Showing posts with tag behavior Show all posts >
Think back to your grade school days. Did you ever experience a class where a bully ruled the roost? Were you ever bullied yourself? Did you ever have a teacher who frightened you or who made you feel bad for underperforming? Or was there simply a disruptive class clown who constantly broke the classroom rhythm the teacher was trying so hard to create?
To varying degrees, all of the above situations can create what we might consider an unsafe learning environment. The teacher must take unquestionable ownership of the classroom, but do so in a positive, caring, constructive manner. The class succeeds or fails on his or her decisions and management of the entire learning experience.
Why is managing that classroom and creating that safe environment where learning can happen so essential? In her article on the value of safe learning environments, Lora Desautels, Ph.D., reminds us that during adolescence, the part of the brain that controls emotional responses—the amygdala—develops faster than other centers of the brain while the prefrontal cortex, a center for logical thought and rational response, develops later. Thus, our students are more effectively wired for emotion than logic. Their systems are primed to react to situations with feelings and they have not yet fully developed the ability to apply logical thinking to keep those feelings in check.
It follows that the stimuli within and surrounding the learning environment can have great effects on these emotional responses and can serve to either support or impair the learning process. The bully, the clown, and the teacher can all have a profound effect on how well a student learns.
So what can we as educators do to bring down the levels of stress in our classrooms and make sure that our learning environments are safe places where optimal learning can take place? How can we create spaces that keep the emotional responses as positive and free of stress and anxiety as possible so that we can most effectively engage fresh young minds?
Rebecca Alber has written a wonderful list of twenty ways to create a safe learning environment for Edutopia, which I highly recommend. Her advice for educators includes building community, setting clear boundaries, smiling and laughing a lot, and getting to know each individual student, as well as allowing them to get to know something personal about you. She says we should sit with our students. We should keep our expectations for student performance and behavior high. And we should incorporate art and music into the day.
I agree with Alber’s top twenty. I find it wonderful that she strikes a balance between creating a space that is fun and welcoming and full of laughter, but also one where expectations are set and failures become learning opportunities. All of them can do wonders when it comes to creating a space where students can let go of their stresses and anxieties and free their minds to absorb all the wonderful learning we have in store for them.
In the end, the responsibility for implementing these kinds of principles and removing the stressors that can impair learning lie with us, the educators. Creating that safe learning environment is a multifaceted challenge that, when done well, allows students to flourish.
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Isaac Asimov said, “The human brain…is the most complicated organization of matter that we know.”[i] And it’s true. Our amazing brains are both a product of biological evolution and a reflection of the world around us.
First, the stuff of the brain – grey matter, white matter, fluids, blood vessels – is made up of nutrients from the plants and animals we consume from the world around us.
Second, in terms of brain function, our interaction with our environment has a major impact on both brain structure and brain health. Extensive and ongoing research into “brain plasticity” has proven that everything we experience, everything we see or touch or hear, creates a perception that changes the wiring of the brain itself.
Given that our brains are a product of evolution (which is outside of our control) and environment (which is only partially under our control, and often less than ideal), how can we keep our brains as healthy as possible, from birth all the way through old age?
The pathway to optimal brain health comes from the small choices we make every day. By making healthy choices on a regular basis, and particularly by turning those choices into habits, we can help our brains stay healthy while also helping the young people in our lives learn positive self-care skills that can last a lifetime.
Here are three important steps everyone can take toward optimal brain health:
The brain might be the most complicated organization of matter we know of, but that doesn’t make it difficult to keep healthy. By learning to choose the right foods, the right activities, and the right input, we can each take control – at any age – of building the brains we want.
Children can begin learning to make good choices from the earliest ages, but it is up to parents and teachers to model these healthy habits of mind.
Yes, that means you.
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Many people believe that youth who are aggressive and violent towards other children have low self-esteem. Youth programs are often designed to boost self-esteem in kids at risk. Does the research support this belief? A team of researchers designed a study on young teens to examine their responses to feeling shame.
