Category Archives: News & Articles

Texas schools try to get a grip on discipline problems using social-emotional lessons

Adapted from the article, Texas schools try to get a grip on discipline problems with social-emotional lessons.

More and more schools throughout the United States and Texas in particular are introducing Social and Emotional Learning into their lesson plans. These classes essentially centre on how to manage emotions and develop skills; including empathy, responsibility and problem solving. An assistant principal at one of the key elementary schools used to be one of those teachers who had little or no time for kids squirming in their chairs and ‘other annoyances’. She thought that surely by fourth grade, her students would know how to raise their hand, sit quietly and walk in a straight line down the hallways. “But they don’t”, she said.

She realised that students needed to be taught appropriate behaviours and that it was her job to teach those behaviours as many times as it took students to grasp. “We don’t have the expectation that kids know all their math by fourth grade, so why do we have the expectation that they always know to behave? This is something that we have to continually teach.”

Authentic Compliments

One teacher at Ridgeview Elementary School, Amanda Self, has a goal to build empathy within her classroom. Instead of just imparting empty self-esteem talk or praising poor grades for students who remain upbeat, Self’s approach focuses on teaching students to give each other “authentic compliments”. An authentic compliment could be something like, “I liked the way you helped me solve a math problem” or “I appreciated the way you were a good friend and let Suzy come and play with us”. Whereas an authentic compliment is NOT, “I like your shoes and the way your wear your hair”.

Self asks the students to sit in a circle and each student takes a turn to either give praise or ask for it. On these days, more than half of her students in the class gush with admiration for their classmates.

“It builds relationships within the classroom so that when problems arise, the teacher can deal with it a lot easier when she has established a culture and climate of kindness. Problem-solving comes a lot easier.”

This has been particularly effective among vulnerable students who often enter school lacking in academic readiness and in social skills. In many cases those students are experiencing a number of social obstacles that hamper their learning. “They have so many things on their plate that until we can help them deal with this socially, they’re going to continue acting out and that’s often why the academics are low.”

Focus on Continual Learning

The principal at Caprock Elementary school was not faced with a frightening campus culture or violent students but needed to “get a handle on behaviours that were taking away from teaching and learning”. This included clowning around in class, excessive talking and rudeness.

The social and emotional lessons were implemented campus wide, with lots of discussion among staff. Together, the staff selected two virtues to reinforce with students day-in and day-out, these were respect and responsibility. Consequently, Caprock’s hallways, bathrooms, cafeteria and playground are lined with posters that remind students to show respect, as this can be shown slightly differently through different settings.

In addition, the teachers have used individual approaches for managing difficult behaviours in their classroom. For example in a grade four classroom, one child had ‘ants in her pants’. She couldn’t sit still for long at all, so each time the child would put her bottom on a chair, the teacher was there with a “Gator buck”, which the child could use to purchase a gift from the treasure box at school. This helped to reinforce ‘good behaviours’ in the classroom and create lasting changes.

Moreover, another student would erupt in loud laughter in class as well as get up and dance or tell jokes. The boy stopped this behaviour when his teacher agreed to allow him to be a comedian in front of the class for 10 minutes, twice a week. Ultimately, this 10 minutes was less time than the amount of time the teacher spent trying to correct him and getting the rest of the class back on track.

Our philosophy is that if we can focus more on the positive, we can decrease the negative and we’re seeing that happen. We’re seeing kids really want to work for that positive behaviour.

(For the full article, follow this link )

How to praise your children – lessons from growth mindset

This article is based on “How not to talk to your kids” written by Pro Bronson

Over the past ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team have studied the effect that praise has on children. Her seminal research was conducted on 400 grade five students and comprised a series of experiments which provided staggering results towards the evidence on growth mindset.

fixed vs growth mindset 2

Initially, the children were required to individually perform a verbal IQ test and afterwards, the researcher provided the student with their score and a single line of praise. Half of the students were praised for their intelligence, “You must be smart at this”, and the other half were praised for their effort, “You must have worked really hard”.

Afterwards, the students were given a choice for the second round. One choice was for a more difficult test, though the researcher mentioned that the child would learn a lot from attempting the puzzle. Whereas the second choice was an easy test, similar to that of the first test. The results indicated that 90% of the children praised for their efforts chose to challenge themselves with the hard test, whereas the majority of those praised for their intelligence chose the easier test.

However, even more striking were the results from a third round of testing. The same students were provided with a difficult test designed for children two years older than the students. Although all of the students failed, there were marked differences in the childrens’ approaches and observed resilience when attempting the test. Those who were praised for effort became very involved and engaged in problem solving. Whereas those praised for their intelligence were visibly straining and miserable. In addition, these students assumed that their failure indicated that they were not actually smart.

Finally, after completing this very difficult test which intentionally induced failure, the children completed a final test which was similar in difficulty to that of the first test. The children who were praised for their effort produced an average improvement in their scores of 30%. Whereas those praised for intelligence produced significantly lower scores than the initial testing, by about 20%.

These results surpassed Dweck’s initial predictions. She had proposed that praise would backfire, however she was surprised by the magnitude of the effects seen. Dweck concluded that overall, “emphasising effort gives a child a variable that they can control” and that the children “come to see themselves as in control of their success”. In addition, these findings have been replicated in various socioeconomic groups and age groups. These praise effects equally impact both boys and girls as well as children as young as preschool age.

“Emphasising natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure” (Dweck).

Therefore the conclusions are undeniable, children who receive praise for their effort are inherently encouraged to adopt a growth mindset; whereas children praised for intelligence will inevitably adopt a fixed minset. The evidence has shown that growth mindset promotes determination in the face of obstacles, a positive perception of effort as the path to success and the ability to learn from criticism.

If you are interested in learning more about growth mindset and strategies to promote this in your children or students, look out for our Growth Mindset courses and webinars in the New Year.

Recommended children’s book – Making a Splash by Carol E. Reiley

making a splash

Inspired by the popular mindset idea that hard work and effort can lead to success, Making A Splash is the first of its kind type of story. The book has a fun story for kids and a nonfiction part for parents. Children fall into one of two categories: Fixed and Growth. Some children have what psychologists call a Fixed Mindset. They think they only have a fixed amount of intelligence. When they try something new and fail, they’re embarrassed because they think it proves they aren’t smart enough. Other children have a growth mindset. They realize that it’s not about how smart you are today, but about how smart you can become. They value learning over looking smart. These kids understand that even geniuses must work hard. People are held back more due to their mindset than their actual capability. The best way to learn is through stories and examples; 30 pages of story + 14 pages for parents about growth mindset.

Factors that promote resilience in children

Resilience requires using adaptive responses and strategies in face of serious hardship, in order to improve emotional and social outcomes. Imagine that inside everyone, there are internal coping scales: at one end there are protective experiences and adaptive skills and at the other end there is significant adversity and disadvantage. Therefore, when a child’s health and development are tipped in the positive direction, they are able to cope with a heavier load on the negative side.

Recent scientific research has looked into the positive factors that can help to promote resilience in children, this provides effective strategies for children to cope in the face of significant disadvantage and pressure. Five of these factors include:

  1. The combination of a) supportive, committed relationships, b) adaptive skill-building and c) positive developmental experiences; working together to create a strong foundation of resilience. This can also help to develop key skills such as behaviour regulation  and adaptation to changing environments which help to buffer children from distress.
  2. The interaction between a child’s natural resistance to adversity and their relationships with important adults builds the capacities to cope with adversity.
  3. Not all stress is harmful, it is beneficial for children to experience ‘positive stress’ which enables them to cope successfully with life’s obstacles. However when stress feels overwhelming and the child is not properly supported, the scales tip towards negative outcomes.
  4. Children who are innately more sensitive than others tend to be more vulnerable to stressful circumstances; however these children also respond in very positive ways within supportive environments. Therefore, these children require responsive, supporting relationships, especially during times of hardship.
  5. Finally, remember, a child’s early life experiences lay the foundation for a range of resilience strategies, therefore developmental experiences early in life can strengthen this foundation.

In summary, it is important that children are provided with supportive relationships with adults from their family and community, experiences of ‘positive stress’ and real opportunities for developing adaptive skills throughout childhood. The aim of this is to build resilience so that the child can cope with life’s stressors and difficulties in a positive and adaptive way. Otherwise, the child may become overly stress, anxious, weighed-down and depressed which will lead to poor outcomes through adolescence and adulthood.

The Implications of Neural Plasticity for the Developing Brain

In order to understand how we can change cognitive processes and promote children’s social and emotional intelligence, first we must understand the connections between the ‘hardwiring’ and ‘software’ of the brain.

The fundamental ‘hardwiring’ of the brain came about due to evolution, for example the amygdala causes the fight or flight reaction in response to a threat. This was important when humans needed to quickly assess life or death situations, however, nowadays the risks we face are much less imminent but perhaps more constant. Therefore, it is important for us as social human beings to write the neural ‘software’ or learn new coping mechanisms in order to avoid severe reactions by this amygdala, the evolutionary ‘hardware’. For example, at work, if your team does not complete a task properly, it is not appropriate to start ranting and raving, which might be your first thought, as sparked by the amygdala. Instead, the ideal outcome requires employing emotional intelligence which integrates the emotional centre with the executive or ‘thinking’ centre, the prefrontal cortex. You can imagine this as writing adaptive ‘software’ that can connect the neural ‘hardware’ in order to develop positive skills.

