Showing posts with tag academic success Show all posts >
I remember the early years with my children and the dreams I had for their success. Of course, my dreams and theirs didn’t exactly end up being the same. But what happens when a mother realizes that her dreams for her child may be shattered because that child struggles with auditory processing issues, dyslexia, or other challenges never imagined? That’s exactly what Irene experienced with her daughter, Maria.
Attending school proved difficult for Maria. As she advanced from grade to grade and the work became progressively more difficult, anything presented in auditory form was especially challenging. By sixth grade, Maria had been diagnosed with dyslexia and Auditory Processing Disorder and was labeled with a language impairment.
For obvious reasons, Maria struggled in school. Because of this, she was shy around other students, avoided reading, and required extensive help at home. Her family considered sending her to a private school, but Maria was unable to pass the entrance exams.
By the middle of sixth grade, Maria had attended several different schools and the last was a disaster. It was then that one of her mother’s friends suggested Bridges Academy, a private school that specializes in serving students with learning challenges. Upon enrollment, Maria’s life began to turn in a new direction. When she got into her mother’s car after school she often said, “Mom, they understand me here!”
At Bridges Academy, Maria’s dyslexia and auditory processing issues were analyzed further and the Fast ForWord program was recommended in addition to Maria’s coursework and intervention regimen. Jacky Egli, the Director at Bridges Academy, explained to Maria’s mother that she personally researched every program thoroughly and only used programs that were scientifically based. Irene trusted Jacky and felt it was important to follow her recommendation, so Maria gave Fast ForWord a try.
Maria’s reading level was at least three to four years below grade level when she entered Bridges. She also had struggled in other subjects, because every subject—even math—requires reading. But that soon began to change and, in time, Maria made significant improvements. Maria’s comprehension level increased more than two full grade levels last year. This improvement aligned with her participation in the Fast ForWord Reading and Reading Assistant programs. Over the last 6 years, despite the odds, Maria improved on the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test 7.3 grade levels. Because of this significant improvement, she no longer receives remedial instruction.
Irene sought the best for her daughter and found it in the caring attitude of the staff at Bridges Academy and the innovative programs they use to make a difference for struggling students. “Jacky walks the walk and talks the talk of the school’s mission,” says Irene.
Maria has transformed from a shy, struggling child to a vibrant, engaged student who participates in class, reads aloud to her peers and conducts presentations for content area classes in front of her classmates. She is an ambassador for the school who greets and escorts new students and parents through the campus as she participates in open house and school events.
And, most exciting of all, Maria has been accepted into a local college and is thrilled about rising to meet a challenge and a future that once seemed entirely out of reach.
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Many students enter our classrooms with limited vocabulary and loads of catching up to do. I’ve seen teachers discouraged by the challenge they are faced with, and yet doing valuable things in their classrooms everyday to not only meet challenges but to exceed expectations. The good news is that the little things we do everyday can have a great impact.
Why Modeled Reading Matters
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” - Emilie Buchwald
Our students have a wide range of lap hours logged. For some, the idea of climbing up to listen as someone reads to them is more natural than putting on a pair of socks, while for others it’s a rare event. In classrooms, all children benefit from listening as we read.
Modeling fluent reading in our classrooms and displaying our love for the written word benefits every student, but it is essential for those students who do not get this benefit at home.
Older students can benefit as well. On this topic, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says, “Every read-aloud is an advertisement for pleasure, every worksheet is an ad for pain. If the pain outweighs the pleasure, the customers go elsewhere.” When we read and showcase our love of reading we are advertising the very thing we want our students to buy.
Get Students Reading More, More, More (and More)
“There is ample evidence that one of the major differences between poor and good readers is the difference in the quantity of total time they spend reading.” - National Reading Panel, 2000
The best way to improve reading skill is through reading practice. If we’ve modeled fluent reading for students and chosen material that is a great fit for their ability and their interest, then we have set the stage for practice.
It’s no wonder that good readers read a lot and poor readers read little. If an activity is not pleasurable, devoting time to it is not desirable. However, as good readers read and poor readers do not, the gap in their ability grows. We must encourage all of our students to read. We must find ways to make reading pleasurable for all students.
*Note that I’ve indicated Children A, B & C are all reading at the same rate (100WPM). Though this scenario may be unlikely, it highlights the gains that are possible for all students. As their reading improves, their rate will increase along with more words devoured.
For those with poor skills, the need to practice is critical—not only to improve their reading ability, but also to open their world. These “words” represent new vocabulary, new ideas, new topics, and new learning. By getting students to read more we are expanding their imaginations and building their background. When students read little they miss out on so much more than slow-growing reading skills.
A Deep and Continuing Need
One final note on quality. To incent students to read and to help them read well, we must also focus on motivation and help students choose reading material that will be inspiring and well suited to them.
“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. ” - Maya Angelou
I’ve always been struck by some of the reading material we put in front of our struggling readers. As I’ve worked with students on their assigned texts, I can’t help but find myself bored and listless. How can we expect students to develop a fondness for reading if what we’re asking them to read is not particularly good? Think about why you read and what you like to read. I’ve yet to find the well-read adult who chooses reading material based on their ability level alone. Instead, they read to gather information, to soak up a genre they are especially fond of, to escape and to dream. To foster this ‘deep and continuing need’, we need to provide our students with delicious, fantastic literature. They need rich vocabulary, exotic stories and variety. At times this beautiful content is beyond the reach of our students’ ability, but we are wise to help them reach, to scaffold, to encourage and to make every attempt to give them the good stuff.
“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” - Katherine Patterson
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Earlier this month, Dr. Martha Burns presented a webinar titled “What’s in the Common Core, but Missing in Your Curriculum.” One of the exciting new changes that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) bring is a great deal more emphasis on how students learn rather than focusing solely on what they learn. The emphasis of previous standards have focused more on memorization of facts rather than on higher order thinking skills. In this webinar, Dr. Burns reviews the learning capacities spelled out in the CCSS and describes the skills that students need to be successful as lifelong learners, e.g., the ability to evaluate, to adapt, adjust and critique, etc. At the foundation of these higher order abilities lie the foundational skills below. Together, these skills can be termed the “process of learning.”
· Executive control or self-control
Students with deficiencies in these foundational skills may be labeled as “trouble makers” or “at risk” and have difficulty keeping up in today’s growing classroom. Experienced educators have always recognized the importance of these skills, but the idea that they can be specifically addressed and improved is relatively new. Without the ability to remember the details of a non-fiction text, how would a student be able to evaluate and critique it?
Dr. Burns describes new insights in neuroscience that are contributing to our understanding of the process of learning and what can be done to strengthen these skills in all learners, even those with learning disabilities and other challenges. The idea that these skills are inherent in students and cannot be changed is simply untrue. With the right training, all students can become stronger, more capable learners.
One efficient way for students to practice the skills needed to meet the rigor of the Common Core Standards is through the research-based learning tools employed by Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs. Dr. Burns concluded her presentation with a walkthrough of the programs, highlighting the aspects of the programs that speak directly to the foundational skills needed to create college and career ready students. She also describes what happens in the student’s brain when they are engaged with the software and the results that can be expected.
This new approach by the Common Core State Standards to draw attention to the “process” of learning, rather than just content, is important for all stakeholders to understand. With this new understanding comes a greater importance to use all of the tools at our disposal to help all learners succeed.
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
Response to Intervention (RTI) is best understood as a verb; we have made RTI too complicated. Instead of becoming entangled in documentation, assessments, and the “steps” to special education, we should collaboratively ask the extent to which students are responding to instruction and intervention – the extent to which they are RTI’ing. We will realize the promise of RTI; more importantly, we will ensure high levels of learning for all.
Interpreted as a verb, RTI represents what we’ve always done, or what we always should have done, on behalf of students. Consider this scenario: A new fifth grade student, Molly, enrolls in school in the fall. The school screens all students to immediately identify students who may lack foundational prerequisite skills in reading (have they responded to prior instruction?). Screeners and further diagnoses reveal that Molly has deficits in phonics. Molly’s teacher team works together to provide differentiated Tier 1 instruction to all students, including Molly, with scaffolds provided during whole and small group settings within core blocks of instruction so that Molly successfully accesses content.
The school is prepared for students who lack immediate prerequisite skills and need additional time and different approaches to learn essential content. Molly and other students receive 30 daily minutes of supplemental, Tier 2 supports on essential content when data indicates the need (are students responding to current instruction?). The school is also prepared for students who lack the foundational prerequisite skills to succeed, as determined by screeners. Molly and other upper grade students with phonics needs receive intensive supports in place of other instruction, although they do not miss core instruction in essential content. Regularly, staff assesses to ensure that Molly is responding to intervention. If not, they differ, and increase the intensity of, supports.
RTI may be simple, but it isn’t easy. It requires leadership to ensure that systems support staff and students in meeting goals, and courage to make hard but critical decisions to provide intensive supports immediately.
My experiences with Scientific Learning products have been overwhelmingly positive. They are outstanding RTI resources for several reasons; yes, they are research-proven and represent cutting edge science and technology, but they work best because they support students differently. For Molly, Reading Assistant provides highly individualized supports in reading text fluently and for meaning. As a Tier 2 support, Reading Assistant supplements teachers’ targeted supports at ensuring she masters essential content. If Molly doesn’t respond to this level of Tier 2 support, and teams determine her needs exist in the phonemic awareness and phonics domain, Fast ForWord is appropriate, providing intensive, Tier 3 strategies to decode words, through unique approaches designed for students who process information differently.
At-risk students demand our best efforts immediately. Interventions such as those from Scientific Learning deliver the best possible return on investment, giving us the best chance to ensure that students respond to intervention, allowing them the opportunity to learn at the high levels required to graduate ready for college or a skilled career.
About the author, Dr. Chris Weber:
A former high school, middle school, and elementary school teacher and administrator, Chris has had a great deal of success helping students who historically underachieve learn at extraordinarily high levels. As a principal and assistant superintendent in California and Chicago, Chris and his colleagues have developed systems of Response to Intervention that have led to heretofore unrealized levels of learning at schools across the country. The best-selling author of 1) Pyramid Response to Intervention, 2) Pyramid of Behavior Interventions, 3) Simplifying Response to Intervention, and 4) RTI and the Early Grades, Chris is recognized as an expert in behavior, mathematics, and Response to Intervention.
In early elementary school, Louise was described as a sweet but somewhat passive child. She was an average student who never made trouble so her teachers did not worry about her, but at the same time she was rarely chosen for special duties or called on in class. When Louise's parents asked about her somewhat mediocre progress in school (given that her siblings were all excellent students), the school principal, Mr. Henry tried to reassure them that she was a bright little girl but would never get an ulcer worrying about school achievement; she just was not an "active learner". Often children like Louise are described as underachievers.
But for Louise, that description of her began to change in the third grade under Mr. Stevens. He was a teacher that some parents hoped their children could avoid because he was a stickler for neatness, organization, planning, paying attention and punctuality. He referred to himself as "Hurricane Stevens" for his proclivity, without warning, to check students' desks randomly for disarray or to confiscate items that might distract a student from getting work done. One day Louise succumbed to his watchful eye during class when she was admiring a yo-yo she had won during lunch recess. With one fell swoop the yo-yo became part of Mr. Stevens' "cyclone stash" of toys and comic books - all to be returned each Friday with a wry smile and gentle warning that sometimes objects get lost in cyclones. “Class time is your job," Mr. Stevens extolled her, "you can think about recess during recess, during class you need to focus on learning."
Mr. Stevens also had a memory game he called "fun facts", starting each day with a list of new history or science facts, vocabulary words, or current events details. They were always relevant to one of the class lessons, and during the day more information about the facts would be part of the daily lessons. Students were told to pay close attention to the list and knew they would need to apply the facts in a later lesson, but were not permitted to write anything down. Sometime during each day, never predictably, Mr. Stevens would quiz the class on a few of the morning's facts and how they applied to that day's lesson. At random and without warning (in case a student surreptitiously jotted a few notes somewhere) students were asked a question about one or more of the facts. The first student called on who answered correctly got to wear a prized star pin the entire day.
In September, Mr. Stevens began with five facts each morning. By October, none of the students missed any of the questions when called on so Mr. Stevens increased the list by one each month and the application of the facts became less predictable. When the list became longer and the application more subtle, Mr. Stevens would ask students how they were able to remember. Students told of using different strategies. One student said that since she was not allowed to write the facts down, she just pictured what they looked like if she did write them! Then she could recognize them if she saw them later or could read them back to herself in her mind. Another boy said when there were names, he tried to imagine how they looked. When he learned later about what they did in history he could see them doing it. Like most of the children, Louise figured out her own strategies to help remember the facts and tried to predict how they might apply to class or what kind of questions he might ask. She found herself listening carefully throughout the day for more information. And like most of the students in the class, she couldn't wait to be called on -- later in the year, she too won the star pin every time she was selected to answer one of Mr. Stevens' questions.
Mr. Stevens understood that children need to take an active role in the learning process. Some children are natural students; they focus easily on content, can stick to one task, and retain information without effort. Those students achieve easily so they are a joy to teach. But to other children like Louise the "how" of learning does not come naturally. Their mind wanders or they are easily distracted in class. They don't realize that they may need to "try to remember" information. They might seem lazy because they have trouble sticking with a task when it is repetitive or boring. Mr. Stevens understood that in addition to teaching information, he could also teach students how to learn. Louise and the other students learned to focus on relevant details in class, plan for how they were going to hold on to information during the day, and predict how they might apply to the lessons. After a year with Mr. Stevens, his students were not just better at reading, math, and writing, they were active learners.
Teaching approaches like those of Mr. Stevens may be thought of as emphasizing the process of learning as much as the content. His goal was not just that students acquire information but also apply it. In that regard he was years ahead of his time. The Common Core State Standards, that a majority of states have now adopted, emphasize application of knowledge. Key points of the Common Core State Standards for reading, for example, mandate that through reading students not only "build knowledge" but also "gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspective*." To that end, Roger Schank at Northwestern University, author of "Teaching Minds" argues persuasively that there are twelve cognitive processes which underlie learning, including prediction and analytic processes like planning or judgment.
The problem of course is that today's teachers have been increasingly evaluated on their students' mastery of the curriculum, which might be considered the "what of teaching". With Common Core State Standards and educational research now emphasizing the learning process as well as mastery of content, teachers find gaps in the curriculum. Many state standards do include critical thinking skills like application of knowledge and drawing inferences. But, most state curriculum standards do not include underlying learning processes like teaching students how to attend better to relevant information, stick with a task to completion, or develop retention strategies.
Fortunately, neuroscience has been grappling with the learning process issues like focused attention, perseverance and memory enhancement for over a decade. As a result of neuroscience research, breakthrough technologies like the Fast ForWord brain fitness and reading products are now available to supplement classroom instruction through curriculum-based attentional and memory training. By supplementing classroom tasks with these types of technologies, teachers don't have to devote as much planning and instructional time to the kinds of activities "Hurricane Stevens" employed.
Breakthrough technologies are also available to free up classroom time so that teachers can focus instruction on Common Core State Standards like those for speaking and listening which "expect students [to] grow their vocabularies through a mix of conversations, direct instruction, and reading*." With technologies like Reading Assistant, for example, students independently read aloud to a computer which corrects their errors through speech recognition software, provides vocabulary definitions on request, and quizzes for application of information at the same time as measuring reading fluency. These kinds of technologies in the classroom enable teachers to do what they love, impart content as well as encourage their students to think about how the content applies to other information they have learned and their daily lives. The Common Core State Standards can be a welcome contribution to classroom education with breakthrough technologies that enhance students' capacity to learn.
And by the way, with Mr. Stevens' help you might have expected that Louise eventually became a prodigious student and teacher herself. Perhaps you can guess who she was. (HINT: My full name is Martha Louise Stoner Burns - the teacher and principal's names were changed though.)
For further reading:
New Years is a time for reflection and prediction, including in education. In some cases, the events of 2012 will help shape our 2013. In others, new and emerging ideas and innovations will finally make their mark on a large scale. Here are five trends to look for in 2013:
The marriage of BYOD and flipped instruction
The concepts of flipping your classroom and BYOD (bring your own device) really go hand-in-hand since a key requirement to flipping is access to technology outside of school. With more districts interested in the cost savings that a well-conceived BYOD program can bring and more teachers interested in the saved time that a flipped classroom can bring, you will see these two worlds collide in 2013. This should maximize the potential of both concepts.
Where are the apps?
Schools were in such a hurry to adopt iPads last year that they forgot to notice that some supplemental curriculum solutions were lagging behind in building apps for them. The software industry has never seen such a fast adoption process as the one currently taking place with tablets and was caught flat-footed. Naturally, demand for app-based solutions will increase so expect the software designers to meet that demand and finally unlock the complete potential of our new toys.
Education companies and the Common Core
Teachers and administrators have been living and breathing Common Core preparation for years, but software and other companies are just now trying to figure out how their solutions align with the new standards. As 2013 is the last year before widespread adoption, this gap will close quickly.
MOOCs and secondary education
The biggest acronym in higher education right now is MOOC, or Massively Open Online Course, which is a non-credit course made available online for free. Their popularity is making traditional higher education reconsider its online offerings. Because colleges and universities can no longer control who takes their classes, you will see a lot more secondary students taking advantage of MOOCs, either for themselves or because a teacher is using the content and adopting their professorial colleagues’ lectures in order to flip their classrooms.
Authentic gamification and socialization
Educational software has been trying to make activities more like the games kids play at home for years. They have also been trying recently to recreate social networking in their own safe, secure sandboxes. Both of these efforts have met unpredictable success. Instead, more teachers are trying to meld their educational goals with the games and social networks that the kids already use in an effort to make the learning more authentic to them. While it takes a very creative teacher to tie “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” to their curriculum, anyone can start using Twitter with great results.
It will be interesting to see what actually becomes important to educators in 2013. What trends do you think will be significant to education in the coming year?
For further reading:
In an effort to understand this interplay between literacy and these faculties, Stanford University neuroscientist Jason Yeatman examined the correlation between reading ability and the growth of white matter tracts that connect different regions of the brain. Yeatman and his colleagues studied students aged 7 to 12 over the course of three years. During that time, the team used brain scans to visualize the development of these white matter tracts – specifically, the arcuate fasciculus connecting the brain’s language centers, and the inferior longitudinal fasciculus, which links these centers to the areas that process visual input.
They found that:
Yeatman and his colleagues concluded that the reason for such differences lie in two processes related to brain plasticity:
In short, their studies indicate that:
How might this understanding help us as educators? Previous studies (linked below) have shown that we can influence brain development with Fast ForWord®, improving reading, fluency and vocabulary with Fast ForWord Language and Fast ForWord Reading and Reading Assistant. Through the training and reinforcement that such tools afford learners of all skill levels, we can select and strengthen pathways through the brain. This is the true power of brain plasticity – the ability to change the physical structure of this most dynamic organ of the human body.
With Yeatman’s research, we now face the potential of being able to time such interventions for maximum benefit. If we can identify the optimal time when these processes of myelination and pruning are most in balance, such a moment might represent the perfect window for a student to experience maximum success with these interventions.
Resources and links:
Neural mechanisms of selective auditory attention are enhanced by computerized training: Electrophysiological evidence from language-impaired and typically developing children. (See a YouTube video for explanation of this study)
A few weeks ago, a commercial came on TV that immediately caught both my husband’s and my attention. A young boy walked to home plate of a baseball field with a bat and ball and repeatedly threw the ball in the air and then tried to hit it with the bat. Before each attempt to hit the ball, he would yell, “I’m the greatest hitter in the world!” He tried a couple of times with no success so he paused to rethink his strategy, adjusted his ball cap, gave his “greatest” yell and tried again. When he had the same result, he stood there dejectedly for a moment then suddenly looked up, a new thought dawning, and with big grin yelled, “Wow, I’m the greatest pitcher in the world!”
What a great optimistic attitude! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of our students were willing to try and try again and, if their efforts still didn’t work, change their tactics to find success? Unfortunately, with many students we don’t see that attitude of perseverance because they have had years of being unsuccessful and have become disengaged in what was happening in school. I wonder how often this is related to a classroom disconnect with their cognitive learning styles.
Recently, Sherrelle Walker had a post on introverted students in the classroom. This blog talked about the importance of understanding the outlook of introverted students and maximizing their strengths. By using a student-centered approach, teachers can incorporate activities that “speak” to various learning styles to ensure that each student will have his or her best opportunity for learning. As Sherrelle mentioned, some students thrive on group activities while those can be a nightmare for students who don’t really learn effectively while working with others. Finding a way to consider all of our students’ cognitive learning needs and then using activities to help all students engage in the learning process consistently is what the student-centered classroom is all about.
The teacher in the student-centered classroom is a learning guide who manages the activities and directs student learning but who does this through activities that require students to engage is a variety of ways – perhaps working in groups, teaming in pairs or focusing independently at different times. By varying these strategies, and considering the learning styles of each student, we can maximize their learning potential.
For example, some students may need to touch things or use manipulatives in order to solve problems or understand a process while others may prefer to brainstorm or experiment with different methods to find a workable solution. Neither one is right or wrong; they are just different ways to solve a problem. It is important for both teachers and students to learn their cognitive learning styles – how they take in information and then make decisions based on that information. You may have some students who are more sensory so need clear instructions and examples and who like to practice with a hands-on approach. Other students are more intuitive and want to make connections and play out their own hunches rather than practicing tasks repeatedly. How teachers provide instruction and feedback (do they need more direct instruction or just a few probing questions?) can help these students get the most from their classroom learning time.
So, what can we, as teachers, do to develop a classroom that enhances all student learning? First, we need to do some research – seek information about different types of cognitive learning styles and what activities best engage different types of learners. Then we can shift the focus of our teaching strategies to help students become actively engaged in their own learning process rather than waiting for us to “feed” information to them. It may require some different planning and methodology on our part but is well worth the effort.
Who knows? With newly energized teaching strategies and a new-found love of learning in our students, we each might develop our own “I’m the greatest” yell!
For Further Reading:
On November 5th, Dr. Martha Burns and Mr. Charles Wilson, principal of the Korematsu Discovery Academy in the Oakland Unified School District, presented a live webinar that explained the research behind the Fast ForWord program and how it took Korematsu from NCLB Program Improvement (PI) status to achieving double-digit learning gains -- and emerging from PI status in only two school years!
Dr. Burns focused on the neurophysiology of learning, specifically the importance of several key left hemisphere pathways. Dr. Burns noted that these pathways appear to be originally founded in object naming networks but gradually expand to symbolic representation systems. She described how information is moved from perceptual/comprehension regions in the rear of the brain to the anterior regions of the frontal lobe, where the learner can utilize the information in useful ways.
This process is particularly important in reading. Reading represents one form of symbolic processing in which the visual symbol corresponds initially to speech sounds and ultimately to words and sentences. Fast ForWord is particularly designed to activate and strengthen speech perception, comprehension and production regions and those key pathways that enable processing for struggling learners by:
The best testament to Fast ForWord’s capabilities is real-world success, which is exactly what Mr. Wilson provided in his section of the webinar. Korematsu is a heavily disadvantaged school with a 95% free lunch rate and a high percentage of ELL students. Korematsu found itself in NCLB Program Intervention status due to not meeting AYP requirements, at which point Wilson and his staff adopted Fast ForWord. In the subsequent school year, the Academy experienced double-digit gains on the CSTs and was named the Alameda County English Learner School of the Year.
Those of us who have worked in a low-performing school understand the immense challenge it is to improve student achievement, especially in the midst of record budget cuts. A lot can be learned from Mr. Wilson, a man who has achieved such great success for students in one of the most challenging educational environments. With a mix of leadership, determination, innovation, and inspiration, Mr. Wilson shows us that anything is possible.
Educators and psychologists like to talk about predictors--we like to know what about today can tell us about how students will achieve tomorrow. While such knowledge is academically interesting, its true value only lies in the action it inspires.
For example, a recent study published in Psychological Science outlines the early predictors of mathematics achievement (Siegler, 2012). Based on various theories of how humans naturally develop numerical concepts, the research team hypothesized that an early understanding of fractions could predict how well a student would perform in algebra and general mathematics later on. Siegler’s earlier research had revealed that a student’s understanding of the number line was critical to future mathematical success; this recent publication is an extension of those original findings.
In the 2012 study, the team did a retrospective study of data from two populations of students – one in the United States and one in England. The data indicated that their hypothesis was true: fractions knowledge indeed predicted later success. After controlling for intellectual ability, family background and existing mathematical abilities, the students who had a greater understanding of fractions early on ended up doing better in algebra and math in high school, 5 or 6 years later.
The paper’s authors say it well: “If researchers can identify specific areas of mathematics that consistently predict later mathematics proficiency…society can increase efforts to improve instruction and learning in those areas.” (2012)
So, we have a solid hypothesis, and the data support it. With the scientific method as their toolset, the research team provided us with a bit of useful, straightforward information. The real question becomes: what do we do with this knowledge?
Let’s bring this down to the level of practice: what are some simple things parents and teachers can do to help young learners develop a better understanding of fractions?
One crucial reinforcement to the above strategies comes from Siegler’s findings about the importance of the number line. It is helpful to use the strategies above, but the student must ultimately understand how that fraction is represented in relation to other numbers (e.g., knowing that 2/4 and 1/2 are the same point between 0 and 1). Use the strategies above to engage learners, but always remember to reinforce the concepts by taking the activity back to the number line.
Studies like the ones I’ve discussed can be great, enlightening tools. They show us a relatively straight road to get from here to there and a clear relationship of cause to effect. If we can help students understand fractions early, given the regular patterns of development and learning, those students will have advantages when it comes to developing deeper math skills later on.
The simple problem is that acting on this knowledge takes change. Do we have the will to take on those changes?
Seigler, R.S., Duncan, G.J., Davis-Kean, P.E., Duckworth, K., Claessens, A., Engel, M., Susperreguy, M.I., Chen, M. Early Predictors of High School Mathematics Achievement. Psychological Science. 14 June 2012.