5 Myths About Dyslexia

Tuesday, October 20, 2015 - 08:00
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

Dyslexia: fact versus fictiondyslexia facts

Dyslexia’ is a term that has been used many different ways during the past century. As a result, many myths have emerged about the diagnosis and how the term applies to children who struggle to learn to read.  As a parent or teacher, if we are to effectively help children with the diagnosis, it is essential that we are clear on what is “known” about dyslexia versus what may be assumed but not based in fact or science. There are too many myths to cover in one blog post, but I have begun with five of the more common ones about dyslexia and included the scientific research from a variety of sources that support each fact.

MYTH #1: Dyslexia is a specific type of reading disorder that can be diagnosed using standardized tests.

FACT: Almost from the first use of the term, dyslexia has been defined in many different ways. The term comes from the Greek prefix dys – disorder and lexis – word or language. So, technically the term would mean “disorder of language." Most authors now use the term to refer to problems with reading; however, when originally used decades ago, it referred only to individuals with known brain injuries. So, a more accurate term often used today is “Developmental Dyslexia.”  That term distinguishes children who have trouble learning to read from adults who acquired a reading disorder after a stroke or other type of brain injury.  New genetic and neurobiological research suggests that developmental dyslexia is quite variable - there are likely many different subtypes of developmental dyslexia (Fragel-Madeira et al., 2015).

MYTH #2: Dyslexia is a visual disorder causing those with the disorder to see words and letters backwards.

FACT: Children have to learn that letters, unlike other types of pictures and objects, have a specific orientation in space. A d and a b are different letters whereas   and    are both either new moon or crescent shapes – orientation does not matter. Many young children reverse letters, both in reading and writing, but that is not a diagnostic sign of dyslexia. Conversely, many children with dyslexia do not reverse letters (Dehaene, 2013; Blackburne et al, 2014).

MYTH #3: Dyslexia is more common in boys than girls.

FACT: A few decades ago, dyslexia was diagnosed much more frequently in boys than in girls. More recent research conducted by Dr. Sally Shaywitz and colleagues at Yale University, first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, indicated that dyslexia probably affects a comparable number of girls and boys, although boys may be diagnosed more frequently because they may be more likely to exhibit problems sitting still and learning in early grades. However, there is some newer conflicting research that suggests that dyslexia may be two to three times more prevalent in males than females. Furthermore, neurobiological characteristics of dyslexia reported in males may be very different than those found in females (Evans et al., 2014)

MYTH #4: There is no way to determine if a child is at-risk for developmental dyslexia until they enter school and begin to show problems with reading.

FACT: There is a great deal of new research pointing to developmental dyslexia risk factors that may be observable during preschool years. Dr. Sally Shaywitz has listed a few clues in her book “Overcoming Dyslexia”. They include:

  • Trouble learning common nursery rhymes
  • Difficulty learning and remembering letter names
  • Problems learning to recognize letters in their own names
  • Persistent speech problems or “baby talk”
  • Problems recognizing rhymes

There is also mounting evidence that problems with speech perception during early development are a major risk factor for dyslexia in school age children.  For example, Doctors Steven Zecker, Nina Kraus and their colleagues at Northwestern University have found that they can predict reading problems in school-age children years before the children enter school by testing for problems perceiving speech sounds in noise.

MYTH #5: Dyslexia is a life-long problem and those with the diagnosis will never be able to read very well.

FACT: Although many individuals diagnosed with dyslexia initially struggle to learn to read, effective reading interventions are available and do enable individuals with dyslexia to learn to read and excel in school. According to research conducted by Dr. John Gabrielli and his colleagues, neuroscience-based interventions like the Fast ForWord® programs have shown to result in neurophysiologic repair, which can be seen as increased activation of frontal and temporal-parietal regions in the left hemisphere of the brain. These types of interventions are especially effective for children with dyslexia and have lasting effects.    


Blackburne, LK., Eddy, MD., Kalra, P., Yee, D., Sinha, P., and Gabrieli, J. (2014) Neural Correlates of Letter Reversal in Children and Adults. PLOS ONE 9(6)

Dehaene, S. (2013) Inside the Letterbox: How Literacy Transforms the Human Brain. Cerebrum. May-June:7. Published online 2013 Jun 3.

Evans, T.M., Flowers, D.E., Napoliello, E., and Eden, F. (2014) Sex-specific Gray Matter Volume Differences in Females with Developmental Dyslexia. Brain Struct Funct. 2014 May; 219(3): 1041–1054

Fragel-Madeira, L., de Castro, J.S.C., Delou, C.A., Melo, W.V., Alves, G.H., Teixeira, P., Castro, H.C. (2015) Dyslexia: A Review about a Disorder That Still Needs New Approaches and a Creative Education. Creative Education. 6, 1178-1192.

Gabrieli, J. D. E. (2009). Dyslexia: A New Synergy between Education and Cognitive Neuroscience. Science, 325, 280-283.

Shaywitz, E. (1998) Dyslexia. N Engl J Med 1998; 338:307-312

Shaywitz, E. (2008) Overcoming dyslexia:  A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level. New York:  Random House.

White-Schwoch, T., Carr, KW., Thompson, EC., Anderson, S., Nicol, T., Bradlow, AR., Zecker, S. and Kraus, N. (2015) Auditory Processing in Noise: A Preschool Biomarker for Literacy. PLOS Biology. 13(7)


13 Questions About The Build English Fast Solution

Tuesday, September 15, 2015 - 08:00
  • Carrie Gajowski, MA

Build English Fast with ELLs

Are you faced with more English language learners in your class, school or district? You may not know that Fast ForWord® is the top-ranked intervention for English Language Development on What Works Clearinghouse. Our unique Build English FastTM solution incorporates the power of both Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant to accelerate English language development. In one of our most popular webinars this year, Dr. Martha Burns fielded the following questions from educators like you!  Click here to view the full webinar.

Q: What is the best age for teaching a second language to benefit the development of the second language?

A: Birth to seven is generally the time when it is easiest to learn and become proficient in a second language. However, that period of time is extended in people who are bilingual, such that bilingual people can learn additional languages extraordinarily well, even at older ages. It seems that just being exposed to two languages when you are young makes your brain more flexible for learning languages in general.

The general rule is that the best time to learn an additional language is before age seven -- but that rule can be broken by lots of different things, including bilingual proficiency.

Q: Does the Fast ForWord program help with native language delays?

