A recent article on the Science Daily website reports the findings of a study of the cognitive skills of Portuguese-speaking children in Brazil, and the outcomes were similar to studies done with English-speaking children. Researchers tested the children’s IQs and executive functions—“a set of cognitive processes that we use to control our thoughts and actions, including how we remember information, control our emotions, pay attention and shift between thoughts.” The research shows that no matter what a child’s IQ is, his working memory skills “predicted success in all aspects of learning.”

Working memory skills are the ability to hold and work with information in mind. Most students identified by their teachers as “poor readers” were found to have poor working memory skills; teachers rarely identify poor working memory in their students. With early screening and intervention, working memory problems can be solved, and students can learn better.

Writing for The National Center for Learning Disabilities website, Annie Stuart offers suggestions for how parents can help their children can strengthen their working memories:

  • Know Your Child’s Strengths and Weaknesses – If a child has strong visual-spatial skills, consider using visual aids to support his or her learning.
  • Help Compensate for Weaknesses – Teach your child to break up or chunk information and to ask for this kind of “information management” at school. Use audiotapes or write things down. Create a checklist with pictographs and put it on the outside of the book bag for easy reference. Routines are helpful—putting things like keys and cell phones in the same place each day is a good idea.
  • Reinforce What Works – acknowledge successes right away and then question her or him about why her or his efforts were successful in this situation (e.g., “Did you think of a song or an image? Did you repeat it to yourself? Or, did you use a rhyme to help you with your multiplication tables?”) Then, suggest that your child do that again.
  • Use Working Memory as a Floodlight to Plan Action – Teach your child to do as psychology professor Dr. Tracy Packman Alloway suggests: “Do one activity and stop and shift to the next and maybe come back to the first, and so on. Do this instead of trying to do many things at once.”  Teaching mindfulness techniques can help with this.
  • Train Working Memory – Exercise your child’s working memory with home-based methods like CogMed.
  • Other Strategies
    • Make Technology an Aid – Use your child’s cell phone’s electronic calendar to help her or him stay on task.
    • Reconsider Video Games – While several hours of playing video games is never advisable, Alloway explains that having to navigate through different scenes can benefit visual-spatial working memory. Spy games are helpful for improving working memory since “…you have to execute an action without guidance and remember the consequences of the action.”
    • Play Other Games, Too – Low-tech games can help working memory. Quick scanning of all the A’s or a certain word in 30 second by circling them in an article is an example. On a road trip, have your child say the kinds of cars they see. Then have them recall the names in reverse order.
    • Encourage Exercise – High-intensity exercise like running or biking may improve working memory.
    • Provide Better “Fuel” for Better Work – Certain nutrients assist in helping your child’s brain work better (e.g., DHEA-enriched eggs or fish with Omega-3, blueberries, etc.)

See this video by Chryl Peterson, Ph. D. with suggestions for parents to use to help improve their children’s memory:


An article penned by Motoko Rich on the New York Times website offers real hope for African American boys who struggle academically.  Rich reports that the results of a study on “a promising approach for helping the most challenged students, who often arrive in high school several years behind their peers.”

The program was implemented with a group of ninth- and  tenth-grade African-American students “who had weak math skills, track records of absences or disciplinary problems.”  The students received intense tutoring and group behavioral counseling.  The results showed a three-year improvement when compared to the control group.  Also, many more of those students were on track to graduate on time than the control group.  It seems that working in small groups allowed their tutors to redirect them quickly and to intervene immediately if the student was struggling.

This program, modeled on the Boston-based tutoring program by Match Education, seems to counter previous detractors who suggested that these types of program are too costly.  At $4,400 per student for tutoring and counseling, the cost would be prohibitive if done on a large scale, but this probably is more cost-effective than trying to shrink class size.










Parents are their children’s first teacher, and it is highly unlikely that students will be successful in school without parental involvement.  Besides checking homework, going to parent-teacher conferences, showing up for PTA functions, and volunteering, what exactly does a parent need to teach?  Writer for Edutopia Steve Gardiner writes that parents are an important part of a core group of adults who teach their children a crucial academic skill, resilience.

What is resilience and why is it important?  Gardiner cites Drs. Robert Brooks and Sam Goldstein’s book, The Power of Resilience, to help clarify the meaning of resilience:  “Resilient individuals are those who have a set of assumptions or attitudes about themselves that influence their behaviors and the skills they develop.”  Students who don’t have resilience have trouble maintaining focus on tasks that become difficult or challenging.  When this happens, they give up, look for help, or even refuse to try.  Obviously, this impedes academic performance.  Long-term lack of resilience is a recipe for poor performance in school.

