Dyslexia Legislation is on the Rise. But Why?

Thursday, October 23, 2014 - 08:00
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

 

dyslexia legislationIn the past few years, more than a dozen states have passed or proposed new laws to raise awareness about dyslexia through increased screening, intervention programs, and teacher training. Delaware, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Kansas, Arkansas, West Virginia, New Jersey, Mississippi, and Kentucky are among the states with notable legislative activity, but there’s a movement in nearly every state to legislate educational approaches to tackling the most common learning disability.

 

The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity – led by Co-Directors Drs. Sally and Bennett Shaywitz – is one force behind this trend. The center’s Multicultural Dyslexia Awareness Initiative (MDAI) website positions education – and more specifically, dyslexia – as “a civil rights issue” due to the “struggles and marginalization of many dyslexic children.” The mission of the MDAI is to influence policy through the grassroots engagement of educators, legislators, and others. The effort appears to be working, with dyslexia advocacy surging around the country.

Decoding Dyslexia, a “parent-led grassroots movement,” is one example, with a presence in 47 states. Founded in 2012, the movement focuses on raising awareness about dyslexia and changing literacy legislation at the state level.

Then there’s Texas teen Ben Cooper. On behalf of dyslexic learners nationwide, Cooper is lobbying the House of Representatives to adopt HR456, a resolution calling on states and schools “to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications that must be addressed.”

In Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy has spoken out about his own experience with dyslexia. Malloy is a proponent of universal access to pre-K, in part to ensure early identification of learning disabilities. As Governor, he signed a bill into law that requires future teachers to receive training in dyslexia recognition and intervention.

In Washington, D.C., there’s a new Bipartisan Dyslexia Caucus currently co-chaired by Representatives Julia Brownley (D-California) and Bill Cassidy (R-Louisiana). “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia,” a film directed by James Redford, was screened at the 2012 inaugural event.

The rise in legislation is a hopeful development. Dyslexia is the most common learning disability – about one in five students has it – but not all educators know how to recognize it and help learners with dyslexia succeed in school.  

We now know that dyslexia is neurologically based, and schools have access to effective interventions like the Fast ForWord program – which has been proven to positively impact reading ability in dyslexic children and adults. With only 34 percent of 4th graders scoring at or above Proficient on the 2013 NAEP, enacting early dyslexia identification and intervention is a no-brainer.

Related reading:

Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

Remediation vs. Accommodation: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed

 

 

Are Your Special Education Practices Aligned With RDA?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014 - 20:00
  • Will J. Gordillo

Special Ed RDAThe U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) announced a major shift in the way it oversees the effectiveness of states’ special education programs. Until now, OSEP revealed that its primary focus was to determine whether states were meeting procedural requirements such as timelines for evaluations, due process hearings, and transitioning children into preschool services. While these compliance indicators remain important to children and families, under the new framework known as Results-Driven Accountability (RDA), the Department will also include educational results and outcomes for students with disabilities (SWDs) in making each state’s annual determination under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Each state will also begin to issue their school districts an annual determination that is aligned to their own data on educational results and outcomes for SWDs. This will encourage each school district to be more cognizant of the impact that each school’s data for SWDs will have on their district’s determination and work closely with schools to improve instruction and provide targeted evidence-based practices and interventions to struggling SWDs. This change in accountability represents another significant raising of the bar for special education. The “shift” towards RDA will have a great impact in refocusing the priorities of state education agencies, school districts, and schools by sharpening the focus on what is happening instructionally in classrooms to promote educational benefits and improve outcomes and results for SWDs. How will these changes affect your school or district? Join me for a complimentary webinar on this topic next Wednesday, October 15th. Register now.

