Thursday, May 15, 2008

Three Laws of Conditioning for Athletes and Students

I was reading a book about athletic training and came upon some laws that the author Scott Sonnen has formulated. Since I find that the training that an athlete undergoes is similar to the education that a student is given I started noting some comparisons and reflecting about these things.

While these laws of conditioning come from a strength training and movement orientated book they gave me pause for thought. Scott Sonnen's "Laws of Conditioning" say that every action is an act of conditioning.

Law of Outcome: Whatever you do produces an outcome. regardless of how you value that outcome.

Law of Adaption: Whatever you do over a period of time creates a change in you to find homeostasis, regardless of how you value that adaptation.

Law of Progress: Whatever you do with increasing volume, intensity, density, or complexity becomes easily more repeatable, regardless of how you value the progress.

There is a consequence to every action that we do, whether we intend a consequence or not. I started seeing the "Law of Outcomes" in those terms. As this school year ends many of my students are reaping the rewards of learning from the habits they have developed or continue to develop in school. This is called academic and social growth. It is all positive as the consequence of listening, applying, and valuing lessons creates success. On the other hand, I still have students who continue in bad patterns. They can't see that by not doing homework, or not paying attention in class has an effect on how well they understand lessons and grow academically. When they use mean words at recess or treat others with disrespect: whether stealing someones possessions or getting in a fight there are consequences that they see (punishment) but also some they don't anticipate of think about such as others keep away from them or they miss a lesson when they are in the office and fall further behind.

I have been talking to some kids individually about the consequences of some of their recent misbehavior and pointing out the unintended effects that happen when they make a bad choice. However in today's morning meeting I was pointing out how that in addition to negative consequences there are positive consequences to things that we do properly. We talked a bit about being more pleasant in our greetings when starting the day and being friendly towards others. I mentioned that some students wake up with friendly "good mornings" from their family and maybe a nice breakfast and a hug to send them out the door. These kids are ready to start the school day on a positive note. I then reminded the class that this scenario is not true for all students. Some get themselves up, or encounter yelling or no awake adult, and feed themselves if they get fed at all and leave the house without hearing any positive affirmations. I noted that this is why when we greet each other the "good morning" we say during morning meeting may be the first positive words that a student may receive in their day and we should make it special with eye-contact and a friendly greeting rather than a race around the circle. I said that one positive "good morning" or any other positive compliment that we make can have the somewhat unintended consequence of helping a classmate be ready to learn and enjoy a day rather than to worry or to feel depressed.

The "Law of Adaption" reminds me of the old saying, "Perfect practice makes perfect" and I add, "imperfect practice makes imperfection." As we practice whatever we do we tend to adapt to the way we practice. In athletics we tend to hold a baseball bat the way we practice holding one. And if someone has never practiced holding a bat, boy do they look awkward when they do try to swing one. Lots of well coached practice teaches a proper positioning of the hands and a resulting good swing. Many students cannot hold a pencil properly anymore as they have not been taught to do it correctly for whatever reasons and a poor pencil grip is very hard to overcome by fourth grade. That is why students who practice school work properly (whether spelling words or math formulas) learn the correct way to do things while their classmates who do not make an effort go on repeating mistakes or remain unfamiliar with how to successfully complete a problem.

I showed my class three answers that 3 different students had written on the last Scott-Foresman Benchmark Unit test. I had highlighted these responses when correcting the tests because these were three of many students who had used the 4Square method to plan out a response before they put down an answer. I read their answers and all the details they contained and let them know how improved these answers were when compared to earlier in the year as well as compared to how previous fourth grade students answered test questions before I taught this method. The reason they could answer the question so well? They had been practicing using the 4Square method so it was easy for them to do what they had been practicing when it came time for the test!

