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"What’s in the Common Core, but Missing in Your Curriculum” webinar by Dr. Martha Burns

Process of learning

Earlier this month, Dr. Martha Burns presented a webinar titled “What’s in the Common Core, but Missing in Your Curriculum.” One of the exciting new changes that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) bring is a great deal more emphasis on how students learn rather than focusing solely on what they learn. The emphasis of previous standards have focused more on memorization of facts rather than on higher order thinking skills. In this webinar, Dr. Burns reviews the learning capacities spelled out in the CCSS and describes the skills that students need to be successful as lifelong learners, e.g., the ability to evaluate, to adapt, adjust and critique, etc. At the foundation of these higher order abilities lie the foundational skills below. Together, these skills can be termed the “process of learning.”

· Attention

· Memory

· Executive control or self-control

· Adaptability

Students with deficiencies in these foundational skills may be labeled as “trouble makers” or “at risk” and have difficulty keeping up in today’s growing classroom. Experienced educators have always recognized the importance of these skills, but the idea that they can be specifically addressed and improved is relatively new. Without the ability to remember the details of a non-fiction text, how would a student be able to evaluate and critique it?

Dr. Burns describes new insights in neuroscience that are contributing to our understanding of the process of learning and what can be done to strengthen these skills in all learners, even those with learning disabilities and other challenges. The idea that these skills are inherent in students and cannot be changed is simply untrue. With the right training, all students can become stronger, more capable learners.

One efficient way for students to practice the skills needed to meet the rigor of the Common Core Standards is through the research-based learning tools employed by Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs. Dr. Burns concluded her presentation with a walkthrough of the programs, highlighting the aspects of the programs that speak directly to the foundational skills needed to create college and career ready students. She also describes what happens in the student’s brain when they are engaged with the software and the results that can be expected.

This new approach by the Common Core State Standards to draw attention to the “process” of learning, rather than just content, is important for all stakeholders to understand. With this new understanding comes a greater importance to use all of the tools at our disposal to help all learners succeed.

Related reading:

Teaching Reading in Science Class: A Common Core Trend?

Common Core Reading Recommendations and the Role of the Teacher


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Categories: Education Trends, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant, Special Education

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RTI is a Verb

instruction and intervention

Response to Intervention (RTI) is best understood as a verb; we have made RTI too complicated. Instead of becoming entangled in documentation, assessments, and the “steps” to special education, we should collaboratively ask the extent to which students are responding to instruction and intervention – the extent to which they are RTI’ing. We will realize the promise of RTI; more importantly, we will ensure high levels of learning for all.

Interpreted as a verb, RTI represents what we’ve always done, or what we always should have done, on behalf of students. Consider this scenario: A new fifth grade student, Molly, enrolls in school in the fall. The school screens all students to immediately identify students who may lack foundational prerequisite skills in reading (have they responded to prior instruction?). Screeners and further diagnoses reveal that Molly has deficits in phonics. Molly’s teacher team works together to provide differentiated Tier 1 instruction to all students, including Molly, with scaffolds provided during whole and small group settings within core blocks of instruction so that Molly successfully accesses content.

The school is prepared for students who lack immediate prerequisite skills and need additional time and different approaches to learn essential content. Molly and other students receive 30 daily minutes of supplemental, Tier 2 supports on essential content when data indicates the need (are students responding to current instruction?). The school is also prepared for students who lack the foundational prerequisite skills to succeed, as determined by screeners. Molly and other upper grade students with phonics needs receive intensive supports in place of other instruction, although they do not miss core instruction in essential content. Regularly, staff assesses to ensure that Molly is responding to intervention. If not, they differ, and increase the intensity of, supports.

RTI may be simple, but it isn’t easy. It requires leadership to ensure that systems support staff and students in meeting goals, and courage to make hard but critical decisions to provide intensive supports immediately.

My experiences with Scientific Learning products have been overwhelmingly positive. They are outstanding RTI resources for several reasons; yes, they are research-proven and represent cutting edge science and technology, but they work best because they support students differently. For Molly, Reading Assistant provides highly individualized supports in reading text fluently and for meaning. As a Tier 2 support, Reading Assistant supplements teachers’ targeted supports at ensuring she masters essential content. If Molly doesn’t respond to this level of Tier 2 support, and teams determine her needs exist in the phonemic awareness and phonics domain, Fast ForWord is appropriate, providing intensive, Tier 3 strategies to decode words, through unique approaches designed for students who process information differently.

At-risk students demand our best efforts immediately. Interventions such as those from Scientific Learning deliver the best possible return on investment, giving us the best chance to ensure that students respond to intervention, allowing them the opportunity to learn at the high levels required to graduate ready for college or a skilled career.

About the author, Dr. Chris Weber:

A former high school, middle school, and elementary school teacher and administrator, Chris has had a great deal of success helping students who historically underachieve learn at extraordinarily high levels. As a principal and assistant superintendent in California and Chicago, Chris and his colleagues have developed systems of Response to Intervention that have led to heretofore unrealized levels of learning at schools across the country. The best-selling author of 1) Pyramid Response to Intervention, 2) Pyramid of Behavior Interventions, 3) Simplifying Response to Intervention, and 4) RTI and the Early Grades, Chris is recognized as an expert in behavior, mathematics, and Response to Intervention.

Related reading: 

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

Intensive Intervention Tier 3: What leads to the need?



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Categories: Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant, Special Education

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Learning How to Learn

learning to learn

In early elementary school, Louise was described as a sweet but somewhat passive child. She was an average student who never made trouble so her teachers did not worry about her, but at the same time she was rarely chosen for special duties or called on in class. When Louise's parents asked about her somewhat mediocre progress in school (given that her siblings were all excellent students), the school principal, Mr. Henry tried to reassure them that she was a bright little girl but would never get an ulcer worrying about school achievement; she just was not an "active learner".  Often children like Louise are described as underachievers.

But for Louise, that description of her began to change in the third grade under Mr. Stevens.  He was a teacher that some parents hoped their children could avoid because he was a stickler for neatness, organization, planning, paying attention and punctuality. He referred to himself as "Hurricane Stevens" for his proclivity, without warning, to check students' desks randomly for disarray or to confiscate items that might distract a student from getting work done. One day Louise succumbed to his watchful eye during class when she was admiring a yo-yo she had won during lunch recess. With one fell swoop the yo-yo became part of Mr.  Stevens'  "cyclone stash" of toys and comic books - all to be returned each Friday with a wry smile and gentle warning that sometimes objects get lost in cyclones. “Class time is your job," Mr. Stevens extolled her, "you can think about recess during recess, during class you need to focus on learning."

Mr. Stevens also had a memory game he called "fun facts", starting each day with a list of new history or science facts, vocabulary words, or current events details. They were always relevant to one of the class lessons, and during the day more information about the facts would be part of the daily lessons.  Students were told to pay close attention to the list and knew they would need to apply the facts in a later lesson, but were not permitted to write anything down.  Sometime during each day, never predictably, Mr. Stevens would quiz the class on a few of the morning's facts and how they applied to that day's lesson. At random and without warning (in case a student surreptitiously jotted a few notes somewhere) students were asked a question about one or more of the facts. The first student called on who answered correctly got to wear a prized star pin the entire day.

In September, Mr. Stevens began with five facts each morning. By October, none of the students missed any of the questions when called on so Mr. Stevens increased the list by one each month and the application of the facts became less predictable. When the list became longer and the application more subtle, Mr. Stevens would ask students how they were able to remember. Students told of using different strategies. One student said that since she was not allowed to write the facts down, she just pictured what they looked like if she did write them! Then she could recognize them if she saw them later or could read them back to herself in her mind. Another boy said when there were names, he tried to imagine how they looked. When he learned later about  what they did in history he could see them doing it. Like most of the children, Louise figured out her own strategies to help remember the facts and tried to predict how they might apply to class or what kind of questions he might ask. She found herself listening carefully throughout the day for more information. And like most of the students in the class, she couldn't wait to be called on -- later in the year, she too won the star pin every time she was selected to answer one of Mr. Stevens' questions.

Mr. Stevens understood that children need to take an active role in the learning process. Some children are natural students; they focus easily on content, can stick to one task, and retain information without effort. Those students achieve easily so they are a joy to teach. But to other children like Louise the "how" of learning does not come naturally. Their mind wanders or they are easily distracted in class. They don't realize that they may need to "try to remember" information. They might seem lazy because they have trouble sticking with a task when it is repetitive or boring. Mr. Stevens understood that in addition  to teaching information, he could also teach students how to learn. Louise and the other students learned to focus on relevant details in class, plan for how they were going to hold on to information during the day, and predict how they might apply to the lessons. After a year with Mr. Stevens, his students were not just better at reading, math, and writing, they were active learners.

Teaching approaches like those of Mr. Stevens may be thought of as emphasizing the process of learning as much as the content. His goal was not just that students acquire information but also apply it. In that regard he was years ahead of his time. The Common Core State Standards, that a majority of states have now adopted, emphasize application of knowledge.   Key points of the Common Core State Standards for reading, for example,  mandate that through reading students not only "build knowledge" but also "gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspective*." To that end, Roger Schank at Northwestern University, author of "Teaching Minds" argues persuasively that there are twelve cognitive processes which underlie learning, including prediction and analytic processes like planning or judgment. 

The problem of course is that today's teachers have been increasingly evaluated on their students' mastery of the curriculum, which might be considered the "what of teaching". With Common Core State Standards and educational research now emphasizing the learning process as well as mastery of content, teachers find gaps in the curriculum. Many state standards do include critical thinking skills like application of knowledge and drawing inferences.  But, most state curriculum standards do not include underlying learning processes like teaching students how to attend better to relevant information, stick with a task to completion, or develop retention strategies.

Fortunately, neuroscience has been grappling with the learning process issues like focused attention, perseverance and memory enhancement for over a decade.  As a result of neuroscience research, breakthrough technologies like the Fast ForWord brain fitness and reading products are now available to supplement classroom instruction through curriculum-based attentional and memory training. By supplementing classroom tasks with these types of technologies, teachers don't have to devote as much planning and instructional time to the kinds of activities "Hurricane Stevens" employed. 

Breakthrough technologies are also available to free up classroom time so that teachers can focus instruction on Common Core State Standards like those for speaking and listening which "expect students [to] grow their vocabularies through a mix of conversations, direct instruction, and reading*."  With technologies like Reading Assistant, for example, students independently read aloud to a computer which corrects their errors through speech recognition software, provides vocabulary definitions on request, and quizzes for application of information at the same time as measuring reading fluency. These kinds of technologies in the classroom enable teachers to do what they love, impart content as well as encourage their students to think about how the content applies to other information they have learned and their daily lives. The Common Core State Standards can be a welcome contribution to classroom education with breakthrough technologies that enhance students' capacity to learn.

And by the way, with Mr. Stevens' help you might have expected that Louise eventually became a prodigious student and teacher herself. Perhaps you can guess who she was. (HINT: My full name is Martha Louise Stoner Burns - the teacher and principal's names were changed though.)

For further reading:

*Key Points In English Language Arts

Related reading: 

Endorsing the Common Core State Standards Initiative

Common Core Reading Recommendations and the Role of the Teacher


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

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

5 Trends in Education for 2013

trends in education

New Years is a time for reflection and prediction, including in education. In some cases, the events of 2012 will help shape our 2013. In others, new and emerging ideas and innovations will finally make their mark on a large scale. Here are five trends to look for in 2013:

The marriage of BYOD and flipped instruction

The concepts of flipping your classroom and BYOD (bring your own device) really go hand-in-hand since a key requirement to flipping is access to technology outside of school. With more districts interested in the cost savings that a well-conceived BYOD program can bring and more teachers interested in the saved time that a flipped classroom can bring, you will see these two worlds collide in 2013. This should maximize the potential of both concepts.

Where are the apps?

Schools were in such a hurry to adopt iPads last year that they forgot to notice that some supplemental curriculum solutions were lagging behind in building apps for them. The software industry has never seen such a fast adoption process as the one currently taking place with tablets and was caught flat-footed. Naturally, demand for app-based solutions will increase so expect the software designers to meet that demand and finally unlock the complete potential of our new toys.

Education companies and the Common Core

Teachers and administrators have been living and breathing Common Core preparation for years, but software and other companies are just now trying to figure out how their solutions align with the new standards. As 2013 is the last year before widespread adoption, this gap will close quickly. 

MOOCs and secondary education

The biggest acronym in higher education right now is MOOC, or Massively Open Online Course, which is a non-credit course made available online for free. Their popularity is making traditional higher education reconsider its online offerings. Because colleges and universities can no longer control who takes their classes, you will see a lot more secondary students taking advantage of MOOCs, either for themselves or because a teacher is using the content and adopting their professorial colleagues’ lectures in order to flip their classrooms.

Authentic gamification and socialization

Educational software has been trying to make activities more like the games kids play at home for years. They have also been trying recently to recreate social networking in their own safe, secure sandboxes. Both of these efforts  have met unpredictable success. Instead, more teachers are trying to meld their educational goals with the games and social networks that the kids already use in an effort to make the learning more authentic to them. While it takes a very creative teacher to tie “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” to their curriculum, anyone can start using Twitter with great results.

It will be interesting to see what actually becomes important to educators in 2013.  What trends do you think will be significant to education in the coming year?

For further reading:

1 Certainty & 25 Possibilities: What To Expect From Education In 2013

10 Predictions for Blended Learning in 2013

Predictions for 2013

Related reading:

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

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools


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

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

Tags: , , ,

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