Showing posts with tag language learning Show all posts >
I remember the early years with my children and the dreams I had for their success. Of course, my dreams and theirs didn’t exactly end up being the same. But what happens when a mother realizes that her dreams for her child may be shattered because that child struggles with auditory processing issues, dyslexia, or other challenges never imagined? That’s exactly what Irene experienced with her daughter, Maria.
Attending school proved difficult for Maria. As she advanced from grade to grade and the work became progressively more difficult, anything presented in auditory form was especially challenging. By sixth grade, Maria had been diagnosed with dyslexia and Auditory Processing Disorder and was labeled with a language impairment.
For obvious reasons, Maria struggled in school. Because of this, she was shy around other students, avoided reading, and required extensive help at home. Her family considered sending her to a private school, but Maria was unable to pass the entrance exams.
By the middle of sixth grade, Maria had attended several different schools and the last was a disaster. It was then that one of her mother’s friends suggested Bridges Academy, a private school that specializes in serving students with learning challenges. Upon enrollment, Maria’s life began to turn in a new direction. When she got into her mother’s car after school she often said, “Mom, they understand me here!”
At Bridges Academy, Maria’s dyslexia and auditory processing issues were analyzed further and the Fast ForWord program was recommended in addition to Maria’s coursework and intervention regimen. Jacky Egli, the Director at Bridges Academy, explained to Maria’s mother that she personally researched every program thoroughly and only used programs that were scientifically based. Irene trusted Jacky and felt it was important to follow her recommendation, so Maria gave Fast ForWord a try.
Maria’s reading level was at least three to four years below grade level when she entered Bridges. She also had struggled in other subjects, because every subject—even math—requires reading. But that soon began to change and, in time, Maria made significant improvements. Maria’s comprehension level increased more than two full grade levels last year. This improvement aligned with her participation in the Fast ForWord Reading and Reading Assistant programs. Over the last 6 years, despite the odds, Maria improved on the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test 7.3 grade levels. Because of this significant improvement, she no longer receives remedial instruction.
Irene sought the best for her daughter and found it in the caring attitude of the staff at Bridges Academy and the innovative programs they use to make a difference for struggling students. “Jacky walks the walk and talks the talk of the school’s mission,” says Irene.
Maria has transformed from a shy, struggling child to a vibrant, engaged student who participates in class, reads aloud to her peers and conducts presentations for content area classes in front of her classmates. She is an ambassador for the school who greets and escorts new students and parents through the campus as she participates in open house and school events.
And, most exciting of all, Maria has been accepted into a local college and is thrilled about rising to meet a challenge and a future that once seemed entirely out of reach.
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
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:
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
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.
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of school-age English Language Learners (ELLs) more than doubled between the years 1980 and 2009, rising from 4.7 million to 11.2 million. ELLs currently represent one in nine students ages 5 - 17 in US classrooms, with the majority found in the primary grades.
In a recent webinar, Dr. Virginia Mann, Professor of Cognitive Science at UC Irvine in Southern California, confronted the barriers that ELLs face, and outlined the pathway to success for these students. In order to develop into fluent readers, she explained, ELLs rely on a couple of basics:
The good news is that building these skills in a learner’s first language can help build skills in English, as phonemic awareness generalizes across languages and it’s a short hop to understand new English words that sound similar in both languages. The bad news is that many ELLs also grow up in poverty and research shows that young children living in poverty often do not get enough early language experience and exposure to develop strong early language skills.
Because early language skills are so critical for ELLs, if parents take the time to "become teachers" for their children and immerse their children in language by having conversations with them and working with them on listening and speaking activities, learners can make significant gains.
Students whose first language uses an alphabet system have some advantages over those whose first language use an orthographic system, but the bottom line is that when students engage frequently in language-oriented activities and build oral skills, vocabulary, and phonemic understanding in any language, they are on the pathway to successful English language learning.
Mann is quick to note that while parent involvement is crucial, one-shot programs are not sufficient. Parents of ELLs need coaching and support, not just instruction. Dr. Mann references numerous studies and gives examples of the enduring programs that she has created and implemented to support parents in helping their children succeed.
To learn more about why early immersion in any language is so crucial to future academic success, view Dr. Mann's webinar here.
Join us this month for two no-cost, live webinars as we welcome back popular presenters Michael Horn and Dr. Virginia Mann!
