Thoughts About ADHD (Part 2)

I’ve always had a lot of compassion for my students with ADHD (or ADHD-like behaviors) because my husband had ADHD as a kid. Never diagnosed (it was the early 80’s), Kevin struggled in school. Despite being a very smart, charming, and energetic little boy, his report cards were filled with comments like, “Kevin fails to live up to his potential” and “Kevin contributes wonderful ideas in class, but doesn’t complete his work.”

If you ask me, his teachers failed to see that he needed help, and instead, blamed him for his inability to focus and follow through on tasks. It wasn’t until fifth grade that a teacher finally recognized Kevin’s strengths, helped to develop his love of science, and made accommodations like allowing him to take tests standing up. That teacher changed Kevin’s entire outlook on himself as a learner. Continue reading

Thoughts About ADHD (Part 1)

I’ve always thought of ADHD as a context-specific disorder. What are considered talents in one setting — such as high energy, creativity, and the ability to make brilliant cognitive leaps — are considered deficits in other settings, particularly traditional school settings, where students are required to sit silently for long periods of time, engaged in teacher-led tasks.

If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend watching Sir Kenneth Robinson’s address to the RSA, in which he contends that diagnosis of ADHD is on the rise because schools are failing to meet the needs of 21st century learners.

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Responding to Tragedy

Earlier this week, I wrote a post about “teachable moments” that I will publish next weekend.

Today, I want to give my deepest condolences to the families who are suffering due to Friday’s tragedy. I grew up in Southbury, CT, one of the towns that borders Newtown. My parents rented a house in Sandy Hook for a short time while they searched for our home. As a kid, I went to Newtown to see my friends’ dance recitals, to visit my dad at his office, and to watch shows at the $1 movie theater. It was and is, in so many ways, the perfect place to be a child and to raise children. I feel immense gratitude for the people there, for the teachers, friends, and neighbors who loved and cared for me, and my heart breaks for their loss. Continue reading

Imagine You Don’t Get Your Way: Helping Kids Develop Emotional Resilience

This week, my second graders elected their Table Leaders for the first time. Each of the five groups in my class voted for a leader who will pass out papers, lead the group’s meetings, and have weekly Leadership Lunches with me.

In the lives of second graders, being chosen as a Table Leader is a pretty big deal. And the moment I announce Table Leaders — the moment when we do a drum roll and applaud — is exciting and emotionally charged. Many of the kids are hoping desperately to be chosen… and a few are hoping the opposite.

You can imagine how a moment like this one could go terribly wrong. Imagine the disappointment, the crying… the shouts of “why does she get to be table leader? I didn’t vote for her!” Now imagine how much harm that could do to the classroom community we’ve worked so hard to build.

Moments like this can bring out the best and the worst in children (just like in adults). If, as teachers, we want to bring out the best in our students, we have to prepare them for disappointment. We have to teach children to be emotionally resilient in the face of a difficult outcome. One way to do that is by having them imagine the outcome — and make a plan for responding — before it happens. Continue reading

Why We Don’t Call Kids “Bullies”

When I was in third grade, I was bullied by a girl in fourth grade named Alex. She rode my bus and always sat at the back. Whenever I could, I sat at the front, but if those seats were taken and I had to sit near Alex, she teased me the entire way home: about my clothes, my hair, the way I spoke, the way I acted. I felt ashamed and embarrassed. To me, Alex was just a bully: a mean kid, rotten to the core. I hoped she’d drop off the face of the Earth, or, at the very least, go to middle school and not ride my bus anymore. Continue reading

Cognitive Psychology in the Elementary Classroom

My husband Kevin has read (and improved) almost everything I’ve written in the past 15 years.  After my last post about behavior plans, which he liked very much, he had three observations: (1) I should write about the love of learning kids experience in my room, (2) teachers are surprisingly manipulative, and (3) the posts I’ve been writing are mostly about behaviorism.

To the first point: Kevin’s right.  Posts about freedom, inspiration, and love of learning coming soon!

To the second point, about manipulation: what an interesting way to put it.  Good teachers build strong bonds with their kids, develop trust, and define clear expectations and boundaries.  Do I use those strong bonds to make kids work harder than they would on their own?  Of course!  I use all the resources I have to make them want to do what I (and their parents, our district, and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts) want them to do.  And is that manipulation?  I suppose so, but another way to put it is that it’s an effective use of influence and motivation, always in the service of student learning and growth.  I have more thoughts on this.  Another future post!

It’s Kevin’s last (excellent) point about behaviorism that I want to write about today. Continue reading