A. The Fast ForWord program helps build the whole language network in the brain.  In doing so, it improves the brain’s ability to process language and thereby can help the development of both the native language and any second language (such as English).

Q: What about special needs students who are second language learners?

A: The Fast ForWord program was originally designed for use with children with special needs but has been found to be extraordinarily effective with ELL students. The original group of study participants included students with developmental language problems of one kind or another that could be associated with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, and specific language impairments. All these groups of children benefited from the Fast ForWord program. The only caveats are that the child needs to have language skills in their native language of at least a three-year-old, and the child must be able to use a computer or iPad with headphones.

Q: What age range is the Fast ForWord program good for?

A: For English language learners, the program can be started as early as age five.  There is no upper age limit for program use.

Q: What about kids without basic literacy?

A: Students can benefit even if they are not reading in either their native or their second language. Two of the products that are particularly appropriate for English language learners (Fast ForWord Language for students in elementary schools and Fast ForWord Literacy for students in secondary schools) focus on sounds and oral language, and have no written letters.  These are appropriate starting points for students who are not yet literate.

Q: Is there progress monitoring and data to support the program?

A: Yes. A great strength of the Fast ForWord program is the ability of educators to monitor each student’s strengths and weaknesses. Every grammatical error the student makes is recorded, as well as every error in speech sound discrimination, vocabulary, or listening/reading comprehension.  Each student’s responses on every item are included in a report.

Q: Is there a pre-test that can be administered to know where to begin?

A: When the program is used in a school setting, there is an assessment called Reading Progress Indicator that typically runs automatically when students initiate use (although it can be turned off during enrollment).  This assessment evaluates a student’s early reading skills and determines whether the student has a reading discrepancy.  Coupled with the student’s current grade level and education classification, this determines where in the program the child should start.  As long as the auto placement option has been selected, the program will place the student at that point and continue to move them onto the next product within the Fast ForWord program as appropriate.    

Q: Does it work on all modalities – reading, writing, listening and speaking?

A. The Fast ForWord program and Reading Assistant software work directly on reading, speaking and listening. Although there are no actual writing exercises that use pen and paper, research has shown improvement in writing. For information on this specific research, please see the blog post on our website "Building Better Writers (Without Picking Up a Pen)" by Dr. Beth Rogowsky.

Q: Is this a program people can access at home or just at school?

A: You can access the Fast ForWord program at home or school. The three ways through which the program can be accessed are:

  1. School district that is using the Fast ForWord program;
  2. Clinical professional who is trained on the Fast ForWord program and using it, such as a speech and language pathologist.  Trained professionals can be found on the Search for a Provider page; or
  3. BrainPro online service, which combines the Fast ForWord program with the services of a professional consultant. Learn more about the BrainPro service.

Q: Can this program be compared to other ESL programs?

A: Many other programs teach language through sentence structure. A student sees a picture and hears a word or sentence that goes with the pictures. They do not have specific training in speech sound discrimination by itself. The Fast ForWord program complements these other programs by developing some of the necessary foundational skills, including the ability to discriminate between sounds and the ability to identify specific phonemes. 

Q: Is the Reading Assistant program helpful for strengthening literacy?

A: Yes, the Reading Assistant program is a literacy product. Students start working with real text leveled around mid-first grade. Initially, students have the stories or the content read to them while they look at a printed page and see the words and phrases highlighted as they are read by the computer. The students then read aloud the text themselves. In order to use the Reading Assistant program, children must be able to correctly read 25 words per minute.  For students who use it, Reading Assistant is a wonderful tool for building fluency, reading vocabulary, and comprehension.

Q: How many minutes do you need to use the Fast ForWord program to get the most benefit?

A: ELL students, who have average native language skills, should use the products at least thirty minutes, three times a week. For students whose native language skills are not at age level, the minimum is thirty minutes, five times a week. These protocols are appropriate for both the Fast ForWord Language (elementary school students) and the Fast ForWord Literacy (middle or high school students) products and can be completed in anywhere from 12 to 27 weeks based on the abilities of the student and whether the students use the  products thirty minutes for three or five days a week.  Students can also use the products for more minutes each day, and thereby reach completion in fewer weeks.

Q: If a child starts in the Reading Assistant program at the first grade level, does it adjust to match the student’s level as he/she does the activity?

A. The Reading Assistant program has many different levels of difficulty, becoming more difficult as students progress.  In order to use the software, students must be able to correctly read at least 25 words per minute, which corresponds to a mid-first grade reading level.  However, difficulty ranges up through high school with content that aligns with the interest and content material for the corresponding grade levels:  K-3, 4-5, 6-8, and 9-12. 

Not all students start at the same level.  Teachers can select the appropriate level of reading for each student, or students can take the Reading Progress Indicator assessment and be automatically placed in to the appropriate level of the Reading Assistant program.



10 Tips for a Great Parent-Teacher Connection This Year

Tuesday, September 1, 2015 - 08:00
  • Lynn Gover

You may just be starting school or you may be in full swing. Either way, it's important that you start your relationship with your child's teacher on the right foot. Prepare for parent-teacher conferenceResearch indicates that family engagement is a key factor when it comes to a child’s academic success. Make the most of your time when you first meet the new teacher or during Parent-Teacher conferences by doing your homework and showing up prepared with questions and talking points that are relevant to you and your child.

  1. Make a list of your questions. Sometimes we have a whole list of topics and questions that we’re thinking about, but when we’re put on the spot we can’t recall any of them. Write down your questions to use as a reference during your meeting.
  2. Write down your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Having an open discussion about your child’s strengths and weaknesses can bring valuable insight to your child’s teacher that she might not have witnessed in the classroom. Also share specific rewards and motivations that you use at home.
  3. Review your child’s work, grades and progress reports. Pay special attention to teacher communications sent home and how your child has been progressing so far. Walk into the meeting prepared with specific questions or items you want feedback or clarification on.
  4. Keep the lines of communication open. Ask the teacher about communication preferences.  Is he/she available after hours to talk about your child’s progress? Or maybe email works better? Be sensitive to a teacher's schedule and workload when asking for support - praising a teacher's strengths goes a long way in building good rapport.   
  5. What support services are available? How does she handle it if your child needs some extra help? If your child does need extra assistance, what is the school's Response to Intervention process? Is afterschool support available?
  6. Ask about your child’s reading progress. Although you may have a good idea if your child is reading on grade level (or not), find out about the specifics of your child’s reading skills. Some questions to ask include:  When working in a small group with my student in reading, what is an area of strength or weakness that you notice? How is my child’s decoding? Fluency? Comprehension? Vocabulary? How can I help support these reading efforts at home?
  7. Don’t forget to ask about cognitive skills! Cognitive skills are the foundation for all learning, which makes this conversation so important. Some questions to ask include:

How would you say my child is doing, as compared to peers, in these areas:

Memory: How well does my child learn and remember new information? Does he or she require more or less support than peers? How easily is information retained?

