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Showing posts in December 2012  Show all posts >

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Categories: Family Focus

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How are Reading Skills Related to White Matter in the Brain (and Why Does It Matter)?

reading skillsIn 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:

  • In strong readers, signals in these tracts started off weak and strengthened over the three years.
  • In weaker readers, the connections were relatively good, but declined over time.

Yeatman and his colleagues concluded that the reason for such differences  lie  in two processes related to brain plasticity:

  1. Myelination, how highly-used nerve fibers become better transmitters over time; and
  2. Pruning, whereby unused connections and fibers are eliminated.

In short, their studies indicate that:

  • In good readers, pruning and myelination are working and developing at even rates.
  • In poor readers, these two processes are out of sync and thus the connections that facilitate reading processes do not form as effectively.

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:

Brain connectivity predicts reading skills

Development of white matter and reading skills

Disruption of the neural response to rapid acoustic stimuli in dyslexia: Evidence from functional MRI

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)

Related Reading:

The Reading Brain: How Your Brain Helps You Read, and Why it Matters

What Makes a Good Reader? The Foundations of Reading Proficiency

 

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Categories: Brain Research, Education Trends, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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How The Arts Can Help Students Excel

arts and achievement

Many people disregard the importance of the arts in education.  Sure, the arts are good for blowing off steam and encouraging creativity, but are they useful in the real world?  If a student doesn’t have the capabilities of being the next Beethoven or da Vinci, what is the point of wasting resources on their continued arts education?

The Current State of Arts Education in Public Schools

The prevalence of art education in public schools has been on the decline since the early 1980s and in recent years, budget cuts have made it almost obsolete.  Nowhere are these cuts more severe than in urban areas where minority children are the most unlikely population to receive arts education. 

Why Parents and Teachers Should Be Worried about the Future of Arts Education

Several new research findings are proving what art education teachers have been saying for years: art is valuable.  A well-rounded educational experience that includes the arts is closely linked to academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.  

A recent study of high schoolers revealed a correlation between arts education and math and writing test scores. These high school students were tracked for three years and were required to take a minimum one credit of art education.  Students who took more than the minimum requirement were 1.5 times more likely to meet or exceed the ACT Plan national average composite score!  These students excelled in statewide tests, earning proficient levels in math, reading and writing.

How the Arts Enhance a Student’s Education and Overall Development

Plenty of research has supported the role of arts education in providing a comprehensive education.  Let’s take a closer look at how exactly the arts affect a student’s ability to learn and develop: 

  • Learning to read music and understand concepts like time, rhythm, and pitch have a direct effect on a child’s ability to comprehend math skills.  One study showed math scores of music students surpassed those of their non-musical classmates.  Students from low socio-economic backgrounds were twice as likely to excel in math if they had musical education.
  • Studying the lyrics of music can teach students about syllabification, phonics, vocabulary, imagery, history, myths, folktales, geography, and culture.
  • Studies show there is a direct correlation between continued involvement in theater and success in math and reading.
  • Non-native English speakers may learn the language more quickly with the use of music.  Thematic learning helps children learn in a safe, enjoyable, student-centered environment.
  • Students who take the time to master a musical instrument learn about hard work, practice, and discipline.  While performing in a group – like an orchestra, band, or choir – students learn to work together, appreciate teamwork, strive for a common goal, and develop negotiation skills.
  • Cultural awareness is achieved through every form of arts education.

Arts education has always been important to those who value creativity.  Now, as new evidence continues to emerge, more and more people are realizing its importance – especially when it plays such a crucial role in a well-rounded educational experience. What if the next Picasso is sitting in your classroom right now?

Author Bio:

Jessica Velasco is a freelance writer.  She has 15 years experience working as a teacher and child development specialist. 

References:

Schwartz, J. (2012). Kids Like Blues: Using Music and Video to Rock Your Classroom.  Retrieved from Edutopia website: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/kids-like-blues-music-video-jon-schwartz

Kloberdanz, K. (2012). Want Your Kids to Excel in Math and Reading? Teach Them to Paint. Retrieved from Take Part website: http://www.takepart.com/article/2012/10/23/want-kids-excel-math-reading-teach-them-paint

Good Reasons Why Your Child Should Study Music. Retrieved from Schoolatoz website: http://www.schoolatoz.nsw.edu.au/homework-and-study/other-subjects-and-projects/the-arts/why-your-child-should-study-music

 

 

Related reading:

Musical Training and Cognitive Abilities

Teaching Creativity in the Classroom

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Cognitive Learning Styles in the Student-Centered Classroom

student-centered classroom

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:

The Greatest

Let Me Learn My Own Way

Student-Centered Learning Strategies for Math and Other Subjects

 

 

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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