Throughout my tenure overseeing the provision of special education and ensuring compliance with IDEA in school districts, I have been a strong advocate for systems change that is focused on student performance in order to continue to redefine special education and help it regain its groove.  Some of the things most valued in terms of impacting outcomes for SWD include focusing on serving students in the least restrictive environment (LRE), promoting inclusive practices, implementing evidenced based practices and interventions, closing the achievement gap on standardized assessments, reducing suspension rates, reducing drop-outs, and increasing graduation rates towards attainment of successful post-secondary school outcomes.  

These indicators for success are now moving to the forefront of accountability. Some progress has been made throughout the years but we are still not bridging the gap significantly and disparities in student performance between disabled and non-disabled peers continue to grow.  Common Core implementation has raised the bar on rigor and expectations for all students and there is a valid concern that the gap for SWDs will continue to grow based on the historical trend data and outcomes for this subgroup. There is great potential to redefine the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process by placing a greater collective emphasis on how educational benefit is provided to the student through specially designed instruction, accommodations, and evidence-based practices and interventions as well as how well their fidelity of implementation is monitored and recorded for SWDs served in both general education and special education settings.  

This new RDA framework encourages some reflections.

As educators, we must always presume competence. It is important to remember that the majority of SWDs will receive instruction in the standard curriculum and will follow a standard diploma pathway towards graduation.  IDEA is founded on principles that all SWDS are entitled to a Free and Appropriate Education (FAPE) in the LRE and the IEP documents the processes of addressing the needs of the students in accordance with all the requirements of this federal law. We must also remember that the “I” in “IEP” stands for “Individual” and stop expecting SWDs to deliver the same results at the same pace and in the same ways that their non-disabled peers do. Their ways and rate of learning may be somewhat different, but “different” doesn’t mean “less.” The word “individual” should also apply to the ways in which they are instructed and provided evidence-based practices and interventions as well as how their progress is measured. It’s not just about standardized test results but also about measuring against their own individual histories and not solely compared to the history of other student’s records. SWDs often need more time to master concepts and specialized approaches that are proven to be effective based on their instructional needs, measured performance, and recognized disability. If the same evidence-based practice or intervention is being delivered to a SWD that all other students are also receiving and is not working, then it’s time to try another one that is more individualized and addresses the presenting needs of the student while considering the context of his or her disability.

So what could a “shift” towards RDA look like in both general education and special education classroom settings in the future?

  1. Standards-based IEPs are written to provide access to instruction and research-based interventions for SWDs by teachers who can align IEP goals and Common Core Standards confidently while implementing and monitoring them with fidelity.
  2. Early intervention is provided to struggling learners with a greater focus on language and literacy first with the goal of all students reading by 3rd grade.
  3. Instruction in the content areas is provided to SWDs who are following a standard curriculum pathway in the general education setting first.
  4. The neediest SWDs with deficits in language and literacy are scheduled first for interventions on the master schedule in general or special education classroom settings in accordance with the IEP.
  5. Evidence-based practices and interventions are selected and matched to address the individualized needs of SWDs.
  6. Flexible scheduling is implemented by grouping clusters of SWDs in the general education classrooms based on similar instructional needs to effectively provide specially designed instruction and implementing evidence-based practices and interventions with co-teaching or in-class supports by a special education teacher.
  7. Personnel resources are efficiently scheduled to provide co-teaching or in-class supports to SWDs by special education teachers in general education classroom settings.
  8. Paraeducators are shared to assist multiple SWDs and provide individual or small group instruction under the direction of the teacher and help scaffold access to instruction in the common core standards.
  9. Processes that monitor the fidelity of implementation of accommodations, specially designed instruction, evidenced-based practices, and interventions are clearly delineated in the IEPs of SWDs.
  10. Universal design for learning, accommodations, and assistive technology are used and clearly evident in both general education and special education classroom settings to address the individual needs of SWDs.
  11. Facilitated classroom environments that incorporate specially designed instruction delivered in group rotations with stations that provide multiple opportunities for learning (e.g. direct instruction, cooperative learning, individual seat work, virtual/online/computer-based learning, project-based) are evident during classroom observations.
  12. Instruction is extended beyond the classroom for SWDs using content that is accessible through multiple devices and can be used at home or in the community.
  13. Multiple diploma pathways are available that will provide options for SWDs to progress towards college career readiness, employment, and successful post-school graduation outcomes.
  14. Early warning systems will be in place to track SWDs who are at risk or not on track for graduation so that appropriate strategies can be implemented proactively.

In my upcoming webinar, How Can Special Education Regain Its “Specially Designed Instruction” Groove in the ERA of Results Driven Accountability (RDA)?, we will explore this topic further in order to gain a better perspective of what this “shift” towards RDA will look like in classroom settings serving SWDs in the future. Practical information will be provided that will assist practitioners, schools and districts to implement systems change so that strategies are aligned for success in this “shift” in accountability.

Further Reading:

New Accountability Framework Raises the Bar for State Special Education Programs

Florida Inclusion Network Website Resources

Inclusive Education Research & Practice (PDF)

Related reading:

Assessing ELLs for Special Education: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid

Flipping the Classroom for Students With Learning Disabilities

 

 

4 Ways to Use iPads in the Classroom

Tuesday, June 24, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

Use iPads in Classrooms The iPad has made rapid inroads into the K-12 school tech environment – and that doesn’t seem to be a bad thing. As we saw in a recent blog post, when students work with iPads at school, the result can be increased student engagement, greater collaboration, and heightened perseverance – all great things for learners. And less “techie” teachers need not fear – students can teach each other what they need to know. Asking for and giving help provides valuable oral language practice and can build learner confidence.

So what are some ways that teachers can use iPads in the classroom, besides having them work on literacy apps during tech time? One great option is to assign projects that require learners to construct their own multimedia presentations using free apps that come pre-installed on the iPad.

Most learners love working on multimedia projects to share with teachers and classmates, and projects like these have a lot to offer. As they actively combine still imagery, video, audio and text to communicate and illustrate concepts or ideas, students are able to:

  • Learn at their own level and speed
  • Practice language skills and synthesize learning
  • Connect academic learning to the bigger picture of life outside the classroom
  • Express themselves more fully

iPad Project Ideas for Students

Getting students creating with the iPad is as easy as knowing what tools are available and imagining how those tools can be used to support classroom learning. Teachers who aren’t sure where to begin can try one of these ideas, easily adaptable to learners of different ages:

  1. Plan a Party with Numbers and Keynote

Learners can have a lot of fun and learn a ton planning a party with the Numbers appParty Planner tool. Working in small groups, they can discuss what kind of party to plan. Younger learners might enjoy planning a Valentine’s Day class party or holiday celebration, while older learners might like to plan an Oscar party or presidential inaugural ball. Students gain practice reading and writing as they decide on food, entertainment and guest lists; create to-do lists with dates, tasks and notes; and research local prices (e.g., how much would it cost to rent a jumpy house for the Valentine’s Day party, or tents for the inaugural ball?). They apply math skills as they work to balance their vision against an assigned budget and real-life costs. Learners can create spreadsheets and generate interactive charts with Numbers, then insert the charts into Keynoteto present to the class along with sample menus, photos of food, music samples, videos animations and more.

  1. Create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) with iMovie

Students begin by studying the elements of a PSA before creating their own. Learners can watch a variety of examples on the SchoolTubeand AdCouncilwebsites and then work individually or in groups to select and research a topic, decide on a message, write the script, select a location for the video shoot, and record and edit the PSA. SchoolTube is also a great place for students and teachers to upload student work to share with the world!

  1. Create Digital Books with iBooks Author

Authoring an ebook is fun for learners and can feel like a significant achievement. With the help of the iBooks Author app, learners can create ebooks with photos, audio, video, web content (e.g., Twitter or blog feeds), and fully formatted slideshow presentations with animations. Learners can use ebooks to deepen their learning about topics covered in previous assignments, offer study advice to other students, or to explore an area of personal interest. Once created, the ebooks can be distributed via the iBook app available in the Apple App Store.

