I am an addict. I am not recovering. In fact, I hope to never give up my addiction. Fortunately, mine is a healthy kind of addiction known as exercise. My late, great father used to encourage me to take a break from undergraduate studies to go for a walk, do jumping jacks, ride my bike or go snowshoeing. “I don’t have time for that!”, I’d exclaim as I frantically crammed for an upcoming exam or smeared white out onto a term paper. Turns out, many, many years later I can finally agree that, cough, Dr. Hayes was, ahem, right.
There are myriad reasons to exercise including but not limited to the prevention of depression and disease, vanity and weight control. Another compelling reason applies to both school-age youth and those of us who are becoming a bit more long in the tooth: exercise changes the brain in ways that may protect memory and thinking skills, warding off dementia and brain fog and promoting long-term memory recall. A Canadian study revealed that regular aerobic exercise that raises the heart rate and activates sweat glands appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the area of the human brain responsible for learning and verbal memory.
Additionally, exercise stimulates brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. UCLA researchers recently discovered that exercise increased growth factors in the brain—making it easier for the brain to grow new neuronal connections while learning takes place.
Exercise helps memory and thinking through both direct and indirect means. The benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.
Indirectly, exercise improves mood and sleep, and reduces stress and anxiety. Problems in these areas frequently cause or contribute to cognitive impairment.
Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t. “Even more exciting is the finding that engaging in a program of regular exercise of moderate intensity over six months or a year is associated with an increase in the volume of selected brain regions,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School.
It’s never too late to start reaping the benefits of exercise, both physically and mentally. As the Nike ad tells us: Just Do It. Go for a brisk, 20 minute walk. Play “Just Dance” with your family. Challenge someone to a game of one on one in the driveway after dinner. Dance around the kitchen while making meals or during clean-up. Even raking leaves, and all too soon, shoveling snow in Wisconsin.
“Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory and learning.” ~ John Ratey, M.D.
Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.
Educator, Author and Consultant
nRich Educational Consulting, Inc.
Most people who know me would say that I’m “bubbly” or “full of energy.” When I was in school, I was always talking to my neighbor, easily distracted, and generally into everything other than what I was told to do. In my school years, we didn’t have terms such as ADD (attention deficit disorder) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder). I was just labeled “chatty” or “naughty.”
Now we know more about the issues of ADD and ADHD and the neurological confusion that can go on in kids’ brains. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), the term ADHD is replacing the term ADD entirely. Those with ADHD typically have a hard time staying focused, may have hyperactive tendencies to be in constant or almost constant motion, and can appear to be impulsive. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of children being diagnosed with ADHD has increased steadily over time (and may vary based on the different measures applied). According to the DSM-5, upwards of 5 percent of all children live with ADHD. However, those rates may be higher in different communities.
Numerous strategies can be helpful when working with students with ADHD, such as providing:
Dr. Sydney Zentall, a leading researcher in the field of ADHD at Purdue University, suggests that in some cases students may not clinically have ADHD but simply be under-stimulated. She states that these students may require higher degrees of stimulation and engagement than the average student. Additionally, Matt Fugate, Marcia Gentry, and Zentall found that while some gifted students diagnosed with ADHD possessed poorer work habits, these students exhibited greater levels of creativity than gifted students without ADHD.
While ADHD carries with it some dramatic effects on learning and relationship building, there may be some positive outcomes for students who are diagnosed or exhibit traits. Based on the research cited above, here are some suggestions for working with your gifted ADHD students:
However, students with ADHD may be sending us a message regarding their needs for greater stimulation and desires to be more self-expressive in their learning. These traits are what will make them successful in life. We need to nurture students’ creative sides, allow for their unique ways of doing, and encourage them to develop their talents.
American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5. American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.
Fugate, C. M., S. S. Zentall, and M. Gentry. “Creativity and Working Memory in Gifted Students With and Without Characteristics of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder: Lifting the Mask.” Gifted Child Quarterly 57, no. 1 (2013): 234–246.
Zentall, S. S. “Research on the Educational Implications of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.” Exceptional Children 60, no. 2 (1993): 143–153.
Portions of this article originated in a blog post that appeared on www.freespiritpublishingblog.com. Copyright © 2017 by Free Spirit Publishing. Used with permission. All rights reserved.
