A Thousand Moments of Learning The Kindergarten Site by ETFO 2010-03-18T13:35:09Z WordPress /?feed=atom ikozlova http://www.etfo.ca <![CDATA[Playing Teacher.]]> /?p=672 2010-03-18T13:35:09Z 2010-02-16T15:00:22Z Two students were playing “teacher” and “student”. They were fully engaged in reading the message together on the chart and by documenting this learning a great deal can be learned and recorded about the literacy knowledge of these two students.

One student would take a turn reading and then the other. They would assist each other whenever they needed help identifying a word. After reading the chart, they decided to move to the Word/Name Wall where they proceeded to read all the names on the wall, again taking turns and helping each other whenever necessary. Finally, they moved to the teacher’s chair and took turns as the teacher.

The student playing the role of the teacher showed the book (which the teacher had read that day) to her friend and talked about the cover and some of the pictures and then proceeded to read the book. She then asked questions related to the story she had read and the other student answered the questions, after which, they changed places and repeated the process. These students were completely focussed on these activities for the entire Learning Centre time.


Consider the learning that these two students have demonsrated.Two students were playing “teacher” and “student”.  They were fully engaged in reading the message together on the chart and by documenting this learning a great deal can be learned and recorded about the literacy knowledge of these two students.  One student would take a turn reading and then the other.  They would assist each other whenever they needed help identifying a word. 

After reading the chart, they decided to move to the Word/Name Wall where they proceeded to read all the names on the wall, again taking turns and helping each other whenever necessary.  Finally, they moved to the teacher’s chair and took turns as the teacher. 


The student playing the role of the teacher showed the book (which the teacher had read that day) to her friend and talked about the cover and some of the pictures and then proceeded to read the book.  She then asked questions related to the story she had read and the other student answered the questions, after which, they changed places and repeated the process.  These students were completely focussed on these activities for the entire Learning Centre time.  Consider the learning that these two students have demonsrated.






ikozlova http://www.etfo.ca <![CDATA[What Does Inquiry Look Like in Kindergarten?]]> /?p=652 2010-02-08T16:39:14Z 2010-02-08T16:39:14Z   The children were engaged in the inquiry process while observing the properties of water. As they worked at learning centres the teacher invited interested children to come and discuss what they know about water and its colour. The children made comments which reflected their emerging understanding of the properties of water. These comments then acted as the basis for which to lead the investigation.


 The children were then prompted to wonder whether the water is the same colour as the white carnation flower. Next the children considered what would happen if colour was added to the water.


  The children made all kinds of hypotheses including “the flowers will die”, “the water will change”, “the water will change the colours of the flowers”. The next day the children made the following observations about the water and the flowers. (See comments on documentation panel)


The children all had theories about how the flowers became coloured. Thinking about children’s observations as theories takes the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ out of the investigation and reminds us that all children have background knowledge that can be built on in further investigations. The teacher plans on gauging the children’s interest to see if the investigation will be continued. The children involved in this investigation demonstrated a variety of expectations from Science and Technology and Language as well as building on children’s “sense of wonder and natural curiousity”. The Kindergarten Program, pg. 11. 



ikozlova http://www.etfo.ca <![CDATA[Eguity from the Start: 10 Years of the EDI & Beyond.]]> /?p=646 2010-02-03T19:53:01Z 2010-02-03T19:29:10Z

The Council is pleased to officially announce the international conference, “Equity from the Start: 10 Years of the EDI & Beyond,” taking place at the Hamilton Convention Centre (ON) on June 16 and 17, 2010. Attached is a flyer for a conference description, a list of speakers and details about how to be added to a registration reservation list.


See more information at : http://www.councilecd.ca/


joanlittleford <![CDATA[Text Innovations]]> /?p=636 2010-01-13T21:50:19Z 2010-01-13T21:32:43Z  

An Independent Writing Opportunity 
The children had learned a song called “I’m A Little Snowman” sung to the tune of “I’m A Little Teapot”. They thought it was fun to change the words and they talked about how simple it was to write a song this way

Vanessa suggested that the students might like to write their own songs when they went to the centres. One little girl went straight to the writing centre and enthusiastically started to create her own song. Her idea quickly caught on, with many other students writing their own original songs which they continued to sing to the tune of “I’m A Little Teapot.” Two of the students very proudly read and sang their song for me.

