The Science of Learning Blog
Text Size A A A

Showing posts in July 2012  Show all posts >

The Flipped Classroom: A Pedagogy for Differentiating Instruction and Teaching Essential Skills

differentating instruction

Summer is almost over and some educators, when thinking about the upcoming school year, may be considering “flipping their classroom” as a new method for instruction of essential skills.

A flipped classroom is one in which the background learning of a particular topic or skill occurs outside of class time - utilizing technological tools like videos and podcasts to teach the essential skills. This leaves class time free to work collaboratively on the higher-order thinking needed to utilize these skills. 

In other words, class time is now free to spend working with the students because everyone has already received the background instruction that takes up so much time in the traditional classroom.

For example, let’s say you are teaching the Pythagorean theorem. This is how a “flipped” lesson about the theorem might go:

  • The students are instructed to watch the instructional video and then post one question about the theorem on your online classroom message board.

  • The question acts as both a record of participation and to guide the discussion in tomorrow’s class.

  • In tomorrow’s class, you already know who grasped the concept and who is still struggling, based on their questions.

  • Collaboratively, the class answers these questions, hopefully using some real-world examples.

Opponents of flipped instruction point to the widening “digital divide” and how our disadvantaged students might not have an opportunity to get on a computer and participate in the online components of the class.  For those students, you may have to alter your expectations for turnaround time to allow for them to make it to the library or a computer lab. You may also want to modify your online components to be used on a cell phone.  Many kids who do not have computers or internet at home have a phone that can meet the requirements of online coursework. 

Opponents also worry that flipped classrooms are a precursor to a school where teachers are obsolete, replaced by computers and other technologies. If anything, the teacher is more important in a flipped classroom. Only a trained educator can differentiate the class time instruction that makes the method effective. Teachers frequently feel that their class time gets eaten by paperwork and other obligations. Flipped classrooms are a way of taking some of that time back, making you a more efficient teacher.



Scott Sterling is an education writer and commentator from St. Petersburg, FL. He spent five years teaching English/Language Arts in Title I middle and high schools.

For further reading:

Bill Tucker, The Flipped Classroom, EducationNext, Winter 2012, Vol. 12, No. 1

Ramsey Musallam, Should You Flip Your Classroom?, Edutopia, October 26, 2011

Alan November and Brian Mull, Flipped learning: A response to five common criticisms, eSchool News, March 26,2012.

Watch Salman Khan’s TED talk, Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education

Related reading :

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools  

Students who Struggle in the Mainstream: What their Homework Patterns May Tell You

Subscribe to this blog to get new blog posts right in your inbox and stay up to date on the science of learning!


Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!

Connect with us on your favorite social network! RSS youtube linkedin

Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

Tags: , , , , , ,

Why Prosody Matters: The Importance of Reading Aloud with Expression

Reading prosody

Reading aloud with expression is a foundational reading skill students should be developing between grades 1 - 5, according to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts (2012). It is pretty easy to recognize when someone skillfully reads aloud in an expressive manner. However, to effectively teach or assess this skill, a closer examination of its features, development, and relationship to other reading skills is needed.

Prosody, the defining feature of expressive reading, comprises all of the variables of timing, phrasing, emphasis, and intonation that speakers use to help convey aspects of meaning and to make their speech lively. One of the challenges of oral reading is adding back the prosodic cues that are largely absent from written language.

Researchers have found strong links between oral reading prosody and general reading achievement. For example, after comparing students’ reading prosody in first and second grades with their reading comprehension at the end of third grade, Miller and Schwanenflugel (2008) concluded that, “early acquisition of an adult-like intonation contour predicted better comprehension.” Another study, which included more than 1,750 fourth graders participating in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), found a strong correlation between prosody and overall reading achievement (Daane, Campbell, Grigg, Goodman, & Oranje, 2005).