Kirsten Reitan, WATG Board, Guest Blogger
One of my principals attached a really good article from KQED Mind/Shift in his staff newsletter. Of course, I paid attention as I am a public radio junkie and remembered that KQED was the station I listened to when we lived in Seattle. Its title was “20 Tips to help De-escalate Interactions with Anxious or Defiant Students.”
Those of us who work in the school systems know that our students seem more anxious than ever. Parents are stressed and our world feels very chaotic. A National Institute of Health study found that about 25 percent of children between 13 and 18 years old have been diagnosed with some kind of anxiety disorder. And those are just the kids who have been diagnosed. Additionally, between eight and 15 percent of school-aged children have some sort of learning disability, a squishy measure as there is not a standard definition of learning disabilities.
People’s behaviors - and especially children’s behaviors - are forms of communication. So when kids act out, there are almost always underlying causes. The trick is to respond appropriately in a classroom filled with children who have concerns of their own. Jessica Minahan, a certified behavior analyst, special ed teacher, and author of The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students, says that typical behavior strategies don’t really work for kids who are responding out of anxiety. When we are anxious, working memory doesn’t work and it is very hard to recall important information. “Anxiety isn’t about ability, it’s about interference.”
Our district uses PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) as its main behavior management system. However, this system of rewards and consequences doesn't always work real well with anxious students. Common response to negative attention seeking is to ignore the student. But if the child has anxiety, ignoring them raises their level of tension.
Schwartz, K. (n.d.). 20 Tips to Help De-escalate Interactions With Anxious or Defiant Students. Retrieved September 26, 2017, from https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/04/21/20-tips-to-help-de-escalate-interactions-with-anxious-or-defiant-students/
On August 1, 2017, I had the privilege of being a presenter at a teacher’s workshop in Chennai, India organized by Rotary Club of Guindy, India. My main goal for this workshop was to explain the procedures that teachers in the United States follow to identify students who are gifted in various fields. I explained the identification process, monthly assessments, and progress monitoring that we are required to do during the school year. It was an eye opening experience for me to learn that educators around the world are not as fortunate as the educators in the US because they don’t have the proper tools or protocols in place to meet the needs of all of their students, especially their gifted students.
While India is trying to set up centers of higher learning in the form of colleges, institutes and international schools, it is also privy to the poor quality of primary and secondary education, out of date teaching mechanisms and methodologies and poor infrastructure. According to a deputy Director of Delhi University, educational policies in India are more top down in nature rather than bottom up. Therefore, most students fail to realize their true potential in their school years and have livelihoods that are less productive and satisfying. Talented students do not find appropriate guidance and mentorship to develop and blossom to their full potential.
India is the seventh largest country in the world by area and has the second largest population, comprising of 1.21 billion people. In 2010-11, there were almost 72,000 higher secondary, 1,28,000 high, 4,48,000 upper primary and 749,000 primary schools in India, giving an overall total of almost 1.4 million schools (plus a further 68,000 pre-primary schools). There were almost 249 million learners in classes 1-12 in 2010-11. The total teacher workforce includes 1.26 million in higher secondary schools, 1.24 million in high schools, 1.89 million in upper primary schools and 2.1 million in primary schools. About 90% of them are trained. Unfortunately, none of them are either trained or given resources to meet the needs of all students.
During the group discussions, many teachers shared about the talents and gifts that their students exhibit in the classrooms. One 6th grade teacher mentioned that a student who did not do well in the classroom test was able to create an outstanding art project explaining a difficult concept that she taught in her class. Unfortunately, she didn’t know how to develop that student’s talent and give him credit for his work. Similarly, many teachers shared that their gifted students have already mastered the content that they were teaching but unfortunately there are no policies or procedures to advance them academically in their school.
According to a researcher, Amita Basu in India there are no culturally appropriate identification or educational protocols in India. The mainstream classroom focuses only on repetitive tasks and rote learning, and gifted children have few opportunities to display their abilities in reasoning, problem solving, and creativity. “In such a situation, they are prone to get bored, leave work incomplete, misbehave, and absent themselves frequently from school. Often, a child with high ability is noticed by teachers only because of his/her behavioral problems.”
Thank you to the Rotary Club of Guindy for identifying this need and giving me an opportunity to share my knowledge about gifted education in the US educational system. I am sure that this is only a beginning and that more workshops will be conducted to make a wonderful global education system. My hope is that educators from all over the world can share their knowledge and expertise with others, developing new skill sets and obtaining the right resources to meet the needs of all of their students.
One key way classroom teachers can broaden their understanding of gifted students is through understanding the cognitive and affective characteristics intellectually gifted children exhibit. These characteristics most commonly appear in general classroom behavior and, therefore, are observable traits. To begin with, Steiner & Carr (2003) discuss six distinct ways gifted learners differ from their average-ability peers.
1. Gifted learners have a broader knowledge base and apply their knowledge.
2. Gifted learners prefer to be challenged.
3. Gifted learners possess faster problem solving skills.
4. Gifted learners efficiently categorize and represent problems compared to average ability learners.
5. They have intricately mastered procedural knowledge, that is knowing how to do something such as knowing the procedure to solve a lengthy algebra problem.
6. Gifted learners possess flexibility in their ability to strategize a solution to a problem.
7. They have superior metacognition and self-regulation skills.
Interestingly, gifted students often possess an intense desire to learn about their own interests. Their ability to think at abstract levels earlier than average-ability peers and form their own ways of thinking about problems and ideas indicates that intellectually gifted students need advanced content and choice in learning activities. That said, gifted students require a wide range of independent projects for differentiating instruction.
This is why an awareness of the social and emotional characteristics of gifted students can further help teachers understand many of the classroom behaviors they observe in gifted children. For example, the student’s desire to share knowledge may be seen by others as an attempt to show off and may lead to peer rejection. Gifted students’ high expectations of themselves and others can lead to perfectionism, personal dissatisfaction, or feelings of hopelessness. Additionally, gifted students routinely exhibit academic and emotional traits that may be described as intense or even extreme, in some cases. They tend to be more curious, demanding, and sensitive than average-ability peers.
In closing, gifted children are supremely unique and require parents and educators to modify home and school environments to meet their strong desire to “know more”. Modifications and accommodations are imperative if gifted students are to reach their full potential.
Steiner, H. H., & Carr, M. (2003). Cognitive development in gifted children: Toward a more precise understanding of emerging differences in intelligence. Educational Psychology Review, 15(3), 215-246.
One of the most common reasons for children to complain about boredom is that the material is not challenging enough. Especially students who are academically ahead of schedule tend to describe themselves as bored and frustrated. As a gifted and talented teacher in a public school, I come across situations like this on a daily basis. These children are gifted and they have abilities beyond the level of work that is being assigned. Some of these children may not do all their homework or may make a lot of careless mistakes in it, but they do better on tests.
How can you identify whether your child is under-challenged or not?
If you see any of the above symptoms, you can ask to have him/her tested for giftedness. It is very important for advanced learners to spend time with their peers in an isolated setting on various projects or they should be accelerated one grade level if they are exceptionally bright or they should be accelerated in a single subject where they have exceptional abilities.
Parents can do fun and exciting projects outside of school and set up lots of ways for their child to learn. If students are allowed to express their feelings, get a lot of attention, and exposed to interesting projects, they will do well and be successful in the long run. For instance, in school, the teacher can help the child select books for more advanced readers, look into dual enrollment, advanced grade placement for a specific subject, or whole grade acceleration. For high school students, one can explore college-level coursework, from AP courses to credit-granting classes at a local college.
“Every child should have the opportunity to struggle with challenging content. Gifted children should have content with rigor, depth, and complexity,” says Sally Walker, Executive Director of Illinois Association for Gifted Children. This is important not just to keep your child engaged, but also to teach him/her to apply herself. “Otherwise, children may get the mistaken idea that because they are smart, they should not have to work hard.”
There isn’t one way to make things work for gifted children. Each of us needs to assess our child’s needs and chart an educational path that will be challenging and rewarding. In doing so, we provide our kids with an environment to deepen their knowledge and develop the confidence to succeed.
(excerpt derived from https://www.noodle.com/articles/what-to-do-if-your-child-isnt-challenged-enough-at-school)
Guest Blogger: Laurie Burgos, Director of Bilingual Programs & Instructional Equity, Verona Area School District and WATG Board Member
There is an untapped talent pool present in every school district across the state of Wisconsin: English learners (ELs). This fast-growing, heterogeneous group of culturally and linguistically diverse students often goes overlooked when it comes to gifted and talented identification. In fact, in April 2016, NPR reported that of the 3 million students identified as gifted in the U.S., English learners remain the most underrepresented subgroup in gifted education programs.
As school districts work to revamp their gifted identification processes to be more inclusive of diverse populations and to use a more assets-based lens through which they view their students who come from bilingual homes, the Wisconsin Department of Instruction has found another way to recognize linguistic talent for students from all backgrounds through the Seal of Biliteracy.
The Wisconsin Seal of Biliteracy is awarded to graduating high school students in districts with a Department of Public Instruction-approved program, who demonstrate achievement in bilingualism, biliteracy, and global competence in two or more languages (English and a partner language) by successfully participating in the development of the languages through their schools, their families, and the community. English learners who come to our schools already knowing another language and serving as cultural brokers between home and school, have an advantageous position to achieve this award, which recognizes their linguistic talent.
In order to graduate with this credential on their high school transcripts, students must demonstrate proficiency in English by achieving certain scores on the ACT, SAT, or ACCESS for ELLs tests, as well as proficiency in a partner language, though AP exams or other language proficiency measures as determined by the school district.
The Seal of Biliteracy’s sociocultural competency requirements include writing essays in both English and the partner language in which students examine and compare their perspectives with those of other cultures and a service-learning project using English and their partner language. Students are encouraged to find ways to apply their linguistic talent to connect with and improve their communities.
To learn more about how your school district can begin awarding students with the Wisconsin Seal of Biliteracy, visit https://dpi.wi.gov/english-learners/wi-seal-of-biliteracy.
Making a List, Checking it Twice: Helping our Students to Stay Motivated, Engaged, and Organized in a Fast-Paced WorldRead Now
Catherine Ames, Green Bay Schools & WATG Board Member
I am a list-maker. I love the satisfaction of wielding a sharp #2, applying it to a post-it note or loose leaf paper, and scribbling a word or phrase as a gentle reminder. Even more satisfying is the sound of said pencil emphatically crossing off the words after the task has been completed. I add to my lists at the bottom, don't finish the jobs in any certain order, and sometimes carry them over for days and weeks. Lists keep me sane. Lists are my friend. And I firmly believe that lists are the friends of our gifted and advanced learners, as well.
Part of my day as an advocate for gifted students is inevitably spent helping students organize and prioritize their obligations. Making lists helps our students stay focused and keeps them from wasting valuable time. The visual reminder, finished and unfinished, is at once calming and empowering, giving students a sense of ownership and completion. Organizing with lists makes everything manageable and allows our students to see progress and feel a sense of satisfaction when they've accomplished a task. One study showed that fifteen minutes spent planning could save an hour of execution time!
To-do lists help as an external memory aid, giving us a visual to help our short-term memories deal with more. Our brains are designed to remember a few things for a short time, say 30 seconds. If we write down what we need to remember, especially if this is more than 7 things, (think phone numbers) and commit to looking at the list, we will never lose nor forget anything that's been recorded. Students are bombarded with things to remember, deadlines to meet, facts to memorize every day of their lives. To-do lists in the form of assignment notebooks and index cards reinforce that information. Every time we connect the visual, we are less apt to forget appointments, commitments or facts. In a sense, to-do lists grant us permission to let go and release.
Keeping a to-do list helps students to prioritize and stay productive, reminding them that "e-mail NHS advisor", "write FRQ for AP Psych", and "toothpaste", while all important, may not require the same sense of urgency nor a fixed deadline. Attention-stealers like cellphones, pop-ups and social media are constantly undermining the productivity of our youth. When they know that they can quickly glance at a written to-do list, they are less stressed out and more productive, incapable of forgetting where they were or what else needs to be done. Time-snatchers be gone.
A recorded to-do list can be a huge motivator for our students to help them set and clarify goals. "Get accepted at MIT" may be a bit lofty and self-defeating when not broken down into bite-sized to-do's. Listing steps like "obtain letter of recommendation from Mrs. Jones", "send transcript", "record service hours" will motivate our youth to set and achieve short-term goals. Then, they'll be able to have the satisfaction of grasping that pencil and dragging it across paper, leaving a black mark of accomplishment, and celebrating a job well done.