Le Jardin Academy is an inclusive learning environment that aims to increase access and engagement in learning for our students by identifying and removing barriers.

ADHD and Better Decisions

In a study by researchers from the University Clinics for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at the University of Zurich, decision making processes- not learning ability- were the focus for determining whether kids with ADHD had more difficulty than others when making choices that would benefit them in the long term.

“We were able to demonstrate that young people with ADHD do not inherently have difficulties in learning new information; instead, they evidently use less differentiated learning patterns, which is presumably why sub-optimal decisions are often made,” says first author Tobias Hauser.

“Less differentiated learning patterns” (Hauser et al., 2015) can be understood as cognitive processing during which an individual is less apt to discern between reliable and unreliable sources, or less likely to synthesize new information with existing information in order to apply it to current situations. The good news is that learning new information is not the problem- applying it to making better choices is where the difficulty lies.

These types of studies are beneficial because they can inform educators about how best to teach students to build decision making skills, and it lets educators know that the process of making decisions must be taught directly. Again it is not that these particular students cannot learn to make sound decisions- it is simply that they need scaffolding to be able to consider the outcomes of the different choices they might make.

This could be as simple as keeping a note card which reads what when where why who, which will lead students through the thought process of each term, to consider what will change, who will this affect, and why it might be a good or bad decision. In addition, having a trusted person to call or meet with  to get feedback on the implications of making certain choices is important when faced with a big life decision that should not be made impulsively. There are also apps like Best Decision or Choicemap (better for older teens or young adults) which lead the decision maker through a thinking process and then uses an algorithm to rate the better long-term choices using a set of criteria that are important to the user, such as safety, potential fun, time constraints, etc.

Being able to stop and think before acting, evaluate the merits and pitfalls of decisions before they are made and after, and taking responsibility for ones actions, are all skills that must be taught, practiced and supported in a safe and forgiving environment for any student – but especially for those diagnosed with ADHD.

Sources and for further reading:

“About Good Decision-making.” KidsMatter. Web. 10 Oct. 2016.

Butler, Alia. “ADHD and Decision Making Capacity”. Livestrong.com. Web. 10 Oct. 2016

Hauser, Tobias U., Reto Iannaccone, Juliane Ball, Christoph Mathys, Daniel Brandeis, Susanne Walitza, and Silvia Brem. “Role of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex in Impaired Decision Making in Juvenile Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder.” JAMA Psychiatry 71.10 (2014): 1165. Print.

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via Through Your Child’s Eyes Tool | Learning Disabilities – Understood.

For all educators and allies to exceptional learners:  When you have time (ha!), please check out the above simulation, which is designed to create empathy and understanding of the struggles experienced daily for students with specific learning disabilities. These simulations are specific to difficulties in reading, attention, writing and math. Keep in mind that all people experience these struggles differently, and these gamelike simulations are meant to create awareness, not stereotypes. Thanks for taking a risk and doing something which may make you feel vulnerable- these simulations are indeed frustrating, and do a good job of making their point.

Musical Dyslexia?

Jennifer Mishra, an associate Professor of Music Education at the University of Missouri, discusses issues impacting students who struggle to read and understand music theory, in her article How the brain reads music: the evidence for musical dyslexia.

Mishra asks, “Is there such a thing as Musical Dyslexia?” She points out that some musicians have difficulty with reading written music, yet demonstrate and contribute great talent to musical arts. She writes:

Many gifted musicians are able to function at a professional level purely learning music by ear. Among musicians, there is a wide range of music reading proficiencies. This is especially apparent with sight reading (the first performance of a notated piece). Identifying musical dyslexia could help explain why some musicians read well and others don’t.

Musical Intelligence is one of Howard Gardners’ 9 “multiple intelligences” (Gardner, 2010), and in researching brain activity and development he has found that “certain parts of the brain play important roles in perception and production of music.” Infants generally recognize patterns and rythms in music even before speech – which may be why adults speak rythmically to infants. We are rewarded by their rapt attention as we coo and sing to them. This attention has been studied as musical learning.  In a scholarly article on the topic titled Musical Learning and Language Development, Jenny R Saffran, a psychology researcher at the University of Madison, Wisconsin, wrote that “along with faces, young infants are most consistently engaged by speech and by music (making singing a particularly welcome combination of face, speech, and music).”

It seems widely accepted that music plays an important role in learning. As students grow and learn throughout elementary school, there is much use of music for memory- songs about times tables, songs about history- the purpose is usually to help information “stick” with the general learner. This happens because it stimulates a part of the brain- the right hemisphere- that connects ideas with meaning, which is what we need for long term knowledge.

When students enter middle and high school, music is usually taught as a subject on its own, through choir or instrumental courses. Learning musical theory and gaining the skills for playing specific instruments through practice is much more complex than using rhythm to remember facts. Students with cognitive math and language learning disabilities often have difficulty learning the relationship between sounds and their corresponding written code. Dyslexic students who are taught to read music are often left feeling discouraged and  incompetent, even though dyslexic musicians may also have a natural ability to “play by ear”, by repeating the sounds they hear and practicing with repetition to access long term memory storage. This is similar to language learning methods like Orton Gillingham, which in part teaches language sounds (phonemes) repetitively, and then blends them to create words.

