Sunday, November 30, 2014

Food for Thought: About Mindfulness

Dear all,

I actually posted this week’s Food for thought last weekend but decided not to over burden you with information. There are two parts to this week’s post, the first is 8 ways to teach Mindfulness and the second is a voice thread that talks about how Mindfulness can help your teaching. Certainly lots of interesting information in both articles. It is becoming more and more obvious that introducing Mindfulness at ISHCMC was a very sound thing to do as it both empowers and prepares our students for their futures. As was mentioned in the Art of Stillness, leading corporations are today following a mindful approach to business and employing people who are mindful in their approach to work and life.

I’d also like to share this additional short article about Mindfulness and colouring: as it might help some of us find a few focused minutes in our busy days. As the article about teaching Mindfulness begins the first step is to develop your own practices.

Have a good weekend,



8 Ways to Teach Mindfulness

We know mindfulness is good for us. Mindfulness allows us to be present in our parenting, choosing a skillful response, instead of succumbing to our visceral reactions.
Mindfulness is also good for our kids. There is an emerging body of research that indicates mindfulness can help children improve their abilities to pay attention, to calm down when they are upset and to make better decisions. In short, it helps with emotional regulation and cognitive focus. Do I even need to ask if you want that for your kids?
So where do we start? How can we teach these important skills to our children?
First things first...
Establish your own practice. You would have trouble teaching your children ballet if you had never danced. To authentically teach mindfulness to your children, you need to practice it yourself. You can start slowly with a meditation practice of just five to 10 minutes a day. Find ways to incorporate mindfulness into your daily activities. Don't let this step intimidate you -- you're probably practicing a lot of mindful habits already!
Keep it simple. Mindfulness is a big word for young kids to understand. Put simply, mindfulness is awareness. It is noticing our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and anything that is around us and happening right now.
Check your expectations. Are you expecting mindfulness to eliminate tantrums? to make your active child calm? to make your house quiet? If so, you are likely to be disappointed. While feeling calm or being quiet are nice side-effects of mindfulness, they are not the ultimate purpose.
The purpose of teaching mindfulness to our children is to give them skills to develop their awareness of their inner and outer experiences, to recognize their thoughts as "just thoughts," to understand how emotions manifest in their bodies, to recognize when their attention has wandered, and to provide tools for impulse control. It is not a panacea, and it will not completely get rid of what is, frankly, normal kid behavior, like tantrums and loudness and whining and exuberance and arguing...
Don't force it. If your kids aren't interested in your lesson or activity, drop it. This is a good time for you to practice non-attachment to outcomes!
Now that we've got the preliminaries out of the way, here are some suggestions for how you can begin to introduce mindfulness to your children:
1. Listen to the bell. An easy way for children to practice mindfulness is to focus on paying attention to what they can hear. You can use a singing bowl, a bell, a set of chimes or a phone app that has sounds on it. Tell your children that you will make the sound, and they should listen carefully until they can no longer hear the sound (which is usually 30 seconds to a minute).
2. Practice with a breathing buddy. For young children, an instruction to simply "pay attention to the breath" can be hard to follow. In this Edutopia video, Daniel Goleman describes a 2nd-grade classroom that does a "breathing buddy" exercise: Each student grabs a stuffed animal, and then lies down on their back with their buddy on their belly. They focus their attention on the rise and fall of the stuffed animal as they breathe in and out.
3. Make your walks mindful. One of my children's favorite things to do in the summer is a "noticing walk." We stroll through our neighborhood and notice things we haven't seen before. We'll designate one minute of the walk where we are completely silent and simply pay attention to all the sounds we can hear -- frogs, woodpeckers, a lawnmower. We don't even call it "mindfulness," but that's what it is.
4. Establish a gratitude practice. I believe gratitude is a fundamental component of mindfulness, teaching our children to appreciate the abundance in their lives, as opposed to focusing on all the toys and goodies that they crave. My family does this at dinner when we each share one thing we are thankful for. It is one of my favorite parts of the day.
5. Try the SpiderMan meditation! My 5-year-old son is in to all things superheroes, and this SpiderMan meditation is right up his alley. This meditation teaches children to activate their "spidey-senses" and their ability to focus on all they can smell, taste, and hear in the present moment. Such a clever idea!
6. Check your personal weather report. In Sitting Still Like a Frog, Eline Snel encourages children to "summon the weather report that best describes [their] feelings at the moment." Sunny, rainy, stormy, calm, windy, tsunami? This activity allows children to observe their present state without overly identifying with their emotions. They can't change the weather outside, and we can't change our emotions or feelings either. All we can change is how we relate to them. As Snel describes it, children can recognize, "I am not the downpour, but I notice that it is raining; I am not a scaredy-cat, but I realize that sometimes I have this big scared feeling somewhere near my throat."
7. Make a Mind Jar. A mind jar is a bit like a snow globe - shake it up and watch the storm! But soon, if we sit and breathe and simply watch the disturbance, it settles. As do our minds.
8. Practice mindful eating. The exercise of mindfully eating a raisin or a piece of chocolate is a staple of mindfulness education, and is a great activity for kids. You can find a script for a seven-minute mindful eating exercise for children here.
Above all, remember to have fun and keep it simple. You can provide your children with many opportunities to add helpful practices to their toolkit -- some of them will work for them and some won't. But it's fun to experiment!

