Monday, November 12, 2012

School Psychology Awareness Week 2012 #SPAW


The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) is proud to sponsor School Psychology Awareness Weeek (#SPAW). This year's theme is "Know your own strengths. Discover them. Share them. Celebrate them." This theme highlights the importance of creating supportive learning environments that help students identify, build and employ their strengths in school, at home and throughout life. As a School Psychologist I think this is one of the most important things we can do with our student populations. By exemplifying strengths we build confidence, self-efficacy and long term goals, which in turn create future healthy members of society. I will be tweeting ideas for helping students find their own personal strengths all week.  

One way I like to foster students in recognizing their owns strengths is drawing a comparison to superheros. I currently run a school program which focuses on building mindful awareness through the medium of superheros and super powers. We meet as a group and talk about what each of the students would like to be when they grow up. We then discuss what super powers would be helpful to be successful in that field. For example, a student recently told me that he want sto be a Football player when he grows up. We talked about super speed, super agility and super balance- all of which are things the student feels he is good at and led him to want to be a Football player. Another student indicated that he wants to build robots (I suggested becoming an engineer). We discussed his super powers as being super curiosity, super imagination and super attention. As a group we then meditate on these super powers trying to make sure we stay self-aware of them and keep them at the forefront of our daily intentions. The hope is that the students keep a strength based approach to their goals and aspirations; staying mindful of whether their actions are congruent with their "super powers." This is just one way I am trying to employ this years SPAW theme. For more information on how to spread the "Know your own strengths" theme, the following links may be helpful:

  Activities for School Psychology Awareness Week: Know Your Own Strengths

  Handout for Teachers and other school professionals regarding "Know Your Own Strengths"   

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Video: What Is a 504 Plan? - NCLD

Parents may often find disability services to be a confusing and ambiguous area to navigate. With all the abbreviations and acronyms, it can be difficult to understand what exactly a school maybe telling you. Therefore it is extremely important for parents to educate themselves on what exactly their child is eligible for and why. Here is a great video from the National Center for Learning Disabilities that clearly explains what a 504 plan is.

A 504 plan is not the same as an Individual Education Plan (IEP). They are mandated through two different laws. Again, as a parent it is important to educate yourself on the difference between these two plans and find which is right for your child. The following link, also from the NCLD, highlights and compares the similarities and differences between the two plans: Comparison Chart

Classroom Brain Break!!!

Here is video the Hawn Foundation posted on Facebook showing how quick and easy a Brain Break can be implemented in the classroom setting. I can't say enough about the Mind Up program. Its quick easy and very understandable for both children and teachers.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Infographics... The 21st Century King of Graphic Organizers

I'm sitting at a meeting trying to explain to teachers how Suzy's visuo-spatial processing disorder impacts her ability to understand graphs and spatial relations with regards to math reasoning. This is after exemplifying her significant strengths in verbal reasoning and vocabulary development. Her mother is next to me nodding her head in agreement. She contributes "Yes, I have always know she has trouble with directions as well as scanning and sequencing visual information. I wish we could find a way to combine and organize visual and verbal information to help Suzy understand concepts and processes." DING DING DING DING, the bell in my head rings. I immediately say, "well, Infographics have taken over social media as a way to quickly organize and present complex information in a short period of time."..... Crickets.

I go on my computer and immediately get denied by the schools firewall. After a few more attempts I am allowed on a website that has the above example of what an infographic is. I explain to the folks at the meeting that the pre-organized information and color coded nature of the info-graphic may help to lessen the visual processing burden that Suzy has every time she is presented with a page of paper or assignment to read. The reason infographics are so efficient is that they organize and sequence information for us, rather than having to rely on our own executive functions to do it. Its kind of like touring a city. You can try to tour a city yourself, map and guide book in hand, all while trying to read about each landmark and neighborhood. Or, you can get on one of those double-decker tour buses and have a tour guide tell you what to look at and what to think about it. Infographics are the double-decker tour buses of reading comprehension and math reasoning.

Infographics are an extremely effective way of quickly disseminating large amounts of information in a organized and easily digestible manner. The reason this works so well is that they utilize Preattenitve attributes, or visual cues to guide our attention to what is important. These can be size, orientation, color or contrast. By using these "visual cues" infographics are eliminating the need for focused attention and utilizing the brain's natural visual proclivity of observation and processing (Treisman, 1985, Treisman, 1986). Its like we have our own airplane Marshaller that guides our attention to the "information terminal." By eliminating the focused attention necessary to process an unorganized visual field, concepts and ideas are readily available for storage and digestion.

This is especially important for students who have disabilities or learn at a slower rate than their peers. These students spend so much attention and cognitive energy on decoding words, keeping ideas in their working memory and organizing concepts that they often miss the big picture or idea being taught. Infographics can serve to reinforce or remmediate information that gets lost in the cognitive processes of learning. Teachers can use them to teach vocabulary, show hierarchy or stress chronology. It is even helpful for students to create their own infographic as a project to exhibit skill mastery. By relying on preattentive attributes and dealing directly with content, infographics can increase the fluency of comprehension and analyzation necessary for high order skill development . The following links may be helpful for further information regarding infographics and how to incorporate them into a classroom:

A. Treisman, Preattentive Processing in Vision, Computer Vision, Graphics, and Image Processing, 31(2):156-177, August 1985.

A. Treisman, Features and Objects in Visual Processing, Scientific American, 255(5):114-125, 1986.