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Remediation vs. Accommodation: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed

helping students with learning disabilities

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

Weighing the Options

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

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

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

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

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

Solid Gold

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

References:

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

Related reading:

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

Improved Auditory Processing With Targeted Intervention

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

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What the Common Core Standards Mean for Special Education Students

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 instruction than 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?

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Categories: Education Trends, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Special Education

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Teaching Persistence: How to Build Student Stamina

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

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

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

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

Help Learners Develop a Growth Mindset

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

Push a Little Bit – and Know When Enough is Enough

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

Model Persistence

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

Teach Positive Self-Talk

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

Expect More

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

Make the Most of Technology

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

Call Out the Brain

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

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

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

For Further Reading:

Teaching Perseverance

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

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

Related reading:

Deliberate Practice: How to Develop Expertise

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

 

 

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5 Trends in Education for 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related reading:

21st Century Learning: Preparing Students Today

Why Auditory Processing Disorders (APD) are Hard to Spot

 

 

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Categories: Brain Fitness, Education Trends, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays!  We extend our best wishes for a happy holiday season and a New Year filled with peace, joy and success.

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Categories: Family Focus

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

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

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

Going Offline

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

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

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

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

The Productive Faces of Idleness

SLEEP

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

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

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

AWAKE, DOING NOTHING

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

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

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

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

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

MUNDANE ACTIVITY

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

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

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

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

Standing Up for Downtime

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related reading:

Sleep: An Essential Ingredient for Memory Function

Stress and The Human Brain

 

 

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

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Monitoring Progress in RTI: The Importance of Targeted Intervention

Monitoring progress in RtII am often asked about how to appropriately monitor student progress in relation to interventions. Progress monitoring is a key feature of Response to Intervention (RTI), and in fact, there can be no RTI unless we are monitoring the extent to which students are responding to our intervention.

How do we monitor the progress of school’s overall RTI efforts? How can we be sure that our coordinated, systematic supports on behalf of students are resulting in positive outcomes? What would the indicators be? Many schools express confusion about the best measure to use.  I feel that the confusion relates not to progress monitoring but to how targeted the intervention is.

The Right Intervention

The best intervention is a targeted intervention. Yet we find that interventions are too frequently broad in nature and that they often address symptoms instead of causes. When the specific cause of reading difficulties is a challenge with multi-syllabic phonics, for example, providing general reading support is too broad an intervention. Similarly, providing support for adding fractions with unlike denominators is not an appropriately targeted intervention when the cause is difficulty related to finding equivalent fractions.  I encourage teams to target interventions as specifically as possible on the causes of difficulties.

When interventions are appropriately targeted, the type of progress monitoring process to employ will be clear. If multi-syllabic phonics interventions are provided, monitor student improvement in decoding multi-syllabic words. When interventions are provided for multiplication or finding equivalent fractions, monitor student improvement in these areas.

Creating a Plan

When monitoring the progress of RTI efforts, start by revisiting the specific areas of student need that were targeted.

  • Was the school focused on improving student mastery at Tier 1? 
    Monitor student improvement on common assessments, year-to-year and month-to-month.
  • Was the school focused in improving staff success at targeting Tier 2 supports—that is, more  time and alternative approaches to master the prioritized content of the grade or course? 
    Monitor the percentage of students demonstrating mastery on common assessments after receiving Tier 1 instruction as compared to the percentage of students demonstrating mastery on these common assessments after receiving Tier 2 interventions.
  • Was the school focused on improving student engagement? 
    Collaboratively develop efficient classroom-visit surveys that note the percentages of students richly engaged in learning. Visit classrooms at agreed-upon frequencies and share results over time.
  • Was the school focused on longer-term goals, such as decreasing the number of students  referred for formal evaluations to determine eligibility for special education services (because these students are adequately responding to instruction and intervention)? 
    Monitor the change in these numbers.
  • Was the school focused on increasing the percentage of students who are exited from special education into less restrictive general education environments (because gaps have been ameliorated and sustainable alternative strategies have been developed)? 
    Monitor the change in these percentages.

