Nearly 20 Years Later, What Have We Learned From Hart and Risley?

Tuesday, February 3, 2015 - 08:00
  • Norene Wiesen

Early language experienceAn Interview with Steven L. Miller, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven L. Miller is a research neuropsychologist with expertise in the assessment and treatment of developmental language and reading impairments, and a co-founder of Scientific Learning. He has extensive experience in organizing clinical studies and conducting longitudinal studies of children and adults with such disabilities.

I chatted with Dr. Miller recently by phone about the famous 1995 language study by Hart and Risley to find out what we’ve learned since then, and why so many learners in our schools are still struggling.

SL: In 1995, Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley published the results of a study finding that 4-year-olds from working-class families and families on welfare had considerably smaller vocabularies than their agemates from professional families. This difference has been called the “30-Million-Word Gap” and “The Great Catastrophe.” Why has this study been so influential in education circles?

SM: The primary reason why the work has been so impactful is that it helped to quantify the challenge that educational systems face when children enter school with vast differences in educational readiness. This work demonstrates so clearly the enormous variation that kids present when they come to our public education system, and that traditional intervention approaches in many cases do not provide adequate advancement for students to “catch-up.”

So many people think children come to school at 4 ½ - 5 ½ years of age as blank slates. This work really points out the fact that there’s a lot of learning and experience that has gone on. And in the case of the Hart and Risley study, some students are millions and millions of words behind in experience when they enter the classroom.

SL: Why does this matter? What are the implications?

SM: Our national Reading First campaign has really dealt with the idea that there are critical subcomponents of reading instruction - that the research has proved are necessary, but not sufficient – for students to become good readers. And one of the best pre-school predictors of who’s going to be a good third-grade reader is their vocabulary development.

Adding to the Hart and Risley findings is research from NICHD funded research programs showing that kindergarten assessments can accurately predict greater than 90% of struggling 3rd grade readers using their kindergarten assessment performance.  As such we can now accurately predict who’s at risk for becoming a struggling 3rd grade reader.   This work led to the tiered intervention models that are positively changing student outcomes in schools across the country

So the question was, do we need different instructional paths for them? Do we expect them to develop academic skills at the same rate despite these early differences?  These aren’t biological restrictions in the students. This isn’t about their ability or potential to learn. This isn’t about whether they can learn to read, or become doctors, lawyers, engineers, or scientists. The answer to that is, yes, they can, but at the same time, if you’re not a good reader by third grade, there’s a high likelihood that you will not graduate high school on time, or possibly at all.  This is not a biological limitation but a consequence of the fact that a lot of academic learning occurs during independent reading after 3rd grade.  Reading is critical because if you can’t read you fall further and further behind.  As we try to maximize the learning that occurs each day in school the consequences of falling behind can be devastating.  We see this is one of the simplest yet strongest findings in public education.  Student attendance predicts learning, missing school or falling behind at school makes catching up difficult because each day we have new learning goals being achieved.  This is why early learning and preschool program effectiveness is so critical to later academic success.

SL: It’s not just the gap in vocabulary size at age four that puts the children from lower-income families at risk, according to Hart and Risley. The gap actually increases over time even after the children are in school. Is the learning trajectory set in early childhood, or do differences in experience continue to widen the gap year after year?

SM: Great question. I believe the evidence is clear that the older students get, the smaller the impact the parents’ vocabulary plays in language development compared to other experiences (e.g., reading). However, children with lower vocabulary skills are often poor readers so they continue to fall further and further behind in academic language and cognitive skills. 

Language, and later reading experience, are two of the largest contributors to brain plasticity in the developing brain.  This is also a large contributor to the way we build our cognitive skills as well as our brain’s reward systems that contribute to our communication patterns. The most interesting part for me, if I’m a teacher, isn’t that I have to simplify my language use to reach students in my class, which is true for every teacher that works with first graders – they don’t talk like a 30-year-old, they talk in a way that uses simpler language structures.  Teachers present and provide language to students as a means of reinforcement and social support within the classroom.  For many impoverished students language was used more often to communicate negation, disapproval or punishment.

The data from the Hart and Risley study was that the average child from a professional family hears six times the number of encouragements for using language for every one discouragement or prohibition. This is critical. If there’s one thing, it’s this idea about using language to encourage vs. discourage further interaction and language use by the student. Saying “no,” saying “be quiet,” saying “knock it off,” those are ways to discourage and we want to use them for very important things as parents – don’t kick, don’t bite, don’t throw.

But when a child asks a question like, what do I use this for, professional families are using words of encouragement. What would we use that for? Why do you want that? Asking the child things that encourage more talking. Whereas in the middle class families, it’s two encouragements to every one discouragement. In families in economic distress (e.g., receiving welfare), we have almost a one encouragement to every two discouragements ratio. You really have to say to people, think about that for a moment. For that child, language is a way to be punished twice as often as it is to receive positive reinforcement or praise.

It’s not just that there’s a 30-million-word difference between us, but that I had language used twice as often to put me down, to make me feel like less, to make me not want to talk to you, and now I’m going to enter a classroom where the teacher primarily uses language as a way for communication, for grading me, for teaching me.