I remarked that one of these students had only one problem wrong on the whole test and congratulated her. Then I sent the kids back to their desks as I was about to read the names of others who did a great job on the test. As they filtered back to their desks I heard the voice of another student (a good student- but one whom I had not read a response from). She was going around the room complimenting each person whom I had read a response from and telling them, "Good job!" I thought she might have been disappointed because I did not read a response from her and she would have liked the recognition (I could have read hers but I only read three and I didn't want them to be the typical "best students" and so had I chosen these students from all levels). I had to stop everything and just compliment this girl myself. She had obviously listened to what I had said previously about kind words and consequences and she was intent on making others feel good. But I had to say to the class, with much enthusiasm, that there was not just one student with only one problem wrong on the test, but two. I announced that the other student was the one not sulking or worrying about her grade, but the person that they could all hear complimenting her classmates for their jobs well done!

As I learn more about how the human body works and adapts to what we practice doing, I see more athletes who train well can adapt to the stresses of sports or competition even as they age. On the other hand in a world of coach potatoes and inactive children and adults our bodies adapt to the situations we put them in. One of the biggest reasons for "bad backs" and other physical problems that people have is that if we sit in a chair our bodies adjust to "sitting" in a chair. Muscles and ligaments adapt to the position by lengthening or shortening and pretty soon we have bad backs and other health problems. The Law of Progress tells us that what we do becomes us! If you want to be a couch potato keep practicing it. You will become good at it. If you want to become healthy then practice good health. You will find it easier to be healthy the more you practice. If students want to become good students they just have to practice correctly the things they need to do until it becomes their nature: whether it be learning the multiplication tables or practing a good homework routine. If they practice excuses and lack the effort to do what needs to be done, they will become lazy excuse makers and never become the successful person they could be!

As an "aging" athlete (I hate to say that) I am constantly looking for ways to improve not just my athletic performances but also how my body functions and moves throughout the day. I can run like an athlete but I am limited by constant uncomfortableness and poor movement patterns. That is why I have been exploring training and movement ideas from the martial arts. I can move in one direction, running very quickly and ably, because I have been practicing this movement for over 30 years of training and racing. However ask me to move in other directions and through other movement patterns and I am a complete klutz.

I am training now to reawaken those forgotten movement patterns and retraining my muscles and neural programming to bring back what has been lost. In other words- I don't want to get old and fall apart. If anyone, not just athletes, are interested in increasing the mobility of their joints of the movement patterns around their joints in order to restore lost movement patterns, I would recommend looking into Joint Mobility through Z-Health. It is real cutting edge stuff.

Or you could work on some of the Joint Mobility DVD's or "Flow" DVD's that Scott Sonnen produces. I have been using "Ageless Mobility", "Intu-Flow", and "Flow-Fit". I think all teachers should practice fitness and good health just as much as we ask students to practice good personal and schoolwork attitudes.

The recess playground at school is full of children with innate and well practiced movement patterns- children who play outdoors and participate in sports are natural and fluid as they run around the playground. Unfortunately I see more and more children who run like "old people" or lack the movement patterns that children naturally or normally develop. These children are often the children with poor eating and nutrition patterns and spend their days seated in front of TVs, computers, or video games. I see some children who cannot even properly sit on the floor let alone move properly.

While visiting Hawaii I went to the Polynesian Cultural Center and saw dancers from 7 Polynesian Islands perform dances native to their culture. As they danced I noticed how mobile and agile they were and how their culture had passed down these "movements" and skills. Then I reflected on what movement practices we are passing on to our children in our homes and schools. There is so much lacking in our schools and society and if our children practice sitting rather than purposeful activity I wonder if that is why we are left with unhealthy children that lack proper athletic and movement skills. Maybe that could be why we have so many children whose bodies cannot sit still when asked to, but instead remain hyper, fidgety, or restless throughout the day?

