Monday, November 28, 2011

It's About TIme: Temporal Sequential Processing and Telling Jokes

Time is a concept that grabs our attention from birth and doesn't let go.

Time to be fed... time to be changed..."are we there YET?", " WHEN is my birthday?"... "is it Christmas already?... " Time seems to drag when we are kids and fly by as adults. And, for all our fascination with time - it is one of the most difficult concepts for us to grasp.

According to Jean Piaget, child psychologist, time is an abstract concept that kids don't truly grasp until approximately eight years of age. Words relating to time are also one of the most difficult for kids to grasp (soon, yet, when, almost).

Even as adults, we are constantly wrestling with time. We juggle time schedules in our daily lives and are fascinated with studies and stories of time and relativity,  time travel, and time seen through space and multiple dimensions.  Adults, be they scientists, physicians, psychologists, writers, musicians,or fashionistas all wrestle with how to turn back the effects of time.

Time is literally all around us and effects just about everything we do.  Temporal sequential processing is all about how we recognize and follow time. It refers to the skills and steps we take to accomplish things in a given time, place, and order.

Telling a story or a joke, for example, is all about temporal sequential processing.  We have to understand the order (in time) that events take place, twist the story so the punchline is unexpected, and deliver that punch line with the correct timing (pausing for listeners to think and then zing them).

Notice how Ray pauses before the punchline and moves from topic to topic - they all relate but you don't quite know where he's going until he zings you.

For joke telling tips here are some links:

BUT Temporal sequential processing is involved in a whole lot more than just telling jokes and stories.  You need solid temporal sequential processing to function in just about everything you do:
  • Knowing when to wake up to get to work/school on time - (knowing how long it takes to dress, eat breakfast, commute, etc.)
  • Knowing how long various chores/tasks/activities will take as the day's schedule (and required tasks) evolves and knowing how much to schedule (or not schedule) given the day's agenda.
  • Setting aside enough travel time to get to appointments/classes on time.
  • Cooking is ALL about temporal sequential processing - from following the directions in the right order, to knowing how the oven heats and how long to mix, stir, bake and fry.
  • In school there are even more demands:
    • Social studies:  kids must sequences of events over time that shaped a particular individual or enabled a specific event /plan to succeed;  
    • Math: students must understand WHEN to apply different solutions and different sequences of solutions
    • Science:  experiments in science are all about timing and following sequences of actions
    • Writing:  students must keep track of the sequence of the story or content while keeping track of spelling, and grammar (past, present, future).
How to help strengthen temporal sequential skills:
  • Keep a calendar handy and fill in your daily /weekly / monthly responsibilities
  • Checklists for chores, assignments, etc. 
  • Install good word processing programs on computers to help check for grammar and spelling
  • Consider software programs that help plan out writing sequences, organize notes, even map quests that will give you estimates of how long it will take to get somewhere
  • Play games that require sequencing and timing (tennis. for example, is great because timing is important in vollying)
  • Cooking and baking are great ways to reinforce sequences of steps and time
  • Comics and graphic novels are GREAT ways to work on sense of time, sequence and order of events (just following the panels reinforces following sequence and time).
  • For social studies in school, make timelines to help visually reinforce the sequence of events as well as how closely they played out  within a given time frame.

Me?  I am not a good joke-teller and I have had to add a lot of structure to my day and my life to handle time efficiently - get to where I need to be on time, meet deadlines, and juggle home, parenting, and work responsibilities.  I keep calendars, set my clocks a few minutes fast (even though I know they are fast, it still helps me) and I leave the joke telling to others.

How do you deal with time?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Saucy Slams

When in need of a sharp jab and putting in one's place, how can you go wrong with a Shakespearean spar and jab? I really do try to be considerate and (relatively) well-mannered, but there are moments when a good insult just eases the stress.  Besides, it's a great way to exercise the mind and tongue while introducing wonderfully creative wordplay. There certainly are fewer 'teachers' more capable than Shakespeare. What better way to insult someone than to use such sophisticated, newly fabricated, or defunct words - that it takes so long for them to process - you're long gone and score on the cool, creative intellectual side!

So I thought we could all do this together, take a break, and have some fun:
  • Please create your an insult following the chart directions below and leave the insult in the comments.  Feel free to add an optional note why you constructed this particular jab.
  • Read the deposited insults aloud with gusto and verve (and spittle out those "s's" and "p's" when appropriate)!!!!! 
  • But most of all, sling some silly slights and smears so we can smirk and smile the rest of the day.
  • Optional:  Leave some creative teaching ideas for all my homeschooling, teaching, parenting followers to share and savor.

