Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Don't Fire the Teachers - Retrain the Kids' Learning Abilities

Teachers are in a hotbed now. Not only are salaries and teaching positions frozen, but many are being fired due to budget constraints. School Districts and Schools, not knowing how to get a handle on whom to show the door, have tied standardized testing classroom scores to teacher worthiness and instructional excellence.

Teachers are being asked to “re-teach” what children have not learned: like basic math facts, generally taught in the third grade. With specific curriculum requirements for each grade level, it is difficult to go back and continually review, and then have enough time to teach the necessary basic skills for that particular grade level.

To top it all off, teachers, grades four and up, are forced to spend several hours daily, four days a week, to teach the standardized test mechanisms. This is not subject matter-content instruction; it is merely test-taking mechanics on how to choose a multiple choice answer and move through the exam in a certain amount of time. Struggling students often sit with a higher-ability level peer and mimic test-taking actions, not understanding the concept.

What is not taken into consideration is that classroom student ability level composition varies from room to room. One class may have more “struggling” students than another, placing that teacher at a disadvantage compared to another class of higher ability students.

What is missing here is that each student’s ability level should be pre-tested in the early elementary grades, and carefully followed by the parents and teachers. That way, learning progress can be tracked.

Private assessment consultants can be identified for parents’ engagement, and brief group cognitive skills standardized test batteries can be administered by the school in early elementary years. Listening and visual deficiencies can be pinpointed as to severity. Classrooms can then have a fair distribution of ability levels dispersed between classes.

Any teacher should not be unlucky enough to inherit a classroom full of low performers, and then be fired because they were tough to teach and failed to obtain immediate test results.

My own research demonstrated that a classroom of low performing fourth graders did not obtain a change in standardized test scores immediately following a strong intervention. The results appeared a year later, when the students’ scores were reconfigured, and it was discovered there was sometimes a latency effect with slow learners. Two years’ later these two low-achieving classes passed up a group of gifted students, achievement score-wise because of my intervention.

Moreover, should we fire the unlucky teacher who had to wait a full year to see results from her own excellent teaching? And, ironically, the subsequent teacher receives applause and a bonus for the work the former teacher conducted?

Concurrently, students’ learning abilities are not predetermined, and the myriad of drill and practice subject matter computerized programs while they do some good, do not remedy the information processing shortcomings. That is why we are caught up in this academic achievement dilemma.

We spend time practicing the mechanics for standardized tests, do not learn the subject matter, nor are we retraining cognitive abilities so every child can be an efficient learner. With systematic early student ability retraining, teachers would be able to teach, students would learn what they are taught, achievement test scores would systematically raise, and teachers will not have to be fired.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

“Rushed and Connected: Why Do We Crave Social Networking?”

Do you get an adrenalin rush viewing a snippet of unimportant information on your social networking page? Perhaps an incredibly accessible internet with our sense of personal isolation promotes our craving for social networking. Why do we exist in a state of continual “hurry and worry” with a need to be connected remotely rather than personally face to face? Do we live sheltered within our pressing moments, a click away from our next connection?

Have you ever wondered, while out in traffic, why cars are racing, darting in and out of traffic lanes, their drivers hurriedly talking on their cell phones? When we reach our intended destination, have we completed a purposeful objective? Or, do we rush on to another scheduled commitment?

Why do we stay in constant communication with a distant voice and texting, adding simple remarks on social networks, remain available to chat with online strangers or people you knew years ago, yet not know the name of your next-door neighbor?

Nevertheless, the list is almost endless with positive online social networking opportunities: gaming, dating, learning, business, health, social, shopping, blogging, job searching, and health; they still remain as abstract social connectedness.

Online networking can be meaningless, even inane; compared to time spent reading good literature, sitting down visiting with a friend, or writing expressive discourse. Some captured remarks off my page: “We need rain.” “I will enjoy buying school crayons.” “My dog misses me.” “I hear thunder.”

This is first-rate conversation?

Yet, virtual social urgency somehow feels safe, a consoling part of us, less judgmental, and we don’t have to find ourselves feeling self-conscious in front of others. There is no body language to read.

Happily, social net pages lack traditional societal income level pecking orders, and rely more on meritorious achievement connecting “like minds.”

Subsequently, we are all in there together, and can easily remove ourselves by touching the off button. Or “X’ them off our list. Done. Chats can be unanswered. Nothing is justifiable, or has to be explained, no commitments.