On May 17, you are invited to “Disrupting Class” with Michael Horn, author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns and cofounder of Innosight Institute. The theory of disruptive innovation describes how products or services that offer simplicity, affordability, and convenience transform a market that was previously dominated by complicated, expensive, and inaccessible products or services. In this webinar, Michael Horn will describe how online learning is disrupting our notion of a classroom and how it offers the possibility of moving toward a student-centric learning system that is much more focused on different people's distinct learning needs. This webinar is at 11am PST (2pm EST)
Reading English as a Second Language: Some Challenges and Solutions
On May 23, please join us for “Reading English as a Second Language: Some Challenges and Solutions” with Dr. Virginia Mann, professor of Cognitive Sciences at the School of Social Sciences, University of California, Irvine. Dr. Mann will discuss the differences between English and other writing systems, the need for early immersion in English if English language learning is going to be optimal, the importance of phoneme awareness and phonological processing, and the challenge of morphology. Dr. Mann will also look at English Language Learners who have problems with reading and who suffer from some of the same phonological problems that English speakers do, showing how the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant products can help them succeed in school. This webinar will take place at 12pm PST (3pm EST).
“It is now well accepted that the chief cause of the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups is a language gap.”
- E.D. Hirsch, 2003
Research shows that children from rich language environments start off their academic career with a definite advantage over their peers. In one study with 280 1st grade students, results indicated a strong connection between language skills and later academic performance.[i] Another study found that “children who are provided a wide variety of experiences and opportunities to talk, tell stories, read storybooks, draw, and write are generally successful in learning to read and write.”[ii]
How can parents enhance the home language environment to help their children succeed?
Here are a few simple ways:
It’s never too early to help children appreciate the usefulness of language, the power of communicating effectively with others, and the joy of words. Every word spoken and every word read is truly a gift to a young child.
[i] Elements Comprising the Colorado Literacy Framework: III. Communication Skills, Including Oral and Written Language. (2010). Colorado Literacy Framework. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
[ii] Kastner JW, May W, Hildman L. Relationship between language skills and academic achievement in first grade. Percept Mot Skills. 2001 Apr;92(2):381-90.PMID: 11361297
Anyone who has ever conscientiously taken on the challenge of learning a skill – from playing a musical instrument to speaking a foreign language to simply improving one’s penmanship – understands the importance of practice.
As a neuroscientist, practice fascinates me because it is all about establishing pathways in the brain. The ability of the brain to form and re-form routes for specific thought patterns, and for those routes to become more deeply ingrained the more we exercise those thought patterns, makes it possible for us to learn and refine a multitude of wonderful skills throughout our lives.
The Best Practices
In her recent article “The Myth of ‘Practice Makes Perfect,’” Annie Murphy Paul reviews a book by Gary Marcus, a cognitive psychologist at New York University who studies how the brain acquires language. Marcus’ book, Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning, discusses how learning a new skill, such as playing the guitar, requires practice—but the right kind of practice.
Certainly practice requires a commitment of time. But more importantly, to be truly effective it requires a commitment of the mind – a deliberate intent – for optimal learning to occur.
According to Marcus, “Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect” (2012).
In other words, the best practice demands that the learner be attentive to his or her errors, weaknesses and deficiencies, and consciously work to remedy them.
From a neuroscience perspective, this observation points to a natural conclusion. Research has shown us time and again that the more we utilize certain neural pathways for building skills – such as throwing a ball or multiplying by fives or recalling all fifty state capitals – the more effectively we ingrain those patterns in our brains and the more automatic the correct skills become.
The Hardest Work
Imagine the budding guitarist bent over her instrument. At 11 years old, she focuses on learning three more chords beyond the three she learned last week. She’s having great trouble with that F, but she’s well in control of the other five. Should she spend her hour of practice playing the music she truly enjoys and save that F for another day, preserving her positive attitude? Or should she feel her frustration, work through it and spend her time on ironing out that problematic F, again and again and again?
Which is the better practice?
Researcher Anders Ericsson of Florida State University wrote that “deliberate practice requires effort and is inherently not enjoyable” (1993). Long hours spent repeating the easy or already-mastered work is simply not enough and not as effective. The best practice requires us to dig deep and uncover our weaknesses. With a greater focus on our faults, we become better able to find them and develop solutions to remedy them.
