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How to Tell When Neuroscience-Based Programs are Well-Developed

Neuroscience-based programsI am sure you have noticed that there are many technology programs out there that claim to “build,” or improve your brain function. Every week I receive emails from companies advertising brain games that promise to train attention and memory skills. You may have wondered, do “brain games” really work? A recent article in The New York Times entitled "Do Brain Workouts Work? Science Isn't Sure," actually asked that very question as well.

How would a memory brain game that I purchase from a website be different from a card or board game like “Concentration”? How is an attention game different or better than the concentration required to read a good book or play a card game that requires focused and sustained attention to cards played or discarded each round? Do good old fashioned paper pencil activities like crossword puzzles help with brain function? How about Bridge or Chess? Does watching Jeopardy on Television help your memory? Wouldn’t any challenging video game help us with attention if we had to stay focused for long periods of time to get to a new level?

The answers to the above questions are all “yes, to some degree.” The brain is the only organ of our body that changes each day based on our experiences. And if we do any activities that challenge memory or attention for extended periods of time it will likely be beneficial for improving those capacities. If I play bridge, for example, many hours a week, I will likely get better at the game and boost my short term (working) memory as well. But, neuroscientists who study brain plasticity, the way the brain changes with stimulation (or lack of stimulation), have determined there are ways to enhance the beneficial effects of brain exercises to maximize the efficiency and positive outcomes so that children or adults can specifically target some capacities over others in a short period of time. And, controlled research is showing these targeted exercises have benefits on other brain capacities as well.

So, for example, researchers have shown that when seven year olds do a simple computer-based exercise that targets working memory for just a few minutes a day for a few consecutive weeks they show improved working memory (we would expect that) but also improved reading comprehension compared with children in their classrooms who received reading instruction but did not do the working memory activities (Loosli, 2012). Or, aging adults in their 70's who did computer-based processing speed exercises a few minutes a day for six consecutive weeks so they could do things like react faster when driving showed improvements in processing speed (again we would expect that) but also in memory when compared to adults who did other exercises but not the processing speed exercises, and the improvements lasted for ten years without doing additional exercises (Rebok, 2014).

The question, then, is what are the critical active ingredients neuroscientists have found that need to be "built-in" so brain exercises effectively build targeted skills compared to the benefits we get from just using our "noggin" in everyday activities? And, more important, how is a parent or consumer to get through all the hype and determine which brain exercises have the important design features shown to be effective?

Fortunately, neuroscientists who have thoroughly researched this have published excellent summaries in respected scientific journals. Below are the key elements to look for in brain exercises:

  1. High & low - Exercises are most effective when they include challenging high-level tasks (like exercises that require a high degree of speed and accuracy) while also including low-level exercises that improve our ability to perceive similar sounds or images more distinctly (Ahissar et el, 2009). We might call this the Sherlock Holmes effect - you must see the details clearly to solve difficult problems.
  2. Adaptability - Exercises should increase or decrease in difficulty based on how you perform so they continuously adapt to your skill level (Roelfsema, 2010).
  3. Highly intensive training schedules - The relevant ‘skills' must be identified, isolated, then practiced through hundreds if not thousands of trials on an intensive (ie, quasi-daily) schedule (Roelfsema, 2010).
  4. Attention grabbing - In order to maximize enduring plastic changes in the cortex, the learner must attend to each trial or learning event on a trial-by-trial basis.
  5. Timely rewards - A very high proportion of the learning trials must be rewarded immediately (rather than at the end of a block of trials or on a trial-and-error basis) (Roelfsema, 2010).

So, parents may ask, ”This sounds fine for making our average brains work better but what about my child who has been diagnosed with a learning disability or other issues like autism spectrum disorder?” According to Ahissar et al. (2009), for our children (or adults) with learning issues, distortions or limitations at any level will create bottlenecks for learning and the changes we want from brain exercises. But, according to the authors, if the exercises have sufficient intensity and duration on specific sets of activities that focus on lower-level (perceptual) and middle-level stimuli (attention, memory and language) tasks, brain changes will enhance higher level skills and learning will be easier and more advanced.

So for parents, or anyone wanting to understand which brain exercises are worth the investment of valuable time and money, a rule of thumb would be to avoid products that advertise themselves as "brain games" - because that is what they probably are. Rather, seek out programs or products that contain "exercises" that focus on specific high and low level skills like language, reading, memory and attention, and those who have research evidence to support their value when used by children like yours.

References

Ahissar, M., Nahum, M., Nelken, I., & Hochstein, S. (2009). Reverse hierarchies and sensory learning, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 364, 285–299.doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0253

Loosli, S.V., Buschkuehl, M., Perrig, W.J., & Jaeggi, S.M. (2012). Working memory training improves reading processes in typically developing children, Child Neuropsychology, 18, 62-78. doi: 10.1080/09297049.2011.575772

Rebok, G.W., Ball, K., Guey, L.T., Jones, R.N., Kim, H.Y., King, J.W., . . . Willis, S.L. (2014). Ten-Year Effects of the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly Cognitive Training Trial on Cognition and Everyday Functioning in Older Adults, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 62, 16-24. doi: 10.1111/jgs.12607

Roelfsema, P.R., van Ooyen, A., & Watanabe, T. (2010). Perceptual learning rules based on reinforcers and attention, Trends in Cognitive Science, 14, 64–71.doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.11.005

Vinogradav, S., Fisher, M., & de Villers-Sidani, E. (2012). Cognitive Training for Impaired Neural Systems in Neuropsychiatric Illness, Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews, 37, 43–76. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.251

Related reading:

Brain Fitness Is Not A Game

Dopamine and Learning: What The Brain’s Reward Center Can Teach Educators

 

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Education Trends, Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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Smarten Up! Three Facts About the Learning Brain

The learning brain

It’s Brain Awareness Week! To celebrate, we’ve put together a few fun facts about the brain and how it learns. Share them and spread the word about why good nutrition, sleep, and learning habits matter.