Attention: How is my child’s attention during different types of activities? One-on-one? Small group? Whole class?

Processing: How well is my child able to “make connections” as compared to peers? In reading, is my child decoding new words, making educated guesses about the meaning of a new word, using background knowledge, or predicting and inferring? In math, is my child showing signs of struggling during computations or retrieving simple number facts? In writing, is my child generating coherent ideas without a lot of support and putting them into words?

Sequencing: How well is my child able to organize his thoughts for writing or explain his understanding of a new concept?

8. How about social skills? Find out how your child interacts with other students in the classroom. How is he without direct supervision? How does he handle conflict with other students? Ask about how you can help to improve his social skills at home.

9. Find out about State Testing & Advancement. Is there a schedule available? Ask your child’s teacher if they have any concerns about your child’s ability to prepare for and take the state tests.

10. Ask how you can help support your child’s academic success (and how you can help support the teacher!). Are there specific ways you can stay informed about what your child is currently learning in school? Can you carry those lessons through in your day-to-day activities with your child? Some teachers have websites to keep parents in the loop; some may send newsletters home or have a specific bulletin board or binder you can check in the classroom. Coming to your teacher with supportive questions can go a long way. Keep in mind that teachers are under significant pressure and it goes a long way to acknowledge what they're doing for your child and the others in their class. You are on the same team! 

In addition to this list, you can print out our Top 10 Brain-Based Questions for Your Child's Teacher. If you have any concerns about your child falling behind or about his academic performance before Parent-Teacher Conferences, don’t wait! Contact your child’s teacher right away and arrange a meeting earlier.

Having an open line of communication with your child’s teacher is so important, both to your child’s academic success as well as to your involvement in your child’s academic career. You may also find out about parent volunteer opportunities and planned field trips, so that you can see how your child interacts with his or her peers and teachers in a natural setting. Take advantage of this opportunity to work together with your child’s teacher to set him up for a successful school year!


Brain Science and Reading Instruction

Friday, August 14, 2015 - 08:00
  • Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D. and Martha S. Burns, Ph.D.

Reading Achievement

Key Points:

  • Reading achievement has largely remained the same in the US in the past 30 years, despite various efforts
  • Five critical factors for reading are phonological awareness, phonics or word recognition, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension
  • Research indicates many children who struggle with reading have difficulty processing the “fast parts” of speech
  • One school saw students reading at a Basic or above level increasing from 19% to 81% after using Fast ForWord

How to improve student reading achievement

The past three decades have seen substantial efforts at the national, state, and local levels to improve reading instruction and reading outcomes for students in the United States. These have ranged from the Reading Excellence Act, to the National Reading Panel, to Reading First, to various standards movements, to high stakes testing of students, and higher degrees of teacher accountability. Yet, despite these and other efforts, reading achievement among students in the United States has largely remained unchanged during this period. The National Assessment of Educational Progress reports that the most recent assessment of 12th grade students’ achievement in reading (2013) is actually lower than it was in 1992 (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2013). Clearly, we have yet to find the “magic bullet,” if there is one, for improving student reading achievement.

One major advance in our understanding of effective reading instruction came at the turn of the century with the advent of the National Reading Panel (2000). The panel was made up of a group of distinguished literacy scholars who were given the task of laying a scientific foundation for effective reading instruction. After reviewing the existing scientific research into reading and reading instruction, the panel identified five critical factors that students must develop competency in and that teachers should emphasize in instruction. These factors were:

  • Phonological awareness
  • Phonics or word recognition
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary
  • Comprehension

Phonological Awareness

Phonological and phonemic awareness refer to the ability to perceive, segment, blend, and otherwise manipulate sounds, particularly the sounds of language. Research has demonstrated that this competency is required for effective phonics instruction. If students have difficulty in perceiving and manipulating language sounds, they will certainly be challenged when those language sounds become associated with written letters as in phonics.

Phonics or Word Recognition

Phonics or word recognition refers to the ability of readers to produce the oral representation of a written word using, primarily, the sound symbol representation of letters and letter combinations.


Fluency is the ability to produce the oral representation of written words effortlessly so that readers can direct their attention to the meaning of the text. Fluency also includes the ability to read with appropriate expression that reflects and enhances the meaning of the written text.


Like phonics, vocabulary refers to competency with words. However, vocabulary deals with the meaning of the oral and written words rather than the ability to “sound out” words. Clearly, comprehension is not possible if readers do not know the meaning of words, even if they can sound them out correctly.


Finally, comprehension refers to the ability of readers to gain meaning from a written text. Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading and requires meaning-making effort and strategies on the part of the reader.

Brain plasticity and reading

During this same period in which the scientific foundation was being laid for reading instruction, advances were being made in our understanding of how the brain works. One of the earliest discoveries was that of the human brain’s ability to change itself, or brain plasticity, even beyond the early stages of development. The prevailing scientific view had been that once the critical period of development had passed, infancy to early childhood, the human brain operated within a limited and fixed range of ability. Although changing the brain or learning was clearly possible after the critical stages of development, there were limits.

Through a series of studies conducted in the 1990s, neuroscientist Dr. Michael Merzenich and colleagues discovered that our brains had the ability to change in significant ways well beyond early childhood. However, the stimuli (i.e. instruction) that lead to brain changes need to be intentional, intense, focused and repetitive. Early in life, our brains seem to learn effortlessly. Beyond that early period, more intentional effort is required to change the brain.

During this period, neuroscientists, using ever more sophisticated methods, were developing more detailed maps of the brain. That is, they identified specific locations of the brain that were associated with cognitive tasks and competencies. Brain locations and functions were identified for phonological or sound awareness, visual awareness and perception, fluency, vocabulary, and language comprehension.