If you live in the Nashua, NH area and have children don't forget to sign them up for Fitness University.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Vocabulary Development and Twirling Fingers

This year at Mount Pleasant School there has been a major emphasis on improving vocabulary instruction. I have likewise made vocabulary development one of the key efforts in my own classroom. The idea for reinventing the way we teach vocabulary began when the teachers had meetings discussing Isabel Beck's "Bringing Words to Life" a couple of years ago. This summer many teachers met at Barnes and Noble a few times to talk about how we could teach vocabulary, and thus improve reading, in new and inventive ways.

One personal goal I set was to use pictures to introduce words to my class. I try to find 8-12 vocabulary words in each Scott-Foresman story (these usually are not the words Scott-Foresman chooses) and find a picture or a few pictures that illustrate each word. Of course the words are often chosen because my students may never have seen some of words. For example in the story "Train to Somewhere" I chose words like a railroad "platform", a "trunk" for carrying clothes, "tenement" buildings, "dimples", "locomotive" and other words that a picture can help illustrate . A picture is worth a thousand words is true as students easiliy grasp the meaning when they can see a picture. I would then go over each word and show the picture and hang the pictures and labeled vocabulary word on the wall for constant reference. The children enjoyed "seeing" the words and learning them. When it came time to read the selection they would have a good knowledge of each word and it would help them read and understand a passage.

I noticed my students enjoyed finding the words in the selection as they read and that they liked to tell me when they found a word. I wanted to to come up with a way for them to signify that they found the word and yet not distract the flow of a reading or the lesson. One day I decided, at the spur of the moment, that when they recognized any word that I had taught them from any lesson that they could raise their index finger and twirl it around a few times. The students seemed to like doing this and all of a sudden this little "cue" took off. When anyone mentioned a word or saw a word in their reading fingers would go up in the air and start twirling around.

Their little helicopter fingers have become quite a habit. Fingers go twirling all day long. I like to see their enthusiasm and it is simple way to show that they keep connecting with a lesson. Of course, I am used to this activity, however the other week it unnerved a substitute teacher. She didn't know why the class kept twirling their fingers in the middle of a lesson. I think this habit is fairly well-ingrained with my class so I wonder what the fifth grade teachers will do when it starts happening in their classes next year?

Maybe we will have an end of year finger twirling contest and get it out of our systems. We could set it to music and dress up like this guy and just point those fingers with enthusiasm and twirl away!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

That kid that just doesn't get it!

I am sure all teachers have moments when they are teaching a great lesson and a kid just doesn't get it. To the rest of the class a correct response is simple, but to that kid, a simple correct response seems impossible.

Well I just proved that it is not just kids who just don't get it. I just returned from a wonderful trip to Hawaii (thanks VH1!)with my wife Sarah and had a fantastic time. We stayed in Honolulu at Waikiki beach. We got to visit Pearl Harbor, hike up Diamond Head, snorkle at Hanalei Bay (wow- to all the fish we saw and the sea turtle that we swam with) and we went to the Polynesian Cultural Center among other things.

While at the Polynesian Cultural Center, we learned about the dance, music, and culture of Hawaii and the other South Pacific Islands (Samoa, Maori New Zealand (Aotearoa), Fiji, Tahiti, the Marquesas, and Tonga). Our guide told us that they would ask for three men to be volunteers to learn Tongan drumming. I knew I had to try that. Using all the skills gleaned from observing students at Mt. Pleasant School assemblies I knew exactly how to raise my hand and be picked. Even though we were sitting in the back and and there were a couple hundred people in attendance I got my hand up and was the first picked.

They had some fun with us and put us in grass skirts and had some funny introductions. Then I was called up to be the first drummer. They, of course, made me look silly and then it was time to end my performance. I just didn't get it! They wanted me to hit the drum twice da...da... to end the the show, but it is probably best to see what happened. The video is a bit shaky at times as that is Sarah roaring with laughter while filming and they even bring her into the act but I didn't even listen to her! Check it out...

I am so glad that the filters at Mt. Pleasant School block Youtube videos as I am sure more than a few teachers would have some fun with this one! Yes, I am the guy that just didn't get it!