Today’s Gen Y generation is “I want it now – and I will get it now.” That means, they have to hurry to get it, or at least they think they do. And, they remain connected online. Is the internet the perpetrator, or is it merely a fast-tract social avenue?

Those that seem to be in the biggest hurry are Gen Y, people ages 18-32 and are 30% of the internet population. Those younger, ages 12-17, are online 92% of the time, whether it is communicating through texting, locked in entertainment, or researching on netbooks or smart phones. (Pew Internet Research, January 2009. “Generations Online, 2009.”)

This younger group, our teens rush also, especially when going out for fun or shopping, expecting the next moment to change their reality. Staying in a constant state of “trivial busyness,” they receive instant gratification from the internet’s beckoning social opening, their virtual world. Do social pages satisfy their inner insecurities and nervous anxieties?

Maybe it is time to step back and spend less time with the addictive social connectedness rush. Quietly consider future objectives and how we might reach them. There is a saying, that all comes to fruition in the “fullness of time.” Unfortunately, creating a sense of purpose takes patience, with directed focus. It is something to contemplate.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fooled by False Indicators?

We are bombarded daily from a myriad of distorted signals, including unreliable financial, market and real estate reports, and blatant advertising. It pops up everywhere. We become wary.  Thousands of tweets beckon our way; most are promotional in nature.

Software has been designed for social media marketing, in addition to existing sales sites, to make purchasing decisions based upon your clicks, and the type of merchandise you buy. Soon this 3.0 technology will be on hand-held device apps.

Does your intellect challenge the validity of the onslaught of these intertwined signals? Or, do we become thick-skinned; ignore what we can, as we grapple with it? It becomes a sorting process.

Now, there is an additional, insidious layer that many of us do not take into account or even recognize; False Indicators. According to Kelley Services (May 5, 2010, New Wave of Independent Contractors Emerging Around the World), more than one quarter, 26%, of the work force is self-employed as consultants or professionals, including legal, medical, technical, software developers, automotive, and website developers. Not easily obtaining your attention, they can also obtain your business through sales pressure, or even unethically, insidiously, through slow, deliberate measures. And, to top it all off, in many cases, you will overtly request and welcome them.

Independent professionals need to earn a living and obtain strong cash flow. Here is where false indicators come into play.

Every day we encounter a myriad of small-to- large problems. The biggest mistake we can make is not trusting our own problem-solving capabilities.  You can find yourself distorting your own insightful signals. It is time to believe in your own intuition and what makes sense.

Something goes wrong. Frustrated, we seek help, those who seemingly will have an immediate answer and can resolve the problem.

Assistors will have one thing in mind; capitalizing on your problem, whatever it may be. Can we trust them? They will offer cordial assistance so articulately; you will not suspect their motives. The problem seemingly resolved, you will smile, and thank them gratefully, and make payment.

I will list some situations, that could have been most unfortunate, to say the least. The examples will be followed by some insightful, problem-solving suggestions.

1)      Block Banking Theft.  Having a check payment to use as a model, an interloper prints and forges a counterfeit check to your account, cashing it at an out-of-town bank. This type of occurrence is typical, according to the bank.

Counterfeiters focus on numerical figures between 2- and 7K, a typical down-payment amount. Some large banks have fraud departments that scan checks for irregularities. A suspicious check is red flagged, and bank check inspectors then study close signature replicas. If not caught, the counterfeit check will clear by 11 AM in most banks. In most cases, you will be held accountable, and will have to notify the police, and fill out a report, before the bank can proceed with an investigation. The problem will take your time, energy, and money.

Advice: Have on-line banking accounts and check your accounts daily at 7-8 AM. Print them out and make sure they are copacetic. If there is an unusual large, unidentified check in the “pending” column, notify the bank immediately, and go there if possible, to have it blocked. In the case where checks have been printed, that infers that additional false checks may be pending.

Subsequently, when this scenario happens, banks recommend that you immediately close your account and open a new one to block any continuing fraud. It is also a good idea to have an additional, auxiliary (decoy) banking account open, and ready to go; not only to monitor unfamiliar vendors for your own personal safety, but so you do not have the sudden work of opening a new bank account, and then wait several days to install special features, such as covering bounced check charges. Better still, pay cash for any risky expenditure, like yard maintenance by a new vendor. Then, additionally, set up” Theft Block” for your credit cards and banking accounts.