It is so easy to use these authentic writing opportunities to gain valuable assessment data on these children. Because it is their choice to write these words they are working in their individual zones of proximal development and truly demonstrating their understanding of the writing process.  Other children will demonstrate their knowledge in different ways, at different times, and around different topics but information can be gathered in this way on all students.







Click images to enlarge.


joanlittleford <![CDATA[A Few of the Thousand Moments]]> /?p=629 2010-01-12T15:59:44Z 2010-01-07T14:00:56Z There are many small moments (hence the name of this blog) in a play based classroom that allow us a window into children’s previous experiences and their breadth of oral language.  By playing in role with the child and providing some simple prompts the conversation can be enriched and extended.  Consider the following interactions and the opportunities provided for both using specialized vocabulary appropriately and for introducing new vocabulary to a small group of children:


This first interaction occured as the teacher passed by the Home Centre:


Sean came over to me with a salad bowl and a large salad spoon, pretending to be stirring something in the bowl.


S-” I’m making you a salad!”

T-”What are you putting in the salad?”

S “Sweet peppers, tomatoes, hot petters and green things!”

          -he continues to stir

S- “O.K. That’s it!  It’s ready.  You can eat it now.”

T-  “It looks delicious.  Can you save it for me so I can eat it later?”

S- “O.K.” I’ll put it in the fridge.”


He returned to the home centre and put it in a cupboard.




The Home Centre was set up as a doctor’s office. Consider how the children are using the props offered them for their play.


A little girl approached me and asked me to help her and a friend put on large white shirts because they were both going to be doctors.  Another student is laying on a mat on the floor covered with a blanket and holding a doll.


T- “What’s happening here doctor?”

S- ” She’s very sick”

T- ” How do you know she’s sick?”

S- “I checked her forehead and she’s hot.”  (She writes something on a piece of paper on a clipboard)

T- “What are you writing?”

S- “I’m writing her name and I’m writing the appointment”  (She has organized several columns on the paper)  She puts the clipboard down and touches the doll’s face.

S- “Now I’m checking the baby too” She pretends to put something in the doll’s mouth.

T- “What are you giving the baby?”

S- “She’s sick and she’s got a cold and a cough.”

T- ” How do you know she has a cold?”

S- ” I listened to her cough with that thing–that thing the doctor wears around his neck”  (She gestures to some imaginary “thing” around her neck) “and now I’m giving her a medicine.”

T- “The thing the doctor wears is called a stethoscope.”

S- “Yeah!  That thing!”  the student picks up a file folder filled with papers she has put into it.)  “I’m checking her file.”


One student says to the “patient” on the floor, “You’re going to go home later on.”  The other student says, No, you’re going home on Monday!”



In the building centre three boys are creating a structure using large blocks:


T-”What are you making boys?”

S-”We’re making a maze”

T-”Can you tell me what a maze is?”

S-”It’s something you get lost in.  I saw it in a movie and I thought about it.”

S-”Can you tell me how the maze works?”

S-” You close this end so people won’t be able to get in there and then everybody’s going to walk and get lost in the maze.”

T-”Will people find anything in the maze?”

S-”We’re going to build a bridge at the end of it.”


cgauthier <![CDATA[New Resource: ‘Every Child Every Opportunity’]]> /?p=621 2009-12-21T16:26:07Z 2009-12-08T14:11:51Z Every-Child-Every-Opportunity: Curriculum and Pedagogy for the Early Learning Program

A compendium report to “With Our Best Future in Mind: Implementing Early Learning in Ontario.

