Showing posts with category Special Education Show all posts >
For decades, most child language scientists have believed that human beings possess an innate capacity to learn the language spoken to them during the first few years of life. Indeed, the vast majority of children worldwide are never “taught” their mother tongue; rather, they acquire it naturally, just by living in a world where people are speaking the language.
Parsing Speech Sounds
Child language specialists have a word for the ability to tease out the sounds within words—they call it “parsing”. When children are first learning their native language they must also “parse” words into sounds so that they can figure out all the sounds in a word as well as the sequence of those sounds. All children have to learn to do this.
Children’s speech errors, like saying “top” for stop or “aminal” for animal, often reflect trouble children have with parsing. Language learning also requires parsing to learn grammatical forms like plural or verb tenses. The difference between the words rock, rocked and rocks necessitates the ability to distinguish all the sounds in each word. But for children with language-learning disabilities, it turns out that this problem parsing words into sounds is particularly difficult, and it affects not only language learning, but also reading and other school achievement.
Audiologists (hearing specialists) and brain researchers have long been interested in how the brain is able to parse words into relevant speech sounds and why some children struggle so much with that task. New research centering on the electrical brain signals picked up by electroencephalogram (EEG) is clarifying the relationship between auditory processing—specifically the ability to parse sounds in words—and language learning.
Brain wave oscillation bands—sometimes thought of as differing brain wave patterns—appear to be a major mechanism coordinating billions of nerves across different brain regions to perform even basic cognitive tasks such as paying attention to someone who is talking and understanding what they are saying. These bands are grouped by their frequency; so-called alpha bands, beta bands, gamma bands and theta bands all refer to brain oscillations of different frequencies.
Brain scientists have discovered ways to use features of these oscillations bands to “see” how different parts of the brain work together. Katia Lehongre and colleagues have found that in humans, gamma bands are especially important for parsing words into sounds. Significantly, in children with language-based learning disabilities (including dyslexia) and children with aspects of language learning disabilities—poor auditory working memory and rapid naming—language and reading problems appear to be related to specific differences in brain oscillation patterns in the areas of the brain important for learning language.
New Research Questions
Scientists postulate that some children’s brains may be inefficient for learning language, but very efficient for certain other aspects of learning—perhaps visual processing or even aspects of sound processing important for musical learning. What might cause differences in brain oscillation patterns is largely unknown and open to speculation, but for parents and teachers who work with struggling learners, the question to ask is:
Does remediation of the brain wave patterns improve language skills in children with language problems?
A study published in January 2013, addressed that question and found that the answer is “yes”.
Sabime Heim and colleagues at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, examined whether oscillations in the gamma band range of the auditory cortex of children with specific language impairments (SLI) change after a specific kind of audio-visual training (Fast ForWord Language), and if that change resulted in improved gamma band efficiency as well as language skills among those children. Study details:
The ability to efficiently perceive and sequence two non-speech sounds presented as quickly as speech sounds are in words is often referred to as Rapid Auditory Processing (RAP).
Heim et al wanted to know:
EEG measures made by the authors before Fast ForWord Language showed what they expected— reduced efficiency components of the oscillations in the gamma-band range (29–52 Hz) among the children with LLI. The reductions occurred where the scientists expected, on the second of two rapidly presented tones. Some answers to the questions above:
The authors concluded that measures of brain wave efficiency are not only correlated with auditory processing problems in children with language-based learning disabilities, but that the Fast ForWord Language program improves at least one measure of the brain wave efficiency and that is in turn correlated with improvements both in RAP accuracy and also language skills.
Heim, S., Keil, A., Choudhury, N., Thomas Friedman, J. & Benasich, A. (2013). Early gamma oscillations during rapid auditory processing in children with a language-learning impairment: Changes in neural mass activity after training. Neuropsychologia, 51, 990-1001.
Lehongre, K., Ramus, F., Villiermet, N., Schwartz, D., & Giraud, A. (2011) Altered Low-Gamma Sampling in Auditory Cortex Accounts for the Three Main Facets of Dyslexia. Neuron, 72, 1080–1090.
Siegel, M., Donner, T., & Engel, A. (2012) Spectral fingerprints of large-scale neuronal interactions. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 13, 121-131.
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An increase in the incidence of autism is changing the landscape of our classrooms and challenging our knowledge of how best to educate all students. Fortunately, recent technology is providing some ways to help - a cast of characters including robot teachers and video games is helping unravel the mystery of how best to reach students with autism.
