Monthly Archives: July 2015

  • The Benefits of Writing Down Goals

    Close-up of a boy writing on paper with a pencilChildren who set reachable goals for themselves make an investment in their future.  As a result, they are more likely to make responsible decisions that will keep them on track toward their goals and resist negative influences that would deter them from reaching their goals.

    Six key steps can help students set and achieve their goals.  Students must begin by naming their goals. And when students write down their goals it concretizes them.  The results are so positive it is hard to believe something so simple can be so effective.  According to Forbes Magazine writer, Ashley Feinstein, a Harvard University study compared a body of students who had not set goals, students who had set goals but not written them down, and students who had set goals and written them down. They followed up with the class ten years later and found that the “3% who had written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97% of the class combined!”

    Furthermore, NPR recently featured a University of Toronto professor, Jordan Peterson, who conducted a classroom experiment with goal-setting and writing.  Peterson began with the “’goal-setting theory’ [which] holds that writing down concrete, specific goals and strategies can help people overcome obstacles and achieve.” He asserts writing positively influences students’ motivations to meet their goals.

    Peterson designed an undergraduate course that moved students through a series of writing exercises related to their goals.  The results proved positive, especially with at-risk students, to increase student retention rates and overall academic achievement.  One student, formerly involved in drug use, even proclaimed it turned her life around.  Peterson’s process encouraged students to “reflect on important moments in their past, identify key personal motivations and create plans for the future, including specific goals and strategies to overcome obstacles."

    Once students have chosen a goal, picturing the goal as it is reached will help students define what they are aiming for.  A positive attitude goes a long way toward helping students reach their goals, so the next step is for students to say “I Can” to their goals.  With goals in place, students must then think of how to do it. This, again, is a place where writing is beneficial.  Making a checklist can help students tangibly keep track of their action steps. Which brings us to the next step—Go for it! Well-planned goals are ready to be reached.

    Once the goal is achieved, students can enjoy celebrating their success. Feinstein writes, “How will you celebrate once you’ve reached your goal?  As we journey to the realization of our goals, it’s important to remember our vision.”  Starting with a clear picture of the goal, as well as writing down the goal and writing the action steps in the process, keeps the vision alive.  Learning these best practices in school encourages students to aspire to academic success as learning becomes a means to a greater end.  Students not only have the satisfaction of meeting their goals but also the knowledge and confidence they need to keep setting and reaching increasingly complex goals as they grow older. With these goal-setting skills in place, students are emboldened to reach out to a galaxy of dreams.

  • The Effects of Stress on Student Learning

    Thinking happy kid in glasses with idea bulb aboveWe typically associate stress with the challenges of adult life: work responsibilities, family needs, and other conflicting or overlapping commitments that demand both attention and solutions.  It is safe to say that anyone facing numerous obligations and the stress to meet them can find the effort exhausting.  Students are not exempt from stress.  They face all forms of stress in their academic careers.  High pressure testing environments and increasingly formalized teaching structures are just a couple possible contributors, as well as the increasing social stresses that students face as they mature and navigate more complex social dynamics.  This raises the question as to how stress affects students’ overall academic performance and retention of information.  Scientific neuroimaging studies have shown that stress physically blocks students’ receptivity of information.  Judy Willis, MD, writes in Edutopia, “students' comfort level has critical impact on information transmission and storage in the brain.”

    There is a science behind why the brain does not absorb information under stress.  According to Willis, when the amygdala is overstimulated by negative stress, new information cannot physically pass into the areas of the brain responsible for memory.  Willis calls this phenomenon the “affective filter.” Additional neuroimaging studies have shown that the limbic system, along with chemical transmitters in the brain, more effectively retains information when students have greater levels of comfort in their learning environment.

    But what makes for a comfortable learning environment?  Willis says “brain research demonstrates that superior learning takes place when classroom experiences are motivating and engaging.  Positive motivation impacts brain metabolism, conduction of nerve impulses through the memory areas, and the release of neurotransmitters that increase executive function and attention.” The more we do to facilitate a positive and engaging environment for students, the more they will excel academically.

    Willis suggests that relevant lessons that encourage students to stake a claim in what they are learning keep students engaged.  An interactive learning environment promotes active student participation.  The Socratic Method, or the positive back and forth exchange between teacher and student, incentivizes students to develop better study and preparation habits.  Teaching strategies that rely on interactive and cooperative activities help students feel as if they are participating in their education, rather than serving as a passive recipient or storage device for information.  Today’s rigorous education standards often mandate a large quantity of knowledge be delivered in a limited amount of time.  The urgency of which can be stressful for both the teacher and the student.

    Students who participate in interactive lessons are more likely to stay engaged, speak their minds, and build confidence.  All of which reinforce learning to create a solid knowledge base.  Willis writes, “When teachers use strategies to reduce stress and build a positive emotional environment, students gain emotional resilience and learn more efficiently and at higher levels of cognition.” The result of such strategies makes for happier, healthier students whose minds are fertile for planting seeds of knowledge.

  • Inside Out: Exploring Emotions with Pixar

    Girl with different emotions

    Spoiler Alert: This article gives away plot elements of the Pixar movie Inside Out.

    I’m sure by now you have heard about, or maybe even seen, the new Pixar movie, Inside Out. The story follows a young girl named Riley as she faces the challenges of a cross-country move with her family. But the real stars of the show are the characters depicting Riley’s emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Dr. Janina Scarlet, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, writes in Psychology Today that “our emotions are all important, every single one of them. They all serve an important function and we cannot selectively feel some but not others.” And Inside Out brilliantly illustrates this importance.

    When Riley has difficulty adjusting to her new home, she tries her best to stay happy. In fact, her mother further insists they both need to stay strong for her father. At the emotion control center in Riley’s brain, Joy is notably the emotion predominantly in control, and she tries to keep Sadness contained. At one point, she draws a circle on the floor in an attempt to keep Sadness from interfering.  However, Dr. Scarlet explains that by numbing sadness “we also numb joy.  We need to openly experience all our emotions, and that includes sadness, as painful as it may be sometimes.”

    In the story, this co-numbing effect is illustrated with Joy and Sadness’s expulsion from the control station, leaving only Anger, Fear, and Disgust to man the control panel, while Joy and Sadness both try to find their way back.  On the exterior, we journey with Riley through her attempts to fit in and be happy in her new life.  She sets out to make new friends and join a hockey team, but as the circumstances of her new environment prove overwhelming, we continue to follow Riley as she boards a bus to run away to her old hometown.  On the interior, Joy and Sadness navigate challenges to try to rejoin Riley’s other emotions while coming to realize their joint role in protecting her as they inform her and those around her of what she is feeling.

    The film illustrates the effects of emotions that have not been appropriately identified, expressed, and managed, and learning to do so allows us to cue others as to how we are feeling.  Dr. Scarlet writes, for example, sadness can produce physical indicators such as “tears running down our face, the pupil dilation, the non-threatening posture.  These signals help others understand we are in need of help.” When we have this open dialogue, there can be a healthy exchange between our neighbors and us.

    In the end, we find the role of Sadness is as equally valuable as the role of Joy, for it is Sadness that allows Riley and her parents to reunite. When Riley shows sadness, her parents are empathetic to her struggles. Dr. Scarlet writes when “we stay with this individual and share our emotions together, the resonating effect can produce a healing experience.”Through appropriately identified, managed, and expressed emotions, we can understand and be understood, ultimately allowing us the opportunity to bond in meaningful relationships.