When a student struggles with reading code in any form, be it musical theory, written words, mathematical signs or computer code, it is helpful to explore alternative ways to teach and learn. Students may have insight into what works best, and can reflect on what works and what does not. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, “learning by ear” in music with much repetition through aural and kinesthetic practice, could be the way to access musical theory yet bypass struggles with decoding. Similarly, dyslexic students often can learn and demonstrate learning much better through conversation, project based learning, and multimedia creation (creating movies or designing games from exemplars) than from reading and writing.

 

References:

Mishra, Jennifer. (2015). http://theconversation.com/how-the-brainreads-music-the-evidence-for-musical-dyslexia-39550

Saffran, Jenny R. (2003). Musical Learning and Language Development. Waisman Center and Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison. Retrieved from http://www.waisman.wisc.edu/infantlearning/publications/Saffran2003c.pdf

Gardner, H. (2010). Howard Gardner. Harvard Graduate School of Education. Retrieved April 13, 2010, from
http://www.howardgardner.com/index.html.

Thanks to High School Learning Support Coordinator Cheryl Herndon for this post via Executive Function Disorder (EFD), Explained!.

Executive Function is described in the above link as the ability to analyze, plan, organize, develop, adjust, and complete a task in an efficient way. Of course we are all, even as adults, honing our executive functioning abilities, but there is a normative level of executive functioning that enables us to create reasonable expectations for students in a school environment, such as expecting students to remember where they have put their homework, or knowing how to plan for future completion of work by writing down assignments in a planner. When students demonstrate difficulty over time with executive functioning skills, they may undergo testing do determine if they are experiencing “EFD”, or executive Functioning Disorder- in which case there are various strategies and tech tools that can be implemented to assist with executive functioning skills.

Please check out a host of valuable tech resources related to specific learning needs, via Learning Difficulties and Special Needs Guide | Common Sense Media.

This is a wonderful addition to the “tech finder tool” from a previous post. Thanks to Leslie Witten, our Ed Tech Specialist, for passing this on to all the faculty at our school.  Thanks!

Proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983, the theory of multiple intelligences has revolutionized how we understand learning.  Gardner considers that everyone has strengths in different areas, and that there is no normative way to “be smart”. Some may have intelligence strengths in kinesthetic learning, while others may have strengths musically, mathematically, or verbally. The idea is that all of us posses each intelligence, though each intelligence is developed in different ways and at different depths. Everyone can grow and change in each way, and multiple intelligence theory is not designed to create a fixed mindset about our future capabilities, but rather to illustrate the diversity of intelligence, and investigate the myriad ways that we can learn. Here at LJA, our Middle School students have been discussing this theory in advisory groups. We took a multiple intelligence self test which shows where our strengths are now (while explaining that this may change over time), and discussed that here at Le Jardin we strive to become balanced learners while also honoring our different strengths as a community.

Learn more about the research behind his theory:

Source: Multiple Intelligences: What Does the Research Say? | Edutopia

I am often asked which apps or software programs I recommend for students with difficulty in specific learning areas such as reading, organization, self management, and attention. Technology is never a fix-all, but it really can transform the learning experience when students find an app or program that is a good fit for their needs. A good tech tool needs to be “user-friendly”, in terms of ease of access, graphic design, the system of navigation it employs, and the actual change in learning outcome it can facilitate for the student.

As an example of finding “best-fit” for apps and assistive technology, lets take a look at note-taking apps. Evernote is a fantastic organization tool, but for some students who have difficulty with visual attention or short term memory, it can be difficult to consistently tag notes, record notes, or save images to the app. This is not necessarily a shortcoming of the app itself, but an issue of “best fit” for the student. Similarly, notes apps such as notability are really incredible for versatility and creativity, but can be difficult to learn and get started with (though well worth that time spent!). More basic notes and list-maker apps that come preinstalled on iPads, iphones and other devices can be easier to consistently use and retrieve. Many students create google docs for note-taking, then organize their docs within Google folders, and -Voila!- they have notes that never get lost and are easily searchable. Again, the student who uses this strategy must be one who remembers to title their documents accurately, and takes the time to organize their Google Drive.

Our wonderful Tech in Education Director, Melissa Handy, shared the following tool finder with me recently: https://www.understood.org/en/tools/tech-finder

Tech finder assists students or their family members to find a tool for education that fits their needs. While it doesn’t have all the answers, it is a great place to start!

Another tech finder tool is the CALL Scotland App Wheel for learners with difficulties in reading, writing, or are dyslexic, The wheel displays useful Apple, Android, and PC desktop apps that help tremendously with reading fluency, comprehension, and organization of written work. As a visual learner, I love the organization of the wheel, and it has a lot of great offerings, particularly in the Mind Mapping section and the Writing category. Similarly, here is a Tech Finder wheel for learners on the Autism Spectrum. I appreciate that someone out there is creating social skill-builder apps and behavior reward system apps.

Please take a look at the links above, especially those for the App Finder Wheels, if you are searching for a best fit tech tool for you or your learner. As a school that embraces and promotes 21st century learning skills, we at Le Jardin Academy encourage our students to gather resources, find what works for them, and be informed of the ever changing ways that technology can be of assistance.