The subjects were asked to compete in an easy, timed task against a competitor. Some of the youth experienced shame when they were shown a fake list of competitors’ times and saw their own times at the bottom of the list. The group that did not experience shame was not shown competitors’ times or their own rank. Then all participants were given an opportunity to act aggressively by blasting their opponent with loud noise through headphones. All participants also completed self report measures of narcissism (grandiose views of self, inflated sense of entitlement) and self-esteem a few weeks prior to the competition.
The results of this experiment showed no evidence that the kids with low self-esteem were more aggressive. Instead, kids with narcissistic traits were most likely to react to shame with aggression. This is interesting to think about from the perspective of educators who want to support learning through optimizing a collaborative atmosphere as opposed to promoting a highly competitive environment.
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For most of us, interpreting and expressing emotion is something deeply instinctive. But what happens when that ability to express ourselves or read another’s emotions goes awry? Imagine what can happen to a student’s classroom experience if they can’t make sense of something as simple as their teacher’s facial expression. In the past, these kinds of students have been seen as having behavior problems. So how can we help them succeed?
Research has shown that people with traumatic brain injuries often experience this same inability to interpret and respond to emotions, a condition called "affect recognition."
Barry Willer, professor of psychiatry and specialist in TBI (traumatic brain injury) of the University of Buffalo, tells the story of a man and his wife who came into his office with a problem. The woman had experienced a mild traumatic brain injury. While her husband was supporting her recovery as best he could, she consistently described his attitude as “indifferent. “ He was frustrated, to say the least.
“His wife didn’t know she wasn’t recognizing his emotions,” said Willer, recounting the story in a 2009 interview with Insciences Journal , “and he had no idea what was going on.”
This couple is by no means alone. Nearly fifty percent of all traumatic brain injuries result in problems interpreting and expressing emotion.
As educators, being able to connect with our students at an emotional level is essential to classroom success. Without that connection, the learning process can quite easily come to a halt. Thankfully, Willer has demonstrated that there is hope for this population, and that the human brain is quite capable of re-learning how to understand facial expressions and use that information to interpret emotion.
Willer and his team have developed two specific interventions that have shown positive results:
"What was so exciting about our preliminary study," says Willer, "is that someone may lose the ability to recognize emotions, but even 10 years later, they can re–learn the skill if given the right assistance."
As it turns out, the only emotion that traumatic brain injuries do not erase is "happy," which is very hard–wired and has an extensive amount of "redundant circuitry." Says Willer, "I don’t know how that happened, but we all can be glad it did."
For further reading: Milders, M., Fuchs, S., & Crawford, J. R. Neuropsychological impairments and changes in emotional and social behaviour following severe traumatic brain injury. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 25, 2003. 157-172.
What factors will ultimately determine a child’s ability to succeed in life? While measures like socioeconomic status might allow a child to start off on the right foot, current research is delving into the nature of temperament and how that affects a person’s ability to successfully navigate life’s many challenges. If temperament is pre-determined, there’s not much a parent can do, but if nurture plays a role, then how can parents help their child have the best quality of life?
While temperament has long been thought of as something innate, recent research has demonstrated that only some aspects are genetic, while others are environmental.
On the genetic side, as any parent will agree, much of an individual’s personality manifests very early on in the infant’s life. Parents with more than one child often note that one of their children seems easygoing from day one, but another child is demanding. One child may be outgoing and social, while their sibling may be more shy or withdrawn.
As we consider how these seemingly innate traits develop, we cannot ignore the fact that the environment – from parental attention to nutrition – exerts a strong influence on a child’s personality development. Current research tells us that a pregnant mother’s iron levels can affect the disposition of her child. Emerging data gleaned from animal research indicates that the quality of maternal parenting styles, such as the way a mother nurses her infants or the amount of maternal grooming, affects the temperament of her offspring.
An interesting question arises: How do these early manifestations play out as the child matures? For example, will an infant who is able to self-calm herself in stressful situations by turning away from aversive stimuli or sucking her thumb, for example, continue to exhibit self-regulatory behaviors as she gets older?
Considering the interplay between innate versus cultivated aspects of temperament, what actions can a parent take to affect the development of a child’s personality to give that child the best chance at personal satisfaction, academic achievement and successful relationships later in life? As the above research – and our own parental gut instincts – suggest, we can set them up by providing:
With parents providing these positive factors for their children, every child – from shy to outgoing, from tense to easygoing – will have the best chance at developing a balanced temperament as they mature.