In the context of oral reading, prosody can reflect linguistic features, such as sentence structure, as well as text features, such as punctuation. Skilled readers pick up on these features, and respond to them when reading aloud, as when they pause briefly at relevant commas, pause slightly longer at sentence boundaries, raise their pitch at the end of yes-no questions, and lower their pitch at the end of declarative sentences.

While punctuation provides some cues to prosody, young readers can be misled by it. For instance, they may pause at every comma, even when the grammar of the sentence does not call for pausing (e.g., “He made his usual egg, cheese, and tomato sandwich.”). As young readers move toward adult proficiency, their pauses increasingly respect the grammar of the text rather than doggedly following the punctuation (Miller & Schwanenflugel, 2006).

Prosody can also reflect aspects of meaning. For instance, slight fluctuations in pitch, timing, and emphasis can change a simple question (e.g., “What did you do?”) into an expression of censure.  Learning to read dialog in a manner that reflects the intentions and emotional states of the characters is a great way for adolescent readers to delve deeply into literature. However, younger students may not understand this use of prosody well enough to apply it to oral reading (Cutler & Swinney, 1987). Notably, in the NAEP study, only 10% of fourth graders were judged as reading aloud with this level of expressiveness.

Finally, when thinking about prosody, it is critical to remember the other aspects of reading fluency: word reading accuracy and reading rate. Inefficient word reading is the primary barrier to good prosody for most young readers (Schwanenflugel, Hamilton, Wisenbaker, Kuhn, & Stahl, 2004). Children who are struggling to decode individual words tend to pause too frequently and for too long, so that their timing and phrasing are seriously disrupted. Furthermore, they must put so much effort into decoding that they do not have the mental resources left for constructing meaning and conveying it expressively.

Listening to the prosody of a child reading aloud provides parents and educators with a window into many aspects of reading skill. By reading aloud with appropriate timing, phrasing, and end of sentence intonation, younger readers can demonstrate their ability to:

  • read words accurately;

  • read at a reasonable rate;

  • read most words automatically, so that mental resources are available for comprehension;

  • use grammar and punctuation to help construct meaning;

By reading aloud with increasingly adult-like intonation and expressiveness, adolescent readers can demonstrate their ability to:

  • use discourse-level features, such as pronouns and signal words, to recognize relationships across and among the sentences in a text;

  • understand characters and their intentions when reading fiction

  • understand an author’s purpose or attitude.

Ultimately, all of these abilities must be brought to bear to achieve the ultimate goal of reading with comprehension.




Common Core State Standards Initiative (2012). English Language Arts Standards – Reading: Foundational Skills (Grade 1 – Grade 5). National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO): Washington, DC. 

Cutler, A. & Swinney, D. A. (1987). Prosody and the development of comprehension. Journal of Child Language, 14, 145-167.

Daane, M.C., Campbell, J.R., Grigg, W.S., Goodman, M.J., and Oranje, A. (2005). Fourth-Grade Students Reading Aloud: NAEP 2002 Special Study of Oral Reading(NCES 2006-469). U.S. Department of Education. Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. 

Miller, J. & Schwanenflugel, P. J. (2008). A Longitudinal Study of the Development of Reading Prosody as a Dimension of Oral Reading Fluency in Early Elementary School Children. Reading Research Quarterly, 43, 336-354. 

Miller, J. & Schwanenflugel, P. J. (2006). Prosody of Syntactically Complex Sentences in the Oral Reading of Young Children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 839-843. 

Schwanenflugel, P. J., Hamilton, A. M., Kuhn, M. R., Wisenbaker, J. M., & Stahl, S. A. (2004). Becoming a fluent reader: Reading skill and prosodic features in the oral reading of young readers. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96, 119–129. 

Related Reading:

Building Fluent Readers: How Oral Reading Practice Helps Reading Comprehension

5 Fluency and Comprehension Strategies That Every Reader Can Use

Subscribe to this blog to get new blog posts right in your inbox and stay up to date on the science of learning!


Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!

Connect with us on your favorite social network! RSS youtube linkedin

Categories: Family Focus, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Human Intelligence and the Brain: Mapping Intellectual Ability

Human intelligence executive function

Have you ever wondered what structures or areas in your brain allow you to understand language? Read books? Appreciate music? At a basic level, scientists have already correlated discrete brain structures to specific human abilities. As today’s researchers take this understanding further and actually map intellectual ability in the brain, they are discovering that many abilities are not neatly confined to a single area.

Scientists have employed various techniques to delve into this “intracranial cartography.” One method used by Dr. Aron Barbey, professor of neuroscience at the University of Illinois, involved finding patients with highly localized brain injuries and comparing their cognitive abilities and executive function with other individuals who had those same structures intact. Barbey’s evidence showed that intelligence relies on localized areas of the brain working together collaboratively as opposed to residing independently in a single region or the brain as a whole. In his own words: "We found that general intelligence depends on a remarkably circumscribed neural system. Several brain regions, and the connections between them, were most important for general intelligence."  (2012) Barbey’s research supports the idea that areas of the brain controlling executive function, which governs skills such as self-control and planning, overlap “to a significant extent” with areas that control general intelligence. (2012)

Another method of mapping intellectual ability involves performing brain scans while subjects carry out cognitive tasks, and then indexing the areas of the brain that are engaged in specific types of processes. Using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), a standard index for measuring IQ, Caltech neuroscientist Ralph Adolphs was able to measure subjects’ performance in the four specific areas that the WAIS covers: verbal comprehension, perceptual organization, working memory, and processing speed. (2010)

Interestingly, Adolphs found that even though the WAIS defines verbal comprehension and working memory as separate abilities, areas responsible for each were shown to overlap, suggesting that they represent a similar type of intelligence. Also of note, the study found that processing speed seemed to be a more global function controlled by connections across different areas of the brain as opposed to localized structures.

Barbey’s results support that same finding. “In fact,” he says, “the particular regions and connections we found support an emerging body of neuroscience evidence indicating that intelligence depends on the brain’s ability to integrate information from verbal, visual, spatial and executive processes.” (2012) The implications are intriguing, and support our evolving understanding of human intelligence as a network that can be developed by simultaneously cross-training those regions in the brain that most effectively work together.



Further Reading:

Researchers use brain-injury data to map intelligence in the brain

Caltech Neuroscientists Find Brain System Behind General Intelligence

Related Reading:

Separating Brain Fact from Brain Fiction: Debunking a Few Neuroscience Myths

Creating the Optimal "Internal" Learning Environment 

Subscribe to this blog to get new blog posts right in your inbox and stay up to date on the science of learning!


Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!

Connect with us on your favorite social network! RSS youtube linkedin

Categories: Brain Research, Reading & Learning

Tags: , ,

Reading to Learn: Meeting the Challenge of Third Grade Reading Proficiency

Third grade reading proficiency

Third grade marks a critical turning point in the life of student readers.  It’s the time when students move from learning to read to reading to learn—or, more accurately, it’s the time when students are expected to make this transition.  The reality is quite different. 

With data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showing that two thirds of students nationwide are reading below the “proficient” level at “basic” or “below basic,” many states have begun to implement legislation or programs to ensure that all students can read proficiently by third grade.  Consequently, educators are looking for ways to help their students accelerate the acquisition of the reading skills needed to meet academic expectations.