joanlittleford <![CDATA[Resource Suggestion: ‘The Power of Observation’]]> /?p=608 2009-12-21T16:28:31Z 2009-12-07T21:24:55Z For those teachers who are trying to find a resource that will help them learn more about observation and how this links with implementing a curriculum effectively, I would suggest reading the book the Power of Observation by Judy R. Jablon, Amy Laura Dombro and Margo L. Dichtelmiller.  Available  through the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s website www.naeyc.org, it provides teachers with very practical ideas and guidelines.  The authors state that “getting to know children as people and as learners gives you the information you need to be an effective decision maker in the classroom.  With the information you learn from observing, you can select the right materials, plan appropriate  activities, and ask questions that guide children in learning to understand the world around them. “

cgauthier <![CDATA[The Three Rs and Neuroscience: A Love Story]]> /?p=582 2009-12-07T21:27:56Z 2009-11-24T20:11:54Z Alanna Mitchell Special to the Star
Published On Sun Nov 1 2009
About the series
Alanna Mitchell is a Toronto-based writer and journalist who specializes in
global science issues. Mitchell spent much of the past year investigating
the controversial push to use brain science to improve education. She
travelled to England, France, Australia and the U.S. as part of her 2008
Atkinson Fellowship in Public Policy. The fellowship, sponsored by The
Atkinson Charitable Foundation, the Toronto Star and the Honderich family,
aims to further liberal journalism in the tradition of legendary Star publisher
Joseph E. Atkinson.

Call it a modern version of the feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Or the Capulets and the Montagues.

In some ways, it’s a miracle that the warring fields of neuroscience and
education are even thinking about marrying into an international movement.
Yet - unlikely as it may seem - they are.

The movement is new elsewhere and embryonic to the point of invisibility in
Canada. But in other parts of the world, including the United States,
Europe, Japan and Australia, it is gathering strength.

Driven by the scientists, it even has its own interdisciplinary academic
society - the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society - and a twoyear-
old peer-reviewed journal, Mind, Brain, and Education.

Why does it matter? If it works, society’s long-held dream of educating
everyone to full potential could at last be realized: poor or rich, black or
white, male or female, developed world or developing.

And it wouldn’t happen through mass standardization, the hallmark of the
past century of public education, but through mass customization of
teaching to the natural learning systems of the extraordinarily plastic
human brain.

But even some of the neuroscientists who are devoting their lives to the
dream stress the caveats.

“One of the things I worry about tremendously is that the seductiveness
and allure of neuroscience is well-known,” says Paul Howard-Jones, a
neuroscientist at Bristol University in England.

“If we’re not careful, we’re going to end up with nonsense that might be
appealing to teachers in which the science is not translated.”
He and others can point to myths about how the brain works - often
marketed by companies on the scent of profit - that have infiltrated the
classroom and the home but are without scientific merit.

An example: that the brain is fixed by the age of 3 and must be hyperstimulated
before then to make sure it has a running start. The Disney company’s Baby Einstein, a leader in the baby video industry, was forced last year to remove claims from its website that its videos give infants as young as three months a head start on math and language after a challenge from a parents’ group. Recently, the company began offering refunds as well.

Howard-Jones is adamant that any attempt to take real brain science into
the classroom has to be done only by building bridges from neuroscience
to education through the expertise of teachers.

“Neuroscience on its own is completely without meaning,” he says. “It has
to be integrated with psychology and what we know about education.”
It all started with advances in technology - electroencephalogram
recordings (EEGs), magneto-encephalograms (MEGs), positron emission
tomography (PET) and, most importantly, magnetic resonance imaging
(MRI) - that have allowed scientists to watch the brain learn. To see and
understand physical changes in the brain stimulated by certain kinds of

Enter the entrenched, historic hostility between education and science.
The roots of the conflict lie in the fact that schools and medicine were
founded separately and have a different social status, says Kurt Fischer,
the director of Harvard University’s Mind, Brain, and Education program.
For example, over the past century teachers have tended to be female and
doctors, male. That’s shifting now.

But a defining characteristic of education throughout its history has been
that it has not merited a scientific grounding, says Fischer, who sits at the
epicentre of the international neuroscience movement.

