“My Brain Hurts When I Write!”

scary story map“My brain hurts!”– “My fingers are stuck.” — “I don’t have paper.” — “I don’t have any sharpened pencils.” — “I lost my eraser.” — “It’s too noisy.” — “It’s too quiet.”

Oh excuses.

For every surface excuse, there is an underlying reason. Usually, I find that when it comes to students and writing the excuse tends to hide feelings of inadequacy. Writing seems to be too serious, too much at stake, and too big a task.

The cure?

Focus on creative writing, and feel free to put on a little soft music for those that need some white noise in the background.

Creative writing is very freeing. For beginners, there are few rules and this “break the rules” façade is liberating to young writers who struggle with perfectionism, writers block, or confidence.

Also, I find it’s helpful to incorporate some tech accommodations, like text to speech, voice recorder, or computer use instead of traditional paper and pencil. If it works for you, go for it! Yes, I agree that paper and pencil makes those synapses grow stronger and feeds the brain like no technology can, but for new writers it can be a daunting, overwhelming experience to look at a blank page and hope for the best. Instead, opt for easing that transition with technology.

As a teacher and a tutor, I’m a big fan of sentence stems, like these Expressive Language Prompts, which do the trick because they are simple enough to get a conversation going. Once a conversation is flowing, the writing will follow.

A few examples of where to begin:

A-Z Story, where every new sentence of the story starts with the next letter of the alphabet.

Backwards Story, where you write the ending first (think ‘Memento’ but for kids)

Talking Pet Stories

Fractured Fairytales: think of a well-known fairytale and then modernize it, such as changing the ending, add a prequel or sequel, add new characters.

Halloween-themed Scary Stories, like these:

So, take a few tips and tools to let your story flow and writers brain grow. Happy writing!

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

GenX Teacher Mixes Tech & Teaching

When I was a kid in the 80’s, our school’s technology consisted of Schoolhouse Rock, Mrs. Frizzle, Reading Rainbow and, of course, the classic — Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Oh and let’s not forget the typing test on our version of 1:1 Tech (ie: a couple of Macintosh PC’s in the actual computer lab) where they put a makeshift cardboard cutout over the keys so you couldn’t cheat your way to 40 wpm.

Image result for old macintosh PC

It wasn’t until college that I had an email address and not until after graduation did I get my very first cell phone.

There’s no question that the advancement of technology has changed the face of education in and out of the classroom. As a GenX Teacher, I’m inclined to use a complementary mix of tech and teaching. In fact, I’m pretty pumped that I can pre-teach explanatory writing on Quizizz, assign an informative article on Achieve 3000, re-teach paragraph format on Kahoot, assess on Accelerated Reader, and require homework submission via Schoology.

It’s definitely a different world.

That’s not to say I don’t see the value in teaching without tech. In fact, just today my students were struggling to grasp the concept of Cause and Effect. We had done the videos and assigned the online tutorials, but there’s nothing can replace engaging classroom discussion and good, old-fashioned teaching.

Teaching is truly an art.

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Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable and educational nonprofit with a focus on providing wraparound academic, behavior and advocacy support services for struggling students in southern California. Learn More at TerryTutors.com

Study Like D.J. Tanner

Full HouseOh, Full House. You have given us so very many important life lessons.

As a child of the 80’s and one of three sisters myself, I especially related to this show. See Donna Jo Tanner, D.J. as we all grew to know and love her, was the eldest just like me, and a bossy but loving older sister, just like me. She was also studious and mindful and always the diligent helper, just like me.

How You Study is Just as Important as What You Study

In the episode where Uncle Jesse is studying for his Driver’s Test, which he has previously failed a few times due to poor study habits, DJ teaches him that how you study is just as important as what you study.

Taking a lesson from my sitcom friend, here are three applicable ways to study smarter:

1. DJ Says Find a Quiet Place with Limited Distractions

In everyday life, we are constantly distracted from the task at hand. Finding a quiet place without the beep of a text message or the ring of someone’s phone is nearly impossible. Even in our homes the TV is on, someone is talking on the phone, someone is listening to music, someone is playing a video game — it’s constant noise! For a child that exhibits any tendency towards distractablity, impulsvity, has ADHD or is just hyper-sensitive to the lack of calm, drowning out the noise can prove to be extremely difficult. And less focus means less long-term memory.

DJ says sit at the table or study in a quiet place with limited distractions. This means setting up a Technology-Free Zone in your home or going to the library after school and reserving a study room. Making the extra effort as to where your child studies is key to making sure he remembers the material.

2. DJ says No Eating While Studying

DJ  makes it clear that eating while studying is a no-no. Eating before studying, however, is actually food for your stomach and your brain.

I recently took on a new student who exhibits tendencies of ADHD. He’s super smart but has the “wiggles” and finds it difficult to stay in one place for longer than 10 minutes. For example, during our one hour session, he needed to leave the room 3 times and leave his seat 4 times. Now, I’m not religious when it comes to studying at the table or sitting in a chair. Most of my students can’t tolerate sitting for a great deal of time– they need to be on the move. So we do our best to mix it up, especially when his energy engine is running low.