Then this child comes into a classroom and you think to yourself as a teacher, I know, I’m going to work with this child more, I’m going to ask them to wait a few minutes after class. I want to talk to them. Well that’s like saying, come up here I want to talk to you, and the child averts their gaze, drops their head, maybe shrugs their shoulder, walks up and is completely trying to avoid the oncoming punishment because that’s what talking is to them.

The numbers, if we estimate the frequency over years, are quite significant.  Students received 57,000 – 60,000 discouragements before they came to school, delivered by language. So by 60,000 times, my experience is that talking is not a good experience. 

SL: Are there studies about how much encouragement is required after school starts to counteract this?

SM: Yes. Using language – establishing a safe communication zone, which is what so many great teachers do – has that child eventually saying, wow, when I come to this classroom I love it here. I get to talk, to share my ideas, and nobody puts me down.  We learn to disagree in respectful ways.  Many teachers are already sensitive to this and their classrooms reflect a positive language environment.

Many, many teachers will say, that explains why these kids always seek me out two or three years later to talk to me. They don’t have a lot of other adults in their life where language is used in a positive way. How do they explore the world in a way that they might get a reward or somebody might say to them, well, tell me more about that, why do you want to do that? Who’s going to explore that with them? They go find that first, second, or third grade teacher and they want to hang out after school because they’re looking for that great, positive feeling. Why? Because they may not have it in other places in their world. The challenge is, how does language as the means and the media for safe communication become school-wide vs. teacher specific?

It’s extra work for the teacher to say to the other students in the class, there’s no bad idea, there’s no bad conversation, nobody in here asks a bad question – and we all know the teachers that say that. But they also have to enforce it. They have to make sure that kids don’t make fun of other kids.

I’m sure you’re aware from speakers that talk about the emotional elements of not being a good reader that reading out loud for them is a horror in their life. They’ll do anything not to expose that they’re not doing that well in the classroom. It’s a really big task for a teacher. Many teachers look at the Hart and Risley data and think about the 30-million-word gap, but I have to point their attention to the fact that the thing that they’re so gifted at – the tool that they love, which is language – is not really the tool of kindness for most of these kids and establishing that is probably the hardest task that they have.

SL: What are some possible solutions? How can the gap be reduced in early childhood and beyond? And whose job is it?

SM: Whose job is it? It’s going to be everybody’s job because it really is about creating more language tolerance and good language models for kids. However, I don’t think we’re going to mathematically catch them up by trying to find a way to sneak in the three years they’re missing, so to speak. I think the real solution – and I’m biased here – is that this is an area where technology can help.

This is an area where technology can give you experience with language, let you manipulate language, play it back for you in a safe, positive environment. In developing software, we want to have a six affirmation per one discouragement ratio. We want kids to be right the vast majority of the time. We want to make the content adaptive and we want the technology to interact in language with that child as much as that student can gobble up and tolerate. With products like Reading Assistant and Fast ForWord, we had an internal obsession with trying to get more word experiences – and the right word experiences – to kids per unit time than a lot of other software developers.

I also remind people that even in their own work environments – and often school districts will laugh when I tell them – with caller ID you can see that affirmation phone call versus that discouragement phone call coming in. How often do you answer the discouragement line? You let it go to voice mail, right?  And you say, I’ll take care of that later. That should help them understand that for these kids, that is their exposure before they come to school. Twice as many discouragements for an encouragement in a lower volume environment. And then I say to people, how many of you have a work environment where you’re encouraging to your colleagues two to six times more often than you’re discouraging? And it’s the same brain mechanisms.

This really isn’t about genetics or about poverty in the formal sense. This is about a covariant element with poverty. For example, if I’m not making an income that allows me to sustain myself, I might have two or three jobs. I’m probably physically exhausted. I’m not eating right. I’m not sleeping right. These are all normal things that we expect people to do when they’re not generating adequate income to support their family. Do we really become reflective? Do we really ask those W, H questions [who, what, when, where, why, how] when somebody asks us? We’re going to be short and abrupt. We’re going to just make a determination and say, did you do something wrong today? We deal with those basic safety issues and the language encouragement isn’t there.

I’m very encouraged by the research that Craig Ramey at Virginia Tech and others have done where they’ve shown that just educating young moms – even young pregnant moms – about what it means to communicate with their child results in an increase in vocabulary development for the mom, and in vocabulary development for their baby. And when they’ve actually taken brain scans of the babies, these babies when they’re older look more like babies from another income level. They didn’t change the income of the family. They just basically said, this is how important language is. You want your baby to develop as much as they possibly can, and this is what language can do.

SL: Who should educate the pregnant mother? Should the doctor play a role?

SM: Great questions and we don’t have all the answers. If you remember, a couple of years ago in Georgia they used to give new moms a little pack of information from the governor. So people have taken the research, including the Hart and Risley data, and they have tried to make an impact. And the research from Craig and Sharon Ramey and their colleagues have shown that effective early childhood intervention studies can change the learning and economic outcomes for at-risk populations.  In some communities, the best conduit for educating the community will be a combination of the school district as well as talking to the pastors and the ministers who are going to be talking to their congregations.

