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Showing posts in October 2011  Show all posts >

Joel’s Story: My Nephew’s Reading Skills Improved 1½ Years in 3 Months with Fast ForWord

This post is the fifth in a series aimed at sharing the success stories, both personal and professional, that Scientific Learning employees witness every day.

Joel’s Story:

“The story is about my nephew.  He has moved around a bit because his father is in the military.  He has had a little bit of a break up in his school experience and his first several years of school.

They could never quite pin down what wasn’t working for him, but he just wasn’t maximizing his potential.  His mother knew that and my sister knew that but they couldn’t ever get him long enough in one place to ever nail down what was going on. 

Finally they got a test done in the 4th grade that showed he was two years below reading level.  He could read pretty well but he had a hard time comprehending what he was reading and understanding what it meant.  We also uncovered that sometimes he struggled with unfamiliar words so we suspected that there might be some decoding issues as well.  I said to put him on [Fast ForWord] Language v2.  He ran through Language v2.  His initial RPI scores indicated that he was two years below grade level and he was struggling with decoding and reading comprehension. 

He finished Language v2 in just over 3 months and his RPI—Reading Progress Indicator—scores went up one and a half years.  He finished his way through [Fast ForWord] Language to Reading v2 and he now is reading on grade level. 

He is in a small, small school district in the Midwest and may not be there long because of the nature of his father’s job.  Both his father and mother were amazed by the results of the Fast ForWord programs.”

Related Reading:

Building Fluent Readers: How Oral Reading Practice Helps Reading Comprehension

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

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Categories: Family Focus, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning

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Building Fluent Readers: How Oral Reading Practice Helps Reading Comprehension

Oral reading practice

In my former work as a teacher, one of the best moments of the day in my classroom took place when I read aloud to my students.  It was a magical time for all of us as the words on the page and the characters in the story seemed to come alive right before us as I used different voices and accents. Sometimes I read very fast and other times I created long pauses that kept my students hanging, wondering what would happen next.  I wanted them to love reading as much as I did – to enjoy that excitement you feel when you solve a mystery, are saved from catastrophe, or discover a wild and wonderful new world.  Sharing this gift with my students was possible only because I am a fluent reader.

In his book The Fluent Reader, Dr. Timothy Rasinski says that fluency is a critical but sometimes ignored link between the basic reading of words and achieving comprehension.  With fluency, the foundational skills of phonics and word recognition have progressed to the point that only a minimal amount of cognitive energy is needed for decoding so that the reader can focus on understanding what is being read.   When you are a fluent reader, you are able to read easily and efficiently with prosody, or meaningful expression, and that enhances your comprehension. 

Students must have some degree of fluency in order to comprehend text, so if you have students who easily understand what is read to them but have difficulty when reading independently, fluency may be the source of that problem.  A study of fourth graders sponsored by the US Department of Education demonstrated that the most fluent readers had the strongest comprehension scores.  In addition, every decline in oral reading fluency in the study had a corresponding decline in reading comprehension.[i]  The study was replicated ten years later with about 1,500 students and had similar results.[ii]  In both studies, close to half of the students who were not adequately fluent in reading also demonstrated significant problems with comprehension.

Practice is essential to learning and mastering any skill – sports, music, cooking, etc. - so it makes sense that this also would apply to the skill of reading.   By including consistent oral reading practice during the school day, the reading process becomes transparent so it can be observed, examined and supported until students become independent readers.   Readers must transition from being tied to the individual words so they can achieve higher levels of comprehension as they read.  A great way to encourage this is through repeated oral practice of the same reading selection, which helps students with word recognition, fluency and prosody as well as general reading and comprehension. 

There is something special about reading aloud regardless of who does the reading.  Oral reading is a powerful tool that can help students not only learn to read fluently but also to experience the joy of reading. 

The transition from rote to rapture - that’s what fluency can do for you.

Want to learn more?  Check out Dr. Rasinski’s free on-demand webinar on scilearn.com, Teaching Fluency:  The Neglected Goal of the Reading Program.

[i] Gay S. Pinnell et al. Listening to Children Read Aloud: Data From NAEP’s Integrated Reading Performance Record (IRPR) at Grade 4, 1995.  http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/permalinkPopup.jsp?accno=ED378550

[ii]Mary C. Daane, Jay R. Campbell, Wendy S. Grigg, Madeline J. Goodman, and Andreas Oranje. Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading, October 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2006469.asp

Related Reading:

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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Kindergarten Math Readiness & The Cardinal Principle

Kindergarten math readiness

Something very interesting happens in the brains of young children when they reach age four, or thereabouts.  They start to understand “how many” items are in a set—and in particular, they begin to be able to differentiate sets of “four” items or more.  This ability signals that they have discovered “the cardinal principle,” the idea that the last number reached when counting the items in a set represents the entire set.