This kid amazes me though. He knows he has the wiggles and so instead of making a big deal about it, he is learning to use tools and strategies, like the use of a fidget, standing up when needed, sitting on a wiggle seat or a Bosu ball, and taking small, unassuming breaks, to help ease those difficult, unfocused moments.

Together, we set Academic Goals and Behavior Expectations. He thought of the expectation “To Eat Before Tutoring”.  When I prompted him as to why he replied, “Because it helps me focus.” Even at the tender age of 10, my student knows that his mind and body are connected.

DJ would be proud.

3. DJ Says No Music Too?

Here’s where DJ and I disagree a bit. (Sorry, Deege).

I think music can help a student focus better, as long as it provides a sense of calm and is set at a low decibel level where it becomes background noise instead of a dance party. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about Homework Dance Party breaks (I’m a pretty cool Tutor, after all) but when it’s time to get down to the business of studying, we gotta turn down the volume too–just a bit.

Great advice, Teacher D.J.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student.  Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

Nagging Just Got Cooler with These New Apps

nudgeJust like your mom once prodded you to try out for the cheerleading squad, take up violin, or join the basketball team so, too, do new apps provide the same nagging– I mean nudging–effect.

Nudges are predicated on a paternalistic idea that small reminders  lead to positive behavioral choices and, therefore, greater long-term success. From a psychological standpoint, I can get behind that logic! The fact that these nudges are coming from a neutral third-party (ie: iPhone via app) and not mom and dad gives even greater credibility to the reasoning. However, I question: where are the consequences apps– you know, the ones that calmly explain that because you didn’t complete the nudge there is no dessert after dinner.

Okay, I’m being a little sassy here because we all know that technology is no replacement for good parenting and consequences are a good and necessary part of learning how to navigate the right behavioral choices. The fact of the matter is that as our daily lives become more and more interconnected via technology, having Siri nudge you in the right direction is more of reality than ever before. Parents have to be comfortable enough with technology as a check on the balance of power, making sure that technology is helping their child. That’s what Lori Getz of Cyber Education Consultants helps parents do: define the boundaries of technology by becoming comfortable with its benefits. Like anything else, we must define our boundaries to maintain success. The lesson: use technology to your advantage but make sure your kids know that in the end that mom and dad have the final nudge.

Check out these research articles, which delve deeper into the psychology behind nudges, analyzing why nudging works but doesn’t work alone: Nudge Nation: A New Way to Prod Students Into and Through College and Nudge is No Magic Fix. The potential consequences of behavioural interventions need to be weighed carefully based on an understanding of underlying behavioural processes

Nagging just got cooler with these new apps:

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Christine Terry, B.A., J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. She writes this blog as an effort to help Moms & Dads Navigate Generation Z, Honestly. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com

“Living Out Loud”

We have a conflict: kids today don’t know what life was like without computers, cell phones, and gaming and parents today remember very dearly when an apple was only a piece of fruit. The fact remains that unless there is a world-wide power outage and we’re all forced to revert back to the pioneer days of living, churning our own butter and hand-washing our laundry down by the local creek, technology will only continue to make lighting-speed advancements. The tall tale truth: if you’re not on board the Technological Train, you will not have a say in shaping your child’s relationship with technology.

Technology is a hotly contested topic in millions of households because there is a real disconnect between the parent’s use for technology and the child’s use for technology. Let’s go back to this truism: kids today really don’t know what it was like to not have access to the world through the internet. I invite you to sit with that thought for a minute or two. Okay, got it? If we look at technology through the eyes of today’s child, we can understand a little more as to how cell phones, computers, gaming, and social networking are part of their daily existence. As Lori Getz of Cyber Education Consultants says, “They are ‘Living Out Loud'”.  (See Lori talk about this here) This intangible world, that we call The Internet, is part of their tangible daily lives.

Now, because I do remember what life was like before the internet, I find myself constantly questioning whether its benefits outweigh the negatives, especially when it comes to education. For example, grammar-check (an awesome tool for learning the correct mechanical rules of writing) is a go-to source when proofreading a paper. A student will say, “Why should I learn these writing rules when the computer can do it for me? What’s the point?” Here’s a chance for you, as the parent, to share how technology can help your child learn  the rules but that they ultimately must use their own intellect, skill, and discretion to follow  the rules, a message that translates to problems even outside the use of technology.

Technology opens up a new world of exploration. It is amazing that a touch of a button brings with it access to billions of thoughts, viewpoints, and beliefs. When we use technology correctly, we are positively engaged. As the parent, you have the power and the duty to control your child’s ability to engage and connect with the world. So jump on that Technological Train and use your inherent parental right to equip your child with the intellect, skill, and discretion to make the best choices online.

Take a look at Lori Getz, of Cyber Education Consultants, as she discusses how kids today are “Living Out Loud” and how-to bridge the gap between The Tech Savvy Generation and their Tech-Challenged parents.

(see minute 4:00 for the “Living Out loud” discussion )

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