Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
Three 21st Century Strategies: Grist for the Mill
November 2017
In This Issue

CEI STEM Video: Tinkering, Making, and Engineering

Dear Educators,

Principals, what are you bringing to the table this year? Have you undertaken a significant change or are you beginning to consider an important change for 2018?  This month in Wow! we bring you three innovative practices -- language immersion, neuroscience apps, and advancing mindfulness through literature. Consider all the problems that schools address, all the parameters that impact the effectiveness of what we do. Each article provides grist for our mill as we collaborate in offering 21st century instruction that matters-- instruction that is relevant. Relevant, whether you are deepening students' cultural experiences, providing tools to aid executive functioning, or sharing culturally relevant stories. . . three of many possible ways to improve learning outcomes and better engage students today and better prepare students for tomorrow.  
Immersion Schools
By Morgan Grant, CEI Intern
Being able to speak a second language is becoming an extremely useful skill as more jobs are seeking bilingual individuals. Sadly approximately 20% of children in the United States are enrolled in a language program. One reason? In the United States, there is not a nationwide language curriculum for K-12. This leaves local counties and school districts to create their own programs and the results are not always promising as many students are not able to retain the little they've learned (Delvin, 2015). 

Communities Unite. However, some parents have realized that it is beneficial for their children to speak another language and are taking measures to ensure that their child are enrolled in language classes. Communities have been influential and have encouraged schools to create programs and curriculum based on the demographics and culture of the surrounding population. Since the most proficient way to learn a new language is to consistently speak, write and hear that said language, some schools have extended the foreign language curriculum beyond a single class and have made it a core part of the school's program. These institutions are called Language Immersion schools as they use two languages for daily classroom instruction. As of now there are over 1,000 Immersion schools in the United States. (Fairfax County Public Schools, 2017; Pennington, 2014).

Local School Efforts. Many language immersion schools stress the importance of exploring and learning about culture identity as well as practicing the language. Some schools incorporate these principles by promoting diversity, celebrating traditional customs and holidays to establish community belonging.

In a NBC article, Dahlia Aguilar, principal of Mundo Verde located in Washington DC, explains that while many of their enrolled students are not from Spanish speaking families, their parents are determined for them to learn more about a new culture. "Most commonly, the reason is that those families want to make sure their kids get that exposure to the diversity that comes with language immersion" (Pennington, 2014).

Isadora Carreras, the development manager at Mundo Verde, states "Having a second language will open doors for my daughter and enrich her understanding of the world because she can interact with a larger chunk of the population" (Pennington, 2014).

While Spanish Immersion schools and programs are very popular programs, other language programs are becoming more attractive as more communities are advocating for them.

An example of this is the Niji-Iro Japanese Immersion Elementary School in Livonia, Michigan. One unique aspect of the school is that they also hosts cultural events, such as the Akimatsuri (a traditional Japanese fall festival). The school collaborated with parents to help organize efforts in order to create a successful event where both English and Japanese were used to emulate the traditional holiday (Jachman, 2017).

Another example is the Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Institute in Hayward, Wisconsin. The Waadookodaading Ojibwe Language Institute is an immersion school where one of the school's goals is to preserve Native American language and culture. 

Executive Director Brooke Ammann explains how identity and language is interconnected. She says "Language alone does not convey or connect people to culture. It is a medium through which culture can be learned. Ojibwemowin, the Ojibwe language, is a language of action. In the Ojibwe worldview, there are two ways to learn: by observing and by doing." (Siers-Poisson, 2017).

Children who learn another language:
  • Learn to communicate with others who speak another language
  • Learn more about their own culture and the culture of the second language
  • Increase cognitive abilities
  • Increase opened-mindedness regarding cultural differences
  • Learn a marketable skill
When children whose first language is not English are in language immersion schools, that also facilitates their learning and  assists in closing the achievement gap. (Fairfax County Public Schools, 2017: Pennington, 2014).

But won't learning another language confuse children? As with learning a new language there will be some learning blunders along the way. Bilingual children will make grammatical errors, however this is no different from the mistakes monolingual children make in their own language. 

And unlike the popular misconception, children who hear two different languages spoken around them don't get confused. Once they have learned the basics of a language, they can pick up the difference easily between one language and another. Just like adults, children might use some words and/or dialect from one language when speaking in another. This phenomenon is called code switching and it is natural as everyone has done it to some extent. ( Linguistic Society of America, 2012).

