Showing posts with tag brain development Show all posts >
It’s not exactly news that there’s a relationship between auditory processing skills and reading disorders in children. But with research by scientists such as Elise Temple and Nadine Gaab helping to establish and confirm the connection, the mounting evidence points to just how strong the correlation is—especially for children with dyslexia.
In a recent study by Jane Hornickel and Nina Kraus published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the authors set out to determine whether inconsistency in the brain’s response to speech sounds is correlated with poor reading skills. The study evaluated 100 normal-hearing children from 6 to 12 years of age who were divided into 3 groups—good readers, average readers, and poor readers—based on their fluency scores.
The researchers asked the children to listen to the syllables “ba” and “ga” while measuring the children’s auditory brainstem response. They also measured the children’s brainstem response to a simple clicking sound for comparison.
The authors found that the auditory brainstem response was considerably more variable for poor readers than for good readers, but only when listening to the relatively complex speech sounds—not when listening to the simple click sound. They also found that the inconsistencies in brainstem response were more closely associated with the consonant portion of the syllable than the vowel portion.
The variability in brainstem response occurred intermittently throughout the testing rather than building over time, and was primarily seen among the poor readers rather than all three groups, indicating that neural fatigue was likely not a factor. The authors note that the more likely explanation for the intermittent variability is poor encoding of speech sounds in the brains of the struggling readers.
According to Kraus, it’s this inconsistency of brain response that prevents some children from making the crucial connection of sound to meaning that is the foundation of language and reading skills. Strong readers, on the other hand, typically make the connection with ease. The relationship between reading ability and auditory processing skills, she says, is “a highly significant relationship.”
Distinguishing between consonants can be particularly difficult for children with dyslexia, as this study shows, because they are spoken so much more rapidly than vowels. But consonants typically give meaning to words (think “cat” vs. “bat”), so that missing bit of information can make learning to read enormously difficult. The takeaway is that when children with normal hearing experience reading difficulty, auditory processing plays a role.
Fortunately, our students’ brains are highly adaptable and responsive, enabling dramatic improvements with appropriate intervention. When the auditory processing issues are corrected, children are then able to make the critical sound-to-meaning connections that lead to proficient reading and improved learning all around.
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It’s exciting when a child learns to read—combining letters and sounds to form words for the first time until they’re stringing those words together to create sentences. But what happens when a child goes from “getting by” in the early grades to struggling in adolescence when cognitive demand increases along with the difficulty of required texts?
How Adolescent Learning is Different
There are important differences between childhood and adolescent brain function, and developmentally appropriate regression in abilities such as impulse control can affect adolescent learning.
Dr. Martha Burns’ webinar “Reading and the Adolescent Brain: What Works?” provides research-based insights for busy educators interested in the science of adolescent learning. Tune in and discover…
Understanding what’s happening in the adolescent brain can give you the tools to educate your students, support them in their struggles, and provide the help they need to get back on track academically.
Why Reading Interventions Fail
One reason that many reading interventions may not work for the adolescent learner is that they fail to provide the cognitive skills and oral reading practice required for reading fluency. Research shows that using the Fast ForWord program has been correlated with positive neurological changes in the brain corresponding to the cognitive skills that underlie reading.
By incorporating the use of the Fast ForWord program to build cognitive skills and the Reading Assistant program to ensure sufficient reading practice, you can help your adolescent students jumpstart their reading progress instead of remaining stagnant. Dr. Burns takes you on a detailed tour of how these programs strengthen cognitive skills, fluency and comprehension; reinforce learning; and shorten the time it takes to achieve significant milestones in achievement.
Changing the Future
Advanced literacy skills are needed not only in order to succeed in college but also to obtain and hold future jobs. When a teen is struggling in the present, it becomes more difficult for them to see a bright future, often causing them to erect a protective wall against learning and life. Informed educators can help transform these struggles into victory.
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
In 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:
Yeatman and his colleagues concluded that the reason for such differences lie in two processes related to brain plasticity:
In short, their studies indicate that:
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:
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)
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.
So it is only October and the buzz and excitement of starting a new school year has already fizzled. Life is a little boring, the holidays seem too far away, you are more tired than usual, and you are having a little trouble getting enthusiastic about your job or your children’s upcoming book reports and science projects, or whatever. What’s going on? Of course you know, burn-out.
What exactly is burn-out? Does it come from working too hard, not being appreciated? Perhaps, but from the standpoint of the brain, burn-out occurs when motivation declines. The human brain is designed to keep motivation levels high for activities we need to survive, those that are very rewarding, and those that involve novelty. Hence we are usually very motivated to escape a dangerous situation, eat chocolate cake and watch a new movie we just purchased. We tend to associate reward and novelty with play and leisure – video games, a golf or tennis match, watching a new TV show or a sports event, playing a new board game, or visiting a new vacation spot – even though we might work very hard at those activities. Rarely do you hear avid golfers complain about golf burnout. But you also rarely hear CEOs talk about being burned out. They may retire to relieve the stress of their job or spend more time with their family, but rarely do they complain about their workload or burnout. Why not? Because the excitement of a new round of golf and the reward that might come from winning or achieving a greater profit margin motivates the golfer and the CEO. However, when your daily life becomes repetitive, unexciting or non-rewarding, motivation decreases. Burn-out is really the symptom of a brain that has lost its motivation. And motivation declines when two important aspects of life are missing – earned reward and novelty.