1) True/False: Dreams are useless.

False! Research has found that when learning a new task, people who have dreams related to the task may actually improve their performance.

In one study at Harvard Medical School, students were asked to navigate a difficult maze, starting at a different point in the maze each time. During a break, one group of students was asked to nap while another group remained awake. Students in the nap group who dreamed about the maze performed better the next time they tried the maze, while those who dreamed about other things or who stayed awake did not improve.

Dreaming can take place during both REM and non-REM sleep. REM stands for “rapid eye movement” because the dreamer’s eyes move around under their eyelids during this phase of sleep. REM is the phase of sleep during which dreaming typically occurs, and dreams during REM sleep tend to be wild and illogical. But dreams can also take place during non-REM sleep. These dreams are often more thoughtful and logical than REM dreams and appear to be more important for learning.

2) True/False: Your brain functions best on Crimini mushrooms and beef brains.

True - though mushrooms and beef brains may be extreme examples of what keeps your brain working at its best. Still, good food choices do more than help your body grow, repair itself, and fight off illness. Food choices have an effect on how well your brain works, too.

Neurons, the cells of the brain, have a fatty coating called myelin that helps impulses move quickly from cell to cell. Your brain needs the right combination of proteins and fats from food sources to create myelin and to build new connections between neurons. Your brain’s ability to create new connections is closely tied to its ability to keep up in class and to learn new things.

The brain also relies on neurotransmitters to relay impulses from neuron to neuron. Neurotransmitters are the brain’s chemical messengers, and different neurotransmitters are built from different starter materials. An example of one of these starter materials is tryptophan, a substance found in a variety of healthy foods including shrimp, Crimini mushrooms, tuna, spinach, eggs, soybeans, broccoli, and cow’s milk. The body needs tryptophan to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is linked to learning, memory, and motivation.

In the spirit of brain awareness week, we discovered that beef brains are actually a lean source of protein.  But if you're like us, you'll stick with the chicken, turkey and fish!

3)True/False: Your brain is competitive. With itself.

True. The human brain has incredible potential. People have successfully trained their brains to perform amazing feats of memory and computation, monks have learned to alter their body temperature by controlling their brain waves with meditation, and people with brain damage have regained lost abilities that we used to think were irreversible.

You’ve probably heard the expression “use it or lose it,” which means that we lose skills when we don’t practice them in daily life. That’s because the brain actually restructures itself based on how we use it most often, and those structural changes affect our performance. We get better at skills that we practice and we lose skills that we neglect. When it comes to student learning, “use it or lose it” is very real – especially during the summer months.

Say, for example, that a student reads 30 minutes every day during the school year. Then summer vacation rolls around and without the structure of school he reads only 30 minutes each week. His brain is going to think that he doesn’t need all of those neural connections for reading anymore, and it will actually change the way that his neurons are connected and devote them to other activities that he’s engaged in more often – say, playing sports or watching TV. This is called competitive plasticity.

That’s great for the time he spends with  friends for summertime fun, but not so great come fall when it’s time to head back to class. Many kids lose ground in reading over the summer, and even more kids lose skills in math. Over time, these losses add up. In fact, student achievement in the 12thgrade is closely tied to what kinds of learning activities students engage in during the summer. Students who are high performers at high school graduation have typically spent time during their summers maintaining or increasing their academic skills. 

It’s Not Too Soon

Have you shared the facts of “summer slide” with your students so they understand why you might want them to read or practice their math skills? If not, start beating the drum today for summer learning, and when the summer months roll around, perhaps your students will actually spend time doing those things that challenge their brains to learn and grow. 

Fun Stuff

Try our Brain Awareness Week activities in the classroom as a fun way to extend the learning:

The Learning Brain Word Search – Basic words for lower grades.

The Learning Brain Word Match – More advanced words for higher grades.

References:

Cromie, W.J. (2002, April 18). Meditation changes temperatures: Mind controls body in extreme experiments. Harvard University Gazette. Retrieved from http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/09-tummo.html

Mateljan, G. (2006). The World's Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the Healthiest Way of Eating. World’s Healthiest Foods.

Nutrition and the Brain. (n.d.). In Neuroscience for Kids. Retrieved from http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/nutr.html

Ornes, S. (2010, May 11). Dreaming makes perfect. ScienceNews for Kids. Retrieved from http://www.sciencenewsforkids.com.php5-17.dfw1-2.websitetestlink.com/wp/2010/05/dreaming-makes-perfect-2/

For further reading:

Official Brain Awareness Week Website

Related reading:

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

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function

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Four Myths About Learning Disabilities

myths about learning disabilities

Learning disabilities can be tough to talk about and even tougher to understand. Some parents and educators prefer to call them learning differences in order to avoid negative labeling that can affect self-esteem, but the term disability is tied to special education funding by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is a requirement for identifying and qualifying learners to receive special education services.