Learning another language is a valuable skill and children who are able to speak another language will be able to reap the benefits. Speaking a second language is a treasured 21st century skill and the number of Immersion schools and programs might increase as the need for bilingual individuals rises.


Fairfax County Public Schools. (2017). Immersion programs.

Linguistic Society of America. (2012). FAQ: Raising bilingual children

Pennington, C. (2014). Spanish-Language immersion schools gain in popularity. NBC News. 

Siers-Poisson, J. (2017). Wisconsin school works to keep Native American languages alive around the world. Wisconsin Public Radio.
Executive Functions: How to Support Your Students

By Mahnaz Ahrary, CEI Intern
How often do you come across that student who finds beginning any assignment, transitioning to a new task or remembering what he or she learned yesterday, difficult and frustrating? These are not just habits that are hard to break but signs of executive dysfunction. Moreover, there are some strategies and supports for children experiencing problems with executive function. Executive functions (EF) are a set of mental processes controlled by the frontal lobe of the brain. That area of the brain helps students plan, organize, pay attention and manage their time. 

Teachers regularly encounter students with some or all components of executive dysfunction. Some teachers are not yet aware that certain habits are indicative of dysfunction, and those that are want to know how to help. Dr. Thomas Brown, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine and Director of the Yale Clinic for Attention and Related Disorders, developed the model below that includes six clusters of cognitive functions related to executive function:

Cognitive cluster
Executive functions
Organizing, prioritizing, and activating to work
Initiating, planning, strategizing, and sequencing
Focusing, sustaining, and shifting attention to tasks
Effort Regulating alertness, sustaining, and processing speed
Pacing, managing time, and resisting distraction
Emotion Managing frustration and regulating emotions
Memory Utilizing working memory and accessing recall
Using feedback
Action Monitoring and self-regulating action

Figuring out what kind of support to provide a student who exhibits some degree of executive dysfunction really depends on the accuracy of the diagnosis. However, a student often will demonstrate deficiencies in one or more areas of cluster skills, so that the deficits will impact each individual differently. Also, a student's abilities will be affected differently in different situations (Stanberry, 2016). For example, during reading comprehension, the executive functions of working memory, regulating processing speed and regulating alertness will lag, where the student may forget key points she initially picked up at the end of a chapter, or have hard time staying alert while reading long passages. 

Teachers or parents may be interested in developing an executive function profile of strengths and weaknesses for individual students. Stranberry (2016) provides an expanded version of the Cognitive Functions/Executive Function framework that is displayed above. The expanded version shows examples of executive dysfunctions for each area.

Executive Dysfunction: Suggestions and Support

Teachers can do much more than simply recognize an executive function deficit. Rick Wormell, a teacher, consultant and writer compiled a list of ways to improve and support executive function(EF). He states that no single strategy will work and that multiple strategies may be combined, and may need adjustment as students mature. Some suggestions are:
  • Exercising Daily, as aerobic exercise has been linked to sharper (EF). This is especially important considering students overall may be more sedentary than before.
  • Breaking down tasks into smaller chunks so students experience a sense of accomplishment
  • Confirm, reconfirm and reconfirm again all directions
  • Announce upcoming events and changes to regular schedule well in advance and repeat
  • Practice transitions from one activity to another, individually and in small groups
  • Help remove all clutter and distractions from the immediate visual area
  • Provide effective, constructive, and frequent feedback, focusing on decisions students make and not the quality of their work
  • Make every goal transparent by providing lots of examples
  • Provide a compelling visual aid to support learning
  • Help students identify risks involved in their decisions by role-playing, encouraging new sports, reading passages about risky behavior and discussing potential outcomes
  • Show progress toward goals visibly and often
  • Demonstrate how EF skills help students accomplish goals
Apps for Improving Executive Function 

Today we have myriad apps to help with just about everything, including EF. The following apps can provide some support and scaffolding to help students overall EF. The apps listed below are Dr. Randy Kulman's (Founder and President of LearningWorks for Kids) favorite apps for supporting planning, working memory and time management. 

Planning - 30/30
30/30 is an app designed to help users prioritize and track the amount of time they spend on individual tasks or smaller parts of a larger undertaking

Working Memory App - Quizlet
Quizlet is an app and a website that allows children to create their own digital flashcards to help learn terms and definitions. Flashcards can be organized by subject which make it a recommended app for working memory. 

