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How early does environment begin to shape children into successful students or underachieving students? The answer has to do, in part, with how early babies start acquiring the skills needed to learn to read.
Watching Beth Connelly’s recent webinar, Breaking the Cycle of Underachievement, I was surprised to learn that children as young as four days old can distinguish the vowel sounds of the language in their natural environment. Four days old.
I couldn’t stop thinking about the implications of that timeframe. Suppose one child grows up in an enriched (typically high-SES) environment with a lot of stimulation and adult interaction, while another child grows up in a low-stimulation, low-interaction (typically low-SES) environment.
As Hart and Risley noted in their landmark study, the first child will be exposed to 42 million more words than the second child by age four. That difference in language exposure plays a big role in establishing the achievement gap that—without effective intervention—continues to widen as learners progress through school and then out into the world.
When I think about how babies as young as four days old are extracting information from the words they hear—distinguishing sounds and learning the building blocks of language—it is easy to understand how a child’s ability to learn can increase or decrease depending on the degree of stimulation in the learning environment.
It’s not just the richness of the learning interactions that influences learning ability, however; babies with frequent ear infections or fluid in their ears can also have trouble extracting accurate information about language sounds, as can babies and toddlers growing up in environments with a lot of background noise.
In her webinar, Connelly covers a wide range of research that often surprises. For example:
That last point is especially important, because—as Connelly discusses—educator impact can be huge, influencing the actual biological processes that determine how successful learners are in the classroom.
Watch the full webinar and discover the critical importance of classroom teachers and technology in preparing all of our students—and especially our most vulnerable students—for life after K-12.
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
If you attended this year’s 100% virtual Visionary Conference on May 17th, then you already know about the amazing research presented by perennial audience favorites Dr. Martha S. Burns and Scientific Learning co-founder Dr. Paula Tallal. But if you happened to miss it, you’re in luck—because we’ve captured all of the conference sessions so you can watch them at your convenience and catch up.
Find the links to the research presentations below, along with links to additional sessions full of practical information for clinical providers in support of this year’s theme, Growing Together.
What’s New in Neuroscience?
In a jam-packed session, Dr. Martha Burns took conference attendees on a fascinating tour of trends and milestones in recent neuroscience. She reviewed years of foundational research underlying detailed maps of the neuronal connectivity of the brain that today we call “connectomes.” She then covered recent studies revealing the semantic map of the human brain, with words and word meanings mapped hierarchically over the cortex. She wrapped up with details about specific connectomes within the brain, the cognitive domains controlled by each (from a speech-language perspective, those governing attention and flexibility are particularly interesting), and symptoms related to dysfunction within a connectome. Advances in connectome research, according to Dr. Burns, point to new possibilities for evolving the clinical application of Fast ForWord program technology.
New Research with College Students
Dr. Paula Tallal’s session presented revolutionary new research using the Fast ForWord program with college students. The studies sought to determine whether college students using Fast ForWord would show improvements in attention, reading, and writing. Results were impressive, with significant improvements not only in attention and reading, but in writing as well. Dr. Tallal went into detail about the design and results of each study, so you will want to watch the presentation to fully understand the implications of this exciting new peer-reviewed research.
Product Updates and Enhancements
Every year, we look forward to sharing the recent and planned product enhancements with our providers at the Visionary Conference. This year, Ching Lee and Joan Ferguson of Scientific Learning gave online walk-throughs of product and reporting enhancements for both the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs. Their session is a must-watch for any provider looking to stay current with product and reporting features, as well as those who are curious about future enhancements currently in the works.
Connecting Fast ForWord to Reading Assistant
Using the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs together can be a powerful treatment approach for children and a strong marketing differentiator for private providers. Speech Language Pathologist Beverly Gough’s session focused on strategies and techniques for blending the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs in private practice. She walked through a number of clinical scenarios and answered audience questions, providing a wealth of valuable information mined from her years of professional experience as a Scientific Learning provider.
Growing Together: Maximizing Your Reach
Finally, attendees heard from Speech Language Pathologist Renee Matlock about how to reach more students and grow a clinical practice through offsite implementation and general marketing best practices. Ms. Matlock is a recipient of the Scientific Learning Sustained Excellence Award marking the highest quality of implementation of Fast ForWord for more than 10 years. After the release of MySciLEARN®, Ms. Matlock found that parents preferred the ease of having their children work on Scientific Learning products from home. She proceeded to transform her business into a 100% offsite practice, and generously shared her learning at the Visionary with all Scientific Learning Providers. It’s the perfect session for any provider looking to grow their practice—so be sure to watch and learn!
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
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.
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
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?
In the nearly 25 years since Congress designated the 1990s “The Decade of the Brain,” educators have been flooded with information about how the brain learns. Some of the “brain myths” that educators have learned are actually right on target, while others are outright wrong. Some data is still open for debate and other inquiries are just getting under way.
We asked Dr. Bill Jenkins and Dr. Martha Burns for a little help in sorting fact from fiction for those of us with other things to do besides reading through the original research studies and teasing out our own conclusions. They presented a great live webinar on the topic, and here’s what we learned:
Myth #1: The Brain is Hardwired – True or False?
Until the 1990s, neuroscientists believed that the adult brain was indeed hardwired with fixed neural circuits. The Decade of the Brain revealed that this view is false—the adult brain is not hardwired and neither is the child brain. In fact, learning goes hand in hand with the re-wiring of brain circuits on the fly, a re-organizing ability that lasts throughout our lifetime.
Myth #2: There are Multiple Intelligences – True or False?
When I first heard about the idea of multiple intelligences, I responded to it immediately. I’m a visual learner! I thought. Of course. And I know I’m not alone.
The truth is more complicated. The construct of multiple intelligences falls under the category of “still open for debate” and may depend as much on our frame of reference as anything else. Regardless, what’s important for teachers is to understand individual students’ strengths and weaknesses and not evaluate students along one dimension of Smart vs. Not Smart.
Myth #3: There’s a Critical Period for Language Learning – True or False?
The widely held belief that language learning must be mastered early is an example of a fact being taken too far. True, it is typically easier to learn a new language before age 7, but we retain the ability for language learning throughout life.
In fact, intensive language training can produce large gains in oral language and reading skills even in older children who are not yet fluent. This includes in-person training or computer programs such as the Fast ForWord Language and Reading programs. They key is an individualized and intensive approach that influences brain organization through mechanisms of neural plasticity.
Further, learning a new language later in life can be good for the brain—better than, say, Sudoku or crossword puzzles.
Get the Facts About 10 More Brain Myths
Drs. Jenkins and Burns had much more to say about fact vs. fiction in how the brain learns. Watch their on-demand webinar on Brain Myths in Education and get answers about these brain myths and more:
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.
On November 5th, Dr. Martha Burns and Mr. Charles Wilson, principal of the Korematsu Discovery Academy in the Oakland Unified School District, presented a live webinar that explained the research behind the Fast ForWord program and how it took Korematsu from NCLB Program Improvement (PI) status to achieving double-digit learning gains -- and emerging from PI status in only two school years!
Dr. Burns focused on the neurophysiology of learning, specifically the importance of several key left hemisphere pathways. Dr. Burns noted that these pathways appear to be originally founded in object naming networks but gradually expand to symbolic representation systems. She described how information is moved from perceptual/comprehension regions in the rear of the brain to the anterior regions of the frontal lobe, where the learner can utilize the information in useful ways.
This process is particularly important in reading. Reading represents one form of symbolic processing in which the visual symbol corresponds initially to speech sounds and ultimately to words and sentences. Fast ForWord is particularly designed to activate and strengthen speech perception, comprehension and production regions and those key pathways that enable processing for struggling learners by:
The best testament to Fast ForWord’s capabilities is real-world success, which is exactly what Mr. Wilson provided in his section of the webinar. Korematsu is a heavily disadvantaged school with a 95% free lunch rate and a high percentage of ELL students. Korematsu found itself in NCLB Program Intervention status due to not meeting AYP requirements, at which point Wilson and his staff adopted Fast ForWord. In the subsequent school year, the Academy experienced double-digit gains on the CSTs and was named the Alameda County English Learner School of the Year.
Those of us who have worked in a low-performing school understand the immense challenge it is to improve student achievement, especially in the midst of record budget cuts. A lot can be learned from Mr. Wilson, a man who has achieved such great success for students in one of the most challenging educational environments. With a mix of leadership, determination, innovation, and inspiration, Mr. Wilson shows us that anything is possible.
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.
In a recent webinar, Dr. William Jenkins, a leader in the field of childhood brain development and one of the founders of Scientific Learning, presented on the importance of executive functions in the development of preschool students.
As described by Dr. Jenkins, the executive functions of the brain consist of:
In other words, these processes are the ones that allow a small child to develop good learning habits, pay attention in class, ignore distractions, and think creatively when unexpected outcomes occur.
Where do they come from?
One of the misconceptions among preschool teachers and parents is that executive functions are inherently developed rather than taught, a product of the genetic lottery rather than learned behaviors. This is a dangerous proposition.
Studies show that these skills need to be introduced early in life and practiced in preschool in order for students to have a greater chance at academic success later in their school careers. “These skills support the process (i.e., the HOW) of learning – focusing, remembering, planning – that enables children to effectively and efficiently master the content (i.e., the WHAT),” Dr. Jenkins said.
What can an educator do?
The good news for educators is that we already have the tools to help address executive functions. They tend to be grouped under the heading “classroom management”.
Think about it. It requires working memory to be able to follow directions. It takes cognitive and mental flexibility to understand why we behave differently out on the playground than we do in the classroom. And nearly every classroom rule ever written is either aided or hindered by a child’s ability to inhibit their immediate needs and desires.
According to the webinar and an accompanying white paper authored by Alexandra Main, it’s never too late to address these skills with students. The prefrontal cortex - the part of the brain that tends to govern executive functions - continues to develop in humans well after their twentieth birthday. Of course, by then the child is either about to graduate college or has already ended their scholastic careers.
With all of this evidence, it’s imperative that teachers in early childhood education – especially preschool teachers – rededicate themselves to instruction in these executive skills using the best practices and patience that they use during reading and math skills instruction. There are remediation opportunities for children that have fallen behind in their executive functions, including some software programs discussed in the white paper.
But if you wait too long to address these skills, their lack of success in executive functions will translate into a lack of success in the academic skills in which they will be measured later in their school careers.
For further reading: