Imagination & ADHD

Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman is doing some fascinating brain-based research on the processes of imagination and creativity….and finding that there are striking similarities between the brain function of those in “imagination mode” and individuals diagnosed with ADHD. From the article The Innovative and Creative Power of ADHD:

“Where does innovation, invention, or creativity come from? The brain’s default mode network, which controls cognitive processes like perspective taking, daydreaming, and mind wandering, is most active when mind is resting…and this part of the brain is more active in people diagnosed with ADHD…In a way, you can actually conceptualize that people with ADHD have an overactive imagination as opposed to a learning disability…Based on the research available, Kaufman says that the way our educational psychiatric systems view ADHD may be seriously flawed…recent studies show that behavior educators identify as “disruptive” and “creative” often overlap.”

How can we create learning environments, both in and out of school, that proactively value and foster imagination and creativity? How do we need to change our perspective as adults so that we see the behavior of children (with ADHD or not) as complex and multi-faceted, always telling a richer story than labeling can often tell? Can we change our perspective to see ADHD as an asset, rather than a hindrance, to a learner’s development? In Kaufman’s words:

“You could conceptualize people with the ADHD label as explorers—imagine being an explorer trapped in an educational classroom where the teacher is saying, ‘Pay attention to me and don’t explore,’” he says. “It drives them nuts.”

137,160 Minutes of Homework

In an era in which children are increasingly scheduled and information absorption is increasingly rapid, how much and what type of homework is a perennial topic of discussion amongst educators and parents. Is Homework Helpful? The 5 Questions Every Teacher Should Ask provides some thought-provoking questions for teachers to ask themselves when assigning homework, and parents to consider if/when they find themselves wishing for more. Additional practice to support mastery is useful…and research shows that quantity does not equal quality; there are equally developmentally rich experiences that children can have post-school hours (like PLAY!). From the article:

“The National PTA recommends 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter (e.g., 20 minutes for second grade, 120 minutes for 12th). If you follow these guidelines, students will spend 137,160 minutes doing homework from first grade to 12th grade. That equals 2,286 hours or 95 straight days of homework.”

95 straight days of homework IF we are abiding by the 10 minutes per grade rule. “Is homework helpful?” seems to be the wrong question. Is 95 straight days of homework what we most desire for their development and growth into individuals of intellect and character? Food (but not homework) for thought.

Play or Learning? It’s Not Either/Or.

IMG_0019I recently recommended the book Free To Learn, by Peter Gray. The New York Times recently published an article, The Building Blocks of a Good Pre-K, that further highlights the fallacy that learning and play are mutually exclusive experiences.

“While grown-ups recognize that pretending helps children find their way into the world, many adults think of play as separate from formal learning. The reality is quite different. As they play, children develop vital cognitive, linguistic, social and emotional skills. They make discoveries, build knowledge, experiment with literacy and math and learn to self-regulate and interact with others in socially appropriate ways. Play is also fun and interesting, which makes school a place where children look forward to spending their time. It is so deeply formative for children that it must be at the core of our early childhood curriculum.

What does purposeful play look like? When you step into an exemplary pre-K classroom, you see a room organized by a caring, responsive teacher who understands child development. Activity centers are stocked with materials that invite exploration, fire the imagination, require initiative and prompt collaboration. The room hums.”

- Shael Polakow-Suranksy & Nancy Nager

Better learning doesn’t just happen as a result of environments where children are free to play. Better learning happens WHILE they play.

Velcro-ing to the Positive

There is a cognitive principle that psychiatrists call negativity bias, which has powerful implications for the work we do in schools: with children, and together as adults (parents, teachers, administrators, etc.). I believe an awareness of and active work against this cognitive instinct of ours can shift the sometimes inevitable slumps in mood and perspective, and ultimately create an even richer culture of trust and positivity amongst colleagues and between school and home.

What it boils down to is that our brains are wired to instinctually react to negative stimuli more often than the positive. And not just a little more often: upwards of three times more often. As neuropsychologist Rick Hanson puts it,

“The human brain is like Velcro to negative experiences and Teflon to positive ones.”

In fact, research shows that it takes three positive things to counteract one negative. Moreover, this ratio increases to five positive interactions to counteract one negative when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Schools thrive on a foundation of healthy interpersonal relationships: those that exist between colleagues, administration, students, and their families. Our profession involves a thoroughly interwoven web of human connections.

“When it comes to enjoying life and making use of who we are, all of us can; it’s just that some don’t…It’s sometimes referred to as the Snowball Effect, which can remind you of the time you pushed that little ball of snow along, and it got bigger and bigger until it got so big you couldn’t stop it, and it rolled all the way down the hill and flattened the neighbor’s car, and soon everyone was talking about the Huge Snowball that you let get completely out of control…Now the principle can work negatively or positively. It can promote cynicism as easily as it can encourage hope…the important thing is to make it work for yourself and for the benefit of others.” – Benjamin Hoff

 

 

Children Want To Be Understood

notebookThis New York Times article, Helping Parents Deal With Learning and Attention Issues, gives an overview of a new ad campaign promoting the website Understood.org. The website is an incredibly useful resource for parents, and by extension educators, as we strive every day to understand children’s experience, make learning and growing accessible and engaging, and walk the balance between protecting our children/students and allowing them the valuable experiences of struggle, failure, and perseverance with an eye towards students who develop both quality intellect and excellent character. Our children and students move through a world that is largely organized, scheduled, structured, and geared towards adults. The website provides a multitude of resources in the areas of: brain research, learning & attention (executive functioning skills), friends & feelings (social emotional skills), and support systems for families. Understood.org seeks to make the experience of different kinds of learners more transparent and accessible for parents and teachers so that we might better support and inspire the next generation.

For THEIR Future

“We need to prepare students for their future, not our past.” – Daniel Pink

Daniel Pink’s oft-repeated words serve as a constant reminder of our work as educators and parents. This video states:

“We are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist…using technologies that haven’t been invented in order to solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.”

It is our role to provide children with skill sets that go beyond information – skill sets that are transferable and can be relied on for whatever challenges, problems, and careers lie ahead in their future. As parents and educators partner in this quest – here are a couple useful resources. The first is a small booklet titled 101.3 Ways to Build Creativity. Within you’ll find numerous creativity, construction-based, collaboration-requiring activities that may prove useful in your work with students. Some samples:

  • Place a yardstick across six people’s index fingers parallel to the floor. Try and lower the stick to the floor, you will be surprised how difficult it is!
  • Create a tabletop game for two people using a pin pong ball, paper clips, and tape. Define the rules and scoring and how to wine the game.
  • Make a device that can place a penny in a cup without allowing any team member to be within 30 inches of the cup. You may use popsicle sticks, paper cups, string, tape, straws, spaghetti, and marshmallows in your solution. See how many pennies can be put in the cup in two minutes.
  • And 98.3 more!

The second resource is an article from the latest issue of Independent School magazine titled Education for Innovation: Teaching Children How to Change the World. The authors write,

“Students need to feel empowered to go out into the world and solve its problems. In essence, we want to figure out how to produce future innovators.”

The article highlights some key qualities that characterize innovation. Qualities of innovation are nurtured not just through STEAM activities, but throughout the large and small moments of children’s days and in many of the things you do with your students/children. Innovation is a habit of mind, not a discrete set of facts that can be memorized. It is a muscle, and as such must be worked and practiced to be strengthened and honed for the work that lies in both the near and long term. The article references Google Vice President Susan Wojciciki’s eight pillars of innovation, the conditions which need to be present for innovation to flourish and thrive:
Have a mission that matters: “If we want our students to not only have big ideas but also to learn how to run with those ideas, we need to start talking about things that matter.”
Think big, but start small: “By seeking volunteers and not issuing a top-down mandate, we assembled a team who were not only interested in integrating creative problem solving into their lesson plans, but who also wanted to re-envision our campus culture.”
Strive for continual innovation, not instant perfection: “If we want our students to become innovators, we have to inspire them to continuously improve upon their work. That’s hard to do when so many young people are programmed to work for the highest grade possible, achieve it, and move on to the next assignment.”
Look for ideas everywhere: “If we really believe that good ideas can come from anywhere, we’ve got to be open to listening to even the smallest voices.”
Share everything: “Our goal is for the way we teach innovation to affect our entire community.”
Spark with imagination, fuel with data: “We want our students to learn to listen to their hearts and their heads in equal measure.”
Be an open platform: “Rather than protect our intellectual property, let’s layer our ideas on top of each other and see if we can produce a generation of innovators who make breakthroughs that matter.”

 

Play Hard. Learn Better.

In his book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, author Peter Gray, an evolutionary developmental psychologist, examines the nature of play and the scientific research associated with it’s powerful educational benefits. It is simultaneously a very engaging and highly informative read. It’s worth buying a hard copy, it’s worth reading, and it’s worth taking seriously as we work as parents and educators to create environments, learning experiences, and opportunities for our children to become smart of mind and good of heart. Some quotes to highlight:

“Imagine that you had omnipotent powers and were faced with the problem of how to get young humans and other young mammals to practice the skills they must develop to survive and thrive in their local conditions of life. How might you solve that problem? It is hard to imagine a more effective solution than that of building into their brains a mechanism that makes them want to practice those very skills and that rewards such practice with the experience of joy. Perhaps play would be more respected if we called it something like ‘self-motivated practice of life skills’…”

“Playing with other children, away from adults, is how children learn to make their own decisions, control their emotions and impulses, see from others’ perspectives, negotiate differences with others, and make friends. In short, play is how children learn to take control of their lives.”

“In play…children bring the realities of their world into a fictional context, where it is safe to confront them, to experience them, and to practice ways of dealing with them.”