Of the many challenging concepts that preschoolers need to master for kindergarten math readiness, the cardinal principle is one of the harder ones, and it takes about a year to develop. It is a major milestone in a child’s mathematical development, after which the child is able to demonstrate a good understanding of “how many” in a variety of ways, such as matching sets of unlike items when the number of items in each set is the same.

Most parents believe that their child’s mathematical skills are developed largely by formal schooling, but research indicates that certain kinds of parent-child interactions in the preschool years, commonly referred to as “number talk,” are a primary driver of children’s mathematical ability through at least 5th grade. Number talk includes activities such as rote counting (counting “one, two, three, four,” as when playing hide and seek), counting tangible objects such as Cheerios (“one, two, three, four Cheerios”), and labeling the number of items in a set (“there are four Cheerios”).

As with verbal literacy, there is wide variation in the math knowledge of four year olds, with a one to two year gap between children who are more mathematically advanced and their less advanced peers.  Children with more exposure to number talk, and specifically to number talk about sets of four or more items, catch on to the cardinal principle faster than those who engage in less number talk or in number talk that focuses mostly on smaller sets of one to three items.

Unfortunately, few parents are informed about how kindergarten math readiness develops, and they tend not to know which math skills are developmentally appropriate for their child in the preschool years.  For example, parents often do not realize that their young child, who can easily count to 10, may not be able to identify a group of 10 objects.  Parents also tend to spend more time engaged in number talk around smaller sets of one to three items instead of larger sets of four and more, while the opposite has been shown to be more beneficial.

How to Encourage Kindergarten Math Readiness

There are simple things that parents and caregivers can do to help preschoolers learn about numbers and prepare for kindergarten math:

  • Ask children to count objects they can touch, such as Cheerios, pieces of cheese, or blocks, and objects they can see, like pictures of dogs on a page of the book Go, Dog. Go!
  • Label the number of items in sets of objects children use throughout the day.  For example, “You have six crayons.”
  • When counting tangible objects, label the number of items in the set, too, to point children toward the crux of the cardinal principle—that the last number counted represents the entire set of objects.  For example, “one, two, three, four crackers; you have four crackers.”
  • Talk about larger sets more often.  What children learn about larger sets helps them perform better on tasks involving smaller sets as well.
  • Expose children to age-appropriate, educational math games for preschoolers, such as the Eddy’s Number Party!™ game, a new iPad app from Scientific Learning that develops counting, number matching skills, and more.  The game, designed with cognitive scientists and educators, is based on research into how the brain learns.

Perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future, public awareness of the importance of building preschool math literacy will match that of building preschool verbal literacy.  But for now, parents and caregivers who are in the know can begin to engage preschoolers with the right kinds of activities to give them an edge in developing the early childhood math skills needed for success throughout the elementary grades. 

I encourage you to try the some of the tips outlined above if you have young children of your own and to share this article with other parents of preschool-age kids, as we work together to raise our children’s opportunities for future success.

For further reading:

Gunderson, E. A., Levine, S. C., Some types of parent number talk count more than others: relations between parents’ input and children’s cardinal-number knowledge. Developmental science. 14:5 (2011), pp 1021–1032.

Related Reading:

Introducing the Eddy's Number Party! Game - the First iPad App from Scientific Learning

Still the Write Stuff: Why We Must Continue Teaching Handwriting

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60% of Middle and High School Learners Exceed FCAT Annual Learning Gain Expectations

Marion County Public Schools in Ocala, FL, wanted to evaluate the effects of the Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ products on the academic achievement of their students. Students in Florida are assessed with the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test, abbreviated as the FCAT. The students in this study were initially at FCAT Level 1 or 2, where Level 3 means performing on grade level and Level 5 means the student is successful with the most challenging grade-level content. These study participants attended middle and high schools in the Marion County Public Schools and most of them were eligible for Exceptional Student Education services.

Each spring, all Marion County students in Grades 3-10 take the FCAT. This is a criterion-referenced test. The Reading portion of the FCAT is designed to assess student achievement of the high-order cognitive skills represented in the Sunshine State Standards.

One way for students at FCAT Levels 1 and 2 to meet their Annual Learning Gains (ALG), a component in determining a school’s grade, is for them to improve their scores by more than a state-mandated level that varies depending on grade level. Across the students in this study, in order to meet Annual Learning Gains, the students had to improve at least 115 points.

