Impulsivity is not all bad…

Has anyone ever told you that you were impulsive?

“Impulsivity has been variously defined as behavior without adequate thought, the tendency to act with less forethought than do most individuals of equal ability and knowledge, or a predisposition toward rapid, unplanned reactions to internal or external stimuli without regard to the negative consequences of these…

“hmmm…I might add that impulsivity can strike at the most inopportune times. Can be embarrassing. Some people think kids are more impulsive than they used to be…maybe some adults are more impulsive, too…I am somewhat of an authority on impulsivity and not only because of the students I work with.image

A few years ago at a fifth grade graduation, I told a story about how I learned to whistle with my hands in the summer after my sixth grade year. What I did not share at the time was how I tortured a sweet elderly white haired 6th grade teacher, named Mrs. Daze. I am sure I nudged her closer to retirement. It sounds utterly bizarre to me now, but sometime around March or April of my sixth grade year, I was starting to get the hang of whistling with my hands. And, in the middle of class a whistle would ring out. What was I thinking? True, there were 35 students in the room. And, I was in the back row. But, whistling in the middle of math class? You guys would never do that, right?

Now, don’t misunderstand. I was not a trouble maker, a bit impulsive, perhaps, but not a bad kid, and in fact, a good student. At any rate, Mrs. Daze would look at me with an incredulous look on her face, and say, “Jonathan, WHAT are you doing?” . To be honest, I was almost as surprised as she was. I could not give her a good answer. I guess I wasn’t thinking…about those negative consequences.

Thankfully, there is no permanent record of Continue reading

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A novel idea-reenvisioning school culture to be a place where EVERYONE learns

imageTraditionally, schools have largely been seen as institutions where children (students) attend daily in order to receive knowledge from trained adults (teachers). Mostly, the discussion centers around what students need to learn and how to teach them. So, if a school has well trained adults it will be a great school, correctimage?  Great schools should be places where everyone views himself or herself as a learner.  To be sure, teachers need to know their craft, and they need to directly teach students. But great schools should be safe, yet stimulating and challenging environments where everyone learns: students, parents, teachers…administrators.  By learning themselves, adults are reminded how hard learning can be and they become better role models for children.  Last week, I was talking with a seventh grade boy and his parents after they had just had a successful parent teacher conference. I reiterated to the boy in front of his parents how proud I was of him. He was beaming.  The parents were very proud, too. Then the father looked at me and said, “I graduated in December”. I looked at him, momentarily hesitating, not knowing how to respond.  He clarified, “I just received my bachelor of science.”

“Congratulations,” I said. “Still learning”, I am thinking.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Just ask a 1st grader

I have spent my career observing, listening to, and talking with children and adolescents who have learning

Aging gracefully😬

Aging gracefully😬

differences.  To be sure, many of these young people have a toxic mix of neurological anomalies that can make learning in school challenging. And, yet, I am equally impressed by a child’s ability to identify the problem.  I met a 5th grade boy recently who said,  “all books are awful, except picture books”.  Dyslexic? Probably. Another middle school boy articulated, “my classes are boring, I am always thinking about other things”. ADHD? Possibly. Another middle school girl recently bombed a math test.  Her teacher felt she knew the material, but for some reason, froze during the exam. The teacher requested the student to come see her. When the student came in to see the teacher the teacher had the student retake the test and the student improved dramatically.  Anxiety? Seems likely.

In all three of these cases: dyslexia, ADHD, and anxiety, the students had an instinctive sense about why they were having difficulty.  They could describe the difficulty even though they could not name it.  All of which suggests that if we ask kids where they are having difficulty and listen to their answers we can better understand their learning experience.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Don’t underestimate the power of inspirational people

This Friday, March 4, 2016, polar explorer, Ann Bancroft will visit The Wheeler campus in Providence, Rhode Island  to talk with students and teachers.  Then, in the evening she will be honored by receiving The Hamilton Life Achievement Award at the 22nd annual ‘Mind Your p’s and q’s” celebration.

Ann Bancroft is one of the world’s preeminent polar explorers.  Among other accomplishments,  she was the first woman to cross the Arctic by dogsled to the North Pole and the first woman to do the same across Antartica to the South Pole. You can read more about her at the The Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity.

Ann has dyslexia.  Her dyslexia made school extremely challenging, and yet her supportive family and willingness to take risks enabled her to accomplish amazing goals and, even, her wildest dreams.