A recent report by the Annie E. Casey foundation reveals that students who are not reading proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without graduating.  Breaking down research data for the first time along a variety of demographic lines, the report presents more grim statistics:

  • About one third of students fail to achieve mastery of even basic reading skills by third grade
  • Children from low-income families are disproportionately represented, with more than 83% reading below proficiency
  • About a quarter of Black and Hispanic students who are not reading proficiently in third grade don’t graduate—nearly twice the rate of similar White students

The report’s discussion of policy and program strategies doesn’t provide easy answers, though it does identify integrating PreK-3rd grade education as a research-validated approach to achieving and sustaining gains. According to a Grantmakers for Education briefing on this approach, when fully implemented it includes small class sizes; classroom teachers who are certified to work with PreK-3rd grade learners; collaboration between school and family; consistency of learning environments and instructional approaches; alignment of curriculum, standards, and assessments across grades; and availability of PreK for all 3 and 4 year old children, followed by full-day kindergarten. While schools may begin to move in that direction, such change takes time.

Fortunately, there are proven tools available now that are highly effective in helping students achieve grade-level proficiency in reading: the Reading Assistant program, a personal reading coach that is proven to accelerate reading achievement, and the Fast ForWord program, an online intervention that is highly effective in helping struggling learners rapidly improve their reading skills.  Join Dr. Martha S. Burns on July 25th for a webinar about the newest science behind learning to read and find out how technology-based reading solutions can get students back on track.



Related Reading:

Fourth Graders Achieve 100 Percent Reading Proficiency

Overall District Performance Score Improves at Almost Double the Rate of LA State Baseline Score

Subscribe to this blog to get new blog posts right in your inbox and stay up to date on the science of learning!


Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!

Connect with us on your favorite social network! RSS youtube linkedin

Categories: Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

Tags: , , , , , , ,

How Language Immersion Helps English Language Learners Succeed in School

English language learners

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of school-age English Language Learners (ELLs) more than doubled between the years 1980 and 2009, rising from 4.7 million to 11.2 million. ELLs currently represent one in nine students ages 5 - 17 in US classrooms, with the majority found in the primary grades.

In a recent webinar, Dr. Virginia Mann, Professor of Cognitive Science at UC Irvine in Southern California, confronted the barriers that ELLs face, and outlined the pathway to success for these students. In order to develop into fluent readers, she explained, ELLs rely on a couple of basics:

  • Vocabulary and early language skills
  • Phonemic awareness

The good news is that building these skills in a learner’s first language can help build skills in English, as phonemic awareness generalizes across languages and it’s a short hop to understand new English words that sound similar in both languages.  The bad news is that many ELLs also grow up in poverty and research shows that young children living in poverty often do not get enough early language experience and exposure to develop strong early language skills.

Because early language skills are so critical for ELLs, if parents take the time to "become teachers" for their children and immerse their children in language by having conversations with them and working with them on listening and speaking activities, learners can make significant gains.

Students whose first language uses an alphabet system have some advantages over those whose first language use an orthographic system, but the bottom line is that when students engage frequently in language-oriented activities and build oral skills, vocabulary, and phonemic understanding in any language, they are on the pathway to successful English language learning.

Mann is quick to note that while parent involvement is crucial, one-shot programs are not sufficient.  Parents of ELLs need coaching and support, not just instruction.  Dr. Mann references numerous studies and gives examples of the enduring programs that she has created and implemented to support parents in helping their children succeed.

To learn more about why early immersion in any language is so crucial to future academic success, view Dr. Mann's webinar here.

Related Reading:

Why You Should Read With Your Child

Toddler Vocabulary Development: Shopping With Your Child

Subscribe to this blog to get new blog posts right in your inbox and stay up to date on the science of learning!


Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!

Connect with us on your favorite social network! RSS youtube linkedin

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Teaching Metacognition: The Value of Thinking About Thinking

Teaching metacognition

Research performed in the past few decades has demonstrated that we can improve reading skills by teaching students “metacognitive strategies.” By metacognition, we refer to enhancing one’s awareness of “what one believes and how one knows.” (Kuhn, 2000).  In other words, the more we can teach students to be actively thinking about thinking as they learn, the more effective their learning will be.

In fact, we can teach students to become what Marcia Lovett of Carnegie Mellon University calls “expert learners.” According to Lovett (2008), teaching metacognition involves three specific processes:

  • Teaching students that their ability to learn not only changes, but that they can affect how that ability develops,
  • Teaching them how to plan for success and set goals, and
  • Giving them lots of opportunities to monitor their learning and adapt their own learning strategies

According to Lovett’s research, an experimental group of students who used metacognitive strategies more strongly believed themselves to be effective learners, demonstrated greater motivation to learn, and achieved better academic performance than the control group. (2008)

What exactly do such metacognitive learning strategies look like in the classroom? Diane Dahl, in her blog post at The Educator’s PLN, shows how these ideas can be implemented in any number of ways, many times by simply tweaking existing instructional strategies. Here are a few recommendations based on her list.

  1. Give goals. Before a lesson begins, give clear goals for what they will be expected to learn from the experience.
  2. Pose questions. Posing questions before, during and after reading or instruction will help students to focus on the key points they should be learning.
  3. Offer opportunities to summarize and retell. Have students summarize or retell what they have read or heard. As they do this more and more, they will learn how to more effectively identify central ideas.
  4. Give self-monitoring strategies. Give students strategies for being aware of their own learning. For example, practice having students make a quiet “a HA” sound when they understand an idea or a “hmmm” sound when they don’t. This will help both teacher and students to know when a topic needs more attention.
  5. Engage the five senses. As students experience a text – whether they are reading it silently or out loud or it is being read to them – have them imagine using all five of their senses to experience the text. In their mind, what do they see, hear or smell? What does it feel like on their skin?

While it might be easiest to imagine implementing these kinds of strategies in reading instruction, they can be adapted for teaching any subject. The idea is simply to get students to be consciously aware of, and take charge of, their own learning. The more we can do that, the more effective we will be as teachers.


Teaching Metacognition

Instruction of Metacognitive Strategies Enhances Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary Achievement of Third-Grade Students

Metacognitive Strategies for Reading Comprehension

Related Reading:

Deliberate Practice: How to Develop Expertise

The Question Formulation Technique: 6 Steps to Help Students Ask Better Questions

Subscribe to this blog to get new blog posts right in your inbox and stay up to date on the science of learning!


Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!

Connect with us on your favorite social network! RSS youtube linkedin

Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

What Makes a Good Reader? The Foundations of Reading Proficiency

Foundations of Reading Proficiency

Have you ever wondered why some children seem to learn to read so effortlessly and others struggle? Have you ever seen a child who memorizes poems, math facts, and the alphabet without even trying?  Yet at the same time you might have also known another child who had trouble just remembering their own phone number or address. There are all sorts of reasons that learning—and reading—is easy for some children and hard for others, and believe it or not, it rarely has anything to do with intelligence.

Just as some children are good athletes from the time they are very young, others are great at music or art. We tend to think of art, music and athletics as skills or talents. But actually there are underlying cognitive abilities that enable those talents. For athletics, good hand-eye coordination and quickness can be keys to success. For music, certainly the ability to perceive tones is essential. For art, excellent visual memory is helpful.

It turns out that learning to read also requires some underlying cognitive skills. Children are not born good readers, of course; reading has to be taught. And for a child to be able to learn to read, four core cognitive capacities are needed: memory, attention, sequencing, and processing efficiency (speed and accuracy). It is helpful to tease out each one of these and explain the importance in learning to read.

Memory – Scientists refer to the kind of memory that is important for learning to read as “working memory.” It is the kind of short term memory that enables you to read this blog and remember what was written a few paragraphs earlier. When children have problems with working memory, reading can be very difficult. A child might have trouble remembering what sounds the letters of the alphabet stand for when they are first starting to read and so have a devil of a time learning to decode. Later in school the child with working memory problems might have trouble remembering what they read just a few sentences earlier and so re-read the same passages over and over again. How do you know if a child has working memory problems? Look for trouble following commands or remembering details of instructions or stories.

Attention – Learning of any kind requires good attentional skills. A student needs to be able to pay attention when the teacher is talking and ignore random noises in the room. A student also needs to learn to pay attention during reading. In learning to read, students need to pay attention to the letters and attend carefully to the sounds they represent. Later in school, students who have trouble attending are often those who can’t stick with a reading assignment. What to look for: the child reads a few sentences or paragraphs and then looks around the room, drops a pencil, or gets up out of a chair. It can take a child who has problems sustaining his attention a very long time to finish reading assignments.

Sequencing – Reading requires the ability to sequence letters into words (“saw” versus “was”) and grammatical endings (“the boy runs” versus “the boys run”), and words into sentences (“the dog chased the boy” versus “the boy chased the dog”). It is easy to see that when children have trouble sequencing, they will misunderstand what they read. Some children find sequencing things they hear very hard because the information is so fleeting.

Processing speed and accuracy – Scientists refer to the way the brain handles information as “processing.”  Parents may have heard the terms “auditory processing” or “visual processing”. Those terms refer to the way the brain perceives and attaches meaning to information coming in from hearing or vision. Some students are inherently good at processing visual information. Those students seem to learn well visually and are very good at perceiving visual cues, like picking up on facial expressions or remembering how words look when they are spelled. However, some of those students may not process auditory information as well. They might frequently misunderstand words spoken to them or “tune out” when people talk to them.  Students with auditory processing inefficiencies might also seem “slow” to respond when others are talking to them. Certainly, if a child has trouble hearing the difference between the vowels in “bit” and “bet,” it makes sense that learning the correspondence between letter and sound will be difficult. In fact, there is a great deal of research indicating that children with auditory processing inefficiencies find learning to read very difficult.

We tend to think that reading is a visual skill that depends primarily on linking letters to sounds. That has led us to expect that reading problems must be due to either difficulties with recognizing the letters or matching those letters to their appropriate sounds. However, we now know that a core set of underlying cognitive skills: memory, attention, processing speed or accuracy, and sequencing underlie the ability to learn to read and later to read to learn.




Berninger, Virginia. et al. Relationship of Word- and Sentence-Level Working Memory to Reading and Writing in Second, Fourth, and Sixth GradeLanguage, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, vol. 41, 179–193. 2010.

Bishop, Dorothy and Snowling, Margaret. Developmental dyslexia and specific language impairment: same or different? Psychological Bulletin, vol. 130, 858-886. 2004.

Burns, Martha. Auditory Processing Disorders and Literacy. In Geffner, D and Swain, D. Auditory Processing Disorders. Plural Publications.

Caretti, Barbara. et al. Role of working memory in explaining the performance of individuals with specific reading comprehension difficulties: A meta-analysisLearning and Individual Differences, vol. 19, 246–251. 2009.

Gaab, Nadine. Neural correlates of rapid auditory processing are disrupted in children with developmental dyslexia and ameliorated with training: An fMRI studyRestorative Neurology and Neuroscience, vol. 25, 295–310. 2007.

Stevens, Courtney et al. Neural mechanisms of selective auditory attention are enhanced by computerized training: Electrophysiological evidence from language-impaired and typically developing childrenBrain Research, vol. 1205, 55-69. 2008.

Stevens, Courtney et. al. Neurophysiological evidence for selective auditory attention deficits in children with specific language impairment. Brain Research, vol. 1111-1. 2006.

Related Reading:

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

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

Subscribe to this blog to get new blog posts right in your inbox and stay up to date on the science of learning!


Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!

Connect with us on your favorite social network! RSS youtube linkedin

Categories: Brain Research, Education Trends, Reading & Learning

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Choose a product to log in.

Not a customer? Find Out More

Log in to MySciLEARN

What is MySciLEARN?

  • One destination for products, training, reports and tools
  • Auto-assign tool
  • Implementation Success and Gains reports
  • SciLEARNU training portal
  • Expanded roles capability

Learn More

Choose a product to log in.

Not a student? Find Out More