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Showing posts in August 2010  Show all posts >

How Does Learning Coach Technology Work?

Scientific Learning’s Reading Assistant software helps students develop their reading and fluency skills. Have you ever thought about the technology that was used when building this software? When students sit down in front of the computer and begin their session, what is going on “behind the scenes” as Reading Assistant presents students with a passage to read, records their reading and then gives them a quiz at the end of a passage in order to evaluate comprehension of the material? Let’s take a look at how the software is designed.

Reading Assistant software is unique in its ability to listen along and help students as they read out loud and it uses technology to provide a quality Guided Oral Reading experience for students. This guided oral reading practice is crucial to developing reading fluency. Scientific Learning uses a combination of speech recognition technology and knowledge of the reading process to provide this Reading Verification capability.

The Sphinx open source speech recognition system from Carnegie Mellon University is integrated into Reading Assistant and processes the user’s reading. We have enhanced this software to meet the needs of the education market by adding acoustic models for children’s voices and acoustic models for regional dialects. We have also added the capability to adapt to the user’s voice and speaking rate, detect off-task speech, and detect audio issues so that these can be corrected if possible.

Techniques and analysis based on knowledge of the reading task are combined with the core speech recognition system to enable “Reading Verification.” The reading verification enhancements fall into three categories. Timing analysis identifies the hesitations and dysfluent pauses in a student’s reading. Pronunciation error analysis looks for specific mispronunciations, or partial pronunciations, of words. Word categorization allows the system to treat words differently, depending upon their importance in a given text and whether they are new vocabulary. Finally, Reading Verification analysis as a whole guides a user interface designed to promote fluency, by minimizing interruptions and distractions while at the same time providing help when it is needed.

The performance of Reading Verification is optimized using our extensive automated testing capability. Settings, techniques, and acoustic models are tested and adjusted using recorded audio from hundreds of product users. The goal of this optimization is to identify reading errors, but at the same time we must not disrupt fluency. Therefore we do not want to stop a student on an acceptable reading of a word. In the classroom environment, the Reading Verification process must accommodate a wide range of voices (such as different accents) as well as variable audio conditions (including background noise).

Reading Assistant provides essential one-on-one feedback during guided oral reading to develop a student’s reading skills. We use a combination of speech recognition technology and expert knowledge of the reading process to deliver this capability. Our unique ‘Reading Verification’ technology has been awarded three patents so far, with additional applications in process.

Learn more about the Reading Assistant software and the results students have achieved using this innovative software.

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Categories: Reading Assistant

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Announcing the Back-to-School Create a Character Contest!

Scientific Learning is sponsoring a Back-to-School Create a Character Contest from August 25, 2010 – November 1, 2010.  The contest is open to any teacher, other educator, or student over the age of 5 (with their parents’ permission).  Entrant must be a resident of the United States or Canada (excluding Quebec). 

If I want to enter, what should my entry include?

Send us a written description of a new Fast ForWord® character. Consider including a name, a physical description, where the character would live, what it would do and eat, and any other information that you think we should know about the character.  Pictures of the character are encouraged, but not required. Animations should not be submitted.  Make sure that what you send is clear and legible.  Only original work will be accepted and you must have all rights and permissions to use it.

What can I win?

  • 1st prize:  Flip camera
  • 2nd and 3rd prizes:  $25 gift cards from Amazon.com

How do I enter? 

  • Send a completed and signed entry form and your Submission by regular mail to:

                Create a Character Contest
                Scientific Learning Corporation
                300 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 600
                Oakland, CA 94612

  • Entrants 13 and over may also send their completed and signed entry forms and submissions by email to cgajowski@scilearn.com.  Entrants under 13 may not enter via email, only by regular mail.  

The winners will be announced on or before November 23, 2010. 

Watch the video created by Greg Allen, Senior Artist at Scientific Learning, to see how one of the Fast ForWord characters is created or to get some ideas to get started! Click here for the contest entry form, or here for the official contest rules.

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Fast ForWord

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One Half Year Increase in One Month with Reading Assistant

The Marion County Schools in West Virginia were interested in evaluating the impact of the Reading Assistant software on readers who had demonstrated “partial mastery” on their state assessment. The software was used within an intensive summer school program.

In the summer of 2009, prior to entering the fifth grade, these selected students worked for 30 minutes a day on Reading Assistant, three to four days per week, for four weeks.

The Scholastic Reading Inventory, abbreviated as SRI, was used as a pre and post measure. The assessment is a research-based, computer-adaptive reading assessment for Grades K–12 that measures students’ level of reading comprehension and it reports Lexile scores. At this age, average readers typically gain 100 to 120 Lexile points after a full year of instruction.

In the video, the graph presented shows the gains the students made on the Scholastic Reading Inventory, significantly improving their Lexile scores from 537, shown by the blue bar, to 605, shown by the red bar. In this one-month summer program, participants gained 68 points, more than half the expected yearly gain of 100 to 120 points. 

For more information, please see the Educator Briefing on this study as well as any of our 200+ additional reports on Fast ForWord software results. If you have questions about any of our research studies, please contact us.

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Categories: Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant, Scientific Learning Research

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Building Unstructured Play Into the Structure of Each Day

Unstructured Play

As educators, we carefully design connections between what we teach and our students' future success. Practically every aspect of our young people's school day is designed with a specific learning purpose in mind. Along with helping them learn foundational, essential content, we also employ classroom experiences to help students learn to apply knowledge to creative solutions, analyze situations to make smart decisions, and learn to collaborate with others.

Now, stop for a moment and think about the skills I just listed: analyzing challenges; making decisions; creating; collaborating. As it turns out, these are all benefits that young brains get out of the simple experience of good old-fashioned unstructured play.

Today, 21st century society has evolved into one where our children's time is over-scheduled and over-structured. A recent poll of 2,000 parents in the UK indicated that, after figuring in school, homework, extra lessons, after-school activities and television and computer screen time, the average child gets a seriously inadequate 69.77 minutes a day for unstructured play.

Why is unstructured playtime so essential? In the 2007 clinical report, The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds, published by The American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg outlines the key benefits of play, which include:

  • The development of creativity, imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength
  • The ability to engage, interact with and manipulate the surrounding world
  • The opportunity to conquer fears and practice adult roles
  • The ability to develop self-confidence and resiliency
  • The chance to work in groups, share, negotiate, resolve conflicts and learn self-advocacy
  • The opportunity to build healthy, active, coordinated bodies

The list goes on and on and on. And yet, even with that understanding of the importance of such play for healthy development, we find it challenging--both as parents and educators--to make that time. But we can and we must, so let us assume that you can successfully "unplan" some time each week. Once we flip the switch to the "off" position, then what? Here are a few ideas just to get you started:

  • Spend a day in the park. But for goodness sake, don't plan anything! Just bring a picnic and let the rest happen. (It will, you'll see.)
  • Pay a regular visit to the library and let those budding brains explore.
  • Revisit your back yard. Remember that place? You will be amazed and what a few youngsters will devise with just some sticks, a garden hose and some nice, yummy mud. (Notice: Getting dirty is part of the fun and the learning. It'll be even more fun if you get into it with them.)
  • Plan more play dates. Not only will friendships become more and more solid, but the negotiation and collaboration skills learned will be invaluable.
  • Keep those art supplies stocked. Get a simple plastic cabinet, box or trunk that you can keep stashed in a closet, and FILL IT with art supplies. Then, maybe when it is least expected, open that treasure chest and let the magic happen.

As the grownups and educators, we want to plan with purpose. In the case of play, we need to relax and take it easy. If we can simply present some options, children and play will find their way.

Now, what about teens, who are by nature struggling to find their way? In general, teens' time is much more structured than that of younger children, considering that they are juggling school, homework, sports, music lessons, clubs, etc. While the general opinion is that teens have a greater propensity for getting into trouble when they have too much unstructured time, we must not forget that there are still benefits to unstructured time. Given reasonable boundaries, teens will continue to reap the benefits of unstructured time by stretching and exercising their mental wings. Think about all the great things that teens are doing through YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs of America and similar organizations that give them the time and space to just be themselves in a safe, stimulating environment. Home can and should be just as safe, positive and creative.

While the research available is extensive, here are a couple of articles just to get you started:

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Family Focus

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Over 45% Relative Improvement in Students Reaching Proficiency

Since the 2006-2007 school year, the St. Mary Parish Public School System has been implementing the Fast ForWord products. The district started with seven elementary schools that were in academic assistance, which is a designation for schools that don’t make sufficient progress. After seeing the results on student achievement, the St. Mary Parish Public School System expanded its use and now has a district-wide implementation.

Students started with the Fast ForWord Language products and then progressed through the Fast ForWord Reading products. The Scientific Learning Reading Assistant software was first used in the district during the 2009-2010 school year.

The Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) is part of Louisiana’s criterion-referenced state testing program and is administered to students in the fourth and eighth grades.

The LEAP has two components – the results shown in this presentation are from the English Language Arts test. Students receive one of the following five achievement ratings: Advanced, Mastery, Basic, Approaching Basic, or Unsatisfactory.

This graph shows the percentage of fourth graders each year who achieved a performance rating of Basic or Above on their LEAP English Language Arts test. The blue line indicates The St. Mary Parish 4th graders and the red line indicates the 4th graders in all of Louisiana for their initial LEAP tests given each spring.

Fast ForWord started being used in the district during the 2006-2007 school year, shown by the yellow shading. Since that school year, as you can see in the graph, fourth graders in the St. Mary Parish Public School System have shown dramatic improvements in their reading achievement as measured by the LEAP ELA.

In 2008, for the first time in a decade, the district exceeded the state average for the percentage of fourth graders reading at or above the Basic level.

During the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years, Fast ForWord was extended to the rest of the district, and the schools began using Reading Assistant. In four years, the percent of fourth graders in the district performing at or above Basic on the initial LEAP ELA test increased impressively from 53% to 78%, starting out far below the state average and then exceeding it.

For more information, please see the Educator Briefing on this study as well as any of our 200+ additional reports on Fast ForWord results. If you have questions about any of our research studies, please contact us.

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Categories: Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant, Scientific Learning Research

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Broward County, FL: “Fast ForWord has made me a more confident learner.”

In 2010, Scientific Learning partnered with Broward County School District in Florida to implement Fast ForWord products in five schools.  Over 1,200 students worked with the products, and participant grade levels ranged from elementary to high school.  The average gain for participating students was 1 year and 1 month after only 32 days of product usage.

Principals, teachers, and students at the Broward County schools reported improved reading, improved self-esteem, and engaged learning.  In this video created by the district, staff and students share their thoughts about working with Fast ForWord software to build confidence and raise test scores.

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Musical Training and Cognitive Abilities

musical training and cognitive abilities

The debate over music and its benefits for the development of early cognitive abilities have raged now for almost two decades. Can classical music transform children into smarter, more effective learners? Today's research indicates that the clear answer is that this is the wrong question. The question is this: What are the differences in the effects of passively listening to music vs. active musical training upon cognitive abilities?

On passive listening
Ever since French researcher Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis, in his 1991 book Pourquoi Mozart?, put forth the assertion that listening to the music of Mozart can retrain the brain, laypeople and researchers alike have been on the hunt for evidence to support his claims. Two years later, University of California at Irvine psychologist Frances H. Rauscher reported findings demonstrating that passively listening to Mozart's music enhanced college students' cognitive abilities. (Such claims gave rise to numerous products that were aggressively marketed to parents, the most popular being the highly scrutinized Baby Einstein series. See this 2009 article in the NY Times.)

While they garnered a fantastic amount of attention, researchers around the world have been highly skeptical of Rauscher's conclusions. Today, numerous studies have demonstrated that, alas, passively listening to music will not transform babies' brains into mini computational powerhouses. See this May 10, 2010 article in Science News.

On active training
All this does not translate to the conclusion that there is no educational benefit to music. I'm happy to report that active musical training, such as taking formal lessons in learning to play the piano or read music, does produce substantive positive changes in the brain in children as well as adults. As we know, the brain is plastic; it changes based on how it is exercised. (That is why we talk so much about brain fitness at Scientific Learning.)

In contrast to Tomatis and Raucher's work in passive musical listening, last year a team of European researchers published a study entitled, "Musical Training Influences Linguistic Abilities in 8-Year-Old Children: More Evidence for Brain Plasticity." Researchers tested thirty-two non-musician children over nine months to look at their predispositions for music, as well as to measure the effects of musical training upon non-musical functions.

Remarkably, they found that just six months formal musical training had positive affects upon subjects' abilities in speech. Specifically, subjects' musically trained ears allowed them to better discern differences in pitch. Further, this research supported the idea of brain plasticity in showing that even short periods of training the brain can have large effects upon brain function.

But how does musical training affect language processing in adults? Again, the research clearly outlines the positive affects, demonstrating that brain plasticity continues on through adulthood:

  • Schon, Magne and Besson published in 2004 demonstrated that training helps adults process not only music, but also speech. In studying the perception of fundamental frequency--the lowest threshold of audible tones--in eighteen musicians and non-musicians (mean age of 31), results showed that extensive musical training does have a clear affect on "the perception of pitch contour in spoken language."
  • The research from Gabb, Tallal, Kim, Laskminarayanan, Archie, Glover and Gabriela suggests that musical training actually "changes the neural network involved in rapid spectrotemporal processing so that it overlaps primarily with brain areas traditionally associated with language processing (e.g., Broca's region)."

The significance of all this research is clear; don't just listen to the music. Take up producing your own and you'll be rewarded with all that music has to offer, while gaining improved brain function as a bonus.

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What Every Parent Should Know About Their Baby’s Developing Brain (Part 1)

Your baby's developing brain

So here you are! In front of you is a newborn, a tiny miracle; a little person that you and your loved one created. This little person looks a little like your aunt Ruth, your father, and you. You have never experienced anything like the love and affection you feel for this little person and you want to guide his or her life the best you can.

What do you do? Does it matter how you hold it, feed it, talk it, attend to it? The short answer is ‘yes’. But the longer answer is that what the infant brain needs in terms of stimulation from parents is relatively simple and very natural. The baby’s brain is a “learning machine” set from day one to absorb and adapt to the world around it.

The parent’s job is a reasonably simple one—to provide an environment that fosters development of skills that will be helpful in later life. If it were an overwhelming task, humans would have died out as a species eons ago. But babies in a host of variable cultures, and subject to many different child rearing practices, in the main, grow up remarkably similar—they walk, talk, play, and eventually become productive adults. However, there is some new research that can guide parents on their journey.

Current research[i] has demonstrated that the primary job of the infant brain is to detect relevant information about language and the environment in which the baby is born and to design itself, in a relatively short period of time, to be an expert at that language and environment. If a baby is exposed to the English language, for example, the brain quickly begins the task of sorting that language into its smallest meaningful elements—the speech sounds—that signal differences in meaning from one word or another.[ii]

In a similar way, a newborn begins to explore his or her environment by observing how objects change in size and position when he or she is lying in a crib and later by observing how objects change when the child can move toward them and manipulate them. In just four months, the research shows, the infant can begin to pick out relevant visual cues that will help to recognize familiar faces, understand space, distinguish two versus three dimensional objects, and perceive a whole object even when only part of the object is observable, such as when a ball is partially hidden behind a block. [iii]

Through experience, the infant brain matures to become a specialist for the world the child is born into.[iv] A French child becomes a specialist in French, the Russian child a specialist in Russian. In this way, the infant brain “maps” itself to the world around it, with groups of brain cells (neurons) in a particular community like the auditory part of the brain, becoming specialists for processing specific types of information. In this way the brain builds itself to become a remarkable machine, eventually capable of understanding new and complex sentences and paragraphs, learning new vocabulary, solving complex new problems that have never been encountered before and realizing the world is full of individuals who have different, yet valid views and opinions.[v]

Since the experiences of the infant form the starting point for the development of the eventual brain architecture, it is important that those of us who are entrusted with this early experience, parents, caretakers, and day care centers, understand the role we play in the building of the brain’s architecture. It is also essential that researchers help those of us who guide an infant’s early experiences to understand which types of stimulation are “beneficial” to brain development and which could be “detrimental”[vi] as I will discuss in next month’s blog post.

What have you noticed about how babies master their environment?  Share your observations on our Scientific Learning Facebook page!



[i] Huttenlocher, P. (2002). Neural Plasticity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
[ii] Kuhl, P. (2004).  Early language acquisition: cracking the speech code. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5, 831-843.
[iii] Johnson, M.H., (2001). Functional brain development in humans. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2, 475-483.
[iv] Toga, A.,  Thompson, P., and Sowell, E. (2006). Mapping  brain maturation.  Trends in Neurosciences, 29(3), 148-159.
[v] Amodio, D. M. & Frith, C. D. (2006). Meeting of minds: the medial frontal cortex and social cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 7, 268–277.
[vi] What may be “detrimental” is put in quotation marks because from the standpoint of nature, everything a young child does is important to brain wiring. The infant brain is kind of like the hardware of a computer before it has been programmed with an operating system: it is open and flexible to whatever programs will be installed. Whether those programs are beneficial or detrimental depends on what the computer is expected to do later on.

 

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Categories: Brain Research, Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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