Showing posts with tag how children learn Show all posts >
An increase in the incidence of autism is changing the landscape of our classrooms and challenging our knowledge of how best to educate all students. Fortunately, recent technology is providing some ways to help - a cast of characters including robot teachers and video games is helping unravel the mystery of how best to reach students with autism.
At the most basic level, autism is defined as a childhood-onset developmental disorder. Deficits can include social reciprocity, communication, over-focused interests, and repetitive behaviors, and can occur at differing levels of severity. The social reciprocity and communication challenges lay the foundation for what can become a challenging school environment for some.
Some schools have started using tech tools in creative ways to break down the communication barriers with students with autism. In Birmingham, England, a program in which students with autism learn from robot teachers has shown promise. The instructors and researchers believe the robot teachers are less threatening than human teachers—possibly due to the robots’ lack of emotion and much smaller size. Whatever the reason, students are showing a desire to connect with the robots, and once that connection has been developed, learning in different forms can begin to take place.
Video Game Technology
The use of video games with autistic learners is also gaining traction, reaching students on their own terms via a fun and familiar technology. Researchers have found that video games create an environment that is less threatening than the real world—much like robots—and one that is more predictable, allowing the students to feel more at ease. As a result, breakthroughs can sometimes be made more quickly with video games, as in the case of a student who finally moved his arms up and down together while playing XBOX—after a therapist had worked with him on the movement for months without success.
Video games enable the delivery of educational content—from math and language arts instruction to behavioral modeling and physical coordination exercises—while keeping students engaged, a combination that can be harder to achieve with more traditional methods of instruction.
The Way Forward
These two applications of technology in the classroom are paving the way for additional research into how our education systems can better interact with students on the autism spectrum. Robots and video games are most definitely not the full answer, but if they give us a glimpse into a solution, then they are a great start.
There are a lot of questions still to explore, but like a mystery novel with an unknown ending, we must follow the clues and solve the riddles to open our eyes.
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As a parent, are you unsure about how much help to give your children on homework assignments and special projects? Do you sometimes feel "darned if you do and darned if you don't"? If you don't help your child enough, does she get poor grades? If you do help, is the teacher critical?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may feel stuck in "the parent trap." We all want our children to be independent learners, but getting them there can be difficult—especially if you have a struggling learner or a child with a diagnosed learning disability. Here are some suggestions that might help.
Avoid blame. Make it a game.
It’s hard for people to self-motivate to work hard in areas where they struggle, and children are no exception. If you feel you are always badgering your child to get his work done, try turning homework into something fun by scheduling 'game breaks' every half hour or so. Set a timer for a short interval, and as long as he has worked consistently before the timer goes off, do a few minutes of something fun together—a race outside, quick game of "go fish," a short video game, etc. Elementary age children love playing games with a parent, so game breaks can be a great motivator.
Build rewards on assignment boards.
Post a whiteboard in the kitchen or another common area of your home. Each day after school, help your child write a to-do list of assignments for that night as well as for any projects with due dates. Then work with your child to determine a reasonable reward for completion. A reward might be watching a special TV show, calling or texting a friend, or a healthy before bedtime snack.
Rewarding your child for doing homework independently builds important life skills like self-control and stick-to-itiveness. Especially when children struggle with school, rewarding something your child can control (like how long they worked on an assignment by themselves) builds confidence and increases motivation better than punishing bad grades or rewarding good grades.
The 80%-20% rule builds success in school.
Brain scientists have found that when a task is 20% challenging it promotes brain plasticity (positive brain changes). So, to maximize your child’s learning potential, encourage her to do all assignments by herself first, assuring her that you will be there to help once she has completed as much as she can on her own.
You will be the checker: finding mistakes or missing pieces and then helping her with those. If she is accustomed to you providing more help, it may take a few weeks for her to work on her own. If so, set a smaller goal (half of each assignment alone, or a designated number of problems, for example) for a week or so. Try to get to the point where you help with no more than 20% of any assignment.
Strive for drive.
Remember, by making your child's independence in schoolwork your goal—instead of grades or other measures of achievement—you are not only improving your child's motivation and ability to please you, but you also are building self-sufficiency, a trait that will lead to success in many aspects of life.
Not everyone can get top grades in school, but everyone can learn to be a self-starter. Getting out of the parent trap will not only make your life easier it will foster important life skills in your child. In adult life, the ability to self-motivate is where the real dividends of a good education are paid out.
If you have already tried these suggestions or you feel your child cannot realistically reach 80% independence, consider consulting a professional. Your child might have a specific learning issue that can be significantly improved with appropriate neuroscience-based interventions.
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As spring begins to overtake winter, I’ve noticed an increasing number of children riding their bicycles in my neighborhood.
Seeing one father helping his daughter with her new two-wheeler reminded me of my own initial experience with my first bicycle. The bike I received for my birthday had no training wheels on it and so I floundered on my first attempts to ride it.
A Wobbly Start
My dad came home from his factory job one spring afternoon and saw me struggling to keep my balance as I rode. Getting out of the car, he walked over to me and had me get on the bike while he steadied it by grasping the seat.
As I pedaled and steered my bike, he ran next to me holding me up. When I turned, I usually leaned too much or too little into the curve; my dad gave me feedback (he’d say “lean the other way”) and supported me by tilting the bike in the opposite direction.
The Power of Supported Practice
After a few trips up and down the block he gave me a push, let go of the seat, and before I knew it, I was riding without his help. I could ride my bike! Later that afternoon my father gave me a few more tips on bike safety and expressed how proud he was of my accomplishment.
The experience of learning to ride my bike reminds me of what happens during assisted reading with feedback.
The Importance of Feedback in Learning to Read
A considerable body of theory and research in reading acquisition tell us that the foundational skills in reading (in the Common Core Standards, phonics, word recognition, and fluency) are best developed through instruction followed by practice with support and feedback.
When a struggling or developing reader reads a text while simultaneously hearing it read to them (either with a partner, a group, or a recorded reading) the developing reader will eventually be able to read that text (and others) without assistance.
An essential key to the assist, however, is to provide formative feedback to the reader in the same way that my father gave feedback to me. That feedback can take a variety of forms—emphasizing a word that was mispronounced, providing the definition to a word or phrase, or briefly discussing the reading after the reading and focusing on an area of need or areas in which the reader has improved.
Most learning, it seems, is facilitated by an assist, scaffold, or support provided by another. Learning to read and learning to ride a bike are no exception.
The Teacher’s Touch
As teachers, our role in reading acquisition is to find ways to support our students in their reading while providing formative feedback during and after their reading. When we do so we will find our students not only making great progress in their reading but also viewing themselves as competent and independent readers.
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After 17 years as a teacher and 8 as a researcher in education, I have become increasingly aware of a “gravitational force” pulling me to instruct with little attention to the most ambitious goal a teacher, parent, or administrator can aspire to—inciting curiosity. I say ‘incite’ because it seems counter-culture to do so. My goals here are to illustrate briefly this force and to provide one simple way we can begin to counteract its pull.
When I discuss the matter with colleagues, I see that we all feel the same way. Few of us seem to know why we’re teaching what we’re teaching, how to get students to be interested in it or what to do about it. After years of thinking about this, I’ve come to understand that confusion is often a precursor to learning.
Communication of ideas is a central part of learning. Language matters – especially in mathematics. So far, I’ve said nothing new. However, let’s examine a way in which typical instruction attempts to provide language for students. Even the very attempt to provide language for students can be misguided and can be seen as the source of many learning difficulties. I will attempt to illustrate with an example.
Consider a typical lesson from middle school pre-algebra classes—this is a scenario that plays out across grade levels and content areas. I have chosen this example to illustrate how a common, well-intended teaching practice (pre-teaching vocabulary) can squelch curiosity, contribute to anxiety in the learner, and ultimately turn students into what I call “Do-Monsters.” (Even if you feel anxious reading this and start to break out in math hives, I encourage you to persist!)
Teacher: Today we are going to learn about: like terms, monomials, binomials, trinomials, and ultimately polynomials. Please take out your notebook and write these terms down together with the definitions I will show you. (Definitions are copied…)
Teacher: Now I will show you an example of a polynomial. Please identify two like terms in this example. Example 1: 2x – 3 + x
Take a moment to remember a similar occasion in your learning experience (if you can): your lack of curiosity or need to think critically, and the aimless feeling of the activity. Remember the worksheet with 25 mindless problems you worked on for the rest of that class?
The situation I am referring to is, generally, one in which the topic is foreign to the students and the teacher. The reason for discussing the vocabulary (or even the concept) is that there is an impending test, a social contract that a teacher must cover the book, or a belief that knowing the vocabulary is crucial for critical thinking to begin. Learning vocabulary out of context becomes the purpose of the lesson rather than asking how these words can help us solve problems or think critically.
Questions, Problems, and Meaning
Consider an alternative. Instead of giving students meaningless terms upfront (pre-teaching vocabulary) so they can think about a question, why not give them the question first and deal with vocabulary within a context? I have found that the most meaningful lessons are those in which a student has something worth discussing; one in which there is a problem to solve. The problem with this is that the kinds of questions I have been trained to ask and those primarily found in textbooks are not really central to the topic I teach. They make language acquisition the end—instead of the means to an end.
I have also come to believe that imagination is a necessary ingredient in learning. Once it’s in play we can ask different kinds of questions that leverage existing language to create a need for new language. We might ask questions like, “Do we all imagine the same things happening in this situation? How do you see it? How do our images differ? How are they the same? What would happen next? Can we play out the scenario? What if we changed the situation?”
When a context is present, there is a chance that I can play! Playing is good. Unfortunately, in our desire to ease students’ frustrations/suffering in the learning process we (teachers/parents/administrators) often seek to give them the words they need before they need them, creating a situation in which students don’t know what to do with what has been given to them. We expect a child to wait patiently with a word for the right time to spring into action and use it.
So, what might a lesson look like in which we try to put students in a problematic situation before introducing the vocabulary necessary to describe the phenomena we want students to reason about? Consider a potential revision to the previous scenario in which the goal of the lesson was to teach students about: like terms, monomials, binomials, trinomials, and ultimately polynomials. Changing the goal from language acquisition to critical thinking might play out like this.
The Birth of Puzzlement
Teacher: I’m thinking of a number…so that 3 less than twice my number plus my number again equals 15. What number am I thinking of?
Did you find yourself trying to answer the question? Maybe you did and maybe you didn’t. The point is that students have a starting point to imagine what could happen. A debate could break out about what that number is and students could talk to each other. The situation could be changed enough to make them think again until they are comfortable with the phenomenon – searching for an unknown number that satisfies the given condition.
Eventually, when the situation gets complicated enough, we might need the terms: like terms, monomials, binomials, trinomials, and ultimately polynomials. We know we are at that point when students see the need to refer to 3 less than twice my number as one entity instead of two. What would we call that thing? It is incumbent on us as teachers to bring students to this point through a careful selection of tasks. There is no algorithm other than asking the question, “How can I puzzle my students the right amount today?”
One argument to continue pre-teaching vocabulary is that a student (a second language learner in particular) might not know what a word means and might not have a sense of the question at hand. In that case, isn’t it better to pre-teach vocabulary?
There are no hard and fast rules. Sometimes yes, but usually no. In fact, I have come to see that puzzlement goes hand in hand with confusion in the beginning and that this is a sign that learning can occur. It represents the possibility that something can be learned and this is what excites me most about teaching. I WANT students to raise questions about words they don’t understand and begin to ask questions about them spontaneously. I WANT students to play out the scenario under their own interpretations—whatever those interpretations are. I WANT debate.
Unfortunately, too often we see no possibility of debate because we spend far too much time focusing on the wrong lessons. The irony about language acquisition is that it happens best as we use the language we have, not when we are taught words out of context. To really learn a term, we must first have something to talk about that requires the new word itself. In short, here is where we lose our way. To quote a colleague, “We are so fearful we won’t cover the material, that we fail to uncover something meaningful.”
In the nearly 25 years since Congress designated the 1990s “The Decade of the Brain,” educators have been flooded with information about how the brain learns. Some of the “brain myths” that educators have learned are actually right on target, while others are outright wrong. Some data is still open for debate and other inquiries are just getting under way.
We asked Dr. Bill Jenkins and Dr. Martha Burns for a little help in sorting fact from fiction for those of us with other things to do besides reading through the original research studies and teasing out our own conclusions. They presented a great live webinar on the topic, and here’s what we learned:
Myth #1: The Brain is Hardwired – True or False?
Until the 1990s, neuroscientists believed that the adult brain was indeed hardwired with fixed neural circuits. The Decade of the Brain revealed that this view is false—the adult brain is not hardwired and neither is the child brain. In fact, learning goes hand in hand with the re-wiring of brain circuits on the fly, a re-organizing ability that lasts throughout our lifetime.
Myth #2: There are Multiple Intelligences – True or False?
When I first heard about the idea of multiple intelligences, I responded to it immediately. I’m a visual learner! I thought. Of course. And I know I’m not alone.
The truth is more complicated. The construct of multiple intelligences falls under the category of “still open for debate” and may depend as much on our frame of reference as anything else. Regardless, what’s important for teachers is to understand individual students’ strengths and weaknesses and not evaluate students along one dimension of Smart vs. Not Smart.
Myth #3: There’s a Critical Period for Language Learning – True or False?
The widely held belief that language learning must be mastered early is an example of a fact being taken too far. True, it is typically easier to learn a new language before age 7, but we retain the ability for language learning throughout life.
In fact, intensive language training can produce large gains in oral language and reading skills even in older children who are not yet fluent. This includes in-person training or computer programs such as the Fast ForWord Language and Reading programs. They key is an individualized and intensive approach that influences brain organization through mechanisms of neural plasticity.
Further, learning a new language later in life can be good for the brain—better than, say, Sudoku or crossword puzzles.
Get the Facts About 10 More Brain Myths
Drs. Jenkins and Burns had much more to say about fact vs. fiction in how the brain learns. Watch their on-demand webinar on Brain Myths in Education and get answers about these brain myths and more:
Many students enter our classrooms with limited vocabulary and loads of catching up to do. I’ve seen teachers discouraged by the challenge they are faced with, and yet doing valuable things in their classrooms everyday to not only meet challenges but to exceed expectations. The good news is that the little things we do everyday can have a great impact.
Why Modeled Reading Matters
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” - Emilie Buchwald
Our students have a wide range of lap hours logged. For some, the idea of climbing up to listen as someone reads to them is more natural than putting on a pair of socks, while for others it’s a rare event. In classrooms, all children benefit from listening as we read.
Modeling fluent reading in our classrooms and displaying our love for the written word benefits every student, but it is essential for those students who do not get this benefit at home.
Older students can benefit as well. On this topic, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says, “Every read-aloud is an advertisement for pleasure, every worksheet is an ad for pain. If the pain outweighs the pleasure, the customers go elsewhere.” When we read and showcase our love of reading we are advertising the very thing we want our students to buy.
Get Students Reading More, More, More (and More)
“There is ample evidence that one of the major differences between poor and good readers is the difference in the quantity of total time they spend reading.” - National Reading Panel, 2000
The best way to improve reading skill is through reading practice. If we’ve modeled fluent reading for students and chosen material that is a great fit for their ability and their interest, then we have set the stage for practice.
It’s no wonder that good readers read a lot and poor readers read little. If an activity is not pleasurable, devoting time to it is not desirable. However, as good readers read and poor readers do not, the gap in their ability grows. We must encourage all of our students to read. We must find ways to make reading pleasurable for all students.
