Tag Archives: learning and cognition

Term of Art: Executive Functions

“Mental activities associated with self-control, attention, focus, or concentration that allow an individual to achieve specific goals. Problems in executive function are associated with dysfunction at the frontal part of the brain. Mild or nonspecific deficits of executive functions are common in the general population. Executive functions also may be impaired by injury to the brain, fatigue, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, and various psychological disorders, including learning disability, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Problems with attention, self-regulation, planning, and impulse control may be connected to differences in the processing of neurotransmitters, especially dopamine, in the brain.

Executive functions control four kinds of mental activities. Working memory is essential to the problem-solving process. Information must be held in mind and internalized while a task is being completed. Internalized or private speech allows people to use complex sets of rules in problem solving. These include rules for using sets of rules. Third is the control of emotions and impulses, which allows and individual to remain focused and to continually return to a path of progress toward a desired goal. This allows an individual to set aside the attraction of immediate gratification. The achievement of deferred greater gratification is the product of this kind of self-regulation. Fourth is reconstitution, a process of observing behaviors and then synthesizing components into new combinations. This function is essential to problem solving and survival in a complicated world.

Individuals with ADHD and learning disabilities may have problems in reading long assignments or completing writing projects, since these tasks require executive functions. These difficulties may be connected to differences in the way certain brain chemicals are processed in the prefrontal lobes.

Some individuals with executive function difficulties are also very impulsive, having a hard time considering alternatives and consequences before they act. In solving problems, they are likely to select the first alternative without weighing other possibilities. They often speak without thinking of the consequences of their statements. Some students with these problems get so fidgety that it is hard for them to sit through a 50- or 90-minute class session.

Many individuals with executive function difficulties experience problems with time. Understanding the passage of time and planning for the future or the completion of a task by a particular point in time can be challenge. These individuals may frequently arrive late to appointments or classes. Long-term academic projects are among the greatest challenges for students who have executive function difficulties.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Cultural Difference and Learning

It bears mentioning that cultural differences have nothing to do with intelligence and aptitude. It is hoped that the cognitively savvy educator will appreciate the unique perspectives—literally—that students from various backgrounds may have and exploit those differences to optimize and expand the learning opportunities for all students in a classroom.”

Excerpted from: Rekart, Jerome L. The Cognitive Classroom: Using Brain and Cognitive Science to Optimize Student Success. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2013.

A Cause Worth Supporting

Late last year, in early November, I did something I proclaimed throughout my teaching career I would never do: I resigned and departed from my teaching post during the school year. I won’t bore you with the details of my resignation from the High School of Economics & Finance (HSE&F) in Lower Manhattan other than to say that working in the New York City Department of Education in general and in this school in particular had simply become untenable. That said, I paraphrase what I told my excellent students as my last day approached: I didn’t leave because I had any problems with the kids in this building, but because I had problems with the other adults.

The situation was dismal, redeemed only by the students in whose service I worked. Otherwise, the last couple of years in that school were for me routinely miserable.

Fortunately, some of my best students have stayed in touch. Now I’ve learned that a group of them are making plans to travel to Europe this summer with Pace University’s Liberty Partnership Program. One of the students I served at HSE&F (she’s in the banner photograph under the link below), as a global studies teacher, contacted me with news of the Go Fund Me campaign (which you will find right under this hyperlink) she and the rest of this group has started to underwrite their trip.

I donated this morning.

This is a really great group of kids who have come a long way as students and deserve whatever financial support they garner. If for some reason the link above fails, you can find these kids’ page by bringing up Go Fund Me and searching Travel Abroad Experience for High School Students.

Please consider supporting these richly deserving inner-city high school students.

Why Read?

…What is reading for? We read in order to understand thoughts: either someone else’s thought, or our own thoughts from the past. That characterization of the function of reading highlights that another mental act had to precede it: the mental act of writing. So perhaps we should begin by thinking about the function of writing. I think I need milk, I write that thought on a note to myself, and later I read what I’ve written and I recover the thought again: I need milk. Writing is an extension of memory.”

Excerpted from: Willingham, Daniel T. The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2017.

What Is Awe and How Is It Evoked?

“In a classroom setting, many students can feel stressed about exams or class projects because they feel as though they may not have enough time. Perhaps by inducing a sense of awe in these students, the successful teacher can allay some of the perceptions of time ‘crunch.’ Though this particular connection is admittedly one without further empirical support, it is intriguing to consider. Furthermore, because awe is a positive emotion, even if it doesn’t help assuage undue test anxiety, it will at least brighten a student’s day for a moment,

How does one evoke awe? Images of natural splendor or beauty, moving musical passages, or brief anecdotes about the successful exploits of famous individuals may all achieve this goal.

Effort actually influences our sense of how soon or far off something feels. Tasks and events that are believed to require effort and be taxing actually feel as though they are temporally closer than easier tasks. This only holds true if there is an actual deadline for completion. With a deadline or due date/time in place, it feels as though there is more time to complete the easy task and less time to complete the challenging one (Jiga-Boy, Clark, & Semin, 2010). Without a deadline, more effortful tasks seem farther away in time than they actually are.

These findings suggest that ambiguous or vague deadlines may actually result in greater levels of procrastination because to the student it feels as though there is more time to complete the project than perhaps is actually warranted. Thus it is recommended that firm deadlines be implemented and adhered to whenever possible.

Finally, time does indeed appear to fly when people are having fun (Gable & Poole, 2012). This fact provides yet another reason (as though any were needed) to introduce as much fun and frivolity as possible into classroom sessions because if hard-to-reach students feel as though the day is speeding by, there is less of a chance of them associated associating the school with tedium and toil. After all, a happy student is likely and engaged one.”

Excerpted from: Rekart, Jerome L. The Cognitive Classroom: Using Brain and Cognitive Science to Optimize Student Success. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2013.

Term of Art: Readability

“A measure of how easy it is to comprehend a text depending on a number of variables. These include vocabulary, sentence complexity, format, writing style, and topic, plus the reading comprehension level, interest, background information, and decoding skills of the reader.

Some methods of predicting the readability of a text are used to gauge whether an individual can successfully read and comprehend a passage. One such method is to read a section of a passage and count the number of words that are unfamiliar to the reader. If, for example, the reader encounters more than three unfamiliar words, the readability may be too difficult.

In educational settings, a text’s readability is often measured in grade level. For example, a history textbook with a readability of 9.3 means an average ninth grade, third month student should be able to read and comprehend it.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

A Learning Support on Using Context for Understanding

Because by now it is a truism that context determines meaning, I won’t bother to ornament this post with the myriad quotes about that maxim. Moreover, I think the preponderance of posts containing context clues sheets on this site affirms my insistence on using context to help students understand meaning–particularly of the vocabulary words they must possess in order to achieve in school.

While rummaging through the archives just now, I round this learning support on using context for understanding. It’s really just a squib that I copy and paste into worksheets in various iterations in order to support students in mastering this way of knowing. Looking at it, I can see how it could serve as the basis for a variety of worksheets.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.