On the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity website, in referring to Ann, they state,

“They often ask if she would change anything about her life if given the opportunity, and her answer is always the same. “I don’t know anyone with dyslexia who would change,” she says. “It’s been a great asset. My dyslexia and my challenges through school were the absolute perfect training for an expedition. Expedition people are all about one step in front of the other and not going very fast, just doing the hard work. What better way to get the work ethic than by having a learning difference?”

Truly, when a Person perseveres through an adversity such as having a learning difference in school, it is inspirational.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How ‘Audio Assisted Reading’ can benefit students

Tuesday evening, February 23rd, 7-8:00 pm
Wheeler School GCA Building

imageSpeaker William Keeney, English Dept. Chair at Delaware Valley Friends School in Paoli, Pennsylvania, will explain why an audio assisted reading program might be appropriate for students middle school and above, how to identify who will benefit the most from such a program, and some of the pragmatics of implementing such a program.

Parents will learn how to assess whether their child could benefit from audio assisted reading and practical steps toward training the students in its use and specific advice on how to successfully move students toward independent use of these very valuable tools.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

ADHD is not an attention deficit

I have never met a person with ADHD that could not attend, even extremely well…to topics or situations that were highly interesting, often hyper focusing in those situations. This makes the name inherently confusing to parents, people with ADHD, and other observers. The condition is not a deficit of attention, but rather a difficulty that a person has projecting attention at will, particularly to those areas that are less interesting for that person.

I think we all understand the need to define and clarify and, in effect, diagnose. But, the ADHD label tends to confuse rather than clarifify. Of all learning differences, we know that ADHD is the hardest to diagnose.  There is no clear test for ADHD. It is a subjective diagnosis that is made mostly by eliminating other possible interferences (language processing, etc). It is also inconsistent. That is, frequently people with ADHD do not appear to have difficulty sustaining attention in a specific situation. But, when that same person is attempting to attend to an activity that is not inherently interesting for that person, sustaining attention can be very challenging.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A meaningful alternative to high stakes testing

Is it just my imagination or is support for high stakes testing finally waning?  image

Yesterday, Hamilton and Wheeler teachers participated in an inservice workshop presented by Tim Neville from The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA).  These assessments, termed “measurement of academic progress” (MAP) are great alternatives to standard achievement tests.  Instead of receiving absolute scores these assessments measure academic progress.  They can be given up to four times per year.   Essentially, MAP assessments are formative assessments that provide teachers with useful information to differentiate instruction for all students (both high and low).  The NWEA assessments are untimed, are online, and can be administered by teachers at their convenience.  Imagine assessments that do not disrupt learning, but promote better learning for all students. The NWEA assessments are dynamic and adjust the difficulty depending on how a child answers the questions.  Teachers receive the results within 24 hours after completion.

Assessments should inform instruction so students can be supported or challenged in the right way.  Wow. Innovation in 2015.  Give teachers information that will allow them to teach a child in a way that the student will learn. Teachers can make modifications before the end of the year so that a students learn. Brilliant.

NWEA Workshop

NWEA Workshop

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Often children can tell you what is wrong

Children know when they are unhappy in school.  When adults take the time they can understand why they are unhappy.  Most children, particularly elementary aged children like to go to school.  Children learn new skills, develop social skills, acquire new information, and generally become more independent-all things that “brains” crave and thrive upon.  So when a child does not like school, the adults need to ask why?  Is there something wrong with the school? Or, is there an undiagnosed problem with the child? Or, both?

Every fall we have 14 or 15 new students at the Hamilton School at Wheeler.  Generally, most of the new students are elementary school students, although we always have 3 or 4 new middle school students, too.   They come to us from other independent schools, parochial schools, and public schools. All of these new students have dyslexia and, frequently, some additional learning differences.  All of them have experienced some difficulty learning to read fluently and write clearly in their previous school.  They all have experienced some degree of systematic failure.  That is, failing repeatedly without understanding why and not having any concrete strategies for arresting the slide.

