Monday, July 02, 2007

A Mind At A Time, Ch. 3A

Chapter Three is called "Conducting a Mind" and is about attention. Dr. Levine has a phrase for someone with an attention dysfunction. He says they have inadequate brain leadership.

Attention controls help students to focus on the task or thought at hand rather than whatever flits across their minds. With weak attention controls, their thoughts are blown about as by the wind, and head in first one direction, then another, at the mercy of circumstance.

Some attention techniques:

1. Whisper directions to yourself as they are being given, to be sure you are listening carefully,

2. Go back over all your work to check for errors,

3. Ask yourself questions like, "What's the best way to do this?" or "Is this the best thing to do now?"

One thing I appreciate about Dr. Levine's discussion on attention-- he does not want to lump all children with attention struggles into one group. He uses two children as examples in this chapter, and they are different. One is a child who frequently disrupts class, and emphatically marches to the beat of his own drummer; the other is a child who is quiet and compliant, but struggles greatly with focusing her attention enough to write on a subject.

He speaks of the different processes encompassed in writing a composition:

You have to slow down, plan, organize your thinking, pace yourself, watch what you're putting on paper, and pay attention to all kinds of small details all at once (such as punctuation, spelling, capitalization, and use of grammar). (p. 55)

His recommendations for someone who struggles with writing is to do each thing in steps, with breaks between: brainstorm, write down key ideas, organize ideas into proper order, write a rough draft, and finally write a draft that is neat and spelled/punctuated correctly.

Dr. Levine points out that the performance of a child with attention troubles is inconsistent, erratic. This can be a cause of frustration for the child, parents and teachers. But children with these difficulties are often refreshingly original, interesting and extraordinary in other ways. Because of these traits, Dr. Levine theorizes that they must be wired differently, rather than having an actual dysfunction.

There are three different forms of attention control: control over mental energy, control over intake (of information, etc.), and control over output (of work/behavior).

Mental Energy Controls

A. Alertness Control: The ability to remain alert when necessary-- this can be helped by quietly tapping the child as she zones out.

B. Mental Effort Control: Apparently making an effort to do something you don't want to do is easier for some than others. I am not sure I agree with this. Doing what is right because it is right is a habit, and if it has been learned, it ought to be automatic. Admittedly, I have not studied neurology, nor medicine or psychology of any kind, other than Psych 101 in college. And in Dr. Levine's defense, he does point out that a good work ethic established at home will make mental effort easier. Sounds like habit to me.

C. Sleep-Arousal Control: Dysfunction of this control means dozing when you should be awake, and staying awake when you should be sleeping. Again, strict habits of sleeping and waking ought to be established.

D. Consistency Control: Being reliable, or not. Dr. Levine tells a story of a man who made his life accomodate his unreliability. He made money building and selling beautiful furniture, but built it on his own schedule, sleeping in when he wanted, taking days off, and then working like fury when he felt like work. It's a good thing he felt like working some, and had had the tenacity to learn his trade well before allowing himself the freedom to work or not!

The Intake Controls

A. Selection Control: This is choosing what to pay attention to. The uproarious boy Dr. Levine referred to as one of his two sample children at the beginning of the chapter described his struggle, "You know, my head is just like a TV set, but I have no remote control for it, so I get all the programs on my screen at the same time." This can occur in one of two ways: either the child pays attention to useless input such as irrelevant noise or visuals, or else the child pays attention to the input he needs, but focuses on unimportant aspects of that input. Deciding what is important and unimportant is vital. Some kids are even distracted by their own memories, or by thoughts of the future. As kids with selection control problems get older, they have a hard time determining the key points of a lesson, which can really hurt in high school and college. I think consistently practicing narration ought to help quite a bit with this. Some other things he recommends for kids with these kinds of struggles are to consciously practice taking notes, highlighting their books, assigning importance to the input they receive. One teacher had his students summarize an article in a hundred words; had them shorten it to fifty words the next week; and finally had them drop it to a twenty-five word summary, completely distilling their ideas. I remember doing this in high school English class. It was so difficult. And I am attempting something similar with this book!

B. Depth and Detail Control: Preventing input from going "in one ear and out the other." People like this tend to get the big picture, but miss out on pertinent details. They leave out substantives (names, etc.). I would guess these folks use words like "stuff" and "things" a lot. An opposite problem is allowing details to penetrate too deeply. This causes a person to think too much. Kids like this are painfully slow at getting work done, preoccupied with every little detail. It seems one must strike a balance. All of this appears very subjective to me. It really depends on what the teacher wants in a class, doesn't it? Perhaps the child is meant to think deeply on a particular subject, but the class does not delve that deeply; is the child wrong? Kids must abide by the standards of the teacher or else risk a poor grade. I know we are all thankful that Einstein thought as deeply as he did, although it did not help him in class!

C. Mind Activity Control: Connections, connections. An active mind is constantly attempting to connect what it is learning to what it already knows. A passive mind allows new input to "bob around on the surface," seldom connecting to anything else. But even active minds have to beware-- if the mind is too active, it produces a wave of connections that are only meaningful to the individual-- speaking of a princess reminds a child of Cinderella and the glass slipper, and then she remembers she got new shoes yesterday, which reminds her of the ice cream flavor she chose when they got a treat afterward-- "If You Give A Mouse A Cookie" kind of stuff. Often, kids like this have great imaginations. They just need to train themselves to take their mind journeys at times other than class time.

D. Span Control: This can be not focusing long enough, or focusing too long-- for instance, if a child has trouble transitioning from playtime to dinner, or from dinner to homework. Working with a timer, allowing the child to know how long a task will take, is very helpful for kids like this.

E. Satisfaction Control: This one makes me laugh. If only we all had better satisfaction control!! O, what a world this would be! But seriously, these are the kids who crave excitement, who find it hard to be satisfied with daily existence. Insatiability. Dr. Levine recommends that these kids be allowed to pursue their own interests outside of class, within reason.

Are you still with me? I know this is a long post. I have two more sections to summarize, but I will put those in a second post.

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