What Makes a Great Teacher?

From NPR’s series, Fifty Great Teachers

This piece, Among Dartmouth’s Lathes And Saws, Lessons In Creativity focuses on a woodworking teacher at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. I love how he seems unaware, or unconcerned (and hence, unencumbered with “trying”) of how what he does works. And just is the type of teacher who has helped many in higher education over the years.

What does he do or how does he teach, that seems beneficial o the creative process?

Some quotes from the article that struck me:

“He knew when to be subtle, when to admonish and when to praise, when to let you fail and when to swoop in and save the day, and most importantly, when to laugh and when to tease.”

    Ahh, not too much and not too little. Just right. And plenty and feedback.

Jennifer Mueller does know. She’s a professor at the University of San Diego, and, for 15 years, she’s been studying creativity.

“There is this impression that: Give students freedom and they’ll be creative. And what we know is that they need some structure upfront,” says Mueller.

“They need a well-defined problem — like building a piece of furniture — and they need to know the constraints and the range of possibilities.”

    Yes. One of the most important conditions under which learning takes place is what’s implied in the quote above: Essential questions or problems are provoked, with a well-presented problem


But creativity involves something we don’t always feel good about: uncertainty.

“Where there is no answer, there is no clear answer, we don’t like that type of uncertainty at all,” Mueller says. “We really hate it.”

She says this is hard for students: that blank piece of paper. It’s hard for businesses: Will people buy the product? Uncertainty is hard for everyone, but research shows it’s key to thinking creatively.

Dyslexia Pioneer David Schenck Dies

David Schenck, founder of the Schenck School, an Atlanta area school for dyslexic students, passed away last week. I’d visited this school on a tour of Georgia area schools and was impressed. The Schenck school has been a leader in the field for many years. From the article and other descriptions I’ve heard of Mr. Schenck, he sounded like a great guy and I’m sure he’ll be surely missed. There’s a complete story about him and his work here, on the school’s website.

Conference on Disability and Diversity in Hawaii

From the Pacific Rim Conference on Disability and Diversity

You can’t miss the 31st Annual Pacific Rim Conference on Disability and Diversity, May 18 & 19, 2015 at the Hawaii Convention Center in Honolulu. The theme for our 31st Edition is “Deep Impact,” and there will be over 200 exciting workshops and events all week long! The 2015 Call for Proposals will be open until January 31, 2015. We want your proposals! This year we are featuring many diverse and innovative topic areas, such as Making and Impact: Education for All and Lifting Youth Up. We are looking for your creative ideas to build the just, sustainable and inclusive future we all want! To learn more, visit: www.pacrim.hawaii.edu, email prinfo@hawaii.edu or call us at (808) 956-7539.

A study was recently published that claims learning to read and improvement in reading ability has a positive effect on intelligence overall.

Where to begin?

First, getting past sensational science related headlines takes effort. I have an educated and beginners mind when it comes to reading research. I read through this study slowly, and appears to me to be well-designed, and does not overstate what it found.

What it basically found/claims, is that learning to read not only helps improve verbal intelligence (which would be expected), it leads to improvements in non-verbal (visual/spatial) performance on IQ tests. This is the first time positive effects were found in areas not limited to verbal performance.

Of course I agree with the obvious. Learning to read and improving reading skill is vastly important for all sorts of reasons. There are however, a few cautions.

1. We don’t really measure intelligence. We try. What we really do as far as I can tell, is measure performance on tasks that we think are manifestations of intelligence.

2. If improving reading skills has positive effects on verbal and non-verbal intelligence, that’s a good thing. But we still don’t know why. Success in reading is based on several cognitive capacities including working memory, phonological processing, and fluent orthographic knowledge. Perhaps development of those skills are what transfers over to other more general thinking and problem-solving abilities. Perhaps the process of improving one’s reading skills, which undoubtedly includes perseverance, goal-setting and seeing weaknesses as challenges to be met, contains the operative links to improvements in “IQ.” In many cases, having access to high quality teaching (of reading and spelling) involves a mentor-student relationship that is a critical factor in building on success.

In other words, success breeds success.

The study I’m referencing can be found here: Learning To Read Improves Overall Intelligence

Of course it’s exciting news that early intervention works. But, the magic is in the details.

In this study, parents were coached to pay attention to subtle signs from their children (with autism) that they previously missed. When parents have seemingly non-responsive infants (not cooing, engaging in reciprocal eye gazing, etc) the adult often feels rejected and starts to do less of the interactive things parents generally do with their kids. By learning to spot the much more subtle interactive communication from children with autism, parents are more able to socialize their kids “upwards” and they gain more skills.

Treatment at earliest age reduces symptoms of autism spectrum disorder

Researchers found that oxytocin, the hormone heavily involved in social connectivity and feelings of warmth towards others, is not lacking in people with autism spectrum disorder.

Oxytocin Isn’t Lacking In Children With Autism, Researchers Say

Instead, the study found that oxytocin levels affected social functioning in both kids with autism and typical kids. “As your oxytocin levels got higher, your social functioning was more enhanced,” Parker says.

Gregory says it’s not surprising that children with autism have widely varying levels of oxytocin. “Autism isn’t a disease, it’s a spectrum” that can’t be linked to any one cause, he told Shots.

A Scientist with a Learning Disability

“Dr. Collin Diedrich has a Ph.D in Molecular Virology and Microbiology from the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently a 2nd year postdoctoral fellow at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. His research focuses on how HIV increases individuals susceptibility to tuberculosis. Collin has aspirations to become an advocate for people with learning disabilities and ADHD.”

This incredibly bright scientist who has a learning disability expresses some great and thought-ptovoking ideas about intelligence, learning disabilities, and the damage caused by educational systems being so focused on the “average.”

I’m a Scientist With Learning Disabilities and That’s Okay!

You’re never too old to understand yourself better. Lisa Ling, journalist, discovers more about her brain and learning style.

Lisa Ling, gets a diagnosis of ADD at age 40

[via Richard Wanderman]

I came across this piece written by someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. She makes some important points to consider concerning the judgmental implications of terms such as “high functioning and low functioning.” I’m a fan of precise and descriptive diagnostic work, but the writer points out the subtle and unspoken judgements that accompany some of our terms.

Decoding the High Functioning Label


I love that quote.

As Walt Whitman said:

Do I contradict myself?

Very well then I contradict myself,

(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

In this recent opinion piece in the NY Times, “The Upside of Dyslexia” science writer Annie Murphy Paul cites a few experiments that causes her to wonder about the positive attributes and cognitive abilities that may occur naturally in people who have dyslexia, and could in theory lead to better performance in certain artistic and scientific fields.

She discusses a couple of interesting examples, one of which involves the discovery by cognitive scientists at UMASS found; that their subjects with dyslexia saw things on the periphery faster than non-dyslexics. This has been repeated in additional studies. In these examples, those who can focus better on the periphery or outer aspects of a visual field (who are less proficient at discernment of the central field) can do things like find the logical flaws in “impossible figures,” such as the interesting and impossible images found in some of M.C. Escher’s work.

Similar examples are cited in other experiments done with undergrads.

I think it’d be fascinating to find out that there are inherent abilities in a given condition mostly viewed as a frustrating learning disability.

I wish experiments like these focused on four and five year olds. Brains are proving to be far more plastic or malleable than we ever imagined. So I wonder if skills like the peripheral vision ability in their subjects are developed over time, as a result of (someone with a reading disabilitiy) not practicing or knowing what to look for in the central field of vision while reading. Word analysis requires looking at specific patterns within the central field. As a result of repeated looking more at the non-discrete aspects of words on a page, the outer reaches are more what one pays attention to.

It’s an intriguing field, that of looking for strengths as well as struggles and I’m all for good research along these lines.

On the other hand, blind people seem to develop great auditory abilities that I’m sure are reflected in teh developing architecture of their brains.

Stay tuned.

Autism and the Agitator

Interesting and thought provoking op-ed piece in NY Times.

Autism and the Agitator

Image courtesy of Rebecca Kamen

Neurons to Butterflies

Fascinating piece from PBS, about Rebecca Kamen, an artist with dyslexia. In a nod to the field of neuroscience, she fashions abstract sculptures, inspired by neurons and her experiences with dyslexia.

Those persistent struggles were what influenced Kamen to study art in the first place. Admitted to college on probation, Kamen chose to study art education, because it was the only major she could find at Pennsylvania State University that didn’t require a math course.

“I learned about things by taking things apart, examining them,” Kamen said. “I think that enabled me to develop the skills of working with my hands more than just processing things in a more linear way.”