We forget that some of the most effective social programs are the ones that support daycare for children. Again, not because we think moms and dads don’t know the language or don’t know the words. It’s really about the idea of providing a fun and supportive opportunity for communication using the best language you have.

You don’t have to know a lot of English. You can speak in whatever language you want to speak.  It’s about developing those cognitive skills. The more we talk, the longer the memory span becomes. The more we talk, the better our attention gets. So we have better memory, better attentional skills, and better processing skills with language. These are the skills, if you’re not practicing them, which are not so good when you show up at school. A teacher who has to work with 20+ students in kindergarten and first grade doesn’t always have an opportunity to go over and spend more time with the kids who, to be honest, are a year or more behind when they start.

SL: What’s the most important takeaway from the Hart and Risley study in your view?

SM: The most important thing is that this gap exists when kids show up at school. Number two is that, from a practical standpoint, we’re not going to fix it by supplementing education trying to recreate the missing vocabulary development. In other words, if the 30 million words equates to x number of hours of experience, we’re not going to catch the kids up because the higher oral language students won’t slow down. That’s what those rates of learning actually mean. Those kids that are ahead aren’t just ahead. They run faster in vocabulary and reading development.

SL: Are you saying that the achievement gap can’t be bridged?

SM: It can be bridged but you have to be more clever about how you’re going to present the information. Again, in my opinion, you’ve got to look at technology.  The kids aren’t just 30 million words behind. The rate at which they acquire and use words is also behind. So you have to look hard for ways to make them faster at acquiring vocabulary than normal. Otherwise they can’t catch up. The idea from Hart and Risley is there’s a hole in vocabulary development and usage, which has an impact on other cognitive and academic skills. But to fill that hole you have to be strategic.  You have to work harder and smarter.

SL: Do you think schools have absorbed that fact yet or are they still trying to solve the problem in the same way?

SM: They’re still trying to solve the problem in a very linear fashion. There are a lot of states that have recommendations. They’ll say, if the child is behind in reading, give them an extra 30 minutes a day. And there are two issues. First of all there’s an opportunity cost because something else is being pushed out of school. You’re already accepting lower performance in a different domain, so you’re going to read more at school if we just drop math or science, as an example. Something fell.

Number two is that you’re not changing the rate at which they acquire new information. So that 30 minutes is going to help – it’s better than nothing – but you’re probably not going to catch up under that model and that is why we have so few kids catch up. So again I’ll go back to my earlier statement: 92% of low-reading third-graders can be predicted in kindergarten. In the fall of kindergarten – 92% of them.  So are we only helping 8% or is that just error in our prediction?

What we’re doing is not a matter of effort. The incorrect answer is teachers need to work harder. The incorrect answer is districts need to work harder. The correct answer is we need to work smarter.

SL: Can you say more about how technology works smarter?

SM: Because we can create learning experiences, driven by the student, that exceed what can happen in a normal classroom or small group environment. In other words, think about five kids at different computers each receiving differentiated individualized instruction.

SL: It’s an individualized learning approach…

SM: …over a short duration that can work systematically on being faster learners, not just providing them with the experience. My comment about technology is really for public education systems.

The part that people misunderstand the most is that a lot of technology that’s presented in the first year to year-and-a-half of life actually predicts negative language growth, not positive, because you need those base skills. And so the best development for kids is really that interaction. You know after a year-and-a-half, two years of age, with adults, with other kids, then technology can play a role once they have those basic skills.

For parents, it’s not about putting a laptop in a crib and coming back two hours later. We want to make sure that people really understand that watching TV with your child and talking about what you’re watching, and letting them respond -- having that interaction the way you might use a book is exactly what you’re trying to do.

Further reading:

Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (Hart and Risley)

The Social World of Children Learning to Talk (Hart and Risley)

The Read-Aloud Handbook (Jim Trelease)

Related reading:

As Classrooms Become More Diverse, How Do We Help All Students Grow?

Underachieving Students: Why They Struggle and How Educators Can Help

 

Unlocking Potential and Inspiring Outcomes – Register for Visionary Conference 2015 Today!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014 - 08:00
  • Carrie Gajowski

2015 Visionary Conference“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

It’s that time again! Open your calendar and mark February 26-28 with the highlight event of the year – the 2015 Visionary Conference! This year’s conference theme is “Unlocking Potential and Inspiring Outcomes.” Are we talking about your clients’ potential and outcomes, or that of your business? Both! Attend the conference in person in Chandler, Arizona, or join in online as a virtual attendee. Either way, you won’t want to miss it.

Inspiring Minds Want You to Know

Scientific Learning co-founder Dr. Steve Miller returns to the Visionary Conference in 2015 after several years away, and attendees are in for a real treat. Dr. Miller’s keynote presentation, “A Neuroscience eLearning Revolution,” will look at e-learning and the brain through the lens of the latest neuroscience research. Come prepared to learn what neuroimaging and behavior research has to say about early neurolinguistic skills and future academic performance.

Dr. Paula Tallal, also a co-founder of Scientific Learning, will dive deep into the early years of language development with her keynote, “Early Precursors to Language Development: Implications for Literacy,” exploring the relationship between language and literacy.

Dr. Marty Burns will present the final keynote on the neuroscience of language differences and remediation from a Speech Language Pathologist perspective. Expect to hear all about the latest research and walk away invigorated and inspired to make a difference in the lives of your clients.

Learn It Today, Use It Tomorrow

Additional conference sessions will cover a wide range of topics, so whether you’re a newbie or a seasoned Fast ForWord veteran, there’s something new for you. Find out how to integrate Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant in your practice and maximize your results, get your product questions answered at our Ask-An Expert round table, and take a peek at what’s in store for Scientific Learning products in 2015!

ASHA CEUs will be available for a number of sessions, including Dr. Burns’ keynote.

Summer is Around the Corner

Attending the 2015 Visionary Conference is the perfect way to jump start your plans for the busy summer season. Build your confidence and competence or take your mastery to a higher level so you can inspire dramatic outcomes and unlock potential throughout the year!

Related reading:

Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

5 Things Every Parent and Educator Should Know About Early Childhood Brain Development

 

 

When Test Scores Go Up, Do Cognitive Skills Increase?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 - 08:00
  • Norene Wiesen

test scores and cognitive skillsThe amount of attention schools devote to improving standardized test scores is controversial. Mandated or not, there is disagreement about what is actually being measured, and how much what is being measured matters. Now, a study by John Gabrieli at MIT, published in the journal Psychological Science, is shedding some light on what’s not being measured. The results are food for thought.

Gabrieli and his team set out to discover whether increased test scores were associated with improved fluid intelligence, which can be measured in terms of cognitive skills such as working memory, processing rate, and the ability to reason abstractly. Standardized tests, on the other hand, measure crystallized intelligence, students’ ability to apply the knowledge and skills they have been taught.

The researchers approached the question by comparing results from schools with test score increases on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) to schools without increases. In comparing 1,400 students, they found that fluid intelligence showed no correspondence with the school attended. Put another way, students’ fluid intelligence did not increase along with test scores.

Increased test scores are a measure of success, to be sure. Students from the schools with higher test scores were more apt to graduate and go to college. But what then? Do these students complete college in higher numbers than their peers with similar cognitive abilities and lower test scores? Do they have what it takes to perform well at work and to navigate the increasing complexity of our world? We don’t have answers yet, but researchers are turning their attention to these questions to find out.

In the meantime, critics of standardized testing question whether abilities and qualities not measured by these tests – such as solving novel problems, a cognitive skill  – are likely to be as, or more, important in the long run. Some researchers, including Gabrieli, would like to see mainstream educators jump on the fluid intelligence bandwagon. “Schools can improve crystallized abilities, and now it might be a priority to see if there are some methods for enhancing the fluid ones as well,” he says.

A growing number of schools have already begun to focus on building students’ cognitive skills with the Fast ForWord online intervention program. Fast ForWord is scientifically proven to develop cognitive skills like working memory, attention, and processing rate as well as reading and language skills. Students who use Fast ForWord typically boost their academic performance significantly and also become more confident learners.

As important as it is to build crystallized intelligence, developing both kinds of intelligence should be a priority for educators. When students are equipped not only to apply knowledge and skills to familiar problems, but also to understand and reason about novel situations, that’s a real-world advantage with lasting value. What better way to equip students for independent lives and adult responsibilities?

Related reading:

Building Better Writers (Without Picking Up a Pen)

What Makes a Good Reader? The Foundations of Reading Proficiency

 

 

5 Tips For Success from Your Fellow Educators

Tuesday, November 18, 2014 - 08:00
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

NCOL 2014On November 6 and 7, in Dallas, TX, customers from across the country – and even China – came together to share and learn from others the best tips for success with Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant. Here are 5 tips you can learn from them!

  1. Try a new way to motivate your students: “I got great ideas about motivating my students  - I didn’t know about the ‘beat the teacher’ intervention and am really excited to start using it with my students.”  Download the Beat the Teacher intervention in SciLEARNU.
  2. Include speech-language pathologists in your communications: “I realized I should be sharing a lot more information not only with our special ed teachers, but also with our speech language pathologists. I’m going to start including them in my district-wide communications.”
  3. Make use of all progress reports: “Now I know which reports to ask for from coaches to show results with students – I would ask and not really get what I was looking for. Now I know about all the reports available and I’ll start asking for more detail so we can make our RTI program stronger.”
  4. Use the products at home and after school: “I learned how so many other schools and districts are using the products at home, before and after school. The flexibility will make a real difference for reaching more students at my school.”
  5. Choose the right coach – it makes ALL the difference.  “I have a new understanding of the power and value of having the right coaches working directly with students. I am going to get more involved in choosing coaches from here on out.”

And beyond all that was learned, here’s what else people had to say:

“This is the best conference that you all have had. I really loved this year’s keynote speakers, the Murray County educators. I learned a lot from their session and from talking with them during breaktime.”

“It was great to connect with others who are having the same challenges as I am having – I got some great tips on how to gain support from parents and other teachers.“

“The breakouts were great – they allowed us to ask questions and were more collaborative than if everyone were in the same sessions at the same time. Helped me to learn more.”

“This has been great!”

We loved seeing you all there and came back with some great suggestions for ways we can help you more. One big takeaway? You need a video that helps tell the powerful Fast ForWord/Reading Assistant story to your parents, teachers and students!   Keep your eyes on your inbox in early 2015; we’ll be delivering just what you need to help share these powerful tools.

Related reading:

Meet the 1st Queen of Literacy, Dr. Linda Nash!

Congratulations to the 2014 Champions of Literacy!

 

 

Fast ForWord® at Home Scholarship

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 - 08:00
  • Joanne Gouaux

Fast ForWord at Home ScholarshipLike walking, reading is a major life activity. When your child struggles to read, it feels like running on an uphill treadmill. It is exhausting and overwhelming, with no finish line in sight. Lessons keep moving at school as the days, weeks, and months pass. Despite extending their best effort, struggling readers make more mistakes and have to work longer and harder than an average learner their age.

My son showed signs of difficulty with reading and writing in kindergarten. By the end of 1st grade, things were not improving and with the best of intentions, the school suggested that maybe all he needed was more time. That's when I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for, but when I learned about Fast ForWord, it made sense. It was unlike anything we had tried before, and my son embraced the idea of working the exercises on a computer. Double win!

I know many families are facing similar challenges and frustrations. I invite you to take action and apply for the first ever Fast ForWord at Home Scholarship, provided by BrainPro.

It's never too late to explore options at any stage of life, especially in childhood. What may have started as a little trouble can quickly pile up and influence school performance, learning, daily activities, and relationships. With hard work, consistent effort, and the right help, your child can become an independent reader.

Related reading:

Debunking Anecdotes – One Parent’s Journey Through a Maze of Misconceptions About Learning Disabilities

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

 

 

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

 

 

Meet the 1st Queen of Literacy, Dr. Linda Nash!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 - 08:00
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

Dr. Linda NashDr. Linda Nash, Supervisor of Federal Programs/Grants in Cookeville, TN, has been crowned our first Queen of Literacy. She received 24% of all the votes cast (5,472!) and has won an all-expense paid trip to our National Circle of Learning Conference (virtual registration now open)! I caught up with Dr. Nash by phone to learn more about her life as an educator. 

SL: How did you get into education?

Dr. Nash: Education was very important to my parents. Neither of them had a college education and they were probably both smarter than I am. It was never a question of if I was going to school. It was always where we were going and in what we were majoring. I guess I’ve had two careers, one in accounting and one in education. I started out in home economics thinking I would like to be a home ec. teacher and then I changed to business because I needed to work to put my husband through school. Once he finished, I went back to English; however, I had worked for a CPA for many years. I finally decided to go back in education and was a senior English teacher for 18 years.

When I was in accounting, I missed education; and when I was in education, I missed accounting. Now I am the federal program supervisor for my county and I can use both of them.

SL: How did you move from being a teacher to be an administrator? Was that a goal of yours or just something that happened?

Dr. Nash: I started my doctoral work in English. I really thought I wanted to teach English at the university level, and I did do that for a while. I was getting married; and because of the program requirements I would have had to leave home for a year to do residency at the university. I didn’t want to leave my family, so I switched to administration, and I’ve never regretted it. As a distict administrator you’re helping the kids by helping the schools.

SL: How did you become acquainted with Fast ForWord?

Dr. Nash: When I came to the central office as a federal programs supervisor, Dr. Kathleen Airhart was the Director of Schools, and she had had experience with the Fast ForWord program with our special ed students in her prior role as our special ed supervisor. So when I became a federal supervisor she had said to me that Fast ForWord was a great RTI program and wanted me to take a look at it and see if it might be something we might be able to use in our schools, not just with special ed students.

I started doing some investigating, looking at data—not just what you all provided—and looking at schools that had used it. To be honest, we first started using it because the state had a new law that said any 3rd grader who scored below basic on our state test either had to have progress in an intervention or they had to be retained in 3rd grade. We purchased it really to use in our summer school intervention program and then we started using it in all of our elementary schools as an intervention.

Because we’re purchasing subscriptions, we use it during the year as well. During the school year I leave it up to the school how they use it. I have some schools that use it differently than how we use it in summer school. I have two schools in particular that have really been targeting our ESL population because some of the sounds from the English language are missing totally from the Spanish language.

SL: So you were able to see right away from the data that this would be an effective program for your students?

Dr. Nash: Yes. All of the 3rd graders who go to summer school use it. We’re not just putting the kids on the computer for 2 ½ or 3 hours and leaving them. They rotate. They do oral reading in a section, they do vocabulary in a section, and in between they do Fast ForWord. By combining all of those we’ve really had good success in our summer school. It’s a bit harder to discuss in the regular school year because each school uses it differently.

SL: What principles guide you in your work on a day-to-day basis?

Dr. Nash: I think work ethic is number one in anything that you do. Your integrity, coming to work knowing that you’re going to give your all and do a job to the best of your ability. I think that’s with anything. I think with me, federal guidelines, knowing the federal guidelines, being able to decipher them and apply them. For my job I am meeting the compliances that the federal government says we have to meet to spend this money. And more importantly to me, are we good stewards of that money and getting the best effects or getting the best thing for the dollar?  One thing that’s really important to me in my job is to listen to the principals. They know best what they need in their schools and to help them be able to do what they want to do in the compliances of the money that we can spend. I have had the experience of just being told, “No, you can’t do that,” without trying to find a way. Is there a way if we do it this way? What if we change our intent a little bit to meet this guideline? I think being a good listener of the needs of the principals is key.

SL: What have you learned during your career that you would like to share with educators who are just starting out?

Dr. Nash: First and foremost we’re here because of children. We are here so that kids can do their very best with what we can give them and we owe it to them.

One of my grandsons—he is in college now—said one day about a specific teacher he had had, “You know, Granny, if I had had Mr. or Ms. So-and-So for this particular class I might could have done something else in college.” And it broke my heart because I thought to myself, every child deserves the very best teacher for every subject every year. And then that child can decide what they want to do with their education.

I just hope teachers understand the importance of the effect they have on kids on a day-to-day basis, whether we’re using Fast ForWord or whether we’re using a textbook or just whether we’re entering the classroom smiling. 

You've made us smile, Dr. Nash! Thank you for your support.

 

 

Congratulations to the 2014 Champions of Literacy!

Monday, September 29, 2014 - 18:45
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

Scientific Learning is pleased to announce a select group of educators nominated for this year’s Champions of Literacy award. We recognize these educators, selected from across the U.S., for their commitment on behalf of students, parents, and colleagues.

In honor of their hard work and dedication, every Champion will receive complimentary registration to our 2014 National Circle of Learning Conference, November 6th and 7th in Dallas, TX.

We are also holding an online contest to elect the first King or Queen of Literacy. The Champion who receives the most votes will win an all-expense paid trip to the conference. Vote now and help us crown our King or Queen!

Lenny Armato, Special Education Supervisor, St. Mary Parish, Centerville, LA

Mr. Armato is an inspiring manager of the Scientific Learning products for St. Mary Parish. He has selected and retained the best Fast ForWord coaches available, rolled out iPad use for the Fast ForWord program, and launched new Reading Assistant implementations at the high school level for ACT score improvement.

 

Kathy Brown, Reading Coach, Highland View Elementary, Bristol, VA

Ms. Brown has been a tireless leader for the last 10 years, helping to improve state test scores with students receiving special education services. She is a strong advocate for her students' growth and has a steadfast vision for how Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant helps them. 

 

Shannon Gilfeather, Reading Teacher, Salk Middle School, Spokane, WA

Ms. Gilfeather shows an exceptional level of creativity, care, excitement, and enthusiasm for her students’ success, creating a fun and interactive Fast ForWord lab in the classroom that keeps the kids fully engaged. She treats them to contests that reward them for their hard work. Her students love her and appreciate all she does for them.

 

Teresa Gross, Reading Director/Coordinator, Palmyra Macedon Middle School, Palmyra, NY

Ms. Gross is incredibly dedicated to her students, and a pleasure to work with. She has been a huge advocate of the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs within her district, ensuring that the Superintendent is involved and that the district participates in Scientific Learning research studies.

 

Cassandra Juba, Fast ForWord Coach, South River School District, South River, NJ

Ms. Juba is the coach that runs the Fast ForWord Lab at South River Elementary. She is an expert in the program and a role model for helping students succeed. One effective strategy she uses is her response to intervention flags. When Ms. Juba sees a flag, she scans her reports to see when that student will work on that exercise again and will sit with the student at the next session and “Y-jack in” to see how she can help.

 

Laura Lundy, Director of Curriculum & Instruction, Medford Area Public School District, Medford, WI

Ms. Lundy is proof that positive leadership at the district level can impact each and every student. She is especially passionate about reading, and has shared her enthusiasm for Fast ForWord with the building principals in her public school district, the private schools they serve, and even their virtual academy. Both of her daughters have also used the Fast ForWord program.

 

Linda Mahoney, Reading Specialist, Springfield School District, Springfield, PA

Ms. Mahoney has been part of her district’s Fast ForWord implementation for more than five years. She started out working with about 50 middle school students and soon found herself taking a leadership role in ensuring that all teachers were following the same approach to implementation to ensure student success. She has made participation a priority for all students who fall below grade level and are considered ‘at risk’ and has consistently used data to show significant growth among students using the program. Over the last couple of years, Ms. Mahoney has turned her attention to streamlining the transition for Fast ForWord students moving from elementary school into middle school. Her passion for her students and her dedication to the program have gained her the position of Fast ForWord Implementation Coach for the district, where she is committed to ensuring that her students get the maximum benefit possible from the program.

