Showing posts by Terri Zezula Show all posts >
For an educator, getting to know each learner is like experiencing a new book. Every child—every mind that comes into the classroom—represents a new discovery with every turn of the page, their own way of seeing and experiencing the world, and they each bring a unique library of experiences, hopes, fears and dreams.
Now, while that makes for a poetic discussion about the wonderful variety among students, it also makes for a practical challenge in helping every one of these individuals achieve their greatest potential. How can an educator present information such that all of these learners—with all their different world views and brain wirings—will get the most out of the school experience?
Researchers have generated multiple models of the mind, each providing its own way of understanding how we can conceptualize and leverage learning differences in the classroom. Such categories are simply ways for us to classify students and ensure that we are reaching every one as effectively as possible.
All these models strive to answer one single question: How does each individual learner experience and process the world around them? Academics have spent great energies on unlocking these secrets and developing models of how we learn. A quick trip through just a few of these theories (and there are many other theories out there) gives us an idea of the breadth of ideas posed by experts of note since the 1980s:
In looking at these frameworks as a group, they all converge in certain ways and diverge in others. But one element remains consistent throughout, and that is the motivation for having them in the first place. There is a clear practical need for such frameworks in the classroom. Education is not a one-on-one teacher/learner proposition. As much as we would like, we as educators simply cannot provide fully individualized instruction for every student in a classroom of twenty or thirty.
The art and science of classifying how the human brain processes and learns is and will constantly change as we discover more and more about how the brain works. Whichever model or models are applied in the classroom (and again, the best educators will have a deep enough command of each of these models to leverage the best of each), it is up to educators to ensure that each learner is developing and cultivating the same set of core, fundamental cognitive skills: memory (the ability to store information), attention (the ability to focus on tasks and filter out distractions), processing (how fast a student can perceive and manipulate information), and sequencing (how accurately a student can order information). These four key cognitive skill sets, when developed together, have been demonstrated to improve learning and reading. Thus, any teaching we do based on learner classifications must support the development of these skills.
That said, if these classifications add power and efficiency to the way we impart these skills to our students and classes, then we should make use of them as much as possible. In the end, any tricks we can use, any knowledge we can leverage, any technique we can employ—if the research demonstrates it to be effective—represents a valid bit of knowledge that we can use to help our students succeed.
Learn more about the four essential cognitive skills of memory, attention, processing, and sequencing. For further reading:
Kolb, D. A. 1984. Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.
Honey, P & Mumford, A, (1982). The Manual of Learning Styles. Maidenhead, UK: Peter Honey Publications.
Mills, D. W. (2002). Applying what we know: Student learning styles. Retrieved May 22, 2011.:
Gardner, Howard (1983; 1993) Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, New York: Basic Books. Second edition published in Britain by Fontana Press.
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The pressure on educators in today’s environment is nothing short of brutal. Achieving a balance between individualizing instruction and ensuring that all students are performing against standards requires comprehensive expertise, the ability to adapt to immediate needs of students and classrooms, and saintly patience.
This balancing act is especially challenging for educators in ESL classrooms. They not only have to deal with the same variations in skills, knowledge and experience that every classroom teacher must face; they must also engage students of varying cultural and linguistic backgrounds, making for an especially challenging mix of communications and social skills.
So, what kinds of reading activities can we use to teach all of these different students and engage them for maximum effectiveness? There is certainly no shortage of great techniques and ideas out there that we can mine. We need only to look to resources like The Internet TESL Journal, Dave’s ESL Café, ManyThings.org, and the US State Department’s English Teaching Forum for great techniques as well as background research.
Here are just a few seed questions to help you think about designing engaging ESL reading activities:
What’s your sign? The world we live in is awash with language in the form of signs and advertisements. Looking at signage out in the world around us not only offers wonderful, relevant reading material, it gives students short, quick messages to read and interpret. ManyThings.org offers an archive of over 700 photographs of signs to pull from at http://www.manythings.org/signs/.
What’s your story? Reading stories along with audio recordings is an excellent way to solidify reading and comprehension skills. We can maximize student engagement by choosing stories that are directly relevant to the cultural backgrounds of our students. Not only will this engage individual students, but it will provide fodder for cross-cultural conversation and understanding. Further, in highlighting individual students’ cultures, it allows each to shine and find pride in their background. For stories, check out Folk Tales from Around the World and the World of Tales.
What’s cool? Maybe the most effective way to engage students in reading is to select activities that are of genuine interest to them as individuals. What are the things that they think are, well, cool? Where are their passions? Designing activities that plug into those interests has incredible potential for maximum effectiveness. Websites like How Stuff Works offer endless resources for allowing students to read and learn about the topics that they find most interesting. And when they’re genuinely interested, they are most likely to want to read more, discuss more and write more.
Finding the “sweet spot” for designing ESL reading activities requires a great arsenal of tactics, tools and techniques. But if we can create and execute activities that teach the essential skills through harnessing each student’s passions and interests, we are that much more likely to help them learn successfully.
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Every year, educators work hard to help their students learn as much as possible, squeezing in all the high-value knowledge they can. But come summer vacation, a solid percentage of that learning is lost as students walk away from school and get anywhere from six to twelve weeks to forget about the pressures of school and just go and be kids.
So, what can we do to minimize summer brain drain while still giving kids the break they need?
Since most kids backslide in math more than they do in reading (2.6 months of grade level equivalency, on average[i]), many parents welcome ideas for keeping math skills afloat without drowning the summer spirit. Fortunately, with a little creativity, fun opportunities to practice math skills abound.
Look for ways to incorporate math into everyday activities. Let your child pay with cash at the store. Or have your child figure out the tip at a restaurant – without a calculator. Include your child in figuring out how much fabric you need to make curtains. Bake together—and double the recipe, or halve it, letting your child figure out what the new measurements are for each ingredient.
If your child enjoys reading, add some math books to her summer reading list. Your middle or high school student might enjoy the classic Flatland, a story that takes place entirely in two physical dimensions. If you have an advanced math learner on your hands, she might be willing to give The Manga Guide to Calculus a try. (There are additional Manga titles on Physics, Statistics, Molecular Biology, and other advanced subjects.) Learners in middle school or the upper elementary grades may be interested in Math Curse. Math Fables is good for very young children (K – 1), while The Grapes of Math is more appropriate for ages 6 – 10 and Math Potatoes for grades 3-6.
For the child who loves computer games, Math Playground is a web site with free multimedia math games for elementary through middle school students. The games on Math Playground are not indexed by grade level and the site features a lot of advertising, but the games are free & reasonably entertaining. In MathHoops, kids can solve word problems for a chance to shoot some hoops (this game does specify grades 3 - 5). There’s a “need help” button for tips on how to translate the word problem into math steps (e.g., “key words like ‘more’ tell you to add”).
The X Detectives lets kids play secret agent, driving around a training compound in the “X-mobile” to work on skills in four different locations, such as negative numbers in the Integer Room and algebra puzzles in the Gadget Shop. Party Designer requires kids to use algebraic reasoning to design a party floor plan.
As Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman note in their article Summer Brain Drain: Tips to Help Your Child Avoid Summer Brain Drain, the key is balancing learning with fun. They suggest a multitude of ways to practice academic skills while enjoying summer recreational activities. Be sure to check out the article for ideas about how to incorporate math while playing in the pool, taking a road trip, playing card games, and collecting money for charity. Perhaps the best advice is to model learning for your child by turning off the TV or video games and picking up a book or taking an art class. Even if your kids don’t avoid the summer brain drain – you will!
If you enjoyed this post on avoiding the Summer Brain Drain, be sure to sign up to receive future posts in your inbox and be sure to catch Part 2 later this month!
[i] Strauss, Valerie. Active Summer, Active Minds: Educators Seek Ways to Prevent Learning Losses During Vacation. Monday, June 15, 2009.
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Having built a career in the world of education and computerized learning, I have always tried to maintain a healthy, objective skepticism towards what I do. When it comes to professional integrity, my top priorities are ensuring that the solutions I work with are developed and vetted based on reliable research, and that these solutions are delivering real results for educators and students.
So, which computerized learning systems work and which ones don’t? Given how differently organizations formulate and interpret the numbers, it’s challenging to get at a singular accurate answer. I know for a fact that all too often schools and districts implement these computerized learning solutions—with the best of intentions—and find that they don’t work as promised. Why?
Quite simply, making these solutions work takes work. They are not “plug and play,” nor are they designed to be a one-size-fits-all magic bullet. Computerized solutions—Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ among them—take careful planning, hours of professional development, and a deep staff and leadership commitment to following implementation protocols.
These systems do not do the work of teachers; they are tools to supplement teacher instruction and inform educators’ decisions. They are not, nor were they ever meant to be, a substitute for highly qualified educators. But when implemented and used correctly, computerized learning systems can and do help educators identify and address individual student needs and deliver results.
Scientific Learning offers an entire library of success stories and research, as well as independent reviews that demonstrate product effectiveness. But look at every single success and behind it you will not just find a product. You will find that the people using that product held a deep commitment to following the plan and making it work.
In conclusion, we must realize that none of these are new arguments. Even 10 years ago when computer-based learning was still very much in its infancy, researchers knew that these systems should not be expected to work on their own; they need to be embedded within great instructional practices. For a look back at key e-learning principles that still stand strong today, read the 2000 article, Changing How and What Children Learn in School with Computer-Based Technologies, by Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin and Means.
Technology and Education Achievement: http://abc-article.co.cc/technology/technology-and-academic-achievement/
This month, eSchool News will come out with its annual Technology Counts report, and this year, one of the topics discussed will be blended learning. While the discussion continues as to how blended learning will affect education policy and vice versa, it is important that we all have a clear understanding of the concept so we might develop our own opinions and contribute effectively to the conversation.
According to the iNACOL National Primer on K-12 Online Learning by Matthew Wicks, blended learning is defined as “any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, path, and/or pace.”[i]
While we all understand the benefits of traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms, the benefits of the online learning piece tend to be more debatable. Given its organic development over time, myths abound about what it is and how it works. Just a few cited in the paper above are that online learning is “teacher-less,” that courses are easy, that students spend all their time in front of computers, and that they work in isolation and thus don’t get the benefits of collaboration and socialization. In reality, quality online learning programs as well as blended programs are able address these issues, and Matthew Wicks does an excellent job of clearing the air.
Online and blended learning offers flexibility, opportunity and convenience, and because of these positives, as well as the simple fact that the public is demanding it, use is on the rise. While the Sloan Consortium estimated that in 2007-8 there were just over 1 million students in the US enrolled in online or blended programs, up 47% from 2005-6. Based on this growth, estimates are that over 1.5 million students were learning through such programs in 2009-10.[ii]
Clearly, the benefits are affordability, accessibility and convenience for students and educators alike. Not only do online and blended learning models allow learning to take place outside of classroom walls and schedules, they make the opportunity of school a more realistic endeavor for those students whose family lifestyles and needs tend to impede the ability to adhere to a more rigid school day.
What are the costs to students as well as to the educational system? Financially speaking, the costs of operating online programs vs. brick-and-mortar programs are, interestingly, about the same. Efficiencies and online strategy gains by not having classrooms and learning facilities are balanced out by the cost of the technology required to run the programs.[iii]
Most importantly, we must take the responsibility to educate ourselves and develop as comprehensive a picture of online learning as possible if we are to contribute effectively to the conversation and ensure that we are advocating (whether for or against) and implementing these strategies as effectively as possible. Nothing less than our students’ futures are at stake.
[i] Wicks, Matthew. (2010). A National Primer on K-12 Online Learning, International Association for K-12 Online Learning.http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/iNCL_NationalPrimerv22010-web.pdf.
[ii] Ibid, p. 14.
[iii] Anderson, A., Augenblick, J., DeCesare, D., & Conrad, J. (2006). Costs and Funding of Virtual Schools, Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates. http://www.inacol.org/research/docs/Costs&Funding.pdf.
“The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
As a pangram, a sentence that uses every letter in the alphabet, this one is wonderfully concise, quick and easy to process. You probably read it and understood it all in less than a single second. You didn’t have to think about what the individual letters or sound out the syllables. You knew how the ideas fit together because of how well you have internalized the parts of speech. You were able to digest the text with what is known as automaticity.
Automaticity is that ability to do things without having to think about them at a conscious level. When we do something automatically, the mind isn’t occupied with the small details of the task. Imagine some of the common every day activities you do with automaticity: driving a car, adding five plus three, riding a bicycle, catching a ball, dialing a telephone, and, yes, reading and writing. We acquire these skills through simple repetition and practice. Over time, such repetition establishes automatic response patterns that our brains call upon constantly throughout our daily lives. In achieving automaticity, we free our brains – our working memories – from the details of the task, allowing us to use that brain power to do more, building on those sets of automatic skills.
For our students, achieving automaticity in reading is essential not only to their becoming effective readers, but becoming effective all-around learners. The majority of students make the shift from “learning to read” to “reading to learn” around second or third grade. At this stage, their reading skills have developed to a point of automaticity where they no longer need to use their working memory to facilitate the task of reading, and they can use that memory for things like interpretation, comprehension and creative thinking.
On the other hand, imagine what learning becomes for the struggling student who does not develop this automaticity alongside his or her fellow students. As others begin to learn more and more from their reading, the struggling reader must engage their working memory in the challenge of getting through the letters and words of each sentence as opposed to using that valuable memory to glean meanings and assimilate information. As their reading skills lag, their overall ability to learn suffers.
We cannot underestimate the importance of building rock-solid foundations in reading and math for exactly this reason. If we are to successfully teach students, we must help them develop the automaticity in these basic skills that will free their minds to soar and explore all that lies ahead.
For more information and ideas to help students develop reading automaticity, read The Importance of Automaticity and Fluency For Efficient Reading Comprehension by Pamela E. Hook and Sandra D. Jones, from Perspectives, Winter, 2002, vol. 28, no. 1.
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 development is 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.
Today, you are nine years old and in the third grade. You enjoy playing on the monkey bars at recess and drawing pictures of your dog and your fish. You also like watermelon hard candies, mac and cheese, and, to your friends’ bewilderment, you have an affinity for tuna fish sandwiches, especially when your mom has mixed crunchy celery in with the tuna.
But also unlike your friends, you have often felt that school seems harder than it should be. For some inexplicable reason, you tend to make more mistakes than your classmates. You have a hard time grasping math concepts that they seem to get easily. You don’t remember geography facts as well as they do. And because of those difficulties, you feel different and separate from those around you. You feel incapable. You feel like a failure. And because of it, you feel angry, sad and alone.
While this is a simplistic snapshot of the thoughts typical of children with learning difficulties, such an exercise reminds us of two things: the magic of being young, and the loneliness and frustration of a youngster who lives with these challenges.
According to the Child Development Institute, six to ten percent of school-aged kids in the US are learning disabled. The causes of learning disabilities vary from genetics to nutrition to pre-birth and early childhood injury, and the challenges that children with learning difficulties experience tend to fall into five different areas: spoken language, written language, math, reasoning and memory. They may simply work slowly. They may have disorganized thinking. They may have difficulty in sequencing tasks. They may have poor impulse control. They many experience these difficulties in any number of combinations and groupings.
All children have problems. They all experience challenges with school and in social relationships. But when these problems begin to appear in combinations and clusters, or if they persist for long periods, we as educators must take a close look and ask ourselves whether the student’s challenges fall within normal ranges, or whether they should be evaluated in more detail.
If an evaluation comes back with an indication that a student has a learning difficulty, it is absolutely essential for educators and parents to team up and support that student in every way possible. If an IEP (individualized education plan) is in order, everyone needs to be informed and on board to support the student’s new path.
What exactly can we do for these children to boost their self-esteem? Writing for the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, clinical psychologist Aoife Lyons offers a number of recommendations:
The good news is that, for the student who has experienced years of frustration and difficulty and loneliness, a positive diagnosis can be freeing. It gives them a clear explanation for why they have been experiencing all these feelings and difficulties. It allows them to once again be proud of who they are and see their differences in a new light. And, given the research, expertise and research based interventions available, it gives these students a clearer path forward to define--and achieve--their own success.
For further reading, check out:
He gets results! Rescuing the good citizens of Metropolis and instilling hope and wonder in all citizens. Yes, it’s a comical notion but we love to believe in the Superheroes and their ability to get things done!
When it comes to education, we look to our school district leaders to get things done – improved student achievement, high quality schools and low cost education programs that get maximum results. Especially in light of recent reports that show the US lagging behind other countries in reading, math, science and social studies. But there is one district in Louisiana that is getting things done – their results are proof that good leadership, a supporting community and proven education programs can turn a district around, from failing to proficient in a short amount of time.
Once a low performing district, the St. Mary Parish Public School System has achieved significant gains to become a role model for schools looking to make dramatic changes in their performance. After using the Fast ForWord® and Reading Assistant™ family of educational software products to strengthen students’ brain processing and literacy skills, students have increased their reading proficiency, and improved their achievement on state tests. In addition, fourth grade promotion rates have increased and test scores for student subgroups have improved, with the district making significant progress toward closing the achievement gap.
During the 2006-07 school year, St. Mary Parish started school-wide use of the Fast ForWord software at eight elementary schools that were in Academic Assistance. During the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, the Fast ForWord program was extended to the rest of the district. Students in grades three through five work with the Fast ForWord products 30, 40 or 50 minutes a day, depending on the school. Since 2008, the district has implemented Reading Assistant software as well. Reading Assistant combines advanced speech-verification technology with the latest reading science to help students strengthen their fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary.
From 2006 to 2010 the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above the Basic level on the initial LEAP ELA test increased from 55 percent to 78 percent. In 2008, for the first time in a decade, the district exceeded the state average for the percentage of fourth graders reading at or above Basic on the initial ELA test. In addition, for the first time in years, the district had no schools labeled Academically Unacceptable.
Similarly, from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above Basic on the initial LEAP test rose from 59 to 79 percent in Math, from 53 to 69 percent in Science, and from 59 to 72 percent in Social Studies.
|Fourth Grade Initial LEAP Test|
*Net Change is measured from the year before Fast ForWord participation to 2010, i.e. 2006-2010 for 4th graders.
Fourth Grade Promotion Rates
In addition to improving LEAP scores, St. Mary Parish collected longitudinal data about the percentage of fourth grade students each year who were promoted to fifth grade. From 2006 to 2010, the district’s fourth grade promotion rate improved from 65 to 85 percent.
Both general education and special education students showed a positive trend in fourth grade promotion rates. Between 2006 and 2010, the fourth grade promotion rate improved from 67 to 88 percent for general education students, and from 33 to 59 percent for special education students.
“Over the past four years, our fourth grade students have made astounding gains, outpacing their state counterparts in English language arts as well as math and science,” said Superintendent Dr. Donald Aguillard. “Our fourth graders now rank 14th in the state, signifying a continuance of annual proficiency increases since 2006. As a result, the number of fourth graders who require summer remediation has declined significantly, and students’ self-confidence and motivation have soared. In reading and across the curriculum, our students are clearly benefitting from our ongoing efforts to provide effective, targeted instruction and interventions through the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs.”
St. Mary Parish Public School System is an example of a district that is getting results – making significant gains in reading, math, social studies and science. Providing the standard for making our education system No. 1 in the world again!
Superman is here… is more powerful than a locomotive and can leap tall buildings while raising district scores in a single bound, the Superhero the education world has been waiting for. Who is this Superman? It’s the School District leader who makes failure not an option; who sees opportunities and possibilities where others see roadblocks and status quo. The Superintendent who takes risks to make progress and the teacher who knows all students have dreams and unique learning capabilities. The Superheroes are among us – saving and enriching the lives of students every day.
Take one such Superhero, Dr. Donald Aguillard, Superintendent of Schools at St. Mary Parish Public School System. His story is like many great district leaders – he saw a need, he embraced the challenge and he took measures to take his schools from failing to proficient in just a few years.
In the mid-2000s, after years of struggling, St. Mary Parish Public School System knew powerful change was needed. The rural district’s high stakes test scores lagged behind the state average, and there were large disparities between the reading proficiency of student subgroups. The state of Louisiana had placed several of the district’s schools in Academic Assistance, a designation for schools that fail to grow sufficiently — and some had remained there for nearly 10 years.
Dr. Aguillard and his leadership team took charge – they invested in a program that builds brain fitness and accelerates learning for all students. During the 2006-07 school year, St. Mary Parish started school-wide use of Fast ForWord® software at eight elementary schools that were in Academic Assistance. “One of the things I was excited about was that the Fast ForWord program is based on the science of how the brain learns and retains information,” said Dr. Aguillard. “Our challenge wasn’t necessarily that our programs were ineffective. It was that we weren’t meeting the individual needs of students. We realized that to make the most of our programs, we needed to develop and strengthen the cognitive skills essential for learning and reading success.”
As a result of building students’ brain fitness, the district saw a marked increase in student performance in these eight schools and adopted the program district-wide. “This built tremendous momentum because there were so many more students reaching the proficiency bars set in high stakes testing,” said Aguillard. The results are evident across the district. In fact, from 2006 to 2010, the percentage of fourth graders performing at or above Basic on the initial LEAP test rose from 59 to 79 percent in Math, from 53 to 69 percent in Science, and from 59 to 72 percent in Social Studies.
Dr. Aguillard has a wonderfully supportive staff that enthusiastically promotes the Fast ForWord program and strives for excellence in education; a community that rallies behind his efforts and students who see the future as a world of open doors. Lead on Dr. A., the world loves a Superhero!