After using Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant products, 60% of the participants made ALG with the actual improvement of 173 points, on average, exceeding the expected gain of 115 points by a statistically significant amount.

Related Reading:

Longitudinal Study Shows Significant Fast ForWord® Gains Endure Over Time

Fast ForWord® Language Series Has Greatest Impact of Any Intervention Listed by NCRTI

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Introducing the Eddy’s Number Party! Game – the First iPad App from Scientific Learning

Eddy's Number Party

Hi! My name is Erin Ellinwood and I’m a product manager at Scientific Learning.   I am super excited to write about our first ever iPad App, the Eddy’s Number Party!™game, for preschool and kindergarten aged children.  Our products have always been grounded in science and built with scientific advisors, and this game is no exception.  Equally pairing early math curriculum with two critical cognitive skills, working memory and attention, Eddy’s Number Party! helps prepare kids for success in kindergarten and beyond. In the game, kids help Eddy’s friends surprise him with the biggest dog birthday party ever and practice counting, remembering, and matching numbers.

Designed for Young Learners

Our roots here at Scientific Learning are in developing cutting edge adaptive learning games for delivery on desktop or laptop computers.  Because this game targets a younger audience, we talked to teachers and educational experts to see what technology they thought would be best for preschool and kindergarten age learners.  The resounding feedback we heard was that our game would be most developmentally appropriate on the iPad.  And so, our first iPad app was born.

Makes Learning Fun (We’re Getting Great Reviews from Our Kid Testers!)

Sometimes learning can feel monotonous, especially for 3 to 5 year olds, so we added some key components to help break things up: 

  • Story:  Nothing engages kids like a good story.  Since most young children love birthday parties, the game is centered around a party for the adorable dog, Eddy.  “But,” the game asks, “where are all his friends?” As kids advance through the game levels, they round up more and more friends, culminating in a fun party scene and acknowledgement of the child’s accomplishment: “You did it, you got all of Eddy’s friends to his party!”
  • Bonus levels: The bonus levels add variety and keep interest while reinforcing the learning objectives.  Our cognitive science advisors call the bonus activities “palate cleansers,” a nice but productive break from the “drill”. 
  • Engagement: We’ve pumped up the engagement in a big way, because we know that when it comes to kids and iPads, it’s all about fun.
  • In-app sticker play: As a child masters each learning level, the game awards a sticker, but not just a regular sticker—it’s a funny “talking” sticker.   It has been so much fun to see each of our kid testers collect the stickers and get excited about creating their party!   Plus, research shows that kids benefit from a reward structure.  Stickers are a reward that preschool and kindergarten age children really identify with, and the sticker play can add hours of creative interaction.

Includes and Enables Parents

Grown-Up Central is a unique feature among apps for kids (and my favorite part of the app)I believe that it is important to give parents the ability to review the game’s goals, tour all game levels, and learn about the underlying research and development behind the game. In addition to all of the information it provides about the app itself, Grown-Up Central also features a visual report card that shows a child’s progress and gives suggestions at each level for “what to look for” (such as a child beginning to count up from a known quantity) and how to further “bring learning to life” (such as cooking with the child from a recipe).

Being the product manager for the Eddy's Number Party! game has been a fantastic challenge, and I’m proud of the result.

I hope to see you at the party! Click here to download from Apple’s iTunes App Store or visit the App Store and search for "Eddy’s Number Party!”

And, if you like the app, please consider leaving a review in the App Store!

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Using Google in the Classroom: Two Simple Tips to Refine Your Search

Using Google in the classroom

Today is research day.

Your students are excited as they head to the computer lab to begin looking at ideas for their National History Day Projects.

They arrive.  Sit at their computer.  Open Google and begin typing their topic into the search bar.

Just then a bit of panic sets in as you realize Google Search can return all kinds of results, and your students are pouring over literally millions of target locations that possibly have no relevance to the research they are attempting to conduct.  Even worse in your mind is that you have possibly just wasted thirty minutes of valuable time—time that could have been much more productive if you just knew a couple of things about Google Search.

Google Basic Search is how most of us use Google.  It gives you the simple task of typing your search topic in the Google Search Bar and accepting the results it hands back. 

It is valuable to know that Google compiles those results in many different ways, and not always in the specific way in which we are looking. For example, when I search for the Great Divide (or Continental Divide), which was a major factor in United States Westward Expansion, I get these top three results:

  1. Great Divide Brewing Co.  This may be a fine microbrewery but definitely wasn’t a hangout for the Westward Explorers.
  2. Great Divide Snow Sports.  I do not recall the explorers using snowboards so I believe we can rule this site out as well 
  3. The Great Divide Band, of which none of the members were even born during the time period, once again provides nothing in the way of help in research on the topic of the Great Divide. 

