Presentations by Dr. Thomas Armstrong

Dr. Thomas ArmstrongFor information about fees or to book a presentation:

Phone: 707-894-4646
Fax:     707-894-4474
Write:  Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 548
Cloverdale, CA 95425

Presentation Topics


The Power of the Adolescent Brain:  How Our Secondary Schools Must Change to Reflect Current Scientific Thinking About Teenage Neuroplasticity

In the past twenty years, due in large part to the expansion of neuroscience research on this topic, our conception of the adolescent brain has undergone a significant transformation. This new thinking, however, is largely not reflected in middle school and high school educational practices.  This presentation will present eight key neuroscience findings about the adolescent brain which all secondary school educators need to be familiar with, and eight ‘’adolescent brain friendly’ interventions based on those findings that must be integrated into middle school and high school classrooms. These interventions include giving teens choices in their learning, providing them with self-awareness activities for their burgeoning identities, creating peer learning connections, integrating affective learning, expressive arts, and kinesthetic approaches into the curriculum, using metacognitive strategies, and finally, providing real-world experiences to help prepare adolescents to live independently as future adults. We will also examine a number of ‘’adolescent brain hostile’’ strategies currently in use by many secondary schools that subvert the developmental needs of teenagers. Finally, the presentation concludes with a musical slide show that will instill in participants a feeling for what a precious opportunity secondary school educators have during these critical years to make a difference in the lives of teens.  Suggested reading:  The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students (ASCD).

Neurodiversity in the Classroom:  Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Achieve Success in School and Life

This keynote will argue for a major paradigm shift in special education by proposing that we look at students with special needs (including ADHD, learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and emotional and behavioral disorders) in terms of their ”diversities” rather than their ”disabilities.”  Dr. Armstrong will introduce the concept of neurodiversity (originally developed in the autism community) as a strength-based approach that can positively transform the lives of students with special needs.   After presenting five basic principles of neurodiversity based on recent findings in neuroscience, evolutionary psychobiology, and social history, he will devote the greater part of the keynote to seven practical components of ”positive niche construction” that can be used to help students with special needs flourish in the classroom: strength awareness, positive role models, assistive technologies/Universal Design for Learning tools, strength-based learning strategies, enhanced social networks, positive environmental modifications, and affirmative career aspirations.  Dr. Armstrong will conclude with a description of what an IEP meeting might look like if the student happened to be a young Leonardo da Vinci. Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong, Neurodiversity in the Classroom:  Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life (ASCD).

The Best Schools:  How Human Development Research Should Inform Educational Practice

This presentation (based on Dr. Armstrong’s ASCD book of the same name) explores how educators have spent too much time engaging in an “academic achievement discourse,” and not enough time participating in a “human development discourse” focused on developmentally-appropriate teaching methods.  Dr. Armstrong describes key developmental features of good schools at four levels of education: 1) early childhood education and the importance of play, 2) elementary school education and the need to teach kids how the world works, 3) middle schools and the necessity of emphasizing social, emotional, and meta-cognitive learning, and 4) high schools, and the need to preparing students for an independent life in the real world.  The keynote ends with practical suggestions for creating “best schools” models that meet the developmental needs of every child/adolescent.  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong, The Best Schools:  How Human Development Research Should Inform Educational Practice (ASCD).

8 Kinds of Smart:  Building on a Child’s Assets for Success in School and Life

This keynote shows how Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences provides a powerful  tool through which all students abilities can be highlighted and worked with to improve student motivation, self-esteem, and academic achievement.  The presentation includes interactive experiences, a PowerPoint presentation connecting theory to practice, a hands-on demonstration, and a practical lesson planning tool educators or parents can use to tailor instructional strategies linked to specific academic outcomes.  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong, You’re Smarter Than You Think:  A Kids’ Guide to Multiple Intelligences (Free Spirit)

Awakening the Genius in Every Child:  Discovering and Reviving the Natural Motivation that Exists in All Children at Birth

