Showing posts with tag technology in education Show all posts >
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.
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Tim Rasinski is on a mission to change minds and he shares that mission with us in his webinar, “Keys to Increasing Reading Comprehension in the Age of Common Core.”
What’s Hot, What’s Not
Rasinski laments the fact that reading fluency has been ranked “Not Hot” for years in the annual “What’s Hot, What’s Not Literacy Survey” in Reading Today. Worse, he says, is the fact that the reading experts surveyed said that fluency should not be hot.
Fluency is one of the key skills, says Rasinski, that increases comprehension, the real goal of reading. So he wrote an article called “Why Reading Fluency Should Be Hot!,” which was featured in last May’s Reading Teacher magazine.
Building a Bridge to Reading Comprehension
Rasinski likens reading fluency to a bridge that connects accuracy in word study (phonics, decoding, spelling, and vocabulary) to comprehension. When students do not pick up the connection intuitively, educators have to teach it. But, if educators do not see fluency as an important component of reading instruction, the bridge to comprehension may never be built.
Teaching fluency means developing automaticity in word recognition, so learners can devote their available cognitive energy to comprehension. When that limited energy is spent on word recognition, there’s often not enough left over for the difficult task of deriving meaning from the words that have been read.
Ways to Develop Fluency That Really Work
Rasinski outlines what he calls “the essentials” of developing reading fluency:
Anyone interested in helping students become eager and capable readers should take the time to watch the full webinar and hear Rasinski’s thoughts on these points in his own words. It’s a topic he’s thoroughly studied, and he brings his extensive knowledge and passion to the discussion.
The online Reading Assistant program, as Rasinski points out, supports classroom teachers by delivering these five essentials—including real-time corrective feedback—to any number of students simultaneously.
Reading comprehension all comes down to meaning, says Rasinski, and teaching reading fluency ultimately helps learners get better at deriving meaning from any text.
Doesn’t that sound “Hot!” to you?
This May 17th, we will be hosting our annual Visionary Conference for Fast ForWord Providers entirely online for the very first time.
Save on travel expenses, spend less time away, and learn just as much as in years past—maybe even more.
This year’s theme is Growing Together, and we’re thrilled to announce that our esteemed Visionary Conference presenters Dr. Paula Tallal and Dr. Martha Burns will be sharing exciting new research on the brain and learning.
Dr. Tallal will be reporting on the latest research with college students who used the Fast ForWord program and saw improvements in a number of skill areas.
Dr. Burns will present research from the Human Connectome Project (a project studying the connectivity of the human brain) and research on memory and attention disorders and interventions.
Additional sessions will review the latest Fast ForWord product updates, best practices for getting the most from the products, marketing resources, and professional development opportunities to help you thrive as a Fast ForWord Provider and help more children succeed.
Because this year’s conference is online, we’re welcoming any and all attendees, whether you’re a provider or not! There is no charge for any of the sessions, so you can attend one or attend them all. If you’ve been to past conferences then you already know…It’s the highlight of the year!
Many students enter our classrooms with limited vocabulary and loads of catching up to do. I’ve seen teachers discouraged by the challenge they are faced with, and yet doing valuable things in their classrooms everyday to not only meet challenges but to exceed expectations. The good news is that the little things we do everyday can have a great impact.
Why Modeled Reading Matters
“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” - Emilie Buchwald
Our students have a wide range of lap hours logged. For some, the idea of climbing up to listen as someone reads to them is more natural than putting on a pair of socks, while for others it’s a rare event. In classrooms, all children benefit from listening as we read.
Modeling fluent reading in our classrooms and displaying our love for the written word benefits every student, but it is essential for those students who do not get this benefit at home.
Older students can benefit as well. On this topic, Jim Trelease, author of The Read-Aloud Handbook, says, “Every read-aloud is an advertisement for pleasure, every worksheet is an ad for pain. If the pain outweighs the pleasure, the customers go elsewhere.” When we read and showcase our love of reading we are advertising the very thing we want our students to buy.
Get Students Reading More, More, More (and More)
“There is ample evidence that one of the major differences between poor and good readers is the difference in the quantity of total time they spend reading.” - National Reading Panel, 2000
The best way to improve reading skill is through reading practice. If we’ve modeled fluent reading for students and chosen material that is a great fit for their ability and their interest, then we have set the stage for practice.
It’s no wonder that good readers read a lot and poor readers read little. If an activity is not pleasurable, devoting time to it is not desirable. However, as good readers read and poor readers do not, the gap in their ability grows. We must encourage all of our students to read. We must find ways to make reading pleasurable for all students.
*Note that I’ve indicated Children A, B & C are all reading at the same rate (100WPM). Though this scenario may be unlikely, it highlights the gains that are possible for all students. As their reading improves, their rate will increase along with more words devoured.