  1. Student Stories with iMovie or Garageband

Audio and video are powerful mediums for storytelling. Students can record a video narrative of their family history or their own personal history, or pick a family member to interview. Photos from the family album can be scanned and sprinkled in with the video footage in iMovieto make the past more real and provide a multigenerational perspective. Or, students can also record audio-only versions of family stories using Garagebandfor insertion into a Keynote presentation or ebook.

Setting the Stage

No matter how learners use iPads in school, it’s important to establish and enforce routines for use right out of the gate. Students need to understand check-out and check-in procedures, how to handle and maintain the iPad, whether they may take their assigned iPad out of the classroom, and what counts as appropriate use (e.g., are learners allowed to change settings, download apps, visit social media sites, IM their friends, etc.?). Using the iPad in a structured way benefits both teacher and learner by ensuring that classroom goals and learning needs are met.

As important as structure is, it shouldn’t take the fun out of using the iPad to learn. Fun is part of its appeal. Teachers should let the iPad be different and special, making use of it for activities that can’t be done on paper. Use it for all of the bells and whistles that draw students to it in the first place. Encourage learners to use the camera, sound, video, and internet – and let the learning come to life.

Related reading:

Using Twitter in School: 4 Ways Students and Teachers Can Connect With the World

The iPad® and Student Engagement: Is There a Connection?

 

Latin and Greek Morphemes Build Vocabulary

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 (All day)
  • Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D

Teaching vocabulary

I think the next game changer when it comes to vocabulary learning, and by extension reading comprehension, will come when we make the direct teaching of morphology or meaning-bearing word patterns a priority in our school curricular programs. In particular, I feel that morphemes derived from Latin and Greek should be given particular emphasis. Why? Did you know that most of our academic words in English are derived from Latin and Greek? Did you know that when new academic and science words are added to English scholars and scientists turn to Latin and Greek roots? Did you know that most longer, multisyllabic words are derived from Latin and Greek? And, did you know that languages, particularly Spanish, are largely derived from Latin? Indeed, knowledge of Latin roots can help Spanish-speaking students bridge into English. For these reasons, the Common Core State Standards specifically and repeatedly mention the teaching of Latin and Greek roots or morphemes as essential for school literacy and vocabulary building.

It’s the multiplier effect that makes teaching Latin and Greek morphemes so powerful and efficient. Phonics teachers know that knowledge of word families or rimes (e.g. all, ing, est) can help students sound out many words such as tall, call, sing, calling, west, crest, tallest, etc. It’s much the same with Latin and Greek morphemes, except that in addition to helping with the pronunciation of words, morphemes can also help students determine the meaningof words. Knowing, for example, that terr(a)-means “land or earth” gives students a powerful clue to figuring out the meaning of words such as terrain, terrace, territory, subterranean, extraterrestrial, terra cotta,and even Mediterranean.Knowledge of one Latin or Greek morpheme can multiply students’ understanding of 20-30 or more English words. And, as I mentioned earlier, many of these words are the academic words from science and the arts that are critical to students’ content or disciplinary literacy comprehension.

If you took Latin (or Greek) in high school or college, I am sure you are aware of how Latin and Greek has connected to your own understanding of English words. Even though you may no longer be fluent in Latin or Greek, I am certain that you are constantly making connections to English words that are based on the Latin or Greek morphemes that you learned years ago.

While I think that teaching Latin and Greek morphemes in high school is valuable, I’d like to see instruction in Latin and Greek morphemes reach all the way down into the primary grades. The brain is a pattern detector. If young children can notice the structural patterns in word families such as –alland –ing,there is every reason to think that they can recognize the morphemic patterns in words as well. Introducing one or two prefixes or roots per week, and helping students notice words that contain those prefixes and roots and how their meanings are related to the roots, can be powerful instruction. Think, for example, of the numerical prefixes – if young students learn the numerical prefixes uni, bi,and tri( one, two,and three) they will be able to not only learn the meaning of unicycle, bicycle,and tricycle, they will also be able to distinguish the differences and similarities in meanings of those words.

This is not beyond the abilities of our younger students. In a recent blog entitled “ Do We Underestimate Our Youngest Learners?” psychologist Daniel Willingham notes and cites research that suggests that young children may have the ability to learn much more than we think - material that may be thought of as “developmentally inappropriate.” Our own work with vocabulary instruction with primary grade students suggests that instruction in Latin and Greek morphemes, even for younger students, may indeed be the ticket to larger and deeper vocabularies; improved abilities to analyze and determine the meanings of challenging words often found in complex texts; and, of course, improved comprehension through new strategies to engage in close reading.

Related reading:

Teach More Vocabulary, Faster, Using the Power of Morphology

Help Your Young Child Build Literacy

 

Social Skills in the Digital Age: What’s Screen Time Got to Do With It?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

social skills and screen time Most of us who spend time with kids know that good social skills are a must for navigating life. Some child development experts report that children who spend excessive time in front of screens are not developing the social skills they need to effectively handle interpersonal relationships.

One reason is that they aren't getting the same practice in two-way conversationas children of previous generations; their time is given instead to engaging with a device that doesn’t reciprocate. That’s a problem, because kids need to learn how to initiate a conversation, listen and respond appropriately, and deal with the uncomfortable pauses and conflicts that sometimes arise when interacting with real people.

Children who depend heavily on devices may use them to avoid the discomforts of social interaction by, say, checking every few minutes for text messages or retreating into a video game while waiting for dinner to be served at a restaurant.

For some, the dependence has gone so far that pediatricians have coined a new term for it: “screen addiction.”

A Keystone Skill

Attributing life success to good social skills is nothing new. Nearly 80 years ago, Dale Carnegie’s bestselling How to Win Friends and Influence Peopleoutlined a “self-improvement” plan based on social skills that are still considered highly relevant today. His advice included tips on how to:

  • Have a conversation
  • Communicate in a way that can influence a situation’s outcome
  • Show consideration for others
  • Resolve conflicts
  • Demonstrate leadership

Carnegie recognized that social skills are life skills – and so did his readers, who have purchased more than 15 million copies since the book was first published.

Today, educators are also recognizing the central importance of social skills. With the awareness that academic skills alone are not enough, many schools have begun introducing Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) programs as a core component of the curriculum. And many parents, recognizing that their children could use some help, are welcoming and even requesting such programs.

The High Cost of Poor Social Skills

Parents and educators are right to be concerned. Underdeveloped social skills can keep kids out of the running for the kind of opportunities that move them ahead. Consequences of poor social skills include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Social exclusion
  • Poor academic performance (indirectly)

Good social skills help children:

  • Develop positive relationships with parents, teachers, and peers
  • Show resilience during times of stress
  • Avoid social rejection
  • Take personal responsibility for a safe, positive school environment

When little kids are given devices to soothe them, or older children are allowed to retreat into the safety zone of texting, there’s a lot they miss out on. They don’t learn how to handle boredom. They don’t learn how to read other people’s subtle social signals. They don’t reach out to others as much for comfort or support – one of the ways that we build close connections and community.

The consequences are greatest for those who are most at risk. It’s the kids who are already uncomfortable interacting socially who are most likely to turn to screens as an avoidance mechanism, while children with strong social skills tend to use their devices to increase and further social connection.

Is All Screen Time Bad?

There doesn’t seem to be much question that kids are spending too much time on electronic devices. A 2010 report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that children 8 - 18 years of age are getting as much as 5 - 8 hours of dedicated screen time each day. But it turns out that screen time may not always be bad for social development.

There’s growing evidence that children who engage with different types of media develop 21 stcentury skills that connect them to the world and other people. Participating in virtual worlds and video conferencing with family and friends can benefit social skills and support play. Texting and instant messaging may also make it easier for teens to initiate offline friendships – despite the toll it takes on family time at the dinner table.

Management & Self-Regulation

In a fast-paced world where tech is here to stay, it’s up to parents and educators to teach and model some essential 21 stcentury skillsrelated to the use of screen time in everyday life:

  • An awareness that there are healthy and unhealthy types and amounts of screen time;
  • The ability to recognize when screen time is healthy and when it is unhealthy; and
  • The self-regulation skillsto avoid using screens when it’s inappropriate (e.g., during dinner or a social event) or even dangerous (e.g., texting while driving).

Are you teaching your children or students these important skills? According to the Kaiser Foundation report, up to half of parents don’t set or enforce rules about screen time. It’s something to think about.

References:

Bindley, K. (2011). When Children Text All Day, What Happens To Their Social Skills? Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/09/children-texting-technology-social-skills_n_1137570.html

BMJ-British Medical Journal. (2012, October 9). Curb kids' screen time to stave off major health and developmental problems. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 5, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121009112138.htm

Elements Behavioral Health. (2012). Screen Addictions Can Cause Children to Lose Social Skills. Retrieved from http://www.addictiontreatmentmagazine.com/addiction/internet-addiction/screen-addiction/

Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds. Menlo Park, CA: Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Retrieved from http://kff.org/other/poll-finding/report-generation-m2-media-in-the-lives/

Koutamanis, M., Vossen, H.G.M., Peter, J., & Valkenburg, P.M. (2013). Practice makes perfect: The longitudinal effect of adolescents’ instant messaging on their ability to initiate offline friendships. Computers in Human Behavior, 29, 6, 2265-2272. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.04.033

National Association of School Psychologists. (2002). Social Skills: Promoting Positive Behavior, Academic Success, and School Safety. Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/factsheets/socialskills_fs.aspx

The Children’s Media Foundation. (n.d.). Parents’ FAQs on children’s use of media. Retrieved from http://www.thechildrensmediafoundation.org/parent-portal

Related reading:

Why Limit Screen Time? Scientific Research Explains

Limiting Young Children’s Screen Time for Long-Term Health

 

 

 

The iPad® and Student Engagement: Is There a Connection?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski

iPads and student engagement

When students at ACS Cobham International School (UK) got iPads, Richard Harrold saw an opportunity. As an assistant principal at the lower (elementary) school, he had been hearing glowing reports from other educators about students seeing remarkable gains when using iPads. Were the gains real? And was the effect due to something special about the iPad, or were students just responding to the newness of the technology?

Harrold decided to find out. With the help of his school’s “Project i” team, he launched a formal study with 1 stand 2 ndgraders to see if they would experience the same increases in engagement and understanding that he had been hearing about from other educators.

Harrold's study confirmed the benefits of iPads in schools:

  • iPads benefit learners of different ages, sometimes in different ways
  • iPads have special benefits for learners in the very early grades
  • The iPad makes typing easier for 1 stand 2 ndgraders

More generally, results indicated that:

  • iPads improve student engagement
  • “iPad buddies” collaborate more
  • iPads boost perseverance

The effects discovered were more than a reaction to a fun, new “toy.” In fact, to ensure that their results were not due to a honeymoon period, the team delayed the study until learners had been using their iPads for a full eight months.

These findings are exciting, especially for learners requiring intervention. Struggling students can be harder to engage and may have trouble enduring learning challenges. Giving them the opportunity to use an iPad-based intervention can motivate learners to persevere and achieve.

In a time where “grit” is getting a lot of attention as a key indicator of future success, anytime that perseverance goes up – as with iPad use – educators would be wise to take notice. But don’t rule out the appeal of classic technologies. Early-grade learners would still rather read a bound book than an ebook on iPad.

References:

Harrold, R. (2012). Measuring the Effect of iPads in the Classroom. The International Educator.Retrieved from: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/74482139/measuring-effect-ipads-classroom

Harrold, R. (2012). The iPad Effect: Leveraging Engagement, Collaboration, and Perseverance. The International Educator. Retrieved from: http://www.tieonline.com/view_article.cfm?ArticleID=100

Related reading:

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools

Inspiring Students to Dream, Learn and Grow

 

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014 (All day)
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

Neuroscience-based programs I 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

 

Flipping the Classroom for Students With Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

flipped classroom special education

For many teachers, the words “flipped classroom” are nothing more than a synonym for having students watch pre-recorded lesson videos at home and then do related assignments – formerly homework – during class time. There’s no doubt that that is exactly what the flipped classroom typically looks like on the surface. But when flip teaching is done right, what matters is that it uses time differently and more effectively, in ways that can profoundly benefit all learners, including students with learning disabilities.

The flip teaching model:

Extends the learning day.

The ability to extend instructional time is a huge benefit for learners who grasp new concepts more slowly, or who aren’t able to process information as quickly as it’s presented. With flipped learning, they can rewind and re-watch a video as many times as needed until they understand the material – or perhaps until they understand what they don’t understand so they can get help in that area the next day.

Makes precious teacher time more available to students.

With instruction now happening at home on students’ time, teachers have more time to observe students as they apply what they have learned. As a result, teachers have more opportunities to watch students at work, so they can better identify student learning challenges and support struggling students with differentiated activities or targeted intervention.

Levels the playing field.

Flipped instruction puts students with learning disabilities on more equal footing for effective classroom participation. Learners who formerly may not have immediately grasped their teacher’s in-class instruction may now feel empowered to contribute to classroom discussions and ask informed questions instead of worrying about “looking dumb.”

The Naysayers and Their Challengers

Critics of the flipped classroom approach to blended learning say that access to videos can be a problem, especially in communities with a large number of learners from low-income households. Students may not have a computer or internet connection at home, may have to share already-limited computer time with other family members, or simply may not have time at home to watch lessons for the next day. The concerns are valid, but one visionary school is demonstrating that they can be overcome.

Clintondale High School, just outside of Detroit, is the first U.S. high school to move to a flipped model of learning school-wide. With a large population of economically disadvantaged learners, the school dealt with access concerns head-on by making extra time available in computer labs during the school day for learners who need it. One student who has limited time at home because of a long bus commute watches most of his lesson videos on a smartphone as he rides home from school. In just a few years, standardized test scores have gone up and the school’s failure rate has dropped dramatically from 52% to 19%.

Clintondale’s teachers note that the process is not as simple as just rearranging where and when direct instruction takes place; it’s essential that teachers get on board with mastering the technology and creating great lessons and learning activities. That way, students can get the most from every moment they spend learning and teachers can get maximum results for the time they spend creating content and supporting learners in the classroom. 

Where Gen Ed & Special Ed Meet

A big boon for schools that move to flip teaching is that general ed technology can do double time as assistive technology for special ed. It’s a benefit for everyone, helping to reduce technology expenditures, the cost of managing technology, and the time that teachers spend adapting to learners’ assistive devices.

Still, flipped classroom veterans warn that setting high behavior standards for students is a must. Students need to know how they are expected to use their time at home and at school, and what specific behaviors will enable them to achieve their learning goals. Some students with learning disabilities may need additional help allocating their time and using it effectively. But when teachers, students, and parents are all on board, flipping has the potential not only to move more students to proficiency, but also to take more students beyond proficiency to the desired goal of mastery.

References:

Can Special Education Students Benefit From Flipped Classrooms?

Pros and Cons of The Flipped Classroom

For Further Reading:

How to create a ‘flipped’ video lecture for at-home study

Related reading:

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

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

What the Common Core Standards Mean for Special Education Students

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 (All day)
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

common core and special education

The Common Core standards are considered challenging for general education learners - and they’re meant to be. But given that challenge, many educators wonder what it means to hold special education students to the same standards. These are students, after all, who have already been performing well below grade level on standards that in many cases are weaker than the Common Core standards that replace them.

Meeting High Expectations Under the Common Core

How are educators expected to get these underperforming students to proficiency with the Common Core standards? A document on the Common Core State Standards Initiative website, “Application to Students with Disabilities,” outlines the supports and accommodations required for special educations students, including:

Standards-Based IEP

The Standards-Based IEP guides instructional planning for students with learning disabilities. It outlines an individualized learning experience matched to student needs and appropriate accommodations, and sets annual goals aligned with grade-level academic standards.

Instructional Supports & Accommodations

Instructional supports and accommodations that must be provided students include:

  • Additional support in the classroom (e.g., students have access to a special education teacher in the mainstream classroom)
  • Varied instructional approach (e.g., incorporating technology into math instruction, or using writing as a mode of inquiry and learning)
  • Access to assistive technology (e.g., text readers or sign language) 

Qualified Teaching & Support Personnel

Students must receive high-quality, evidence-based instruction and support, delivered by qualified teachers and specialized instructional support staff. Some experts predict that the role of special education teachers will grow under the Common Core as they support general education teachers in understanding how to scaffold their teaching to fit the needs of different learners.

Controversy

There are parents and educators who argue that holding students with learning disabilities to the same academic standards as general education students is unrealistic and unfair – for reasons of ability or practicality. Some parents of students with severe cognitive disabilities, for example, prefer that their children focus on life skills over academic skills, reasoning that life skills are more valuable for their children in the long run. 

Others are more concerned about accurately measuring the performance of students with learning disabilities than they are about the standards themselves. For one thing, special education students may require 30 to 40 more days of instructionthan general education students to learn the same material. If all students have the same number of instructional days, special education students would likely find themselves being tested on material they had never been taught. 

Then there’s the added challenge of agreeing on a common set of accommodations, such as assistive technologies that could be built right into the tests. Some experts argue that students need to able to use the equipment they're accustomed to using every day in the classroom rather than encountering unfamiliar technology at test time when the stakes are high. 

Computer-adaptive tests are also a concern because they adjust the difficulty of questions based on how a student performs on previous questions. The feature is intended to accommodate the full range of learners taking the test, but special education advocates worry that students with learning disabilities may end up being served questions below their grade level if they have a string of a few incorrect answers. 

So, while the new PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments are being designed up front to accommodate special education students – rather than having accommodations tacked on as an afterthought - many educators remain skeptical.

Raising the Bar for Special Education

Many educators see the implementation of the Common Core standards as a historic opportunity – at last – to give students with learning disabilities access to the same academic rigor and high expectations as mainstream students, as mandated by IDEA. 

Only time can tell how special educations students will fare under the Common Core. As with any large-scale shift in K-12 education practices, there are loud and persuasive voices on both sides of the issue and a lot of folks in the middle who are simply moving forward with the adopted standards and aren’t sure how things are going to turn out.

But at Scientific Learning, we know – because we’ve seen it again and again with our own eyes – that the majority of students with learning disabilities are capable of much more than they and others realize. Committed educators, a correct diagnosis, and an appropriately targeted intervention can be all that’s needed for dramatic learning gains.

References:

Application to Students with Disabilities,Retrieved from: http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/cc/

For further reading:

Common-Core Tests Pose Challenges in Special Ed.

Tech Assistance in Testing Poses Practical Issues

Common-Core Tests in Works for Students With Severe Disabilities

Parents question Common Core curriculum changes

Related reading:

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

Teaching Reading in Science Class: A Common Core Trend?

Teaching Persistence: How to Build Student Stamina

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

how to build student stamina Teaching 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 programcan 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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