In the 1960s, when the “whole child” philosophy of education held sway,
many educators were actively antagonistic to science, believing that
medicine would label children and stigmatize them without opening up their

“If you start with that, you leave out the potential for neuroscience to make
a difference,” Fischer says.

It’s what John Geake, chair of learning and teaching at the University of
New England in Australia, calls the “anti-intellectualism” of today’s teacher

“A lot of teachers don’t have any science or math and ideologically, there is
a certain hostility against science,” Geake says.

When he gave a seminar at Oxford University in 2001 on the possible
benefits to education from neuroscience, it turned into a screaming match.
When Geake suggested that scientists consult teachers about what they
wanted to learn from neuroscientists, a group of senior education
philosophers stormed out of the room. He has been unable, despite many
attempts, to get the proceedings published in education journals because,
editors told him, the material is not of interest to teachers.
However, neuroscientists who are explaining their findings to teachers
directly, rather than to academics in education, find an eager audience,
Geake and others say.

Jonathan Sharples, a neuroscientist at the Institute for Effective Education
at the University of York in England, had a taste of this rancour recently. He
was labelled “intrusive” after he spent the day at a conference of social
scientists and education researchers in Oxford in December.

Visibly shaken, he explained over dinner afterward that some social
scientists question whether there is any objective truth, and whether
evidence shows anything at all. It’s the opposite of the beliefs underpinning
the science of observation, such as neuroscience.

“As you learn something new, the neurons in the brain actually change.
They make new connections,” he said. “Therefore, you classroom
teachers, every time you teach, you’re changing brain structure. You’re
remapping the neural network.”

On the other hand, Howard-Jones recently heard an influential policymaker
in the U.K. announce: “We don’t need educational theory any more,
we’ve got neuroscience.” That’s just as wrong as education not needing
neuroscience, he says.

But the legacy of the alienation between the two fields means that few
university schools of education have biologists on faculty and they don’t
teach neuroscience to budding teachers. Instead, teacher training has
focused on theories of eradicating the inequality of education or on how to
manage schools, Fischer says.

At Harvard, Fischer and a handful of other professors began trying to
change that 10 years ago by developing a better graduate program for
teachers. “We said: `We really ought to have biology in this.’” Even then, he
says it was a struggle to persuade some of those trained in education that
understanding the biology of the brain could be useful.

The same year, 1999, Bruno della Chiesa, a senior analyst at the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in
Paris, helped to launch the European branch of the movement. He is
coordinator of Learning Sciences and Brain Research, a program aimed at
figuring out how to use brain research to increase understanding of
learning and teaching.

In Japan, Hideaki Koizumi, an expert in brain imaging who is the senior
chief scientist of Hitachi Ltd., research and development group, launched a
brain-science and education program in that country.

At Cambridge, it was Usha Goswami, who is director of its centre for
neuroscience in education.

Baroness Susan Greenfield, director of Oxford University’s Institute for the
Future of the Mind, has brought the movement before British
parliamentarians, including at a seminar before an all-party group on
scientific research in learning and education in 2007. Her band of
researchers on neuroeducation has now spread to several key centres in
the U.K. as well as to Australia.

Many of the scattered neuroeducators discovered each other and formed a
robust network - just as neurons in the brain do - at a workshop for the
400th anniversary of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome in 2003.
“We became known to scientists around the world,” says Fischer, adding
that policy makers in The Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Scandinavia,
Argentina, Brazil, China and India have become fascinated with the ideas.
In the U.S., public schools in New York, Chicago, Washington and
Philadelphia are striving to incorporate the findings of brain science in the
classroom and a national effort is brewing through the Society for

In Canada, the movement has not made inroads within the school system,
although neuroscientific research is strong. While there is plenty of
innovation in education, and some of it would be supported by
neuroscientific findings, those findings are not driving the changes. There is
no champion here yet.

There’s a serious legacy to the bitter war. In the U.K., says Geake, funding
councils are loath to touch the topic. “Every single researcher I know in the
U.K. has been rejected for funding,” says Geake.

Howard-Jones says that eventually, parents will grasp what neuroeducation
can do and will push for it to be woven into the classroom. But more
research by both brain scientists and teachers is needed before that ought
to happen, he says.

It’s too good an opportunity to miss, he argues. It could improve the
classroom’s ability to strengthen the structure and workings of the brain.
It might even make school fun.

He’s thinking about some research he conducted the day before. He was
watching the brains of two boys playing a game. One won. But the reward
system in both their brains spontaneously lit up. Even the prospect of
winning meant something to the loser. Howard-Jones could see it on the

It seems like a perfect metaphor for the squabbling fields of brain science
and education.

If only a video game could bring them together.

cgauthier <![CDATA[Major Players Seeking to Know ‘The Brain Basis of Teaching’]]> /?p=579 2009-11-24T20:07:57Z 2009-11-24T20:07:57Z Alanna Mitchell
Published On Sun Nov 1 2009
Kurt Fischer
The 66-year-old is the modest genius at the epicentre of the international
movement to marry neuroscience and education.

A psychologist who set up a renowned child development program in
Denver and then moved to Harvard University about a decade ago to help
set up a school of education, he has long wanted to know how teaching
affects the brain.

“We are a teaching species, but we don’t know anything about the brain
basis of teaching.”

That led to the establishment of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at
Harvard’s graduate school of education. But for a long time, Fischer says,
the faculty couldn’t agree that the word “brain” even needed to be in the

Fischer helped found the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society
and was founding editor of its peer-reviewed journal. A quiet man, he
comes to life when he talks about his Grade 12 English literature teacher
who was “totally obsessed” with Shakespeare.

“There was real teaching going on there.”

He has helped spawn a new generation of neuro-educators. The most
eminent so far is Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a former high-school
teacher who is now professor of education at the Rossier School of
Education and of psychology at the Brain and Creativity Institute at the
University of Southern California.

Bruno della Chiesa
Della Chiesa, 47, speaks four languages and heads the developed world’s
push to understand how the brain learns.

Based in Paris with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and
Development (OECD), a research organization for the world’s 30 most
developed countries, he oversaw and edited the book Understanding the
Brain: The Birth of a Learning Science.

A passionate philosopher who is fascinated with the ethics of the biology of
the brain, he is also founder of Utopiales, Europe’s largest science fiction
and fantasy literature festival, held each year in Nantes, France. He has
written a science fiction novel.

Hideaki Koizumi
One of Japan’s most eminent scientists, the 63-year-old is supervisor of
Japan’s Brain-Science and Education program and is director of Japan’s
Children’s Study.

A physicist who studied at the University of Tokyo, he is a fellow at Hitachi
Ltd. who helped make some of the world’s first images of the brain at work.
His research has contributed to more than 400 patent applications.
Usha Goswami

Goswami, 49, is the director of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education at
Cambridge University in England. Trained as a developmental psychologist
at Oxford University, she has made a career of understanding how people
read and of exploring dyslexia.

Susan Greenfield
The 59-year-old is a member of the British House of Lords and is known as
Baroness Greenfield. A specialist in the physiology of the brain, she
researches pharmacology, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.
She has written many popular science and medicine books, including
Tomorrow’s People: How 21st-Century Technology is Changing the Way
We Think and Feel.

Her image as a chic powerhouse with long blonde hair and bangs made
her one of the world’s most widely recognizable neuroscientists.
The first in her family to go to university, she graduated from Oxford and is
director of its Institute for the Future of the Mind. She has helped to groom
a cadre of top-notch neuroscientists, three of whom have gone on to
establish neuroeducation centres elsewhere. Jonathan Sharples is at York
University in England, Paul Howard-Jones is at Bristol University and
Martin Westwell is at Flinders University in Adelaide.

John Geake
A gruff Australian, he has battled fiercely for a decade to introduce
education academics to neuroeducation.

Geake, 60, has hop-scotched to universities around the world, including
Simon Fraser University in British Columbia in 1995, Cambridge and
Oxford Brookes universities in England. Earlier this year, he took up a new
chair in learning and teaching at the University of New England, north of
Sydney in Australia, his alma mater.

He’s an international expert on gifted and talented children and on chaos
theory and fractals.

Stuart Shanker
Shanker, 56, is a restless psychologist and philosopher who set up the
Milton and Ethel Harris Research Initiative, a cognitive and social
neuroscience institute at York University, with a $5 million grant from the
Harris Steel Foundation.

He works with Fraser Mustard, Canada’s early-child development guru, and
Stanley Greenspan, the American child psychiatrist who set up the Zero To
Three Foundation to support child development.

Shanker is an expert in autism and has developed new, drug-free therapies
to treat autistic children. He was educated at Oxford University.

cgauthier <![CDATA[Part 3: How a Marshmallow Can Predict Your Future]]> /?p=575 2009-11-24T20:05:37Z 2009-11-24T20:05:37Z A child’s ability to delay gratification for 15 minutes pays
educational dividends years later, studies find
Alanna Mitchell Special to the Star
Published On Mon Nov 2 2009
Neuroscientists are getting a better understanding of executive function by
seeing what is happening biologically inside the brain.

York University professor Stuart Shanker uses electroencephalographs
(EEGs) that look at the dorsal and ventral sides of the anterior cingulate
cortex (ACC) of the child’s brain.

These EEGs show that in children who are not managing anxiety or fear,
the ventral part of the ACC is really firing, spurred by the primitive limbic, or
reptilian, system of the brain.

In children who are showing strong self-regulation, the dorsal part of the
ACC is firing instead, controlling responses from the more primitive part of
the brain.

“You can literally see whether children are controlling anxious responses,”
Shanker says.

It’s called the Marshmallow Test. And some neuroscientists believe it is a
critical first step needed to improve schooling.

“It’s going to be huge,” says Martin Westwell, a neuroscientist at Flinders
University in Adelaide, Australia, adding that many studies show it foretells
success in life more accurately than how well a child can read or do math.
The Marshmallow Test got its name from an experiment at Stanford
University in the 1960s on 4-year-old nursery school pupils. Researchers
told children that they could have one thing they really wanted right away -
a marshmallow, or a candy or a cookie, for example - but if they could wait
while the researcher left the room and came back about 15 minutes later,
they could have two.

It was designed to test self-control. The researchers, led by psychologist
Walter Mischel, found only about 30 per cent of more than 600 children
tested could hold out.

That’s as far as it went until the early 1980s, when Mischel followed up and
discovered the children who had been able to wait for two marshmallows
were also doing better academically.

Jonah Lehrer, in a recent New Yorker magazine article, reports those
children who waited 15 minutes averaged 210 points higher - more than 10
per cent - on college entrance exams than did those who could wait only
30 seconds.

Collectively, the brain skills needed to wait for marshmallows are known as
“executive function” or, more broadly, as “self-regulation.” They include
inhibiting impulses, sustaining attention, planning, prioritizing, and finding
and carrying out strategies to stick to your plan.

In kid-friendly language, it means you can “rise to the challenge.”
Here’s the really exciting thing: Like math and reading, these skills can be
taught and learned. They are not genetic. We can all learn how to get more

Indeed, teachers could learn to teach the ability to self-regulate, says Stuart
Shanker, research professor of psychology and philosophy at York
University and a leading figure in neuroeducation.

His research on children shows that learning self-regulation is a primary
task of newborns. But the later years matter greatly. Shanker is amused
when he reads about a 5-year-old who has strong executive function skills.
It doesn’t mean that child will have them at 6 or 16 or even 66. Those more
complex executive function skills must be learned as you age.
When a baby is born, he says, it has a relatively undeveloped brain and
primitive emotional circuits - fear, rage, love and curiosity - but no ability to
control them. To do that, he argues, the baby must learn from the higherlevel
brain of its parent or caregiver, laying down pathways of neural
connections through one-on-one stimulus and response between the two.
That’s what a parent is doing by teaching the baby to calm itself, for

“By being regulated, a baby acquires the ability to regulate,” Shanker says.
Sometimes, though, that process is interrupted - by stress, hunger,
environment or the caregiver’s inadequate responses. And that creates
problems for the child at school, for the schools and, ultimately, for society.
Shanker says perhaps as many as half of North American children have
poor self-regulation by the time they get to school, citing a study of nearly
3,600 teachers in the U.S. in 2000. It manifests in high rates of attentiondeficit
disorder or hyperactivity, among many other problems.

He and others trace some of this to the increase in neurotoxins - such as
mercury, air pollution and now-banned PCBs - passing through the
umbilical cords, making some children hypersensitive (and others not
sensitive enough) to touch, sound or sight.

That, in turn, interferes with the child’s ability to learn self-regulation from a
caregiver. Their nerves jangle (or remain numb) at the slightest stimulation.
In sheer self-protection, the supersensitive shut down that sense.
Shanker remembers a child at a school in New Zealand where he was
doing research who was considered uncontrollable. Did she have a
disorder, the teachers wondered. Should she be on drugs?

Shanker talked with her in her classroom. He wasn’t getting anywhere. So
he asked: “What’s going on?” She said: “I can’t pay attention to you when
the fan’s going.”

He looked around the room, trying to find the fan. Straining his ears, he
could hear a faint whir in a ceiling vent. He turned it off and the child
calmed immediately.

“The message to teachers is that they need to be a bit of a scientist too,”
says Shanker. “What we want teachers to understand is that there’s no
such thing as a lazy child or a bad child. There’s always a biological story.
The key is to ask why, why, why?”

Is that realistic for a teacher who has 30 kids in a classroom?
“We don’t have a choice,” says Shanker. “We have to ask ourselves, `What
was the goal of universal education?’ … Realistically, if the goal of
education is to help each child maximize potential and we are nowhere
close to achieving it, then what do we change?”

For example, Shanker has looked at the phenomenon of children doing
well in school only to fall off the cliff, academically, at about 13, a
phenomenon evident in high school dropout rates as children hit a more
complex environment and don’t know how to cope.

“Even if a kid comes into school with poor self-regulation, there’s something
we can do. And if a kid’s got good self-regulation, we can grow it,” he says.
He points to the work of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who died
in 1934. Vygotsky developed tools - outlined in the modern book Tools of
the Mind by Elena Bodrova and Deborah Leong - that children can use to
learn in a deliberate fashion.

A simple example is asking a child to hold a drawing of an ear while she’s
listening to another child read a story. This helps the listening child
remember what her goal is.
The old game “Simon Says” is a perfect example of an early-school activity
that can help a child improve attention, motor control and control of
impulses. So is having toys just far enough away from a small child so the
child has to get up and get the toy, play with it and put it back before getting

Teaching executive function skills to older students might involve teaching
them how their brains work, explicitly teaching them strategies to
accomplish their goals (including practice and showing them how), and
helping them understand what their goals and motivations are, says Lynn
Meltzer, a Massachusetts-based psychologist.

Shanker stresses that learning executive function skills is not the same as
complying with someone’s orders. Self-regulation comes from within. It is

“Compliance is a terrible indicator of success,” he says, adding an
authoritarian stance at home or at school is a doomed policy. “Zerotolerance?
Are you insane?”

Ideally, says Shanker, it’s not only the pupils who have good selfregulation.
It’s also the teachers, the principals, the community leaders.
“Students do well with teachers who self-regulate. And teachers do well
with principals who self-regulate.”

Zachary Stein, 28, is a PhD candidate in human education and
development at Harvard University’s graduate school of education and a
graduate student of Kurt Fischer, one of the giants of neuroeducation. He
has a word of caution about the rage for executive function.

It’s not a quick fix that can be taught in isolation from other aspects of
neuroscience, such as the need to understand that emotion is a critical part
of decision-making and learning, or that part of the way the brain learns is
to relearn.

By the way, Stein took a later version of the marshmallow test, involving
candies, when he was in first or second grade and living in New Jersey.
He withstood temptation. How? By dancing on his chair and eventually
pushing tiles out of the test room ceiling to distract himself.
“Basically, I misbehaved,” he says, chuckling.