Mindfulness Based Learning and the Algebra Factor!

MINDFULNESS BASED LEARNING (MBL) and the Algebra Factor How many times have each of us completed a task and then asked ourselves how we did, or worse, did we do it safely and well? Here, I’m including simple tasks like brushing our teeth or bathing ourselves, right through to mowing the lawn and even driving our cars. We’re so often here or not here. Well, our bodies are going through the motions of being ‘here’ but are WE there? Why is it that for a large amount of our waking time, we humans are not wholly here. If ALL of us are not here then where are we?

There are many, many reasons why all of our attention units are not with us as often as we would like, from childhood trauma right through to worrying about something we are going to do ‘next’. The important thing here is that we recognise that our whole being is not with us in the present moment. Awareness of course is the key to being really present for our lives.

From a teaching and learning point of view, it is imperative that students ( and teachers for that matter ) are as present to the learning process as they can be. Being ‘mindful’ is a great start. So, what is mindfulness?

Mindfulness, in the learning context means; ‘paying attention, on purpose in the present moment and non judgmentally’. ( Jon Kabat-Zinn). Simply, this means that we are mindful and aware of the present moment task we are engaged in. No matter what it is. The more mindful we are the better the results the experience provides.

This is particularly true of students when learning any new content. Often the unnecessary and inappropriate ‘baggage’ from past learning ‘failures’ inhibits and retards the new learning experience. For example, a student who is about to engage in understanding some previously studied algebra, will necessarily bring the energy of the previous experience with them. Now, this can be beneficial to the learning experience or the complete opposite. Unfortunately for many students, it really gets in the way of a successful and meaningful learning experience. So, what can we do? One of the most beneficial strategies is to become more mindful of the experience at hand and one of the most effective ways to do this, is through some or all of the five primary physical senses. What does the student see, hear, smell? How are they sitting? Are their legs in contact with the floor?

This increased sensorial awareness then translates into being more present and therefore more aware of the learning experience they are undertaking. The increases learning outcomes really can be spectacular. Even something as simple as using coloured pens to compete the algebraic steps can significantly increase the retention rates.

So, next time your child has difficulty in understanding anything, why not invite them to become more mindful first. Better still, why wait? Why not try a and become a little more mindful yourself, everyday. The more mindful we become in our lives, the more enjoyable and fulfilling life becomes for us.

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Can I or can’t I, what’s the difference?

The subtlety and type of questions we ask ourselves often determines the quality of the answers we get.

As adults, the methods and language we use when asking questions can have a huge bearing on the response we get.

It’s the same with children. Children have a natural and boundless curiosity for everything. Their neurology is constantly being wired and re-wired as they make their way in the world. Even the very language they use to ask questions of their world is not exactly ‘taught’ to them.

Prior to the age of around seven, children can and often do learn how to speak and communicate in multiple languages before they are taught its various technicalities and quirks. Indeed,  If one or both parents speak a different language ( or even a different dialect ) many children will often be bi-lingual before they start school.

The words we use and the way we frame those words have far more impact on ourselves and our children than we ever realise. In fact, the manner in which we frame the questions we ask will in fact determine the answer. A little like the ‘observer’ in science experiments having a contribution to the experiments outcome, simply through their observations.

So, next time your child asks something like: “Dad, why can’t I….?” Why not stop, reframe the question and then ask: ” How can I ….?” You might be very pleasantly surprised at the results.

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Why learn Times Tables?

Is it important to that my child knows their Times Tables in this day and age? After all, they have calculators, computers, iPads and all manner of portable devices to do it for them.

Is it important that you know how to breathe properly? Of course it is.

In terms of Mathematical literacy, fast accurate knowledge of the Times Tables is imperative for your child to be able to function with higher order Mathematical tasks and Mathematical thinking. They are vital building blocks for every student. No matter what age or stage.

Sure, they can do most Maths tasks without knowing the Times Tables but it will take them three and sometimes four times as long to complete the tasks. By this time, most of the class has moved on. The result is not so much the incorrect answers, or the extended time taken to complete the tasks, it is the damage done to the student’s confidence and self-esteem that is the most damaging. Their internalising of themselves as ‘Mathematical failures’. They often then feel, not only ‘dumb at Maths’ but incompetent in many other areas as well. They often give up and stop trying completely.

I don’t know how many parents, when interviewed by us, will complain about their own poor Maths skills, often lamenting their own lack of knowledge of the Tables. “We weren’t taught them at school”, they’ll say.

On the contrary, many of our clients will tell us that it is their rote, immediate knowledge of the Times Tables that enables them to complete computation skills easily and quickly, particularly in ‘real life’ situations. Shopping, invoicing, at tax time and myriad other day-to-day applications for applying these vital skills.

If there is one area to support your child in their skills and knowledge in becoming Mathematically literate it is encouraging them to acquire fast, accurate knowledge of the Times Tables.

Play games with them. Ask them quick questions that require quick answers ( at an appropriate level of course ). Buy them a cd of the Times Tables and play it in the car ( I know it might drive you a bit mad but hey, have you heard some of the nonsense that passes for commercial radio these days? ). Do what you have to do imbed this vital skill into your child’s neurology. Like catching and throwing a ball, repetition, repetition, repetition.

Your child ( and their teachers ) will be forever grateful to you.

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Stillness and Awareness ~ A Secret to improve your child’s reading and writing.

Little children and animals to it. They do it so often, so effortlesslsy and so well. They do it when they know they need to. That is, they get still. They stop, lay down and relax. Often it’s only for a brief moment, frequently for a little longer. They both know when their bodies and minds need a rest.

As we evolve into adulthood the frenetic need to ‘do’ negates the need to ‘be’. The whole ‘more is better’ philosophy permeates ALL of our lives, frequently leading to burn out, fatigue and physical illness. It has a direct physiological and psychological impact on what we learn and how much of our learnings we retain.

When working with our students, we commence the learning sessions with some simple grounding and breathing exercises. This does many things to significantly enhance the learning process.

The difference in physiology immediately impacts the psychology. The student moves from often being in a reactive state towards a more receptive learning state. The benefits are obvious, immediate and very powerful. In short, the student’s body/mind is now ready to fully engage in the learning process.

Try it for yourself, or, better still, try it with your children. It’s age-old and it’s not rocket science.

Tell your child ( and yourself ), that you are going to relax. Call it meditation if you will. Sit in a chair with your feet firmly on the ground. Breathe in s-l-o-w-l-y five times. Inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. Close your eyes and visualise the task you are about to do having already been done, just the way you like it.

Let’s say you are teaching your child some simple phonics skills like Word Families ( a VITAL component of teaching your child early reading skills ). Get your child to hold a clear picture of the words in their heads. Perhaps the rhyming blends in the words are in colour. Now, have your child engage in some sensory associations with the task. What colours are they? How are you sitting? How are you holding your pencil? How do you feel when you have written and said all of the words correctly?

When you have finished this simple process then quietly go and complete the task. The quiet, effective energy you have just created will permeate the completed written task.

Go ahead and try it. If nothing else, you have given yourself and your child permission to enhance the learning process with more awareness, stillness and ultimately more effectiveness.

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Attention hints and tips, for improved Reading, Spelling and Mathematics results.

Intention for better Attention

Where is your attention right now! Now! What senses are you aware off? What are you hearing, tasting, smelling, touching. Stop! Take your hands off your mouse/keyboard/ pen and STOP! Hello!!! That’s YOU.

Good. Now that YOU have YOUR attention, what is your INTENTION with the task you are currently doing? It doesn’t matter WHAT it is at the moment. What is your intention for spending these moments doing whatever it is you are doing. Go on, ask yourself the question; “Why am I doing what I am doing?” “What is my purpose in doing it?”

I’ll bet somewhere along your responses you will be moving TOWARDS pleasure or AVOIDING pain of some kind. Oh, I don’t mean moving towards ecstatic jubilance and unbridled ecstasy, ( although that’s a possibility) or avoiding excruciating pain ( and that’s a possibility too ). I mean simple pleasures like enjoying what you are reading, reading for pure enjoyment OR avoiding pain by procrastinating. That kind of thing.  It really doesn’t matter too much, because now you’re getting more aware of your INTENTION aren’t you? More aware of the WHY of what you are doing. This can be critical and often life-changing. It might also save you some therapy and ‘coaching’ time in the future!

The same idea can be attached to teaching children. As a matter of fact, in my 25 years of teaching and tutoring children in Maths and English, I would wager that they are naturally more aware of their intention for doing whatever task they are engaged in. As they age and as the external ‘noise’ of life increases…parents, teachers, tv, phones, games, they tend to lose their idea of what their intention actually is. This then usually manifests as an attention problem. Their decreasing ( external ) awareness of their intention actually causes them to lose attention on their task.

When we work with children in our tutoring practise, one of the first exercises we get them to do is Active Body Engagement. We sit with them and guide them through a physical awareness of where they are in space and time at that moment. This immediately grounds them and this is the key. We then ask them to get clear about what they intend to learn ie. What their specific learning intention actually is. Usually they can get very specific. “I want to focus on my Times Tables.” ” My sentence structure needs some work.” “ Algebra is really causing me to struggle.”

With direct instructional questioning techniques, we can then narrow their intention down even further…”What specific Times Table would you like to work on?” “ What type of Algebra don’t you get?” The results, often surprise even the students themselves. They frequently recognise the link between their lack of attention on a task and their decreasing awareness of their learning intention.

So, next time you’re feeling a little ‘vague’ or lacking focus on a particular task, large of small, check in with some of your senses and ask yourself some simple questions; “Where is my attention at the moment?” and “What is my intention right this minute”. It could prove to be a significant return on your time investment. Better still, next time your child has some issues related to homework or school projects, do this simple exercise with them. You may just have given them one of life’s most practical gifts.

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Welcome to our blog

We hope you enjoy some fabulous hints and tips that will improve your child’s Spelling, Reading, Writing and Mathematical skills.

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