Regardless of what we choose to call them, learning differences or disabilities are frequently misunderstood. Pinpointing a student’s precise learning challenges can be difficult, and individual outcomes can be hard to predict. What’s more, symptoms of specific learning disabilities can be complex and confusing, and may look more like behavioral problems than learning problems to some. But some of the most common myths about learning disabilities are easy to dispel with a look at the facts.

Myth #1:  Learning disabilities are intellectual disabilities.

First and perhaps most important to understand is that learning disabilities are communication differences that are completely separate from physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities. In the same way that a hearing impaired student might need assistance in the form of a hearing aid, students with learning disabilities need assistance in the form of alternative learning methods.

When learning disabilities are identified early and dealt with effectively, students can function more or less on par with their peers in school and grow up to be self-reliant adults. Students with intellectual disabilities, on the other hand, have significantly reduced cognitive ability and usually need lifelong support from others.

Myth #2:  ADHD is a learning disability.

Perhaps surprisingly, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is not considered a learning disability, although it is estimated that 20-30% of people with ADHD have a learning disability as well. Learning disabilities include learning differences such as:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
  • Language Processing Disorder
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disability
  • Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit

It is possible to designate ADHD as a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), making a student eligible to receive special education services. However, ADHD is categorized as “Other Health Impaired” and not as a “Specific Learning Disability.”

Myth #3:  Dyslexia is a visual problem.

Dyslexia is one of the more commonly misunderstood learning disabilities. Many people think of it as a vision-related disorder, but it is actually rooted in differences in how the brain hears and processes spoken language. The ability to read is dependent upon the reader making accurate letter-sound correspondences, so when the brain processes spoken language atypically, it can be hard for readers to make sense of the connections between printed words and the sounds they make. The good news is that some studies have shown dyslexia to be effectively remediated by training the brain to process language more effectively.

Myth #4:  The incidence of students with learning disabilities in US schools is on the rise.

The incidence of students with learning disabilities has actually declined over the past 20 years. However, other learning differences that may qualify a student for special education - such as autism and ADHD - have risen during the same time period, for reasons that are not well understood.

Food for Thought

Students with learning disabilities make up a large portion of students receiving special education services in schools - education outcomes and employment prospects for many of these students are disappointing, to say the least. Twice as many students with learning disabilities drop out as compared with their peers, and only half as many go to college. They are also twice as likely to be unemployed as adults.

With statistics like these, it’s clear that more needs to be done. Students with learning challenges need to be identified early, diagnosed accurately, provided appropriate assistive technologies, and given the right targeted interventions to help them become the best learners they can be, ready to take on new challenges with the confidence that they can succeed.

References:

Williams, D., Kingston This Week, [Letter to the editor]. Retrieved from:http://www.kingstonthisweek.com/2011/01/20/differences-between-learning-and-intellectual-disabilities

Learning disabilities and ADHD.  Retrieved from: http://www.girlshealth.gov/disability/types/learning.html

ADHD. Retrieved from:http://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/adhd/

Dissecting Dyslexia: Linking Reading to Voice Recognition. Retrieved from: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=121226

Smith, H., Auditory Processing Skills & Reading Disorders in Children. Retrieved from: http://www.scilearn.com/blog/auditory-processing-skills-reading-disorders-in-children.php

NCLD Editorial Team, Learning Disability Fast Facts.  Retrieved from: http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/what-is-ld/learning-disability-fast-facts

For Further Reading:

Misunderstood Minds

Related reading:

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

Remediation vs. Accommodation: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Reading & Learning, Special Education

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Right vs. Left Brained + Autism, APD, ADHD Neuroscience and More

Visionary Conference 2014

Are some of us “left-brained” and some “right-brained”? Dr. Paula Tallal will be presenting in person (and online via webinar) on this exact topic during our upcoming annual Visionary Conference in her session “Hemispheric Dominance: Myth or Reality?”   The conference offers ASHA CEUs and will be 2 days of the most up to date information on the brain, the Fast ForWord/Reading Assistant programs and what’s coming down the line (did someone say iPad®?).  You won’t want to miss this event – best of all, it’s both online and in-person.

New Brain Research

In addition to Dr. Tallal’s presentation, we are fortunate to have Dr. Martha Burns on board with us sharing the latest research on the brain and learning. Dr.  Burns will kick off the conference on Friday morning with a professional development session that will focus on the latest findings related to disconnection patterns associated with communicative-cognitive disorders of CAS (childrens apraxia of speech), APD (auditory processing disorders), ASD (autism spectrum disorders), and dyslexia – as well as the genetics of neuropathology, cognitive challenges after concussion, and evidence-based interventions. To start us off on Day 2 on Saturday, Dr. Tallal will weigh in on the half-century old debate about brain hemisphere dominance with new evidence.  If you have ever seen Drs. Burns and Tallal present, you know that these sessions are not to be missed!  

What’s Happening with Fast ForWord in Australia? Singapore? Brazil?

We are excited to announce that some of our international partners will be joining on Friday, February 21st, to participate in a discussion panel.  We will have a combination of newer and long-time providers who all share the same enthusiasm about providing the programs in their respective countries with their own unique models.  If you ever wondered how our programs are implemented in other countries, this session is for you.  Countries to be represented are Australia, Singapore and Brazil.  