Now, take a look at some simple tools that will provide a powerful and impactful search for your students and maximize their time performing research.  These tools are called Google Search Operators, and two common Operators are Site: and Source:.

Site:, when typed after a search topic, allows a searcher to find information on Google from specific sites or domain extensions (.com, .net, .edu) thus narrowing the search only to websites that are considered relevant and appropriate, such as educational institutions, media, government sites, etc.  For educational institutions you would use their domain extension, site:edu, to generate only results that come from the educational community such as universities.  For media or other websites you use their site and extension—some examples include site:cnn.com which would generate searches specifically from CNN.com or site:apple.com which would generate searches only from the Apple website.  Give it a try.  Type in Google Search [Steve Jobs site:CNN.com] or [Steve Jobs site:apple.com]. 

Source: is a very focused search operator that, when placed after a search topic, allows a searcher to find information from a specific news source such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or a local newspaper.  To perform a search with source: you would follow the same steps as you would with site:, instead just typing the source in which you are looking to gain information.  Try this search: [Election source:New York Times], which prioritizes results on the topic of elections that have been published in The New York Times.

There are many other advanced search operators for use with Google, but these two simple operators are a great start to help your students focus their time on performing credible research.  If you would like to learn about these and other options, you can visit Google’s web search support page for more information.

Related Reading:

Opening the Classroom Through Online Collaboration: 21st Century Learning Environments

Why Limit Screen Time? Scientific Research Explains

 

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Toddler Vocabulary Development: Shopping With Your Child

Vocabulary development

There is no better time to teach your toddler the names of things than when you go out shopping together. The wonderful thing about shopping with your child at a grocery store or clothing store is that he can sit in a shopping cart and interact with you while pointing to all the interesting colors, shapes and objects around him.

Never mind that as he gets closer to two years old he may want you to focus on the candy aisle, or buy everything fuzzy or toy-like.  Use the time to provide names for all the wonderful objects you can see.

 “Wow!  Look at these oranges today—they are so big. They look like big balls don’t they?”

“Hey, those peppers are green and red and yellow, just like Christmas lights—what fun!”

“I see blue shirts and white shirts. What color do you like?”

As you talk about all the shapes and colors, your tot will begin to want you to tell him more names. If he can’t ask you “What is that?” yet, he will start to point to objects he wants you to name or let him touch. (Of course you don’t want him touching fresh food items or knocking down items on shelves, but there is no harm in letting him feel a soft cloth or looking more closely at the funny picture on a box of cereal.)

Here are some tips for making shopping both fun and educational for your child:

  • Color, shape, and size: Notice colors, shapes, and sizes as you shop the fruit and vegetable aisle with your toddler. Tell your child that bananas are “long and yellow,” and that oranges, apples, limes and lemons look like “orange, red, green and yellow balls.” At the clothing store, “big pants” may be for “big daddy” and tiny shoes may be “just the right size” for your child.
  • Texture and touch:  Clothing stores are all about touch. PJ’s are usually “soft,” and raincoats are “smooth and stiff,” while some coats may be “furry.” Your child will love feeling all the different textures.
  • Questions: Note that celery has “leaves” and broccoli has “flowers.” Ask questions, “Why do you think cauliflower is named that way?” Point out that potatoes have “eyes” and wonder aloud, “Why do they have so many and we have only two?”
  • My shopping cart: Some grocery stores have begun offering small grocery carts for young children to push around. You may want to wait until your tot is two or a little older, but it can be fun to let him choose apples, oranges or boxed cereals and push them in his own cart. At home you can use empty boxes to “play store” on a rainy day.

You might hear yourself saying, “not today” or “not now” as your child wants you to add everything to your basket (or his), but giving him the opportunity to explore the world around him is a valuable experience for both of you.  You get to cross a few items off your to-do list, while your toddler works on vocabulary development through conversation and play, with his favorite person—you.

Related Reading:

The Magical Combination of Love and Limits: Tips for Teaching Positive Behavior

Story Strategies for Building the Best Bedtimes

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Longitudinal Study Shows Significant Fast ForWord® Gains Endure Over Time

Every spring, the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, abbreviated CRCT, are administered to students in Georgia.  The CRCT is designed to measure how well students acquire the skills and knowledge described in the Georgia Performance Standards.

Students are tested in reading, English/language arts and mathematics. This summary will concentrate on the reading results from the Clarke County School District in Georgia.  The CRCT is given every spring to all students in grades 1-8, and the students included in this study were first through eighth graders during the time of the study.

A longitudinal study is a type of study that follows the same subjects over time. Clarke County students who used the Fast ForWord products generally started with the Fast ForWord® Language or Fast ForWord® Literacy series, with students then progressing through the Fast ForWord® Reading series. Students started on the products during different years, with some starting as early as the 2006-2007 school year, and others starting aslate as the 2010-2011 school year.

The first wave of Fast ForWord participants at Clarke County started using the products in the fall of 2006 and made statistically significant improvements on the spring 2007 CRCT with continued improvements in 2008 and the following years.  Students in the second wave started using the products in the fall of 2007 and made statistically significant improvements on the spring 2008 CRCT.

After a third group started in 2008 school year, the group’s CRCT scores significantly increased and then continued to go up.  Similarly, students who began using the products in 2009 and 2010 also started to show increases in their reading scores after Fast ForWord participation.

Each cohort exhibits a similar pattern in that after Fast ForWord participation started, on average, the group showed a steady increase in their CRCT reading scores with each passing year.

Looking at the students who started using Fast ForWord products in 2010, there was an increase in the percentage of students reaching reading proficiency, with 55% of students who were not proficient in 2010 crossing the proficiency threshold in 2011.

In addition to longitudinal results, data were also analyzed for certain demographic groups, including students who were receiving Special Education services and students with Limited English Proficiency. Both groups achieved statistically significant improvements on the CRCT Reading Test after Fast ForWord participation.

If you have questions on this study or any other Fast ForWord study, please feel free to contact our Customer Service Team.

Related Reading:

Fast ForWord® Language Series Has Greatest Impact of Any Intervention Listed by NCRTI

My Nephew Was a Struggling Learner (Not Anymore!): Carrie’s Story

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Categories: English Language Learners, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Scientific Learning Research, Special Education

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Recognizing Emotions After Brain Injury: Re-Learning a Critical Social Skill

Brain injury

For most of us, interpreting and expressing emotion is something deeply instinctive. But what happens when that ability to express ourselves or read another’s emotions goes awry? Imagine what can happen to a student’s classroom experience if they can’t make sense of something as simple as their teacher’s facial expression. In the past, these kinds of students have been seen as having behavior problems. So how can we help them succeed?

Research has shown that people with traumatic brain injuries often experience this same inability to interpret and respond to emotions, a condition called "affect recognition."

Barry Willer, professor of psychiatry and specialist in TBI (traumatic brain injury) of the University of Buffalo, tells the story of a man and his wife who came into his office with a problem. The woman had experienced a mild traumatic brain injury. While her husband was supporting her recovery as best he could, she consistently described his attitude as “indifferent. “ He was frustrated, to say the least.

“His wife didn’t know she wasn’t recognizing his emotions,” said Willer, recounting the story in a 2009 interview with Insciences Journal , “and he had no idea what was going on.”

This couple is by no means alone. Nearly fifty percent of all traumatic brain injuries result in problems interpreting and expressing emotion.

As educators, being able to connect with our students at an emotional level is essential to classroom success. Without that connection, the learning process can quite easily come to a halt. Thankfully, Willer has demonstrated that there is hope for this population, and that the human brain is quite capable of re-learning how to understand facial expressions and use that information to interpret emotion.

Willer and his team have developed two specific interventions that have shown positive results:

  • Facial Affect Recognition (FAR): Individuals view faces on a computer screen that directs them to concentrate on specific elements of each face. "Look at the eyes. What are the eyes doing? What is the mouth doing?" and asks them to name the emotion.
  • Stories of Emotional Inference (SEI): Participants are asked to read stories that describe events, along with character’s beliefs, wants and behaviors. From this information, participants are asked to infer the character’s emotions.

"What was so exciting about our preliminary study," says Willer, "is that someone may lose the ability to recognize emotions, but even 10 years later, they can re–learn the skill if given the right assistance."

As it turns out, the only emotion that traumatic brain injuries do not erase is "happy," which is very hard–wired and has an extensive amount of "redundant circuitry." Says Willer, "I don’t know how that happened, but we all can be glad it did."

For further reading:  Milders, M., Fuchs, S., & Crawford, J. R. Neuropsychological impairments and changes in emotional and social behaviour following severe traumatic brain injury. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 25, 2003. 157-172.

Related Reading:

Lifelong Learning and the Plastic Brain

5 Paths to Brain Health: Tips From Dr. Paul Nussbaum

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