Saturday, January 22, 2011

Student Blogging is a Brain Based Strategy!

I’ve had a wiki for my 2nd grade classes for a few years now.  So I couldn’t see the point in having students blog on top of that.  However, a comment by Angie Rumsey in an Edupln blog post had me reverse my thinking and start my students blogging!

The Comment

Her comment was after a post I wrote about Metacognitive Strategies for Reading Comprehension.  In her response she wrote,

In Third grade we teach them how to write a thinking stem.  It looks something like this:  

I am reading ... (name of story)... by (author ... In my story (tell me an event that is happening in your story) then they write a thinking stem - (I'm thinking... feeling,... seeing... noticing... or this reminds me of....)  After they write one stem - they write two more with the same formula.

It's a lot of work, but good for checking comprehension.  It also checks to see if they are being meta-cognitive. I do this about once a week - about....

Here are some rough ones kidblogs

The Epiphany

I visited her kidblog link to see the thinking stems.  That’s when the realization hit me like a proverbial ton of bricks; blogging IS brain-based!!  Here’s why. The thinking stem described by Angie is a metacognitive strategy in itself…add to that the novelty of a blog, the knowledge that their work will actually be published, and understanding they will actually have an audience, and you’ve got a recipe to get the full attention of the brain.  That will cause more neurons to fire.  The more neurons that are firing at one time make it much more likely for learning to occur.  I had to try it!

New Bloggers

I created an account at  It was incredibly easy to sign up for the free account and get started.  The next day, I shared with my second graders that they were going to become bloggers.  They were buzzing with excitement!  We had already been learning the thinking strategies used in Angie’s thinking stem, so it was a perfect lead-in.  I pulled up Angie’s class blog list and we read and analyzed many of them.  Finally, it was time to get to work.

Students broke up into their reading groups for their ‘book club’ time.  Once finished, each student worked excitedly on his/her own thinking stem and then brought it to me for approval.  During our afternoon computer time, students eagerly entered their thinking stems onto their blogs.  Afterwards, the world’s newest bloggers walked proudly back to class.


That evening I put the message out to my twitter followers that my new bloggers would love comments.  The comments came pouring in.  (I recommend using the hashtag #comments4kids when requesting comments.)  I also emailed parents the link and many of them commented as well.  The next day students were thrilled to see the comments – even comments from other countries.  Now they can say they have an international audience! 

Did the blogging catch their imagination?  Yes!  Did they do a great job in anticipation of an audience?  Oh yes!  See for yourself at  I’m so proud of them I can’t stand it!!  


They are anxiously awaiting their next opportunity to blog.  I plan to make this a weekly activity to go along with many subjects.  I highly recommend student blogging.  This is guaranteed to generate interest, motivation for higher performance, and ensure learning. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

How Stress Impacts Learning

More amazing things I’m learning in the BrainSMART graduate program...

The Impact of Stress on Learning

Stress causes changes in the body-brain system and actually inhibits learning.  John Medina states on his website Brain Rules that, “Stress damages virtually every kind of cognition that exists. It damages memory and executive function.” This has tremendous implications for teachers.

What Happens in the Brain

You are probably already aware of the physical symptoms of stress.  The quickened heartbeat, increased respiration, dilated pupils, your mind not working as quickly as usual.  Recalling a stressful encounter, you may have lamented, “I should have said (fill in the blank) to her!” The reason you didn’t think of your snappy comeback was because your mind was in fight or flight mode.  In response to stress, your brain released a hormone called cortisol

Cortisol helps people deal with short bursts of stress. The problem begins when a person is under constant stress because the cortisol can damage cells in the hippocampus, causing problems with learning and memory.  Cortisol also gets in the way of the brain’s neurotransmitters making it difficult to access existing memories, or to lay down new ones.  This has obvious ramifications for the classroom.

Tips for Reducing Stress in the Classroom

Some tips for reducing stress in the classroom are:
1. Post a daily schedule to reduce uncertainty.
2. Keep a clean and organized classroom.
3. Respond to disruptions calmly and privately. 
4. Maintain a positive and safe learning environment.
5. Make sure to give students ‘brain breaks’ to process learning.
6. Teach and model stress management skills in the classroom. 

Be sure to talk to students about extending the use of stress management to other areas of their lives. Stress management is a lifelong skill with benefits across a wide spectrum ranging from health to family relationships.  We can’t control what happens to our students when they leave our school, but we can give them the tools to respond in a healthy manner.

Lori Lite of Stress Free Kids is dedicated to teaching children how to handle stress.  I am using her products to help my students learn these important life skills.  I highly recommend other teachers look closely at her products.
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Friday, January 14, 2011

Reducing Stress in Kids by Lori Lite

Since I began my masters program in brain-based teaching, I've learned about the negative effects of stress on the brain. I now realize the importance of teaching children how to recognize and control stress.  Did you know that stress actually damages the brain? For more information, see Stress-Brain Rules.  Therefore, I was thrilled to discover Stress Free Kids!  There are many fabulous resources (for parents and teachers) to help kids learn valuable stress management skills.  Lori Lite, the founder of Stress Free Kids, was kind enough to write the following post.  Please continue reading and then visit her wonderful site. 


Reducing Stress in Kids by Lori Lite

Children are vulnerable to stress. Make sure that  their emotional backpack is filled with tools for stress management and relaxation.  Kids can be active participants in creating their own healthy, calm lives.
  • Be aware that change, be it positive or negative, creates stress for most kids.
  • Make time to relax and schedule downtime for your children. Do not over-schedule.
  • Show your child how to maintain a positive outlook, stop the chatter and lists in their heads, and take their mind off of their worries.
Here are 4 tips and  proven techniques  to help you and your children  manage stress:
  • Use affirmations or positive statements to counteract kids’ stress. Teach your children to take a break and say, “I am calm. I am relaxed. I am peaceful. I am happy. I am safe.” Write a positive statement and have your child carry it in their pocket for the day. Put a list in the back of their school notebook for them to access at any time.
  • Create visualizations – imagining can be both fun and effective. Create a happy thought that children can “go to” when stressed or worried. Develop a short story or scene that your child can think of when they are fearful or anxious.. Go for a calming ride on a cloud or float in a bubble. Slide down a rainbow and encourage your child to create their own relaxing story. Let them write it down or record it and then let them relax mom or dad with their visualization.
  • Practice controlled breathing. Taking slow deep breaths can help lower a child’s anxiety and anger. All children can benefit from this important powerful stress and anger management technique. Children with special needs; Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, SPD, PTSD can learn to bring their energy level down a notch and feel in charge of themselves. Children can use breathing when they feel over-stimulated or on a verge of a temper tantrum, have them focus on their breathing and soothe themselves.  Breathe in 2,3,4 and out 2,3,4. In 2,3,4 and out 2,3,4. Encourage your child to show one of their dolls or stuffed animals this technique.
  • Use progressive muscle relaxation to help your child to fall asleep. Relax your child’s mind and body by telling various muscle groups to relax. Start with your child’s feet and work your way up to their head or reverse the order. After a few tries your child will be able to use this technique on their own. “I am going to relax my legs. I will relax my legs. My legs are relaxing. My legs are relaxed.” For a variation, try active progressive muscular relaxation. Tighten muscle groups and relax. “Hold, hold, hold…..Ahhhhh…”
These are just a few of the techniques we employ for producing stress free children.  We offer books, CDs and Lesson plans and we invite you to explore our entire site to learn more about how you can better deal with kids and stress. We encourage you to read and comment on any of the blog articles pertaining to children and stress. Feel free to post these articles to your website or share them with friends.
Sea Otter Cove is one of four stories on the Indigo Ocean Dreams CD where children learn about diaphragmatic (belly) breathing. This effective, self-calming technique can have a positive impact on your child’s health. Proper breathing can lower stress and anxiety levels. It can be used to decrease pain and anger.

About Lori Lite
Stress Free Kids founder Lori Lite has created a line of books and CDs designed to help children, teens, and adults decrease stress, anxiety, and anger. Ms. Lite’s books, CDs, and lesson plans are considered a resource for parents, psychologists, therapists, child life specialists, teachers, and yoga instructors. Lori is a certified children’s meditation facilitator and  Sears’ Manage My Life parenting expert. For more information visit  Stress Free Kids and for daily advice follow Lori on Twitter and  Facebook .


ORDER Sea Otter Cove or Indigo Ocean Dreams CD NOW and save 15% by entering code SFK1015 upon check out on the Stress Free Kids website.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Metacognitive Strategies for Reading Comprehension

NEW YORK - MARCH 30:  Third-graders raise thei...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
More amazing things I’m learning in the BrainSMART graduate program...

Students who are taught reading comprehension strategies are more successful readers.  While some students may eventually learn some of these strategies on their own, they can be taught quite effectively in the early elementary grades.  Here are ten reading comprehension strategies from Ellin Keene’s book Assessing Comprehension Thinking Strategies to consider.

1. Think out loud.  Good readers monitor their thinking while reading.

2. Use schema.  Consciously connect the text to preexisting knowledge and experiences and consider how it helps their understanding of the text.

3. Inferring.  Use experience and information from the text to draw conclusions, make connections, predictions, and form opinions.

4. Ask questions about the text before, during, and after reading. 

5. Make decisions about what is important in the text (elements and themes).  Be able to summarize the main points.

6. Set a purpose for reading to make it meaningful. 

7. Monitor comprehension.  Make sure students have strategies in place if they find the text too difficult.

8. Visualize what is being read.  Make brain movies!  Tune into the sensory and emotional images of the text to enhance the visualization.  Use this information to help make inferences and draw conclusions.

9. Synthesizing and retelling.  Keeping track of their impressions while reading and identifying the underlying meaning of the text.  Connect the text to information from other sources.  Extending that information beyond the text to form opinions and read critically.

10. Text structure.  Understanding the elements of a story and how stories are put together helps students analyze and think critically about meaning.

Even learning just one or two of these metacognitive strategies has been shown to make a difference in reading performance.  Which strategies do your students already use?  Which ones will they learn next?
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