing for Year 10 students, as they make major decisions about subject choices for the Higher School Certificate. Their life choices beyond school, are often dependant on the subject choices made at this critical time.

Often times there is a cacophony of well-meaning voices, advocating a particular range of subjects that they feel would suit the student. Teachers, parents, curriculum advisors, grandparents and friends, can add to the often dischordant chorus of well-intentioned information. Information they feel can assist the student make the ‘right’ choice for life post-school.

Many of these opinions are valid. Some, however, have very little to do with the skills, talents and personality of the student and everything to do with projecting the ancient patterning we all possess.

As we are all aware, many of the careers and jobs these students will undertake have yet to be created!

So, how on earth can a 16 year old get it ‘right’? How can they reverse-engineer a career path that satisfies tertiary requirements and maintains their sanity? Many students can become stress-bound slaves to subjects and content that is not only meaningless and soon forgotten but can be anathema to them entering the adult world of tertiary and other trainings.

Left-brain rationalising will usually create only more of the same. That is, constant rationalising of subjects, choices and courses, that are often far removed from the students intrinsic skills, talents and individual personalities.

Of course, many subject choices are dictated by tertiary institutions themselves. Many tertiary courses dictate a certain level of performance in specific courses and so they should. Future medical students require a load that is predominantly Science-based. Engineering courses, the same.

One strategy we have successfully implemented for many years, is the ‘one-for-me’ subject choice. Simply, this requires the student to honestly evaluate their own individual personality, interests and passions, then choose ONE subject that matches this very personal criteria. This can often provide a much needed respite from the academic rigour of many other subjects. Working with the student’s inherent interests can greatly assist them to balance their often crowded timetable, frequently presenting them with a course that ‘lights them up with ease’. A course where preparation is peppered with genuine enthusiasm. A course where results often reflect their passion. A match where subject, teacher, skills and content often provide an oasis of ease. A regularly timetabled time where they immerse themselves in content that is deeply meaningful and often requires significantly less preparation and ‘swatting’ time. A course that can often become a vital catalyst for success in other subject choices, as it not only reduces stress levels but the frequently positive results and feedback, can positively influence performance in other courses.

Something worth adding to the mix this term, as these major decisions are made.

 

The Science of Smelling

Monday, May. 22nd 2017

The olfactory senses are part of the body’s limbic system, which is responsible for memory, emotions, and behavior. When a scent is inhaled, messages are sent to parts of the brain that are a part of the limbic system and chemicals that have direct effects on mood are released such as serotonin.

The limbic system is also responsible for feeling pleasure, and the “reward path” in the brain is also a part of the limbic system. Activating this system prior to and during  study can have significant benefits for performance.

There is now a large body of evidence to suggest that scents such as rosemary and bergamot, applied or inhaled during exam preparation and then applied under the nostrils prior to exams can yield significantly better results.

While nothing replaces formal study techniques and procedures, having an ally from a plant source can significantly add to a student’s academic ‘toolbox’.

Try it and see! 🙂

Does your child really need a Fidget Spinner?

Tuesday, May. 16th 2017

Our brain has the magical ability to rewire itself. We live in the world that offers our brains instant gratification, which works just like a drug. The more instant gratification we offer our brains, the more our brains crave it.

With the best of intentions, we have rewired the brains of this entire generation of children to expect instant gratification, by offering them IPads, videogames, and depriving their brains of opportunities for boredom, responsibilities, and limits. Children come to school emotionally unavailable to learn. Their brains are unable to function under lower levels of stimulation, and expect special effects at all times. Unfortunately, real life can’t offer their brains what we promised; compared to the stimulation offered by the screens, real life is boring. Life requires the brain to work through boredom, which these children can’t tolerate so they become fidgety the moment their brains perceive even minor “boredom”.

With the invention of the spinner fidgets, we take their brains to the next level of instant gratification. Moreover, again and again, we buy our children what they want, the moment they want it, without thinking if it is truly what they need. Now, they bring the spinners into the classroom; continuing to stimulate their brains all day long with high levels of spinning stimulation. The more they stimulate their brains, the more they will crave for it, the less delayed gratification they will have, the less emotionally available for learning they will be.

There are a few kids that do require fidgets. However, even for these kids, the fidgets are just a quick fix. These children require a much deeper approach to help them concentrate.  In many cases, if a child needs fidgets, it means that his brain is overly stimulated and he actually needs help calming his brain down rather than further stimulating it. Here are some suggestions that will minimize your child’s need for fidgeting:

  • Teach children that “boredom” is a normal state of human emotions. Help children to recognize the signs of boredom and help them develop functional strategies to deal with it. Don’t take the responsibility of constantly entertaining your kids, as they need to learn to self-regulate through boredom.
  • Put a conscious effort to train your child’s delayed gratification skills. Avoid using technological babysitters in cars and restaurants and train his ability to just sit and wait.  Teach your child to sit at a table until everyone finishes eating.  Limit snacking between meals.
  • Limit your child’s access to technology. In addition, unplug from your phone and share quality time with your child.
  • Offer your child opportunities to spend time outdoors, especially in green space.

Five strategies to end the homework struggle.

Friday, Apr. 28th 2017

Practice empathy

Put yourself in your children’s shoes. Homework, when coupled with overcoming dyslexia, is no small task for either child or parent. Play anthropologist for an hour and pretend you’re simply at the homework table to observe and witness a marvel of human invention, homework.

Welcome mistakes as teachable moments

Trying something and failing gives us valuable information. Mistakes are often how we learn. It helps develop resilience, something successful dyslexics have mastered.

Customise techniques for your child

Listening and asking questions about your child’s experience will provide valuable insight into their behaviours and interests which can help you develop appropriate incentives based on knowing your child’s motivations.

Do your homework, too

Prepare for the homework session by checking in ahead of time on the subject matter. This especially helpful for math assignments. YouTube is a wonderful resource for a three minute refresher or intro to the latest curriculum.

Develop multi-sensory strategies

Help boost your child’s homework stamina by bringing in other sensory outlets.

For example, offering your child a piece of gum to chew, the option to sit on a yoga ball, or to stand rather than sitting in a chair. Invite your child to pace around the room while brainstorming aloud for a writing assignment, or provide a rubber band they can fidget with to facilitate an outlet for their need to move. Do some silly stretches, think calisthenics, with an emphasis on crossing midline to help bilateral integration, which means using both sides of the body at the same time.

Are Brain Breaks important?

Tuesday, Mar. 14th 2017

“My brain hurts”, the student exclaims as he walks away from his homework assignment. ‘I can’t do any more’. ‘Nothing else will fit into my head!’

This is an all too common phenomena, often repeated daily in most homes and classrooms. The words might vary but the intent is always the same – they’ve had enough! The student feels ‘full to the brim’. Nothing much is ‘going in’ and what it already in there besides, seems at capacity.

Adults are the same. How often have we been working on a ‘cerebral’ task, one requiring consistent and persistent effort? A task that, at times, seems like it will never be completed, despite our conscious and diligent efforts to complete it.

Our brains, like the rest of our bodies, are wonderful creations. Seemingly working tirelessly each day. Helping us shape and create our lives in the direction that we say we want. Moving us forward, towards whatever goals we have prioritised; finishing that assignment, completing the crossword, one more number in the Sudoku…

Often, however, it’s our focused intensity that makes us tired. The hard-working neurons in our brains, seemingly stop ‘firing’ and we ‘hit the wall’. Our ‘thinking brain’ stops delivering us the rapid-fire solutions to our tasks. It is at this time, that a suitable ‘brain break’, can be the perfect solution that re-ignites our efforts and lead us towards completing the task. Usually more efficiently than we started.

‘Brain breaks’ can take many forms, from standing up and walking to another room; drinking a glass of water, doing some simple yoga stretches or even something a little more formal, like putting a golf ball on the carpet or even attempting to organise our desk. The most effective breaks are those that involve moving the body and creating a focus that is demonstrably different from the task at hand. Using modern devices such as phones and laptops to time the break can make it even more effective.

So, the next time you hear your student lamenting about their ‘brain full’ gauge, experiment with some brain break strategies and observe the difference in productivity.

 

 

Learning Styles Explained…

Wednesday, Mar. 1st 2017

Each of us acquire information in a variety of ways. It is said, that through the five senses, the average person, takes in 2,000,000 bits of information per second. Far too much information for us to manage on a moment by moment basis. The notion further states that our conscious mind can only process 7+/-2* chunks of information per second which equates to approximately 134 bits per second.

It doesn’t take a math degree, to see that our fantastic senses make available far more information than the conscious mind can usefully cope with – so what happens to the rest? It is said, that it passes through our ‘filtering system’. This system deletes, distorts, generalises, etc the information and chunks it into smaller pieces of information that we see as ‘useful’. Each of us also have ‘preferences’ as to how WE, as individuals, learn, process and retain the information in our lives.

Knowing these preferences and matching them with specific and individual learning strategies, can make a HUGE difference to students’ learning outcomes.

Below is a very brief introduction to some of these preferential learnings styles.

 Visual/Verbal

This type of learner does best when they have the opportunity to both listen to and look at the information. They like to look and speak about the information. For them, it is useful to take the time to explain things verbally and to back up that information with visual examples.

 Auditory/Verbal?

An auditory and verbal learner learns best by listening and talking through problems. In order for this type of learner to be successful, they need to be able talk about their ideas and work through what they are learning. They learn through hearing things, but they are also good at writing essays and short answer responses.

 Tactile/Kinesthetic

The tactile and kinesthetic learner learns best by doing. This student may come across as having nervous energy, but it is just how they process information. They are not being disrespectful if they fidget while listening or learning.

Knowing some of this information and backing it up with appropriate learnings strategies and techniques, helps us to accelerate the learning process.

If you are curious as to how your child best learns, book your assessment today.