Teachers Are Not Prepared For Students With Special Needs

Students in Montclair State University’s dual-certification program (Jackie Mader / Hechinger Report)

Strong progress has been made to integrate students with disabilities into general-education classrooms. Educator instruction hasn’t kept up. When Mary Fair became a teacher in 2012, her classes often contained a mix of special-education students and general-education students. Placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom, instead of segregating them, was a growing national trend, spurred by lawsuits by special-education advocates.

But in those early days, Fair had no idea how to handle her students with disabilities, whose educational challenges ranged from learning deficits to behavioral disturbance disorders. Calling out a child with a behavioral disability in front of the class usually backfired and made the situation worse. They saw it as “an attack and a disrespect issue,” Fair said.

Over time, Fair figured out how to navigate these situations and talk students “down from the ledge.” She also learned how to keep students with disabilities on task and break down lessons into smaller, easier bits of information for those who were struggling.

No one taught her these strategies. Although she earned a bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate in math instruction for both elementary and middle school, she never had to take a class about students with disabilities. She was left to figure it out on the job.

Many teacher-education programs offer just one class about students with disabilities to their general-education teachers, “Special Ed 101,” as it’s called at one New Jersey college. It’s not enough to equip teachers for a roomful of children who can range from the gifted to students who read far below grade level due to a learning disability.

A study in 2007 found that general-education teachers in a teacher-preparation program reported taking an average of 1.5 courses focusing on inclusion or special education, compared to about 11 courses for special-education teachers. Educators say little has changed since then.

A 2009 study concluded that no one explicitly shows teachers how to teach to “different needs.” Because of time constraints, the many academic standards that must be taught, and a lack of support, “teachers are not only hesitant to implement individualized instruction, but they do not even know how to do so,” the report stated.

Fair says teacher-preparation programs should be doing more. At the very least, “You should have a special-education class and an English language learner class,” she said. “You’re going to have those students.”

Between 1989 and 2013, the percentage of students with disabilities who were in a general education class for 80 percent or more of the school day increased from about 32 percent to nearly 62 percent. Special-education advocates have been pushing for the change—especially for students who have mild to moderate disabilities like a speech impairment—in some cases by suing school districts.

Some research shows as many as 85 percent of students with disabilities can master general-education content if they receive educational supports. Supports can include access to a special-education teacher, having test questions read aloud, or being allowed to sit in a certain part of the classroom.

Students with disabilities who are placed in general-education classrooms get more instructional time, have fewer absences, and have better post-secondary outcomes. Studies also show there is no negative impact on the academic achievement of non-disabled students in an inclusion classroom; those students benefit socially by forming positive relationships and learning how to be more at ease with a variety of people.

Alla Vayda-Manzo, the principal of Bloomfield Middle School about 30 miles outside of New York City, said she’s seen the benefit of inclusion for students. The school serves about 930 students, nearly 20 percent of whom have a disability, according to state data. When students with disabilities are included in classrooms with their peers, Vayda-Manzo said the high expectations and instructional strategies “lend themselves to those students being more successful than they would be had they been in a separate, self-contained environment.”“It’s not just getting a child included … that is only a small portion of the battle.”

But as more districts move to make classrooms inclusive, they’ve been caught flat footed when it comes to finding teachers prepared to make the shift. Academic outcomes for students with disabilities have remained stagnant for years, even as more students with special needs are integrated into general-education classrooms. Students with disabilities are less likely to graduate and more likely to earn an alternate diploma that is not equivalent to a general diploma in the eyes of many colleges and employers. And year after year, they score far lower than their peers on standardized exams.

Experts say the problem is that it takes much more than just placing students with disabilities next to their general-education peers: Teachers must have the time, support, and training to provide a high-quality education based on a student’s needs.

Mike Flom, a parent and co-founder of the advocacy group New Jersey Parents and Teachers for Appropriate Education, said many factors impact inclusion’s effectiveness. His twin sons, now in seventh grade, were placed in an inclusion classroom beginning in fifth grade. Initially, Flom said his sons had “mixed reviews” on whether inclusion was beneficial.

“I think the teachers were really motivated to be helpful,” Flom said. “I don’t know the extent to which they were permitted to do the things, or had enough training to do the things, that were required to be more effective.”“It’s not just getting a child included … that is only a small portion of the battle,” he added.

These days, Mary Fair navigates her classrooms with ease. She has learned through experience how to teach students with a variety of disabilities and works with a veteran special-education teacher to modify lesson plans and tests.

On a recent morning in a seventh-grade math-inclusion classroom at Bloomfield Middle School, Fair and her co-teacher, the special-education teacher Christina Rodriguez, started a lesson on the order of operations.

Fair stepped up to the front of the classroom as Rodriguez circulated to make sure students were on task.“We’re starting order of operations,” Fair said. “It’s something you did in sixth grade, but today we are doing it differently.”“Ms. Fair, I want to see if they remember,” Rodriguez said to Fair, who smiled and nodded.“Put your hand up if you remember what the order of operations is,” Rodriguez said.More than half of the students raised their hands

“Who remembers ‘PEMDAS’?” Rodriguez asked, referring to the mnemonic device used to remember order of operations (Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication and Division, Addition and Subtraction). More students eagerly shot their hands in the air.

Fair cut in and explained that although they learned PEMDAS in sixth grade, they were going to learn a new rule about the order of operations today. “Take your yellow paper and fold it horizontally,” Fair said, referring to a yellow sheet of paper that sat on each student’s desk.“Like this,” Rodriguez said, holding up a piece of paper and demonstrating how to fold it horizontally.“Like a hamburger,” Fair added.

To an outsider, it’s impossible to tell who is the general-education teacher and who is the special-education teacher. Both Fair and Rodriguez have desks at the front of the room. They switch off during lessons, effortlessly picking up where the other has left off. They both give directions and explain content. They are careful not to fall into what educators say is a common trap: seeing general-education students as the responsibility of one teacher, and special-education students as the responsibility of the other.

That’s how a good inclusion class should be, Rodriguez said, but it takes practice and time. Like Fair, Rodriguez didn’t receive any training in special education before she entered the classroom. She became a teacher through an alternate program. When she got a job teaching special education six years ago, she relied on strategies she learned while working as an aide in a class for students with autism. In 2014, she received her master’s degree in teaching students with disabilities from New Jersey City University; she now teaches a class for Montclair State University’s dual-certification teacher-preparation program.

Although most traditional teacher-preparation programs nationwide do include some training on students with disabilities, usually in the form of one course over the entirety of the program, educators say this course is often generic and perfunctory. Aspiring teachers also may be given assignments in other classes that require them to adapt a lesson for a hypothetical special-education student.

Fair said she had some assignments like those, but “we didn’t really know what we were talking about, because we weren’t taught it.” Her colleague, the science teacher Jessica Herrera, said she was only offered one class in special education—called “Special Education 101”—when she went through a traditional teacher-preparation program in New Jersey.

“A lot of my training was for that ‘middle of the road’ kind of kid,” Herrera said. “I was prepared for the regular ed student.” In her 13 years as a teacher, Herrera has taught some inclusion classes; she said she picked up strategies from working with “good special-education teachers.” When she earned her master’s degree from Montclair State, she was finally taught how to teach a “range of learners,” she said.

Fair and her co-teacher Rodriguez say there are certain things they wish were included in all teacher-education programs, like an explanation of the different kinds of disabilities and ways to address the various struggles students may encounter. They also say teacher preparation should include more classroom management and “subtle ways” to keep students focused and on task.

Mimi Corcoran, the president of the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), said teacher preparation should better address topics in special education. “We do a disservice to the teachers we’re sending [to schools] in the way we’re training, and we’re doing a disservice to kids,” Corcoran said. “We’ve got to step up to the plate and think differently and act differently, and that’s hard because everybody gets comfortable and systems are hard to change.”

Some teacher-preparation programs are trying to better prepare graduates to teach students with disabilities, especially in inclusion classrooms. At Syracuse University, George Theoharis, a professor and the chair of Teaching and Leadership, said the school’s elementary special-education program has been one of the leaders nationwide in training educators for inclusive education.

Every teacher who graduates from Syracuse’s Early Childhood or Elementary Education program is dual-certified in special education and spends time in inclusion classrooms. Theoharis says it’s an approach that more preparation programs should take. “All of our programs need to be inclusive,” Theoharis said, referring to teacher preparation. “Regardless of what job teachers get, people need to be prepared to work with all children and see all children as their responsibility.”

At Montclair State, students can receive a dual certification in special education and a subject-level or grade-level range. The school also offers a unique concentration in “inclusive iSTeM,” which specifically prepares science, technology, engineering, and math teachers for inclusion classrooms. Students in the program receive a Master of Arts in Teaching, a certification in math or science, and are endorsed by the state as a teacher of students with disabilities.

Jennifer Goeke, a Montclair State professor and the program coordinator, said the dual-certification program prepares teachers to be hired as either a general- education or special-education teacher. “They know how to perform both roles easily and effectively,” Goeke said.

On a recent afternoon, Goeke was holding class in the Bloomfield Middle School media center. She asked her 17 students to first discuss issues they were having in their “fieldwork classrooms,” where they are currently observing and working with general- and special-education teachers. She listened to a few descriptions of struggles and then reminded her students that part of their job is to be an example for other teachers.

“I’m not trying to minimize or trivialize what you might be learning in your content area,” Goeke said. “It’s very important that you have a strong grounding in the methodology and the philosophy of your discipline … and know how to teach your content.” But, Goeke added, “You have to remember that most people do not have any diverse learners in mind. Their training did not teach them to take those students into account.”

In Montclair’s program, students work with two mentor teachers for a year in an inclusion classroom and in small-group settings. They receive extensive training in how to work with students with disabilities as well as how to effectively teach content, like math and science, or grade levels, like early education or elementary education.

Bloomfield chose to partner with the iSTeM program in 2012, and has hired two graduates of the program, and offered teaching positions to several more, who eventually chose jobs in other districts. The Bloomfield Principal, Vayda-Manzo, says the graduates of the program are “like unicorns in the field,” as it’s rare to find teachers who are dual-certified in general and special education.

Current teachers at Bloomfield have also benefited from iSTeM, Vayda-Manzo said. The program provides professional development for inclusion teachers at the school who agree to be mentor teachers for iSTeM students, and those teachers also observe each other and work with professors from Montclair State. Vayda-Manzo said the school makes sure co-teachers have the same planning periods so they have time to plan lessons together each day.

Herrera, who mentors iSTeM teachers, said the professional development provided through the program has improved her ability to teach students with disabilities. “I feel like I got a lot of additional strategies through that,” Herrera said.

On-the-job training is essential to ensure teachers have the skills needed to teach all students in their classroom, especially those teachers who may have attended teacher preparation years ago or missed out on training about disabilities, according to Mimi Corcoran of NCLD. “We have to be fair for the educator,” Corcoran said. For “many that are already in field, the concepts of special education and how to include kids has shifted, and [teachers] need the supports.”

Vayda-Manzo said it has been an easy choice to continue the program.“I saw the impact that it made in our inclusion classes,” Vayda-Manzo said. “We saw tremendous gains.”

By Jackie Mader

Source: Teachers Are Not Prepared for Students With Special Needs – The Atlantic

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How To Maslow Before Bloom, All Day Long

Morning meetings are a good place to start, but what you really need is a toolkit of strategies to meet your students’ social and emotional needs all day long.

“Maslow before Bloom”—we hear it all the time. The idea that educators should meet students’ basic needs for safety and belonging before turning to challenging academic tasks is one that guides the work of many schools.

In this era of high-stakes testing and inflexible curricula, that’s not as easy to do as it sounds. The need to do 45 minutes of preplanned reading instruction, followed in lockstep by 45 minutes of math, leads many teachers, especially newer ones, to conclude that they simply don’t have the time to plan for brain breaks, or to check in with students regularly to make sure they’re feeling OK.

Research indicates that’s a mistake, though. Child psychiatrist Pamela Cantor told Edutopia in 2019 that “when we’re able to combine social, emotional, affective, and cognitive development together, we are creating many, many more interconnections in the developing brain that enable children to accelerate learning and development.” Making time to integrate social and emotional learning into academics, in other words, is a better way for schools to achieve their goals than a focus on academics alone.

This year, that will take some extra preparation and thinking. Prioritizing personal connections and students’ ability to manage their emotions was hard enough in physical classrooms, but it will be harder during distance and hybrid learning. Most of the strategies here—a toolkit drawn from high-quality research and from the experience of successful teachers—can be integrated into both physical and virtual classrooms throughout the day.

Welcoming Students

It starts before students enter the room: Taking a few minutes to personally greet every student at the beginning of the day, or the beginning of each class in middle and high school, can bolster students’ feeling that they belong to a community of learners. A 2018 study showed that positive greetings at the door increased academic engagement by 20 percentage points, and decreased disruptive behavior by 9 percentage points—adding as much as “an additional hour of engagement over the course of a five-hour instructional day,” the researchers said.

When students are working at home, there’s no door to stand in, of course, but you can create a short daily video to say hello, or use a tool like Zoom—which has a virtual waiting room feature—to queue kids up and then welcome them to class one by one. Alternately, you can adapt the 5×5 strategy—in which a teacher spends 25 minutes talking to five students for five minutes each—using the phone or video meetings via Zoom or Google Meet.

Once students are in your classroom, taking a few more minutes for non-academic chat involving all students can build a vibrant community, while giving you a window into whether each student is emotionally prepared for academic work. Students might discuss things like a question of the day—What’s your favorite pizza? or If you could have a superpower, what would you pick?—before describing how they feel by naming their personal roses and thorns, or by dropping a simple thumbs up, sideways thumb, or thumbs down into your chat feature.

