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Considering the Consequences: The Development of Childhood Decision-Making

Making good decisions

One of the key lessons that children learn in school—as in life—is how to make good decisions. In so many ways, life is a sequence of decision-making moments, with every possible path bifurcating into new results, lessons and experiences.

But how does a child’s mind work in approaching and processing decisions? How does the difficulty of a decision—as well as the anticipated consequence of punishment or reward—affect future choices?

In the 2005 study, "Characterization of Children’s Decision Making: Sensitivity to Punishment Frequency, Not Task Complexity", Crone, Bunge, Latenstein and van der Molen researched and discussed this exact question.

Using a computerized variant of a standard task, the researchers studied how children of various ages approached decision-making moments. Here’s how it worked:

  • The Task: Children were asked to perform two versions of a computerized decision-making task that varied in complexity.
  • The Consequences: Researchers varied the frequency of how long the consequences of a decision (i.e., punishment) were delayed after each decision.
  • The Results:
    • Sensitivity to consequences increased only when punishments were presented infrequently.
    • The complexity or difficulty of the task did not appear to have an effect on the child’s ability to perform it.
    • Generally boys outperformed girls by making better choices.
    • Overall, older children (ages 7-12) appear comparatively unconcerned about the future except for when the potential for future punishment is high.

Now, this is all very interesting scientifically-speaking, but what about the practical insights we can glean from this study?

In school, students face decision-making moments throughout the school day, in choosing right answers in the classroom, in selecting materials in the library, and in making activity choices on the playground. In each situation, their minds—in different ways at each developmental stage of childhood—are predicting consequences and weighing outcomes.

As educators, the more aware we are of their developmental abilities in how those decisions are made, the better we can help guide each individual child’s development and learning for success.

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Categories: Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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Ok, so you made a mistake. But look what you learned!

making mistakes and classroom culture

As an educator, I want to see students putting forth the absolute best effort they can, each and every time they attempt a task. But what might happen if we created a classroom culture where making mistakes were more integral to the learning process? What if failure were discussed openly and positively as a key part of the learning experience?

In most traditional schools today, when we look at the grade system,
A-B-C-D-F, we see the F at the bottom of the scale. It says, “You’ve attempted this task and not performed up to standards.” There is little to no upside to the grade. It is the label we give to an effort that has delivered a less than satisfactory performance. For the person who has received it, it is a dead end. It can be painful and embarrassing, dragging down his self-esteem and reinforcing an image of himself as a failure.

As educators, the trick for us is to turn each of these moments--each of these mistakes and failures--into a beginning and a learning opportunity, and cultivate that same perspective in our students’ minds as well. Scientifically speaking, at the moment of failure, the brain is primed to absorb the information needed to perform the task successfully the next time around. In short, when we have the perspective that we can learn from our mistakes, parts of the frontal lobe are engaged when we make errors and that helps draw attention to those errors. (See Motivation to do Well Enhances Responses to Errors and Self-Monitoring, Bengtsson, Lau and Passingham, 2009.)                                         

What if we became more cognizant of these ideas and harnessed their power in the classroom? 

For a moment, suspend your image of the classroom where statements like “I must always get the right answer” represent the mindset. Instead, imagine a classroom designed around statements such as:

  • “While I will learn by studying and listening, I will learn the most by doing.”
  • “I will demonstrate my abilities through successes, but I will learn through my mistakes.”
  • “Mistakes are a way for me to get feedback so I can do it right the next time.”
  • “This classroom is a safe place where I am encouraged to try, to experiment, to fail and to use those failures to learn even more.”

Interestingly, these statements embody a “growth mindset,” which we wrote about last year. In short, based on the research of Carol S. Dweck of Stanford University, if we teach students to be go-getters who face challenges as learning opportunities with open-mindedness as opposed to a fear of failing, their brains are more apt to learn effectively.                                                                                                                         

It is essential to note that in such a classroom, making mistakes would be clearly differentiated from carelessness and lack of effort, which would not be tolerated.

What would it be like to learn in such a classroom? Students would be encouraged to develop and try new ideas. Getting a wrong answer on a math test represents an opportunity to go back and learn a better way of solving the problem. Students in this classroom learn science by getting out and experiencing material directly in the field. They learn to USE the scientific method as opposed to reading about it in textbooks or performing formulaic lab demonstrations.

What kind of professional might that person grow to be?  Imagine the mindset of the student who comes out of a system founded on these ideas. This person is an innovator who has little fear of trying new ideas. This is someone who has been encouraged to think outside the box. This is also a person who, when she makes mistakes, sees them as a moment to learn and improve. Each failure represents a look ahead to the future. This person sees herself as a problem-solver.

As countless economists, sociologists and other thinkers have posited, the future will be owned by those who can innovate, to try new ideas and, certainly, risk failure. These are skills that we can and must impart to our students. And we can start doing so by more highly valuing the making of mistakes and transforming them into powerful teachable moments.

For further reading, check out:

  1. The Value of Mistakes, by Jeffrey Agrell
  2. You’ve Made a Mistake. Now what?, by Amy Gallo

 

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Intensive Intervention Tier 3: What leads to the need?

Intensive intervention tier 3

To start talking about intensive intervention tier 3 in the Response to Intervention Model, I want to start by asking you a simple question:

Are you having chicken for dinner tonight?

You probably can’t fathom how fast your brain arrived at the yes or no conclusion that popped into your head. And yet, to process that one sentence, your brain had to think through seven words, eleven syllables, 19 to 21 phonemes, 35 letters and three distinct “e” sounds. And your amazing brain did all that, sequencing the concepts, drawing on your memory and formulating an answer, in fractions of a second.

The reason your brain was able to perform such an incredible feat is because you have the foundational knowledge -- and the countless neurons in place and linked up in your brain -- to process that information. Those connections are the result of years of language acquisition and learning, the majority of which happened when you were less than four years old.

We are born with the natural ability to acquire language and speech; it is the first test of our brain’s capacity to learn. When we speak and read to infants and young children, we are helping to establish that linguistic foundation, teach speech, develop vocabulary and impart those essential skills. Reading is a different story. Written language must be taught and learned; that’s why we focus on reading skills so heavily in preschool and kindergarten.

But what happens when children don’t get that essential exposure to language early on? What if a child experiences chronic ear infections in his first four years? What if her parents work long hours and don’t read to her often? What if a child does not receive that essential early language stimulation?

Early language development is the precursor for reading; without that indispensable input, a child’s brain literally does not learn how to process input correctly. Consider that by the time she is four years old, on average, the child of a professional family has absorbed over three times the number of words as a child of a family of low socioeconomic status. Often, it is these children who end up without the prerequisite language skills and more often than not become struggling readers -- those requiring those tier 3 interventions -- all because of their language foundations.

The great news is that these students DO NOT have to end up out of the mainstream, using valuable tier 3 resources. In the average class, 1 to 5 percent of students do not progress adequately and need intensive interventions. Still, 40 percent of those students who are identified with learning disabilities are simply having trouble reading. If we can bring those students back into the mainstream with proven, scientifically-based brain fitness exercises, we can give them more promising futures as well as free up tier 3 interventions for those students who truly need them.

To learn more about the neurological science behind why these deficits occur in the brain, as well as how we can remedy them, I encourage you to gather your team together over a lunch and watch the webinar, RtI Tier 3 Intensive Interventions: A Neuroscience Perspective. Delivered by Dr. Sherry Francis, it offers fantastic insights to enlighten how we think about these students and their needs and abilities, as well as concrete solutions to help them achieve success.

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Education Trends, Reading & Learning, Special Education

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Unlocking the Potential of English Language Learners

BrainMaps - ESL Program

A few weeks back, I contributed a blog entry that provided some information on how Scientific Learning programs are implemented around the world via our Value Added Representative (VAR) partners.

Today, I want to discuss one such VAR in particular, our friends from BrainMaps, based in Shanghai, run by the husband and wife team of Tiffany and Rick Lee.  BrainMaps currently has a total of seven owned or affiliated centers, and it focuses on helping children generally between the ages of 6 and 12 more rapidly acquire English reading and oral fluency skills.  Over the next three to four years, BrainMaps plans to have over 50 centers throughout the People’s Republic of China. Perhaps more so than in any other non-English speaking country, the benefits of English proficiency for the Chinese are very concrete in economic terms.  English proficient professionals will on average earn over 50% more for the same job than their less proficient colleagues.

The Lee’s bring years of experience to the practice of English learning, having been heavily involved in the Wall Street Institute (a global network of English learning centers) prior to their association with Scientific Learning.  What drew them to our programs was the strong research base, the proven results, and the sharp contrast between our methodology versus the typical “content” approach of the competition.  Amongst a large collection of international, regional and local competitors in the after-school ESL market in China, BrainMaps is unique in providing a brain-fitness/cognitive skills approach to English learning. 

Children at a BrainMaps center begin with three to four months of intensive Fast ForWord use, usually beginning with the Fast ForWord Language program.  This is followed by 26 weeks of use of the Reading Assistant product, which includes an innovative 45 minute direct group instruction session each week with a teacher using an interactive whiteboard to provide guided reading activities around a Reading Assistant story.  This session is followed by a student “recital” period, where, gathered in front of the parents who have arrived to fetch their child from the learning center, the child reads a selected Reading Assistant story.  Parents can see and hear the difference from week to week.  This kind or vivid progress, augmented by the Progress Tracker reports showing gains on Words Correct Per Minute (WCPM) as well as improved comprehension scores, is what gives parents and the children themselves confidence in the BrainMaps method.  After the 26 week period, the child reverts to another Fast ForWord program for two to three months, followed by another 26 week cycle of Reading Assistant, and so forth.

There is a rich vein of Chinese culture at play in the development of the BrainMaps instructional model.  According to the Lee’s, their learning model is similar to the steps required to become a Kung-fu master.   For Kung-fu mastery, there are three “must have” criteria, activating Ren-du acupuncture nodes, strengthening the inner chi-gong (internal energy), and intensively practicing the kung-fu formations.  For the non-native speaker to learn English effectively, the analogous steps are to first unlock the learning potential, and then, in a sense, construct the English brain.  Proper use of Fast ForWord products helps to address these two criteria.  Finally, enriching the English knowledge comes about through use of Reading Assistant software, as well as via the Fast ForWord Reading programs.

BrainMaps branding includes the phrase, Powered By Scientific Learning, and we are proud of our association with this innovative use of our programs to help Chinese learners master English, putting them on a path for future success.  The Lee’s welcome visitors who may be passing through Shanghai, and they can also be reached at rick.lee@brainmaps.com.cn.  Or, feel free to contact me at pcarabi@scilearn.com.

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Categories: Brain Fitness, English Language Learners, Family Focus, Fast ForWord, Reading Assistant

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Introducing SciLEARN™ Enterprise!

I am pleased to announce the release of SciLEARN™ Enterprise, which provides web-based access to the Fast ForWord Language Series, Fast ForWord Literacy Series, and Fast ForWord Reading Series

With the new browser capabilities of SciLEARN Enterprise, schools no longer need to install the Fast ForWord software at each student computer. Instead, SciLEARN Enterprise application can be run as a web-based product from a single server at the district level, eliminating thousands of dollars of overhead at every school and lowering the total cost of ownership. 

SciLEARN Enterprise application enables districts to deploy to more than 3,000 concurrent students with just one installation, saving time and money and enabling faster results.   With SciLEARN Enterprise, greater numbers of students will be able to access the software that will help build brain fitness and accelerate learning.

The new application is easy to use and deploy.   Users can perform daily tasks from any internet-connected computer in the district:

  • School staff may securely log in as District Manager, School Manager, or Instructor
  • The District Manager can view and modify school and student data
  • Students access Fast ForWord exercises through a browser

See below for screenshots!

SciLearn Student Exercises

SciLEARN Enterprise

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Fast ForWord

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Why Do Boys Fail?

Are boys really failing?

So, why do boys fail? A great many teachers, school board members, district administrators and researchers have considered the implications of this question. As a scientist, a researcher, a business leader, and yes, as a man, the question both fascinates and disturbs me for any number of reasons, so I’d like to take a minute to talk about the question and its implications. Why do boys fail? Why indeed.

This question tells us point blank that boys are failing. But behind every question that starts with “why” there lies an assumed truth. When a child asks, “Why is the sky blue?” that question is based on the observation that, most certainly, the sky is blue. When someone--no matter how well informed--asks why our nation’s boys are failing, the underlying assumed truth is that yes, our boys are failing.

But are they?

According to Sara Mead and her 2006 survey of the applicable research, the issue is not necessarily that boys are failing. In fact, performance among males has been on the rise in recent years. Still, the achievement gap between males and females is also becoming more pronounced because performance among females is going up faster than their male counterparts.

So, what are the facts in regards to the performance of the boys? As an example, let’s look at the trend of boys’ performance in reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that Mead references in her article:

  • On the most recent NAEP administered in 2008, fourth grade boys did better in reading than on the previous two comparable assessments.  
  • Long term data suggests that 9-year-old boys fared better on the 2004 and 2008 reading assessments than ever before, dating back to the first administering of the test in 1971.  
  • Since 1971, reading performance among 13-year-olds remained stable, while among 17-year-olds performance had been declining through the 1990s. But, the most recent 2008 results show scores for both age groups are back on the rise.

It should be noted that performance for minority boys is “shockingly low” (Mead’s words) as compared to Caucasians, but, from 1995 to 2005, African American boys improved more than Caucasian and Hispanic boys or girls of any ethnicity.

But what does achievement look like when we compare the boys and the girls?

  • Girls tend to outperform boys in reading.
  • Boys tend to outperform girls in science and math.
  • There has been no significant overall decline in the academic performance of boys relative to girls.

Overall, the picture of performance as snapshots as well as in trends over time paint an extremely complex picture, and the data can be creatively compiled to support any number of agendas.

The question itself, “Why do boys fail?” can be used to criticize educators and practices. It can be used to make a statement about the educational system. It can be used to cause shock, create fear for our nations’ future, or inspire us to action.

No matter how you interpret the question, I suggest that we all simply become as knowledgeable as possible of the facts, and use that understanding and inspiration--whether that drive is based in shock, fear or hope--to continue to improve teaching and our educational systems. Because in the end, our goal is that none should fail.

Here are a few resources to spur your understanding:

----------------------------------------------------------

 

1 Marianne Perie, Wendy S. Grigg, and Patricia L. Donahue, The Nation's Report Card: Reading 2005 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. 2005).

2 Rampey, B.D., Dion, G.S., and Donahue, P.L. (2009). NAEP 2008 Trends in Academic Progress (NCES 2009–479). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

3 M. Perie, R. Moran, and A.D. Lutkus, NAEP 2004 Trends in Academic Progress: Three Decades of Student Achievement in Reading and Mathematics (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 2005).

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Categories: Education Trends, Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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5 Insights from our Recent Brain Fitness Webinars

Forward thinking: 5 insights

As we look ahead to the 2011 webinars and get ready to hear more experts in the field of brain fitness and education, I wanted to take a moment to review the 2010 webinars and share the top 5 points of the webinars that I am still thinking about today.

  1. We have learned more about the brain in the last 10 years than in the previous 100 years (Eric Jensen, 7 Discoveries From Brain Research That Could Revolutionize Education).
  2. The frequency of autism is increasing. It used to be 2 to 5 for every 10,000.  Now research suggests 1 in 110 live births with more cases of autism happening in boys (CDC Report in 2009) (Ann Osterling, Autism: What is the Latest Research?).
  3. The repeated practice of texts helps build fluency.  Have students read poetry out loud, sing songs, and do cheers and chants.  (Dr. Timothy Rasinski, Teaching Fluency:  The Neglected Goal of the Reading Program).
  4. Students today are part of a global community and need to prepare to be global researchers and global communicators (Alan November, Creating a New Culture of Teaching and Learning).
  5. We used to be able to teach education as a top-down model. Education is not something to do to students but rather with students.  It is critical that we learn how to engage with students, listen to them and help them find their passion in life (Marc Prensky, Engage Me or Enrage Me: Educating Today's ‘Digital Native' Learners).

Check out our webinars page for recorded webinars and to learn how you can subscribe to a podcast.  Subscribe to this blog to receive the 2011 webinar schedule in your inbox, coming soon!

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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HABLA Program Helps Disadvantaged Early Learners Lay Foundations for Success

building school readiness through language

One of the key members of the Scientific Learning community is Dr. Virginia Mann. A consultant for Scientific Learning, Dr. Mann is also Professor of Cognitive Sciences at the University of California, Irvine and Director of a program called HABLA that serves disadvantaged 2- to 4-year old children and their parents.

HABLA, which stands for "Home-based Activities Building Language Acquisition," and is the Spanish imperative for "speak", is "a broad-spectrum Latino-focused educational outreach program" whose goal is to go into homes and help parents learn to better speak and interact with their children to build their language and school readiness skills.

Dr. Mann’s research is discovering that the key precursor skills for reading are those that we tend to take for granted, such as understanding and articulating language, naming things and letters, and having a sense of rhyme. All of these skills grow and work together as children develop the foundations that will allow them to succeed in kindergarten. The HABLA program leverages this understanding and, through regular home visits (42 each year for two years), helps parents introduce these skills—in their native language—through reading, speaking and music activities as they talk and play with their children.

The results thus far are promising:

  • Children in the program perform significantly better than their counterparts in the community in terms of these key communications skills. They are above normal where their untreated peers lag behind.
  • As participants learn these core literacy skills, they also learn counting, colors, shapes and more, building the basic concepts and organizational and sequencing skills they will need to succeed in other areas, such as math, science and more.
  • The gains that HABLA establishes in Spanish form a scaffold for learning English in school. Not only do HABLA participants excel in Spanish, they also excel in learning English and continue to surpass untreated children in preschool and kindergarten classes.

To learn more about Dr. Mann and the HABLA program, visit www.socsci.uci.edu/habla/.

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Categories: Brain Fitness, English Language Learners, Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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