Robert Duke of the University of Texas-Austin demonstrated this effect when he and his team videotaped piano students as they practiced a challenging concerto, and then ranked the quality of their final performance. In the end, it was not the repetitions nor the hours of practice put in. The best performers zeroed in on their errors and strove to fix them before moving on. (2009)
Behaviors for Success
The students in our everyday classrooms have an advantage over the guitar student practicing at home. She has to work independently the majority of the time, interacting with her music instructor only once or twice a week; the lion’s share of reinforcing her learning and practicing behavior is her personal responsibility.
In our day-to-day classrooms, we get – relatively speaking – much more time to help our students devise strategies and establish behaviors for success. Through helping them learn how to face the hard work, to focus on what’s difficult or wrong and make it easier or right, we can help them to establish those all-important neural pathways that will lead to success.
For further reading:
It’s Not How Much; It’s How: Characteristics of Practice Behavior and Retention of Performance Skills by Robert A. Duke, Amy L. Simmons and Carla Davis Cash
In the recent Scientific Learning webinar "Language and the Reading Puzzle Part 2: Morpheme Awareness and Working Memory," cognitive scientist Dr. Virginia Mann continues the conversation she began in Part 1, this time focusing on the importance of developing working memory and morpheme awareness skills in order to attain the goal of fluent reading (the ability to read at the right speed with no mistakes and good expression).
Morpheme awareness is the ability to recognize and contextualize the basic semantic building blocks of the English language. Here’s an example of how it works:
Can you fill in the blank with the most appropriate fictional word from the multiple-choice list below?
She is very __________.
Most experienced English speakers will be able to select the nonsense word "lorial" (choice b) to complete the sentence above, as it is the only adjective on the list. Completing this exercise also requires working memory, the ability to temporarily retain information long enough to complete a new task.
In her presentation, Dr. Mann compares morphemes to Legos, the interlocking toy building-block system, describing morphemes as vocabulary-building roots for language. One example she gives of a morpheme is the root word “play,” which can morph into the words “plays”, “played,” “playpen,” “replay,” and “unplayfully,” (to name a few) with the help of prefixes and suffixes.
In the webinar, Dr. Mann refers to a study which showed that normally developing children between the ages of 4 and 5 already understand this kind of morphological activity and are able to build new words in this manner. Research has also shown that young readers who do not develop strong morpheme awareness skills can sometimes end up with "frozen" reading skills, typically around the 3rd grade, just before morpheme awareness become central to a student's journey towards fluent reading.
Working memory is also explored in-depth in this webinar. Dr. Mann connects the dots between the importance of working memory and oral comprehension difficulties in school, and clearly identifies the kinds of classroom challenges (e.g., difficulty following directions, problems with multiple choice tests) students with poor working memory skills eventually face.
“If you can’t retain what is said, you can’t comprehend it,” Dr. Mann succinctly states, demonstrating the very real connection between poor working memory skills and diminished comprehension, which are common barriers to fluent reading.
All parents and educators can benefit from a deeper knowledge of morphemes and working memory (even if you selected the correct word in our little pop quiz above). Click here to view the full webinar.
Dr. Mann has collaborated with Scientific Learning on our learning acceleration products since the year 2000, playing a crucial role in the development of the Fast ForWord READING series.
Poetry is a powerful vehicle to teach children to learn and love language, reading, and writing. In some ways, using poetry to teach reading is analogous to sneaking highly nutritious (and occasionally child-repellent) vegetables into otherwise kid-friendly dishes. By making use of creative devices like rhythm, rhyme and choral reading, educators can help students learn about phonemes, morphemes, grammar, and other language-based skills, all while having a great time with poetry.
Many poems written for children have some sort of meter, or basic rhythmic structure, that is catchy and relatively easy for kids to copy orally. This provides a great opportunity for classroom teachers (particularly at the primary-grade level) to go line by line through a poem and focus on the number of syllables (or "beats") in a given word, and demonstrate how each sound and word plays a part in maintaining the meter of the poem. Asking students to swap out one of the words in a highly rhythmic poem for an appropriate new word (which has the same number of beats and a similar sound as the original) is a fun activity that exercises phoneme awareness, vocabulary, and creative writing skills. Haiku and its established structural confines, which require detailed syllable counting on the part of students, is a favorite for students of all ages to read and write.
Rhyming poems are ripe with abundant classroom activities. Students can examine the sounds in each rhyming line, identifying the rhyming sounds and coming up with alternate rhyming words that could work in the poem. As an oral activity, creating "silly" substitute rhymes that have the correct matching sound but make absolutely no sense within the poem can also be a lot of fun for students of all ages, while flexing their phoneme awareness and vocabulary skills.