 

Nancy McGee, Language Arts Coordinator, Grand Prairie ISD, Grand Prairie, TX

Ms. McGee is a dynamic leader who cares very much about the success of her students. She oversees the Fast ForWord implementation at 24 schools in Grand Prairie ISD. She is diligent about monitoring data and is constantly working to improve her knowledge of the programs to ensure the most successful implementation possible at every school. Ms. McGee works with students at all grade levels and is constantly searching out innovative ways to reach and motivate every student. She visits all the schools regularly, asking, "What can I do better?" She is a true advocate for the principals, teachers, and students in her district.

 

Carole Meyer, Principal, Salk Middle School, Spokane, WA

Ms. Meyer’s determination to bring Fast ForWord to her school is impressive. She pursued the program for more than five years before she was finally given the green light to pilot it. She hired a new teacher (Shannon Gilfeather – also a nominee) to head up the program and did whatever was needed to ensure the program’s success. Ms. Meyer has hosted other principals, her district’s new SPED Director, and customers from around the region, providing them with a firsthand look at her school’s lab and success. She and Ms. Gilfeather are constantly promoting Fast ForWord across their district and beyond.

 

Linda Nash, Supervisor Federal Programs/Grants, Putnam County School System, Cookeville, TN

Dr. Nash is passionately dedicated to expanding the use of the Fast ForWord program in her community, district, and neighboring schools. She is always happy to talk with educators from other schools to answer their questions. She is a positive leader who clearly loves helping students succeed. 

 

Bobby Simma, Principal, Perkins-Tyron Elementary School, Perkins, OK

Mr. Simma rolled out his school’s Fast ForWord implementation in 2013 with just 10 licenses, and has since gathered enough funding to increase that number to 60. He and his staff share a strong belief in the Fast ForWord program and work hard to ensure their students are realizing their maximum potential. Mr. Simma’s students have seen significant gains, with a majority of those tested demonstrating an average one-year, four-month reading level gain in just 63 total days of product use. Mr. Simma represents dedication to student achievement and his results demonstrate his commitment.

 

Pam Smith, Principal, Highland View Elementary, Bristol, VA

Ms. Smith has carried the torch for engaging students in reading to learn as well as learning to read. As middle school AP, she oversaw great success with some real strugglers. After one year, she led the charge in reducing the rate of retention by 10% across the board.

 

Congratulations to all!

 

Inside the Brain of a Struggling Reader [Infographic]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - 21:45
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

When a student struggles to learn to read, we often look to social or economic factors, access to books, or the home environment for an explanation. While each of these factors can play a part, treatable brain differences are often part of the equation.

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Inside the Brain of a Struggling Reader [Infographic]

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Neuroscience-based interventions like the Fast ForWord program create specialized learning conditions that can rapidly improve reading and cognitive skills in struggling readers. These interventions work because the brain can actually reorganize itself, changing its internal wiring in response to learning. This ability does not “turn off” after infancy as once thought, but remains active throughout our lifetime.

Many struggling readers who have fallen behind or thought it was “too late” have overcome their reading difficulties. The journey to proficiency starts inside the “plastic” brain.

Related reading:

Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

The Neuroplasticity Revolution With Dr. Norman Doidge

 

Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014 - 17:30
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

For most of the 40-plus years that the term “dyslexia” has been in existence, and although the diagnosis has long been considered a “learning disability,” it has been based on comparisons with average readers. Simply put, a child has been diagnosed with “dyslexia” if he or she is shown to have an IQ in the “normal” range but falls at or below the 10th percentile on standardized tests of reading for a specific age group. The cut-off has been arbitrary, often varying considerably from one setting to another. As a result, a child who falls at the 12th percentile might be considered a poor reader while a child falling at the 10th percentile would be diagnosed with dyslexia.

The technical term for that diagnostic approach is called “discrepancy criteria.” Stanislas Dehaene, in his book Reading in the Brain, succinctly explains that the diagnosis of dyslexia has thus depended “on the setting of an arbitrary criterion for ‘normality’ … [which] might lead to the erroneous conclusion that dyslexia is a purely social construction.”

Certainly, for those parents among us who have a child diagnosed with dyslexia, it is obvious quite early in the educational process that our bright child is not just behind in reading but dumbfounded by the written word. A child with dyslexia seems to struggle at every turn.

Psychologists, neurologists, and special educators have understood that as well and since the 1970s have assumed dyslexia has a neurological basis. In fact, the term “dyslexia” actually stems from the Greek alexia, which literally means “loss of the word” and was the diagnostic term used when adults lost the ability to read after suffering a brain injury. Dyslexia was a term adopted to confer a lesser (though still neurologically based) form of reading impairment seen in children. However, determining the neurological basis has been elusive until relatively recently.

The Search for a Neurological Basis

In the early attempts at researching the underlying causes of dyslexia in the 1970s there were no technological medical procedures available to study brain processes that might be involved in reading normally or abnormally. As a result, although the term implied that there was a neurological cause, the exact nature of the brain differences in children with dyslexia could not be determined.