Organization App - YouNote!
This app allows users to take notes using a variety of methods, for all learning types. Visual learners can take notes by using hand-drawn images, while those who learn better from auditory cues, can take voice-recorded notes. Notes can be saved for later access. 


Stanberry, Kristin. March 16, 2016 Print article. (n.d.). Executive function: a new lens for viewing your child. Great schools.

AMLE - Association for Middle Level Education. (n.d.). Looking at executive function. 
Learning Kindness - Through African American Children's Stories and Experience
By: Maud Schaafsma, Ph.D., Guest Author,
Consultant at ChildWorks
Editor's Note: This is the first in series of articles on furthering compassion and mindfulness through literature that is representative of diverse cultures or racial and ethnic heritage.

The story I Love My Hair!(Tarpley, 2001) celebrates the thick nappy hair, the love, enthusiasm and beauty of a 6 or 7-year-old girl. She likes to wear her hair in rows of braids with beads at the bottom of each braid. When she dances she likes the music the beads in her hair make - "Tap! Tap! Clicky! Clacky!" 
In Chicken Sunday (Polacco, 1998) three children pool their efforts and their resources to thank a wonderful grandmother by buying an Easter hat for her. In Last Stop on Market Street (De la Pena), CJ, a young boy who frequently rides the bus with his grandmother, learns to be thankful and "find the beautiful where he never thought to look" in the city around him. 
Happiness. Thankfulness. Two areas of a mindfulness curriculum. Do your teachers use books to reinforce learning about their emotions and important values? How are teachers at your school using books and stories to increase mindfulness and compassion? As teachers help children practice kindness, compassion, and caring for others, are they using children's books whose main characters represent children of different races or from different ethnic or cultural background? We learn to share other peoples' joys and excitement and reach out to comfort them when they are sad or lonely. These are fundamental building blocks of development for children, who learn to master these interpersonal skills in early elementary grades. Children should have opportunities to learn kindness and empathy from a framework that honors and is inclusive of a variety of racial, ethnic and cultural perspectives. 
In the spirit of creating rich social and emotional contexts for African American children's learning from the heart (as well as the mind), we reviewed 11 children's books that are written and illustrated with African American children and adults as protagonists and primary characters. Each story touches directly (often deeply) on important parts of building mindful attention to gratitude and kindness towards others. The books we selected complement the Mindfulness Curriculum framework developed in MindUp. MindUp is an evidenced-based, 15-lesson program that has been shown to develop empathy, mindfulness, and social responsibility.

In the MindUp curriculum, mindfulness begins with mindful listening, and proceeds with mindful movement and perspective taking, choosing optimism, happy experiences, expressing gratitude and acts of kindness.

Mindful Listening - or focused attention on sounds - sounds made by a squeaky back door, a rumbling truck, a leaky faucet or a "Whomp, Whomp, Whomping" tuba in a high school band (Marsalis, 2012). A counterpoint to just listening is to focus on the sounds we make. Through the music-making experiences of Violet (Johnson, 20014) we see her make the "whah woo woo" sounds of a play horn, the "plink plink pluck" of using a tennis racket as a guitar and everyday sounds of stepping up stairs, taking a bath and brushing her teeth. Violet dreamed and thought about music all the time. Until one day she learned to play the guitar. And by the splishing and splashing fountain in the park she met kids who played a beating drum and a smooth saxophone. 
Children can imitate the sounds of jazz instruments, children's play, a band and sounds of the city (Dillon, 2007) as you read the books without dialogue - but with focused attention on sounds. You can develop a very similar mindful way of reading a book - by focusing on the expressions on people's faces in the illustrations and describing the emotions they are experiencing. 

Mindful Movement and Happiness: We explore this in two ways - first by moving through a city in Jazz on Saturday Night (Dillon, 2007) and Last Stop on Market Street (De la Pena, 2015) and exploring the movement you see around you, second by focusing on how your own body makes movements when you dance (Gordon, 2017, Tarpley 2001). Books about yoga are important to explore a retreat from movement to stillness or quiet. Several of the books build on one another. When you explore Happy Experiences and read I Love My Hair! (Tarpley 2001), you can loop back to mindful movement and understand how your body movements are connected to expressing happiness. 

Perspective Taking is central to social cognitive awareness and becomes a basis for empathy and understanding the experience of others (McKissack 2003). When Libby Louise in Precious and Boo Hag tells her first lie to her mother - she gets caught. Her mother cautions her to learn to "Speak the truth, and shame the devil." But Libby learns that not everyone wants to know or hear the truth and it sometimes hurts people when you tell the truth. This dilemma leads her to self-reflection about when and where to speak the truth or when to temper it with kindness and thoughtfulness. 
Precious, when she stays at home alone with a stomach ache, also learns something about how people think (McKissack 2005). She is warned by her brother not to let the strange, green footed and scary Boo Hag into the house. When the Boo Hag appears, she tells big lies in an attempt to get into the house. But Precious learns that she can be strong, courageous and can understand when someone (Boo Hag) is not telling the truth. 
In the first four MindUp lessons children have practiced seeing and listening to sights and sounds in their environment, making movements with their bodies and understand that there are important things happening in the minds, feelings and ideas of other people. Now, teachers can shift attention to celebrating the happy experiences children have, things they like about themselves, and things they are thankful for. 

An exploration of happiness can begin with special places children like to visit. Tricia Ann, in Going Someplace Special the 1950s segregated Nashville, could not sit in the front of the bus, eat at many restaurants or sit on some park benches. Under Jim Crow segregation laws these places were for "white people only" (McKissack 2008). In the midst of enforced racial inequality, her mother reminds her, "You are somebody." And she finds her way to a special public place where everyone is welcome. Her mother calls it a "doorway to freedom." 
Thankfulness. Understanding how people think, seeing emotions on their faces and kindness in the actions of those who support and care for you, makes some places, events and people special. In Chicken Sunday and Last Stop on Market Street (see the beginning of this article), children recognize people in their lives who care for them.

Acts of Kindness. Finally, we look at the importance of kindness for the people who do acts of kindness and people who receive acts of kindness. The story of Chicken Sunday is built on the kindness of a grandmother who sings for children, takes them to church and cooks Sunday chicken dinners - as well as the kindness of the children who surprise her with a much-admired Easter hat, and a stranger who helps them earn the money to buy the hat. 
Each Kindness (Woodson 2012) reveals the unkindness of children to other children. When Chloe and her friends exclude Maya - and rebuff every attempt she makes to join their friendship group - Chloe grows to regret her behavior. The book invites children to be self-reflexive about their actions toward other children - and emphasizes the importance of empathy. 

Tying Literature to a Mindfulness Curriculum

The MindUp curriculum progresses full circle from attentive listening and seeing to using focused skills to understand beyond sounds and sights - emotions, thinking and intentions of self and other people. In a social world, we learn to appreciate that people have other minds - with their distinct feelings, ideas, goals, aspirations, intentions and senses of identity. And as we understand each other we grow attached to people - to parents, friends, siblings, peers and grandparents. Ultimately by expressing gratitude and thankfulness to people in our lives - for their attention, support, love and kindness - we participate in building positive social worlds. We learn to replicate empathy and kindness to others and become part of a social and emotional world - where pro-social behavior can trump injustices, hostility and aggression. 

It is not a simple task - but it is within the reach of even the youngest of us - to create an emotional and social world where we can all grow and thrive. 


De La Pena, M. (2015). Last stop on Market Street. New York, NY: GP Putnam Books for Young Readers.

Dillion, L. & Dillion, D. (2007). Jazz on Saturday Night. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Gordon, K. (2917). I am a dancer every day of the week. Westbury, NY: 5D Media Publishing.

Johnson, A. (2004). Violet's music. New York, NY: Dial Books

Marsalim W. (2012). Squeak, rumble, whoop! Whomp! whomp!: A sonic adventure. Somerville, MA: Candlewick

McKissack, P. (2003). The honest-to-goodness truth. Fullerton, CA: Aladdin.

McKissack, P. (2005). Precious and the Boo Hag. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

McKissack, P. (2008). Goin' someplace special. Fullerton, CA: Aladdin.

Polacco, P. (1998). Chicken Sunday. London: Puffin Books.

Tarpley, N. (2001). I love my hair! Boston, MA: Little Brown.

Woodson, J. (2012). Each kindness. London: Nancy Paulsen Books.
Grist on a Pathless Path

Ram Dass talks of "grist for the mill of treading on this pathless path."  A pathless path. On many days, with all that impacts schools, you may feel that your path is rambling, that you even are back-tracking, or that you are side-stepping what needs to be done. For some things, you may find that you create your path step-by-step. However, whether you are uncertain of the road ahead, beginning your journey, trail blazing, or further along your path, there are tools and programs to fuel your efforts--
Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement