Monday, October 31, 2016

Executive Functioning--What's all the buzz about?

For the last 20 years or so, more and more research has been devoted to examining the "executive functioning" of humans. In laymen's terms, executive functioning is basically our capacity to self-manage. Staying organised, task initiation and follow-through, controlling impulses, memory (think remembering 2-3 step directions), and being mentally flexible all fall under the umbrella of executive functioning. Of course, all of this research has corresponded nicely to the rise in mental health diagnoses in children, more specifically Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Children with these diagnoses struggle with self-control/regulation and with tasks involving planning, setting goals, time management and keeping their belongings organised, among other social-emotional challenges.

I managed to sneak in some lessons about executive skills with Mr. Lewis and Ms. Meyer's classes a few weeks back when I taught them about how exercise affects the brain. To illustrate the concept, specifically self-control, I had the student's watch a video documenting a famous (and many times replicated) experiment titled, the Marshmallow Test. Check it out; the girls LOVED it.....and then wanted to take part in it!

I also asked for a couple of "risk takers" to engage in a little test (Stroop Color Word Test) that I had borrowed to demonstrate the brain's ability to cope with "distractors," ignore impulses and remain focused. I had students read the words aloud from the following chart, as quickly as they could. One student was also chosen to be the timer.


Initially, the brave volunteers were able to read the words quickly and without hesitation: RED, GREEN, BLUE, YELLOW, etc. 

But then, I switched it up a bit and asked them to read the COLORS of the words as opposed to the words themselves: GREEN, YELLOW, WHITE, PINK, etc.

The result? It took them almost double the amount of time in some cases to get through the chart! What each student described afterwards was as predicted: it was REALLY HARD ignoring the word and just focusing on the color. They were not only distracted, but they had to control their impulse to read the words. What a perfect example of executive functioning at work!

So, what's the connection to exercise? Well, here it is in a nutshell: exercise can increase our self-management skills! Not only does more exercise increase the blood flow, but it has positive effects on our brain's gray and white matter, each of which plays a role in attention, memory and, as a result, learning. It can also help parts of the brain "talk" to each other with increased speed, which allows us to "think" more efficiently.

Here is a great graphic that I showed to grade 3 students that clearly shows the increased amount of brain activity after a bit of exercise. 

As children get older, their executive skills inevitably get better and most learn to compensate for weaknesses. As adults, we know when we need to make lists to stay organised or write reminders to ourselves to get specific tasks done. Sometimes, kids need a little help in this realm, and can often benefit from small accommodations. I really love checklists, and these can be used for any routine or task (home or at school). They are really easy to create and personalize. Here are some examples:

Just like anything else, skills that are practiced end up being more refined, so parents play a significant role in their development. There are countless books for parents on this topic, so don't hesitate to consult the reviews on amazon if you feel like you could use a bit of help with your child. One book I've recommended (and have on my bookshelf) is Smart but Scattered, by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare. I've also heard great feedback on the book That Crumpled Paper Was Due Last Week, by Ana Homayoun. Though written mainly for boys, reviews indicate that the strategies/tips are just as applicable to girls. 

As always, if there are any concerns you'd personally like to discuss, please feel free to reach out.

~Ms. Carnright

Monday, October 24, 2016

Digital Citizenship: Advice and Resources for Parents

"Our kids are growing up on a digital playground and no one is on recess duty."

"Digital Citizenship" is a hot topic in education nowadays given the technology that's available to students at a younger and younger age. Mr. Towse (Seisen ICT teacher) and I have prioritized educating our ES girls about the pros and cons (dangers included) of our marvelous digital devices and internet usage. We have hemmed and hawed about what should and should not be a part of the curriculum/pedagogy for Digital Citizenship with the primary goal of keeping our kids safe online.

Common Sense Media offers many fantastic resources for teachers and parents about this subject matter, and Mr. Towse and I plan on incorporating many of their lesson guides into the curriculum. Topics include:
  • Self-image & Identity               
  • Relationships & Communication
  • Digital Footprint & Reputation               
  • Cyberbullying & Digital Drama
  • Information Literacy
  • Internet Safety
  • Privacy & Security
  • Creative Credit and Copyright

To protect our kids, I believe knowledge is power. We have to know what they are up to online and do digital "check-ups" to make sure that privacy settings are appropriate for their age. 

With that being said, I feel as though it's important to remember that......

*Age limits/restrictions for app use (e.g., Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) exist for a reason, not just to annoy our kids which causes them to annoy parents about getting their own accounts. Most of these apps require that children are 13 years old.  Here's what I found on

It's also important to talk to your kids openly about what they're experiencing in the digital world, to include any cyberbullying that's occurring, what's being talked about in chat groups they are a part of, Minecraft "stalkers" and the like. Discuss the consequences of posting pictures and/or videos (e.g., possible criticism, feelings being hurt, etc.) online and how their "digital footprint" is created. 

Paul Rodgers
(taken from

Lastly, let's not gloss over the possibility of technology "addiction" and the over-reliance on our devices. When my iPhone was frozen about a month ago, panic immediately set in. I felt suddenly disconnected from the world as if I were stranded. I've worked with kids who are similarly drawn to & almost obsessed with technology in such a way. I've also observed many parents who rely on phones and iPads as babysitters or merely as a tool to keep kids quiet. With that being said, I would encourage you to read this article from the NY Times. 