How Mindfulness Could Benefit Your Teaching Practice

"Some schools are building mindfulness programs into their curriculum as part of the effort to build social and emotional skills in addition to academic ones. Studies of mindfulness practice show that when kids focus on what they are feeling at a given moment in time they increase the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls executive functioning and self-regulation. While all kids live in an increasingly distracting world and could benefit from training how to focus, teachers in low-income schools have found that these kinds of programs are particularly helpful for kids struggling with trauma in their daily lives.
Chris McKenna describes his work at Mindful Schools in this audio interview on PAGATIM. For those looking to learn a little more about how mindfulness could benefit teachers and students, it’s worth a listen."

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Food for Thought: The Art of Stillness

Dear all,

I realize we are in that hectic phase that accompanies the end of the first semester; school productions, sports tournaments, school reports, decisions about contracts, summative assessments, social events, holiday planning etc. And I know a lot of you are quite tired as we enter these last few weeks of the semester, so this week's food for thought is designed to encourage you to take some quiet time to think about our priorities in life. Even if it is only the 15 minutes it will take to watch this video then you will have some peace and stillness. Pico Iyer raises some interesting questions for us all in this TED talk that relate strongly to our mindfulness and energizing ourselves.

Here is a link to a very short TED book that was written to accompany the Ted Talk. I have attached the pdf of this book to the email I sent to notify you about this post.

Have a good weekend,


Sunday, November 23, 2014

The MindShift Guide to Digital Games and Learning

The MindShift Guide to Digital Games and Learning

How can games unlock a rich world of learning? This is the big question at the heart of the growing games and learning movement that’s gaining momentum in education. The MindShift Guide to Digital Games and Learning [PDF] explains key ideas in game-based learning, pedagogy, implementation, and assessment. This guide makes sense of the available research and provides suggestions for practical use.
The MindShift Guide to Digital Games and Learning started as a series of blog posts written by Jordan Shapiro with support from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and theGames and Learning Publishing Council. We’ve brought together what we felt would be the most relevant highlights of Jordan’s reporting to create a dynamic, in-depth guide that answers many of the most pressing questions that educators, parents, and life-long learners have raised around using digital games for learning. While we had educators in mind when developing this guide, any lifelong learner can use it to develop a sense of how to navigate the games space in an informed and meaningful way.
Here’s a preview of the table of contents:
Introduction: Getting in the Game (Page 4)
An overview of games in the classroom from Katie Salen Tekinbaş, executive director of the Institute of Play.
What the Research Says About Gaming and Screen Time (Page 6)
Much of the research around digital games and screen time is evolving. Pediatricians, academics, educators, and researchers are working to find answers to how games and technology affect learners of all ages.
How to Start Using Digital Games for Learning (Page 14)
Since each learning environment is unique, here are some steps to assessing your resources before committing to a particular game or platform. See how some educators are using digital games in the classroom and how they find support.
How to Choose a Digital Learning Game (Page 19)
The sheer volume of games classified as educational can be overwhelming. This section gives you a starting point for game selection by providing an understanding of the types of games available in the marketplace and how to go about selecting them.
Overcoming Obstacles for Using Digital Games in the Classroom (Page 27)
As game use in the classroom continues to grow, barriers to deployment also need to be addressed. A recent survey of teachers outlines exactly which obstacles get in the way of successful implementation; solutions to those concerns are outlined in this section.
How Teachers Are Using Games in the Classroom (Page 30)
Examples of how teachers use games are embedded throughout the guide (including video examples), but this section takes an in-depth look at how some teachers are using games in the classroom and their real-life struggles and victories.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Food for Thought: Follow up on effect of Pornography

Dear all,

I thought that you might be interested in following on your thinking from Thursday morning's session with Robyn. I believe that it is important to be engaging this topic, because as you saw in the statistics on pornography, it is one of the fastest growing industries and it is, and will, further impact society, relationships and the way males and females see each other because of the pervasive manner in which it is becoming embedded in the media. Following Robyn's talk, whilst chatting the question was raised, how can we talk to students when most of us have never talked about this with our partners or other adults? Well, hopefully these three TED's will help to make you feel more comfortable, and as Ran Gavrieli concludes encourage you to start those conversations.

This 5 minute TED talk by Philip Zimbardo, The Demise of Guys was the first that I watched several years ago, when I was doing some research about why boys appear to be failing both in school and society these days. It was the first time that I had heard about the impact of pornography and the internet on this trend. Made in 2011 Zimbardo shares worrying statistics about boys and suggests a few reasons for this, including pornography and the internet.

This second TEDX talk, 17 minutes, is one I watched in 2012 as a follow up to the Demise of Guys. It is by Gary Wilson and it goes through the research that was behind Zimbardo's conclusions and explains what happens in the brains of boys and men who constantly watch and become addicted to porn. This talk certainly illustrates why school's and teachers need to be at least talking about porn on the internet and engaging our students in these discussions. As well as being worrying it does provide hope as well.

This final TED X talk, Why I stopped watching porn, that I want to include was shared with me following Robyn's talk on Thursday. It is a very personal talk that brings much of the previous TED's together and provides a sensitive level of understanding. It is by Ran Gavrieli who studies gender at Tel Aviv University. Ran writes and lectures about emotional and physical safe sex; porn and porn-influenced cultural damages; gender and power relations; and sex and intimacy. He works with youth and adults all over Israel in sex and gender studies and in building positive self image in a world inundated by sexual imagery with negative connotations. His conclusion that we need to talk about this topic holds great resonance with Robyn's week in ISHCMC.

Have a good Sunday,


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Food for Thought: Focus on Digital Standards

zenobia_joy via Compfight cc
Dear all,

As you all know Robyn Trevyaud is at ISHCMC next week informing our community about the challenges of Digital Citizenship and Literacy and helping us start to create a Digital literacy and Citizenship Policy. 

Hence this week's food for thought is simply to request that you go to the site of  the International Society for Technology in Education,  and browse for 30 minutes through the information provide. There is lots of information that you can think about and use in your classrooms.

Linking directly with what Robyn will be helping us start are the ISTE Standards  

"Why are standards important?
Technology has forever changed not only what we need to learn, but the way we learn.
The ISTE Standards set the bar for excellence and best practices in learning, teaching and leading with technology in education. The benefits of using the ISTE Standards include:
  • Improving higher-order thinking skills, such as problem solving, critical thinking and creativity
  • Preparing students for their future in a competitive global job market
  • Designing student-centered, project-based and online learning environments
  • Guiding systemic change in our schools to create digital places of learning
  • Inspiring digital age professional models for working, collaborating and decision making

Have a good Sunday,

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Food for Thought: Motivating Eager Lifelong Readers

Dear all,

I was sent this Quarterly Newsletter by Dr Judy Willis that links perfectly with next week's book week. More information about Dr Willis can be found at and is worth exploring. If you are interested there are at the end of this article a range of interesting links on work that Dr Willis has been exploring on a broad range of topics that also link with work being undertaken in different sections of the school

Have a fun Book Week,

Classroom Experiences to Motivate Eager Lifelong Readers
It is more of a challenge in this time of an abundance of reading choices to engage students in the joyful habit of reading extended text in both fiction and nonfiction. With texting, Facebook, and other social media, younger and younger children have ready access to read and write about a topic of high interest to most individuals - themselves and their friends. They can also get instant updates on other areas of high personal relevance such as sports, music, entertainment, and video games. For many students, during the challenge of learning to read and the later burden of forced text reading assignments, the idea of choosing to read at length for pleasure is not something they've experienced or value.


The Harry Potter series was a boon to motivating a generation of young readers, but there may not be another series of books with the magnetic power of wizards for some time. Even without a new irresistible series, children can develop the joy of the reading books that already fill library and bookstore shelves. 

Students' interests are the most powerful motivating force to inspire reading. A study of 60 adults with dyslexia who all learned to read late (13 to 14 years) but eventually became good readers supports the motivating power of high interest good readers and writers. The commonality was they attributed their success to hard work driven by their desire to read about very high interest topics such as airplanes and the Civil War. (Fink, R. 2011. Why Jane and John Couldn't Read--And How They Learned

Use your knowledge of your students' interests or those of their age group in general such as their superheroes in sports, fantasy, or music, wild mustangs, science fiction, the ocean, space exploration, insects, people from other lands and times, and special seasonal events. Keep a variety and rotation of books and magazines (and if needed for special need students, recorded books) around the classroom related to their interests and provide casual opportunities for them to come in contact them. 

To extend reading interests and appreciation, observe which topics draw the attention of individual students. Use these observations (and note cards) to guide them to other books on the topics and to set up book clubs with students who share common interests. Once these "clubs" meet, peer curiosity will pull others into the topics that generate their classmates' enthusiasm. 

You'll also inspire expanding reading interests by providing a selection of books that include powerful images, illustrations, and photos such as National Geographic. Curiosity is strong in children, and when not snuffed out by forced assignments with little choice about what they read, they'll at least glance through these magazines or books and from the visuals and become lured into the text. 

For some kids, the "choose your own adventure" books are great for book buy-in. These books give the reader chances to make choices for the character. Their choice is linked with the instruction to turn to a particular page and the story progresses from there. They will develop the previously unlikely habit of rereading when they go back to the pages with the choice to select a different option. 

Because students will have different reading levels, you'll want to provide reading materials suitable to their independent skills. Watch how students evaluate the reading offerings. If a student shows high interest in a book out of her range but is quickly intimidated by the difficulty, length, or small print, seek out abridged versions (even in comic books, recordings, or video versions) as a starting point that offers achievable challenge. Once she has the gist of the plot and characters, she will have more background knowledge for context cues to progress to the complete book. Allow her to return to abridged book or notes taken from the introductory sources to check on her understanding of the movement of the plot, settings, or to keep track of the characters.

A Cycle of Success and Pleasure

A cycle of success and pleasure can transform students from reluctant to eager readers. As they read more books in high-interest areas, the increased depth of the specialized knowledge that they acquire can help them develop valued expertise and motivate further reading. This cycle is facilitated if you incorporate their special knowledge into planning collaborative group activities that gives value to the expertise they develop in navigation, exotic parts of the world, rare animals, their high interest hero, inventions, or unusual customs. 

When classmates value the special knowledge they acquire from personally chosen reading, students experience a boost in self-image, confidence, and the recognition of the benefits that came from reading for pleasure. These experiences will promote more reading with the accompanying increase in reading skills. As the cycle continues, their increased reading skills will result in more satisfying reading experiences and progress to higher levels of challenge and success in all their reading.

Boost Their Dopamine and Tickle Their Mirror Neurons

Read aloud and leave them wanting more. Students of all ages enjoy being read to. The brain is even programed to squirt out a burst of the pleasure-activating neurotransmitter dopamine in response to being read to. Once you establish the reading of an engaging book or magazine article, plan ahead for a stopping place that is especially tantalizing. The desire of wanting more of the book, and of that dopamine, will increase their motivation for independent reading. 

For students not already engaged in an independent reading book, this is perfect timing for them to have five minutes to pick up a new book or magazine from those you've placed around the room, followed by time to explore or read their choices. Some will flip through and reject and try another while others dig in. It is the habit and interest in reading for pleasure that is the goal here, not the number of pages completed; so let them evaluate the books in their own ways. 

If you have regularly scheduled silent sustained reading periods, join in. Even when you don't have these specific opportunities to model your reading, find other times, such as during indoor recess on rainy days or when students take tests, to let them see your physical responses as you read. Your expressions, chuckles, little gasps of surprise, and gestures of satisfaction when you find something you were seeking make impressions on your students. Letting them see and hear your enthusiasm, satisfaction, or pleasure can activate their mirror neurons associated with the same positive emotions in their brains. If you can subsequently describe what you read that with authentic pleasure, you'll be modeling the satisfaction you hope your students will experience in their reading. 

It is also of value for students to see you being challenged when reading, such as by more technical books. This increases their comfort about difficulties they have reading complex books. Talk about your own reading challenges in class and at home. If the primary source historical documents you are reading are dense with facts and you needed to take frequent breaks, just do a few pages a day, or look up unfamiliar words, let your students know how you felt. Tell them, "It is hard reading. I keep getting up and moving to another chair or adjusting the lights. I need to give my brain a break, so I could get through it and learn what I really do want to know. Sometimes, I read the same sentence two or three times, and I even have to write things down, so I can understand and remember what I read. But it is worth it when I understand something that was unclear at first or learn something new and really cool that links to what I'll be teaching you. That happened last night and I can't wait to share it when we get to that topic." 

If you had trouble developing an interest in reading or had a harder time than your classmates when learning to read, this is also good information to share with your students. If there were special interests that connected you with certain books, share these memories. They may see you reading books with tiny print, many pages and no pictures, and think you were just a born reader and didn't have to struggle as they do. Knowing about your frustrations or embarrassments helps them remain optimistic when they are struggling in the same ways.

Overt the Rainbow

As your students' reading motivator, you'll be their guide to the worlds they can reach through books traveling over the rainbow and deep into vast pools of knowledge. Your guidance will light the way and the books they enjoy in your classroom will ignite their pleasure that awaits them as lifelong readers.

Keep igniting,
Judy Willis, M.D., M.Ed.

Below are links to my recent articles, videos, and Edutopia staff blogs. Updated links to additional articles, blogs, videos, and webinars as well as frequent updates about where I'll be doing presentations and workshops can be found through my website:

Recent Articles & Edutopia or NBC New Education Nation Blogs

Edutopia Staff blog - September 22, 2014

Staff blog - August 20, 2014

STEM Magazine - October 2014

Edutopia Staff Blog. July 18, 2014 

ASCD Express. July 3, 2014 Volume 9 | Issue 20

STEM Magazine - June 2014

NBC Education Nation - January 2014

Edutopia Staff Blog - March 11, 2014 - January 14, 2014
TeachThought Issue March 16, 2014

Edutopia Staff Blog - March 17, 2014