So, what can you do about burn-out? The answer actually comes from neuroscience research. Whether your burn-out is associated with a job in or out of the home, the solution is not to work less and play more (because poverty is not very rewarding). Rather, the solution is to turn work into play. And the way to do that is to imbue your day with novelty and challenges where there is an expectation of reward.
Reward thyself: If your work is not very rewarding or your boss is not good at showing appreciation, one important key to avoiding burnout is to build in self rewards for a job well done. Each morning, next to your to-do list, make a “reward when completed list”.
Keep it new: If a job largely involves repetitive routines, try to come up with something new to add.
Delay gratification: Make your work schedule its own reward by scheduling your most boring task first each day and your favorite task last so all day you are looking forward to the activity you enjoy the most.
Finally, build in healthy brain-building activities to your week. A happy brain is a brain that is thinking, creating, planning, solving, and learning new things. Schedule activities outside of work that make you feel good about yourself and keep your mind sharp:
To learn more about the brain, view our free recorded webinar!
In a recent webinar, Dr. William Jenkins, a leader in the field of childhood brain development and one of the founders of Scientific Learning, presented on the importance of executive functions in the development of preschool students.
As described by Dr. Jenkins, the executive functions of the brain consist of:
In other words, these processes are the ones that allow a small child to develop good learning habits, pay attention in class, ignore distractions, and think creatively when unexpected outcomes occur.
Where do they come from?
One of the misconceptions among preschool teachers and parents is that executive functions are inherently developed rather than taught, a product of the genetic lottery rather than learned behaviors. This is a dangerous proposition.
Studies show that these skills need to be introduced early in life and practiced in preschool in order for students to have a greater chance at academic success later in their school careers. “These skills support the process (i.e., the HOW) of learning – focusing, remembering, planning – that enables children to effectively and efficiently master the content (i.e., the WHAT),” Dr. Jenkins said.
What can an educator do?
The good news for educators is that we already have the tools to help address executive functions. They tend to be grouped under the heading “classroom management”.
Think about it. It requires working memory to be able to follow directions. It takes cognitive and mental flexibility to understand why we behave differently out on the playground than we do in the classroom. And nearly every classroom rule ever written is either aided or hindered by a child’s ability to inhibit their immediate needs and desires.
According to the webinar and an accompanying white paper authored by Alexandra Main, it’s never too late to address these skills with students. The prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain that tends to govern executive functions - continues to develop in humans well after their twentieth birthday. Of course, by then the child is either about to graduate college or has already ended their scholastic careers.
With all of this evidence, it’s imperative that teachers in early childhood education – especially preschool teachers – rededicate themselves to instruction in these executive skills using the best practices and patience that they use during reading and math skills instruction. There are remediation opportunities for children that have fallen behind in their executive functions, including some software programs discussed in the white paper.
But if you wait too long to address these skills, their lack of success in executive functions will translate into a lack of success in the academic skills in which they will be measured later in their school careers.
For further reading:
Does this ever happen to you as a teacher? You present information in a great deal of detail, covering the content over several days. You are delighted with the way the information flows, you are very pleased with the organization of the content, and the examples you provide are quite clear. Then, a day or two later, one of the students raises her hand and asks you if you will explain that very content. It is as though she had not been present during your lengthy devotion to that topic. You know she was present, you saw her sitting there listening intently, so how could it be that none of it sank in?
A big part of the answer to why some of your students hold onto the information you teach and others do not has to do with a little chemical in the brain that has to be present for a child (or adult) to retain information. That chemical is called “dopamine”. You may have heard about dopamine because it is the chemical that is released in the brain when we are rewarded. It is also released when a person gambles and wins (or loses), takes certain addictive drugs like cocaine, or just engages in a new exciting adventure. For many of your students and many of us as adults, learning about new things is an adventure and very rewarding, and dopamine levels increase in the brain to help us retain that new information. But for some learners, if dopamine levels are low, the new information literally goes in and out of the brain and is lost.
I like to refer to dopamine as the “save button” in the brain. When dopamine is present during an event or experience, we remember it; when it is absent, nothing seems to stick. There are actually some regions of the brain that increase our motivation and interest in activities. Often referred to collectively as the reward center, the regions are activated by dopamine. And the more motivated and interested we are in an activity the more dopamine is released and the better we remember it. The reward center helps us to stay focused and repeat activities that were reinforced through positive outcomes – whether it is finding and returning to a location where good things happened in our life or just remembering interesting information. So as a teacher the next question you might ask is, “How do I increase dopamine levels in my students’ brains so that they are motivated to learn and remember what I teach?” And, believe it or not, the answer is pretty straight forward – “make learning NEW, EXCITING, and REWARDING.” I call this the “how” of teaching and it is something you actually already know very well.
The importance of NEW in learning is something all teachers think about every time we plan a lesson. That is why you love it when your school has NEW text book adoptions – the novelty allows you to teach the information in a new way – which generates enthusiasm on your part and the students. To keep fresh, all teachers try to come up with novel ways to present information and new technology to help present content in a different way whether we are fortunate enough to get new textbooks and technology or not. Increase NOVELTY in a classroom and you increase the dopamine levels of your students.
The importance of EXCITING in learning is why as teachers we rack our brains at night trying to think up adventuresome ways to keep our students interested in the content. To make the content exciting, I know primary teachers who get their students to act out letters or new vocabulary, middle school math teachers who teach area computation by asking students to determine the amount of paint that would be needed to redecorate their bedroom, high school teachers who teach students physics by asking them to build a bridge with nothing more than toothpicks. All of these represent what we were taught were teaching methods -- ways teachers devise to keep the energy and excitement level up in a classroom. Increase excitement in a classroom and you increase dopamine levels of your students.
The importance of REINFORCEMENT in learning is self-evident. All of us are very aware of the power of reinforcement. Some of us try to encourage our husbands (or wives) to take on more household responsibilities by using not too well disguised reinforcement – “My, you are really great at washing the dishes, the kitchen always shines after you are finished.” But reinforcement is actually one of the best ways to increase dopamine levels and assure retention of information. Try this tomorrow in your class. Ask a question that most of the students would not necessarily know, then seek out a student who normally does not raise their hand or try to respond, guide the student so he answers the question correctly in front of the entire class, then reward the student with a compliment. A day or so later, ask that same student the question again. What you will find is that student will remember that information even though he might be ordinarily very poor at attending in class or forgetful. Carefully used, reinforcement is one of the greatest memory enhancers in the brain because it is so powerful at increasing dopamine.
I like to say, successful teaching is not difficult and is very NEAR – New, Exciting And Rewarding because those are the keys to keeping dopamine levels high in the brain. And by the way, keeping your teaching New, Exciting and Rewarding does not just increase your students’ dopamine levels, it increases yours as well. Coming up with new fresh ways to present the information, making the content interesting and exciting whenever possible, and rewarding all of your students for their successes in your classroom keeps motivation and attention levels high and promotes retention. Dopamine can be addictive -- our goal as teachers is to get our students addicted to learning.
For further reading:
Our Fall Webinar Series for Educators is here! Join us for presentations on topics from how the brain learn to how you can increase test scores and reading proficiency for your students.
How the Brain Learns
Dr. William Jenkins, one of our four founders and an expert in learning-based brain plasticity, will review the three dimensions of executive function often highlighted by scientists—working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility. Learn about the development of these skills across childhood and look at some popular misconceptions about executive function in children. His last webinar on executive function was a big hit—you‘ll want to join us for this one!
10/11 - Teaching with the Brain in Mind
Brain-based learning expert Eric Jensen returns to share specific, practical brain-compatible strategies you can use in the classroom right away. Discover how the brain works, how teaching changes the brain, and what it takes for students to acquire complex learning and achieve their best. Jensen’s webinars are always packed—be sure to register and arrive early!
Dr. Paula Tallal will join us to discuss the latest neuroscience research on learning, her original research on auditory processing and language, and the classroom application of these scientific findings to help struggling learners succeed. Dr. Tallal is one of our four founders and a very engaging presenter—don’t miss this rare opportunity to learn from her!
Real Life Results with Scientific Learning Programs
Returning presenter Cory Armes will discuss how the Fast ForWord program supports English Language Learners by simultaneously developing academic skills critical for reading, such as English language conventions, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and comprehension. A live Fast ForWord demo will be included in this webinar.
Dr. Martha Burns will open the webinar with an overview of how the brain learns. Then, special guests Dr. Dave Mundy and Cindy Keever from Westfield-Washington Schools in Indiana will discuss how students achieved nearly double their expected gains in reading with the Fast ForWord program. Bring your questions for our guests!
Maura Deptula will provide an in-depth look at the Reading Assistant online reading coach and results achieved by students using it. Reading practice with Reading Assistant helps strengthen fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. This webinar will include a live product demonstration.
9/10 - The Science of Learning
One of our most popular presenters, Dr. Burns returns to discuss ways to accelerate your children’s learning. Recent brain research shows that developing the critical cognitive skills of memory, attention, processing, and sequencing can make a significant difference for your children and result in improved test scores. Dr. Burns will discuss key areas of the brain and how these areas influence reading and academic performance. Angela, a parent from Wisconsin, will discuss her son’s progress and results with the BrainPro program.
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 Grade. Language, 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-analysis. Learning 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 study. Restorative 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 children. Brain 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.