Tuesday, October 26, 2010

How To Study The Right Way

Geri Copitch, guest blogger & veteran teacher
School has been back in session now for close to two months. Many parents have received first quarter or trimester grades for their children and they’re wondering how they can help them get better grades.
The common wisdom is that you should provide a quiet workspace, stick to a homework routine, and have your child immerse themselves in a subject. By now you’ve noticed I used the phrase ‘common wisdom’ and are no doubt wondering why.
There is growing evidence that this ‘common wisdom’ is a fallacy. New York Times reporter Benedict Carey* reviewed a number of studies and found the following guidelines increase study effectiveness:
  • Move around. I don’t mean dance while you’re studying, but rather change locations. One day study your spelling words in the living room, another day perhaps sitting on the porch. It appears that this change of scene helps the brain form multiple associations or triggers, with the information, causing it to become better anchored.
  • Mix it up. Instead of focusing intently on memorizing verb forms in Spanish or multiplication tables in math for an hour, spend the hour studying different facets of the same subject. So maybe 20 minutes on the memorizing of verb forms, another 20 practicing speaking, and then 20 doing some reading. In math, do mixed problem sets, work on word problems, and memorize facts. This helps force the brain to pick up on similarities and differences, which is how it will encounter information in the real world.
  • Test yourself. Studies have shown that self tests help you to refocus on specifics and slows down forgetting. When you ‘miss’ an answer you have to go back and revisit the material  reinforcing it in your brain.
  • Space it out. While you can get by by ‘cramming’ for a test, the information is quickly lost. Multiple studies have shown that studying the material, getting a night’s sleep, restudying the material, and then even reviewing it again two days later, makes for more of the information being retained. It’s sort of like layering a cake. Who among you wouldn’t agree that a three layer cake is much better than a single layer one?
No one seems to refute the wisdom of establishing set ‘homework time.” All children should have a well organized set location for their materials. This avoids time and study energy being used to find a sharp pencil, or figuring out where they left their vocabulary list. And true, one should try to keep the distractions down, especially the electronic ones. Children with ADHD will need more structure and an environment (or several varied environments) free from any kind of distraction.

It would seem that for most students, whether they're in elementary school or post graduate school, the phrase, “Variety is the spice of life,” seems to show results in the realm of study and retention. 
* (Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits, NYT, Sept 6 2010)

What is the Single Biggest "Gift" We Can Give Our Children?

Hold on. Take a minute to think about this question. If you could give one and only one gift to your child, what would it be? Would you give your child financial riches? Would you give her beauty? Would you give him intelligence? If you could give only one thing that would give your child a leg up in life, what would it be? 

I frequently read in the newspaper about the movie star who finds fame and fortune, only to end up in a drug treatment hospital. Or, the business money mogul who has three ex-wives and a few estranged children. We have heard of generals indicted for being stupid, presidents shamed into retirement, or the religious leaders who lead two different life-styles.

So, what is the best thing we can give our children? What “gift” can help a child in good and bad times? What one “gift” will help our children to avoid the horrors of drugs, stay level headed when good times roll in and keep perspective during life’s pitfalls?

I propose that the best gift a parent can give a child is the home environment that allows their child to build a high self esteem. Research has shown us that children who possess a healthy self esteem deal with life in the safest ways.

If we as parents help our children to build a strong self esteem we give them the best internal tool to deal with their world. With the internal awareness of their own self worth, our children interact with the world with inner contentment and self assuredness. The side effect of our children having high self esteem is that they view the world through this high self esteem. As I will discuss later, high self esteem is an emotional force field protecting our children in the chaos we call life.

How is self esteem built?
Let’s start off by defining what we are talking about. Self esteem goes by many names. Some call it self worth, others self-confidence. The high brow academic set use words like, “the sense of self “ or “ego identity.” Shakespeare said it best, “A rose, is a rose, is a rose,” or something like that. The reality is that we all know what high self esteem or low self esteem look like, but it is hard to put it into words. 
In a nut shell, self esteem is the internal belief we hold about ourselves. What makes it hard to understand and put into words is that it is ever changing. We hold different internal beliefs about our abilities dependent on the situation. 

For example, my five year old son informed me that he couldn’t pick up a hat in the side yard because of spiders. He hadn’t seen any spiders but he was obviously uncomfortable. When he was reminded that he had touched spiders before, he said, “Yeah, but that spider was not hiding to get me!” Is this a self esteem issue? In a way. If, at five, Joshua felt comfortable enough within himself to handle the fears that he pictured, I would not have had to pick up the hat. But, is it a self esteem problem? Definitely not. Josh was not saying to himself, “I’m not able to pick up the hat.” He was saying, “I’m afraid of spiders hiding under the hat and attacking me.” Often parents confuse low self esteem with fear.

The internal belief we hold about ourselves is somewhat situational. Your child may feel that she is the best baseball player since Babe Ruth, but be uncomfortable about joining the team because she doesn’t know any of the other players. When we talk about self esteem, it is important to listen to the child’s words. If we focus too much on the child’s behavior we often miss the true picture.

So, when we talk about self esteem we are really talking about the internal balance of our beliefs of self worth. 

When we are born we enter the world with a personal makeup. This personal makeup is usually called our temperament. The newborn interacts with his world through his temperament. 

Newborns seem to be “pre-wired” to investigate their world. Part of their temperament is to investigate and eventually build relationships with their new world. 

Infant research has shown that newborns have the ability to “interact” with their caregivers from the first moments of birth. Their eyes are developed enough to focus on their mother’s face during the first breast feedings. Infants are able to smell and remember their caregivers.

The individual’s temperament is influential in the formation of the feeling of self worth. We take this sense of self with us throughout our life. For example, a sixty year old can truly say that they are the same, but still a different person than they were when they were six. Our feelings of self worth are with us for a lifetime.

Visit Dr. Copitch's website          excerpted from my book: Basic Parenting 101

Friday, October 22, 2010

Stages of Early Reading - up to age six

Geri Copitch, guest blogger and veteran teacher

I was speaking with a young man the other day who was telling me about his four year old daughter’s attempt to read him her favorite book. When he asked her to point to the word she was reading, she told him she didn’t want to. He later told his wife that he thought his daughter was “lying” about being able to read. He was surprised to find out that this is a normal stage in the reading process.

Learning to read, like anything else we take on, is a process, one that needs time and lots of practice to develop. No one would expect their child to hop out of the crib one day and start running marathons. We all seem to know that at first a baby needs to master standing, then they take one or two hesitant, tottering steps, working their way up to several steps and a lot of plopping down on their bottoms, and eventually they’re running around Sears hiding from you in the clothes racks.

Reading occurs much the same way. The first most important step in your child learning to read is actually dependent upon you. The children who become the most successful readers are those whose parents read to them everyday - even if it’s the same book, day after day, for three months straight! During this time they are picking up important information on the rhythm of language. By watching you, they are learning that books begin in one place and end in another, and that stories have a beginning and an end. When you point to the pictures as you read, they start to get the concept that our written language progresses from left to right. In time, they start to grasp the concept that print has meaning: that those black squiggles on the page represent language. As an adult these concepts seem like ‘no brainers’, but they are important concepts that children need to learn before they can become readers. A child isn’t born knowing this anymore than they are born knowing how to walk.

As children become emergent readers they begin to repeat words or phrases from familiar books. As time goes on, they start to become aware of print in their environment, such as on signs or cereal boxes. They begin to recognize their own name. They may start to point out other words that begin with the same letter as their name. This gives them ‘ownership’, they feel more ‘connected’ to these words because they share something important with them.

Next, young children will move on to re-telling a story by looking at the pictures. This is not cheating. This is an important part of the process. We use cues in our environment everyday to help us figure things out. The same is true for reading. Adult readers are often drawn to a picture in an advertisement before they actually read the words.

Early readers move on to re-enacting reading. They memorize familiar texts and ‘read’ them, turning the pages in the places they have learned from watching you, progressing through the book from left to right. They begin to show directionality of print by running their finger along the text from left to right. At this point they are probably only accidentally touching the actual word they are reading, but they are building up to the concept. As they begin to learn that each symbol (letter) represents a sound and what that sound is, they will start to use the initial sound (first letter) to help them identify words. This usually begins to happen in kindergarten to early first grade. Children who go to pre-school tend to pick up on this sooner.

Usually around the ages of 6-7 children begin to be able to pick out recurring sight words, and decoding - sounding out - words that follow phonetic rules, e.g. words where the letters make predicable sounds and there are no silent letters. As with any new skill, some children will grasp these concepts sooner, while others will need more time to grow the needed connections in their brains. The important thing to remember in all of this is that process counts! It takes time, and lots and lots of mimicry (copying) and practice before children become true readers. Read when you are around them - the more often that they see that reading is important to you, it becomes increasingly important to them. Have patience, encourage the baby steps, read lots and lots with your children - and - don’t stop reading to them just because they begin to read themselves. After all, did you stop walking with your kids once they started?

Friday, October 15, 2010

There are rules—deal with it or lose: Law #1

Most people, no matter their age, refuse to accept this rule. I hear it all the time, “I shouldn’t have to ...” or,  “It’s not fair ...” To which I say, “Deal with it or lose!”

The fact is that life is a game. Like any game, life has rules. Unlike most games, the game of life has hidden rules. You need to get your head around this fact, or life will eat you alive. 

What Law #1 teaches us is that every situation you encounter has rules. They happen with or without your knowledge. Without your approval. And either way, life’s rules influence you everyday. 

When you walk into Mr. Monotone’s fifth period history class there are rules that you need to deal with. No one asked if you wanted to play by these rules, you’re just stuck with them. You are just expected to follow them. In addition, all situations have socially “known rules” and “secret rules” that must be figured out. 

It is your responsibility to figure out the rules for any given situation and use this information to your best interest. That’s right. The reason you need to figure out the rules is so that you can get your needs met. Get what you want and avoid what you don’t want so you can win at this game called life!

I want you to notice that I am not embarrassed by this level of selfishness. In fact, I pity those that don’t figure out what is going on and constantly bash their thick heads against life’s walls. It is your responsibility, to yourself, to learn how to deal with your world. 

Socially known rules, such as the classroom rules in Mr. Monotone’s class, are usually easy to find. Mr. Monotone probably droned on and on the very first day, boring you to death about his “classroom rules.” My assumption is that by now you know the basic classroom rules and Mr. Monotone is as informative as the flight attendant who stands in the front of the cabin and instructs you on how to put on or take off a seat belt. What’s with that? I would think that 99.99% of the airline passengers drove to the airport. Didn’t they use their seat belts? I guess that the airlines believe that if you’re willing to pay hundreds of dollars to cram your tush into a narrow airline seat, you’re probably not smart enough to understand the mechanical physics of a common seat belt.

Law #1 is about the “secret rules” of dealing with Mr. Monotone. You need to know about these secret rules to navigate Mr. Monotone’s class. It is important that you figure out how to deal with Mr. Monotone and use this knowledge to get your needs met. 

Let’s look at how this might work. During the first half hour of the first class you check out the lay of the land. You realize that even though Mr. Monotone said, “If you have any questions you must raise your hand.” He left out the secret rule that reads: “I’m really tired of you smarty-pants kids. After twenty-two years of teaching I have figured out what I need to teach, and if you simply pay attention I’ll tell you what I expect you to regurgitate on your test.” How did you figure out this secret rule? You watched. When Betty Brownnose, sitting up front all perky like, asked a question, Mr. Monotone sarcastically let her know that he thought he clearly covered that already. He made it clear to all who were watching that his words said “ask questions” but he didn’t really want to be bothered with answering them.

Is this fair? Absolutely not. Is it something you need to deal with? You betcha! This teaching drone holds your grade in his left hand. If he squeezes, your voice changes. When the principal comes by, you wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Monotone perked up and became Mr. Stereo. He knows the secret rules that he learned from watching principals. He probably learned to leave his classroom rules out so that the principal could “accidentally” spy them. He learned it’s a good idea to have a clear rule that encourages one’s students to ask questions. He learned that as long as he gives lip service to the principal, the principal won’t care that Mr. Monotone is actually discouraging questions in the privacy of his classroom domain. Adults live in the same world teens live in. Smart adults know that Law #1 is powerful.