For further study, read: Child Temperament and Parenting, by Samuel Putnam (University of Oregon), Ann Sanson (University of Melbourne), Mary Rothbart (University of Oregon).
Feder, A; Nestler, EJ; Charney, DS. Psychobiology and molecular genetics of resilience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 10 (2009) 446 – 457
The human mind is most engaged to react and perform at optimal capacity when our hearts are pumping and our blood is flowing. Any athlete will tell you that he or she feels most alive and sharp when they are in the midst of the contest, heart beating hard, mind alert and ready. Given the interconnected nature of how our brains and bodies function, how the brain gets more oxygen and works better when the heart is pumping, it’s easy to see that we are designed not only to learn, but to think best “on our feet.”
In fact, this concept extends far beyond circulation alone; physical activity has been shown to have substantive affects on brain chemistry. In 2003, Sibley and Etnier demonstrated that, for 4-18 year-olds, exercise positively impacts perception skills, IQ, achievement, verbal and math scores, development and academic readiness.[i] Exercise can affect the release of neurotransmitters key to the learning process, such as norepinephrine (which increases blood flow to skeletal muscles as well as to the brain) and acetylcholine (which can slow the heart rate and contribute to sustained attention).
With these concepts in mind, now imagine the modern classroom. The average student sits for hours a day usually sitting still. She shouldn’t stand up and stretch, or worse, walk around the classroom. (For goodness sake, that’s distracting to the other students and disrespectful to the teacher.) Physical education programs are getting cut due to shrinking budgets, and recess time is being cut to create more opportunities for test preparation. Obesity and diabetes are dangerously on the rise. Since the early 1970s, the number of overweight students has quadrupled from four percent to seventeen percent. (American Heart Association)
In general, the classroom becomes a place where we expect students to focus the mind and quiet the body. What we’re learning is that this is just not necessarily the best way to go. A new trend in classroom management is bringing this tradition into question. Through what is becoming known as “physically active learning,” educators are not only experimenting with integrating more physical activity into classroom lessons, but they are generating positive results.
According to Jena Mee, a physical education and school health education consultant for the Department of Education, “Research is showing us very persuasively that if students exercise for sustained periods of time before they do challenging work, they perform cognitive tasks better, they remember things better, they can apply their skills better.”[ii]
In theory, the idea is to break up lessons with short breaks of physical activity that get students up out of their seats and moving around the room. According to eSchool News, “The approach also has been shown to improve attendance and student behavior and reduce discipline referrals.”
As educators under pressure to maximize student academic performance, we often focus on the material and forget that our real goal is to help the whole child. This research is just one more reminder that we need to attend to the body as well as the mind. If we can do both, we will help our students become all that much more successful.
While the research is still developing, you can get the story as reported this past May on eschoolnews.com.
And if you want to explore one idea to bring more physical activity into your classroom, how about using exercise balls instead of chairs?
[i] Sibley B.A. and Etnier J.L. (2003). The relationship between physical activity and cognition in children: a meta- analysis. Pediatric Exercise Science, 15:243-256.
[ii] ‘Physically active learning’ improves test scores, sharpens concentration. eSchool News. May 16, 2011.
Young children have so much to learn about life. One crucial skill they work very hard at learning is how to get what they want or need in a positive way.
Toddlers do not have very much control and for the most part cannot “think out” appropriate ways to handle frustration or anger. Your little one year old will act impulsively when he is angry with you or other children and may use inappropriate or unacceptable behaviors in response. This often becomes even more exaggerated when your child is tired. The calm, consistent and measured way that you and other caregivers respond to negative behaviors will shape your child’s ability to gradually develop self-control and learn appropriate ways to handle stressful social situations.
Hitting and biting, as well as pushing, throwing toys, books, sand or mud, and yelling or temper outbursts continue to be treated as unacceptable behaviors you want to handle by enforcing time-outs immediately after the event occurs. Waiting even a few minutes to enforce a time-out makes it difficult for a toddler to understand what the time-out is for. Once your child has calmed down you can bring her back into the situation she was removed from. As she plays appropriately you can provide a little praise to help her understand the difference between positive behaviors and her prior unacceptable behavior.
By 18-20 months of age, begin to teach your toddler the word “sorry” so that if she does show an unacceptable behavior toward another child or an adult, she learns to pair an apology to the offended person with the behavior. This provides a verbal scaffold with the action so that the child is building language to help his learning.
You may often find that because of your fatigue and frustration with a young child who does not yet have very much self control you become tempted to yell or spank your child. You are human just as is your child and these are natural tendencies. But, try to avoid yelling at your child or resorting to slaps, shaking or spanking in response to a negative behavior. By using a calm but firm voice with your toddler and the consistent response of moving your child to a quiet area removed from the current situation (time-out) you will model the kind behavior you are trying to instill in your child and give him, and yourself, time to calm down.
If your toddler seems to show temper outbursts very frequently or does not respond to timeouts and the undesirable behaviors continue, consult your physician to rule out physical problems that might be causing pain or discomfort. If those do not seem likely or have been ruled out, you may want to consult with a behavior specialist. These professionals can help you develop consistent, constructive approaches for managing the behavior of your toddler. A few sessions with a good child behavior specialist could save you time and money in the future if the negative behaviors persist or increase during the toddler years.
As your child progresses through the first year, continue to set limits for special types of play activity and behaviors that might be appropriate in some situations but not in others. For example, a child needs to have plenty of exercise but there are situations where your child may have to sit still. A dentist’s chair, the first haircut, airplane take-offs and landings are situations where your child needs to limit physical activity. Similarly, restaurants and other public places provide excellent opportunities to teach your child polite behavior and consideration of others. There are situations where it is acceptable to play with toys and others where it might not be, like a church service or solemn occasion, for example.
Setting limits teaches your toddler to be considerate and thoughtful of others and helps build social skills. When your toddler learns how to use constructive behaviors to reach her goals, she will feel happier and more in control, and so will you.
Technology, in the form of videos, television, computers, tablets, and video games increasingly dominates our entertainment time. In the United States, there are videos and other technology products available for children as young as a few months old. For many, as soon as babies have the coordination to sit up by themselves, we have them looking to screens for entertainment. The success of these videos geared towards babies and toddlers speaks to our growing parental dependence upon screens to entertain our children.
The problem is that, while this media does entertain our children and can even be educational, too much can create serious, lasting issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, too much screen time can lead to obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, reduced play time (obviously), and other problems. (See Children and TV: Limiting your child's screen time, Mayo Clinic.)
So, living in this modern, media-addicted world, what are some ways to that we can mediate appropriate access to technology?
In the grander scheme, it comes down to a question of time. Every minute of childhood spent in front of a screen is a minute not spent doing other things. Imagine what those “other things” could be: playing outside; riding a bike; building a castle out of rocks and twigs; reading a book; creating a piece of art.
The more mindfully we can help our children manage their time when it comes to screens and how that balances with their other activities, the better off they will be in the long run.
As mid-February rolls around, two subjects, hand in hand, start winding their way into our societal consciousness. Like it or not, you probably have two items “on the brain” these days: love and chocolate.
Now, I sincerely hope you have an affinity for love. Likewise, probability indicates that you most likely have an affinity for chocolate. But what is it about chocolate that has all of us running to the store on Valentine’s Day to procure those shiny red boxes for our loved ones?
Consider the sensations that love creates in the brain. When we are in love, what do we feel? What are the elemental feelings and emotions that a true, heart-felt loving relationship create? Think about the sensations associated with a budding romantic bond; being with that other person creates feelings of well-being and centeredness. We feel stimulated and awake in their presence, aware of their every word and move. We feel pleasure just being in the same room with them.
Now, consider chocolate. As it turns out, there are an extensive number of compounds in chocolate – about 380 – a number of which can have profound effects on our brain chemistry and contribute to these same feelings and sensations that accompany courtship and love.
Imagine that you have just received that delightful box from your loved one. You lift off the flimsy, red cardboard top, slip off that sheet of paper, and within you find a dozen small brown paper cups, each gently holding one of these delicious trifles. You pick the darkest one in the box and pop it in your mouth. Then what happens?
As you chew, savor and swallow, your body begins to digest and metabolize those 300+ compounds. Here are a few of them and their affects:
While a great number of researchers continue to unravel the details of how the compounds in chocolate affect brain chemistry, in reading this list, the simple question that comes to my mind is this:
If you were in a courtship situation, wouldn’t you take actions to engender these same sensations in your prospective mate? If in having the object of your desires consume a cocoa-based gift you can create associations within their mind connecting you with feelings of stimulation, pleasure, wakefulness, relaxation, well-being and even relief of pain, doesn’t that bode well for the development of love?
To be accurate, many of these compounds must be metabolized in large quantities to create noticeable effects. For example, Christian Felder of the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that a 130-pound person would have to eat 25 pounds of chocolate at one time to experience an intoxicating effect.[ii] (Please, no matter how tempted you might be, don’t try this at home.)
Of course, in the end, we cannot ignore the simple sensations of eating chocolate that make it such a widely-loved experience. Researcher Daniele Piomelli, in his studies of chocolate, speculates that the ingredients, smells, tastes and textures of chocolate alone can be enough to induce feelings of pleasure.[iii]
So with those thoughts in your brain, make it a wonderful Valentine’s Day.
For additional reading, check out Brain Cannabinoids in Chocolate(published in Nature, August 22, 1996), Prescription-based Chocolate by Jon Marino (2004), and Why Women Need Chocolate by Debra Waterhouse (1995).
[iii]Ciampa, Linda. “Researchers say chocolate triggers feel-good chemicals,” CNN (1996).
My Favorite Chocolate:
Categories: Brain Research
Sleep is essential to health and well-being as well as performance in work and play. Sleep and wake cycles appear to be regulated by the brain. And, although sleep allows for renewal of organs of body, it is also vital to cognitive skills in children and adults. Just a small amount of sleep deprivation affects performance for days thereafter.
There are two kinds of sleep that adults and children cycle through during the night, non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREMS) which accounts for about 80% of sleep and occurs more frequently during the first half of the night and rapid eye movement sleep (REMS) that accounts for the other 20% as is more prevalent during the second half of the night.. Rapid eye movement occurs when we dream as our eyes dart back and forth under our closed eyelids. Despite this complex nature of sleep performance during the day is dependent on the total number of hours of sleep.[i]
Children need much more sleep than adults and it is important that they have schedules and an environment that conducive to adequate sleep. There is a great deal of scientific evidence regarding the importance of sleep to the developing brain yet our nations’ children are not getting enough.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) conducted a Poll in 2004 to determine the amount of sleep our nations’ children are receiving and factors that are affecting the quantity and quality of sleep our children receive.[ii] In general they found that our nations’ children from birth through adolescence are sleep deprived: infants are getting one to two hours per day less sleep than experts recommend and toddlers through school aged children average from one half hour to two hours less per day.
Expert recommendations are provided below with U.S. averages in parentheses.
Children who do not get adequate sleep are more likely to develop problems getting to sleep and staying asleep at night. But most important, when children do not get adequate sleep experts report that, unlike adults who act lethargic during the day, children exhibit hyperactivity.
Two problems that experts say decrease the amount of sleep children get are consumption of caffeine during the day and having a television in the bedroom. The poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 43% of school-aged children, 30% of preschoolers and 18-20% of infants and toddlers have televisions in their rooms.
Another reason some children have trouble staying asleep is sleep apnea (brief stoppage of airflow at night that causes a child to awake). Doctors and parents may not suspect sleep is being affected by snoring because children do not exhibit the same behaviors as adults when they get insufficient sleep. Unlike adults suffering from sleep apnea who complain of fatigue and sleepiness, children may exhibit hyperactivity and aggressive behavior. So parents should tell their pediatricians if their child snores or wakes frequently during the night but also check for sleep deprivation when their child is showing increased activity or aggressive behavior that seems out of character for the child.
[i] Kruger, J.M., Rector, D.M., Roy, S., Van Dongen, H.P.A., Belenky, G. and Panksepp, J. (2008) Sleep as a fundamental property of neuronal assemblies. Nature Reveiws Neuroscience. 9, 12, 910-919
Categories: Family Focus