Some of the early researchers believed that the cause was visual-spatial. Samuel Orton had originally thought that reading disorders in children were similar to “word blindness” in adults, caused not by a specific brain injury, but representing a maturational disorder based on delayed cerebral development of left hemisphere dominance. However, his theory could not be tested empirically and he and others became more aware over time that many children with reading problems seemed to have specific problems with other non-visual aspects of reading – specifically, sounding out of words.

Because of the inability to determine the neurological cause(s) of dyslexia, in some educational circles especially, it became synonymous with "developmental reading disorder" and the cause (neurological or perhaps otherwise) was deemed not important. Rather, the goal was to develop and test interventions and measure their outcomes without an effort to relate the interventions to underlying causation.

The problem with that approach, from a scientific standpoint, is that it is symptom based. Rather than getting at the root of the problem or distinguishing one child’s problem from another’s, the non-causative approach assumes that the solution to dyslexia depends on a specific teaching method. An analogy in medical science would be trying to treat all skin rashes with calamine lotion – it might make a person feel better no matter the cause, but it would be wholly inadequate for prevention of a virus like measles or treatment of a bacterial rash like impetigo.

Fortunately, just as medical science advanced our understanding of viral and bacterial causes of skin infections to allow for effective medical treatment, advances in neuroscience, buttressed by neuroimaging and brain electrophysiological technology starting in the late 1990s, have led to an emerging consensus about the causes of dyslexia and the most effective methods for remediating those causes. This neuroscience research has been accumulating from a variety of disciplines and is beginning to reveal a few underlying factors in brain development that can cause reading to be problematic. And the best news is that all of those processes are amenable to carefully designed training approaches.

What Happens in the Dyslexic Brain – and Why

In the early to mid-2000s, much of the available research on the underlying basis of dyslexia pointed to a primary problem with the phonological processing of speech sounds. The early research by Shaywitz (2003), Ramus (2003), and Vellutino, Fletcher, Snowling, & Scanlon (2004) – summarized in Stanislas Dehaene’s Reading in the Brain – identified problems with phonological awareness, the ability to segment words into their component speech sound components.

More resent research has delineated why that problem exists. For example, in 2012, Boets et al., using neuroimaging technology, found that in adults with dyslexia the brain connections between areas that represent speech sounds and a part of the left frontal lobe that is important for higher level processing of speech sounds is significantly hampered. In other words, they found that dyslexia is a problem accessing intact representations of speech sounds. Other recent neurophysiological research has indicated that disrupted timing of auditory processing, particularly in the range relevant to speech sounds, is a core deficit in dyslexia.[1]

Retraining the Dyslexic Brain

These consistent findings have led to an emerging consensus, well summarized by Jane Hornickel and Nina Kraus in the Journal of Neuroscience in 2012: namely that dyslexia is primarily an auditory disorder that arises from an inability to respond to speech sounds in a consistent manner. This underlying problem with perception of speech sounds, in turn, causes problems relating a speech sound to the written letter. Therefore, reading interventions for dyslexia should be most effective if they combine auditory perceptual training of speech sounds with exercises that require relating speech sounds to the written letter. And, in fact, neuroscience research bears that out.

The Fast ForWord Language and Reading interventions contain neuroscience-based exercises. They have been empirically tested in independent neuroscience laboratories and shown to have a rapid and significant impact on children and adults with dyslexia. The exercises have been shown to have a positive effect on the neurological processes that support reading and language as well.[2]

Our understanding of dyslexia has come very far in the past 40 years, with neurophysiological models developed in just the past five years explaining why letter-sound correspondence is so difficult for these children. Fortunately, treatment options have kept pace with the research, and children with dyslexia today have the potential to train their brains to overcome the learning difficulties that earlier generations were destined to carry with them for a lifetime.

References

Boets, B., Op de Beeck, H.P., Vandermosten, M., Scott, S.K., Gillebert, C.R., Mantini, D., Ghesquière, P.  (2013). Intact but less accessible phonetic representations in adults with dyslexia, Science, 342, 1251-1254. doi: 10.1126/science.1244333

Burns, M.S. (2012). Application of Neuroscience to Remediation of Auditory Processing, Phonological, Language and Reading Disorders: The Fast ForWord® and BrainPro Programs. In D. Geffner & D. Swain (Eds.), Auditory processing disorders: Assessment, management and treatment (2nd ed.). San Diego, CA: Plural Publications.

Dehaene, S. (2009). Reading in the brain: The science and evolution of a human invention. New York, NY: Viking Press.

Gabrielli, J. (2009). Dyslexia: A new synergy between education and cognitive neuroscience. Science, 325, 280-283. doi: 10.1126/science.1171999

Hornickel, J. & Kraus, N. (2013), Unstable representation of sound: A biological marker of dyslexia. The Journal of Neuroscience, 33, 3500 –3504. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4205-12.2013

 

[1] See Billet & Bellis (2011), Goswami (2011), and Lehongre, Ramus, Villermet, Schwartz, & Giraud (2011) summarized by Burns (2012).

[2] See Dehaene (2009) and Gabrielli (2009) for excellent summaries of the research on the Fast ForWord interventions for dyslexia.

Related reading:

Auditory Processing Skills and Reading Disorders in Children

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function

 

 

 

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