Reading and brain science meet

We know that there are competencies that need to be mastered in order to become a proficient reader. We also have learned that there are specific areas of the brain that are associated with these competencies. Moreover, we have discovered the brain’s ability to change itself in response to intentional stimuli. Do these understandings offer some new approaches for conceptualizing, implementing, and monitoring reading instruction? The answer is, of course, yes.

One of the first approaches came in the areas of phonological awareness and auditory processing. Research indicated that many children with language and reading difficulties had difficulty processing the “fast parts” of speech - common combinations of consonants and vowels that are pronounced quickly (e.g., the plural suffix that distinguishes the word cat from cats). It was the ability of the brain to perceive rapid auditory input that lagged behind other aspects of language use. This resulted in difficulties in distinguishing differences in similar sounds as well as perceiving grammatical prefixes and suffixes in some contexts.

A program was developed that eventually evolved into Fast ForWord®, a program that trains students in sound perception by using technology to initially slow down or enhance the production of the “fast” sounds. Through frequent, repeated, focused and sustained practice with reinforcement, the sound production was gradually modified until it approximated normal speech speed in exercises that emphasized speech perception in words and oral language comprehension. Clinical research indicated that students who were put into such an enhanced auditory processing program made significantly greater progress in speech discrimination, language processing, and grammatical comprehension than students who were placed in a similar program using natural speech production (Tallal, et al., 1996). Similar findings of improved language processing were also reported in a study of special education students.

Evidence from students’ reading achievement

Although examining changes in the way the brain processes linguistic stimuli is encouraging, the real proof for educators and the general public is the extent to which an intervention can affect actual reading outcomes in students. An early clinical study (Temple et al., 2003) of the use of Fast ForWord Language over 6-8 weeks with dyslexic students found that the students made significant and substantial improvements in word reading and passage comprehension. School-based studies, of course, provide even more convincing evidence of the effectiveness of a particular intervention as the intervention is actually implemented in a real school setting with real school personnel. Thomas Gibbs Elementary School in St. Mary Parish implemented Fast ForWord over the course of two years with fourth-grade students. Students’ performance on the statewide high-stakes reading achievement increased dramatically, with the percentage of students identified as reading at a Basic or above level increasing from 19% to 81%. During the same period, the statewide average of students identified as Basic or above readers increased from 51% to 69%. Gibbs students went from performing well below the statewide average in reading to substantially above the average in two years.


Albert Einstein was famous for, among other things, defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. It seems that major educational publishers have been offering the same generic type of reading program for students for years. And the result has been reading achievement that has not substantially changed in 20 years. Perhaps it is time to consider new approaches to reading education and intervention, approaches that tap into informative uses of technology and new understandings about how the human brain works, while at the same time holding on to understandings of the competencies students need to master in order to become fully literate. Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant appear to offer some new ways of thinking about and approaching reading instruction that use technology and understandings of the workings of the brain and brain functions, and that correlate with our understandings of what is important in learning to read. Perhaps it is time to try something new; perhaps it is time for schools to give Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant a try.

    This blog post is an adaptation of a white paper written by Dr. Timothy Rasinski and Dr. Martha S. Burns.


    Path Out of Poverty? Education Plus Neuroscience

    Tuesday, July 14, 2015 - 08:00
    • Martha Burns, Ph.D

    Key PointsNeurological implications of poverty on kids

    • Children raised in poverty are exposed to millions of fewer spoken words at home
    • Income level negatively impacts cognitive functions
    • There are links between family income and memory and attention
    • Poverty is associated with chronic stress which can have a toxic effect on brain architecture
    • Computer games designed to target the skills that are impacted can turn around some effects of poverty

    How family income impacts children neurologically

    Poverty impairs the brain’s ability to develop and learn. Perhaps as toxic as drugs and alcohol to a young child’s brain, poverty not only affects the development of cognitive skills in young children, but it also changes the way the brain tissue itself matures during the critical brain “set up” period during early childhood.  We have known for decades, since Hart and Risley’s seminal research published in 1995, that children who come from homes of poverty are exposed to millions of fewer spoken words in the home environment by the time they enter school than children who are raised in homes where the parents are professionals. Neuroscientists have recognized that human brain maturation is experience-dependent and one of the most important times for experience to mold the brain is from early childhood through the elementary school years.  It goes without saying that the less language a child is exposed to the fewer opportunities the brain has to develop language skills. But language function in the brain is not the only casualty of poverty; there are many other cognitive skills that are affected by low socioeconomic status.

    Kimberly Noble, an Associate Professor of Neuroscience and Education at Columbia University Teacher’s College, has been studying the effects of poverty on many aspects of cognitive development and brain structure for over a decade. As early as 2005, with M. Frank Norman and Martha Farah, she published research on the relationship between socioeconomic status and specific cognitive functions. Her findings show that children who come from homes of poverty have limitations in a range of cognitive skills, including the following:

    • Long and short term (working) memory
    • Visual and spatial skills
    • Executive functions like self-control
    • Ability to learn from reward

    What is the link between brain development and household income?

    More recently, Dr. Noble and Elizabeth Sowell, Professor of Pediatrics at The Saban Research Institute at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, have found compelling links between family income and brain structure as well, especially affecting those areas of the brain important for memory and attention, regions essential for academic success. In a recent article in the journal Nature Neuroscience they reported that increases in both parental education and family income were associated with increases in the surface area of numerous brain regions, including those implicated in language and executive functions. Family income, however, appeared to have a stronger positive relationship with brain surface area than parental education.

    What causes the correlation between poverty and brain development?

    The reasons for the effect of poverty on brain development are complex. Elizabeth Sowell has asserted that family income is linked to factors such as nutrition, health care, schools, play areas and, sometimes, air quality, all of which can affect brain development. Others, like Jack Shonkoff and Pat Levitt of the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child at Harvard, have emphasized the role of stress in brain development.   Stress is associated with the release of the hormone cortisol which, in the short term, activates the body to respond to problematic situations.  With chronic stress, however, the authors review research which indicates the sustained cortisol can have a toxic effect on brain architecture.  

    How can educators help reverse these effects?

    As educators, the new research begs the question, “Are children raised in poverty doomed to educational struggle, no matter how well we teach?”  The answer, fortunately, is that neuroscience has not only clarified the problems caused by poverty but provides solutions as well.  In a recently published report titled “Using Brain Science to Design Pathways Out of Poverty”, Dr. Beth Babcock, CEO of Crittenden Women’s Union, argues that because those areas of the brain affected by the adverse experiences of poverty and trauma remain plastic well into adulthood, neuroscience research offers promise for coaching and other methodologies that can strengthen and improve brain development and function.  In her report, Dr. Babcock advocates, in part, for the use of "computer games” designed to, “improve memory, focus and attention, impulse control, organization, problem solving, and multi-tasking skills [that] are now widely available and beginning to create positive outcomes” (page 13).

    The Fast ForWord programs, designed by neuroscientists at UCSF and Rutgers and tested for over a decade in many school districts with high poverty rates around the nation, have been repeatedly shown to increase academic performance in school districts with high levels of poverty. Read about the inspiring results at Highland View Elementary School, Hattie Watts Elementary School, and J.S. Aucoin Elementary School.

    The beginning levels of the Fast ForWord programs (Fast ForWord Language  and Fast ForWord Literacy) target attention, memory, processing and sequencing skills – core cognitive skills essential for learning.  The later level programs (Fast ForWord Reading Levels 1-5) add specific technological instruction in reading comprehension, spelling, phonological awareness,  and decoding while also building in components to continue to build attention and memory skills.  

    Research-proven: increased reading skills & neurological changes

    Neuroscience imaging research  conducted at Stanford and replicated at Harvard with students who exhibited reading disabilities and used the Fast ForWord programs for six weeks indicated not only significant improvements in reading skills on standardized testing, but also neurological changes in areas of the brain critical to reading success.

    The Reading Assistant programs, designed to improve oral reading fluency, incorporate speech recognition software to provide students with a one-on-one patient reading tutor/coach. Especially effective for students of poverty who may have little opportunity to read independently to an adult at home, Reading Assistant first provides a fluent oral reading model of every grade appropriate passage to be read, then, while the student reads aloud into the computer, the program corrects the student’s oral reading errors as they occur in real time. 

    Summary: education is the key!

    Poverty is toxic to the developing human brain and thereby endangers academic success. Education offers the key to a path out of poverty.  However, increasing class sizes and limitations on teachers’ time to individualize instruction, especially in school districts with high poverty rates, limit the ability of teachers to be as effective as they might if they could work with students individually. Furthermore, even the best curriculum does not include courses to improve attention, memory or other underlying cognitive functions compromised by lives of poverty. Neuroscience now offers not only an explanation of the problem but low cost solutions that can change the brains of all students to enable learning so that teachers can then do what they do best: teach!


    Babcock, E. (2014) Using Brain Science to Design Pathways Out of Poverty. Crittenton Women’s Union Report

    Hart, B. and Risley, T. (1995) Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

    Noble, K., Norman, M.F., Farrah, M (2005) Neurocognitive correlates of socioeconomic status in kindergarten children. Developmental Science 8:1, pages 74-77.

    Noble, K. et al. (2015) Family income, parental education and brain structure in children and adolescents. Nature Neuroscience. Published online 30 March

    Shonkoff, F., Levitt, P., Bunge,s. et. al. (2014) Excessive Stress Disrupts the Architecture of the Developing Brain. National Scientific Council On The Developing Child, January.


    Carter’s Story: Diagnosing and Treating Dyslexia

    Tuesday, June 16, 2015 - 08:00
    • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

    “I knew there were leaves on trees, but had never really seen them.”

    Joanne Gouaux remembers when she was 8 years old, sitting in an ophthalmologist’s office, waiting to put on her first pair of glasses. As soon as she put them on, she looked out the window. She saw leaves clearly for the very first time.

    “I feel like that’s what’s happening with Carter and words. It’s like he knew words were for reading, but couldn’t quite make sense of them himself.” She went on to say “I knew leaves existed, but had never truly seen them.” Joanne is the mother of Carter, who was just recently diagnosed with dyslexia.

    Carter loves Legos, spy trap inventions, and 9-year-old humor. He’s always been a good problem solver, talkative, social and curious. But he was not learning how to read.

    Now, after Fast ForWord, things have changed. He’s reading signs outside and making jokes about them.                                                                                          

    “Mom, if you take the ‘gr’ off of that sign 'Keep off the Grass'…and he bursts into laughter.”


    Early clues

    When Carter started school, he attended an academically rigorous private school. By the spring of kindergarten, the teachers noted that he was experiencing a few problem areas:

    1. Connecting sounds and symbols
    2. Remembering things he had just written
    3. Struggling to read and write.

    His teachers suggested that Carter be withdrawn from private school and seek services in public school. The resource specialist also recommended that Carter receive specialized vision testing to rule out perceptual difficulties. Vision problems were ruled out by a neuro-ophthalmologist, and a developmental pediatrician was also able to rule out traumatic brain injury. The pediatrician did suggest the possibility of a ‘budding learning disability’.  Joanne explained, “She assured us that public school would have the best resources to support Carter.”

    Searching for the right school


    Joanne enrolled Carter in a public school known for its high test scores. It was poor fit from the start. “His teacher refused to recognize his struggles as legitimate,” Joanne recalls. “She called him lazy in front of me, and took away recess time for not finishing his writing assignments quickly.” Carter went from loving school to feeling sad and anxious each morning. After just three months, Joanne transferred him to a school “more in line with his learning style” - an independent school with a kinesthetic learning curriculum.

    Carter made friends quickly at his new school, and his teachers appreciated his curiosity. But in the spring, Joanne was called into a meeting with Carter’s teacher, the resource specialist, and the head of the school to discuss Carter’s results on the Woodcock Johnson tests, which measure cognitive performance. “The scores clearly showed how little he was retaining from the classroom,” she says. At the time, Joanne was told it was just a stage and Carter would come through it with continued team effort.

    Almost held back

    But two weeks before the end of the year, she was called back for a team meeting with the recommendation that Carter be held back. Joanne was exasperated with the late notice.

    “I did not believe that Carter needed another year of first grade,” she says. “He had a rich Kindergarten experience, and lots of reading support at home. I knew there had to be something else underneath that was preventing him from emerging as a reader and writer. Faced with possibility of being held back a year, Carter was heartbroken and discouraged.”

    Finding the right intervention

    Joanne decided to look for help elsewhere. Her mom, who is dyslexic, suggested that she contact the fraternal organizations, such as the Shriners. Joanne found the Scottish Rite Childhood Learning Clinic in Oakland, CA, and met with the director, Pamela Norton. Norton told Joanne about Fast ForWord, which, she said, could bring his grade level performance up one to two years. “I cried,” Joanne says. “I finally found someone who not only believed in Carter, but was also willing and capable of helping.”

    In June of 2013, Carter began using the Fast ForWord Language program, with weekly support from the Scottish Rite Childhood Learning Clinic. By August, Joanne says “he was within norms for second grade. Fast ForWord allowed him to enter second grade, rather than being held back and repeating first grade.”

    At last…The right diagnosis!

    Beginning that summer, when Carter was starting to catch up with his peers, Joanne pursued further testing at her own expense. After WISC testing and a battery of Woodcock Johnson assessments by a Developmental Pediatrician, Carter was finally diagnosed with dyslexia in September, 2013.

    Carter’s progress

    Currently, Carter has daily support through the school "learning center" (1/2 hour per day). He has an IEP which became effective last fall, 2014. Carter continues to struggle with writing and motor planning -- but his skills are emerging and accommodations like voice-to-text typing allow him to be a more independent learner.

    At Carter's last parent teacher conference his teacher and resource specialist noted mental focus and a desire to learn as major strengths. Carter is an avid audio book listener, which allows him to access some much needed academic stimulation, and supports the continued growth of his language skills. 

    Now that that he is in 4th grade, Carter is reading Level 2 readers and decoding words. His confidence has soared. “He no longer dreads opening a book,” his mother says, and “he's proud of himself when he writes. He still experiences bouts of frustration and discouragement like any student, only now he feels confident that he can break things down into smaller steps to accomplish his assignments and goals.”


    Parent Checklist: Is My Child At-Risk for Learning Issues?

    Tuesday, June 2, 2015 - 08:00
    • Kristina Collins

    parent checklistWe developed the following parent checklist to learn what concerns parents see in their children and to help them decide if their child is in need of help. Choose one answer for each question and indicate how often the behavior is exhibited in your child’s daily life with the following options: Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Often, or Always.

    • Misunderstands what you say
    • Needs instructions repeated
    • Misunderstands jokes
    • Has difficulty understanding long sentences
    • Needs questions repeated
    • Has difficulty retelling a story in the right order
    • Cannot finish long sentences
    • Has trouble saying the same thing in a different way (rephrasing)
    • Has trouble finding the right word
    • Pronounces common words incorrectly
    • Gets confused in noisy places
    • Has difficulty engaging in conversation with others
    • Has behavior problems
    • Lacks self-confidence
    • Avoids group activities
    • Has trouble paying attention
    • Has trouble sounding out words
    • Has trouble reading
    • Has trouble spelling
    • Cannot tell you about the events of his/her school day

    If you answered Sometimes, Often or Always to several of these, your child may be at-risk for a language-based learning disability and will likely require intervention to prevent these issues from affecting him/her academically in the future.   Why are we posting this now? Because summer is one of the best times to tackle these issues.

    We hear from countless parents like you who are looking for help for their bright child who struggles with reading, writing, attention, or other issues. You’re in the right place. We can help you help your child this summer.  

    Related Reading:

    Preventing Summer Brain Drain with Dr. Martha S. Burns

    What’s on Your Kids’ Summer Reading List?


    Alternatives to Medication in the Treatment of ADD

    Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - 08:00
    • Martha Burns, Ph.D

    Options for treating attention problems

    ADD MedicationIn this op-ed in the New York Times, Richard A. Friedman, Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Director of the Psychopharmacology Clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College, discusses the urgent need to address the needs of students with attention problems.  Given the dramatic recent increase in the prevalence of ADHD diagnoses in school-aged children [according to the Centers for Disease Control, the lifetime prevalence in children has increased to 11 percent in 2011 from 7.8 percent in 2003 — a whopping 41 percent increase], Dr. Friedman argues for a need to find more natural (non-medical) ways to help these students. In his op-ed he states, “In school, these curious, experience-seeking kids would most likely do better in small classes that emphasize hands-on-learning, self-paced technology-based assignments, and tasks that build specific skills.”

    Whereas many parents and educators consider medication as a first approach to management of disorders of attention, the recent dramatic increase in the incidence and the call for consideration of non-medical interventions for school-aged children is important for parents and teachers to consider when managing learning issues within the classroom. One important type of attention disorder that has been treated successfully without medication is auditory attention disorders associated with some types of learning disabilities. Research conducted by Courtney Stevens and her colleagues at the Brain Development Lab at the University of Oregon has shown that children with specific language learning disorders have problems with auditory attention. Parents and educators rarely use the term “auditory attention”; however, the Stevens et al. research is increasingly supportive of its important role in learning.

    We all recognize students who have problems with auditory attention: those who cannot stay focused on listening long enough to complete a task or requirement (such as listening to a class discussion in school). In fact, when educators use the term “listening skills,” they are referring to auditory attention.  It is virtually impossible to imagine a classroom where paying attention to the teacher for sustained periods of time is not critical to academic success.  According to the International Listening Association (www.listen.org), 45 percent of a student’s day is spent listening, and students are expected to acquire 85 percent of their knowledge through listening. Auditory attention skills mature over time, and like many other skills important for learning (memory, thinking skills), students vary in their ability. Children with ADHD have a known diagnosis of significant auditory (and visual) attention problems. However, according to the Stevens et al. research, even across typical learners there is a variation of ability ranging from those with average auditory attention skills to those with excellent auditory attention skills. And like with other cognitive skills, independent controlled research indicates that Fast ForWord training can significantly improve auditory attention and/or reading skills in a variety of students:  typical students and those with specific language impairment.

    For those interested in the specifics of the Stevens et al. study, she and her colleagues examined whether six weeks of Fast ForWord Language training would influence neural mechanisms of selective auditory attention previously shown to be deficient in children with specific language impairment (SLI). Twenty 6-8 year old students received Fast ForWord Language training, including 8 students diagnosed with SLI and 12 students with typically developing language skills. An additional 13 students with typically developing language received no specialized training but were tested and retested after a comparable time period as a control group.  Before and after training, students received a standardized language assessment as well as a highly objective electrophysiological neural measure of attention using Event-Related Potentials (ERP).

    Compared to the control group, students receiving Fast ForWord Language training showed increases in standardized measures of receptive language as well as an improved effect of attention on neural processing. No significant change was noted in the control group. The enhanced effect of attention on neural processing represented a large effect size (Cohen’s d = 0.8, indicating that the average child in the experimental group is comparable to the child at the 79th percentile of the comparison group). These findings indicate that the neural mechanisms of selective auditory attention, previously shown to be deficient in children with SLI, can be remediated through training and can accompany improvements on standardized measurements of language development.

