Classroom Collaboration

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I’m back from my self induced sabbatical…

Ok, I feel a bit guilty for taking the summer off and then a bit of a procrastinater for not restarting this blog when school started. But alas, I forgive myself as I’ve spent lots of time thinking, daydreaming and creating.  One thing I’ve thought about was saving time.  By saving time I can create time to do the things I want to do. As teachers and therapists we often spend lots of hours prepping and planning. Of course there are many day to day things we can do to make our life more streamlined such as…filing things away once we are done with them, handling mail just once (I often pull out the trash as I go through the mail now,  in my house Obama and Romney are wasting megabucks with their flyers) or allotting time for emailing versus on a catch as catch can basis.  From that I also am back to practicing a habit of penning in my droid some fun stuff I look forward to. It doesn’t have to be a weekend getaway (although that would be nice) but things like a free hour to read, watch a program (I’m loving Doc Martin right now) or whatever suits my fancy at that moment. Ok maybe I’ve convinced you to do that for yourself or perhaps you already do.  However, what about our kids in a classroom all day??? Are there moments to be creative, to kick back, to daydream?  Most classroom teachers don’t think to schedule those moments (and in reality, that’s all they have to be). By adding some lightness to the curriculum teachers may see an overall improvement in wellness. Less stress provides for better learning and reflection on what has been taught. I am currently working with a teacher that provides a few minutes of “me time” daily. I love the concept which really allows for that reflection but also gives permission for the student to just be in a moment of non-demand…a mini sabbatical if you will. Is it possible to provide sometime in  “a hammock”  in school?  Any thoughts???

Daydreaming…mindfulness or just plain lazy???

I’ve had some wonderful, well deserved time off. It was wonderful to not have an agenda everyday, to follow my nose that led me to a variety of experiences including time to daydream.  To my amazement, I read an article yesterday via Scientific Daily that said daydreaming can actually be beneficial.

The article was published in the July issue of Perspective on Psychological Science. Immordino-Yang studied what it means when our brains are at rest.

“In recent years, researchers have explored the idea of rest by looking at the so-called ‘default mode’ network of the brain, a network that is noticeably active when we are resting and focused inward. Findings from these studies suggest that individual differences in brain activity during rest are correlated with components of socioemotional functioning, such as self-awareness and moral judgment, as well as different aspects of learning and memory. Immordino-Yang and her colleagues believe that research on the brain at rest can yield important insights into the importance of reflection and quiet time for learning.”

“We focus on the outside world in education and don’t look much at inwardly focused reflective skills and attentions, but inward focus impacts the way we build memories, make meaning and transfer that learning into new contexts,” says Immordino-Yang, a professor of education, psychology and neuroscience at the University of Southern California. “What are we doing in schools to support kids turning inward?”

I know in myself if I spend all my time on what Yang calls outward attention, I can lose my bearings and my performance declines. Having time like I’ve experienced in the last couple of weeks reflecting and imagining has certainly cleared my thinking, reduced my pace and prepped me to embark on the outward attention that my work will require when I go back on Monday. I can’t help but think of how this research could be put to use in the classroom and beyond. The article addresses that the idea of idle time is not detrimental, but rather essential for students to internalize their learning, decrease stress and plan ahead.

Immordino-Yang also says:

“And mindful reflection is not just important in an academic context — it’s also essential to our ability to make meaning of the world around us. Inward attention is an important contributor to the development of moral thinking and reasoning and is linked with overall socioemotional well-being.”

She eludes todays technology based world does not promote introspection. I’m certainly with her on that…consider our work days… the emails, the reports and other demands via, phones, faxes or voicemails that demand our outward attention. I came home after vacation to over 1000 emails….aghghgh!

In summary  the last paragraph of the article was my favorite:

“According to the authors, perhaps the most important conclusion to be drawn from research on the brain at rest is the fact that all rest is not idleness. While some might be inclined to view rest as a wasted opportunity for productivity, the authors suggest that constructive internal reflection is critical for learning from past experiences and appreciating their value for future choices, allowing us to understand and manage ourselves in the social world.”

So if you feel refreshed from a vacation, that idleness, change of pace or getaway has helped you cope with the social world and how to manage the demands your work has on you.

So educators, lets not get rid of vacations, recess, or expect 100% activity and attention throughout a day in a classroom.

Feng Shui at school??? The power of color, not necessarily coloring!

English: An RGB color wheel which denotes comp...

English: An RGB color wheel which denotes complimentary colors. When Red wavelengths are absorbed, green light is observed, for example. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I picked up a pocket-size book at a used bookstore called Feng Shui For the Classroom by Debra Kellar. I leafed through it and thought that her ideas were interesting. I always like to offer an eclectic approach when I lecture to school based therapists and teachers. My favorite part of the book (so far) has been about the power of color. Kellar suggests teachers should consider color. If they want art, music or creative writing involvement, serene dove-gray may get those creative juices bubbling.  If you have a chance to paint your classroom or therapy room this summer, run over to Lowe’s or Home Depot and pick up a pale yellow. According to Kellar, this is “the color of optimism, focus and mental stimulation”. “The paler shades promote active listening”.  Boy we could use some of that in schools today!!! Brighter yellows that resemble sunshine versus the paler shades can be overstimulating.  Sounds like a sensory processing suggestion to me…Kellar believes we can shift the energy in the classroom by the use of color. Reading times “are enhanced by cool colors and pastels”, no need to paint the walls different colors for different areas but rather use items such as “green leaves, a blue vase, purple flowers or a pink bowl” in your reading circle. Wow! can’t you see one student appointed to gathering the reading colors prior to reading group? Ha… the magic begins. Writing is always an issue for OT’s in the classroom and often not just for the mechanics but for the creative and cognitive content as well.  Keller calls this a “yang” activity and can be influenced by  warm and bright objects of reds, oranges and yellows. Maybe easy buttons on desks, a navel orange or even writing with a red pencil could help the writing process??? I know color influences me, when I choose the color of what I’m wearing for the day, when I enter certain classrooms or even which room in my home I choose to read. Obviously there are other variables such as natural light, furniture placement, and who is in the room with you! Ha Ha… not sure we can remove some negative people…maybe you could offer them your pale yellow sweater? So followers… think about color this week, notice your own habits and if you work with kids, (or have them in your home) notice behavior, demeanor and creativity. Let me know what you found in your laboratory!

Have you looked in a student’s lunch box lately?

Talk about colorful!  But not the colors of lush fresh vegetables and fruits, but rather the advertising  colors, the unreal reds, blues and greens of dyes and other enhancers. The food dyes including Yellow 5, Red 40, and six others, are made from petroleum.  Research is showing that many can cause allergies  hyperactivity and some animal studies are showing a cancer connection.  The European Union and the Brits are making inroads by outlawing most dyes from the food that we are ingesting.  An example of substitution is, beet root for food coloring versus Red 40 which contains petroleum.  My question is why aren’t we doing this in America? These dyes are in everything from soft drinks to potato chips. Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6 make up 90% of the food dyes on the market. There is no nutritional value but companies that are trying to appeal to kids believe that the coloring makes food more fun! That makes me laugh because fun and food for me as a kid was my dad breaking off a piece of rhubarb in the garden, which I dipped in sugar and ate with pursed lips, enjoying the sour, sweet taste was and continues to be an early summer ritual! My grandpa and I would gather food in the garden and although I’m allergic to legumes I could eat raw peas when I was young and they were right out of the pod!  And they weren’t neon green! ha!  The FDA has met and don’t believe the research is solid enough to claim that hyperactivity in kids is a result of the dyes. I’d love for them to take their lunch breaks in a school cafeteria or come to an afternoon circle reading group after lunch!  It seems to me that with all the chatter about obesity and lunch programs,  the artificial dye issues could be tied into the re-vamping of America’s lunch programs.  I applaud schools that provide healthy snacks and lunches at school. It takes more effort than throwing pre-packaged candy, fruit leather, chips, neon pink yogurt and cookies into a lunch box. They know the benefits of a calmer classroom and I’m sure they are reaping them without Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6 etc.!  What an interesting research study that would be, lunch food and it’s relationship to academic attention and focus….hmmmm!

In the summertime…where the stress should be less

“Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes, and the right kind of day is jeweled balm for the battered spirit. A few of those days and you can become drunk with the belief that all’s right with the world.” — Ada Louise Huxtable

Ok, I’m going to take you back to an earlier time in your life when school let out for the summer. No matter who you were or where you lived this signified a shift in how you spent your time. As I kid I went to a day camp, was a fish in the water, played “kick the can” until it was dark and enjoyed a later bedtime as well as family from “far away” visiting for some fun in the sun. As a teenager, I worked at a variety of jobs and spent my evenings hanging out with friends, eating lots of ice cream and enjoying the “down time”. As a school based therapist, I’m like a kid as the last day approaches anticipating, sleeping in a bit later, reading more novels, spending time with friends and family and just chilling out. Todays child experiences lots of stress in terms of both academic and social demands. I hear them speak of attending summer school, camps, lessons from computers to baking to Legos and the list goes on….If you are a parent, caregiver or a teacher encourage the kids you know to recognize that summer is a time to have fun but also a time to rest, rejuvenate and rekindle the spirit.  Introduce them to the fun you had as a kid.  Your assignment if you decide to accept it is…make S’mores, catch some fireflies, have ice cream for dinner, watch fireworks on the 4th of July, run through the sprinkler and take that hurried, harried child with you. As Ms. Huxtable implies you’ll soon feel all is right with the world.

Chores…or being more responsiball!

With all the focus on the academic curriculum today, I salute the teachers that continue to assign and expect students to do simple classroom chores. Dr. Robert Brooks did research on school memories and found that most of our school memories are not about whether we got an A or a B on a test, but rather about the service duties we did in the classroom. Being a line leader, watering plants, taking a note to the office to name just a few give students a sense of responsibility, a task that needs to be initiated, sustained and completed. I can’t help but wonder if more services duties were available throughout a school day, if students attitude and activity level would improve. Sometimes to reach my toughest students I ask them if they will help me with a problem such as fixing a toy, carrying items etc. Rarely am I turned down, and even the most oppositional child will rise to the occasion to help this old lady. I worked with a teacher once that had the chores last 2 weeks. She believed that 2 students should be assigned to the same chore, share the work, materials and responsibility. Kids loved it because they had a buddy to share with (don’t you remember enjoying some time with a classmate that was less structured? I personally would always volunteer to clap the erasers if Colleen was the other student! She and I would chat away as we worked in the yellow chalk dust outside the classroom window. One morning when I was in the classroom prior to school starting the phone rang, the teacher took the call, hung up and laughingly said “That was Sarah’s mother, Sarah is going to be out with the chicken pox this week and wanted her mom to call so Katy knows she’ll have to water the plants alone for the week”. As I remember it, I still am amazed that a six or seven-year old would be that committed to her job and her classmate. Sometimes I use chores as part of my interventions, for movement breaks, executive skill practice and fine motor enhancement. So if you are a teacher already doing chores, keep it up…it builds character for your youngsters and if you are not, consider revisiting this idea to engage, encourage and create a sense of  service duties for your classroom community. As I was looking through some writing samples today (they were persuasion letters written by 1st graders), there was one child trying to convince her parents to get a dog. She talked about walking it, feeding it, playing with it and brushing it. There was one sentence that hit my funny bone. The sentence summarized the title of this blog…”I want to be more responsiball”. And isn’t that one of the most important traits that a student needs to succeed?

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