If Our Kids Are More Distracted Than Ever, How Can We As Parents Help?

More than half of American students consistently do homework using some sort of technology such as a laptop or smartphone.  Sometimes they are using these tools to complete their work, but often times, these gadgets are merely a distraction and cause homework to take even longer.  In my last blog, I mentioned the myth of multi-tasking.  In reality, there is no such thing.  The brain is actually task switching because it cannot accurately focus on more than one thing at once.  If Facebook, surfing the internet, trying out the newest apps and texting are getting in the way of your child’s productivity, there’s help.

Studies show that when students are more aware of how they study best, they have higher GPAs.  When they are able to craft an environment that is comfortable for them, they can become much more efficient at their school work. This ideal study environment will be different for every student, but here are some questions that can help make your child more self aware and give you an idea of how much technology should be involved.  Have your kids ask themselves:

  • In what environment do I get the most work done?
  • Where do I tend to focus best?
  • What time of the day am I most productive?
  • How do I best eliminate distractions?
  • What kind of music can I listen to while studying? (By the way, research has shown that music with lyrics makes it harder to focus, but if it’s a song that your student listens to all the time, their brain will be used to blocking it off and it may actually help with studying.)

Research also shows that when students take breaks from technology, they can improve their focus. There are lots of activities that can relax a student’s mind and improve cognitive processes.  These include:

  • Exercising (playing a sport, taking a walk, or yoga)
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Looking at beautiful art work
  • Listening to music

All of these activities have been shown to relieve stress and enhance study time. 9VZPKXCBHAZQ

But sometimes, even the most diligent students don’t want to hear how they can use technology wisely when the ideas are coming from their parents.  As a parent of a 14 year old, I’m very well aware of this!

This summer, we’re rolling out our new educational coaching program.  It’s a ten-session, in-home tutoring program designed to help students tackle ways they work best.  We’re also incorporating other strategies for reading comprehension (how to focus and retain when the text isn’t too exciting), note-taking, organization, time management and goal setting.  In addition, we’re offering this unique study skills program to rising middle and high school students in a group setting in Vienna, VA.  Let me know if you have any questions about this blog or our summer classes.

Ann Dolin, M.Ed. [email protected]

President ~ EC Tutoring

iGeneration Learning: What’s Going on In Our Kids’ Brains?

I was lucky enough to attend two of Dr. Rosen’s sessions at the Learning and the Brain Conference this weekend.   In addition to presenting his own research, he also summarized other recent studies.  Here are the questions, answers, and other tidbits I found interesting:

  • Why are “screens” so appealing to humans? And when it comes to reading, what is the neurological reason our kids prefer to search Google than read a book? Dr. Gary Small of UCLA conducted fascinating research studying students’ fMRIs when they were asked to do two separate things: read a hard copy book and search the internet using Google. He found that kids’ brains almost fully lit up (almost all areas were stimulated) when they used Google, but that only a very small portion was activated when reading a book. The internet produces a hyperactivity of the brain; it makes people more engaged and stimulated.
  • The more friends you have on Facebook, the more gray matter (associated with memory) in your brain. Also, those with a large amount of friends were more likely to have a larger amygdala (part of the brain associated with emotion). Here’s a good visual of brain maturation. Although association doesn’t mean causation, most here at the conference believe there is a causative affect.
  • Children who play violent video games have less activity in their brains that regulate emotion and aggression. The effects can last for a week after last playing a game.
  • Furthermore, people who are addicted to video games have disrupted brain connections in the areas of emotion, decision-making, and attention.

When it comes to attention, a recent study by Rosen looking at the habits of 279 middle, high school, and college students found the following when the students were observed studying for 15 minutes:

  • All groups could only attend to the task for 3-5 minutes before losing focus. They were able to refocus at about 6 minutes, but then were highly distracted between 8-10 minutes. They became highly focused at approximately 14 minutes, probably because they realized they had just a short time left before the time was up.
  • The most interesting finding was that the number of windows the student had open, the more off task they were.
  • Off-task behavior was highly correlated with lower grade point average (GPA). On-task behavior was correlated with higher GPAs.

In a nutshell, Rosen found that the following factors in the study predicted good school performance:

  • How much time the student spent on task.
  • If the student had strategies for studying (more on this in my next post).

And the following factors predicted poor school performance:

  • Switched from task to task often (multi-tasking).
  • High amount of daily media consumption.
  • And most amazingly, whether the student checked Facebook just ONCE during the 15 minutes. This is the factor that was most correlated with lower GPA.

The question isn’t whether technology is good or bad, it’s about how kids can use it wisely. Part of that includes something called “meta-cognition” which is a fancy way of saying “thinking about thinking”. In order for students to regulate their own online habits they must know how they learn and pay attention best. More on the latest on meta-cognition in my next post.

 

Questions or comments? Please post them below!

Ann Dolin, M.Ed. — President — EC Tutoring

 

iGeneration Learning: How Technology Rewires Brains and Teaching Strategies

For the last three days, I’ve been attending the Learning and the Brain Conference sponsored by Johns Hopkins University.  Almost one thousand individuals in education-related fields from all over the country have come to Crystal City to learn about the latest brain research from the world’s leading neuroscientists and psychologists.  This year’s conference title, “Web-Connected Minds: How Technology Transforms Brains, Teaching and Attention”, is of tremendous interest to me as an educator and more so as a parent.  I have questions like:

“Are our kids’ brains different because of their attachment to technology?”

“What are the long-term effects of technology on our kids?”

“Is technology causing our kids to have shorter attention spans?”

The bottom line is that neuroscientists have just begun to study the long-term effects of iPads, iPods, texting, Facebook, YouTube, video games and basically anything with a screen.  Through my next few blog postings, I hope to consolidate some of the newest research from this conference.

The first keynote I attended on Friday was given by Larry Rosen, PhD, from California State University.  Here are some of the basic take-aways from his talk:

  • Although our brain only weighs two pounds, it uses 25% of our energy.  It’s a myth that we use only 10% of our brain.
  • Functional MRIs (performing a task during an MRI) have found that thinking about something actually activates more (and different) parts of the brain than hearing, speaking, and seeing.
  • Our kids are thinking all day long…about technology.
  • There are two types of distractors during learning: internal and external.
  • Thinking is an internal distraction.  Kids may be contemplating, “I wonder if anyone “liked” the photo of me water skiing.”  A common internal distractor is Facebook.  In fact, every one out of five page views on the internet is of Facebook.  More on external distractors later.
  • Rosen says our kids are suffering from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  When they don’t have their phone in hand, they are panicked that they’re missing out on something important.  Yet when we take their technology away, it actually creates more anxiety.  When kids are in FOMO mode, they are not fully available for learning.
  • Solution?  Tech breaks.  Allow your child to have his or her phone during homework.  It can be on the table, just turned over (out of sight, out of mind does not apply to this generation when it comes their phones).  Students should work for 15 minutes, and then take a one-minute tech break.  This one-minute break greatly relieves anxiety and kids are better able to focus.
  • There is no such thing as multi-tasking.  The brain actually quickly shifts from one task to another.  When kids are doing many things at once such as texting, looking at Facebook on their laptop, and reading a text book, they are not doing any one thing accurately.
  • When they are working on many things at once, including homework, they prolong the amount of time they must spend on their assignments.
  • This makes sense to us as adults, but studies show kids think they can work just as efficiently in this manner.  A good solution is a tech break.

In addition, Dr. Rosen described characteristics of the iGeneration (born 1990-1999).  They:

  • Are more liberal.
  • Are more idealistic.
  • Are more socially connected.  Their #1 vehicle is Facebook.
  • Think have a strong desire to be entrepreneurs and believe they can succeed.
  • Have a strong work ethic when they can focus.  The problem is that they cannot focus well because of so many distractors inherent in their environment.

More on technology’s impact on focus and attention in my next blog from the Learning and the Brain Conference.

 

I’d love to hear your comments or questions!  Please post below.

Ann Dolin, M.Ed. — President — EC Tutoring

 

This Season’s Best Student Stocking Stuffers

Thinking of a last-minute gift that will make learning fun? Take a look at our recommendations for stuffing your kid’s stocking with gifts that will be both popular and educational.

E-readers such as Amazon’s Kindle or Barnes and Noble’s Nook – All ages
E-readers are perfect for students of all ages. They have internal dictionaries that make learning new vocabulary words a breeze and students can highlight text, bookmark pages, and take notes with the click of a button. Reluctant readers will often find themselves caught up in the novelty of reading on an electronic device while struggling readers will love the large font and narrow margins options.

A subscription to Time for Kids – Grades K to 6
Getting your child involved in the world is fun with this interactive news source. Time Magazine for Kids features articles written not only for kids, but by kids. Both the online and print format are filled with timely, appropriately written news articles that will both inform your child and spark dinner time conversation. Available in four age groups: K-1, 2, 3-4, and 5-6.

Livescribe Pen – Grades 6 to College
If your child wants to be a more efficient note taker, here’s the solution! With the Echo™ smartpen from Livescribe, students can record everything they hear, say and write, while linking their audio recordings to their notes. They can quickly replay audio from their Livescribe paper, a computer, or a mobile device –all with a simple tap on the handwritten notes. It’s never been easier to take notes and stay organized.

A Personalized Journal – All ages
Even if your child isn’t keen on writing, starting a dialogue journal with them, in which you and your student respond to each other and share your thoughts, is a great way for kids to think of writing as a relaxing, pleasant experience and opens the lines of communication between you and your child. Older kids may find a personal journal to be a way to wind down from the demands of the school day.

Perplexors Logic Puzzle Books – Grades 3 and Up
Going on a long car or plane trip this holiday season? Need activities to keep your kids entertained while on holiday break from school? These challenging Perplexors build logic skills and student confidence with a new scenario on each page.

And finally…A Great Private Tutor!
Thinking of getting some help for your child next semester? Whether your child could benefit from reading, writing, or just math tutoring, don’t wait until the New Year to arrange it! Now is the time to contact the Educational Connections office to ensure you will find a tutor who fits your child’s learning style and academic needs.

No matter which gifts you choose to give this year, Educational Connections wishes you and your family a very happy holiday season!

“Tech Breaks” Can Help Students to Focus on Homework and Finish Faster!

I’ve always been interested in research-based ways to help students complete their homework more efficiently.  As parents, it’s our natural instinct to say things like “Turn that off!”, “Stop texting”, or “Facebook can wait.  Do you have to check your account while doing homework?”.  But in reality, our kids may “need” their technology and perhaps rewarding themselves in a disciplined way may just help them to focus a little bit more.

Author and psychologist Larry Rosen suggests some counter-intuitive solutions for students who are being distracted and overwhelmed by numerous tech gadgets and applications. Among them: a “tech break,” in which students are allowed to spend 15 minutes or so focusing only on technology — checking social-media sites, texting or watching videos on YouTube. Rosen suggests this disciplined approach allows students 15 minutes of tech time for each 30 minutes of focused study.

Here’s a great article on the topic from Hechinger Ed.  Read on!

Psychologist Larry Rosen laments the fact that technology is driving us all to distraction. This past weekend, he spoke at a Hechinger Institute seminar for education reporters, which focused on how digital media are transforming teaching and learning in U.S. schools.

In a forthcoming book, iDisorder, Rosen argues that all our tech gadgets and applications are turning us into basket-cases suffering from versions of obsessive-compulsive disorder and attention-deficit syndrome.

“Kids are thinking all the time, ‘Oh my god, who texted me? What’s on Facebook?’” says Rosen, a professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills. He says the average computer programmer or medical student can only stay focused on a task in front of him- or herself for three minutes.

Rosen has suggestions for fighting back, and some of them are counterintuitive. Instead of resisting the urge to text, check Facebook or watch a YouTube video, Rosen says just do it. That’s right: Cure the tech disorder with a dose of more technology!

Rosen calls it a tech break. But rather than taking a break from technology, you give yourself permission to embrace technology for a particular amount of time, be it one minute or 15. “It works amazingly,” he says.

Here’s why: If your brain keeps thinking about a text message you need to return, it’s better to send that text to get the nagging impulse out of your head. Once you stop thinking about sending that text, then you’ve literally freed up space in your brain to focus on more important things, like solving the global energy crisis or creating world peace. Or, just getting that research paper done.

The trick is to be disciplined and only take tech breaks at predefined intervals. One example would be to work hard for 10 minutes, and then allow yourself one minute to check email. For a child doing homework, Rosen suggests rewarding the child with 15 minutes of tech time for each half-hour of focused study. Rosen advises giving the child an option of spending the 15 minutes immediately or accumulating it for later use. After all, you need more than 15 minutes to get into a good video game.

Rosen’s theory has interesting implications for schools. Would kids be more focused and productive if teachers told students to take their cell phones out of their lockers and check their texts in the middle of every class?

Fortunately, there are other effective ways to reset the brain. Rosen lists a bunch: listening to beautiful music, looking at art and practicing yoga. Or going outside for a hike.

Upcoming Parent Presentations in Your Area!

These workshops, presented by Ann Dolin, are free and open to the public!

Thursday, November 15th 7pm – Cunningham Park Elementary, Vienna, VA
Starting Off on the Right Foot: 10 Powerful Solutions to Ensure a Stress-Free School Year

Wednesday, November 16th 7pm – St. Charles School, Arlington, VA
5 Proven Strategies for Raising an Academically Successful Student

Thursday, November 17th 7pm – Chesterbrook Elementary, McLean, VA
Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework

Tuesday, December 13th – 9:30am – Wolftrap Elementary, Vienna, VA
Homework Made Simple: Tips, Tools, and Solutions for Stress-Free Homework

Thursday, December 15th – 7pm – Woodson High School, Fairfax, VA
ADHD Boys vs. Girls: Does Gender Matter? Patricia Quinn, MD — Part of the Parent Link Seminar Series

Take a look at additional workshops or book a presentation at your school!

Why Is Reading So Hard for Some Kids?

Picture two students, side by side, reading a fairytale from a storybook.  One student easily reads with expression and enthusiasm, “Once Upon a Time”.  The other student slowly reads “On up a tim.”  Both students live in the same neighborhood, have educated parents that read to them at night, and were exposed to literature at a young age.  So why can the one read and the other cannot?  Is it a fairytale story to think that reading is a natural process?  The answer is “yes”.

How Prevelant Is the Problem?

Almost 20% of children have a reading problem that impacts their ability to learn to read through traditional teaching methods. Most reading instruction in American classrooms is taught through the whole language approach where students are expected to learn to read naturally through exposure to literature.  While this methodology works with many students, it doesn’t work for all.  Critics of the whole language approach state that students also need phonics-based instruction.

Reid Lyon, the former head of National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, makes a valid point by questioning why there are so many illiterate adults and children if reading were a natural process.  According to a recent article in TIME magazine, there are almost 3 million students in special education classes specifically because they cannot read.

Most have a reading disorder, such as dyslexia.   In many instances, the student demonstrates strong reading comprehension, but there is a specific glitch in sounding words out (decoding). Because reading is a combination of decoding and comprehension, a student’s decoding skills are vital to the reading process. To learn to decode a student needs to be able to understand that individual sounds make up words.  Thus, a reading disability that is not based in comprehension is occurring at the basic letter/sound level.  Students aren’t able to quickly pull apart sounds and blend them together.  And interestingly, because reading and spelling are related, a red flag for dyslexia is poor spelling.

What’s Causing Such Difficulty?

Scientific data points to specific neurobiological differences between normal readers and those with dyslexia.  Brain scans show that those with a reading disorder process information from the frontal lobe, while normally-functioning readers process information from the posterior region, the part of the brain that makes reading automatic.  When this occurs, students compensate by relying heavily on memorizing words because they can’t sound them out fast enough.  While this compensatory strategy helps get kids through a school year, without proper treatment, these children flounder as they encounter new, more challenging text.  As students age, they will continue to struggle to decode, however, this does improve with time.  The most significant residual effect of their untreated reading problem is very slow reading.

What Can Be Done?

Twenty years of research demonstrates that we can remediate almost all reading disabilities.  Assessment of a student’s letter/sound knowledge as early as the kindergarten and first grade is key.

Too often the excuse of a developmental lag is given and that eventually Johnny will “catch up”.  Statistics state that 76% of students with an untreated reading problem never do catch up.  Waiting to seek help is not the answer.  When help is given in 4th grade rather than in kindergarten when weaknesses were first spotted, it takes four times as long to improve the same skills by the same amount.  Although it may take longer to remediate a reading problem in a middle or high school student, we do know it can be done.

One-to-one reading instruction or small group instruction is considered the best approach. Explicit instruction is the most powerful way to improve reading. The focus should be on decoding, fluency, and ultimately, comprehension.

In the 1930s, Dr. Samuel Orton and Anna Gillingham developed an approach to reading, a ‘course of action’ if you will, to provide reading instruction.  Their method is still the gold standard used today.  The Orton-Gillingham approach is multisensory (instruction taps into the visual, auditory and kinesthetic domains) because this approach aids the processing, retention and application of information.

Although scientific evidence proves that reading is not a natural process for many, obstacles can be overcome.  With the right instruction, these students will be able to open up their books and be whisked away to magical lands.