    Other controlled research, presented by Deutsch et al. at a CHADD conference several years ago, also showed improvement in attention among those students with a diagnosis of ADHD or ADD plus language impairment. In fact, if one considers Dr. Friedman’s finding that children with attention disorders benefit from “self-paced technology-based assignments and tasks that build specific skills,” there are no better designed self-paced e-learning programs than the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant solutions. The Fast ForWord Reading products and Reading Assistant tasks are self-paced online tasks that require sustained auditory attention.  The tasks in Reading Assistant especially require activities that include listening to modeled reading, reading aloud while receiving corrective feedback through listening, listening to your own reading, and then answering questions about what was read.  Answering “think about it” comprehension questions further exercises both auditory memory and executive function skills.

    In conclusion, the effort to find more natural, non-medical ways to help students with attentional disorders is at hand.  Self-paced technology programs like the neuroscience-based Fast ForWord series provide one proven alternative for improving attentional skills in students with language-based learning issues as well as those diagnosed with ADD and ADHD. 

    Further Reading:

    Stevens, C., Fanning, J., Coch, D., Sanders, L., & H Neville (2008). Neural mechanisms of selective auditory attention are enhanced by computerized training: Electrophysiological evidence from language-impaired and typically developing children. Brain Research, 1205, 55-69.

    Students Show Improved Auditory Attention and Early Reading Skills After Fast ForWord Intervention

    Related Reading:

    Improved Auditory Processing With Targeted Intervention

    Why Auditory Processing Disorders (APD) are Hard to Spot


    The Case Against Timed Readings

    Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 08:00
    • Timothy Rasinski, Ph.D

    Join Dr. Rasinski on March 11th for a free professional development session, The Role of Automaticity in Reading

    As many of you know, I have spent a good deal of my career focusing on reading fluency. Along with other literacy scholars, I have found fluency to be a critical competency for proficient reading – one that many struggling readers, from first through twelfth grades, have not sufficiently mastered.

    Yet, despite a growing body of evidence about the importance of fluency in reading, fluency has been dismissed by some scholars and even a number of teachers. I feel that this diminishment of fluency is due to a fundamental misunderstanding of one aspect of fluency – automaticity in word recognition.

    The “Automatic” Response
    Automaticity refers to the ability to do something with minimal cognitive effort. Think of all the things we do in life that are rather automatic: from swimming, to driving a car, to typing on a keyboard. When we began learning these activities, we had to employ a fair amount of our cognitive resources -- thinking about the leg and arm movements involved in a swim stroke, whether we turned the ignition switch in the car before or after shifting into gear, or even having to examine the specific keys on the keyboard in order to hit the correct one. 

    Besides the cognitive energy used, did you also notice you were rather slow at doing the activity at first? This was because employing your cognitive resources requires time and effort. The more time it takes to think through and complete a task, the slower you do it.  

    However, have you noticed that if you keep practicing the activity you become faster at it?  This is because you are developing automaticity in the task. 

    As you practice the task repeatedly you have to use less and less of your cognitive resources; you don’t have to think through the task.  

    With greater automaticity comes greater speed in the accomplishment of the task.

    Ties to Fluency
    The notion of automaticity is critical to reading fluency. When first beginning to read, youngsters have to use a great deal of their cognitive resources for word decoding; they have not yet developed automaticity in word recognition.

    Lack of automaticity has two consequences:

    • First, young readers are generally slower in their reading than more advanced readers. 
    • Second, these students are likely to be less proficient in their comprehension as more advanced readers.

    You see, comprehension requires the use of a reader’s cognitive resources (Dick Allington calls it thoughtful reading). If readers have to use too much of their cognitive resources for decoding, they have less available for comprehension. And so, comprehension also suffers.

    Faster Reading, Improved Fluency?
    Automaticity in word recognition leads to two results: faster reading and improved comprehension.

    Since reading speed is an observable consequence of automaticity – and it can be easily and quickly measured – it is used as a method for assessing word recognition automaticity (e.g., DIBELS oral reading fluency).  In my own dissertation study over 30 years ago, I found that automaticity, as measured by reading speed, was strongly associated with reading comprehension and other general measures of reading proficiency in elementary grade students. 

    The problem in fluency has been a confusion of automaticity and speed. Increased reading speed and improved reading comprehension are the outcomes of increased word recognition automaticity, but in many iterations of fluency instruction, speed has been viewed as the cause of automaticity (and comprehension).    

    We have learned that regular practice in nearly any activity improves automaticity. In reading we have come to learn that practice can take two forms: wide  reading (reading a text once and then moving on to a new text) and what has been called repeated reading, where a student reads a text several times until they achieve a certain level of automaticity, as measured by reading speed.  

    Because reading speed is the way that progress is measured in repeated readings, this form of fluency instruction has evolved into timed re-readings for the purpose of increasing reading speed.  Students attempt to make every new reading of an instructional passage faster than the previous one.  

    What happens in such instructional scenarios is that students do indeed increase their reading speed; however, word recognition automaticity and comprehension are likely not to improve.

    When students read for speed they do not have to pay attention to the meaning of the words or the passage; rather they try to read from the beginning of the passage to the end as quickly as possible.

    Working directly to improve students’ reading speed does not necessarily result in improved comprehension or automaticity.

    The Case Against “Timed Readings”
    I think this reading-speed-oriented approach to fluency instruction confuses the reading process. Yet, it has become a ubiquitous practice in schools throughout the United States. Even our major professional reading organization, the International Literacy Association, has promoted “timed readings” as a way to improve fluency.  Indeed, I have had elementary students in our university reading clinic who, when prompted to read a passage have asked, “Do you want me to read this as fast as I can?”    

    I know of no compelling research that has shown that instruction to improve reading speed actually leads to profound and lasting improvements in reading comprehension or overall reading proficiency.

    Reading speed is a decent measure of word recognition automaticity, and can be used as a proxy for general reading achievement. However, we should be aiming to increase reading speed in the way that you who are reading this blog and other fluent readers have increased their reading speed – through plenty of authentic and meaningful reading experiences.