  1. Understand Your Role as Charismatic Adult – Brooks and Goldstein assert that the people who can help to change students’ mindsets are the charismatic adults in a child’s life.  Charismatic adults are the parents, teachers, administrators, coaches, older siblings or friends.  Children look to these people as their models for how to navigate the world and for support when life’s challenges appear.
  2. Help Student Identify Islands of Competence – Help students identify what they can do well and to connect those things to other areas of their lives.  Charismatic adults in a child’s life need to show the child the connection between what they do well and school subjects.  When a student can connect their strengths to another subject, they will have a stronger sense of success.  Children often don’t see a connection; helping them see this is important.
  3. Provide a Sense of Control – Helping a student develop personal control is important.  “Students who are allowed to make significant choices regarding their own educations are more likely to feel some control or ownership of their own lives.  This sense of control is powerful in supporting a resilient mindset.”  Give children a choice when appropriate.  This could be as simple as how to complete a homework assignment or which book to read.  It’s easier for them to feel  more connected to the task and better able to stick with it.

View this video of one of the book’s authors, Dr. Robert Brooks’ definition of resiliency and the charismatic adult:

Writer for NEA Today Mary Ellen Flannery recently penned an article that describes a new discipline trend that can greatly reduce the number of students of color who enter the “school-to-prison pipeline.” This is welcome and promising news that could turn things around for many African-American males.

The entry to the “pipeline” begins when Black children are very young. “According to a new U.S. Education Department study, Black 4- and 5-year-old students account for almost half of the preschoolers suspended more than once from school, even though they make up just 18 percent of preschool students. Overall, federal data shows that Black students of all ages are 3.5 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than White students.”

The negative impact of no-tolerance discipline is immediate. The data show that just one out-of-school suspension “greatly increases the odds of students repeating a grade, dropping out of school, and ending up in the criminal justice system.”

These policies and their impact are pervasive across the country, but Restorative Justice procedures seem to be changing things for many students of color. Rooted in African traditions, Restorative Justice is a conflict resolution practice that includes offending students, their parents, and educators instead of suspensions.

Learn more about this practice in the following video:

Black Family DinnerA recent article on the Mercola website explains the results of a study that found that even though many American families do not eat as a family every night, the vast majority of them view the family meal as “their favorite part of the day.”  That alone should be reason enough for parents to try to increase the times that families share more meals together, but the article points out that other significant benefits come from this simple family activity.  Dr. Joseph Mercola cites an ABC News report that spells out, “Teens who eat with their families at least five times a week are 40 percent more likely to get A’s and B’s in school than their peers who don’t share family meals.  They’re also 42 percent less likely to drink alcohol, 59 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes, and 66 percent less likely to try marijuana.  They were also less depressed.”

Research shows that with each additional family dinner, teenagers had the following:

  • Fewer emotional and behavioral problems
  • Greater emotional well-being
  • More trusting and helpful behaviors toward others
  • Higher life satisfaction

Additionally, all children benefit in these ways:

  • Better vocabulary development among children
  • Increased self esteem
  • Helps children build resilience
  • Lower rates of teenage pregnancy

The article emphasizes that eating at home also provides an opportunity to serve more healthful meals than what might be eaten at fast food restaurants.  Dr. Mercola advocates including as much fresh, whole food as possible—another way to diminish the chances of childhood obesity and children’s overall good health.

Black Family Dinner

A recent study was done of successful minority college students to determine the best way to improve the performance of black and Latino men.  Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania interviewed 325 high-achieving juniors and seniors from New York City public schools and 90 graduates who were enrolled in college.  Caralee Adams, blogger for Education Week’s College Bound blog, explains in a post that the students shared “how they developed their college goals, prepared for higher education, and navigated what can be a challenging path through high school and on to college.”

All students interviewed were black or Latino males where 94 percent of the student population was black and Latino and 67 percent qualified for free lunch.  These students had maintained a 3.0 GPA, were involved in extra-curricular activities, planned to attend college, and had taken college-prep courses.  Researchers noted that the school culture strongly encouraged going to college and that many of these students stayed as late as 6:00 or 7:00 most days in the schools that “were just as vibrant at 5 o’clock as at 2.”


The high school students indicated the following as the reasons for their success:

  • Consistently high expectations from parents and family;
  • Meaningful relationships with caring teachers and other adults in their school who promoted a college-going culture;
  • A desire to transcend poverty; and
  • The ability to develop positive reputations that kept gang members from recruiting them.


College students cited these factors as the reasons for their success:

  • About three-quarters of the young men were mainly aware of public college in New York so that was only where they applied;
  • They felt intellectually prepared for college;
  • Most did not feel ready for other aspects of campus life, including meeting deadlines and multi-tasking;
  • Few students had built substantive relationships with professors; and
  • About 47 percent earned a college GPA above a 3.0, but most experienced a slight drop in grades compared with high school.