For those with poor skills, the need to practice is critical—not only to improve their reading ability, but also to open their world. These “words” represent new vocabulary, new ideas, new topics, and new learning. By getting students to read more we are expanding their imaginations and building their background. When students read little they miss out on so much more than slow-growing reading skills.
A Deep and Continuing Need
One final note on quality. To incent students to read and to help them read well, we must also focus on motivation and help students choose reading material that will be inspiring and well suited to them.
“Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. ” - Maya Angelou
I’ve always been struck by some of the reading material we put in front of our struggling readers. As I’ve worked with students on their assigned texts, I can’t help but find myself bored and listless. How can we expect students to develop a fondness for reading if what we’re asking them to read is not particularly good? Think about why you read and what you like to read. I’ve yet to find the well-read adult who chooses reading material based on their ability level alone. Instead, they read to gather information, to soak up a genre they are especially fond of, to escape and to dream. To foster this ‘deep and continuing need’, we need to provide our students with delicious, fantastic literature. They need rich vocabulary, exotic stories and variety. At times this beautiful content is beyond the reach of our students’ ability, but we are wise to help them reach, to scaffold, to encourage and to make every attempt to give them the good stuff.
“It is not enough to simply teach children to read; we have to give them something worth reading. Something that will stretch their imaginations—something that will help them make sense of their own lives and encourage them to reach out toward people whose lives are quite different from their own.” - Katherine Patterson
It’s exciting when a child learns to read—combining letters and sounds to form words for the first time until they’re stringing those words together to create sentences. But what happens when a child goes from “getting by” in the early grades to struggling in adolescence when cognitive demand increases along with the difficulty of required texts?
How Adolescent Learning is Different
There are important differences between childhood and adolescent brain function, and developmentally appropriate regression in abilities such as impulse control can affect adolescent learning.
Dr. Martha Burns’ webinar “Reading and the Adolescent Brain: What Works?” provides research-based insights for busy educators interested in the science of adolescent learning. Tune in and discover…
Understanding what’s happening in the adolescent brain can give you the tools to educate your students, support them in their struggles, and provide the help they need to get back on track academically.
Why Reading Interventions Fail
One reason that many reading interventions may not work for the adolescent learner is that they fail to provide the cognitive skills and oral reading practice required for reading fluency. Research shows that using the Fast ForWord program has been correlated with positive neurological changes in the brain corresponding to the cognitive skills that underlie reading.
By incorporating the use of the Fast ForWord program to build cognitive skills and the Reading Assistant program to ensure sufficient reading practice, you can help your adolescent students jumpstart their reading progress instead of remaining stagnant. Dr. Burns takes you on a detailed tour of how these programs strengthen cognitive skills, fluency and comprehension; reinforce learning; and shorten the time it takes to achieve significant milestones in achievement.
Changing the Future
Advanced literacy skills are needed not only in order to succeed in college but also to obtain and hold future jobs. When a teen is struggling in the present, it becomes more difficult for them to see a bright future, often causing them to erect a protective wall against learning and life. Informed educators can help transform these struggles into victory.
For many educators, summer school planning is in full gear! Districts are determining the who, the what and the how, and all with limited resources.
When I was working in the school system, summer school left something to be desired. The students were doing the same activities from the school year (and were still bored by them), and the teachers were working with students they didn’t know, struggling to individualize instruction. Making an effective summer learning program isn't easy; I appreciate the work that goes into making any instructional plan effective. Educating our students, during the year or summer, is not for the faint of heart. It takes an enormous amount of collaboration, planning, expertise, creativity and energy (lots of energy!) to be done well.
The Rand Corporation’s 2011 report on summer school effectiveness makes many recommendations; here are just a few:
After all is said and done, it’s important to know whether your summer school program was effective. Did all the work you put in lead to improved reading scores, for example? For schools that used Reading Assistant in their summer school programs, the answer was a resounding yes:
Is your district on track to make this the best summer school yet? If there were two recommendations I’d make, I’d say:
For further reading:
Results on Reading Assistant:
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.
In early elementary school, Louise was described as a sweet but somewhat passive child. She was an average student who never made trouble so her teachers did not worry about her, but at the same time she was rarely chosen for special duties or called on in class. When Louise's parents asked about her somewhat mediocre progress in school (given that her siblings were all excellent students), the school principal, Mr. Henry tried to reassure them that she was a bright little girl but would never get an ulcer worrying about school achievement; she just was not an "active learner". Often children like Louise are described as underachievers.
But for Louise, that description of her began to change in the third grade under Mr. Stevens. He was a teacher that some parents hoped their children could avoid because he was a stickler for neatness, organization, planning, paying attention and punctuality. He referred to himself as "Hurricane Stevens" for his proclivity, without warning, to check students' desks randomly for disarray or to confiscate items that might distract a student from getting work done. One day Louise succumbed to his watchful eye during class when she was admiring a yo-yo she had won during lunch recess. With one fell swoop the yo-yo became part of Mr. Stevens' "cyclone stash" of toys and comic books - all to be returned each Friday with a wry smile and gentle warning that sometimes objects get lost in cyclones. “Class time is your job," Mr. Stevens extolled her, "you can think about recess during recess, during class you need to focus on learning."
Mr. Stevens also had a memory game he called "fun facts", starting each day with a list of new history or science facts, vocabulary words, or current events details. They were always relevant to one of the class lessons, and during the day more information about the facts would be part of the daily lessons. Students were told to pay close attention to the list and knew they would need to apply the facts in a later lesson, but were not permitted to write anything down. Sometime during each day, never predictably, Mr. Stevens would quiz the class on a few of the morning's facts and how they applied to that day's lesson. At random and without warning (in case a student surreptitiously jotted a few notes somewhere) students were asked a question about one or more of the facts. The first student called on who answered correctly got to wear a prized star pin the entire day.
In September, Mr. Stevens began with five facts each morning. By October, none of the students missed any of the questions when called on so Mr. Stevens increased the list by one each month and the application of the facts became less predictable. When the list became longer and the application more subtle, Mr. Stevens would ask students how they were able to remember. Students told of using different strategies. One student said that since she was not allowed to write the facts down, she just pictured what they looked like if she did write them! Then she could recognize them if she saw them later or could read them back to herself in her mind. Another boy said when there were names, he tried to imagine how they looked. When he learned later about what they did in history he could see them doing it. Like most of the children, Louise figured out her own strategies to help remember the facts and tried to predict how they might apply to class or what kind of questions he might ask. She found herself listening carefully throughout the day for more information. And like most of the students in the class, she couldn't wait to be called on -- later in the year, she too won the star pin every time she was selected to answer one of Mr. Stevens' questions.
Mr. Stevens understood that children need to take an active role in the learning process. Some children are natural students; they focus easily on content, can stick to one task, and retain information without effort. Those students achieve easily so they are a joy to teach. But to other children like Louise the "how" of learning does not come naturally. Their mind wanders or they are easily distracted in class. They don't realize that they may need to "try to remember" information. They might seem lazy because they have trouble sticking with a task when it is repetitive or boring. Mr. Stevens understood that in addition to teaching information, he could also teach students how to learn. Louise and the other students learned to focus on relevant details in class, plan for how they were going to hold on to information during the day, and predict how they might apply to the lessons. After a year with Mr. Stevens, his students were not just better at reading, math, and writing, they were active learners.
Teaching approaches like those of Mr. Stevens may be thought of as emphasizing the process of learning as much as the content. His goal was not just that students acquire information but also apply it. In that regard he was years ahead of his time. The Common Core State Standards, that a majority of states have now adopted, emphasize application of knowledge. Key points of the Common Core State Standards for reading, for example, mandate that through reading students not only "build knowledge" but also "gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspective*." To that end, Roger Schank at Northwestern University, author of "Teaching Minds" argues persuasively that there are twelve cognitive processes which underlie learning, including prediction and analytic processes like planning or judgment.
The problem of course is that today's teachers have been increasingly evaluated on their students' mastery of the curriculum, which might be considered the "what of teaching". With Common Core State Standards and educational research now emphasizing the learning process as well as mastery of content, teachers find gaps in the curriculum. Many state standards do include critical thinking skills like application of knowledge and drawing inferences. But, most state curriculum standards do not include underlying learning processes like teaching students how to attend better to relevant information, stick with a task to completion, or develop retention strategies.
Fortunately, neuroscience has been grappling with the learning process issues like focused attention, perseverance and memory enhancement for over a decade. As a result of neuroscience research, breakthrough technologies like the Fast ForWord brain fitness and reading products are now available to supplement classroom instruction through curriculum-based attentional and memory training. By supplementing classroom tasks with these types of technologies, teachers don't have to devote as much planning and instructional time to the kinds of activities "Hurricane Stevens" employed.
Breakthrough technologies are also available to free up classroom time so that teachers can focus instruction on Common Core State Standards like those for speaking and listening which "expect students [to] grow their vocabularies through a mix of conversations, direct instruction, and reading*." With technologies like Reading Assistant, for example, students independently read aloud to a computer which corrects their errors through speech recognition software, provides vocabulary definitions on request, and quizzes for application of information at the same time as measuring reading fluency. These kinds of technologies in the classroom enable teachers to do what they love, impart content as well as encourage their students to think about how the content applies to other information they have learned and their daily lives. The Common Core State Standards can be a welcome contribution to classroom education with breakthrough technologies that enhance students' capacity to learn.
And by the way, with Mr. Stevens' help you might have expected that Louise eventually became a prodigious student and teacher herself. Perhaps you can guess who she was. (HINT: My full name is Martha Louise Stoner Burns - the teacher and principal's names were changed though.)
For further reading: