Meet the 1st Queen of Literacy, Dr. Linda Nash!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014 - 08:00
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

Dr. Linda NashDr. Linda Nash, Supervisor of Federal Programs/Grants in Cookeville, TN, has been crowned our first Queen of Literacy. She received 24% of all the votes cast (5,472!) and has won an all-expense paid trip to our National Circle of Learning Conference (virtual registration now open)! I caught up with Dr. Nash by phone to learn more about her life as an educator. 

SL: How did you get into education?

Dr. Nash: Education was very important to my parents. Neither of them had a college education and they were probably both smarter than I am. It was never a question of if I was going to school. It was always where we were going and in what we were majoring. I guess I’ve had two careers, one in accounting and one in education. I started out in home economics thinking I would like to be a home ec. teacher and then I changed to business because I needed to work to put my husband through school. Once he finished, I went back to English; however, I had worked for a CPA for many years. I finally decided to go back in education and was a senior English teacher for 18 years.

When I was in accounting, I missed education; and when I was in education, I missed accounting. Now I am the federal program supervisor for my county and I can use both of them.

SL: How did you move from being a teacher to be an administrator? Was that a goal of yours or just something that happened?

Dr. Nash: I started my doctoral work in English. I really thought I wanted to teach English at the university level, and I did do that for a while. I was getting married; and because of the program requirements I would have had to leave home for a year to do residency at the university. I didn’t want to leave my family, so I switched to administration, and I’ve never regretted it. As a distict administrator you’re helping the kids by helping the schools.

SL: How did you become acquainted with Fast ForWord?

Dr. Nash: When I came to the central office as a federal programs supervisor, Dr. Kathleen Airhart was the Director of Schools, and she had had experience with the Fast ForWord program with our special ed students in her prior role as our special ed supervisor. So when I became a federal supervisor she had said to me that Fast ForWord was a great RTI program and wanted me to take a look at it and see if it might be something we might be able to use in our schools, not just with special ed students.

I started doing some investigating, looking at data—not just what you all provided—and looking at schools that had used it. To be honest, we first started using it because the state had a new law that said any 3rd grader who scored below basic on our state test either had to have progress in an intervention or they had to be retained in 3rd grade. We purchased it really to use in our summer school intervention program and then we started using it in all of our elementary schools as an intervention.

Because we’re purchasing subscriptions, we use it during the year as well. During the school year I leave it up to the school how they use it. I have some schools that use it differently than how we use it in summer school. I have two schools in particular that have really been targeting our ESL population because some of the sounds from the English language are missing totally from the Spanish language.

SL: So you were able to see right away from the data that this would be an effective program for your students?

Dr. Nash: Yes. All of the 3rd graders who go to summer school use it. We’re not just putting the kids on the computer for 2 ½ or 3 hours and leaving them. They rotate. They do oral reading in a section, they do vocabulary in a section, and in between they do Fast ForWord. By combining all of those we’ve really had good success in our summer school. It’s a bit harder to discuss in the regular school year because each school uses it differently.

SL: What principles guide you in your work on a day-to-day basis?

Dr. Nash: I think work ethic is number one in anything that you do. Your integrity, coming to work knowing that you’re going to give your all and do a job to the best of your ability. I think that’s with anything. I think with me, federal guidelines, knowing the federal guidelines, being able to decipher them and apply them. For my job I am meeting the compliances that the federal government says we have to meet to spend this money. And more importantly to me, are we good stewards of that money and getting the best effects or getting the best thing for the dollar?  One thing that’s really important to me in my job is to listen to the principals. They know best what they need in their schools and to help them be able to do what they want to do in the compliances of the money that we can spend. I have had the experience of just being told, “No, you can’t do that,” without trying to find a way. Is there a way if we do it this way? What if we change our intent a little bit to meet this guideline? I think being a good listener of the needs of the principals is key.

SL: What have you learned during your career that you would like to share with educators who are just starting out?

Dr. Nash: First and foremost we’re here because of children. We are here so that kids can do their very best with what we can give them and we owe it to them.

One of my grandsons—he is in college now—said one day about a specific teacher he had had, “You know, Granny, if I had had Mr. or Ms. So-and-So for this particular class I might could have done something else in college.” And it broke my heart because I thought to myself, every child deserves the very best teacher for every subject every year. And then that child can decide what they want to do with their education.

I just hope teachers understand the importance of the effect they have on kids on a day-to-day basis, whether we’re using Fast ForWord or whether we’re using a textbook or just whether we’re entering the classroom smiling. 

You've made us smile, Dr. Nash! Thank you for your support.


Assessing ELLs for Special Education: 5 Pitfalls to Avoid

Tuesday, August 19, 2014 - 20:15
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

Assessing ELLs for special educationWhen educating English language learners who seem to be struggling, how do you know when it’s time to think about a special education referral? How can you be sure you are assessing ELLs fairly, not mixing up linguistic and cultural diversity with cognitive ability and intellectual functioning? Clearly, it’s not easy – as evidenced by the widespread overrepresentation of ELLs in special education.

Consider this: not long ago, Latino ELLs in San Diego USD were 70% more likely to receive a special education referral than Latino learners who were not English learners. ELLs were also identified for special education earlier, on average, than non-ELLs and tended to wind up in more restrictive settings.

But that was before districtwide reforms instituted a “pre-referral process” – essentially a well-implemented RTI program – to exhaust other possibilities before considering special education referral for English learners. Avoiding common pitfalls can help schools and districts achieve a more fair and accurate identification of ELLs with special needs:

  1. Overlooking the “silent phase” of language acquisition.

When students acquire a new language, they typically go through a silent period while learning basic vocabulary and syntax rules. Behaviors like listening, pointing, choosing, and matching – in the absence of English speaking – may signal that a learner is still getting comfortable with language foundations.

The silent period tends to decrease with age, lasting for weeks to months in older learners and for as much as a year or more in preschool age students. Understanding typical timeframes for the silent phase of language acquisition may help educators to better understand the trajectory students follow as they progress in a new language and have a stronger sense how long might be too long, suggesting the possibility of additional learning challenges.     

  1. Discounting extrinsic factors.

Before assessing a student for special education, educators need to consider other factors that might be at play. Is the student receiving enough parental support? Are there gaps in attendance, and why? Are there family issues such as health problems or a history of frequent moves? Historically, has the student had access to effective instruction?

Has the student received quality research-based interventions, and how well has he responded? Taking a look at progress monitoring data should yield important insights that can result in a special education referral or in providing additional language support for the student.

Experts recommend that educators create a 360-degree view of factors affecting students by collecting medical and developmental histories and conducting classroom observations in addition to interviewing parents, teachers, and the student.

  1. Dropping the ball on general education interventions.

San Diego USD made significant progress in fair and accurate identification by escalating general education interventions according to a step-by-step process throughout the district. By exhausting intervention options first, the district prevented premature referrals.

Implementing a districtwide procedure for carefully screening students and delivering instructional and behavioral interventions can be part of every district’s RTI process.

  1. Not assessing students in their primary language.

Imagine taking a test that evaluates your ability and lacking proficiency in the testing language. It’s a scary thought. How does the evaluator distinguish your degree of knowledge and competence from your ability to understand and respond to the questions being asked? IDEA 2004 recognizes the challenge and calls for special education assessments to be conducted in a student’s primary language.

Experts agree that testing in a student’s first language is an important part of the assessment process, but not everyone agrees that it is sufficient. For one thing, there may not always be appropriate testing instruments available (e.g., recommended assessments might include Communication, Cognitive, Academic, Social-Emotional Behavior, and Adaptive Functioning). In addition, some experts argue that cultural factors play a greater role than assessment language in the misidentification of students for special education.

  1. Ignoring cultural differences.

When working with students from unfamiliar cultures, it can be hard to recognize the cultural factors that can influence a student’s approach to education. Do gender roles play a part in a student’s participation or investment in her education, or affect the degree of parental support for the student? Does the student “go with the flow” instead of raising his hand when he needs help because he comes from a culture that puts the group before the individual? Is there a cultural perception of time as more open and flexible that might be a barrier to attendance or meeting assignment deadlines? When cultural differences are ignored, academic performance may be mismeasured as a result.

Best Practices

Experts recommend a broad approach to assessing students for special education, including collecting information from a wide range of sources so the result of the assessment team’s integration and interpretation can be as unbiased as possible. Language background counts. Cultural background counts. Response to intervention counts. Include them all.

Educators should also be aware that over-representation is not the only risk to ELLs. Some studies indicate that under-representation can also be an issue – typically in areas with higher proportions of ELLs. Being aware of the patterns in their schools can help teachers and assessment teams avoid similar pitfalls. Are English learners represented in special education at about the same rate as other populations? If the proportion of ELLs is higher or lower, everyone involved in the assessment and referral process can be advised to stay alert to possible oversights. Implementing nondiscriminatory evaluation of academic progress by ELLs can go a long way toward solving both problems.

For further reading:

Culturally Competent Assessment of English Language Learners for Special Education Services

The ELL Companion to Reducing Bias in Special Education Evaluation

Cultural Factors That Influence Learning for ELL Students


Monitoring Progress in RTI: The Importance of Targeted Intervention

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 (All day)
  • Chris Weber, Ed.D

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

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

The Right Intervention

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

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

Creating a Plan

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

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

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

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

Related reading:

RTI is a Verb

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


As Classrooms Become More Diverse, How Do We Help All Students Grow?

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 (All day)
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

diverse student populations With the start of a new school year this month, principals and teachers are facing novel and increased challenges. Educators are well aware that the U.S. classroom is becoming more diverse and that this diversity compounds the added pressure teachers and administrators feel to meet Common Core standards and local community standards for educational performance. 

The increased diversity in the U.S. classroom can be attributed to several factors:

  • The recent census indicates that over 20% of our students speak a primary language other than English. In many areas of the country the numbers are much higher than that.
  • The rates of students diagnosed with attentional problems (ADD and ADHD) have increased by 40% in the past decade. The extent to which that increase reflects a true change in prevalence is open to debate. But, for the classroom teacher the challenges these students pose complicate classroom organization and format of content presentation.
  • Despite initiatives like Response to Intervention and the Common Core, reading proficiency remains a problem for many schools districts. Nationwide, 33% of fourth graders still do not read proficiently.
  • Most school districts are opting for “push-in” as an alternative to “pull out” for students with special needs. This mainstream inclusion poses specific challenges to classroom teachers who are not specifically trained to work with special populations like children with language-learning disabilities.
  • The number of students in homes below the poverty line is increasing and, with it, continued learning challenges that are not easily met by changes or adaptations in curriculum.

All of these factors are contributing to an educational environment where teachers and administrators feel increased pressure to meet state guidelines and community expectations yet they are at a loss for approaches that actually increase classroom achievement for these groups. However, there are some commonalities among these diverse groups that make them more amenable to some specific types of interventions than others.

English language learners, struggling readers, special education students, and students from homes below the poverty line share specific kinds of cognitive limitations that have been shown to affect school achievement. A major limitation shared by all of those diverse groups is the reduction in oral language skills. Research published by Hart and Risley in 1995 showed that children living in homes below the poverty line were exposed on average to 32 million fewer words by the time they entered school than children from homes where the parents were professionals. And research published by Hirsch in 1996 indicated that when students enter schools with low oral language the relative difference in oral language skills actually worsens as they course through elementary and middle school. Academic interventions that improve oral language skills are one key to closing the achievement gap.

Some other diverse groups, like those students diagnosed with ADHD or special needs, show problems with attention and working memory skills. As classroom teachers are aware, attention and memory problems are difficult to “teach around” and pose a challenge for classroom management as well. Teachers may feel they spend 95% of their time trying to accommodate the 5% of learners who struggle to attend or cannot easily retain information presented in class. Interventions that focus specifically on enhancing attention and memory skills have been proven to result in increased academic achievement.

It is logical that increased diversity in our nation’s classrooms necessitates a new look at educational interventions that are designed to target the underlying deficits rather than concentrating on curriculum alone. Children with poor oral language skills or reduced attentional or memory capacities are not likely to benefit from even the best instruction until those deficits are addressed. Fortunately, there are powerful, breakthrough interventions like the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs that focus on those specific capacities and they have proven results with this new diverse group of students we are charged with educating.


Communication Champion. (2011). Oral language and poverty. Gross, J. Retrieved from

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

Hirsch (1996) The Effects of Weaknesses in Oral Language on Reading Comprehension Growth cited in Torgesen, J. (2004). Current issues in assessment and intervention for younger and older students.Paper presented at the NASP Workshop.

Morris, R.D., Stuebing, K.K., Fletcher, J.M., Shaywitz, S.E., Lyon, G.R., Shankweiler, D.P., Katz, L., Francis, D.J., Shaywitz, B.A. (1998). Subtypes of reading disability: variability around a phonological core. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(3), 347-373.

Related reading:

Fast ForWord® Language Series Has Greatest Impact of Any Intervention Listed by NCRTI

Response to Intervention & Special Ed Stats: Progress Report


Response to Intervention and Special Ed Stats: Progress Report

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

special ed stats Dr. Chris Weber is a former teacher and school administrator distinguished by his track record of helping at-risk students achieve. He’s an expert on Response to Intervention (RtI)and has authored several bestselling books on the subject. In his recent webinarfor Scientific Learning, he gives a progress report on RtI, including trends in special educationstatistics to date.

Dr. Weber begins by returning to the question of why we have Response to Intervention at all. In answer, he explains that special ed hasn’t been all that successful in keeping students on track to graduate ready for college or a skilled career. Students with disabilities drop out at twice the rate of their peers, and 80% never learn to read. CLD students (learners who are culturally and linguistically diverse) are over-represented in special ed, for no supportable reason. And, most significant, perhaps, is the fact that very few learners who enter special ed ever exit—only about 3%.

Weber’s criticism is not about how well special ed has performed for students who have profound disabilities, but instead for the very high percentage of students who have a mild to moderate specific learning disability, defined as a disorder in one of the basic processes (reasoning, memory, processing, attention, etc.) underlying a student’s ability to use language, spoken or written, to read, spell, write, or to do mathematical calculations. Often, schools still offer separate courses for special ed learners, an approach that sends a clear message of lower expectations, intentionally or not .He also cites students who are “curriculum casualties”—learners who have not responded to intervention and who are prematurely or wrongly given a disability diagnosis despite the fact that the intervention, or instruction, provided was actually ineffective. 

It’s a moral imperative, says Weber, that we correct this state of affairs. Socioeconomic status and home language should not make a difference, nor should ethnicity or gender. The decisions we make for all students, he says, should be made with the same care and commitment as those we make for our own sons and daughters.

Another, sometimes unacknowledged driver of RtI, says Weber, is the urgency of helping all students develop 21 stcentury skills. RtI is not just for students who we’ve traditionally thought of as underperforming. In some districts, students who are currently meeting state proficiency standards—which in many states, he says, have been set too low—are still not making the year-to-year growth they need in order to graduate ready for college or a skilled career. RtI can be the framework that accelerates learners to competency on the path that follows graduation.

Weber goes on to discuss several additional points:

  • Where did RtI come from?
  • How can we measure RtI’s impacts?
  • What might RtI look like?

He also discusses the tradeoffs that must be made in prioritizing both academic and behavioral skills, as both are essential for success in school and career. Watch the full webinarto get all the details, including special ed stats and data that you may not see elsewhere.

Related reading:

RTI is a Verb

Fast ForWord® Language Series Has Greatest Impact of Any Intervention Listed by NCRTI



RTI is a Verb

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 (All day)
  • Chris Weber, Ed.D

instruction and intervention

Response to Intervention (RTI) is best understood as a verb; we have made RTI too complicated. Instead of becoming entangled in documentation, assessments, and the “steps” to special education, we should collaboratively ask the extent to which students are responding to instruction and intervention – the extent to which they are RTI’ing. We will realize the promise of RTI; more importantly, we will ensure high levels of learning for all.

Interpreted as a verb, RTI represents what we’ve always done, or what we always should have done, on behalf of students. Consider this scenario: A new fifth grade student, Molly, enrolls in school in the fall. The school screens all students to immediately identify students who may lack foundational prerequisite skills in reading (have they responded to prior instruction?). Screeners and further diagnoses reveal that Molly has deficits in phonics. Molly’s teacher team works together to provide differentiated Tier 1 instruction to all students, including Molly, with scaffolds provided during whole and small group settings within core blocks of instruction so that Molly successfully accesses content.

The school is prepared for students who lack immediate prerequisite skills and need additional time and different approaches to learn essential content. Molly and other students receive 30 daily minutes of supplemental, Tier 2 supports on essential content when data indicates the need (are students responding to current instruction?). The school is also prepared for students who lack the foundational prerequisite skills to succeed, as determined by screeners. Molly and other upper grade students with phonics needs receive intensive supports in place of other instruction, although they do not miss core instruction in essential content. Regularly, staff assesses to ensure that Molly is responding to intervention. If not, they differ, and increase the intensity of, supports.

RTI may be simple, but it isn’t easy. It requires leadershipto ensure that systems support staff and students in meeting goals, and courageto make hard but critical decisions to provide intensive supports immediately.

My experiences with Scientific Learning products have been overwhelmingly positive. They are outstanding RTI resources for several reasons; yes, they are research-proven and represent cutting edge science and technology, but they work best because they support students differently. For Molly, Reading Assistant provides highly individualized supports in reading text fluently and for meaning. As a Tier 2 support, Reading Assistant supplements teachers’ targeted supports at ensuring she masters essential content. If Molly doesn’t respond to this level of Tier 2 support, and teams determine her needs exist in the phonemic awareness and phonics domain, Fast ForWord is appropriate, providing intensive, Tier 3 strategies to decode words, through unique approaches designed for students who process information differently.  

At-risk students demand our best efforts immediately.  Interventions such as those from Scientific Learning deliver the best possible return on investment, giving us the best chance to ensure that students repond to intervention, allowing them the opportunity to learn at the high levels required to graduate ready for college or a skilled career.

About the author, Dr. Chris Weber:

A former high school, middle school, and elementary school teacher and administrator, Chris has had a great deal of success helping students who historically underachieve learn at extraordinarily high levels. As a principal and assistant superintendent in California and Chicago, Chris and his colleagues have developed systems of Response to Intervention that have led to heretofore unrealized levels of learning at schools across the country. The best-selling author of 1) Pyramid Response to Intervention, 2) Pyramid of Behavior Interventions, 3) Simplifying Response to Intervention, and 4) RTI and the Early Grades,Chris is recognized as an expert in behavior, mathematics, and Response to Intervention.

Related reading: 

Fast ForWord ® Language Series Has Greatest Impact of Any Intervention Listed by NCRTI

Intensive Intervention Tier 3: What leads to the need?



Fast ForWord® Language Series Has Greatest Impact of Any Intervention Listed by NCRTI

Thursday, September 22, 2011 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen


Educators and families who are looking for appropriate learning interventions for students often turn to The Instructional Intervention Tools Chart from the National Center on Response to Intervention (NCRTI).  Now, the Fast ForWord® Language serieshas been added to the chart, with the NCRTI evaluations of research on the series supporting the claim that the products have high-quality studies, demonstrating their effectiveness when used for Response to Intervention (RtI).

The effectiveness of the Fast ForWord Language series is evident from the “ effect size” found by the NCRTI. Effect size is a statistical way to measure the magnitude of the effect of an intervention.  Of the three studies on the Fast ForWord Language series that have been evaluated by the NCRTI, one showed a medium effect size and the other two showed a large effect size. In fact, two of the three Scientific Learning studies were ranked as having the highest scores in effect size, showing that the Fast ForWord Language Series had the greatest impact and the largest positive effect of any intervention listed by the NCRTI.  These evaluations of research on the Fast ForWord Language series validate the quality of the studies behind the products, demonstrating their effectiveness when used for RtI.

The impact identified in the NCRTI evaluations holds up in real-world implementations, as well.  For example, one district used the Fast ForWord program as its only intervention for kindergarteners during the 2009-2010 school year, to see what kind of difference the program could make when used as the sole intervention for participating students.  Westerly Public Schools in southern Rhode Island identified kindergarten students who scored at the deficient or very deficient levels in letter sound fluency and letter naming fluency on the AIMSweb benchmark, and placed these students into the Fast ForWord program, with no other interventions.

After using the Fast ForWord program, test scores for the participating students rose substantially, and many were able to move off of the personal literacy plans they had been placed on as struggling elementary students.  Because only the Fast ForWord program was used, the district was able to determine that these effects were due to the students’ participation in the program.  And because the students didn’t need as many interventions, the district also saved money.

The NCRTI is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The center partners with researchers from Vanderbilt University and the University of Kansas to build the capacity of states to assist districts in implementing proven models for RTI.

Visit see Scientific Learning’s listings on the NCRTI’s “Instructional Intervention Tools Chart.”

Watch the video on “effect size” and the NCRTI evaluation of the Fast ForWord Language series products.

Related Reading:

Results from a “Gold Standard Study” Show Significant Student Gains in Language and Literacy Skills

Intensive Intervention Tier 3: What Leads to the Need?

Intensive Intervention Tier 3: What leads to the need?

Thursday, January 20, 2011 (All day)
  • Terri Zezula

Intensive intervention tier 3

To start talking about intensive intervention tier 3 in the Response to Intervention Model, I want to start by asking you a simple question:

Are you having chicken for dinner tonight?

You probably can’t fathom how fast your brain arrived at the yes or no conclusion that popped into your head. And yet, to process that one sentence, your brain had to think through seven words, eleven syllables, 19 to 21 phonemes, 35 letters and three distinct “e” sounds. And your amazing brain did all that, sequencing the concepts, drawing on your memory and formulating an answer, in fractions of a second.

The reason your brain was able to perform such an incredible feat is because you have the foundational knowledge -- and the countless neurons in place and linked up in your brain -- to process that information. Those connections are the result of years of language acquisition and learning, the majority of which happened when you were less than four years old.

We are born with the natural ability to acquire language and speech; it is the first test of our brain’s capacity to learn. When we speak and read to infants and young children, we are helping to establish that linguistic foundation, teach speech, develop vocabulary and impart those essential skills. Reading is a different story. Written language must be taught and learned; that’s why we focus on reading skills so heavily in preschool and kindergarten.

But what happens when children don’t get that essential exposure to language early on? What if a child experiences chronic ear infections in his first four years? What if her parents work long hours and don’t read to her often? What if a child does not receive that essential early language stimulation?

Early language developmentis the precursor for reading; without that indispensable input, a child’s brain literally does not learn how to process input correctly. Consider that by the time she is four years old, on average, the child of a professional family has absorbed over three times the number of words as a child of a family of low socioeconomic status. Often, it is these children who end up without the prerequisite language skills and more often than not become struggling readers-- those requiring those tier 3 interventions -- all because of their language foundations.

The great news is that these students DO NOT have to end up out of the mainstream, using valuable tier 3 resources. In the average class, 1 to 5 percent of students do not progress adequately and need intensive interventions. Still, 40 percent of those students who are identified with learning disabilities are simply having trouble reading. If we can bring those students back into the mainstream with proven, scientifically-based brain fitness exercises, we can give them more promising futures as well as free up tier 3 interventions for those students who truly need them.

To learn more about the neurological science behind why these deficits occur in the brain, as well as how we can remedy them, I encourage you to gather your team together over a lunch and watch the webinar, RtI Tier 3 Intensive Interventions: A Neuroscience Perspective. Delivered by Dr. Sherry Francis, it offers fantastic insights to enlighten how we think about these students and their needs and abilities, as well as concrete solutions to help them achieve success.

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