Anxiety and Learning

Anxiety and Learning

Principal, Langdon School – Steven Feifer, D.Ed, and Douglas Toffalo Ph.D are leading experts on cognitive neuropsychology in their latest book, A Scientific Approach to Reading, which offers teachers and parents a firm understanding of how the brain learns to read and how teachers can prevent learning barriers.

Since I can remember I have heard students at all grade levels talk about their natural ability to be a logical or a mathematical thinker. They would say comments such as, “I’m good at math or my parents aren’t good at math and neither am I, or this is too hard for me.”  Somehow along they way they have decided that their brain either has the ability or does not have the ability for math. Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a strong believer in Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences. However, I also have read compelling arguments in research (Feifer). How can an elementary student already know they are not proficient in mathematics and never will be? The answer is, they can’t know. Here is where the teacher, the parent, and the school culture must come into play. What does prevent the long-term storage of math skills in the brain? Feifer talks about various reasons to why students struggle, have trauma, anxiety, executive functioning issues, learning disabilities and more. You can find the list in their latest books, “Integrating RTI With Cognitive Neuropsychology: A Scientific Approach to Reading”.  One that resonates with myself, is anxiety.  

Anxiety and Learning

“As Hopko, Ashcraft, and Gute (1998) noted, the central executive system lies particularly vulnerable in the anxious brain of a math student.  The central executive system serves primarily to suppress or inhibit any negative distractors that may have an adverse effect on problem solving.  If this mechanism is not functioning efficiently or perhaps is preoccupied by worrisome thoughts, the central executive system becomes consumed with directing cognitive resources toward more rudimentary flight or flight response” (Feifer & Toffal, p. 59).

Master teachers are aware of student anxiety because they are keenly aware of their student needs. However, today we still make the error of putting students in positions where a) we have not helped them deal with their anxiety (whether, social, emotional or academic), or b) we put them into situations where they need to perform under undue stress.

I remember taking a psychology class in university (1996) where our professor openly talked about how the exams will be tough to finish in the time he is going to give us. I found this intriguing as to why a professor would design such an experience; he continued to inform us that only the brightest will do well on the exam, and the majority will hit the bell curve. Do you think the anxiety level of my class went up at that moment? You bet. Though my experience is personal and may not represent the masses, let me tell you what happened. For each exam I put in countless hours of studying, I can remember being anxious and worried that I would not remember the hundreds of pages of information and lecture notes. In the first three exams, I achieve the bell curve. For myself, this was disappointing given the hours of preparation. On the fourth exam I decided to try something different, (partly due to frustration and partly due to curiosity), I chose only to review my notes and reading but did not take the time to memorize. I decreased my studying time by 80 percent. My “gut” was telling me my memory recall was being interrupted during the exam. Can you guess what happened? You guessed it; I achieved the same result, the curve. At this moment, I began to understand that my anxiety level was preventing my short-term memory recall from occurring. One might argue I did not spend enough time memorizing, or that I had a faulty study system, however, my other courses did not have this issue.

Students are at the whim of their thinking, social constructs, teacher comments, and the environment they learn in. Whether we are an adult in a university setting or a grade 4 student, effective learning requires us to be in an anxiety free classroom (Feifer & Toffal0, p. 66).

Helping Teachers 

Sometimes, adults will use forms of motivation that fall on the competition or manipulation side of learning. For instance, we use skill and drill with a timed response in many of our classrooms. I am not saying you can’t have a time limit, but the time is what we ask students to focus on, not skill of strengthening the neural pathways. Neuroscientists will tell you we must still have repetition for skill development to strengthen neural pathways, but this is not what I am referring to. Throughout Canada we see systems in Mathematics that promote speed recall where students are both leveled and pressured to perform under time constraints. We also see teachers using comments such as, “You should have learned that last year? I don’t have time to teach this again!”, “You need this for the next grade, you better get it right.”, “If you don’t learn this you will not be successful next year.”, and  “This is necessary knowledge; how can you not know this?”  Comments like these and more, do not motivate students; they create anxiety.  Students today are keenly aware of what is being said to them, and over time, they will begin to believe certain untruths about themselves, especially when they are confronted with failure due to the inability to recall learning while under stress or because it was learned under pressure.

6 ways schools can practically remove barriers:

  1. School-wide programs for classroom culture including practical techniques for dealing with stress and anxiety.
  2. Educating students on mental health, from the standpoint of how to have sound mental health and how to help others who are lacking it.
  3. CDA (Child Development Advisor) must have effective processes for guiding especially anxious students.
  4. Teacher training on both positive classroom culture and brain-based learning. (Given our learnings of the brain in the 21st Century, this goes without saying).
  5. Have an RTI system in the school to help students with areas of struggle, resulting in greater confidence.
  6. Jurisdictional support for students with high needs (top of the pyramid) for appropriate school resources.

Appendix:
Integrating RTI With Cognitive Neuropsychology: A Scientific Approach to Reading
Steven G. Feifer, DEd, and Douglas A. Della Toffalo, PhD

Literacy and Numeracy Building Blocks at your Fingertips

Literacy and Numeracy Building Blocks at your Fingertips

Mapping the direction for instruction and assessment in Rocky View Schoolsliteracy

Literacy Team – We are proud that after two years in development and consultation with RVS educators and provincial collaborators, the RVS K-12 Literacy Numeracy Framework version 1.0 is here! This is a powerful tool that is easily accessible and is full of resources that can be used within the classroom immediately. This framework provides a comprehensive, focused, and intentional system-wide approach to literacy and numeracy development, as well as a common set of essential conditions for implementation. The RVS K-12 Literacy and Numeracy Framework will support and guide schools as they work to achieve high standards of literacy and numeracy teaching and learning.

literacyWith this being the first version of the framework, subsequent versions will further define and enhance literacy and numeracy at all school levels. We are working with a Middle/High School Literacy Task Group and a K-4 Literacy and Numeracy committees to continue development of the framework. The focus for implementation for 2016/17 is on K-4 division wide literacy practicesresources and assessment. We’ve only just begun!

Through RVS’ ongoing commitment to the professional learning of our educators, we will develop the professional capacity to support the framework and the literacy and numeracy development of all students in our classrooms.  The RVS Literacy Team is excited and eager to provide support to schools as we work together to ensure that all learners are successful, engaged, and supported.  

We know this living document will evolve through collaborations, consultations and celebrations with RVS educators and we welcome your feedback in order to improve this vital building block moving forward in our literacy and numeracy journey.

Ready to Roll Up Our Sleeves for Literacy!

Ready to Roll Up Our Sleeves for Literacy!

Literacy Specialists – “Literacy skills are required by everyone in every situation – life wide and throughout our lives – life long. “ (Government of Alberta, Living Literacy, p.6)

RVS’ Literacy Specialist Team #rvslit

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With seventy-one years of combined RVS experience, the literacy team is excited to share our passion, knowledge, and support to colleagues across the division as we work to build literacy & numeracy capacity among RVS educators.

literacyOur role is to educate, facilitate, and assist school administrators and educators with the implementation of RVS’ Literacy and Numeracy Framework. Through professional learning opportunities, resource awareness, and working alongside educators in the classroom and schools, we look forward to exploring new literacy tools, strategies, and  assessments in authentic and meaningful ways, while being cognizant of current educational research and the ongoing balanced literacy programming in our schools. These combined efforts will provide opportunities for us to build upon existing best literacy practices and, ultimately, lead to building all students’ competencies, helping to achieve their potential.

We hit the ground running on August 30 with a PL session co-facilitated by Dr. Karen Loerke, a literacy consultant who has been instrumental in the development of the RVS K-12 Literacy Framework . Together we got the chance to meet and work with over 90 teachers, literacy leads, and administrators from gr. 3-4 to provide PL on the Rocky View Independent Reading Comprehension Benchmark Assessment. Over the course of the day, participants were engaged in rich discussions about the assessment tool’s ability to inform instruction as well as provide authentic, ongoing reflections of student growth. Further to this session, we are looking forward to meeting more educators (Grade 1 and 2) on September 19th where we will provide PL on Running Records Assessment. Both these assessment tools are being field tested this year. If you are interested in learning more about these tools,  please contact your literacy coach or a member of the RVS literacy team.

Finally, we hope you will follow us on Twitter at #RVSlit, where we will share all things literacy, as well as showcase the great work that RVS educators are currently doing.

We are looking forward to collaborating with you.

Deb, Susan, Jody and Julie

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