The Adolescent Brain: A Big Gulp Of Executive Function

Big Gulp of Executive Function Blog Header

I wrote the book Attack of the Teenage Brain! Understanding and Supporting the Weird and Wonderful Adolescent Learner, because of an advocacy bias: as a neuroscientist, I felt educators should have detailed knowledge about a cognitive gadget called executive function (EF). The reason? The Attack of the Teenage Brain Book Coverpower it holds over the academic lives of teenagers. It’s like cognitive Red Bull. What EF is, and how to boost it, is the fleshing-out of this bias and the subject of this blog post.

What Is Executive Function?

Executive function is defined in different ways by different researchers. It goes by many names, from attention-shifting to self-control. Most researchers agree on two defining components to the gadget: cognitive control, which really does involve attentional states, and emotional regulation, which include behaviors like impulse control.

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What does Executive Function Have To Do With Educating Teenagers?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that EF plays an outsize role in their academic performance. It’s also outsized in shaping socializing behavior — and EF dysfunction may mediate many adolescent psychopathologies. That’s the reason for my advocacy. Here’s how researcher Roy Baumeister describes the impact of EF (which he calls self-control) on student performance:

“When researchers compared students’ grades with nearly three dozen personality traits, self-control turned out to be the only trait that predicted a college student’s grade-point average better than chance. Self-control also proved to be a better predictor of college grades than the student’s IQ or SAT score.”

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That’s quite a thing to say. Given its academic effervescence, a logical question bubbles up: What activities improve Executive Function?
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PodcastPodcastTch Talks 26: Creating a Sense of Belongingness with an Academy for Newcomers

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What’s possible for newcomer education? And how can we accelerate language learning, affirm students’ identities, and help them get on track to graduation and post-secondary opportunities, while creating a learning community of high supports and high expectations?

ENLACE, a program for ninth and tenth grade newcomer students at Lawrence High School in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is working hard to answer these questions. On this episode of Tch Talks, Allison Balter, founding principal of ENLACE, shares her story of getting ENLACE started two years ago and what she’s learned from this experience so far. She talks about how teachers at ENLACE work towards supporting students’ learning of both content and language simultaneously. Allison also describes how ENLACE helps students feel a sense of belonging when they are physically so far away from their home countries. Listen in to find out more.

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Does the Language You Use Limit Your Learning Environment?

Does the Language You Use Limit Your Learning Environment?

I have long been skeptical of the “One Word” promises made at the turn of the new year.

On one hand, I totally get it; it’s an efficient way to stay focused on personal improvement. And like any goal setting, focus is essential to success; we often try to do too much with our goals — personally and professionally. In that respect, I see the value. However, the scope of one word seems, in some ways, too focused. I’ve struggled to see how a one-word focus would truly help me become a better me, a better teacher. But with this said, I also had no suggestion for a different approach.

So, as 2017 faded into the cold and dreary new year backdrop of 2018, I sat down to do my usual new year reflection and goal setting, resigning myself to this seemingly too-narrow approach for lack of a more effective strategy. It was while I scribbled in my writer’s notebook, jotting down key words and phrases that captured elements of my personal and professional growth that I hope to see improve in 2018, when the music in the background, which is always playing when I write, shuffled to a different song, grabbing my attention in a way it never had before. Having heard this song well over 100 times already, I couldn’t believe the way it was now inspiring my goal setting.

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Resources for Resilience and Healing after a School-Based Trauma

Resources for Resilience and Healing After School Based Trauma

It was the 11th school shooting in the United States this year — and it happened on January 23rd.

Pundits and politicians alike suggest that we, as a nation, are becoming numb to school shooting incidents — that we have become desensitized. However, nothing could be further from the truth for educators, their students, and school communities — tragedies like these are personal.

Although this most recent school shooting has been notably overshadowed by continuously breaking news, and it’s not a trending topic on Twitter, the tragic events at Marshall County High School in Kentucky this week are front and center in the minds of teachers, students, and parents across the nation.

Earlier this school year we published a post in the aftermath of the California wildfires that touched upon what teachers can do to support their students in times of tragedy. While the tragedy differs in type and scope, many of the tips for teaching in times of tragedy can help in the aftermath of gun violence — whether it happens in your own school or your community is feeling the anxiety that follows watching an event, like the one that played out in Kentucky, from afar.

But when it comes to something so important, teachers can never have too many resources to help them help students with resilience and, most importantly, healing.

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Teaching in Times of Tragedy

Teaching in Times of Tragedy Blog Header

As teachers, we’ve all dealt with days that are particularly tough in the classroom. Unfortunately, we seem to be increasingly faced with teaching in the days and weeks that follow a local or a collective tragedy. For nearly two weeks, Northern California has been ravaged by devastating wildfires — the deadliest in California history. For many at Teaching Channel, the Bay Area is home, and we’ve been thinking a lot about how we can help our friends and neighbors. From making a donation to volunteering your time, if you’re looking for a way to help, you can find a number of great ideas here and here.

Whether local, national, or international in scope, times of crisis can have a significant impact on our students and our classrooms. While the impact is more obvious when students are in direct proximity to the event or personally involved, large-scale national crises, often accompanied by heavy media coverage, can be equally difficult to navigate. The resulting stress and anxiety students — and teachers — bring into the classroom in response to a crisis can affect teaching and learning.

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Social Justice: Lesson Planning Resources

Social Justice & Equity

When events like those in Charlottesville, Virginia happen, we watch the news in disbelief and despair. We scroll endlessly through our Twitter feeds — tweeting, retweeting, sharing resources, and keeping abreast of the latest developments. Maybe what you saw invoked anger, maybe sadness, maybe fear.

The question that remains is, what are you going to do about it?

Teachers need to talk with their students about race, but before you begin to explore race, bias, and identity in your classroom, you’ll need to do a bit of work to be sure you’re prepared.

When you’re ready, the resources below can help spur discussions about implicit bias, privilege, and systemic racism, and empower students to work toward a more just society.

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Top Five Vocabulary Strategies for English Language Learners

English Language Learners

50,000 words by high school graduation.Top Community Blogger Badge

That’s the challenge English Language Learners (ELLs) face if they want to catch up to their native English-speaking classmates. That’s almost 4,000 new words a year if a student begins school as a kindergartner!

But what about the English Language Learners who don’t enroll until middle school or high school? For these students, the vocabulary challenge is even more demanding. To meet it, teachers must learn and use the most effective strategies. Over the years, I’ve tried many different approaches and techniques and compiled the following list of my top five favorite vocabulary strategies for ELLs.

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Video Playlist: Five Essential Practices for the High School ELL Classroom

Teaching Channel and the San Francisco Unified School District have partnered to share practices for engaging and supporting all students, especially English Language Learners (ELLs). In the first part of this series, we visited two elementary classrooms to watch teachers put the district’s recommended five essential practices into action (For more on these practices, read Lisa Kwong’s blog post).

In the second part of the series, we visit San Francisco International High School, a small school that serves recently arrived immigrant youth and is a member of the Internationals Network for Public Schools. There is so much to learn about teaching ELLs, especially newcomers, from stepping inside the classrooms in this high school.

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Responsive Classroom: Empathy Is The Key

Top Community Blogger BadgeI learned a new word: kuleana. It’s a Hawaiian word that means one’s personal sense of responsibility.

I accept my responsibilities and I will be held accountable.

Kuleana responsibility

 

As an educator, having a vision is important. We have a great responsibility to our students and to society. I’m privileged to be an educator, and part of my vision is to teach children not only academic skills, but social-emotional skills that will prepare them to master this concept of kuleana and use it throughout their lives.

This same personal sense of responsibility is naturally embedded in the work I do every day. I’m part of a community of educators who believe in the principles of the Responsive Classroom, a K-8 approach to teaching and learning which includes specific tools, strategies, and practices to help teachers provide a high-qualityeducation to every student, every day. It’s not an add on nor a stand-alone program. These principles, woven into everything we do, how we speak, and how we model behavior, are based on research that shows a strong link between academic success and social-emotional learning.

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Reality Over Rhetoric! ELL & the Year Ahead

English Language Learners

A few days after the November election, I had a meeting with Angie Estonina and Lisa Kwong, two talented educators who lead professional learning efforts on ELLs for San Francisco Unified School District.

With our webcams on, the mood was a bit somber — the election talk of deportations, walls, and targeted registries hung in the air as the rhetoric suddenly became more real. In fact, it felt a bit suffocating. In education, we all have days when we feel weighed down by how much needs to be done and by our professional and personal puzzles, but the unknowns of impending political shift pushed on us from the sides, making us feel the squeeze of change.

I even started wondering if an upcoming presentation I was about to do in Canada on ELLs with school districts from Ontario/Montclair, California, and Yakima, Washington, was even relevant. In retrospect, it was incredibly sad to even think this. But this was my state of mind. It was easy to go there when the personal and professional intersects — my nine-year-old son who is of half Mexican descent asked if he was going to be deported. This was not a question I had at nine years old.

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