Choral reading of a poem (reading aloud in unison with a group of students or whole class) gets students to use their voices, collaborate with their classmates, gain an understanding of the potential dramatic power of the written word, and strengthen their understanding of punctuation. Leading students through a choral reading session can include a significant emphasis on punctuation and how it affects oral reading (pausing when there's a period, inflecting upwards in pitch when there's a question mark, etc.) and affords opportunity to work on enunciation skills as well. Breaking up a choral reading poem so all students have a chance to read a line or phrase on their own can also get the whole class to participate and feel positive about their relationship to the written word.
Using poetry to teach reading is a fun way to inspire students of all skill levels to engage with the subtle beauty and nuances of a language, encourage expression and creativity, and become excited about words, reading, and writing. The possibilities for using poetry in the classroom to teach valuable concepts and skills are almost as boundless as the potential combinations of words in a poem.
*I am the author of the haiku in this post. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my second grade teachers, Tina McCarter and Sharon Kamimoto, helped kick-start a lifelong love of words...for which I am grateful.
About the author: PC Muñoz is a San Francisco-based writer, recording artist, and educator. Information on his past and future projects can be found at http://www.pcmunoz.com
Categories: Reading & Learning
Dr. Virginia Mann's recent Scientific Learning webinar, "Language and the Reading Puzzle – Part 1" focused on the way families, schools, researchers, and technology can work together to create a "circuit for success" by helping students attain the goal of fluent reading (reading at the right speed, with few or no mistakes and good expression). The information in Dr. Mann's webinar is extensive, covering both the research data on the barriers to fluent reading and the various solutions parents and educators can employ to demonstrably improve reading readiness and fluency.
Here are five steps that can help steer beginning readers and struggling readers of all ages towards fluent reading:
1. Identify barriers.
Most readers begin as "hearers" of language, and written language is fundamentally a transcription of spoken language. Dr. Mann identifies poor oral/spoken language skills as a common barrier to fluent reading, a barrier that involves a lack of phoneme awareness and morpheme awareness (the subject of a separate webinar to be covered in a future post). She also dispels any lingering belief in the myth that visual "reversals" in writing or reading (e.g., mistaking a b for a d, confusing bad with dad) are a predictor or cause of poor reading skills in any way. Identifying the real barriers to fluent reading is the first step in determining how to best assist struggling readers.
2. Build phoneme awareness.
The data Dr. Mann presents in this webinar tell us that phoneme awareness, which develops with age and exposure, is directly related to reading ability. Activities which promote phoneme awareness include learning the ABCs (especially the letter sounds), matching and sorting words by phonemes (e.g., noting that the beginning sounds of cat and cup match, while the beginning sounds of cat and dog do not match), and manipulating phonemes (e.g., substituting an s for the c in cat to create a new word with a new beginning sound—sat). Understanding how the letters c-a-t spell the aural word cat takes a kind of “mental surgery” which can only occur with strong phoneme awareness.
3. Enrich vocabulary exposure and oral language skills.
Research shows us that students with weak oral language skills in kindergarten have a substantially more difficult time learning to read or reaching the appropriate reading level for their age group. A difference of 5.2 years between age and reading level is not uncommon in young people who begin kindergarten with deficient oral language experience. A great way to support and build on a strong foundation of phoneme awareness is through cumulative oral language experiences, which provide new and struggling readers with incremental exposure to letter sounds and vocabulary, laying the groundwork for better language comprehension and reading.
4. Encourage literacy activities.
A powerful example of a literacy-oriented activity that can boost phoneme awareness and reading readiness is dialogic reading, a practice that encourages interactivity over passive listening when engaging with the written word. The main technique when practicing dialogic reading is the "PEER Sequence," which asks the adult reader to:
Dialogic reading is an active, dynamic workout for hearing, speaking, critical thinking, and working memory skills, which all play a part in building a better reader.
5. Use technology.
In the fast-moving 21st century, technology has an important role to play. Today, cutting-edge educational tools can help accelerate reading acquisition, with enormous benefits for learners and busy educators. Educators will benefit by embracing the available technology that produces better readers who can learn more effectively in the classroom.
Fluent reading is a significant goal: a challenge for beginners, and a persistent problem for some struggling students. These five steps are really just a glimpse of what Dr. Mann covers in her presentation. Click here to view the full webinar!