Through slides, lecture, and experiences, Dr. Armstrong shows how each child is born into this world as a natural genius (the root meaning of “genius” is “to be born”).  First, he describes the twelve qualities of the natural genius in children: creativity, vitality, flexibility, curiosity, playfulness, humor, imagination, wisdom, wonder, joy, flexibility, and inventiveness, Then he enumerates the neurological, developmental, and behavioral foundations of genius in kids.  After that, he explains how the natural genius shuts down through influences in the home (“home-miliation”), the school (“dysteachia”), and the broader culture (“media-ocrity”). Finally, he provides practical strategies that parents or educators can use to help reawaken a child’s natural genius in the classroom or the home. Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong,  Awakening Genius in the Classroom (ASCD).

The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing:  Making the Words Come Alive!

This keynote shows educators or parents how to help children develop literacy skills by linking words to images, music, logic, emotions, physical expression, social context, oral language, and nature.  Dr. Armstrong draws upon recent neuropsychological research in showing how reading and writing skills are whole brain activities, and he provides practical tips and suggestions for teaching everything from phonics to reading comprehension using whole brain strategies.   Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong,  The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing:  Making the Words Come Alive (ASCD).

The Myth of the ADHD Child: Challenging the Growing Medicalization of Attention and Behavior in Our Classrooms

This keynote challenges the current use of the medical model to explain attention and behavioral differences in children. The first part of the talk looks at the problems with the ADD/ADHD paradigm, including criticisms of its fundamental assumptions, its assessments and its treatments. The second part provides alternative ways of explaining behavior and attention difficulties, including gender differences, social and cultural factors, psychological influences, and styles of learning. The third part presents a wide rawnge of non-medical strategies that parents and educators can use to help children attend and behave.  Suggested reading:  Thonas Armstrong, The Myth of the ADD Child:  50 Ways to Improve Your Child’s Behavior and Attention Span without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion. (Plume).

The Human Odyssey:  Navigating the Twelve Stages of Life

In this presentation, Dr. Armstrong takes participants on an experiential journey via PowerPoint slides from the earliest moments of conception to the last moments of death & dying to enable them to have a deeper appreciation for the entire sweep of life.  On the way, he synthesizes information from a broad range of traditions, including psychology, brain research, anthropology, sociology, world literature, the arts, mythology, religion, and philosophy.  Toward the end of the presentation, Dr. Armstrong suggests how to use the knowledge gleaned from this quick journey through of the human life cycle to help transform oneself, one’s family and friends, and one’s community.  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong,  The Human Odyssey:  Navigating the 12 Stages of Life (Sterling)

Breakout Sessions

Adolescent Brain-Friendly and Brain-Hostile Secondary School Practices:   A Look at the High Stakes Involved in Helping Our Teens Develop into Maturity

This breakout session will continue the thread of the keynote and look more deeply at middle school and high school strategies that either nourish or inhibit optimal brain development.  What are the factors that determine which set of practices will prevail?  What can we do strategically to stop brain-hostile strategies from occurring and create a school climate where brain-friendly approaches have a greater chance of being implemented?  After an analysis of the high-stakes involved in this struggle, the session will open up to a broadly-based whole group discussion on these themes.

8 Ways to Read and Write:  Building a Literacy Program for a Diverse Student Population

This session shows how the theory of multiple intelligences (MI theory) provides a framework for developing strategies to teach literacy skills, including phonemic awareness, vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and reading comprehension, in ways that improve academic achievement for students who traditionally have difficulty with commercial literacy programs.  Dr. Armstrong demonstrates practical examples and shows how literacy skills can be taught in at least eight different ways to reach students with different learning needs.  Dr. Armstrong also illustrates how MI theory can be used to generate a more diverse library of books and other literacy materials, and also covers specific “literacy styles” that show how different students process the experience of reading and writing differently.  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong,  The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing:  Making the Words Come Alive (ASCD).

8 Ways of Teaching:  How to Teach Practically Anything Using Multiple Intelligences

This session provides practical lesson-planning tools using mind-mapping and brainstorming to generate instructional strategies geared to specific educational objectives. After demonstrating examples from math, science, literature, history, and other content areas, Dr. Armstrong opens up the session to large and small-group brainstorming showing how virtually any subject area or skill can be taught using the eight intelligences. (Note: if not following the keynote, this session begins with a brief overview of the theory of multiple intelligences).  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong, 7 Kinds of Smart:  Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences (Plume)

ADHD Alternatives in the Classroom:  25 Practical Strategies to Improve Behavior and Attention Span in All Kids

This session provides an in-depth look at twenty-five specific strategies that can be used to help children with attention and behavior problems, including visualization, relaxation, music, physical movement, nutrition, positive discipline, and peer-teaching.  (Note: if not following Dr. Armstrong’s keynote “The Myth of the ADHD Child,” this session begins with a brief overview of Dr. Armstrong’s criticisms of the ADHD paradigm, and a look at alternative ways of viewing the child with attention or behavioral difficulties.)  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong:  ADD/ADHD Alternatives in the Classroom (ASCD).

The 12 Gifts of the Human Life Cycle:  Nourishing Ourselves, Our Families, and Our Communities by Understanding the Needs of Each Stage of Life

In this session, Dr. Armstrong describes the twelve stages of life (pre-birth, birth, infancy, early childhood, middle childhood, late childhood, adolescence, early adulthood, midlife, mature adulthood, late adulthood, and death & dying) and the particular gift that each stage offers to humanity (potential, hope, vitality, playfulness, imagination, ingenuity, passion, enterprise, contemplation, benevolence, wisdom, and life).  After describing these gifts, he then enumerates specific factors that are suppressing these gifts in our culture, and shows how we can overcome these obstacles and ultimately bring the benefits of each gift to full fruition in our own lives and in the lives of our families, friends, and community members.  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong,  The Human Odyssey:  Navigating the 12 Stages of Life (Sterling)

Breakout sessions are also available as half-day workshops.

Workshops (Half-day and Full-day)

The Power of the Adolescent Brain:  Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students

This workshop will begin by presenting eight key neuroscience research findings concerning how the adolescent brain develops.  It will then provide an experiential introduction to the teen years by having participants fill out an inventory and share in small group their own adolescent attitudes, behaviors, and experiences (the better to empathize with their students).  After this, the workshop will look at specific vulnerabilities associated with the teenage years (including suicide, traffic accidents, substance abuse, violence etc.) and examine how these factors influence brain development. The core of the workshop will include a detailed look at eight key interventions that secondary schools need to integrate into their classrooms based upon the last twenty years of neuroscience research on the adolescent brain, including: opportunities to choose, self-awareness activities, peer learning connections, affective learning, learning through the body, metacognitive learning, expressive arts activities, and real world experiences.  For each intervention, several practical strategies will be presented (for example, for ‘’opportunities to choose’’ selected strategies will include homework options, student polling, passion projects, student voice initiatives, and independent study opportunities).  The total number of strategies presented will vary from thirty to fifty depending upon whether it is a half-day or full-day workshop.  Finally, sample lesson plans based on using the eight interventions (and accompanying strategies) will be presented, and time will be taken to engage in whole group and small group brainstorming where additional lesson plan ideas will be constructed based upon participants’ own classroom objectives and goals.   Suggested reading:  The Power of the Adolescent Brain:  Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students (ASCD).

Neurodiversity in the Classroom:  Strength-Based Strategies for Students with Special Needs

The session will begin with a story about a culture of flowers suggesting the need to focus on the diversities of children with special needs rather than their disabilities. The focus in this workshop will be upon five specific diversities:  autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, intellectual disabilities, and social and emotional disorders.  Dr. Armstrong will introduce the concept of neurodiversity and outline five basic principles covering neuroscience, anthropology, sociology, and evolutionary biology to provide a sound theoretical foundation for the concept of neurodiversity.  In particular, the workshop will emphasize the idea of ”positive niche construction” or creating positive environments within which students with special needs can flourish in the classroom.  Most of the workshop will be structured around seven basic components of positive niche construction, including:  strengths awareness, assistive technologies and Universal Design for Learning tools, strength-based learning strategies, positive environmental modifications, positive role models, enriched social networks, and affirmative career aspirations.  During the workshop, participants will learn about the strengths of students with the five diversities mentioned above and will have the opportunity to assess strengths in a student with special needs using a 165-item Neurodiversity Strengths Checklists.  They will also create a sociogram mapping out a student’s supportive and non-supportive relationships, design learning strategies based on student strengths, share successful assistive technology and UDL tools, learn about a strength-based approach for IEP meetings and for designing IEP objectives that are congruent with Common Core Standards, and become acquainted with careers that match the strengths of students with special needs.  Throughout the workshop, participants will have the opportunity to share in one-on-one, small group, and large group discussions, the ideas and strategies that are presented during the day.  Participants will leave the workshop with a new-found appreciation for the range of strengths in students with special needs, and a repertoire of strategies and tools to help them succeed in school and life.  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong, Neurodiversity in the Classroom:  Strength-Based Strategies to Help Students with Special Needs Succeed in School and Life (ASCD).

Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom:  Responding to Student Diversity with Practical Instructional Strategies

This workshop will begin with Dr. Armstrong reviewing the eight intelligences of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (MI theory) through interactive experiences. He will then help participants explore their own multiple intelligences through self-assessment and group sharing, and will provide a PowerPoint presentation giving the connections of the theory to brain research, symbol systems, cultural diversity, and developmental psychology.  He also will show participants how to teach MI theory to their students and share specific tips for identifying multiple intelligences in the classroom. After this, Dr. Armstrong will  teach participants a concept using all eight intelligences, then share a mind-mapping tool they can use to teach anything through the eight intelligences. Finally, after demonstrating examples, he will facilitate group brainstorming sessions where participants generate strategies from their own teaching experience. [Note: This workshop is for a K-12 audience, but can also be customized for early childhood, elementary, middle school, high school, or college levels.)  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong,  Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, 3rd Edition (ASCD).

The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing:  Making the Words Come Alive

This workshop is based on Dr. Armstrong’s ASCD book “The Multiple Intelligences of Literacy:  Making the Words Come Alive.”  In this workshop, Dr. Armstrong will describe the eight kinds of smart in the theory of multiple intelligences (MI theory), and illustrate the rich neurological, cultural and historical links that each of the intelligences have with the printed word.  After a brief introduction to MI theory, Dr. Armstrong will have participants interact with several types of text, demonstrating how words are connected to imagery, musical intonation, physical expression, nature, oral language, feelings, social context, and logic.  In each case he will provide tips for educators on how to make these kinds of connections in the classroom. He then will take participants on a trip through the world of literacy from micro- to macro- levels of complexity, showing how phonics, spelling, vocabulary, grammar, reading comprehension, and other literacy skills can be taught in at least eight different ways.  He also will illustrate different literacy styles based upon the eight intelligences, and show how educators can provide books and other literacy materials for students that actively connect words to one or more of the other intelligences.  Finally, using brainstorming and mind-mapping strategies, Dr. Armstrong will lead participants in a process of creating their own literacy strategies and lesson plans utilizing all eight of the intelligences.  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong,  The Multiple Intelligences of Reading and Writing:  Making the Words Come Alive (ASCD).

Awakening the Genius in Every Child:  Reviving the Natural Motivation to Learn that Everyone is Born With

This workshop will offer parents and/or educators a radically new way of conceiving each child as a genius in the original sense of the word (“to give birth to joy in learning”). Participants will first learn about the neurological and evolutionary basis for natural genius in children.  Dr. Armstrong will then look at those elements in the classroom, the home, and the media, that serve to blunt or repress this natural genius quality in their students. Finally, he will explore practical ways in which parents and/or educators can help their children or students (and themselves) reawaken their natural birthright to the genius experience. Participants will have the opportunity in this workshop to explore moments in their lives (and their children’s lives) when their natural genius was suppressed and supported.  Suggested reading:  Thomas Armstrong,  Awakening Genius in the Classroom (ASCD).