At the most basic level, autism is defined as a childhood-onset developmental disorder. Deficits can include social reciprocity, communication, over-focused interests, and repetitive behaviors, and can occur at differing levels of severity. The social reciprocity and communication challenges lay the foundation for what can become a challenging school environment for some.
Some schools have started using tech tools in creative ways to break down the communication barriers with students with autism. In Birmingham, England, a program in which students with autism learn from robot teachers has shown promise. The instructors and researchers believe the robot teachers are less threatening than human teachers—possibly due to the robots’ lack of emotion and much smaller size. Whatever the reason, students are showing a desire to connect with the robots, and once that connection has been developed, learning in different forms can begin to take place.
Video Game Technology
The use of video games with autistic learners is also gaining traction, reaching students on their own terms via a fun and familiar technology. Researchers have found that video games create an environment that is less threatening than the real world—much like robots—and one that is more predictable, allowing the students to feel more at ease. As a result, breakthroughs can sometimes be made more quickly with video games, as in the case of a student who finally moved his arms up and down together while playing XBOX—after a therapist had worked with him on the movement for months without success.
Video games enable the delivery of educational content—from math and language arts instruction to behavioral modeling and physical coordination exercises—while keeping students engaged, a combination that can be harder to achieve with more traditional methods of instruction.
The Way Forward
These two applications of technology in the classroom are paving the way for additional research into how our education systems can better interact with students on the autism spectrum. Robots and video games are most definitely not the full answer, but if they give us a glimpse into a solution, then they are a great start.
There are a lot of questions still to explore, but like a mystery novel with an unknown ending, we must follow the clues and solve the riddles to open our eyes.
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It’s not exactly news that there’s a relationship between auditory processing skills and reading disorders in children. But with research by scientists such as Elise Temple and Nadine Gaab helping to establish and confirm the connection, the mounting evidence points to just how strong the correlation is—especially for children with dyslexia.
In a recent study by Jane Hornickel and Nina Kraus published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the authors set out to determine whether inconsistency in the brain’s response to speech sounds is correlated with poor reading skills. The study evaluated 100 normal-hearing children from 6 to 12 years of age who were divided into 3 groups—good readers, average readers, and poor readers—based on their fluency scores.
The researchers asked the children to listen to the syllables “ba” and “ga” while measuring the children’s auditory brainstem response. They also measured the children’s brainstem response to a simple clicking sound for comparison.
The authors found that the auditory brainstem response was considerably more variable for poor readers than for good readers, but only when listening to the relatively complex speech sounds—not when listening to the simple click sound. They also found that the inconsistencies in brainstem response were more closely associated with the consonant portion of the syllable than the vowel portion.
The variability in brainstem response occurred intermittently throughout the testing rather than building over time, and was primarily seen among the poor readers rather than all three groups, indicating that neural fatigue was likely not a factor. The authors note that the more likely explanation for the intermittent variability is poor encoding of speech sounds in the brains of the struggling readers.
According to Kraus, it’s this inconsistency of brain response that prevents some children from making the crucial connection of sound to meaning that is the foundation of language and reading skills. Strong readers, on the other hand, typically make the connection with ease. The relationship between reading ability and auditory processing skills, she says, is “a highly significant relationship.”
Distinguishing between consonants can be particularly difficult for children with dyslexia, as this study shows, because they are spoken so much more rapidly than vowels. But consonants typically give meaning to words (think “cat” vs. “bat”), so that missing bit of information can make learning to read enormously difficult. The takeaway is that when children with normal hearing experience reading difficulty, auditory processing plays a role.
Fortunately, our students’ brains are highly adaptable and responsive, enabling dramatic improvements with appropriate intervention. When the auditory processing issues are corrected, children are then able to make the critical sound-to-meaning connections that lead to proficient reading and improved learning all around.
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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 webinar for Scientific Learning, he gives a progress report on RtI, including trends in special education statistics 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 21st century 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:
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 webinar to get all the details, including special ed stats and data that you may not see elsewhere.
As a parent, are you unsure about how much help to give your children on homework assignments and special projects? Do you sometimes feel "darned if you do and darned if you don't"? If you don't help your child enough, does she get poor grades? If you do help, is the teacher critical?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may feel stuck in "the parent trap." We all want our children to be independent learners, but getting them there can be difficult—especially if you have a struggling learner or a child with a diagnosed learning disability. Here are some suggestions that might help.
Avoid blame. Make it a game.
It’s hard for people to self-motivate to work hard in areas where they struggle, and children are no exception. If you feel you are always badgering your child to get his work done, try turning homework into something fun by scheduling 'game breaks' every half hour or so. Set a timer for a short interval, and as long as he has worked consistently before the timer goes off, do a few minutes of something fun together—a race outside, quick game of "go fish," a short video game, etc. Elementary age children love playing games with a parent, so game breaks can be a great motivator.
Build rewards on assignment boards.
Post a whiteboard in the kitchen or another common area of your home. Each day after school, help your child write a to-do list of assignments for that night as well as for any projects with due dates. Then work with your child to determine a reasonable reward for completion. A reward might be watching a special TV show, calling or texting a friend, or a healthy before bedtime snack.
Rewarding your child for doing homework independently builds important life skills like self-control and stick-to-itiveness. Especially when children struggle with school, rewarding something your child can control (like how long they worked on an assignment by themselves) builds confidence and increases motivation better than punishing bad grades or rewarding good grades.
The 80%-20% rule builds success in school.
Brain scientists have found that when a task is 20% challenging it promotes brain plasticity (positive brain changes). So, to maximize your child’s learning potential, encourage her to do all assignments by herself first, assuring her that you will be there to help once she has completed as much as she can on her own.
You will be the checker: finding mistakes or missing pieces and then helping her with those. If she is accustomed to you providing more help, it may take a few weeks for her to work on her own. If so, set a smaller goal (half of each assignment alone, or a designated number of problems, for example) for a week or so. Try to get to the point where you help with no more than 20% of any assignment.
Strive for drive.
Remember, by making your child's independence in schoolwork your goal—instead of grades or other measures of achievement—you are not only improving your child's motivation and ability to please you, but you also are building self-sufficiency, a trait that will lead to success in many aspects of life.
Not everyone can get top grades in school, but everyone can learn to be a self-starter. Getting out of the parent trap will not only make your life easier it will foster important life skills in your child. In adult life, the ability to self-motivate is where the real dividends of a good education are paid out.
If you have already tried these suggestions or you feel your child cannot realistically reach 80% independence, consider consulting a professional. Your child might have a specific learning issue that can be significantly improved with appropriate neuroscience-based interventions.
With the increased focus in recent years on Pre-Kindergarten learning, you may be asking where you can find funding for early childhood education. Your school may be looking to establish or expand a pre-school program, or you may need funds for an independent pre-school program. Public funding for Pre-Kindergarten education mainly comes from three sources: state funding, federal Special Education (IDEA) funds for Pre-K, and federal Head Start funding.
One way in which the federal DOE has shown its commitment to early learning is by increasing the funding to both IDEA for Pre-K and federal Head Start over the last two years. In addition, there are other federal funding sources for Pre-K: social services programs, like the federal Child Care and Development fund, and federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. And there are provisions in Title I that allow schools to use some Title I funds for Pre-Kindergarten programs, such as the stipulation allowing schoolwide Title I programs to “establish or enhance prekindergarten programs for children below the age of 6.” According to the federal non-regulatory guidance, Serving Preschool Children Through Title I, “The use of Title I funds for a preschool program is a local decision.”
Some new federal sources of Pre-K funding have also been created: Promise Neighborhoods (which has an early learning component) and the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge grants are likely to continue in some form as signature programs of the Obama administration. During the next four years, the federal DOE will focus more intently on the full Pre-K – Grade 3 continuum, especially working with Congress to embed Pre-K-3 strategies in a new ESEA.
But some Pre-K programs have also been cut from the federal budget, such as Even Start and Early Reading First. The purpose of the latter – “to enhance the early language, literacy, and prereading development of preschool age children” – has been absorbed into the newer Striving Readings Comprehensive Literacy grant, which provides a continuum of reading from birth through twelfth grade, though the future of SRCL is somewhat in question.
In 2011, 39 states provided Pre-K funding (the other 11 states were: Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming). In fact, more children are enrolled in state funded Pre-Kindergarten programs than in any other publicly funding Pre-K program, though the per-student amount varies dramatically in states from $2,000 to $11,000. State Pre-K funding goes to both community based organizations and school districts.
Want to Research Further?
Though Pre-Kindergarten education has in the past sometimes languished as the stepchild of K-12 education, its importance is now being realized, resulting in resources increasing for early learning and programs growing.
Earlier this month, Dr. Martha Burns presented a webinar titled “What’s in the Common Core, but Missing in Your Curriculum.” One of the exciting new changes that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) bring is a great deal more emphasis on how students learn rather than focusing solely on what they learn. The emphasis of previous standards have focused more on memorization of facts rather than on higher order thinking skills. In this webinar, Dr. Burns reviews the learning capacities spelled out in the CCSS and describes the skills that students need to be successful as lifelong learners, e.g., the ability to evaluate, to adapt, adjust and critique, etc. At the foundation of these higher order abilities lie the foundational skills below. Together, these skills can be termed the “process of learning.”
· Executive control or self-control
Students with deficiencies in these foundational skills may be labeled as “trouble makers” or “at risk” and have difficulty keeping up in today’s growing classroom. Experienced educators have always recognized the importance of these skills, but the idea that they can be specifically addressed and improved is relatively new. Without the ability to remember the details of a non-fiction text, how would a student be able to evaluate and critique it?
Dr. Burns describes new insights in neuroscience that are contributing to our understanding of the process of learning and what can be done to strengthen these skills in all learners, even those with learning disabilities and other challenges. The idea that these skills are inherent in students and cannot be changed is simply untrue. With the right training, all students can become stronger, more capable learners.
One efficient way for students to practice the skills needed to meet the rigor of the Common Core Standards is through the research-based learning tools employed by Scientific Learning’s Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs. Dr. Burns concluded her presentation with a walkthrough of the programs, highlighting the aspects of the programs that speak directly to the foundational skills needed to create college and career ready students. She also describes what happens in the student’s brain when they are engaged with the software and the results that can be expected.
This new approach by the Common Core State Standards to draw attention to the “process” of learning, rather than just content, is important for all stakeholders to understand. With this new understanding comes a greater importance to use all of the tools at our disposal to help all learners succeed.
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 leadership to ensure that systems support staff and students in meeting goals, and courage to 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 respond 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.
On October 30th, noted neuroscience researcher and co-founder of Scientific Learning, Dr. Paula Tallal, conducted a live webinar titled “What do Neuroscientists Know About Learning That Most Educators Don’t?” In her presentation, Dr. Tallal discussed her original research on auditory processing, its relationship to language development, and the far-reaching effects that deficiencies in those areas can have on learning.
Research continues to support the hypothesis that difficulty discriminating between small changes in sound is at the heart of learning problems both in students who have a diagnosed difficulty and those who do not. Dr. Tallal described how oral language is the foundation for learning and for most successful educational outcomes, adding that oral language itself is dependent on the brain’s ability to discriminate and process auditory information. Children who have difficulty perceiving the many subtleties of language find the deck stacked against them in their educational careers. They can experience a variety of impediments to learning, including:
Students with this subtle level of auditory processing problem need specific differentiation that is not possible in most classrooms. The good news, as Dr. Tallal describes, is that modern technology can be used to address the difficulties these children face and help bridge these skill gaps. In fact, it is this level of research and development that informed the development of Scientific Learning’s software programs, including Fast ForWord.
To close, Dr. Tallal took questions from the educators relating to how these insights can be used to improve educational outcomes in all classrooms. Teachers left this insightful webinar with practical strategies that can be used to help learners of all abilities.
In a recent webinar for Scientific Learning titled “Teaching With the Brain In Mind”, Eric Jensen discussed the newest concepts in brain research and how they relate to teaching and classroom strategies. Jensen is the author of 24 books on brain research and is a former educator himself.
It turns out that almost everything that educators assume to be correct about the development of the brain in children and adolescents is mistaken. Mr. Jensen summarized what current research tells us about the childhood brain in three simple points:
1. Brains are far more variable than previously thought
It turns out that “normal, healthy brains” only exist in about 10% of the population. For the other 90%, plenty of internal and external factors have affected their development. This finding supports teachers’ intuition, that educational differentiation is just as important as they have always suspected.
2. Brains have the ability to change more than previously thought
An idea that gives hope to teachers everywhere, Mr. Jensen detailed research on brain plasticity, or a brain’s ability to change throughout life. A “plastic” brain thrives when in an optimal educational setting , but the converse is also true. High-performing students in the hands of low-performing teachers can and often do regress rapidly.
3. Every cognitive skill can be taught
Skills previously thought to be inherent or genetic, like attention span or capacity for responsibility, are actually teachable. This finding obviously has revolutionary implications for classroom management strategies. When paired with the previous two findings, one can conclude that every child has the ultimate potential for success when met with the proper strategies and support.
Throughout the webinar, Mr. Jensen tied the above guiding principles to real-world examples in a classroom. He touched on the efficacy of products like Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant, which are leaders in utilizing these guiding principles to make reading gains.
The professional educator leaves this talk not only with new insights into the workings of the childhood brain, but also with practical strategies that can be used the next day with students.