So, what else can parents do? A few noteworthy suggestions:
  • Create contracts with your kids for internet and/or phone use. A great example can be found here, but there are loads available if you search for them. Just don't forget to STICK TO IT!
  • Use timers to limit the use of phones, computers, iPad's, etc.
  • Know your kids passwords, privacy settings (as previously stated) and do random device "safety" checks. As I often tell kids who complain about the personal invasion: It's NOT your phone if you don't pay the bill! 
  • Take devices away at night....please, please, I'm begging you! Trust me when I tell you that your kids are up late at night texting, using LINE and/or watching videos if you allow them to sleep with their phones in their rooms. 
  • The older kids get, the more ownership they should get. This means that restrictions should change as your child matures and becomes more responsible. I would encourage all parents to have kids help you make the rules surrounding their cell phone and internet use. 
Some more great info can be found on one of my favorite parenting websites, Here is an awesome article titled, "The First Cell Phone: Rules for Responsibility." Check it out!

Parents, if you are aware of any cyberbullying or inappropriate internet use by ES students at Seisen, please do not hesitate to get in touch with your child's teacher, Ms. Sandra, Mr. Towse, or I. It's crucial that we are kept in the loop about these matters to ensure the safety and well-being of our students. 

~Ms. Carnright

Monday, October 3, 2016

I Gotta Feelin.......

The Grade 2's first Unit of Inquiry,"Who We Are," encouraged the children to reflect on their interests, attributes and emotions, and connect these to how they think and act. Given this, it's no wonder this is one of my favorite units of the year!

My objectives? To teach and have the girls learn the following:

      • The definition of a feeling/emotional response
      • How feelings can affect our bodies (think butterflies in the stomach, stress/tension headaches)
      • Most of the time, we CAN control how we feel, even though we cannot always control what happens to us
      • Positive vs. negative self-talk
      • Coping skills when feeling sad, angry or frustrated
I started the lesson by showing them a picture of a snake, and telling them that it was my pet, Penelope. This IMMEDIATELY elicited some gasps from the girls, with even bigger responses given when I told them that Penelope was here in the classroom to visit. 

Once I told them that I actually did not have a pet snake and therefore she was not at Seisen to visit, I heard both groans and sighs of relief. This was the perfect way to initiate a discussion about feelings and how differently individuals process the same information. 

After lots of wonderful input about our emotions and the connection between the mind & body, I asked the girls to create their own 5-point scale of anger. This is modelled after the great work by Kari Dunn Buron, who developed the use of the Incredible 5 Point Scale. Here are some examples of what the girls were able to come up with--I was so impressed!!

What anger looks like and feels like to grade 2 students. Some of the girls were able to "go further" and write what they can try to do when they experience these emotions. Note the various faces and details that some of the students used.

Lastly, I focused on negative vs. positive self-talk, or, what we tell ourselves when we experience disappointments, frustration, anger, sadness, etc. It was especially important for me to let the girls in on a secret: that they CAN be in control of their emotions! Our internal dialogue is central to our mental health and well-being, and the more we can teach our students to use positive self-talk (the sister to the now famous "growth mindset") I believe the happier they will be. Below is one of the slides I used to demonstrate this concept. Many thanks to Yura in 2B for allowing me to use her picture!
A storybook example came from the book, The Pout Pout Fish Goes to School, by Deborah Diesen, which tells the tale of a fish who is always thinking terrible thoughts (e.g., "I am not smart," "I don't belong," etc.) when things do not go his way.  The girls seemed to grasp how negative self-talk doesn't help to solve problems but only makes us feel worse.

Most impressive were their performances when asked to complete partner skits. Each pair was given a scenario that would prompt them to feel a negative emotion. An example includes, "You accidentally forgot your homework and the teacher is asking for it." The girls were asked to choose a part: either "Negative Self-Talk" or "Positive Self-Talk." It was really fun watching them play these roles yet, at the same time, demonstrate the idea that, through our thinking, we are sending our hearts messages. This is only the beginning of the conversation, but I believe it's never too early to plant the seed about the power of positive thinking.   ~Ms. Carnright

Sunday, October 2, 2016

The Many "Apps" of a School Counsellor

At the beginning of the school year, I make it a point to go into classrooms, introduce myself, and let the student's know a bit about my role as the school counsellor. The older girls are pretty informed about my basic job duties and understand that I am someone that can be considered a trusted confidant (with limits in place, of course!). The younger ones, however, may be a bit confused and need the help of a good book to understand. I love to use The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister, and liken myself to the "wise octopus" to illustrate my primary responsibilities as both and advocate and someone who can help them when they are struggling.

"I have been expecting you," said the octopus in a deep voice. "The waves have told me your story. Listen to my advice: give every fish one of your glittering scales. Then you may not be the most beautiful fish in the ocean, but you will be happy again." 

To better help the upper elementary girls (and those middle and high schoolers passing by my office) to understand more about a school counsellor (and to keep these descriptors fresh in their minds), I decided to turn to my bulletin board for some assistance. I can't take complete credit, as this amazing idea came from Pinterest!

Can you guess how each "app" represents the role of the school counsellor? A particular favorite was the use of the Pokemon Go icon, considering its popularity. Here is the up-close version!

As you can see, like teachers, school counsellors wear many hats, and no one "app" is more important than the next. Also, it's important to know that these responsibilities are managed through 1:1 counseling (both short-term and long-term, depending on the situation and student), group counselling, consultation with teachers and through lessons in the classrooms. The best approach, of course is one where all systems (school, home, community) come together to help our children develop the necessary skills they'll rely on as they get older.

Parents, hopefully the start of the school year has been a smooth one for you and your child. As always, please do not hesitate to connect with me regarding any concerns you may have.

~Ms. Carnright