*Note that I’ve indicated Children A, B & C are all reading at the same rate (100WPM). Though this scenario may be unlikely, it highlights the gains that are possible for all students. As their reading improves, their rate will increase along with more words devoured.
For those with poor skills, the need to practice is critical—not only to improve their reading ability, but also to open their world. These “words” represent new vocabulary, new ideas, new topics, and new learning. By getting students to read more we are expanding their imaginations and building their background. When students read little they miss out on so much more than slow-growing reading skills.
A Deep and Continuing Need
One final note on quality. To incent students to read and to help them read well, we must also focus on motivation and help students choose reading material that will be inspiring and well suited to them.
“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. ” - Maya Angelou
I’ve always been struck by some of the reading material we put in front of our struggling readers. As I’ve worked with students on their assigned texts, I can’t help but find myself bored and listless. How can we expect students to develop a fondness for reading if what we’re asking them to read is not particularly good? Think about why you read and what you like to read. I’ve yet to find the well-read adult who chooses reading material based on their ability level alone. Instead, they read to gather information, to soak up a genre they are especially fond of, to escape and to dream. To foster this ‘deep and continuing need’, we need to provide our students with delicious, fantastic literature. They need rich vocabulary, exotic stories and variety. At times this beautiful content is beyond the reach of our students’ ability, but we are wise to help them reach, to scaffold, to encourage and to make every attempt to give them the good stuff.
“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” - Katherine Patterson
For many educators, summer school planning is in full gear! Districts are determining the who, the what and the how, and all with limited resources.
When I was working in the school system, summer school left something to be desired. The students were doing the same activities from the school year (and were still bored by them), and the teachers were working with students they didn’t know, struggling to individualize instruction. Making an effective summer learning program isn't easy; I appreciate the work that goes into making any instructional plan effective. Educating our students, during the year or summer, is not for the faint of heart. It takes an enormous amount of collaboration, planning, expertise, creativity and energy (lots of energy!) to be done well.
The Rand Corporation’s 2011 report on summer school effectiveness makes many recommendations; here are just a few:
After all is said and done, it’s important to know whether your summer school program was effective. Did all the work you put in lead to improved reading scores, for example? For schools that used Reading Assistant in their summer school programs, the answer was a resounding yes:
Is your district on track to make this the best summer school yet? If there were two recommendations I’d make, I’d say:
For further reading:
Results on Reading Assistant:
Earlier this month, Dr. Martha Burns presented a webinar titled “What’s in the Common Core, but Missing in Your Curriculum.” One of the exciting new changes that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) bring is a great deal more emphasis on how students learn rather than focusing solely on what they learn. The emphasis of previous standards have focused more on memorization of facts rather than on higher order thinking skills. In this webinar, Dr. Burns reviews the learning capacities spelled out in the CCSS and describes the skills that students need to be successful as lifelong learners, e.g., the ability to evaluate, to adapt, adjust and critique, etc. At the foundation of these higher order abilities lie the foundational skills below. Together, these skills can be termed the “process of learning.”
· Executive control or self-control
Students with deficiencies in these foundational skills may be labeled as “trouble makers” or “at risk” and have difficulty keeping up in today’s growing classroom. Experienced educators have always recognized the importance of these skills, but the idea that they can be specifically addressed and improved is relatively new. Without the ability to remember the details of a non-fiction text, how would a student be able to evaluate and critique it?
Dr. Burns describes new insights in neuroscience that are contributing to our understanding of the process of learning and what can be done to strengthen these skills in all learners, even those with learning disabilities and other challenges. The idea that these skills are inherent in students and cannot be changed is simply untrue. With the right training, all students can become stronger, more capable learners.
One efficient way for students to practice the skills needed to meet the rigor of the Common Core Standards is through the research-based learning tools employed by Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs. Dr. Burns concluded her presentation with a walkthrough of the programs, highlighting the aspects of the programs that speak directly to the foundational skills needed to create college and career ready students. She also describes what happens in the student’s brain when they are engaged with the software and the results that can be expected.
This new approach by the Common Core State Standards to draw attention to the “process” of learning, rather than just content, is important for all stakeholders to understand. With this new understanding comes a greater importance to use all of the tools at our disposal to help all learners succeed.
On October 30th, noted neuroscience researcher and co-founder of Scientific Learning, Dr. Paula Tallal, conducted a live webinar titled “What do Neuroscientists Know About Learning That Most Educators Don’t?” In her presentation, Dr. Tallal discussed her original research on auditory processing, its relationship to language development, and the far-reaching effects that deficiencies in those areas can have on learning.
Research continues to support the hypothesis that difficulty discriminating between small changes in sound is at the heart of learning problems both in students who have a diagnosed difficulty and those who do not. Dr. Tallal described how oral language is the foundation for learning and for most successful educational outcomes, adding that oral language itself is dependent on the brain’s ability to discriminate and process auditory information. Children who have difficulty perceiving the many subtleties of language find the deck stacked against them in their educational careers. They can experience a variety of impediments to learning, including:
Students with this subtle level of auditory processing problem need specific differentiation that is not possible in most classrooms. The good news, as Dr. Tallal describes, is that modern technology can be used to address the difficulties these children face and help bridge these skill gaps. In fact, it is this level of research and development that informed the development of Scientific Learning’s software programs, including Fast ForWord.
To close, Dr. Tallal took questions from the educators relating to how these insights can be used to improve educational outcomes in all classrooms. Teachers left this insightful webinar with practical strategies that can be used to help learners of all abilities.
So it is only October and the buzz and excitement of starting a new school year has already fizzled. Life is a little boring, the holidays seem too far away, you are more tired than usual, and you are having a little trouble getting enthusiastic about your job or your children’s upcoming book reports and science projects, or whatever. What’s going on? Of course you know, burn-out.
What exactly is burn-out? Does it come from working too hard, not being appreciated? Perhaps, but from the standpoint of the brain, burn-out occurs when motivation declines. The human brain is designed to keep motivation levels high for activities we need to survive, those that are very rewarding, and those that involve novelty. Hence we are usually very motivated to escape a dangerous situation, eat chocolate cake and watch a new movie we just purchased. We tend to associate reward and novelty with play and leisure – video games, a golf or tennis match, watching a new TV show or a sports event, playing a new board game, or visiting a new vacation spot – even though we might work very hard at those activities. Rarely do you hear avid golfers complain about golf burnout. But you also rarely hear CEOs talk about being burned out. They may retire to relieve the stress of their job or spend more time with their family, but rarely do they complain about their workload or burnout. Why not? Because the excitement of a new round of golf and the reward that might come from winning or achieving a greater profit margin motivates the golfer and the CEO. However, when your daily life becomes repetitive, unexciting or non-rewarding, motivation decreases. Burn-out is really the symptom of a brain that has lost its motivation. And motivation declines when two important aspects of life are missing – earned reward and novelty.
So, what can you do about burn-out? The answer actually comes from neuroscience research. Whether your burn-out is associated with a job in or out of the home, the solution is not to work less and play more (because poverty is not very rewarding). Rather, the solution is to turn work into play. And the way to do that is to imbue your day with novelty and challenges where there is an expectation of reward.
Reward thyself: If your work is not very rewarding or your boss is not good at showing appreciation, one important key to avoiding burnout is to build in self rewards for a job well done. Each morning, next to your to-do list, make a “reward when completed list”.
Keep it new: If a job largely involves repetitive routines, try to come up with something new to add.
Delay gratification: Make your work schedule its own reward by scheduling your most boring task first each day and your favorite task last so all day you are looking forward to the activity you enjoy the most.
Finally, build in healthy brain-building activities to your week. A happy brain is a brain that is thinking, creating, planning, solving, and learning new things. Schedule activities outside of work that make you feel good about yourself and keep your mind sharp:
To learn more about the brain, view our free recorded webinar!