Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Missing Dimension of the Education Debate – Tish Jennings


I found this fascinating link on Twitter today via @educationweek

Tish directs the the Initiative on Contemplation and Education at the Garrison Institute and Research Assistant Professor in Human Development and Family Studies and the Prevention Research Center at Penn State University. See full bio.

She writes:

A growing body of research and field practice indicates that working on a more inward level — using secular, accessible techniques ranging from mindfulness to yoga to reflective writing — may hold the key to coping with these stresses more successfully, lowering attrition rates and ultimately improving education outcomes. Educators and researchers are exploring the use of contemplative or mindfulness-based approaches to teaching and learning to reduce stress, enhance classroom climate, and help students calm their bodies and minds, open their hearts and focus their attention.
This emerging field of contemplative education is a secular, evidence-based one, drawing on new research in neuroscience, cognitive science and developmental science, and adapting practices from contemplative traditions in secular ways that can work for teachers and classrooms. It is complementary with, but distinct from, social and emotional learning (SEL). It can support SEL by reinforcing social and emotional competencies both teachers and students need to succeed.
Today many children come to school with nervous systems unprepared to learn. Our modern lifestyle contains huge doses of real and/or imaginary violence, constant media exposure, general busyness, and high pressure that constantly triggers the fight-flight-freeze response, stimulating our limbic systems, washing our minds and bodies with stress hormones. This can have long-term effects. Thanks to contemporary neuroscience, we now know that exposure to situations that trigger emotional reactivity during development changes the way our brain and body respond to future stressors. It’s like a thermostat that’s been turned up too high.
This makes it very tough for kids to learn. When our limbic system is hyperreactive, it’s difficult to engage the prefrontal cortex and therefore difficult to absorb and process new information. (more)


I find this fascinating. There are so many inadequately explored application for mindfulness practice and helping kids focus is one of the goals of Kumon. Are there ways that we can better integrate mindfulness in a Kumon setting, and in other forms of learning, so that kids may learn more easily and with greater joy?

I found this site: Mindful Schools – Engaging children. Supporting educators…

“Our mission is to help lead the integration of mindfulness into education.

We are a non-profit organization that offers in-class instruction for children, a complete multi-level training program for adults, and other resources to support mindfulness in education.

Our program has used a scientifically proven technique called mindfulness to teach concentration, attention, conflict resolution, and empathy to over 11,000 children and 500 teachers in 41 schools, 71% of which serve predominantly low-income children.

We have conducted training and workshops for over 1,500 public and private school parents, teachers, therapists, and other professionals in education and social work.

They were promoting a talk by Jon KabatZinn

See an excerpt from a book he co-wrote with his wife about mindful parenting and teaching children: Mindfulness in the Classroom-Getting to Know Yourself in School

“Ms. Hamrick has not only brought mindfulness-based stress reduction
into the classroom. She has integrated mindfulness in one imaginative
way or another into virtually every aspect of the curriculum,
including math, English, science, and geography. She encourages her
students to use their whole selves in their learning. They approach a subject
so that they develop not only their cognitive and information-processing
skills but also their intuition, their feelings, and their bodies.
In this way, they are learning the basics of what is now called emotional
intelligence, as well as developing greater enthusiasm for learning.”

So much potential in this field! Very exciting…


Why do some people learn faster?


One of the things that fascinates me as a Kumon instructor is how differently the hundreds of kids I have worked with have approached the same worksheets, and the very different rates of acquisition they have. A very few need to complete most worksheets only once and most others will need one or more repetitions, more or less of them depending on the section of the program they are studying, and their particular strengths and challenges.

A fellow Kumon instructor linked this article on his or her Facebook page within the past day:

Why Do Some People Learn Faster?

By Jonah Lehrer

Do we ignore mistakes, brushing them aside for the sake of our self-confidence? Or do we investigate the errors, seeking to learn from the snafus? The latter approach, suggests a series of studies, could make you learn faster.
Here is the intriguing finding from the research:

The physicist Niels Bohr once defined an expert as “a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field.” Bohr’s quip summarizes one of the essential lessons of learning, which is that people learn how to get it right by getting it wrong again and again. Education isn’t magic. Education is the wisdom wrung from failure.

A new study, forthcoming in Psychological Science, and led by Jason Moser at Michigan State University, expands on this important concept. The question at the heart of the paper is simple: Why are some people so much more effective at learning from their mistakes? After all, everybody screws up. The important part is what happens next. Do we ignore the mistake, brushing it aside for the sake of our self-confidence? Or do we investigate the error, seeking to learn from the snafu?

The Moser experiment is premised on the fact that there are two distinct reactions to mistakes, both of which can be reliably detected using electroenchephalography, or EEG. The first reaction is called error-related negativity (ERN). It appears about 50 milliseconds after a screw-up and is believed to originate in the anterior cingulate cortex, a chunk of tissue that helps monitor behavior, anticipate rewards and regulate attention. This neural reaction is mostly involuntary, the inevitable response to any screw-up.

The second signal, which is known as error positivity (Pe), arrives anywhere between 100-500 milliseconds after the mistake and is associated with awareness. It occurs when we pay attention to the error, dwelling on the disappointing result. In recent years, numerous studies have shown that subjects learn more effectively when their brains demonstrate two properties: 1) a larger ERN signal, suggesting a bigger initial response to the mistake and 2) a more consistent Pe signal, which means that they are probably paying attention to the error, and thus trying to learn from it.

Wait, there’s more – the kind of praise by the teacher given has a huge effect:

When Dweck was designing the experiment, she expected the different forms of praise to have a rather modest effect. After all, it was just one sentence. But it soon became clear that the type of compliment given to the fifth graders dramatically affected their choice of tests. When kids were praised for their effort, nearly 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. However, when kids were praised for their intelligence, most of them went for the easier test. What explains this difference? According to Dweck, praising kids for intelligence encourages them to “look” smart, which means that they shouldn’t risk making a mistake.
I am very much taking this to heart. I do naturally tend to praise more for effort than intelligence, but I will be even more careful about this in future, knowing what a significant effect it can have on my students’ learning!

‘Flipped’ classrooms take advantage of technology


Fascinating article I found on Twitter today about the next wave of education in classrooms:


‘Flipped’ classrooms offer students virtual learning

A growing number of teachers digitally record lessons, then upload them to iTunes and assign them as homework.

POTOMAC, Md. – Step into Stacey Roshan’s Advanced Placement calculus class some morning and two things become apparent: The students don’t seem stressed-out, as AP students often do. And the teacher is barely teaching.

  • Bullis School junior Tony Scott, 16, watches a digitally recorded Advanced Placement calculus lesson on an iPad via the Camtasia app Tuesday.By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

    Bullis School junior Tony Scott, 16, watches a digitally recorded Advanced Placement calculus lesson on an iPad via the Camtasia app Tuesday.

By Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

Bullis School junior Tony Scott, 16, watches a digitally recorded Advanced Placement calculus lesson on an iPad via the Camtasia app Tuesday.

Sitting in pairs, students poke at their iPads waiting for class to begin. But in place of a long-winded lecture there’s Roshan, a petite brunette with a broad smile, moving through the room, urging students to take out their homework.

In a word, Roshan has “flipped” her class… continue reading here

How cool is that?
Kumon uses a more traditional pencil and paper approach, but if you come into a Kumon class, you won’t see a lot of teaching either. Like the digital AP lesson on the iPad, Kumon has very detailed examples and explanations when students are learning new materials in the advanced levels, so that children may learn on their own.
Will there be a KumonPad in the future? We saw a prototype at the last Kumon Instructors’ Conference in July, held in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, but there is no timeline or definitive plan for implementation at this time.


October is Reading Month! Personal reflections of a reading fanatic


I am looking forward to blogging for and about my Kumon learning centre in this new space!

I have been an avid reader since I was 6 years old and determinedly taught myself to read. Dr Seuss was a huge favourite of mine in my early years, and I was pleased to learn recently that Random House will be publishing stories of his previously unknown to most – see ‘The Bippolo Seed’: The ‘Lost’ Dr. Seuss Stories : NPR

Do you know what Dr Seuss’ one word of advice for children was?

Also, NPR has featured works by another beloved children’s author: Shel Silverstein’s Poems Live On In ‘Every Thing’ : NPR

Having been such a voracious reader for so long, I have an  enriched vocabulary and haven’t been afraid to use it, even with my children, so I was relieved to see that parents are now exhorted to use our Big, Big Words to encourage our children’s vocabulary development.

It was a delight to read this article on enticing reluctant readers to dive into books, especially with its helpful hints for parents of book-averse boys –

Finally (for now!) I want to mention another favourite author of mine, Roald Dahl, and a delightful website in honour of the 50th anniversary of James and the Giant Peach – Follow that Peach
“Send the peach on further adventures and keep it rolling around the world! Follow that Peach! and send a virtual peach or download a paper Peach-gram to send through the post.”
There’s even a terrific resource for teachers here:
Happy October! What are you reading at the moment?