Shakespeare Insult Kit

Combine one word from each of the three columns below, prefaced with "You" or  "Thou": 

Column 1                     Column 2                Column 3 

artless                   base-court              apple-john
bawdy                     bat-fowling             baggage (encumberer)
beslubbering              beef-witted             barnacle (tenacious)
bootless(useless)            beetle-headed           bladder (filled with air)
churlish(rude )             boil-brained            boar-pig
cockered(pampered)            clapper-clawed          bum-bailey
craven(cowardly)             common-kissing          canker-blossom
currish(contemptible )         crook-pated              clack-dish
dankish(damp,soggy)           dismal-dreaming         clotpole(oafish)
dissembling(hypocrite)        dizzy-eyed              coxcomb(conceited dandy)
droning(dull,monotone)         doghearted              codpiece(pant's crotch piece)
errant(deviant)              dread-bolted            death-token
fawning                    earth-vexing            dewberry(fruit)
fobbing(deceiving)            elf-skinned             flap-dragon
froward(contrary)             fat-kidneyed            flax-wench
frothy(mad)                 fen-sucked              flirt-gill(girl of light behavior)
gleeking(tricking)            flap-mouthed            foot-licker
goatish                    fly-bitten               fustilarian(scoundrel)
gorbellied(tasteless)         folly-fallen              giglet(frivolous)
impertinent                fool-born                 gudgeon(slimey)
infectious                 full-gorged              haggard
jarring                    guts-griping            harpy(fierce-tempered woman from Greek myth)
loggerheaded               half-faced              hedge-pig
lumpish(boring)              hasty-witted            horn-beast
mammering(hesitating)          hedge-born              hugger-mugger
mangled                    hell-hated              joithead(dunce)
mewling(whimpering)           idle-headed              lewdster
paunchy                   ill-breeding             lout
pribbling(vain chatter)        ill-nurtured             maggot-pie
puking                     knotty-pated            malt-worm
puny                       milk-livered             mammet(idiot, puppet)
qualling(cowering)            motley-minded           measle
rank                       onion-eyed              minnow
reeky                      plume-plucked           miscreant
roguish                    pottle-deep             moldwarp(mole)
ruttish(lascivious)           pox-marked              mumble-news
saucy                      reeling-ripe            nut-hook
spleeny                    rough-hewn              pigeon-egg
spongy                     rude-growing            pignut
surly(bad-tempered)            rump-fed                puttock(buzzard)
tottering                  shard-borne              pumpion
unmuzzled                  sheep-biting            ratsbane
vain                       spur-galled             scut
venomed                    swag-bellied             skainsmate(messmate)
villainous                 tardy-gaited              strumpet
warped                     tickle-brained           varlot
wayward                    toad-spotted             vassal
weedy                       unchin-snouted          whey-face
yeasty                      weather-bitten          wagtail

For some more fun, the Shakespearean Insult Generator will 'technomagically'create one for you.

Here are some more super Shakespeare sources:

My insult: You spongy, clapper-clawed, hugger-mugger!

Why: I like some spittle, I love alliteration, and hugger-mugger just feels good getting out!

And, if you have time, here is a brief glimpse at some wonderfully saucy slings slung in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing by two of my favorite actors:

So now it's your turn.  Don't forget to leave a spicy slam in the comments.

For teachers here is a lesson suggestion for introducing Shakespeare's gifted wordplay:  
  • Divide your classroom into three groups and assign them one of the insult columns to each group.  
  • Have students from each group select their favorite curse word from their assigned column. Ask students to write and define their chosen word neatly on a large sheet of paper.  Illustrating the word is encouraged.
  • Set up the room with chairs rows of three chairs.  Play Shakespeare's musical chairs (I suggest beating a drum as they randomly move up and down their row).  See what whimsical insults fate deals you.
  • Talk about what worked and what did not - what were your students' favorites/ least favorite insults. Talk about how Shakespeare played with language to 'coin' some of these terms.
  • Read a selected snippets from the Bard and discuss his use of insults in the selected scenes.

Monday, November 14, 2011

R is for "Remodeling" and for "Rethinking Education"

I tend to like change... when it's on my terms (which is not always easy to navigate).  I like shaking things up just a bit as I get bored of the same routine easily.  Hence the changes you see here.

I wanted to remodel this blog for some time and, while I had hoped for more significant changes, I could not figure out (yet) how to do what I wanted and so have resolved to keep the change cosmetic (at least for now).