Evaluation Before and After?

Three of our clinicians based here in the United States will share and discuss best practices in their evaluation protocol for use of and placement in the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant Intervention Programs.  We will hear from Dana Merritt with Merritt Speech and Language and from  Julie DeAngelis and Summer Peterson with Scottish Rite Language Center.

Product Training & News

Additional sessions will address interpretation of MySciLEARN learner progress data, integration of other commercially available programs with Fast ForWord intervention, what’s on the horizon for the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant products (exciting developments!), and much more.    

Be There or… Join us Virtually! 

If you’ve been to an onsite Visionary Conference with us before, then you know how energizing the event is going to be.  As in past years, we are offering a virtual option if you can’t be with us in person.  For 2 full days, we will be broadcasting the conference live.  It will feel like you are there with us!  Virtual attendees will receive copies of the presentations and ASHA Participant forms before the start of the conference.  Enjoy the conference from the comfort of your own home!

ASHA CEUs offered – whether you are on-site or virtual…

We are planning to offer up to 1.4 ASHA CEUs for the entire conference – whether you are onsite with us or virtual (pending ASHA review).  We can also offer partial credit if you can’t attend the entire conference.   Contact Carrie Gajowski at cgajowski@scilearn.com if you have any questions.

If you’ve never been, don’t miss out – it’s the highlight of the year! 

Related reading:

Left vs. Right: What Your Brain Hemispheres Are Really Up To

What New Brain Wave Research Tells Us About Language-Based Learning Disabilities

 

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant, Scientific Learning Research

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Remediation vs. Accommodation: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed

helping students with learning disabilities

Meeting the needs of students with learning disabilities can be a challenge. Students newly identified with a learning disability are likely to need immediate help to fully benefit from the curriculum, and this help often takes the form of accommodation. But for maximum long-term benefit, educators need to address the learning difficulty at its core, remediating it with a carefully targeted, intensive, individualized intervention.

Weighing the Options

In the real world, remediation is typically a time- and personnel-intensive undertaking, and without simultaneous accommodation, students with learning disabilities may continue to experience an ongoing cycle of failure. However, an over-reliance on accommodation can sap a student’s motivation to learn how to perform without accommodation.

Typically, then, educators find themselves balancing intensive intervention with accommodation and fitting the combination to the individual learner. Finding the point of equilibrium is a process that involves both informed decision-making and trial and error.

Dr. Dave Edyburn, a leading expert in assistive technology for students with learning disabilities, recommends that reliance on accommodation should be based in part on a student’s age. Younger learners, for example, whose job is focused on learning to decode and building reading fluency, might need less accommodation for reading. A 4th grader who still struggles with decoding, on the other hand, urgently requires greater accommodation to be able to comprehend and benefit from the curriculum.

Regardless of the degree of accommodation a student receives, effective and intensive intervention should remain a priority. One option for addressing a learning challenge at its core is Fast ForWord software. At a biological level, Fast ForWord actually helps learners build new neural connections to support more efficient information processing and learning. It’s also been proven to help learners with dyslexia and auditory processing disorder, improving their ability to pay attention, process information, and remember what they have learned. 

In some cases, completing one or two Fast ForWord products is all it takes for a learner to test out of special education. For other learners, the Fast ForWord program can be the difference maker in staying out of special education altogether. In many districts, any students referred for a learning disability in language or math are required to use Fast ForWord before undergoing further testing. One district saw a 30% drop in special education referrals.

Solid Gold

When it comes to student learning, any tool or technique that helps has a potential role to play. Many students need accommodation and should rightfully receive that help as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). But the gold standard for students with learning disabilities will always be effective remediation. Learning disabilities may not be “fixable,” but they can often be overcome.

References:

Edyburn, D.L. Assistive Technology:  Getting the Right Supports for Your Student.  Retrieved from:  http://www.ncld.org/students-disabilities/assistive-technology-education/assistive-technology-getting-right-supports-for-your-student

Related reading:

What New Brain Wave Research Tells Us About Language-Based Learning Disabilities

Improved Auditory Processing With Targeted Intervention

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Special Education

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Teaching Persistence: How to Build Student Stamina

how to build student staminaTeaching persistence in the classroom is an important part of setting up learners to succeed. Students who have mastered persistence are able to work through challenges, deal constructively with failures and adversity, and achieve the goals they have set for themselves.

It’s a lot like running a marathon. The runners who make it to the finish line are the ones who persist in showing up for practices and trainings, learn to anticipate slumps and pace themselves, engage in positive self-talk during tough times, take steps to effectively prevent and treat injuries, and adjust expectations to fit reality – even if “finishing” means having to crawl the last mile.

Like a runner who has not trained to run longer distances, learners can’t persist in their learning if they haven’t developed the stamina they need to keep going when things get tough. Teaching persistence depends on first developing student stamina as a way of conditioning learners to handle sustained effort.

To help learners build stamina and persistence, it’s important to create the right learning environment:

Help Learners Develop a Growth Mindset

Learners need to know that they have the ability to grow and change, and that effort is the key. Praise them when they focus their efforts toward specific, clearly defined goals. When you say things like, “Those extra 10 minutes of reading each day are paying off – you are decoding unfamiliar words much more easily now,” you help learners make the connection between effort and achievement. The goal is for learners to become intrinsically motivated to engage in effortful learning now and in the future.