We know that RTI and the practices associated with it are among the most research-proven strategies a school can engage (Hattie, 2011). But just implementing RTI-based practices is not enough. We must ensure that RTI is resulting in improved student outcomes.

Just as with any school initiative, monitoring the progress and success of RTI is essential. Schools should identify what will be measured, how it will be measured, and when it will be measured before getting started. Once these measures are defined, questions about progress monitoring can be more easily resolved, and the real work of RTI can begin with confidence for success.

Related reading:

RTI is a Verb

Corey’s Story: My Son No Longer Needs Intervention After Using Fast ForWord

 

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning, Special Education

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Child Development Versus Standards-Driven Learning: Who Wins?

Child development versus standards driven learning

There’s a tug of war going on in American schools, a tension between learners’ developmental needs and the academic rigor required to meet challenging educational standards. In the classroom, where standardized assessments are the driving force of the day, the developmental realities of learners are often overlooked and shortchanged—and it’s something we ought to be talking about.

Signs of a Struggle

My co-worker’s son, Eli, is a case in point. As a kindergartener, he was expected to sit cross-legged with his hands in his lap on an 18” x 18” carpet square for 30-40 minutes of circle time each morning—something he was often unable to do. His teacher regularly reported home that Eli needed to improve in his ability to sit still, and the enthusiasm he had for school in September quickly waned.

His mother discussed the situation with her child’s pediatrician, who replied that Eli’s difficulty sitting still was a developmental stage that was perfectly normal for a five-year-old boy. The doctor also noted that Eli was expending so much energy trying to sit still that he was probably not able to attend to what he was supposed to be learning.

Eli’s parents transferred him to a different school the following year where he was assigned a teacher who designed her learners’ activities with their developmental needs in mind. For example, she gave her socially focused first-graders many opportunities to work with other learners in pairs or groups. Eli’s motivation skyrocketed, and in addition to performing at the top of his class academically, he began describing himself as a person who liked to be challenged.

Meeting Learners Where They Are

With so much to accomplish each year, and so little time, it’s no surprise that considerations around learners’ developmental stages often take a back seat to the focus on academic rigor. But as Eli and his parents learned, a standards-based curriculum isn’t likely to be effective if students are developmentally unable to attend to the material as it’s presented.

Some educators are calling for a renewed interest in child development and a move toward creating more developmentally appropriate classrooms for young learners. What might classrooms look like if developmental considerations were given greater weight? Here are just a few possibilities:

  • Less sitting and more movement for five-year-olds
  • Downplaying competition when six-year-olds play learning games
  • Adequate time for seven-year-olds to complete tasks to their high standards
  • Forums for talkative eight-year-olds to explain things and try out their burgeoning vocabularies
  • Nine-year-olds understand the relevance of their assignments
  • Ten-year-olds exercise their burgeoning memorization and organization abilities
  • Written communication with eleven-year-olds creates a sense of distance that supports strong continuing relationships with adults
  • More autonomy and decision-making opportunities for middle school learners
  • Programs or activities that help adolescents adjust to their rapidly changing bodies without losing academic focus
  • Water, snacks, and exercise opportunities more readily available to learners of all ages

The Original Common Core

Long before we had the Common Core Standards, we understood that there are developmental stages that children step through as they move toward adulthood. Although children progress through them at different rates and there can be considerable overlap between stages, the stages are predictable for most children.

Learners bring their entire developmental selves to school each day, not just the cognitive components that are reflected in their standardized test scores. Classrooms that don’t take standards and developmental considerations into account aren’t likely to move students as far ahead as they need to go to stay on track.

Educators may find that aligning communication styles and classroom activities with their learners’ developmental stages results in less time spent on discipline and more time on task. Loosening the reins a little by adapting to learners can support the more “serious” work of building the cognitive skills that matter so much in meeting today’s standards.

References:

Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.

Eccles, J.S. (1999). The Development of Children Ages 6 to 14The Future of Children, 9(2), 30-44.

Related reading:

How to Support Social Development in Young Children

Building Unstructured Play Into the Structure of Each Day

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

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How Students Learn by Explaining Their Thinking

learning by explaining

If you want to master something, teach it. Or so the saying goes. But is the platitude based in fact? Can students really learn better by explaining? The evidence says yes.

The Self-Explanation Effect

Research shows that coming up with an explanation can help students learn more effectively than having an explanation handed to them (Fonesca and Chi, 2010). For example, when two groups of learners study the same material but only one group is tasked with explaining it (the other group engages in alternative tasks or spends an equivalent amount of time studying), the explainers typically outscore the non-explainers on a post-test (Lombrozo, 2013).

How Explaining Helps Students Learn

How does explaining yield these results? Hypotheses abound:

  • It translates explicit knowledge into implicit know-how.
  • It integrates new information with prior belief.
  • It helps learners identify and fix knowledge gaps.
  • It resolves potential inconsistencies.
  • It engages learners in deeper processing.
  • It reinforces the use of successful strategies over unsuccessful alternatives (Lombrozo, 2013).

There’s recent evidence, as well, that explaining may be easier than predicting. Preschoolers in one study, for example, were able to explain another person’s behavior more accurately than they were able to predict it (Legare, Wellman, & Gelman, 2010).

Why Does Explaining Help Learning?

One theory says that explaining sheds light on causal relationships and causal mechanisms. For instance, when a group of children was asked to explain how an unfamiliar mechanical toy worked, the explainer group showed a greater understanding of the toy’s mechanics than did children in another group that was invited to simply observe the toy. However, the explainer group did not have any greater awareness than the observer group when it came to details that weren’t relevant to the toy’s workings—such as the toy’s colors (Legare and Lombrozo, unpublished data, cited in Lombrozo, 2013).

An alternate theory suggests that explaining helps learning because it requires the learner to relate a specific property or event to more general principles or patterns. In studies of category learning, learners who were tasked with explaining were more likely to discover patterns underlying the category structure than learners who were given alternate tasks (Williams and Lombrozo, 2010). This theory also predicts that explaining can sometimes impair learning when the material being explained is not strongly rule-based—and recent findings confirm this prediction (Williams, Lombrozo, & Rehder, 2010).

Much is still unknown about the role of explanation in learning, but it’s clear that explaining engages the brain in a way that other tasks do not. Perhaps some of the benefit comes from the fact that explaining something clearly and accurately demands more evolved language skills than those required when simply receiving an explanation. Students who improve their language skills, as with Fast ForWord, are likely to be better explainers and learners—and that sounds like a pretty big win in the classroom.

References:

Fonesca, B.A., & Chi, M.T.H. (2010). Instruction based on self-explanation. In R. Mayer & P. Alexander (Eds.), The handbook of research on learning and instruction (pp. 296-321). Oxford, UK: Routledge.

Lombrozo, T. (2013) Explanation and abductive inference. In K.J. Holyoak & R.G. Morrison (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of thinking and reasoning (pp. 260-276). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Legare, C.H., Wellman, H.M., & Gelman, S.A. (2009). Evidence for an explanation advantage in naïve biological reasoning. Cognitive Psychology, 58(2), 177-194. doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2008.06.002

Williams, J.J., & Lombrozo, T. (2010). The role of explanation in discovery and generalization: evidence from category learning. Cognitive Science, 34(5), 776-806. doi:10.1111/j.1551-6709.2010.01113.x

Williams, J.J., Lombrozo, T., & Rehder, b. (2010). Why does explaining help learning? Insight from an explanation impairment effect. In S. Ohlsson & R. Catrambone (Eds.) Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2906-2911). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. Retrieved from http://cocosci.berkeley.edu/joseph/WilliamsLombrozoRehder.pdf

Related reading:

The Question Formulation Technique: 6 Steps to Help Students Ask Better Questions

Teaching Inference as a Reading Strategy: The What, the How, and the Why

 

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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