That said, I think remodeling is important.  After all, it's about 'improvement' (or the hope of improvement). It feeds creativity and helps us see our worlds differently.  It adds perspective.  It also, in some way teaches us  how to negotiate change.

With my personal remodeling out of the way, I came across an article about a more drastic remodeling - in The Wall Street Journal's Review section (Saturday/Sunday, November 12-13, 2011) "My Teacher is an App:  More kids than ever before are attending school from their living rooms, bedrooms and kitchens. The result: A radical rethinking of how education works" (by S. Banchero & S. Simon).

According to Banchero and Simon:
"In a radical rethinking of what it means to go to school, states and districts nationwide are launching online public schools that let students from kindergarten to 12th grade take some or all of their classes [online]... Thirty states now let students take all of their courses online...
Advocates say that online schooling can save states money, offer curricula customized to each student and give parents more choice in education. A few states, however, have found that students enrolled full-time in virtual schools score significantly lower on standardized tests, and make less academic progress from year to year than their peers. Critics worry that kids in online classes don't learn how to get along with others or participate in group discussions.
The amount of teacher interaction varies.  At online-only schools, instructors answer questions by email, phone or the occasional video conference...Teachers give short lectures and offer one-on-one help, but most learning is self-directed and online."
Note that the authors reported primarily about two companies, K12 and Connections Academy which currently dominate the public cyberschool market. They note that some schools offer part classroom-part cyberschool options as well, although the article focuses on cyberschool alone. They further detail that while reading scores of online students match traditionally taught peer scores in reading, they fall short in math and writing.

I was disappointed that this 'radical rethinking' of education merely addressed funding and and did not adequately discuss education per se. And, while not to diminish the importance of financial issues, I believe there are larger concerns such as providing meaningful and effective education for all. Making learning meaningful requires a personal element, as does addressing diverse student needs and skills.  

Furthermore (from what I understood from the article), it is the delivery that has changed but not the content, the curriculum, the goals or the philosophy.  As our culture and times change, so too must education.  And, meeting and addressing diverse student needs should not only deal with allowing vertical movement in reading and math levels  - it must address learning skills (such as attention, memory, visual and verbal literacy, sequencing skills, critical thinking) while incorporating various learning profiles and affinities of diverse student bodies and cultures.

Radical rethinking of education should address issues of our multi-media world and promote classrooms that:
  • Incorporate real life issues (making the curriculum meaningful) - this demands knowing your students and tweaking discussions and projects to embrace their affinities, diverse skills, and cultures.
  • Demand original critical thinking - also requiring a personal touch - one where teachers help push comparisons, expose gaps in reasoning, and encourage creative perspectives.
  • Present materials via multi-modal methods involving visual and verbal literacies - so that various student strengths and weaknesses are met in lessons.
  • Focus on writing and communication skills through essays, letters, poetry, creative writing, critical analyses involving peer and educator feedback.
  • Motivates students - with online courses motivation must come from the students.  The programs rarely inject enthusiasm.  And, while many classrooms also fail to inject enthusiasm,  dynamic teacher - class discussions frequently spark the'fire'.
  • We must stop teaching to the 'average' student.  Who is that student, anyway?  Educators must push students to reach lofty goals, and goals must vary according to skills and affinities.  Sometimes this means smaller homogeneous groups (when teaching specific content that is dependent on previous knowledge and abilities), and sometimes larger heterogeneous groups (when discussing broad issues where divergent opinions help develop critical thinking). 
The critics' worries that "kids in online classes don't learn how to get along with others" - is a bogus criticism (especially when there are so many better ones) Having worked as a teacher and a consultant in private and city schools, I know that there are many students attending traditional classrooms who do not get along well with others.  The reverse is also true - most homeschooled students do not have social issues. I taught a summer course for Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth summer program, and before the course began I was informed that I had a homeschooled student in my class and I should look out for social issues that may arise. That homeschooled student turned out to be one of the best socially adjusted students in my class - a true leader socially and academically, and was one of the most popular kids on campus.  

Sitting in a classroom with other students does require greater social skills, but that does not mean these skills aren't also learned through church groups, sports teams, book clubs (to name a few) that require both working and at times competing with others. These options can provide similar 'socialization' process that classrooms serve.