As adults, this is important, however it needs to be realised that children and adolescents also require the skills to build their emotional intelligence. This is because emotional intelligence positively impacts on effective socialisation and stress management. Through Goldman’s study called the ‘marshmallow test’, the emotional intelligence related skill of self-management was measured in four year old children. This study involved telling the children that they could have one marshmallow now or alternatively, if they waited until the experimenter came back, then they could have two. It was revealed that around one third could not wait and immediately grabbed the marshmallow, whereas another third were able to wait the full seven or eight minutes to receive the full reward. After a fourteen year follow up, it was revealed that the children who could not employ self-regulation and immediately grabbed the marshmallow could not cope effectively under pressure and did not have effective social skills. In comparison, the children who waited the full time revealed significantly improved high school results.

However, these results do not need to cause concern or panic for children with poor self-regulation. This is because it has been found that the prefrontal cortex continues to undergo massive development through childhood and adolescence. As a result, the developing child requires positive influences that will foster neural development and the desired emotional skills which will help them throughout their life. Moreover, due to the increase in understanding of neural plasticity, we now realize that a child’s cognitive abilities and emotion intelligence are not by any means fixed; therefore it is important to intervene during this critical period of development in order to promote positive skills. In addition, this particular region of the cerebral cortex is not only responsible for self-regulation, it is also critical for overall higher order processes such as decision making, mental flexibility, inhibiting impulsivity and so on. Therefore, by taking advantage of the remarkable plasticity in this cortical region, we can provide children with the skills necessary to cope with stressful situations, promote positive socialisation and appreciate their own strengths and abilities.

An Analysis of the Australian Early Development Census: How Does Queensland Compare?

This article is based on publicly available AEDC data retrieved from

Since 2009, the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) has measured the development of children in their first year of full-time school across five areas: physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive skills, and communication skills and general knowledge. This is because children with a positive early childhood experience are more likely to achieve a higher educational attainment as well as demonstrate high self-esteem and social development, and fewer social and health problems. This data is gathered every three years, therefore, the aim is to inform the development of policies and programs to improve early development and help evaluate long-term strategies.

The AEDC measures five areas or ‘domains’ of early childhood  which are closely linked to the predictors of good adult health, education and social outcomes. These domains include:

  • Physical health and wellbeing domain – physical readiness for the school day, physical independence, gross and fine motor skills
  • Social competence domain – overall social competence, responsibility and respect, approaches to learning, readiness to explore new things
  • Emotional maturity domain  – pro-social and helping behaviour, anxious and fearful behaviour, aggressive behaviours, hyperactivity and inattention
  • Language and cognitive skills (school-based) domain  – basic literacy, interest in literacy/numeracy and memory, advanced literacy, basic numeracy
  • Communication skills and general knowledge domain

Percentage of children developmentally ‘on track’ in 2009 and 2012

Throughout both 2009 and 2012, a smaller percentage of Queensland children were found to be ‘developmentally on track’ as compared to the Australian average. These figures spanned all five domains however the largest divergence appears to be occurring in the ‘physical health and wellbeing’, the ‘social competence’ and the ‘emotional maturity’ domains.

There was a massive increase in the percentage of children ‘on track’ in the language and school-based cognitive skills domain (from 60.9% to 78.5%). While this is an impressive and worthwhile improvement, this may indicate a lack of importance placed on the other four domains. Moreover, the evidence has indicated that positive improvements in these other domains, particularly that of social and emotional competence and maturity, can create broader positive changes which typically result in academic success.

Table 1: Percentage of children developmentally “on track” in 2009 versus 2012

Children on track AECD 2

(click on the table above for a larger version)

Percentage of children developmentally ‘vulnerable’ in 2009 and 2012

The developmentally ‘vulnerable’ children are those who score below the 10th percentile in the national population. Hence these children demonstrate a much lower than average ability in the various domains and require additional support. Australia wide, the largest improvements occurred through the language and cognitive skills domain with 4.1% less children developmentally vulnerable. Queensland’s improvements are in line with this, yet appear to be even greater with an improvement of 6.5% from 2009 to 2012. Therefore Queensland’s improvement has surpassed that of the national average, although it appears that this has left areas of physical health, social competence and communication skills with either no improvement or an even greater percentage of vulnerable children.

Therefore, these figures may suggest that educators are placing a disproportionately high focus on literacy and classroom-based cognitive skills and neglecting the importance of the other domains. Moreover, when directly comparing New South Wales indicators, it can be seen that there were small yet dispersed improvements across all indicators. Perhaps Queensland policy makers and educators need to follow suit and place a broader focus on all domains, especially that of the social competence and communication skill based competencies.