Your Social and Emotional Toolkit—Use It All Day

Getting off to a good start primes students for learning, but the need to regulate emotions, find inner calm, and be socially connected will crop up throughout the day—just as it does for adults. Your toolkit of social and emotional strategies enables you to check in with students and help them self-regulate, recharge, and reconnect throughout the day.

If anyone tries to tell you that giving students a short break is wasting time, you can share the research supporting breaks: Students lose focus over periods of direct instruction—for elementary students this starts after about 10 minutes—so shorter lessons with brain breaks in between boost a student’s ability to stay on task and allow for better consolidation of recently learned material.

To shake students out of a rut, longtime Edutopia contributor Lori Desautels uses brain breaks that get them out of their seats, like giving them each two small Dixie cups and some water, and having them pour it back and forth from cup to cup a few times—then having them close their eyes and keep going for 30 seconds to see who has the most water left at the end. There’s, um, some cleanup required.

If kids have been focused for a long time, try a more involved, more intensely kinetic break that works at home or in the classroom: A H.Y.P.E the Breaks video from Hip-Hop Public Health can help students learn a little dance choreography and get in lots of movement. You can take advantage of the power of dual encoding by sneaking some content into your dance routine—Code.org has a dance party coding tutorial that links dance steps to coding algorithms, for example. Alternately, you can just give kids time to sit, relax, and chat happily with their friends.

Part of building your social-emotional and well-being toolkit is having a tool for all occasions. When kids are feeling antsy, Desautels recommends using focused attention practices to help them regain their calm. Try different ways of focusing on breathing, such as inhaling for four beats, holding for four, and then exhaling for four, or visualizing colors as students inhale and exhale—if a student is upset, for example, they might exhale red.

There is some lingering controversy around mindfulness, but the research is increasingly clear: According to Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, California’s surgeon general, mindfulness helps to regulate the parts of the brain associated with the stress response, and is “associated with reduced levels of cortisol and other stress hormones” while positively influencing “the physiological indicators of an active stress response, like blood pressure and heart rate.” Burke Harris uses mindfulness with kids as young as 3 years old.

At Codman Academy in Boston, second grade teacher Lindsey Minder leads her students in a guided mindfulness activity after lunch: “The impact of the mindfulness practice is really this general sense of them being more comfortable and confident with themselves and their varying needs,” Minder says, “and decreases in anxiety around academic work.”

In high school, teacher Aukeem Ballard incorporates a mindfulness activity in his classes once a week for four to seven minutes—a guided focus on breathing followed by a brief reflection with a partner. You can instead opt for a shorter activity used more frequently: Middle school administrator Michael Ray recommends that students regularly relax by kneading play dough or oobleck, both of which can be made cheaply at home.

Periodically, your toolkit will get a real test when a student becomes frustrated and lashes out. Resist the temptation to jump to a punishment, if possible. Instead, try to seek out the underlying causes and teach the child how to return to calmness. Sometimes, just asking a student if they want to step out and get some water may be enough to de-escalate. A more proactive strategy is to set up a peace corner in the classroom—a non-judgmental, dedicated spot in the room where students can go to spend a few minutes either calming themselves down or naming and describing their feelings on a prepared form.

Never Give Up on Recess

It feels like recess is constantly under siege from the pressures of overscheduling, but play is a powerful, natural opportunity to de-stress, connect socially, and give the brain vital time to process and consolidate learned information.

The pediatric occupational therapist Angela Hanscom says that recess should be scheduled for 45 minutes to an hour every day, rather than the more common 20 minutes. That’s not always possible, of course, but it does reinforce the importance of giving kids free rein to play. And the American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us that unstructured play is essential to kids’ well-being.

School systems tend to give up on recess by high school, but the way our brains process information—and the need for deep social connections—doesn’t change. While brain breaks and movement breaks may look different at different age levels, they’re still needed. That’s why Montpelier High School in Vermont initiated MHS Unplugged—as in, unplugging from the curriculum, and from screens. In this 15-minute break, kids can practice an instrument, play outside, do a little art, play cards. It’s a brief chance for them to have some say about what they do.

You may face pressure to focus on academics, but putting Maslow before Bloom isn’t antithetical to learning—research demonstrates that it’s a way to support better learning. Build a toolkit and use it judiciously throughout the day, in accordance with your read of your students. Using Maslow regularly will help them to Bloom.

Source: How to Maslow Before Bloom, All Day Long | Edutopia

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China Leaps Ahead in Effort to Rein In Algorithms

Beijing is building a system to ensure that the automated processes of Internet platforms are fair, transparent and in line with the ideology of the Communist Party

Regulators called for the algorithms to be fair and transparent, following the ideology of the Communist Party of China.

The campaign puts China one step ahead in policing tech forums, as governments around the world grapple with how to respond to automated technologies that reshape business, social interactions and politics.

Earlier this year, the European Union proposed restricting certain uses of artificial intelligence to reduce potential harm. In the US, lawmakers are investigating Facebook’s influence Inc. NS

Algorithm-driven content on users, after Businesshala reported that the company’s Instagram app has a negative impact on children’s mental health.

China has targeted algorithms more aggressively under the close watch of its domestic tech sector. Draft guidelines released this summer would require algorithms to protect the rights of workers and consumers, and restrict the use of algorithms to manipulate user accounts, online traffic or search results.

“We don’t necessarily see China as a regulatory innovator, but in this case they are,” said Rogier Creamers, an assistant professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands, which focuses on Chinese technical policy.

Under a three-year plan released last week, Chinese regulators outlined steps to monitor algorithms, including a registration process and the establishment of a technical team to evaluate the mechanisms and risks of an algorithm.

The latest campaign builds on a broad regulatory push in China’s tech sector that has prompted investigations into some of the country’s biggest companies, including e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding. Ltd.

The push is partly directed at business practices that regulators deem harmful so workers or consumers.

Companies such as Meituan and Didi have faced heat over the working conditions of drivers, as well as calls for creating algorithms that schedule workers’ tasks and pay more transparently. Officials have also warned tech companies this year against exploiting personal data and using algorithms to charge discriminatory prices from customers.

China’s Cyberspace Administration, Alibaba and Didi did not respond to requests for comment. China is currently celebrating its National Day holiday.

Meituan declined to comment. The company previously published an explanation of its delivery algorithm and said it is making changes to give delivery drivers more flexibility.

Experts said it would be a challenge for regulators to tighten controls on algorithms without hindering development or innovation in one of China’s most successful sectors. Internet companies rely on complex mathematical instructions for tasks ranging from analysis of social-media behavior to mapping optimal distribution routes.

While algorithms have contributed to technological advancement and societal development, the CAC said in last week’s announcement, they have also brought “challenges to ideological security, a fair and equal society, and the protection of the legal rights of Internet users.”

Beijing-based partner at law firm Bird & Bird, James Gong, said tighter regulatory oversight of algorithms is likely to impact China’s internet industry.

Mr. Gong said of the country’s Internet companies, “Almost all of them use algorithms and automated decision-making and profiling to ensure that their marketing is more accurate and to improve business efficiency and increase profits.” Is.”

A senior manager at ByteDance Ltd said the requirement to register the algorithm would only add a step, restricting the learning of user behavior and recommendation services, as well as requiring disclosure of proprietary technology that could hurt the company’s business. .

ByteDance, which owns social-media sensation TikTok and its Chinese sister app Douyin, is known for its powerful algorithms that drive user recommendations and content.

“The regulatory environment is clear, and we need to start thinking about how to adjust accordingly,” the ByteDance manager said. He said that since most of the new regulation is still under debate, it is difficult to say what the immediate commercial impact will be.

ByteDance did not respond to a request for comment.

Sam Sachs, senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center, said China’s approach could appeal to other countries that want a thriving digital economy while maintaining a firm grip on political and social discourse. However, she said there is still a lot of uncertainty over the details and enforcement of these new rules.

“I think they understand that this is an impossible task that they have set for themselves,” Ms Sachs said. “I would also say that three years can be ambitious.”

The CAC guidelines also state that algorithms used by Chinese companies must uphold core socialist values ​​and promote “positive energy” in content provided to users.

China is taking more control of online content and communities. In recent months, it has severely restricted online-videogame time for players under the age of 18, banned pop-idol rankings and criticized online male personalities for being too sacrilegious. are visible.

“It’s almost taking online censorship up a notch,” Ms Sachs said. “It is saying that you have an obligation to ensure that any content that is algorithmically driven that you feed into the online space is to shape socialist values.”

By: Stephanie Yang, Reporter, The Wall Street Journal

Source: China Leaps Ahead in Effort to Rein In Algorithms

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Related Contents:

How Financially Literate Are You? 3 Things You Should Know About Your Money

Most of us received little guidance or instruction on how to handle money when we were growing up. That’s OK — we can learn now, a little bit at a time. Let’s start with the basics.

How do most of us learn how to use our money wisely and well? When we’re growing up, we’re given special instruction in important subjects — swimming, driving, sex — to arm us with info and keep us from harm.

Yet when it comes to managing our money — an activity that every one of us needs to do, every day — we receive surprisingly little preparation. We’re not taught much about it in school, because education systems leave it to us to learn from our families and friends. However, those people often don’t fill in the gaps because money can be such a loaded or taboo topic.

Natalie Torres-Haddad, who grew up in southern California, saw many people around her struggling with debt and financial instability. She was determined to be the exception, and she purchased her first rental property in her early 20s and earned an MPA in Finance & International Business. In the process, however, she became buried in debt. Only by teaching herself the basics of money — basics that she’d never learned — was she able to steady herself and her finances.

Today she leads workshops and sessions to prevent others from falling into the money pit. (She’s also the author of the self-published Financially Savvy in 20 Minutes ). She’s found that even among the college-educated people she meets, “the majority feel confused and overwhelmed about balancing their income and expenses,” she says. The stats show they’re not alone. A 2015 Ohio State University study reported nearly 70 percent of college graduates in the US say they don’t feel equipped to manage money and deal with their debt.

Not only must we get up to speed on the basics, we also need to start having honest conversations with each other about money, says Torres-Haddad. In the same way we’d tell family and friends that we’re cutting out refined sugar from our diets or practicing yoga to increase our flexibility, we should be open with them about the steps we’re taking to boost our financial health. That way, we can get advice and support. This transparency, she adds, can also make us less susceptible to peer pressure-related spending. How many of us have agreed to a pricey meal or weekend trip because we didn’t want to come clean about our money concerns?

Becoming financially literate does not require a huge time investment. Torres-Haddad believes we can start by dedicating 15 – 20 minutes a day to developing our skills and knowledge by learning new terms and resources. Just like attaining literacy in a foreign language, she says, “it’s an ongoing education.” Here are three things you need to know about your money.

1. Know How Much Money You’re Bringing in Every Month vs. How Much You’re Spending

Most of us can rattle off our salaries in our sleep, but could you do the same for your monthly after-tax income and where you’re spending your money every month? If you can’t, that’s normal. But now is the time to learn your actual take-home pay and your actual expenses (and not just ballpark figures or estimates).

For your income, look at your physical or online pay stubs, and start keeping a record of the after-tax amounts. If you’re a salaried employee, that number should be fairly steady; if you’re not, those numbers will vary.

For your monthly expenses, Torres-Haddad suggests writing down — whether it’s in a physical or online notebook — every single daily purchase (coffee, take-out, Uber, online shopping, etc) you make and every single ongoing payment you make through autopay or credit cards (Netflix, gym membership, car insurance, utilities, etc.).

If you’ve never done this before, you may find this uncomfortable — even painful — but it will force you to face up to your spending habits. It will also make these purchases visible. Often, our regular outlays (such as Netflix, Hulu, etc.) can go unnoticed or unquestioned, and our daily spends — especially if we pay by debit card so the funds are instantly drawn from our bank accounts — can go forgotten. Torres-Haddad calls the latter “runaway spending” — “when the little things that you thought cost only a few dollars actually cost much more” in the long run. Take a daily $5 green smoothie. By making them at home, you could save yourself a few hundred dollars in a month.

After you have a fundamental understanding of income and expenses, you can download an app to help you track these categories; see your bank account, credit-card and loan balances; and organize your purchases into buckets so you can identify areas where you might cut back. Two free apps to try are Mint or Charlie, says Torres-Haddad. But, she cautions, apps can be a little “out of sight, out of mind,” meaning if you need extra help to be aware of your spending, stick with the pen-and-pad (or fingers-and-keyboard) method a while longer.

2. Know Your FICO Score and Your Other Credit Scores

While you don’t need to have a good credit score to be financially literate, you must know what it is. ( Note: Most of the information in this section applies to people living in the US.) In the US, FICO was the first company to offer a three-digit credit-risk score for lenders to use when deciding whether or not to approve a loan or line of credit, a credit limit, and an interest rate. There are three other national credit reporting bureaus — Experian, Equifax and Transunion — which also keep track of all your loans (student, auto, personal, etc.) and your balances and histories for all your credit cards (whether issued by banks, stores or businesses).

However, the FICO score is the one most frequently used when you apply for credit cards, mortgages and most types of loans; rent an apartment; or sign up for utilities. FICO scores range from 300 to 850; 670 and up is seen as a good score and 800 and up is excellent. While the FICO score is calculated with a proprietary algorithm, the primary factors that go into it are your repayment history (do you pay your credit-card bills on time? how late are you?), how much debt you’re carrying on cards and loans, how long you’ve successfully held a credit card or loan for; and whether you’ve managed to hold a mix of different kinds of credit.

Most banks and credit cards offer free access to your FICO score on their mobile apps and websites ( here’s a list of the ones that do). If you don’t use one of these companies, you can also find out how to access your score on FICO’s helpful FAQ, including a chart showing where your score falls between “Poor” and “Exceptional.”

Besides checking your FICO score every year, do an annual check of the reports issued by Experian, Equifax and Transunion. This is so you can verify that they’re correct, make sure no one has opened up a line of credit in your name, and see where you might improve. You are entitled to a free copy of a credit report from each bureau once a year. Beware: Many sites will charge you a fee, so use the federally approved and secure Annual Credit Report site.

If it’s your first time checking or you’re about to make a big purchase (such as a car or a home), Torres-Haddad suggests getting all three reports at once. After that, she recommends spacing them out throughout the year. That way, you can quickly catch any errors, fraud, identity theft or any other actions that could hurt your credit history. Mark your calendar so you know when you can request your next free credit report.

3. Know How Much Credit Card Debt You’re Carrying

Knowing how much credit-card debt you’re carrying — and how quickly it’s increasing due to interest — is critical to your financial literacy. Make a list (on paper or on a computer) of each of your credit cards, their current balances, and their current interest rate. Then, put them in order from highest interest rate to lowest.

In general, says Torres-Haddad, this should be how you should prioritize paying them off, paying as much as you can towards the card with the highest interest rate while paying the minimum on the other cards. Called the “ debt-snowball method,” this was popularized by money expert Dave Ramsey.

If you have any cards that offered a 0% APR as a promotion when you signed up, mark down the date on which the promotional rate expires because that’s when you can expect your debt to accumulate at a high interest rate (20% or more). Try to budget your monthly payments so that this card will have little to no balance when that expiration date arrives.

Believe it or not, having a credit card can be a great thing for a person’s FICO and credit scores — if you use it responsibly. Of course, carrying no debt on your cards is best. Otherwise, Torres-Haddad recommends using no more than 30 percent of your available credit limit. So if you have two credit cards with limits of $6K apiece, totalling $12K in available credit, make sure the total balances you’re carrying do not exceed $4K.

If you’ve managed to pay off a credit card, congratulations. But while you may be tempted to close it, Torres-Haddad advises against it. Why? Closing the account will shrink your total amount of available credit and cause your credit score to dip. Instead, delete the card number from any online shopping accounts, cancel any auto-pays billed to it, and freeze the card in ice. It may sound silly but it means that if you want to use it, you’ll be forced to wait for it to defrost — and forced to take a little time to think about your purchase.

When choosing a new credit card, look for ones that offer incentives — such as travel points or cash back — which could help you and your finances. Torres-Haddad recommends going to nerdwallet.com and bankrate.com to compare credit card offers.

Obviously, these three points represent just a small part of financial literacy. That’s why Torres-Haddad urges people to be patient and to learn gradually. Two books she recommends are Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich!  and Robert T. Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad. For those who like to get information through listening, she suggests the “Popcorn Finance” and “Her Dinero Matters” podcasts.

When you can, supplement your research with an in-person workshop, adds Torres-Haddad. “Even going to one financial literacy workshop can have a life-changing effect,” she says. A good time to find free workshops is April, which is Financial Literacy Month in the US. One of the best investments you can make in your life is to educate yourself about money, says Torres-Haddad. “It can really give you a lot of peace of mind.”

By: Erin McReynolds

Source: How Financially Literate Are You? 3 Things You Should Know About Your Money

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10 Smartphone Tips Every iPhone and Android Owner Needs To Know

Some of the most useful smartphone features are hidden away in your settings menu, which means you might not have tried them out yet. To help you get more from your mobile, we’ve rounded up 10 need-to-know tips. Whether you’re using an Apple iPhone or an Android smartphone, you can easily configure your gadget so that it bats away scam texts or helps you reduce your screen time.

If you want to make better use of your phone, have a look at our advice on dealing with distractions, improving usability and keeping your personal information secure. Which? Best Buy mobile phones – if you’re due an upgrade, consult our expert reviews to see which phones have aced our tests Smartphone tips for iOS and Android

1. Silence annoying notifications

If you have lots of different apps installed on your smartphone, it might be beeping and buzzing more often than you’d like. To stop your phone lighting up with notifications every hour of the day, take a trip to settings and decide which app alerts are genuinely important. Turn off notifications on iOS – Go to Settings > Notifications to show the list of apps. Click on each app to turn off notifications and change the alert settings. Turn off notifications on Android – Open the Settings app, go to Apps & notifications > Notifications to take control.

2. Use Do Not Disturb mode for some peace and quiet

With Do Not Disturb turned on, you can temporarily disable notifications at specific times. You can still allow calls from certain numbers even while it’s enabled, or have it turn on automatically when you’re driving. Turn on Do Not Disturb on iOS – Go to Settings > Do Not Disturb and turn on or off and find other settings. Turn on Do Not Disturb on Android – Open Settings, then go to Apps & notifications > Notifications > Advanced. Tap on Do Not Disturb to get started.

3. Cut down on your screen time

With many of us still working from home, it can be hard to mentally switch off after a long day of work. If you’re worried about how much time you’re spending on your phone, you can track your app usage. Parents might also want to use this feature, also known as ‘Digital Wellbeing’, to monitor how often their little one uses their own smartphone. Track screen time on iOS – Go to Settings > Screen Time to see daily and weekly use tallies, time on apps and even set a screen time passcode for children’s devices. Track screen time on Android – Open the Settings app and select Digital Wellbeing to set time limits or use tracking.

4. Adjust screen brightness to protect your eyes in low light

Most modern smartphones now have a feature that can reduce levels of blue light thought to interfere with sleep. If you’re using your smartphone in a dimly lit room, you might want to give it a try. Adjust brightness on iOS – Go to Settings > Display & Brightness to adjust brightness, light and dark screen, background and night-time settings. Adjust brightness on Android – Open the Settings app and tap Display for brightness levels, night settings and adaptive mode that automatically adjusts the screen to your surroundings. If you just want to adjust brightness, pull down the notification shade and slide the bar at the top.

5. Increase text size and strength

If you’re straining your eyes to read from your smartphone screen, you can increase text size in just a couple of taps. Increase text size on iOS – Go to Settings > Display & Brightness and Text Size to adjust the size, turn on Bold Text settings and adjust the display to zoomed, to enlarge text and app display size. Increase text size on Android – Open the Settings app, then select Display to adjust font size.

6. Delete apps and organize apps into folders

Setting aside some time to tidy up your smartphone can make it easier to find your most used apps. We suggest you try a bit of digital housekeeping to remove unused apps (they take up space on your phone) and organise the apps that you’re keeping into labelled folders. Delete apps on iOS – Hold down the app’s icon on your home screen and click Delete App to remove or Edit Home Screen to remove multiple apps, or hold and drag into a folder. Delete apps on Android – Click and hold on an app’s icon and go to App Info > Uninstall.

7. Block unwanted contacts and nuisance calls

Suffering from a constant barrage of phishing texts or spam phone calls? Blocking these numbers is straightforward and it’ll stop you from being tricked into handing over personal information. Block numbers on iOS – Click the Phone app, go to Recent and press the i icon on the right. Scroll down and click Block this Caller. Block numbers on Android – Open the Phone app and select Recent. Hold on the number and from the pop-up menu, choose Block/ Report Spam.

8. Decide which apps can access your location

Location tracking is vital for GPS and mapping, but not every app needs to use it. In fact, if you download an app that requests unusual permissions considering its primary function, that’s a red flag. For example, a calculator app shouldn’t want access to your camera. You can allow an app one-off access to your location later if it needs it. To manage location settings, follow these steps: Location settings on iOS – Go to Settings > Privacy > Location Services to toggle GPS, Bluetooth, wi-fi hotspot and mobile tower tracking. For individual apps, select an app and set the permission. Location settings on Android – Open the Settings app and select Location > App permission to review and adjust the permission status for each installed app.

9. Use two-factor authentication (2FA) to protect your online accounts

Two-factor authentication (2FA) is essentially an extra layer of security for your online accounts. It usually means that a unique code is sent to your phone, which you then enter after your password to confirm it’s you. Use two-factor authentication on iOS – Go to Settings and select your name > Password & Security to turn 2FA on or off. Use two-factor authentication on Android – Go to your Google Account settings at myaccount.google.com > Security. Select Google > 2-Step Verification, click On and follow the steps. For more details, see our guide: What is two-factor authentication and should you use it?

10. Make an emergency call

If you haven’t configured your emergency call settings, there’s no time like the present. Doing so means you can quickly contact the emergency services without having to flick through your contacts. Emergency calls on iOS – Go to Settings > Emergency SOS to turn on or off Auto Call. In an emergency, press the sleep/wake button five times to call an emergency number automatically, or after countdown, depending on Auto Call setting. Emergency calls on Android – Hold down the power button and from the menu, click Emergency > Emergency Information to add contacts and any relevant health information.

By Rosalyn Page

Source: 10 smartphone tips every iPhone and Android owner needs to know – Which? News

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Critics:

In mobile phones released since the second half of the 2010s, operational life span commonly is limited by built-in batteries which are not designed interchangeable. The life expectancy of batteries depends on usage intensity of the powered device, where activity (longer usage) and tasks demanding more energy expire the battery earlier.

Lithium-ion and Lithium-polymer batteries, those commonly powering portable electronics, additionally wear down more from fuller charge and deeper discharge cycles, and when unused for an extended amount of time while depleted, where self-discharging may lead to a harmful depth of discharge.

The functional life span of mobile phones may be limited by lack of software update support, such as deprecation of TLS cipher suites by certificate authority with no official patches provided for earlier devices.

See also

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