While I am not familiar with K12 or Connections Academy, I do teach a critical reading course for Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth Online Division (for 4th-6th graders).  I have 8-12 students per ten-week session.  There is a set curriculum requiring students read three books and respond weekly with a creative writing piece and two discussion essays related to that week's reading.  I give detailed feedback of their writing mechanics, critical thinking and creative content, and am available via email or phone.This is a program that is both in schools and available on an individual basis.  

There are good online learning programs.  The trick is finding them and, at this point, integrating them with other forms of learning.  Teacher input and feedback must be personal.  Like all other educational programs and fads, it must be balanced.

What do you think?  Especially my homeschooling followers/readers. I'd love to hear from you. 

[And please comment on my 'remodeling' along with suggestions if you have any.]

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

QUIET Time: The Power of Daydreaming

Quiet time has many connotations for me, but mostly, it is a time to NOT pay attention to the things around me.  It is a time to spend thinking, watching, or doing, whatever it is I need to do FOR ME at that particular point in time.

Quiet time is a good thing, and it is something that I think is more and more difficult to find in our hectic multimedia and often over-stimulated lives.  In today's world, with instant messaging, texting, tweeting, and emailing, all of which can be done at home, work, or anywhere our 'smart' phones get reception, there is no down or quiet time.

Last week (, I blogged about the importance of paying attention and focusing on tasks at hand. I briefly discussed an article by neuroscientist / columnist Jonah Lehrer relating attention to executive functioning skills and then listed activities you could do to help boost attention span, energy, focusing and executive function skills.

Jonah Lehrer, while discussing the importance of attention, focus, and executive functioning, presents an alternate argument in another essay "Against Attention" (which can be found in The Wall Street Journal February 21, 2011 or at Here he argues for the need to NOT PAY ATTENTION, to 'boot down' to a "quiet" time and place, letting the mind rest and wander.

In Against Attention, Lehrer notes that:
We live in a time that worships attention... In fact, the ability to pay attention is considered such an essential life skill that the lack of it has become a widespread medical problem. Nearly 10% of American children are now diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In recent years, however, scientists have begun to outline the surprising benefits of not paying attention. Sometimes, too much focus can backfire...
Lehrer then relates research indicating that:
  • There is a surprising link between daydreaming and creativity—people who daydream more are also better at generating new ideas. 
  • Employees are more productive when they’re allowed to engage in “internet leisure browsing”.
Lehrer notes that lapses in attention turn out to be a crucial creative skill. He writes that:
When we’re faced with a difficult problem, the most obvious solution—that first idea we focus on—is probably wrong. At such moments, it often helps to consider far-fetched possibilities, to approach the task from an unconventional perspective. And this is why distraction is helpful: People unable to focus are more likely to consider information that might seem irrelevant but will later inspire the breakthrough. When we don’t know where to look, we need to look everywhere.
However, before we all go running for our "quiet" daydreaming time, and start shorting stock in Red Bull and Starbucks, Lehrer also notes that:
This doesn’t mean, of course, that attention isn’t an important mental skill, or that attention-deficit disorders aren’t a serious problem. There’s clearly nothing advantageous about struggling in the classroom, or not being able to follow instructions. (It’s also worth pointing out that these studies all involve college students, which doesn’t tell us anything about those kids with ADHD who fail to graduate from high school. Distraction might be a cognitive luxury that not everyone can afford.)
His point: 
"Sometimes, the most productive thing we can do when trying to solve large problems is to meditate, take a long shower, or a long walk ... The takeaway is that we need to broaden our definition of “productive” thinking."

The key as I see it is finding a balance (as with most things).  We need to be able to focus on work and in school, but breaks are equally essential, and no-doze, caffeine boosts, and Red Bull may not be the best solutions.  The solution, instead, may be an occasional mind trip, walks, yoga, and recess in school balanced and sandwiched between more focused work sessions.

Finding balances:
  • When making schedules. leave some quiet, meditative, "relax"  time so that there is less hectic rushing and so that there is some time to use just for yourself - to think, daydream, read or walk in a park or woods. 
  • As a parent, this means encouraging focusing time for homework, with short breaks in between.  It may mean spending half an hour or 45 minutes doing math homework, taking a 20 minute break, and then returning to do more homework.  Schedule dinner as a break and outside/play time as well.
  • When developing family or school projects, talk about your goals and options with others. Make notes but put those notes down, go for a walk, and come back to the project.  See if other ideas have surfaced and pursue those as well.
  • Discuss current events or family decisions together at the table, in the car, or when together.  Brainstorm solutions and options.  Allow for whacky suggestions that you pursue further - whether in jest or not.  
  • Model open-mindedness and the value of off-beat ideas, places, and people.
Living in NYC, going for walks is actually more stimulating than relaxing as you navigate texters, dog walkers, joggers, and families walking in your path. For me, quiet time is sitting in the bath or shower.  I really do get most of my more creative ideas, or solve some of my 'issues' there.  I can't think of a day without that time.