Excerpted from my book: Life's Laws for New Adults

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Understanding Goal Setting

As far back as 1935, motivation and incentive learning has been studied. Cecil Alec Mace was a British philosopher and psychologist who studied how the type of goal influenced performance.[14] In the 1950’s, John W. Atkinson took an analytical view in his edited work, Motives in fantasy, action and society.[15] It wasn’t until the end of the 1980’s that industrial and organizational psychologists began studying goal setting from multiple directions.[16]

Simply put, goal setting is the act of picturing what you want with microscopic clarity. Unfortunately, most people do not obtain their goals because of one of two reasons.

1. They do not have clear goals.

2. They give up as soon as an obstacle gets in their way.

However, when you ask them what happened to their goal, they tend to blame everyone or everything other than themselves. The reverse of this is when this same person talks about another’s success. You know what they say, “He was lucky.”

Highly effective people do not believe in luck when it comes to success. Highly effective people make thousands of well thought out decisions, develop strategies, follow plans, and stick to their goals. Then, years later, their brother-in-law says about them, “That Bob, he sure is damn lucky!”

What I have noticed is that in America opportunity, not only knocks, it practically bashes down the door trying to get attention. When opportunity finally does get someone’s attention, they can’t figure out how to open the door, or if they do get the door open, they are uncertain about what to do next. They stand in the doorway looking opportunity right in the face and don’t know what they are gazing upon.

The problem is that most people don’t know that opportunity shows up in the rough. They stand at the door, looking at this ragamuffin and converse with it:

Opportunity: Hi goal seeker, I’m glad you found me.

Goal seeker: Are you a hobo or something?

Opportunity: No, I’m opportunity and I came a-knocking.

Goal seeker: No seriously, are you homeless? Destitute?

Opportunity: No, I’m not kidding, I’m opportunity.

Goal seeker: You can’t be opportunity!

Opportunity: Why not?

Goal seeker: Well, nothing personal, but you don’t look like you have two nickels to rub together, let alone the millions I’m seeking. You look… well kind of like a ragamuffin.

Opportunity: What did you expect me to look like?

Goal seeker: Like opportunity, all spit shined, with jewels and maybe a tux.

Opportunity: Oh, I see. I think you have me confused with luck.

Goal seeker: Luck?

Opportunity: Oh yes indeed, I always show up in work clothes and you have to provide your own luck. When I show up, I’m a diamond in the rough. You have to shape me, grind me, polish me, nurture me, and love me.

This is a little known fact; opportunity knocks many times in a lifetime. You have to notice the knocking and open the door. And when you open the door, expect opportunity to be wearing work clothes. Opportunity is a work in progress; you have to roll up your sleeves and progress.

Excerpted from my book: Change: How to Bring Real Change in Your Life

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How do you build your own self-esteem?

The simple answer is you control your environment. No matter where you are on the self-esteem continuum, low, medium or high, you build your self-steam by controlling the situations around you.

Who do you spend most of your time with? Are they good for you? Do you feed yourself a consistent diet of healthful thought? Do you read good uplifting books? Do you listen to uplifting music? Do you treat others well? Are you kind? Are you respectful?

What materials are in your world for you to build your self-esteem with? You have choices, are you making them? Who are you letting influence you?

Over the years, many amazing individuals have influenced me in a positive way. As an example, let me tell you about one such person, Dr. Jeffrey Smith. I was fortunate to take a course in graduate school from Jeffrey Smith, a celebrated psychologist and long time professor at Stanford University. When I showed up to my first class I had no idea who the instructor was. He arrived a few minutes before class was scheduled to begin and very slowly walked to a chair at the front of the room. He sat slowly. He spoke softly. He explained that he was an old man. He had a terminal disease and he hoped to be alive long enough to teach this 18 week course. He apologized for his frailty. He explained that he would understand if anyone would like to transfer to another instructor. He spoke about looking forward to meeting all of us young people. (Most were in their thirties.)

Dr. Smith captivated the class. It was obvious to us that he wanted to die as he lived, a teacher. He let us know that we were special to him, that his world had greater meaning because we were a part of it.

Dr. Smith allowed us to experience his love. Soon after the course ended, Dr. Smith died. His wife mailed us our final exams. Until the end, Dr. Smith taught. He took the time to write a note on each final exam. My note was hard to read. The hand that penned it was weak. He wrote, “I like to think of you, by contrast, with your strong, positive spirit, working with children, Jeffrey”

I tucked Dr. Smith’s belief in me into to my self-esteem nest. I have often thought about how honored I felt being in his class, and when I teach, I wish to emulate Dr. Smith’s love and respect for his students.

Excerpted from my book: Change: How to Bring Real Change to Your Life

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Sugar Myth

While shopping at Costco recently, I came across a mom pushing two curly haired boys, maybe 5 and 3 years old, sitting in a cart. The mom handed each child a free sample of three or four chocolate covered raisins. Both boys were happy to pop one of the treats into their mouths. 
Within seconds, the older boy elbowed the younger and screeched a sound of intolerance. The younger child growled back. A two second scuffle for cart seating supremacy ensued.
“You see,” the mom said with despair. “I give you two sugar and you get all hyper!”
The boys shoved their remaining chocolate covered raisins into their mouths as their mother wrestled the empty sample cups away from them. She was not happy.
The sugar in neither the chocolate nor the raisins hadn’t had a chance to be absorbed by the boys’ digestive systems. But, I doubt that the mother was talking about that specifically. What I guess mom was talking about was her belief that sugar influences behavior. This is a common belief of the parents I talk to. Let’s question this belief.

Is sugar a drug?
The simple answer is no. Please allow me to explain. By definition a drug is a chemical substance that affects the central nervous system causing changes in behavior and often addiction. The role of sugar and behavior has been studied a lot over the past 30 years. There is no scientific research that shows sugar to be a drug. No scientific evidence that the chemical compound of sugar effects the central nervous system. 
So why does this belief persist?
It is common for situations in our lives to influence what happens next. If you sniff pepper and then sneeze it is a fair assumption that the pepper irritated the lining of your nose and caused you to sneeze. This may be why sugar has such a bad rep. If you have a bunch of kids at a birthday party running around and “acting hyper” the assumptions is the birthday cake and ice cream “high” caused the burst of energy. This idea has been put to the test. 
A classroom of children were given a party and stuffed with lots of cake and ice cream then their parents were asked to rate their hyperactivity. The bouncing children were rated as very hyper by their parents. The parents were then told that the high energy party was totally sugar free. The parents were surprised. In another classroom, the parents were told that the kids were having a party, but all the cake and ice cream was sugar free. The parents rated the children’s behavior as normal. When the tricky experimenters told the parents that the cake and ice cream was really sugar full and not sugar free the parents were surprised. 
Research consistently shows that children are “hyper” when doing stimulating activities like birthday parties or family special events. Often sugar is readily available at these types of special events. But, it is the excitement of the event, not the food at the event, that caused the “hyper” and happy behavior.
Expectations count
Our expectations of our child’s behavior influences how we perceive their behavior.
 So! What’s the big deal about blaming sugar?
I’m glad you asked. The big deal is by telling children that when they eat sugar they are out of control, we accidentally tell them that they are not responsible for controlling their own behaviors. It is important that children learn that they are in control of their own brains, and that sugar, their brother’s mean look, or the close quarters of the shopping cart, does not give them permission to growl or hit their brother. The fact is, they gave themselves permission to growl or hit. So the real question to be discussing with our children is, “Why did you give yourself permission to growl or hit your brother?”
Alas there are problems with sugar
Recent research shows that large intakes of sugar (often soda) and childhood obesity lead to diabetes in early adulthood. This is life changing and very dangerous. Limiting sugars from all sources, especially foods without nutrients, in the diet during childhood is a good idea. 
And let’s not forget cavities. Sugar in the diet feeds the bacteria in the mouth. Bacteria, like all living things, get rid of waste products. This bacterial waste product is what causes tooth decay. So, let’s remind our youngsters to brush the bacterial poop off their teeth and gums twice a day.
Just in case you were curious, the free sample of chocolate covered raisins was delicious.

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