2)     Printer Jam. Printing jams are common occurrences, and we are used to removing stuck paper feeds. But, this time, it seems different. Impatient, we rush to conclusions, and consider calling the printing tech. Yet, if we do this, we know he will say “it is the fuser roller” and we need a new one. Be sure to consider the age and condition of your printer, and whether it worth the repair investment. If the tech has come out to your office, there is an on site charge, plus time and equipment. We gratefully thank him for promptly coming and his time.

Advice:  Take your time, checking all of the feeding avenues for jammed paper. Check for paper over-fill beyond the guidelines. Make sure it is inserted squarely, and does not have crimped edges that will buckle during the feed. Turn the printer off and reset. Be patient, and carefully reprint. Only then, decide whether you need the tech person @ $75 an hour.

3)      Malfunctioning Car Ignition: Nothing is worse than your car not starting during the summertime. You are stuck, a couple of miles from home. Fortunately, you have a back-up car key, and try that. It works. Is it an electrical shortage with the ignition?

You take your car to a reputable, popular mechanic to have it checked, as you do not want it to happen again. You trust him, are reassured that he can problem-solve the issue, so you stay on the wait list. Overloaded with work, he keeps your car three weeks, even checking in with him daily. Undoubtedly, the cost will be more reasonable than the auto’s recognized dealer.

Final verdict: bad electrical system. For 1K he can repair it. And, soon.

Advice: Ask yourself, is this believable? I did not want to be fooled into spending 1K. Yet, you need your car, right?  It has been a three weeks’ wait.

Stop and think: The second key started the car intermittently – sometimes it worked, and sometimes it did not. Unbeknownst to us, there was a small burr on the new key. Yet, could it be the car key that was causing the ignition problem? We took our auto to the dealer. He tried both keys, and the one made by the locksmith was faulty. Three weeks without a car, but we saved 1K. Consider having a second mechanic’s diagnosis, always double check locksmith’s back-up keys – don’t switch it around with the original key, or go to the car maker’s dealer, where the company offers support to problems. Or, best yet, use your own intuition in combination with others’ help.

4)      Jammed cell phone settings:  I fiddled with the cell phone call settings, and suddenly could not make calls or hear ones entering. Read and reread the manual, until it was memorized. Found no appropriate info. Went to the dealer.
Verdict: speakers have gone out. Of course, need a new cell phone, coming complete with a 2-year contract. I insisted that it was not the speakers, and I wasn’t going to “fall for the sales pitch.” The agent, admitting that every cell phone model has different settings and sequences, finally said, “You may be on to something – the problem is not listed in the manual. It is part of the cell phone architecture.”

He unlocks the setting.

Advice:  Don’t jump to false conclusions regarding your cell phone. The best thing you can do is “dink with it” or find a tech savvy young person to problem-solve the settings. Bottom line: do not fall for new cell phone 2-year contracts. If forced to replace your cell phone, take time to consider the amount of phone time, convenience needs, and the cost benefits before jumping into a new purchase. In the meantime, consider buying an inexpensive “paid minutes by card” cell phone at a discount store.

5)      Extensive Dental work:  Dentists dream of big repair jobs, especially those requiring root canals and crowns. That will offer income to cover overhead costs, for a European summer vacation, or a down-payment on a condo. If you have bridges or partials, any additional missing tooth will require new appliances with extensive work. To keep a loose tooth, a post may be inserted. Without a root canal, it will abscess. That will require more work, and a new design for your mouth. Complex work architectures trying to maintain teeth are rewarding for dentists, but time-consuming, exhaustive, painful, and expensive for you.

Advice: Dentists, even prominent specialists, will never reveal missteps and issues of their fellow colleagues. If you are having potentially expensive, large project, dental questions or issues, do one- or-both of two options: 1) Get advice and a thorough evaluation from a prominent dental school instructor-specialist. 2) Go to another state for a complete evaluation by one or two dentists. They will give you an honest opinion, because it is a different state, and they have no obligatory ties to the lack of ethics, or poor dental treatment quality of those practicing in another jurisdiction.

These are examples of false indicators that can encapsulate you. Try to resolve your problems through careful, insightful problem-solving, and by considering the following steps:

-          Deal with only reputable people. Ask around.
-          Do not jump to false conclusions.
-          Give your decisions careful consideration and thought.
-          Do not be easily duped; stick to your rationale.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Reducing Our Problems through Insightful Decision-Making

We’ve all wondered why we make certain decisions that lead to dreadful mistakes, although some are unforeseen. We may even ponder the rationale that went into it, and think, “How could I have done that?” Even the most intelligent people become victims of often hasty, poorly thought-out decisions affecting our families and careers.

Each of us sees a situation differently with a unique slant, and we respond according to our learned experiences and what we have learned to believe as true.

To further complicate the rational process, our temperaments, feelings, and cultural backgrounds come into play. Emotional reactions, false hopes, and aspirations become blinders. We do not think clearly as to what the possible outcomes might be.

Although we all make mistakes, some of us will make continual blunders that are hard to rationalize. Somehow some of the working elements become eschew with sudden break-downs in our logic system.

This article is not intended to solve your problems, but to give you insight into your thought processes, and help you cope.  It will encourage you to consider your decisions so you can avoid problems before they appear in the first place. Many psychologists and experts in the field have written about critical thinking, and this blog is simply to review my practical observations so you begin considering alternate possibilities and become more methodical, avoiding hasty, reactive impulses.

My expertise is with creative cognitive skills training applications that were found to work. There are clearly defined, textbook, mental building-blocks that form deductive/inductive reasoning. Right- and left-brain domains enter into the picture. We use our right-brain in detecting patterns like people faces and what they are wearing.  Our left-brain is the analytical, sequencing side.

It is important that we immediately spot patterns, and use intuition to interpret them correctly.  Then rapid sequencing must ensue. We tap into what we already know. Yet, the patterns and sequences rapidly evolve, and we must react instantly, as to avoid an impending auto accident.

Every move we make is reactive in some way to our experiences and how well we spot the patterns and turn them into sequences. The apparent sequences must be rapid, like words on a page link into meaning. If we miss the sequencing and pattern detection aspects, we become “clueless.”

Every twist and turn we make during the day requires a decision of some sort. Whether it is driving the car, performing a task at work, or simply preparing a meal, it is a myriad of sequences laced with potential decisions that could turn into minute problems or large issues. Or, evolve into nothing at all, and remain routine.

Key here is the concept of “situational awareness” like is taught in the military. Being overly aware of your environment with the people, moods, circumstances, timing factors, is a good beginning. Then add your ability to recognize intuitive patterns and sequence them into a logical answer. Think about how you sequence information; do you read rapidly and understand the material? Are you adept at organizing your daily work assignments?

Ask yourself: Is something amiss with a pattern? i.e. a person’s mood, body language, voice, or a situational event. Being able to spot “split patterns” is a good beginning in recognizing and avoiding problematical situations. A “split pattern” is something askew within any typical design, whether it be a facial expression, body language, a conversation, a story line, an art piece, traffic patterns, sports plays, attitudes, meetings, or a work assignment.

Stop and consider the level of your visual and listening (auditory) processing capabilities. My work combines how to interpret patterns and then sequence visual and listening information rapidly.

Much has been written on the topic of pattern-detection and intuition including my writings and insights. Encoding means “getting into information” for better understanding.  The first step is encoding or interpreting patterns for better reasoning capability.  For example, is poor visual pattern processing sabotaging your reading speed and written communication?

Six people can observe an object and see six different things. Do you focus on less important details? Are you missing the point?

Decoding is “pulling information out” of code format. Are poor listening skills interfering with your work performance and with your personal relationships? Do you tune out?

Some examples of poor critical thinking:

Drivers texting in traffic, when they know this causes accidents with sudden death or can leave you seriously injured, in rehab for months, and with expensive car repair or replacement.

Not following your children’s schooling. You will wind up supporting them and living with you at home.

Not taking care of your health, eating right, avoiding harmful habits, exercising, maintaining a spiritual balance.  You “age before your time,” deteriorate much faster, while having to endure serious health problems.

Not considering the corporate culture with a new job position.  You will work with a group of people on a different wave length, work style, and objectives.

Being involved with dangerous, manipulative personal relationships. The tabloids are full of examples showing this type of poor irrational thinking.

Poor real estate purchasing decisions. Not taking into consideration your health, financial, age, and current national economic circumstances. Living beyond your means.

Consider implications and consequences of any action you are taking, whether large or small. Adding insight to your problem-solving will smooth out bothersome rough edges in your life.