Push a Little Bit – and Know When Enough is Enough

Sometimes learners just need a little bit of encouragement to get past a hurdle. A few supportive words, like, “Think of how good you will feel when you finish those last two addition problems and you know you did the whole worksheet all by yourself!” can make all the difference. On the other hand, a learner may need to know that it’s okay to take a break and come back to a particular task when he’s feeling less frustrated. In that case, it’s important that the learner really does come back and complete the work to get the experience that he truly can “do more” when he persists.

Model Persistence

Most learners love to hear personal stories from their teachers. Telling your learners about your weekend plumbing project that didn’t go as planned – and how you got through it and completed it – is a great way to help learners see that everyone feels like giving up sometimes. It also models for them how to overcome those feelings and reach a goal – without coming off as preachy.

Teach Positive Self-Talk

Some learners need a lot of help knowing what to say to themselves to stay motivated. If a learner’s typical internal dialogue consists of statements like, “This is too hard,” or “I don’t know how to do this,” it may come as a revelation to discover that there are other options. Giving learners specific wording, like, “I know I can do this if I keep at it,” or, “If I’m really stuck I can ask a friend or my teacher for help,” can begin to change the way they think and act when faced with a challenge.

Expect More

Let learners know that you have high expectations and that you have confidence that each and every one of them can meet those expectations. Be sure they have access to the tools they need to be successful, and that they know how to use them.

Make the Most of Technology

Online tools like the Fast ForWord program can help learners make the connection between effort and achievement. The Fast ForWord program gradually builds learner stamina for enduring increasing degrees of cognitive load. The exercises develop reading and language skills at the same time as they boost memory, attention, processing, and sequencing ability. It gives learners immediate feedback on their performance and automatically adjusts the difficulty level for just the right degree of challenge. Fun reward animations help learners see when they have achieved a goal to help them stay motivated.

Call Out the Brain

It’s never too early – or too late – to teach your students about how the brain learns. Introduce the concept of brain plasticity – the idea that the brain changes in response to how it’s used – as a way of reinforcing the idea that learning is achieved through focused, sustained effort. Help them understand that every brain is capable of making dramatic changes and leaps in learning.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Students learn persistence in the same way that they learn sight words or multiplication tables – through repetition. Strategies like modeling persistence, connecting effort to achievement, and pushing students to do a little more than they think they can aren’t a one-time deal. But when repeated over time, the cumulative effect will likely be increased stamina, improved persistence, and intrinsic motivation for ever greater learning.

For Further Reading:

Teaching Perseverance

True Grit: 10 tips for promoting strength, resilience, and perseverance among your students.

Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century

Related reading:

Deliberate Practice: How to Develop Expertise

The Curious Mind: Interest, Drive, and the Road to Academic Success

 

 

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5 Trends in Education for 2014

education trends 2014A brand new year certainly has a way of getting us thinking about the future. The holidays are behind us, the first term of the school year has wrapped up or soon will, and New Year’s resolutions beg for action. It’s a natural time to look forward.

So why not get out our crystal ball once again and look into the future of education? What trends are predicted for 2014?

  1. Explicit Instruction in How to Listen
  2. The inclusion of listening standards in the Common Core heralds a new focus on listening instruction in the classroom. The Common Core raises up listening as a literacy skill, giving it equal weight to the more traditionally emphasized reading, writing, and speaking.

    In 2014, teachers will spend more time demonstrating what listening “looks like;” explaining what students should be doing with their eyes, ears, and bodies while listening; directing learners to notice when they haven’t been listening; and measuring how well learners apply what they’ve been taught.

  1. Evolution of the Teacher-Student Relationship
  2. Teachers may have more knowledge in their memory banks, but the Internet has given learners equal access to information. That simple fact continues to drive classrooms away from the information hierarchy model that places teachers at the top and toward a more equal learning community model. It’s a 21st century model that regards learners and teachers as partners in education, with students creating and collaborating and teachers supporting, directing, and coaching student efforts.
  1. Increased Responsibility for Students
  2. As teachers shift to a supporting role in the classroom, they will be transferring more responsibility to students for their own learning. Increasing technology integration and personalized learning will drive students to be more self-directed and self-disciplined. This trend has the potential to accelerate learning and produce more college-ready high school grads if balanced by frequent and effective coaching from teachers.
  1. A Move Toward Project-Based Learning
  2. More schools are shifting toward project-based learning as a way of increasing engagement and creativity in the classroom. It’s not a matter of simply marking the end of a lesson or unit by making a book or a diorama; instead, project-based learning engages students in meaningful, long-term projects that are themselves the learning experience.

    Fourth-grade students might conceive, coordinate, and run their own semester-long weekly farmer’s market. They then learn as they go – how to market their goods, how to anticipate what will sell, how to total a purchase and make change, and what it feels like to accomplish all that and contribute the cash earned back to their classroom or school.

  1. K-12 Will Get Serious About Coding
  2. The voices calling for coding instruction in K-12 are starting to gain traction. Teaching code is considered by some to be equivalent to teaching a traditional foreign language—except more relevant to today’s learner who will have to be tech-savvy to compete for future jobs. Look for courses on “game design,” which sound cool and have the potential to attract students to STEM who might not think of themselves as being “the tech type.”