Last week, when I asked some new parents how their child was feeling about school, they frequently smiled and replied, “Thank you for giving me my child back.  They are loving school again.”  From a parent perspective, it can feel miraculous.  To be sure, these comments make my day.  And, I am grateful to receive some credit in helping a child feel more confident again. But, I cannot help but ask, “Can’t any school do what we are doing?”   The answer, of course, is “yes”, and yet, it does not happen.  In fact, help rarely seems to come from school administration.  Instead, caring teachers pull parents aside and recommend independent evaluations or teaching methods not offered by the school system.

American schools simply must find a more efficient way to identity struggling readers rather than just allowing them to fail or blaming the parents or the lack of school resources.





Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Hamilton School at Wheeler, 8th grade Graduation Remarks, June 2015. “Waiting”

Waiting. Strange how 30 seconds can feel like such a long time. Or how slowly minutes tick by when you are waiting for classes to end. Or…days, weeks or years when waiting for graduation.

Waiting for my turn to speak. Or, you waiting to hear what I have to say. Waiting. Such a strange word and concept. Webster’s has a number of definitions, the one I like is… “to remain in a state in which you expect or hope that something will happen… soon.” Not eventually, but soon. That is the key word. In some ways, waiting has a nice feeling of positive anticipation, don’t you think? And yet, waiting is something most of us try to avoid or just to get through as painlessly as possible.

Waiting for school to end. Waiting for summer to start. Even, waiting to get older…

My grandson cannot even speak, but he needs only to point at something and his doting grandparents get it for him immediately. No waiting there. Waiting seems to occur more frequently the older we get and it takes on a less positive tone. Sometime around 3 or 4 years old children are introduced to the “not now, but wait for later” concept. I never trusted that one. Always seemed to be a clever way of adults saying, “no”. As a child, I remember “waiting” as always a bad thing. “You kept me waiting” or the old favorite, “Wait until I tell your father”. Or, another adult standby “no, Jon, you are not old enough—wait until you grow up”.

Waitlists. Waiting rooms. Wait time. Waiting for your mom to pick you up. Waiting for a package to arrive. Waiting for a text or email. Ever notice how time slows to a crawl when you are waiting? Unless it is something we are dreading and then time seems to speed up. You would think a person would get better at waiting as they age. Maybe, at my age, I just accumulate more things that I am waiting for…than an 8th grader? On the other hand, maybe not all those things I am waiting for are good things…better not go there.

Most people who know me know I hate waiting. Some invisible barrier that is preventing me from doing what I want or think I need to be doing. Frankly, waiting for things has always seemed to me to be a colossal waste of time. Waiting prevents me from doing enjoyable things or from being productive. The most common thing people do these days when they are waiting is to work or play on their smart phone. Even though you are waiting you can entertain yourself or get work done while you are waiting. This seems like a good thing, right? I do this–maybe you do this, too. It is what our culture does.

Lately I have been thinking differently about waiting. Maybe I need to embrace waiting more. Instead of thinking of it as something that interrupts my daily rhythm, perhaps I should think about it as an integral part of my daily living. Not jumping over it as quickly as possible, but thinking about it…as a legitimate, even important, part of my life. An opportunity to think about something I need to think about or talk with someone with whom I might not otherwise talk. Maybe even…and I shudder to say this, an opportunity to do nothing. Not just filling it with busy-ness or technology.


My advice to 8th grades is this. There is a whole lot of waiting in life. Short term waiting like right now waiting for me to finish talking. But, also long term waiting such as choosing a college, picking a career, developing a longterm relationship with someone you love. Most of those things are worth waiting for, and in fact, are better if you do wait for them. Maybe waiting actually helps us consolidate what we are learning. Maybe waiting actually makes those things we are waiting for better. Remember, 8th graders, unlike we older folks, those frontal lobes of your brains that help you plan and organize are still growing and developing and will be well into your twenties. Unlike me, you will continue to improve in these areas. Don’t be afraid to wait a bit. Maybe, even enjoy it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dyslexic filmmaker Peggy Stern is honored at The Hamilton School at Wheeler 

I was was reminded last Friday, February 27, about the power that caring passionate adults can have on developing minds.  It is not enough to just add information into these minds.  They must be inspired.  Peggy Stern inspired an entire school on February 27, 2015, and most especially the girls and young women.

When minds are inspired they make infinite connections that help children learn more.  Why is “inspiration” not tracked and “measured” for children as we do with other knowledge?  Any teacher or parent can tell you when a child is inspired.

Show me a “successful” person and I will show you someone who is inspired.


Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment