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This May 17th, we will be hosting our annual Visionary Conference for Fast ForWord Providers entirely online for the very first time.
Save on travel expenses, spend less time away, and learn just as much as in years past—maybe even more.
This year’s theme is Growing Together, and we’re thrilled to announce that our esteemed Visionary Conference presenters Dr. Paula Tallal and Dr. Martha Burns will be sharing exciting new research on the brain and learning.
Dr. Tallal will be reporting on the latest research with college students who used the Fast ForWord program and saw improvements in a number of skill areas.
Dr. Burns will present research from the Human Connectome Project (a project studying the connectivity of the human brain) and research on memory and attention disorders and interventions.
Additional sessions will review the latest Fast ForWord product updates, best practices for getting the most from the products, marketing resources, and professional development opportunities to help you thrive as a Fast ForWord Provider and help more children succeed.
Because this year’s conference is online, we’re welcoming any and all attendees, whether you’re a provider or not! There is no charge for any of the sessions, so you can attend one or attend them all. If you’ve been to past conferences then you already know…It’s the highlight of the year!
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
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.”
· Executive control or self-control
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.
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
What would it be like if you went to a cocktail party – or a rock concert or even your quiet corner coffee joint, for that matter – and you didn’t have the ability to filter out one voice or sound from the sea of other sounds around you? This ability is called “selective hearing” and is a computational function in your brain that enables you to focus in on your companion’s voice in the midst of the endless sound waves coming from ceiling fans, ambient music, and other people’s voices bouncing off the walls. Your ability to focus in on that single selected voice is impressive.
Doctoral candidate Bridget Queenan of Georgetown University Medical Center is figuring out how we humans are able to perform this difficult feat by studying bats. She has found that certain neurons in bats’ brains can “quiet” other neurons, allowing the bat to prioritize certain sounds over others. In short, through “turning up the volume” on certain neurons, bats can zero in on the most important sounds, such as their own echolocation sounds, and allow other sounds to fade into the background. (2010)
Researchers at UCSF recently published an article in the journal Nature that describes how they have actually seen this process take place in humans. Using a sheet of 256 electrodes placed on the brain, they can see which neurons activate at the sound of certain voices through the use of sound samples played simultaneously. They could then “decode” the data from the electrodes to find out what the patient heard without talking to the patients themselves. (2012)
When you consider that a bat must hunt, gather, and navigate through spaces populated with thousands and thousands of other bats, it’s easy to see why a brain function like selective hearing is essential to survival. Humans have depended on selective hearing throughout our history for much the same reason.
Although most modern humans are no longer engaged in hunting and gathering activities, our world would look very different were it not for selective hearing. Imagine living in a city – or even a moderately sized suburban town, for that matter – with its ambient atmosphere combining traffic, voices, weather sounds such as wind or rain, and the rest of the cacophony of daily life that we simply don’t think about from moment to moment. Were it not for selective hearing, we would drown in an overwhelming sea of noise, unable to focus on any one sound well enough to effectively evaluate its importance. Considered in that context, the neurological capability that we call selective hearing has played a significant role in defining how we function as a species.
You can also see how this ability would be important in the real-world context of the classroom. Without it, students who are already easily distracted would simply be swallowed by the noise. Independent research has shown that students’ selective auditory attention improves after they use the Fast ForWord program for as little as six weeks. (2008)
So the next time you find yourself unable to focus on someone’s voice at a party, or you encounter a student who is having a hard time paying attention in a noisy classroom, take a moment. Appreciate your ability to use your selective hearing. And have patience while that other person works to engage theirs.
Bardi, J. (2012). How Selective Hearing Works In the Brain. Retrieved from the University of California San Franciso website: http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2012/04/11868/how-selective-hearing-works-brain.
Mallet, K. (2010). Bat Brains Offer Clues As to How We Focus on Some Sounds and Not Others. Retrieved from the Georgetown University Medical Center: http://explore.georgetown.edu/news/?ID=54075&PageTemplateID=295.
Stevens,C., Fanning, J., Coch, D., Sanders, L., & Neville, H. (2008). Neural mechanisms of selective audiory attention are enhanced by computerized training: Electrophysiological evidence from language-impaired and typically developing children. Brain Research. 1205, 55 – 69. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2007.10.108.