References:

Davis, M.R., (2013, June 11), Computer Coding Lessons Expanding for K-12 Students. Education Week, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2013/06/12/03game-coding.h06.html

Fairbanks, A.M., (2013, May 20). Digital Trends Shifting the Role of Teachers. Education Week, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/05/22/32el-changingrole.h32.html

Lynch, M. (2013, November 22). Future Trends in K-12 Classroom Management and Discipline. Education Week, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/2013/11/future_trends_in_k-12_classroom_management_and_discipline.html

Murphy, A.P. (2013, October 29). Ready to Learn? The Key Is Listening With Intention Annie. MindShift, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/10/ready-to-learn-the-key-is-listening-with-intention/

Schwartz, K., (2013, January 2). What Project-Based Learning Is — and What It Isn’t. MindShift, Retrieved December 9, 2013, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/01/what-project-based-learning-is-and-isnt/

 Schwartz, K., (2013, October 14). Five Research-Driven Education Trends At Work in Classrooms. MindShift, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/10/five-research-driven-education-trends-at-work-in-classrooms/

Vangelova, L. (2013, November 13). Subverting the System: Student and Teacher as Equals. MindShift, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/11/subverting-the-system-student-and-teacher-as-equals/

Related reading:

21st Century Learning: Preparing Students Today

Why Auditory Processing Disorders (APD) are Hard to Spot

 

 

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The Benefits of Downtime: Why Learners’ Brains Need a Break

DowntimeA friend of mine once described her brain as a washing machine, tumbling and tossing the requests and information that hit her at work from every direction. Many people I know feel the same way—overwhelmed by the onslaught of knowledge and to-dos that accompany the always-on smartphone era.

The situation is not that different for most kids these days, with high expectations in the classroom, fewer opportunities to unwind with recess and the arts, busy social calendars, and a seemingly limitless supply of extracurricular activities—like circus arts and robotics—that weren’t available to previous generations. That’s unfortunate, because research shows that time off-task is important for proper brain function and health.

Going Offline

The idea that the brain might be productively engaged during downtime has been slow in coming. Because of the brain’s massive energy consumption—using as much as 20% of the body’s energy intake while on-task—most scientists expected that the organ would default to a frugal, energy-saving mode when given the chance.

Recently, however, brain researchers have discovered sets of scattered brain regions that fire in a synchronized way when people switch to a state of mental rest, such as daydreaming. These “resting-state networks” help us process our experience, consolidate memories, reinforce learning, regulate our attention and emotions, keep us productive and effective in our work and judgment, and more.

The best understood of these networks is the Default Mode Network, or DMN. It’s the part of the brain that chatters on continuously when we’re off-task—ruminating on a conversation that didn’t go as well as we’d hoped, for example, or flipping through our mental to-do list, or nagging us about how we’ve treated a friend.

Many of us are culturally conditioned to think of time off-task as “wasted” and a sign of inefficiency or laziness. But teachers and learners can benefit from recognizing how downtime can help. In addition to giving the brain an opportunity to make sense of what it has just learned, shifting off-task can help learners refresh their minds when frustrated so they can return to a problem and focus better.

The Productive Faces of Idleness

SLEEP

Sleep is the quintessential form of downtime for the brain. All animals sleep in some form, and even plants and microorganisms often have dormant or inactive states. Sleep has been shown in numerous studies to play a major role in memory formation and consolidation.

Recent studies have shown that when the human brain flips to idle mode, the neurons that work so hard when we’re on-task settle down and the surrounding glial cells increase their activity dramatically, cleaning up the waste products accumulated by the neurons and moving them out via the body’s lymphatic system. Researchers believe that the restorative effects of sleep are due to this cleansing mechanism. Napping for 10-30 minutes has been demonstrated to increase alertness and improve performance.

Teachers might consider reminding parents of the importance of adequate sleep for learning in the classroom – especially if learners are visibly sleepy or have noticeable difficulty focusing in class. As many as 30% of K-12 learners don’t get enough sleep at night.

AWAKE, DOING NOTHING

Idleness is often considered a vice, but there’s growing evidence that there are benefits to “doing nothing.” Electrical activity in the brain that appears to solidify certain kinds of memories is more frequent during downtime—as when lying in the dark at bedtime—than it is during sleep.

Meditation is another way of giving the brain a break from work without fully surrendering consciousness. Research has shown that meditation can refresh our ability to concentrate, help us attend to tasks more efficiently, and strengthen connections between regions of the DMN.

Experienced meditators typically perform better than non-meditators on difficult attention tests, and may be able to toggle more easily between the DMN and those brain networks that we use when we’re actively on task.

There’s evidence as well that the brain benefits from going offline for even the briefest moments—as when we blink. Every time we blink, our DMN fires up and our conscious networks take respite for a moment, giving the conscious mind a bit of relief.

Some schools are taking note and introducing meditation into the classroom. Getting the buy-in needed to launch a meditation program takes work, but benefits can be substantial.

MUNDANE ACTIVITY

It’s not uncommon to experience a sudden flash of insight while engaged in mundane activities like doing a crossword puzzle or cleaning the house. There’s a famous anecdote about Archimedes, a prominent scientist in classical Greece, solving a problem in just this way.

Archimedes needed to determine whether the king’s new crown was made entirely of the gold supplied to the goldsmith, or whether inferior metals like silver had been mixed in—and he had to do it without damaging the crown. He puzzled over how to solve the problem, without luck. Then, as he stepped into a bathtub one day and saw the water level rise, he realized in an instant that he could use the water’s buoyancy to measure the density of the crown against a solid gold reference sample. He conducted the experiment and found that the crown was less dense than the gold sample, implicating the goldsmith in fraud.

Scientists who research “unconscious thought” have found that activities that distract the conscious mind without taxing the brain seem to give people greater insight into complex problems. In a study of students who were asked to determine which car would be the best purchase, for instance, the group that spent their decision-making time solving an unrelated puzzle made better choices than the group that deliberated over the information for four minutes.

Brief windows of time spent on routine, mundane activities in the classroom—like feeding the class pet, putting books back on a bookshelf, or rearranging desks—can give learners a much-needed break from the sustained concentration required for academic time on-task.

Standing Up for Downtime

With so much to do and so little learning time in a school year—fitting in downtime is easier said than done. But take heart. Even closing your eyes, taking one deep breath, and exhaling can help to refresh the brain and takes practically no time. Offering more downtime in moment-sized bites might be just the thing for keeping ourselves, our students and our children on schedule and giving our brains that little bit of freedom to turn off for just a minute.

Holiday breaks and vacations are a perfect time for all of us take a break. I’ll be finding some time to unplug, unwind, and turn off. Will you?

References:

2004 Sleep in America Poll. (2004). Retrieved December 8, 2013, from  http://www.sleepfoundation.org/

Braun, D. (2009, August 6). Why do we Sleep? Scientists are Still Trying to Find Out. Nationalgeographic.com. Retrieved December 2, 2013, from http://newswatch.nationalgeographic.com/2009/08/26/why_we_sleep_is_a_mystery/

Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic. (2013).  Retrieved December 8, 2013 from http:www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep

Jabr, F. (2013, October 15). Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime. Scientificamerican.com. Retrieved November 30, 2013, from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=mental-downtime

Sabourin, J. Rowe, J.P, Mott, B.,W. & Lester, J.C. (2011). When Off-Task is On-Task: The Affective Role of Off-Task Behavior in Narrative-Centered Learning Environments. Artificial Intelligence in Education, 6738, 534-536. doi: 10.1007/978-3-642-21869-9_93

Welsh, J. (2013, October 17). Scientists Have Finally Found The First Real Reason We Need To Sleep. Businessinsider.com. Retrieved December 2, 2013, from http://www.businessinsider.com/the-first-real-reason-we-need-to-sleep-2013-10

Related reading:

Sleep: An Essential Ingredient for Memory Function

Stress and The Human Brain

 

 

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Improved Auditory Processing With Targeted Intervention

Improved auditory processing with targeted intervention

Last week’s blog post ended with the mention of a new (2013) peer-reviewed study showing that Fast ForWord Language v2 improved auditory processing in children with auditory processing disorders (APD). The study also provided evidence that the children’s brains rewired themselves during the eight-week study to more closely resemble typical brains. Today I want to go deeper into these findings.

To understand what brain changes the researchers found it is helpful to explain first how the brain actually goes about the task of perceiving speech. The first job the brain has to tackle when one person is listening to another person speak is to sort out the speech signal from the other sounds in the environment. That, of course, is the problem we have when listening to someone at a loud party. But that is also a challenge in most classrooms. Children, as we know, have trouble sitting perfectly still and younger children especially are often fidgeting and scooting their chairs around as well as whispering to children nearby. Add to that noise that comes from outside the classroom like hallway noise and playground noise, which even the best teacher cannot control, and a classroom can be a very noisy place. Part of maturation of the brain is the ability to learn to filter out irrelevant noises. But children must learn to do this and many with APD find that a real challenge.

It is not clearly understood why some children develop this capacity to filter speech from noise fairly easily and others do not, but audiologists do know that the problem can be traced to specific regions of the brain, especially regions of the brainstem. These regions can be tested through a process referred to as auditory brainstem response, or ABR. This test allows researchers to measure brain stem responses to sound through use of electrodes placed on the scalp. ABR is a critical measure of sound processing because it provides information about how well the auditory pathways to the brain from the ear have matured and how well they are functioning. In the study at Auburn University, a specific kind of ABR was used that has been shown to be especially helpful in diagnosing APD in children with language-based learning problems. It is called BioMARK. Using this procedure, the researchers could objectively measure whether a specific intervention not only improved listening skills but also whether it changed the brainstem response to speech.

To test whether auditory processing disorders can be improved though targeted intervention, the researchers at Auburn identified four children with APD using a battery of auditory processing, language, and intelligence tests that they administered before and after eight weeks of Fast ForWord Language v2.  They also used BioMARK testing before and after Fast ForWord to determine if the actual brainstem response was affected by the intervention.

Their results were very exciting. The children who completed all of the before-treatment tests, eight weeks of Fast ForWord Language training, and all the post-treatment tests plus BioMARK showed marked improvements in their auditory processing skills. For example, the children showed improvements in a test designed to assess listening to competing words (like we have to do when two people are talking to us at the same time) as well as deciphering words that are not very clear (like listening on a cell phone when there is a poor connection). They also improved in skills like listening for sound patterns and remembering complex sentences. And, important to teachers and parents, one of the children showed marked improvement in a measure of nonverbal intelligence as well as ability to follow complex directions.

Those results alone were remarkable after just eight weeks of intervention. But the most compelling part of the research was the finding that the BioMARK results also changed significantly in the children. And the changes were positive, meaning the children’s brain stem responses resembled typical children, those who do not have any evidence of auditory processing disorders affecting language skills and listening. In other words, the eight weeks of Fast ForWord resulted in what brain scientists call “neuroplastic” changes in brain function. And the changes occurred specifically in regions that are very specific to and important for accurate listening and language processing.

References:

Abrams, D.A., Nicol, T., Zecker, S.G., &Kraus, N. (2006). Auditory brainstem timing predicts cerebral dominance for speech sounds. Journal of Neuroscience, 26(43), 11131-11137.

King, C., Warrier, C.M., Hayes, E., &Kraus, N. (2002). Deficits in auditory brainstem encoding of speech sounds in children with learning problems. Neuroscience Letters 319, 111-115.

Krishnamurti, S., Forrester, J., Rutledge, C., & Holmes, G. (2013). A case study of the changes in the speech-evoked auditory brainstem response associated with auditory training in children with auditory processing disorders. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 77(4), 594-604. doi: 10.1016/j.ijporl.2012.12.032

Wible, B., Nicol, T., Kraus, N. (2005). Correlation between brainstem and cortical auditory processes in normal and language-impaired children. Brain, 128, 417-423.

For further reading:

Learn more about BioMARK

Related reading:

Dyslexia, Auditory Processing Disorder, and the Road to College: Maria’s Story

What Makes a Good Reader? The Foundations of Reading Proficiency

 

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

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Why Auditory Processing Disorders (APD) are Hard to Spot

Why auditory processing problems can be hard to spotDoes this ever happen to you? You ask your child to do something simple, and he or she says, “huh?”  For example, you might say something like, “Chris, time to get ready for school: go upstairs, get your shoes, grab your homework (we worked really hard on that last night) and shut your window because it looks like rain.” And your child acts as though he didn’t hear a word. 

Often teachers describe a child like this as having poor listening skills because the same thing will happen in class—except that in school the child misses important assignments, fails to follow instructions on tests, or is unable to learn information when it is presented orally. What is going on here?

Parents or teachers may assume that a child is deliberately ignoring them when they ask to have instructions repeated or miss important information in school. But audiologists, who are specialists in hearing, have identified a specific reason for these listening problems. They refer to them as auditory processing disorders, or APD for short.

APD is not a hearing loss and not an attentional problem, although it can often seem as though the child is not paying attention. Rather, with APD a child has trouble figuring out what was said, although it sounds loud enough. All of us suffer from this problem when we are trying to listen to someone talk in a very noisy room, like at a party where a band is playing very loudly. We know the person is speaking—we can hear their voice—but we can’t easily discern what they are saying. Sometimes we try to read the person’s lips to figure out what they are talking about. But after a while it gets so hard to listen we just tune out or leave the situation. Now, imagine you are a child and speech always sounds muddled like that. The child’s natural instinct, just like yours, is just to stop listening. As a result, children with APD often achieve way under their potential despite being very bright. And in some cases, the children may have speech and/or language problems as well.

Audiologists have been able to diagnose auditory processing problems for many years. The recommendations for school intervention with children with this disorder have been largely compensatory, such as “seat the child at the front of the class, right in front of the teacher” or “amplify the teacher’s voice with a microphone and provide the child with a listening device to hear the teacher’s amplified voice more clearly than other noises in the room.” Specific, targeted interventions like Fast ForWord are a more recent development.

Although Fast ForWord Language and later Fast ForWord Language v2 were specifically developed to treat temporal sequencing problems associated with specific language impairment, and the programs have been successfully used as a clinical intervention for auditory processing problems for fifteen years, specific peer-reviewed case studies on auditory processing benefit from these programs has been lacking. That changed in April of this year (2013) when researchers at Auburn University, a leader in the study of APD, published controlled research in International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology on the benefits of intervention with children diagnosed with APD. The researchers not only found that Fast ForWord Language v2 improved auditory processing skills, and in one child language and cognitive skills as well, but they found evidence of what scientists call “neuroplastic” brain changes in the children with APD after the program as well. This means that the children’s brains were rewiring themselves and getting better at auditory processing at the same time.

I will discuss the study in detail in next week’s blog post. If you’re not already a subscriber, you can sign up here to have the next blog post delivered to your inbox.

References:

Abrams, D.A., Nicol, T., Zecker, S.G., &Kraus, N. (2006). Auditory brainstem timing predicts cerebral dominance for speech sounds. Journal of Neuroscience, 26(43), 11131-11137.

King, C., Warrier, C.M., Hayes, E., &Kraus, N. (2002). Deficits in auditory brainstem encoding of speech sounds in children with learning problems. Neuroscience Letters 319, 111-115.

Krishnamurti, S., Forrester, J., Rutledge, C., & Holmes, G. (2013). A case study of the changes in the speech-evoked auditory brainstem response associated with auditory training in children with auditory processing disorders. International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology, 77(4), 594-604. doi: 10.1016/j.ijporl.2012.12.032

Wible, B., Nicol, T., Kraus, N. (2005). Correlation between brainstem and cortical auditory processes in normal and language-impaired children. Brain, 128, 417-423.

Related reading:

Auditory Processing Skills & Reading Disorders in Children

What New Brain Wave Research Tells Us About Language-Based Learning Disabilities

 

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Brain Research, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Special Education

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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