Do you easily find quiet time or is it getting more difficult in our mulit-media always-available world to 'boot down'? How do you find and make quiet time? What is it that you like doing in this quiet time and place? Please share your ideas and strategies in the comments.

    Tuesday, November 1, 2011

    Paying Attention

    "A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention."  Herbert Simon, psychologist.

    My son always said he paid attention in school.  It wasn't always to what the teacher was doing or saying, and it wasn't always to the work he had in front of him, but he was paying attention... attention to whatever it was that crossed his mind, or sparked some creative energy.

    Personally, I think 'paying attention' is a misnomer.  When paying attention, be it in school, work, or driving, we need to make sure we 'focus' on what we should be focusing on (teacher, books, screen, or the road around us).  And, while this distinction may be simply splitting hairs, I think it is an important distinction.

    When something is interesting, stimulating, or important, it is much easier to pay attention.  But there are so many times that things are not stimulating or there are other thoughts, images, or issues vying for the same attention, or we simply lack the energy to maintain attention. 

    Here are some things we can do for ourselves and our kids to help us all pay attention:
    • Don't underestimate the power of sleep.  A good night's sleep and food for energy are powerful tools to help maintain focus.
    • Minimize distractions.  
      • At home, prepare proper work spaces where necessary materials are easily accessed (computer outlet, pens/pencils, paper, printer, books, etc.)  See my post on setting up work spaces:
      • Make sure there are no outside noises, lights, entertainment systems near the workspace to woo or distract. 
      • Note that music is not necessarily a distraction.   Often music (background music, familiar music) can actually help focus attention.  The problem is that while music helps some focus, it can distract others.  This is something to work out for yourself and/or your child.
      • Squeezy toys or small hand manipulatives can also help individuals maintain and focus attention.  Like music, though, it can help some and distract others.  IF your child is having some issue focusing, you may want to try this.
      • In school, try to find ways to interact with the materials in class - even if  in a lecture, try to think of questions to ask or ways to use the information.  Play with it, tweak it.
    •  Sometimes paying attention simply means slowing down and observing, interpreting, and incorporating details and resisting distracting and competing impulses.
    • Jonah Lehrer (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 3, 2011 ) relates focusing with strong executive function skills.  Executive functions include focusing, organizing, prioritizing, sustaining and shifting focus, managing and regulating emotions, and self-monitoring. He notes that these skills can be developed and nurtured through difficult board games, computer memory and skill games, yoga, tae-kwon-do, and through interactive curricula in the classroom.

    • Establishing and maintaining schedules, helps set and model 'regulation' and may help children resist impulses and focus on the task at hand, knowing other needs will be met at other points in the schedule.  Note, though, that there always needs to be some flexibility in establishing and maintaining schedules.  Being too rigid creates all sorts of issues and conflicts.
    • In another article "Attention and Intelligence" Jonah Lehere notes that, 
    "...delayed gratification isn't really about gritting our teeth or exerting willpower: it's about controlling the spotlight of attention. Likewise, intelligence isn't just about remembering abstract facts - it's about controlling what thoughts we're thinking about in the first place."
    "...So how can we bolster our selective attention abilities?...When we read a complex narrative - say, Proust or Woolf or DFW - we're forced to constantly exert our attentional muscles just to follow along. On a deeper level, however, we're also being asked to switch between different kinds of informational streams. We need to pay attention to the sentence, and to the subtleties of language and character and plot, but we need to also remain aware of the larger themes unfolding in the work."
    • Along this vein, go for walks, focus on different things.  Focus on the noises around you, the colors around you, the life around you, the odors around you, and the quiet around you.  Shift focus from one aspect to another, look for large details and small details in the objects around you.  Do this with pictures and illustrations in books and magazines, with sentences and paragraphs, with clothes or items in a store. Intentionally shift focus, see what you notice!
    In closing, while writing this post,  this scene from Sister Act 2 (sorry, folks) kept popping into my stream of consciousness:  "If you want to be somebody, if you want to go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention..."

    And while so true, my next post will present the opposite agrument... quiet time, letting your mind roam and NOT pay attention is also important...

    So please leave comments and join me next week for the counter argument.