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
On October 30th, noted neuroscience researcher and co-founder of Scientific Learning, Dr. Paula Tallal, conducted a live webinar titled “What do Neuroscientists Know About Learning That Most Educators Don’t?” In her presentation, Dr. Tallal discussed her original research on auditory processing, its relationship to language development, and the far-reaching effects that deficiencies in those areas can have on learning.
Research continues to support the hypothesis that difficulty discriminating between small changes in sound is at the heart of learning problems both in students who have a diagnosed difficulty and those who do not. Dr. Tallal described how oral language is the foundation for learning and for most successful educational outcomes, adding that oral language itself is dependent on the brain’s ability to discriminate and process auditory information. Children who have difficulty perceiving the many subtleties of language find the deck stacked against them in their educational careers. They can experience a variety of impediments to learning, including:
Students with this subtle level of auditory processing problem need specific differentiation that is not possible in most classrooms. The good news, as Dr. Tallal describes, is that modern technology can be used to address the difficulties these children face and help bridge these skill gaps. In fact, it is this level of research and development that informed the development of Scientific Learning’s software programs, including Fast ForWord.
To close, Dr. Tallal took questions from the educators relating to how these insights can be used to improve educational outcomes in all classrooms. Teachers left this insightful webinar with practical strategies that can be used to help learners of all abilities.
In a recent webinar for Scientific Learning titled “Teaching With the Brain In Mind”, Eric Jensen discussed the newest concepts in brain research and how they relate to teaching and classroom strategies. Jensen is the author of 24 books on brain research and is a former educator himself.
It turns out that almost everything that educators assume to be correct about the development of the brain in children and adolescents is mistaken. Mr. Jensen summarized what current research tells us about the childhood brain in three simple points:
1. Brains are far more variable than previously thought
It turns out that “normal, healthy brains” only exist in about 10% of the population. For the other 90%, plenty of internal and external factors have affected their development. This finding supports teachers’ intuition, that educational differentiation is just as important as they have always suspected.
2. Brains have the ability to change more than previously thought
An idea that gives hope to teachers everywhere, Mr. Jensen detailed research on brain plasticity, or a brain’s ability to change throughout life. A “plastic” brain thrives when in an optimal educational setting , but the converse is also true. High-performing students in the hands of low-performing teachers can and often do regress rapidly.
3. Every cognitive skill can be taught
Skills previously thought to be inherent or genetic, like attention span or capacity for responsibility, are actually teachable. This finding obviously has revolutionary implications for classroom management strategies. When paired with the previous two findings, one can conclude that every child has the ultimate potential for success when met with the proper strategies and support.
Throughout the webinar, Mr. Jensen tied the above guiding principles to real-world examples in a classroom. He touched on the efficacy of products like Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant, which are leaders in utilizing these guiding principles to make reading gains.
The professional educator leaves this talk not only with new insights into the workings of the childhood brain, but also with practical strategies that can be used the next day with students.
Why are there more patients coming to my office with complaints of memory problems? Great question, and the typical answer is stress! In the course of human development, our brain developed the acute stress response that promoted survival when we were being chased and threatened by large animals—and it uses the same stress response to react to stressful events in everyday modern life.
A stressor triggers the amygdala in our brain that sets off the alarm bells for the body to prepare to fight or flee. Norepinephrine floods the brain generating a state of hyper focus, the pituitary sets off the adrenal glands and adrenaline cascades through the body. This causes the lungs to expand for more oxygen, the blood flow to increase to large muscles, digestion and reproduction to halt, and processing speed to increase. We are prepared to fight for our survival.
If this beneficial response to life-threatening stressors does not shut off appropriately, it becomes a chronic response that can damage the structure and function of the brain’s hippocampus. The hippocampus is the neighbor of the amygdala and the critical structure for memory and new learning.
The body generates steroid hormones known as glucocorticoids when under stress, and over time these hormones can do structural and functional damage to the hippocampus. This is the reason why chronic stress can cause memory problems. It is common, for example, to see memory deficit in those with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.
The good news is we do have some control over our perceptions and our body’s ability to regain a balanced and relaxed state.
In my practice, I spend time working with patients to first explain with pictures the neuroanatomy and neurophysiology of stress and the brain. This provides a visual to the person. We then identify what the stressors are in the person’s life that are setting off the alarm bells in the brain. Using visualization, relaxation, meditation, and self-talk the person can connect with their amygdala and cool the alarm bells by triggering the “rest and digest” system, also known as the parasympathetic nervous system.
Consider the following tips as a means of cooling the amygdala, thereby promoting hippocampal function and enhancing memory:
Paul Nussbaum, Ph.D., is a board-certified clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Neuropsychology and American Academy of Clinical Psychology and an adjunct Professor in Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Learn more about Dr. Nussbaum at: www.paulnussbaum.com or email him at: email@example.com.
One of my favorite webinar presenters here at Scientific Learning, Dr. Martha Burns, recently gave a webinar called “BrainPro: Preventing Summer Brain Drain.”
Dr. Burns covered a number of points related to learning and retaining information
Following Dr. Burns, we heard from Jenny, a parent from Florida who had her teenage daughter use the BrainPro program to help her pass the FCAT (the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test). Her daughter has a very high GPA and takes AP and Honors classes, but had difficulty in passing the FCAT reading test two years in a row. After she went through the BrainPro program, she took the FCAT for the 3rd time and passed with a near perfect score on the test.
View the webinar to for more detail and visuals about how the brain learns, and find out how the BrainPro program can help learners stay sharp over the summer break.
I’m pleased to announce two upcoming live webinars on learning and brain health. As usual, there is no charge for these webinars, so please register today and join us to get the latest from the brain experts!
Brain Health Across the Lifespan
On June 6, you’re invited to learn about “Brain Health Across the Lifespan” with our returning guest, Dr. Paul Nussbaum. While years of science maintained that neurogenesis does not occur in adult humans, current research indicates otherwise. If the human brain can generate new brain cells in adulthood, an entire new frontier of discovery and opportunity emerges. This webinar is at 10am PT (1pm ET).
Dr. Nussbaum is a board-certified clinical psychologist specializing in neuropsychology and a Fellow of the National Academy of Neuropsychology and American Academy of Clinical Psychology.
The Science of Learning
On June 18, Dr. Burns will be back with “The Science of Learning,” a webinar about the potential of neuroscience to profoundly impact education. Educators are just beginning to discover how differences in brain organization underlie different learning capacities, and how altering the organization of the brain can dramatically increase the ability to learn. The science of learning has guided the development of targeted neuroscience-based learning technologies to enhance underlying memory, attention, processing and sequencing abilities and proven to quickly and efficiently accelerate learning in many student populations at all grade levels. This webinar is at 9am PT (12pm ET).
Dr. Burns is a neuroscientist who specializes in the development of language and the brain, current research on how the brain learns and factors affecting learning, and how understanding the science of learning can change our perceptions of what goes on in the classroom. She is Adjunct Associate Professor at Northwestern University and a Fellow of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Anyone who has ever conscientiously taken on the challenge of learning a skill – from playing a musical instrument to speaking a foreign language to simply improving one’s penmanship – understands the importance of practice.
As a neuroscientist, practice fascinates me because it is all about establishing pathways in the brain. The ability of the brain to form and re-form routes for specific thought patterns, and for those routes to become more deeply ingrained the more we exercise those thought patterns, makes it possible for us to learn and refine a multitude of wonderful skills throughout our lives.
The Best Practices
In her recent article “The Myth of ‘Practice Makes Perfect,’” Annie Murphy Paul reviews a book by Gary Marcus, a cognitive psychologist at New York University who studies how the brain acquires language. Marcus’ book, Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning, discusses how learning a new skill, such as playing the guitar, requires practice—but the right kind of practice.
Certainly practice requires a commitment of time. But more importantly, to be truly effective it requires a commitment of the mind – a deliberate intent – for optimal learning to occur.
According to Marcus, “Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect” (2012).
In other words, the best practice demands that the learner be attentive to his or her errors, weaknesses and deficiencies, and consciously work to remedy them.
From a neuroscience perspective, this observation points to a natural conclusion. Research has shown us time and again that the more we utilize certain neural pathways for building skills – such as throwing a ball or multiplying by fives or recalling all fifty state capitals – the more effectively we ingrain those patterns in our brains and the more automatic the correct skills become.
The Hardest Work
Imagine the budding guitarist bent over her instrument. At 11 years old, she focuses on learning three more chords beyond the three she learned last week. She’s having great trouble with that F, but she’s well in control of the other five. Should she spend her hour of practice playing the music she truly enjoys and save that F for another day, preserving her positive attitude? Or should she feel her frustration, work through it and spend her time on ironing out that problematic F, again and again and again?
Which is the better practice?
Researcher Anders Ericsson of Florida State University wrote that “deliberate practice requires effort and is inherently not enjoyable” (1993). Long hours spent repeating the easy or already-mastered work is simply not enough and not as effective. The best practice requires us to dig deep and uncover our weaknesses. With a greater focus on our faults, we become better able to find them and develop solutions to remedy them.
Robert Duke of the University of Texas-Austin demonstrated this effect when he and his team videotaped piano students as they practiced a challenging concerto, and then ranked the quality of their final performance. In the end, it was not the repetitions nor the hours of practice put in. The best performers zeroed in on their errors and strove to fix them before moving on. (2009)
Behaviors for Success
The students in our everyday classrooms have an advantage over the guitar student practicing at home. She has to work independently the majority of the time, interacting with her music instructor only once or twice a week; the lion’s share of reinforcing her learning and practicing behavior is her personal responsibility.
In our day-to-day classrooms, we get – relatively speaking – much more time to help our students devise strategies and establish behaviors for success. Through helping them learn how to face the hard work, to focus on what’s difficult or wrong and make it easier or right, we can help them to establish those all-important neural pathways that will lead to success.
For further reading:
It’s Not How Much; It’s How: Characteristics of Practice Behavior and Retention of Performance Skills by Robert A. Duke, Amy L. Simmons and Carla Davis Cash
Just about everyone has had the experience of going grocery shopping with a small list of purchases in their mind, only to forget one or more of them upon arriving at the store. Similarly, we all have left one room to retrieve something from another room, forgetting what we are after before we have even arrived. The ability to hold information in mind for a few minutes to a few hours is called working memory. It is essential for everything from language learning in children to following a book chapter from beginning to end.
Working memory was first defined by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch in 1974. It is a form of memory that may distinguish humans from many other animals (with the exception of several primates). Working memory, commonly referred to as short-term memory, allows a person to hold on to information for a period of time (minutes or perhaps hours) long enough to do something new with the information, like take notes or solve a problem.
A typical situation in which we rely on working memory is watching an informational program on television, like a segment on a news program, and discussing it later with a friend. We may forget about the specific news event later in the week, but for a period of time we “keep it in mind,” thinking about it and perhaps talking about it with others. Each time we share the information with another person or think about it ourselves, we select details that interest us and alter them slightly to keep them interesting to us. Other examples of tasks that require good working memory in adults include taking notes during a lecture or paraphrasing information we hear or read about.
Alan Baddeley elaborated on the original concept of working memory in 1992, noting that unlike other kinds of short-term memory (such as rote repetition), working memory requires us to focus and maintain our attention on the task at hand. To keep our attentional focus, we must be goal-directed, ignoring distractions that might interfere with goal attainment. Baddeley stressed the importance of the “central executive” system for maintaining attentional focus in working memory tasks.
For children, working memory is essential for learning language. Unlike vision, where we can often study an image as long as we need to, everything we hear occurs in time. The speech signal moves very quickly: an average sentence is about 14 seconds long, an average single syllable word lasts only a quarter of a second, and the average consonant sound may last only 1/12 of a second.
We are all made aware of how fleeting the speech signal is when someone is talking to us and we become distracted, which consequently requires us to ask the speaker to repeat what was just said. In that way, speech is like a billboard that appears briefly in our peripheral vision as we travel at 55 miles per hour along a highway. It we are not paying specific attention in that instant to that part of the road, we will miss it, or only retain small bits of the message on the billboard. In a similar way, information we hear leaves us as soon as it arrives. We are not able to hold it in view like a drawing or photograph, or study it like a person’s face, so we must keep the information in our mind.
For some, improving working memory can be as simple as getting more sleep or more exercise or learning to avoid distractions. For others, whose working memory is weak enough to significantly impact learning, more help may be needed. Fortunately, the brain is a malleable structure and cognitive skills like working memory can be improved by strengthening key learning pathways in the brain (as regular readers of this blog know—working memory is one of four cognitive skills rapidly strengthened by the Fast ForWord program).
The truth is, we live in an exciting time. Scientists are learning more all the time about how cognitive skills like working memory operate. We can look forward to these discoveries yielding more insights and tools that we’ll be able to use to optimize learning throughout our lives.