Relief for School Stress

The start of school is exciting. Students love getting new school supplies and can’t wait to start writing on the fresh pages with hopes of a better year. The first weeks are designed to be easy to help students settle in, but then the novelty of the new supplies wanes as the placement testing begins.

Students are reminded that they struggled with math or reading as soon as they open the test booklets. Some are visual learners and the auditory comprehension test makes them feel even more insecure.

Some begin to feel anxious when they fail to remember how to do the math problems that seemed easy at the end of the year. Their peers may appear to remember what they have forgotten and that adds to the anxiety.

Most children can remember what they once thought they forgot, but the anxiety blocks the ability to access the information. This gives them a false sense of inadequacy.

The start of school is exciting. Students love getting new school supplies and can’t wait to start writing on the fresh pages with hopes of a better year. The first weeks are designed to be easy to help students settle in, but then the novelty of the new supplies wanes as the placement testing begins.

Knowing basic neuroscience facts can ease their stress and help them experience the success they dream of. Good news to parents and teachers, this information will produce positive performance results, as well.

  1. The primitive brain is designed to protect us from harm. It’s designed to detect a threat, produce the chemicals in the brain that allow one to have a quick get-a-away. Unfortunately, it also draws the blood away from the prefrontal cortex, where reasoning occurs, and sends it to the legs for speed. It also results in one feeling the need to relieve oneself of any unnecessary waste in the body, thus students get the urge to use the restroom. When students can identify how it feels to be anxious and have strategies to calm themselves, they will perform better on tests and during classroom discussions.
  2. The brain stores millions of bits and pieces of information that we are not even aware of on a daily basis. If we relax and have confidence that answers will come to us, we can be surprised at how much we really do know. Relaxed confidence trumps brain dead anxiety. Solutions: Relax by taking deep breaths and calm the body.
  3. Our brain stores memories using a highway of neurons that transfer it from our short term memory (the desk top of our brains) to our long term memory (our hard drive storage). Every time students review material they are forming dendrites and expanding that axons on the neurons that speed transmission from long term memory to the working memory. If three months have passed since using the information, it may take a few minutes to access the prior knowledge. Most students expect immediate recall. Not happening! If they do, they will ignite the stress response, and as long as they are stressed about not remembering, they will shut down the brain’s ability to access the information. Solution: If they learn to say, “I know this. I’ll come back to it.” They will find that the information will pop up in their brains like a speech bubble and in many cases as soon as they get to the next question, the answers appear.
  4. Students may feel they are lost when classmates appear to understand concepts during instruction. Teachers ask questions and if they don’t know the answers, they feel stupid. Secret: 1. Not all third grade teachers cover the same material every year. 2. Dendrites that prune nightly. So if the information has not been reviewed over the summer, there is a chance that the dendrites pruned around that concept. All the student needs to know is that dendrites prune and it may take a few more minutes to access the information.

What to do when feeling lost or can’t recall previously learned material:

During Tests:

  1. Check for the stress response. Take a few breaths. Think about what is unclear. Is there an unfamiliar vocabulary word used in the question. Ask for clarification on instructions or vocabulary.
  2. Skip the questions or problems and use positive self-talk about being able to find it. Sometimes the answer to one question is in the form of another.
  3. Read the question aloud. Hearing it will often result in the question making sense. When we read aloud we slow down our reading and reduce the chance of misreading the question. This is a problem for good readers. They read test questions and directions too fast.
  4. Take a guess. Allow your brain to find an answer, and even if it doesn’t make sense, there is a chance it will be right. Students have been surprised how they answered questions correctly that they had no idea they knew,
  5. Evaluate if you studied enough or correctly. That is a topic for another blog.

During Instruction:

  1. When feeling lost during instruction, remember that the teacher from the prior year may not have taught the concept, while the other teachers in the grade level did cover the material. Solution: Our classroom motto, “Raise your hand when you don’t understand.” Then tell the teacher, “I don’t think my teacher taught this last year, could explain what you meant…?” and ask a question about what was unclear. Secrets: You could have been sick, in the bathroom, or on vacation when the concept was taught. You might have been thinking about recess or something someone said just before class. There are many reasons for not knowing what others appear to know. It does not mean one is not smart.
  2. Teachers are not mind readers and don’t know when they are clear. It will be the students’ questions that help teachers make instruction understandable.

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