4 Ways to Use iPads in the Classroom

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

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

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

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

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

iPad Project Ideas for Students

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

  1. Plan a Party with Numbers and Keynote

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

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

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

  1. Create Digital Books with iBooks Author

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

  1. Student Stories with iMovie or Garageband

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

Setting the Stage

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

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

Related reading:

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

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

 

5 Things You Might Not Know About ELLs

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

English Language Learners ELLs

It’s no secret that the number of English Language Learners (ELLs) in the United States is booming. By 2025, nearly one out of every four public school studentsis expected to be an English learner. And ELL populations are soaring in places where they were historically lower – Southern states like North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia have all seen growth rates topping 200% in recent years.

So…how much do you know about English learners? Peruse these 5 facts and find out:

1. More than half of today’s ELLs were born in the U.S.

According to a 2008 NEA policy brief, 76% of the ELLs in elementary schools and 56% of the ELLs in secondary schools are American-born. Being born in the U.S. gives these learners some advantages over first-generation immigrants – a big one being easier acculturation. But the advantages of being second-generation are not enough. In the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress only 29% of ELLs scored at or above the “basic” level in reading, compared with 75% of non-ELLs. What’s more, the academic performance levels of ELLs are significantly below those of their peers in nearly every measure of achievement.

2. ELLs are an extremely diverse group.

Although most speak Spanish, ELLs represent numerous languages, cultures, ethnicities, nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds. In fact, six of the top ten languages spoken by ELLs are notbased on the Latin alphabet: Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Arabic, Russian and Miao/Hmong!

3. The ELL achievement gap is complex and difficult to measure.

Unlike other subgroups specified in No Child Left Behind (e.g., economically disadvantaged or racial groups), a primary goal for ELLs is to transition out of ELL status by demonstrating English proficiency. Students who reach proficiency more quickly get reclassified, which skews performance statistics downward for learners who retain ELL status past third or fourth grade. In addition, not all states agree about which students qualify as ELLs, although there are efforts currently underway to establish a common set of criteria for federal funding purposes.

4. ELLs drop out at a higher rate than any other student population.

The longer ELLs remain classified as English learners, the more likely they are to abandon school. English learners who drop out are much more likely to end up unemployed, and even those who are able to find a job should expect relatively low earnings over their lifetimes – as much as $200,000 lessthan their peers who complete high school and $1 million lessthan those who graduate from college. Dropouts are more likely to become teenage parents, live in poverty, struggle with addiction, commit suicide and commit crimes that land them in prison. The cost to society is high – taxpayers foot the bill of up to $350 billion in lost wages, taxable income, health, welfare and incarceration costs. 

5. Building skills in a student’s home language facilitates English acquisition.

A growing body of evidence shows that some key language skills (e.g., phonemic awareness) generalize to other languages – so when students make progress in their first language, their English improves, too. Studies also show that bilingual learners have a cognitive advantageover monolingual learners. In addition, research supports dual-language instruction as a highly effective model for helping both ELLs and native English-speakers become biliterate high achievers. Dual language programs are especially recommended at the preschool level to prepare ELLs for mainstream kindergarten programs.

How to Help

The challenge of educating the nation’s English learners is a huge one – and it’s growing. But there are ways to make a difference:

Above all, we must pay attention to the burgeoning population of ELLs, understand their needs, and implement effective strategies for helping them meet or exceed proficiency measures, graduate from high school, and continue on to college. We can’t continue to fail them – the stakes for all of us are much too high.

References:

Center for Great Public Schools. (2008). English Language Learners Face Unique Challenges.Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/home/32409.htm

Migration Policy Institute. (2010). Top Languages Spoken by English Language Learners Nationally and by State. Retrieved from: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/top-languages-spoken-english-language-learners-nationally-and-state

National Education Association, (n.d.). A New Look at America's English Language Learners, Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/home/29160.htm

Reynolds, C.W. (2011). The Influence of Dual Language Education Upon the Development of English Reading Skills of Kindergarten Through Grade Two Students, Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). Retrieved from: http://scholarship.shu.edu/dissertations

Sanchez, C. & Wertheimer, L. (2011). School Dropout Rates Add to Fiscal Burden.Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/24/138653393/school-dropout-rates-adds-to-fiscal-burden

Related reading:

Language Skills Increase 1.8 Years After 30 Days Using Fast ForWord

68% of Students Improve MEPA Proficiency Significantly after Fast ForWord

 

Top 10 Tips for Working With ELL Students

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 (All day)
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

English-language-learners2 English language learners (ELLs) in the classroom are faced with a difficult task—absorbing content instruction while their English skills are still being developed. How can you help your ELL students participate more fully in the classroom so they can achieve to the best of their ability? Try these 10 tips for supporting English learners in improving their language skills and subject knowledge in tandem:

1. Be self-aware.

Know your audience and take time to reflect on the nature of the language you use. Do you use many terms that could be considered jargon? Do prepositional phrases pop up often in your speech? Do you speak fast? Do you emphasize important concepts?

2. Balance content and language complexity.

Keep language simple to help learners grasp complex content, and use more complex language when content is simple. This approach helps learners grasp difficult material more easily, reserving challenging language structures for times when English comprehension is a surer thing. Imagine how it might be to study calculus as a Mandarin language learner versus learning to count to ten.

3. Check for understanding.

After you give the class an assignment, provide opportunities for students to tell you or their peers how they plan to approach it. Including this step can help students stay on the right track by confirming that they understand what is expected.

4. Have them practice speaking English.

The more your ELL students get to practice their spoken English, the better. Provide opportunities for authentic practice (e.g., “tell a neighbor what you did at recess”) and practice through play or performance (e.g., “let’s pretend we’re the characters in this book”).

5. Make language natural.

Provide opportunities for children to express their thoughts and feelings aloud by using open-ended questions that challenge students’ reasoning. To promote discussion, offer a natural, open-ended topic that’s relevant to your learners, such as, “Adam sure was sneaky in this book, always hiding toys from his sister. I wonder what all of you think about hiding toys from your siblings or friends…?” To encourage debate, ask students to choose between one of two opinions. For example, “In The Little Yellow Chicken, do you think the chicken should have invited his friends even though they didn’t want to help? Why or why not?”

6. Create opportunities for contextual word learning.

Whenever possible, let the text deliver the meaning of words on its own. Look for texts with strong supporting visuals or with a rich and meaningful story—or both. Avoid  pre-teaching vocabulary when possible. Providing definitions doesn’t yield the same sticking power as letting the word “teach itself” to the student.

7. Provide a model when students get stuck.

If students struggle to formulate English sentences, provide a cloze sentence, (e.g., “You can say… ‘I thought the characters in this book were…’”). Write it on the board for extra support.

8. Recast with higher-level grammatical structure.

When a student makes a simple statement, reformulate it using more complex grammar, e.g., Student: “I like John. He is funny.” Teacher: “Oh, you enjoyed the main character because you thought he was funny.”

9. Make figurative language explicit.

Don’t assume that ELL students know the implied meanings of figurative language. When you use a figure of speech, follow it up with the same idea stated in plain language. For example, “It was a piece of cake; it was easy.”

10. Have students practice reading aloud.

All children need to practice reading out loud repeatedly. Reading aloud is a great way for ELL students to exercise their speech mechanism and reinforce the sound of English without the added cognitive burden of formulating words and sentences. One option for more read-aloud practice is to use Reading Assistant, an online reading tool that uses speech recognition to correct and support ELL students as they read aloud, helping to build fluency and confidence with the help of a supportive listener. It’s a great “twofer”—learners can get in more speech practice and build reading skills like phonemic awareness, decoding and fluency at the same time.

What’s great about most of the above strategies is that they benefit non-ELL students as well—especially other struggling learners.

Related reading:

Teaching Reading in Science Class: A Common Core Trend?

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

 

 

Latin and Greek Morphemes Build Vocabulary

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

Teaching vocabulary

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

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

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

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

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

Related reading:

Teach More Vocabulary, Faster, Using the Power of Morphology

Help Your Young Child Build Literacy

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Keystone Skill

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

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

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

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

The High Cost of Poor Social Skills

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

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

Good social skills help children:

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

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

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

Is All Screen Time Bad?

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

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

Management & Self-Regulation

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related reading:

Why Limit Screen Time? Scientific Research Explains

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

 

 

 

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

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

iPads and student engagement

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

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

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

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

More generally, results indicated that:

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

Related reading:

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools

Inspiring Students to Dream, Learn and Grow

 

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

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

Neuroscience-based programs I am sure you have noticed that there are many technology programs out there that claim to “build,” or improve your brain function. Every week I receive emails from companies advertising brain games that promise to train attention and memory skills. You may have wondered, do “brain games” really work? A recent article in The New York Times entitled "Do Brain Workouts Work? Science Isn't Sure," actually asked that very question as well.

How would a memory brain game that I purchase from a website be different from a card or board game like “Concentration”? How is an attention game different or better than the concentration required to read a good book or play a card game that requires focused and sustained attention to cards played or discarded each round? Do good old fashioned paper pencil activities like crossword puzzles help with brain function? How about Bridge or Chess? Does watching Jeopardy on Television help your memory? Wouldn’t any challenging video game help us with attention if we had to stay focused for long periods of time to get to a new level?

The answers to the above questions are all “yes, to some degree.” The brain is the only organ of our body that changes each day based on our experiences. And if we do any activities that challenge memory or attention for extended periods of time it will likely be beneficial for improving those capacities. If I play bridge, for example, many hours a week, I will likely get better at the game and boost my short term (working) memory as well. But, neuroscientists who study brain plasticity, the way the brain changes with stimulation (or lack of stimulation), have determined there are ways to enhance the beneficial effects of brain exercises to maximize the efficiency and positive outcomes so that children or adults can specifically target some capacities over others in a short period of time. And, controlled research is showing these targeted exercises have benefits on other brain capacities as well.

So, for example, researchers have shown that when seven year olds do a simple computer-based exercise that targets working memory for just a few minutes a day for a few consecutive weeks they show improved working memory (we would expect that) but also improved reading comprehension compared with children in their classrooms who received reading instruction but did not do the working memory activities (Loosli, 2012). Or, aging adults in their 70's who did computer-based processing speed exercises a few minutes a day for six consecutive weeks so they could do things like react faster when driving showed improvements in processing speed (again we would expect that) but also in memory when compared to adults who did other exercises but not the processing speed exercises, and the improvements lasted for ten years without doing additional exercises (Rebok, 2014).

The question, then, is what are the critical active ingredients neuroscientists have found that need to be "built-in" so brain exercises effectively build targeted skills compared to the benefits we get from just using our "noggin" in everyday activities? And, more important, how is a parent or consumer to get through all the hype and determine which brain exercises have the important design features shown to be effective?

Fortunately, neuroscientists who have thoroughly researched this have published excellent summaries in respected scientific journals. Below are the key elements to look for in brain exercises:

  1. High & low - Exercises are most effective when they include challenging high-level tasks (like exercises that require a high degree of speed and accuracy) while also including low-level exercises that improve our ability to perceive similar sounds or images more distinctly (Ahissar et el, 2009). We might call this the Sherlock Holmes effect - you must see the details clearly to solve difficult problems.
  2. Adaptability - Exercises should increase or decrease in difficulty based on how you perform so they continuously adapt to your skill level (Roelfsema, 2010).
  3. Highly intensive training schedules - The relevant ‘skills' must be identified, isolated, then practiced through hundreds if not thousands of trials on an intensive (ie, quasi-daily) schedule (Roelfsema, 2010).
  4. Attention grabbing - In order to maximize enduring plastic changes in the cortex, the learner must attend to each trial or learning event on a trial-by-trial basis.
  5. Timely rewards - A very high proportion of the learning trials must be rewarded immediately (rather than at the end of a block of trials or on a trial-and-error basis) (Roelfsema, 2010).

So, parents may ask, ”This sounds fine for making our average brains work better but what about my child who has been diagnosed with a learning disability or other issues like autism spectrum disorder?” According to Ahissar et al. (2009), for our children (or adults) with learning issues, distortions or limitations at any level will create bottlenecks for learning and the changes we want from brain exercises. But, according to the authors, if the exercises have sufficient intensity and duration on specific sets of activities that focus on lower-level (perceptual) and middle-level stimuli (attention, memory and language) tasks, brain changes will enhance higher level skills and learning will be easier and more advanced.

So for parents, or anyone wanting to understand which brain exercises are worth the investment of valuable time and money, a rule of thumb would be to avoid products that advertise themselves as "brain games" - because that is what they probably are. Rather, seek out programs or products that contain "exercises" that focus on specific high and low level skills like language, reading, memory and attention, and those who have research evidence to support their value when used by children like yours.

References

Ahissar, M., Nahum, M., Nelken, I., & Hochstein, S. (2009). Reverse hierarchies and sensory learning, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 364,285–299. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0253

Loosli, S.V., Buschkuehl, M., Perrig, W.J., & Jaeggi, S.M. (2012). Working memory training improves reading processes in typically developing children, Child Neuropsychology, 18, 62-78. doi: 10.1080/09297049.2011.575772

Rebok, G.W., Ball, K., Guey, L.T., Jones, R.N., Kim, H.Y., King, J.W., . . . Willis, S.L. (2014). Ten-Year Effects of the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly Cognitive Training Trial on Cognition and Everyday Functioning in Older Adults, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 62,16-24. doi: 10.1111/jgs.12607

Roelfsema, P.R., van Ooyen, A., & Watanabe, T. (2010). Perceptual learning rules based on reinforcers and attention, Trends in Cognitive Science, 14, 64–71. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.11.005

Vinogradav, S., Fisher, M., & de Villers-Sidani, E. (2012). Cognitive Training for Impaired Neural Systems in Neuropsychiatric Illness, Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews,37, 43–76. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.251

Related reading:

Brain Fitness Is Not A Game

Dopamine and Learning: What The Brain’s Reward Center Can Teach Educators

 

Self-Regulation Strategies for Students With Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski

Self-regulation strategies

When a student with a learning disability struggles academically, it’s logical to think that the issue is related to the student’s deficit in a specific ability. And while that may be true, there might be more to it. Students with learning disabilities often encounter academic difficulties, at least in part, because they don’t have effective strategies for working through challenges.

One effective tool that students can use to improve academic performance, regardless of ability, is self-regulation. Self-regulation is the process by which students take charge of their own learning, monitoring their behavior and progress and making adjustments along the way to get from idea to execution. It’s the transformation of thought into purposeful action. Here are several strategies teachers can introduce for use in the classroom and at home:

Setting Goals

Goal setting is an important part of self-regulation and can be foundational to other self-regulation strategies. When used effectively, the process of goal setting gives students an opportunity to observe their own behavior and pinpoint areas for improvement. It helps students identify what they need to do, lets them see how they are progressing, and motivates them to act productively.

Students should set goals for themselves that are specific and challenging, but not too hard. A goal should be quickly attainable so students can experience a sense of accomplishment and move on to tackle the next one. For example, when two students are struggling with homework, each might need to set a different goal to see improvement. The first student might identify time management as a problem and decide to cut out a leisure activity in order to achieve the goal of completing homework before dinnertime each day that week. The second student might realize that he needs to bring his class notes home from school every day so he has the information he needs to achieve his goal of completing all of his homework assignments for the week.

Self-Monitoring

Students self-monitor by asking themselves whether they have engaged in a specific, desired behavior. Building on the goal-setting examples above, our students might ask themselves, Am I using my time in the right way to complete my homework by dinnertime?Or, Did I put all of my homework assignments in my backpack to take home?Students may find it helpful to self-monitor for behaviors like paying attention, staying on task, following strategy steps, and meeting performance expectations such as completing all homework problems or spelling 8 of 10 spelling words correctly.

Self-Instruction

Self-instruction is also sometimes called “self-talk” and is part of normal development for many younger children. It can also be quite powerful when used by students of any age to purposefully self-regulate and direct learning behavior. For example, a student who is struggling to comprehend a challenging text might think, I need to look up the definitions of these unfamiliar words and read this page again.

Students can use self-talk to remind themselves to focus their attention, to take positive steps when faced with difficulties, to reinforce positive behaviors, and more. Teachers can model effective self-talk, but should allow each student to create and use her own statements. A little advance planning can be helpful here. Coming up with the right phrase in the heat of the moment – when focus has been lost or frustrations are running high – is unlikely to help. But taking a little time to write out some useful statements before starting a new project or beginning a homework assignment can enable students get themselves out of a tight spot.

Self-Reinforcement

Self-reinforcement occurs when a student chooses a motivating reward and then awards it to himself when he achieves a milestone. Self-reinforcement can be used over shorter and longer timeframes and can tie into goals. Our student who has identified time-management as an issue, for example, might decide, I can go to the movies on Sunday because I finished all of my homework before dinnertime every night this week.

Self-reinforcement can also work well in the classroom. Teachers and students can select rewards together and teachers can let students know how to earn them. Once a student has met the criteria for a reward, she can award it to herself – say, by selecting a sticker for her journal after completing the day’s writing assignment and getting her teacher’s approval.

Purposeful Learning

Becoming a better self-regulator isn’t a panacea for academic difficulties, but students with learning disabilities who learn effective self-regulation strategies will have some advantages. They will have tools in their toolbox that they can try out in a variety of situations before seeking outside help, or when help is not immediately available. They will understand how their behavior influences their results. And they will understand that their learning is a purposeful, active process in which they play the leading role.

Best of all, these self-regulation strategies can benefit all learners, not just those who are struggling. Why not give them a try?

References:

Reid, R., Lienemann, T.O., & Hagaman, J.L. (2013). Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities,(2nd ed.) .New York: Guilford Press.

Self-Regulation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://cehs.unl.edu/csi/self.shtml

Related reading:

Teaching Persistence: How to Build Student Stamina

5 Reasons Why Every Parent Should Be Familiar with Executive Function

Smarten Up! Three Facts About the Learning Brain

Tuesday, March 11, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski

The learning brain

It’s Brain Awareness Week! To celebrate, we’ve put together a few fun facts about the brain and how it learns. Share them and spread the word about why good nutrition, sleep, and learning habits matter.

1) True/False: Dreams are useless.

False! Research has found that when learning a new task, people who have dreams related to the task may actually improve their performance.

In one study at Harvard Medical School, students were asked to navigate a difficult maze, starting at a different point in the maze each time. During a break, one group of students was asked to nap while another group remained awake. Students in the nap group who dreamed about the maze performed better the next time they tried the maze, while those who dreamed about other things or who stayed awake did not improve.

Dreaming can take place during both REM and non-REM sleep. REM stands for “rapid eye movement” because the dreamer’s eyes move around under their eyelids during this phase of sleep. REM is the phase of sleep during which dreaming typically occurs, and dreams during REM sleep tend to be wild and illogical. But dreams can also take place during non-REM sleep. These dreams are often more thoughtful and logical than REM dreams and appear to be more important for learning.

2) True/False: Your brain functions best on Crimini mushrooms and beef brains.

True - though mushrooms and beef brains may be extreme examples of what keeps your brain working at its best. Still, good food choices do more than help your body grow, repair itself, and fight off illness. Food choices have an effect on how well your brain works, too.

Neurons, the cells of the brain, have a fatty coating called myelin that helps impulses move quickly from cell to cell. Your brain needs the right combination of proteins and fats from food sources to create myelin and to build new connections between neurons. Your brain’s ability to create new connections is closely tied to its ability to keep up in class and to learn new things.

The brain also relies on neurotransmitters to relay impulses from neuron to neuron. Neurotransmitters are the brain’s chemical messengers, and different neurotransmitters are built from different starter materials. An example of one of these starter materials is tryptophan, a substance found in a variety of healthy foods including shrimp, Crimini mushrooms, tuna, spinach, eggs, soybeans, broccoli, and cow’s milk. The body needs tryptophan to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that is linked to learning, memory, and motivation.

In the spirit of brain awareness week, we discovered that beef brains are actually a lean source of protein.  But if you're like us, you'll stick with the chicken, turkey and fish!

3)True/False: Your brain is competitive. With itself.

True. The human brain has incredible potential. People have successfully trained their brains to perform amazing feats of memory and computation, monks have learned to alter their body temperature by controlling their brain waves with meditation, and people with brain damage have   regained lost abilities  that we used to think were irreversible.

You’ve probably heard the expression “use it or lose it,” which means that we lose skills when we don’t practice them in daily life. That’s because the brain actually restructures itself based on how we use it most often, and those structural changes affect our performance. We get better at skills that we practice and we lose skills that we neglect. When it comes to student learning, “use it or lose it” is very real – especially during the summer months.

Say, for example, that a student reads 30 minutes every day during the school year. Then summer vacation rolls around and without the structure of school he reads only 30 minutes each week. His brain is going to think that he doesn’t need all of those neural connections for reading anymore, and it will actually change the way that his neurons are connected and devote them to other activities that he’s engaged in more often – say, playing sports or watching TV. This is called competitive plasticity.

That’s great for the time he spends with  friends for summertime fun, but not so great come fall when it’s time to head back to class. Many kids lose ground in reading over the summer, and even more kids lose skills in math. Over time, these losses add up. In fact, student achievement in the 12 thgrade is closely tied to what kinds of learning activities students engage in during the summer. Students who are high performers at high school graduation have typically spent time during their summers maintaining or increasing their academic skills. 

It’s Not Too Soon

Have you shared the facts of “summer slide” with your students so they understand why you might want them to read or practice their math skills? If not, start beating the drum today for summer learning, and when the summer months roll around, perhaps your students will actually spend time doing those things that challenge their brains to learn and grow. 

Fun Stuff

Try our Brain Awareness Week activities in the classroom as a fun way to extend the learning:

The Learning Brain Word Search– Basic words for lower grades.

The Learning Brain Word Match– More advanced words for higher grades.

References:

Cromie, W.J. (2002, April 18). Meditation changes temperatures: Mind controls body in extreme experiments. Harvard University Gazette. Retrieved from http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/2002/04.18/09-tummo.html

Mateljan, G. (2006). The World's Healthiest Foods: Essential Guide for the Healthiest Way of Eating. World’s Healthiest Foods.

Nutrition and the Brain. (n.d.). In Neuroscience for Kids. Retrieved from http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/nutr.html

Ornes, S. (2010, May 11). Dreaming makes perfect. ScienceNews for Kids. Retrieved from http://www.sciencenewsforkids.com.php5-17.dfw1-2.websitetestlink.com/wp/2010/05/dreaming-makes-perfect-2/

For further reading:

Official Brain Awareness Week Website

Related reading:

The Reading Brain: How Your Brain Helps You Read, and Why it Matters

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function

Teach More Vocabulary, Faster, Using the Power of Morphology

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

morphology

You can teach your students 10 vocabulary words the usual way – one at a time – or you can teach them 100 vocabulary words with little extra effort. The second approach seems like the obvious choice, and in Dr. Tim Rasinski’s recent webinar, Comprehension – Going Beyond Fluency, he makes the case for greater adoption of the accelerated approach.

Going Beyond Fluency

Rasinski is known as a passionate advocate for teaching fluencyas a bridge to reading comprehension. But there’s more to comprehension than just fluency. Vocabulary plays a big part as well, and Rasinski talks about how to teach students “the meaning of words,” knowledge that is not only practical for everyday and academic life, but is also required by the Common Core.

Teaching Morphology

Morphology is a technical term that refers to the part of a word that carries meaning. It’s the Latin root “spect,” for example, in words like “introspection” or “spectacle,” that signals not only a commonality in spelling but also a kinship in meaning.

Knowing that “spec” means “look” makes it relatively easy for a student to understand (or figure out) that “introspection” means “to look inward” and “spectacle” means “an eye-catching occurrence.” The list of words built on the root “spec” is long, and by learning just one root, a student knows or can more easily interpret the meanings of many new words.

Rasinski calls this the “generative” or “multiplier” effect of morphological vocabulary study: the fact that Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes have a one-to-many correspondence that dramatically increases access to vocabulary. And it’s not just Rasinski’s opinion that this approach gets results. Research has shown that during the early grades, morphological knowledge is a better predictor of reading comprehension than vocabulary levels.

Faster Learning

The more you do something the better you get at it. It’s how the brain works – practicing a skill rewires the brain to perform that skill more efficiently and effectively the next time. The online Fast ForWord®intervention program has the capacity to give students much more intensive, targeted practice in most aspects of reading – including morphology – than other programs or methods. That’s because Fast ForWord delivers nearly 35,000 learning “trials” in the same amount of time that other software programs deliver just over 5,000 trials. The result is often significant learning gains for even the most struggling students.

Rasinski hands the webinar over to Cory Armes, who demonstrates Hoof Beat, an exercise in Fast ForWord Reading 4 that develops morphological skills such as recognizing and understanding Greek and Latin roots, suffixes, and prefixes. It also works on word analysis, synonyms, antonyms, analogies, and more. With a fun video game style format that keeps students engaged while challenging them with in-depth practice.

Armes goes on to present statistically significant results from several studies of students using the Fast ForWord program, including increased reading achievement for elementary learners, improved comprehension for secondary learners, and over 2 years of improvement in reading grade level for ELLs.

The Nitty Gritty

Check out the full webinar and get all the rich details:

  • How many words students can learn weekly by traditional direct instruction;
  • How many words students can learn over the course of their K-12 education by traditional direct instruction;
  • How many words are in the English language (HINT: it’s probably more than you think);
  • How Fast ForWord develops vocabulary through morphology (see the product in action);
  • How – and in what grade – teachers can start teaching morphology to accelerate vocabulary learning; and
  • The details of Rasinski’s 5-day plan for using morphology to teach vocabulary.

If you’re not yet using roots, prefixes, and suffixes as a mainstay of vocabulary instruction – or if you’d like to explore how technology can help – don’t hesitate to watch the webinar. Your students will thank you…someday.

Related reading:

5 Fluency and Comprehension Strategies That Every Reader Can Use

Squelching Curiosity: How Pre-Teaching Vocabulary Stifles Learning

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