This argument is also reinforced by the concern that Queensland is lagging behind the Australian averages in all domains. Moreover, there are a greater percentage of children vulnerable in 1 or more and 2 or more of the five domains. Therefore, although these indicators have improved within Queensland from 2009 to 2012, our state is falling behind the majority of Australia.

Table 2: Percentage of children developmentally vulnerable in 2009 versus 2012

Children  Vulnerable AECD

(click on the table above for a larger version)

In summary, these figures indicate some promise, as Queensland has improved the prospects for our young children from 2009 to 2012. However, it is very apparent that significant improvements need to be made across all five domains in order for broader, perhaps more enduring changes to be realised.  Moreover, Queensland is lagging behind both the national average as well as those of New South Wales and Victoria, therefore this provides striking evidence for educators and policy makers to implement targeted changes throughout the state. As mentioned, the purpose of this research is to help promote positive development and outcomes in young children, therefore these results should not be undervalued. Nevertheless, as the 2015 AEDC data is released in the future, we will be able to further understand which areas are improving and which areas require more targeted education and resources.

Implementing Neuroscience Principles in the Classroom – to improve grades and wellbeing in students

This article is based on the 7:30pm report by Louise Milligan, 1 Sep 2015.

neuroscience in the classroom

Broadmeadows Primary School is located in Melbourne’s lowest 12th percentile for socio-economic disadvantage. However the school’s principal, Keith McDougal, stated that their postcode does not determine the child’s destiny as “where you start doesn’t matter – it’s where you end up that counts”. Therefore, this school has implemented revolutionary approaches based on neuroscience with the aim of improving the children’s learning potential and boosting grades.

All of the students wear a “learning goal badge” every day. These goals are based on interviews with students, parents and teachers and are based on each student’s individual needs. Some students focus on academic goals like improving handwriting where other goals are more fundamental, such as getting more sleep at night, eating properly or improving anger management.

This school looks at “behaviour as a learning experience”. From this, the number of students removed from the classroom and playground due to aggressive behaviour has decreased enormously.

removed playgroundremoved classroom

Moreover, before lessons in the morning, the students visit the “emotion wall”. Through this, they post their photo on a noticeboard next to an image of the emotion that they are feeling. This helps teachers keep track of any children who might be struggling and need extra attention and help. So if they see a child move from a happy to a negative emotion, they can implement a one-to-one follow-up.

Through all of this, the children appear to be showing better emotional and behaviour regulation and seem happier in general. Moreover, the school’s NAPLAN results are higher than any other school in the area and their year three results are above the Victoria state average.

Therefore, this school teaches an important lesson to all educators and parents; as learning occurs at its best when children are feeling confident, safe and happy.

Understanding Brain Development in Children

This article was adapted from information presented in the article “Understanding Brain Development in Young Children” by Sean Brotherson (2009).

A newborn’s brain contains 100 billion brain cells or neurons. These neurons are highly connected as one of their roles is communication, and amazingly a single cell can connect with as many as 15,000 other neurons. These connections are created through experience and learning and lead to a network which is referred to as the brain’s “wiring”. In the research, it is known that “cells that fire together, wire together”. So cells which repeatedly connect or fire together, will create a stronger, lasting bond and will therefore wire together.

catFor example while a child is learning to read the word “cat”, they are associating the printed word with the concept “cat” and the way the word sounds and even the relationship between the individual letters c-a-t. This adds to their network about spelling, language and reading as well as spoken sounds and problem solving. Hence, from birth our neurons allow us to quickly create connections that form knowledge, habits, thoughts, consciousness, creativity, memories and so on.

This neural development occurs in stages. A three-year-old child has formed about 1,000 trillion connections, about twice as many as adults have. The reason for this is that young children are vaguely aware of everything as they don’t yet know what Synaptic density during developmentis important. However, by the age of eleven, a child’s brain culls many connections that are not in use, this process is termed “pruning”. The connections and wiring that is left at the end of this is more powerful and efficient.

Researchers liken a baby’s perception to a lantern, scattering light across the room, where adult perception is more like a flashlight, consciously focused on specific things but ignoring background details.

See the ‘Synaptic Density’ image for an illustration of this process. However, it is important to note that this pruning process is based on the “use it or lose it” principle so that if a connection is not utilised, it will be eliminated to make neural space for the connections that are used. Therefore this is a developmental period whereby parents and educators should maximise learning experiences and foster a child’s capabilities. playgroundThis will ultimately provide children with the best step forward as they grow and develop into successful little adults.