Teaching Students How to Learn

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A recent article in Business Insider discusses a big problem with most classrooms: Teachers do a good job of teaching students what to learn, but they tend to neglect the important step of teaching students how to learn.

It’s probably not a coincidence that I believe one of the most important roles of a school psychologist is to help students – and their parents and teachers – understand how they learn in order to provide the most effective classroom support possible.* Teaching students about metacognition can have a huge impact on their ability to succeed.

[Y]our ability to learn is such a huge predictor of success in life, from achieving in academics to getting ahead at work. It all requires mastering skill after skill.

The article goes on to offer learning strategies that can be used by anyone. These are:

1) “Force Yourself to Recall”: Work hard at learning, don’t stop at the spot where it’s easy for you. Use flashcards!

2) “Don’t Fall for Fluency”: If it feels too easy while you’re learning something, it probably means you didn’t learn it.

3) “Connect the Old Things to the New Things”: Relate new learning to prior knowledge.

4) “Reflect, Reflect, Reflect”: Reflect on what you have learned.

Read the full article, along with lots of great embedded links to supporting research, here.


*As an aside, this is one of the shortcomings of a strictly RtI approach to intervention. RtI does a good job of showing us what a student has not learned, but does not tell us why the student has difficulty in certain areas or what the best teaching approach would be for that student. It’s true that RtI interventions gives us implicit information, but I maintain it cannot give us explicit information about gaps in learning. This is one reason I believe individual assessment is so important.



The Process


For second-year Ed.S. students in Illinois, this coming Friday is a big day. It’s called Decision Day, and it is the day we are officially allowed to accept or reject offers of employment as interns next year. Most of us have been interviewing since about January, and some of us have even received offers, but none of us are technically allowed to accept any offers until this Friday, March 15th.

So as you can imagine, this is a week of great anxiety for many of us. And of course there will be some who receive no offers, or not the right offers, and will have to keep submitting applications. This is not too unusual, as there are always schools that haven’t even posted their internships yet because they are still working out their budget situations for next year. I’ve heard that it is not outside the norm for students to accept internships into April and even May. So it is an ongoing process.

But I’ve been receiving some anecdotal reports of what it’s like out there in internship interview world. The most frequent sentiments are that it is exciting, confusing, and stressful. The flip side is that there is also a lot of secrecy and usually gregarious peers are playing their cards very close to their chests. So with the exception of your closest friends, it’s kind of hard to know where everyone is in the process at any given moment.

“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

– United States Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld

So without knowing specifics, I just wanted to offer a general show of support for everyone in my cohort. Maybe also a little encouragement and distraction. So…

One way to put your situation in perspective is to look at others who have been there. A recent article in the NY Times explores the trials of people who have been called back to 3, 4, 5, 6 and more follow-up interviews – yet are never offered a job. I actually found the comments section to be the most interesting part of the article. Scroll down to read the comments from people who share their job interview horror stories. Here’s a sample:

I was given a third interview at a major retailer and told to bring a strategic plan for a particular issue they were facing. I prepared this plan. On the day of the interview, I got horribly lost and called the interviewer to apologize and say that I would be late and being late is unacceptable and a terrible first impression, so it was completely okay if she did not want to interview me. She said it was okay and that I should come ahead anyway.

We had what I thought was a good interview. She told me about the next steps that I would be asked to take and who I would next interview with. She said she would call me next week.

Long story short, there was no fourth interview. When next we spoke, she told me she could not hire me because I had not prepared what she had asked for–and then named a completely different assignment that was never mentioned to me. And then added, “And you were late.”

Sometimes it helps to be reminded that even as you’re going through a stressful experience, someone else has gone through something worse – and came out the other side.

So hang in there, everybody. It will work out, and one day we will look back on all of this and have a good laugh (remember: comedy = tragedy + time).

Internship Intensity

It’s internship application time, and school psych graduate students all over the country are busy juggling letters of interest, researching districts, online applications, paper applications (!), out of state applications, local interviews, and out of state interviews…while also working at practicum sites, carrying a full course load, and in some cases holding down a second job or raising a family. Oh, and battling the occasional ice storm. Like I said: busy.

So is it any wonder that when we’re finally able to go to sleep, our dreams look a little like this video? I can’t say it’s restful sleep, but at this point I think we’ll all take whatever sleep we can get.

School Psychology Awareness Week 2012

Well, here we are smack dab in the middle of School Psychology Awareness Week and I’m finally getting around to posting about it! I guess that’s what happens when you’re extremely busy…being a school psychologist (in training). As the end of the semester nears, things are getting a little hectic, as you can imagine. But I didn’t want this week to go by without notice.

Because many people don’t quite know what it is we even do, I recommend What is a School Psychologist? for a good general overview of our roles and duties both in schools and in our communities (courtesy of the National Association of School Psychologists, or NASP).

And with that, I must leave you as I work to compile a list of community resources for families to share with my classmates tomorrow in a local resource swap exercise.

Happy School Psychology Awareness Week, everybody!

Debunking an Urban Myth

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For today’s post, I want to address an urban myth that apparently has been making the rounds for years. I heard this last year in one of my classes, and then it came up indirectly again last month in a discussion about the importance of cementing reading skills by third grade. The myth is that states use third grade literacy scores to determine how many prisons to build (or how many prison beds they will need). This is not true, and although it has been cited repeatedly, nobody seems to know the origin of the myth.

One possible source might be a book titled The School-To-Prison Pipeline: Structuring Legal Reform. I haven’t read the book, but last week someone I know was discussing it and cited the third grade literacy quote in such a way that it seemed it came from the book. At any rate, the idea that officials use third grade reading scores to determine how many prison beds they will need has now been debunked and relegated to the dustbin of urban myths. The only problem, of course, is that (almost) nobody knows this. So I’m going to do my part to ensure that truth soldiers on, and urban myths…don’t.

Here are a couple of links to explain how and why the erroneous quote has been proven false, including perhaps the original article in the Oregonian that started the debunkification:

oregon-state-penitentiaryjpg-d0cdf04753ac6ab3_large1Prisons don’t use reading scores to predict future inmate populations
: “The myth probably has survived and circulated for more than a decade because it reflects the more fundamental truth that there is a powerful connection between school failure and crime.”

Cite the Source: “The idea that prison-planning is based on elementary school literacy drop-out rates is a commonly held assumption…The problem is that I can’t find one single piece of state legislation or governmental corroboration for this. Nowhere can I locate official documentation that prisons indeed “use reading scores to predict future inmate populations.” As far as evidence goes, I can find nothing.”

PolitiFact Oregon: “We started with a basic Google search and came across the claim we’d kept hearing: Prison officials use third grade reading scores to predict the number of beds they’ll need. That claim, it seems, is nothing more than an Internet rumor that has been soundly disputed. In fact, The Oregonian happened to refute the adage a couple years back. “This is an urban myth,” California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Terry Thornton wrote in an email to Oregonian reporter Bill Graves.”

Weekly Roundup 9-16-12

School: A short personal essay exploring whether schools (and adults in general) are letting kids down by not effectively confronting cyberbullying.

Psychology: Why “following your passion” is a bad idea when it comes to picking a career.

Scholarship: Every single student who graduates from high school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, receives free college tuition paid for by a group of anonymous donors.

Art Therapy and 9/11

Drawing by Tamara Obradovic in 2001, when she was 9.

After 9/11, children in New York, and all over the country, attempted to process the overwhelming emotions they were suddenly forced to confront. One of the ways counselors and teachers and psychologists helped children was through the simple act of drawing pictures about what they saw, felt, and thought. In some cases it was a form of art therapy, and in others it was an informal way of giving children a tool to process emotions they probably didn’t have words for.

The drawing above is from a book that collected some of these drawings, titled The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11 (it is listed for sale through Amazon via resellers). Tamara’s drawing was also featured in a PBS News Hour special from 2011 titled Then and Now: Children Draw to Cope with 9/11, which compares drawings children made in 2001 and then ten years later in 2011. The common theme is that children use art to explore complex feelings:

“In a national moment of grief and panic – and an equally charged time of remembrance – artwork becomes a way for to children re-interpret painful images in more familiar terms, to make sense of the unimaginable.”

Because 9/11 was such a singular event, many therapists have written specifically about the importance of art therapy for helping children at the time. Most of the articles I found on the subject were written years ago, but the general ideas will always have relevance for children who have experienced trauma and loss. For example, here is a quote from a National Geographic article in 2002 titled Children and 9/11: Art Helping Kids Heal:

“What we find is that children tend to draw the part of the trauma they don’t understand—the part they’re ‘stuck’ on,” said Suzanne Silverstein, president and co-founder of the Psychological Trauma Center at Cedars-Sinai. “Like adults, sometimes what they’re saying is not what they’re feeling. When they draw, they put it all out on paper.”

And there is this from an article titled What Art Therapy Learned from September 11th by psychologist Cathy Malchiodi:

“Studies during the past decade underscore that art is not just a “right brain” activity, but actually a “whole brain” activity that stimulates storytelling. In fact, research with children indicates that drawing while talking about an emotionally laden event can actually stimulate two to three times as much narrative than just talking alone.”

Dr. Malchiodi may be referring to this research study, titled Studies Find Drawing Facilitates Children’s Ability to Talk About Emotional Experiences, published in 1998:

“As every parent knows, getting young children to talk about emotional experiences is often difficult. But new research suggests that one way to overcome this problem is giving children an opportunity to draw while they talk…Researchers report that when relaying an emotional experience, children who drew as they spoke reported more than twice as much information than children asked only to talk about their experiences.”

So we know that drawing, especially in conjunction with a guided interview, is one of the best ways for children to explore difficult subjects and begin the path to healing. When I look at some of the artwork produced by children after 9/11, its evocative and visceral qualities are undeniable. Perhaps, as is true of any artistic pursuit, the final product has the potential to help not only the original artist, but also the subsequent viewer(s). [Click on individual images below for relevant links and more information]

From “Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001.”

‘Empire Fallen’ by Babul Miah, age 17, from the book “The Day Our World Changed: Children’s Art of 9/11.”

By Julian Cortez, 7, and Paul Keim, 8.

By Melanie Cohn, 8.

By Kenny Wang, 8.

Additional links:

Art for Heart: Remembering 9/11.“This book includes selections of artwork and messages from participants in the New York University Child Study Center and the Art for Heart Program of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, as well as the “Dear Hero” and “Notes of Hope” collections, which have been acquired by the National September 11 Memorial Museum.”

Messages to Ground Zero: Children Respond to September 11, 2001.This is a collection of letters, poetry, and art by children in response to September 11th. All were sent to other children reflecting innocent support, outreach, and caring. This book is an archive of what children were thinking and feeling through their honest and heartful messages.”

Weekly Roundup

– Back to School Edition –

School: Isolation rooms used to discipline children in schools. “…[I]n today’s often overcrowded and underfunded schools, where one in eight students receive help for special learning needs, the use of physical restraints and seclusion rooms has become a common way to maintain order.”

Psychology: The psychological benefits of walking to school. “[Enabling] children to walk to school unsupervised may help boost confidence and give them a tentative first taste of personal responsibility.”

Scholarship: James R. Flynn (of Flynn Effect fame) has written a new book, titled Are We Getting Smarter?: Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century. One reviewer writes, “The answer to the title’s question is: yes, we are indeed getting smarter, in the sense that we are keeping pace with our inventions. We are not improving on our biological destiny; rather we are making a world that is more like an IQ test.”

Helping Children Talk About Traumatic Events

With the anniversary of 9/11 two days away, I thought it might be helpful to put up a few links with resources for helping children cope with difficult subjects such as trauma and loss. All of these come from the NYU Child Study Center in New York.

Talking with Children About Difficult Subjects: Illness, Death, Violence and Disaster: Contrary to adults’ fears, talking about illness, death, violent acts or threatening events will not increase a child’s level of distress. It is very important to engage in an open discussion about children’s feelings, fears and worries. Avoiding discussion of scary and sad events and the strong feelings they engender likely has more potential for harm than talking about them does.”

The Day Our World Changed: The Anniversary of 9/11: With links to guides for both parents and teachers on how to talk to children about traumatic events. They were developed for the fifth anniversary of 9/11, but have tips and advice that can be helpful for anyone working with children “regardless of their exposure to 9/11.”

Building Resilience in Children in the Face of Fear and Tragedy: “Despite the potential for mental health problems, research on the capacity of children to overcome disastrous life events or living circumstances indicates that children can emerge from horrific life experiences with positive outcomes…People caring for children and adolescents can do much to foster such positive outcomes.”