    I cannot recall a time in my elementary school career where I was asked by a teacher to read as fast as possible. And yet, through my own authentic wide and repeated reading experiences, I have improved my word recognition automaticity, my reading speed, and my reading comprehension. 

    A More Authentic Reading Experience
    And so, if we keep our aim on improving word recognition automaticity through authentic reading practice for the purpose of improving comprehension, reading speed will follow without any direct instruction or prompting. 

    The key is to come up with authentic reading experiences for students.

    Wide reading is fairly simple – get students to engage in reading material they find interesting.

    Repeated reading can be a bit more of a challenge. However, if we think of life outside of the classroom we can come up with plenty of ways in which adults engage in repeated reading (or rehearsal).

    If you know you will have to perform a reading for an audience, then you have a natural and authentic reason to engage in repeated readings – you want to make your reading for the audience meaningful.   

    Research by me and my colleagues has found that when students regularly engage in this more authentic form of repeated reading – through  the performance of readers theater scripts, poetry, songs, speeches, and the like – word  recognition automaticity improves, reading speed increases, comprehension improves, and students’ enjoyment of reading is enhanced.

    The take-away is this: word recognition automaticity, as measured by reading speed, is critical for reading success. However, it is appropriately taught and promoted through authentic and meaningful wide and repeated reading experiences, NOT through reading experiences that aim primarily to increase reading speed.

    Related reading:

    Why Dr. Timothy Rasinski Thinks Reading Fluency Should Be "Hot!"

    Five Fluency and Comprehension Strategies That Every Reader Can Use


    How Learning A New Language Actually Rewires the Brain

    Tuesday, February 17, 2015 - 08:00
    • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP
    English language learners know that mastering a new language is mentally taxing. Until recently, however, less was known about what actually happens inside the brains of those learning a second language. New research findings reveal that the brain undergoes a powerful reorganization in bilingual individuals.
    Impact of Phonological Competition on Thinking Abilities
    In a recent report from the journal Brain and Language, researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Houston studied brain activity of monolingual and bilingual participants. In particular, the researchers were studying a phenomenon known as phonological competition. This is the process through which we determine what word is being spoken, meaning that effective resolution of phonological competition is critical to language comprehension.
    Our brains engage in phonological competition thousands of times each day. When listening to spoken English, auditory cues from the beginning of a word -- for example, “p-r-o” -- lead to activation of several possible target words (“process,” “project,” “progress,” etc.). Each of these possible targets competes for selection. As more auditory information is received, the competition becomes lower as the correct word is selected.
    On a neural level, previous research suggests that each of the possible target words are activated in the brain at the same time. The brain must suppress the incorrect items to allow the correct word to be selected. Although both monolingual and multilingual individuals do this, people who know more than one language have more potential words to suppress. For example, someone bilingual in Spanish and English has significantly more words beginning with “p-r-o” to compete for selection (“progreso,” “pronombre,” etc.). Thus, bilingual children become great at suppressing incorrect information when presented with several competing choices. This translates into stronger cognitive control in math, logical reasoning, and other areas of functioning.
    Novel Research Findings About Brain Structure in English Language Learners
    The brain is plastic, meaning that it changes its structure and function in response to learning. Learning a new language is associated with increased brain volumes in the left parietal lobe, which is the brain’s language center. Additionally, in line with the improved cognitive control observed in bilingual people, areas of the brain that control attention and the ability to ignore distracting information also grow in size.
    In conjunction with studies looking at the size of certain brain regions, researchers use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify brain activity during a task. Functional MRI is a method of measuring the amount of blood flow to a brain region while a person performs a particular task. More blood flow is thought to reflect greater activation in that region compared to the rest of the brain. This allows researchers to identify which brain areas control certain abilities.
    In fMRI studies, bilingualism is associated with increased activation of a network of regions throughout the brain, including the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes. This includes the brain’s language centers, which grow larger in response to learning a new language. The network also includes regions thought to help with executive control, which allows the brain to reduce interference between the two languages being activated at a given time.
    Interestingly, bilinguals show lower activation than monolinguals in the anterior cingulate cortex and left superior frontal gyrus, regions associated with executive control. This lower activation reflects improved efficiency in bilinguals; their stronger executive control abilities means that they do not need to exert as much cognitive effort to complete a task. Thus, they are better at choosing which language to use and which to ignore during a specific task.
    Similarly, a study examining neural activity in native English speakers who learned Chinese for six weeks scanned the brains of participants before and after their language learning. The investigators focused on network-level differences in brain activity, which reflect the exchange of information throughout numerous brain areas. They found that successful learners had more integrated brain networks than non-learners, particularly in language-related regions. More integrated brain networks translate to faster, more efficient flow of information. This means that bilingual individuals may have structural and functional brain differences that make it easier for them to process new information. 
    What This Means for Instructors of English Language Learners
    • English language learners aren’t necessarily slower than their monolingual counterparts (and may actually be faster!). In the study published in Brain and Language, there was no difference in reaction time between monolinguals and bilinguals. Although educators sometimes perceive that English language learners take longer to master certain tasks, this may not be the case. Bilingualism may actually make the brain more efficient at complex tasks, particularly those that involve ignoring irrelevant information.
    • Increased executive control may translate to other domains of life. Numerous studies have shown that bilingual people have stronger executive control compared to monolinguals. In fact, they show larger brain volumes and more integrated brain networks in areas associated with executive abilities. This may translate to other classroom areas. For example, when presented with a math word problem that contains pieces of irrelevant information, a bilingual child may be better at ignoring distractors and finding the correct answer. English language learners may also tune out classroom distractions more effectively than their monolingual counterparts. Studies have found robust effects in which bilingual individuals outperform monolinguals across verbal and nonverbal tasks.
    • Successful language use transforms the brain to a greater degree. When it comes to English language learning, the quality of education matters. An experienced educator is likely to achieve better results. Students’ successful learning results in significantly better efficiency of language networks in the brain. These efficient brain networks also improve functioning in other areas of life. This highlights the importance of investing in good educators and training programs for English language learners.
    • Learning a new language results in lifelong changes to the brain. This area of brain research is relatively young, but evidence suggests that the brain changes resulting from learning a new language may last a lifetime. Thus, fostering strong abilities among English language learners may translate into a lifetime of higher cognitive control. 


    Further reading:

    Learning a Second Language:  First-Rate Exercise for the Brain

    Related reading:

    Educating ELLs:  4 Trends for 2015

    5 Things You May Not Know about ELLs



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