Showing posts with tag learning environment Show all posts >
When students at ACS Cobham International School (UK) got iPads, Richard Harrold saw an opportunity. As an assistant principal at the lower (elementary) school, he had been hearing glowing reports from other educators about students seeing remarkable gains when using iPads. Were the gains real? And was the effect due to something special about the iPad, or were students just responding to the newness of the technology?
Harrold decided to find out. With the help of his school’s “Project i” team, he launched a formal study with 1st and 2nd graders to see if they would experience the same increases in engagement and understanding that he had been hearing about from other educators.
Harrold's study confirmed the benefits of iPads in schools:
More generally, results indicated that:
The effects discovered were more than a reaction to a fun, new “toy.” In fact, to ensure that their results were not due to a honeymoon period, the team delayed the study until learners had been using their iPads for a full eight months.
These findings are exciting, especially for learners requiring intervention. Struggling students can be harder to engage and may have trouble enduring learning challenges. Giving them the opportunity to use an iPad-based intervention can motivate learners to persevere and achieve.
In a time where “grit” is getting a lot of attention as a key indicator of future success, anytime that perseverance goes up – as with iPad use – educators would be wise to take notice. But don’t rule out the appeal of classic technologies. Early-grade learners would still rather read a bound book than an ebook on iPad.
Harrold, R. (2012). Measuring the Effect of iPads in the Classroom. The International Educator. Retrieved from: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/74482139/measuring-effect-ipads-classroom
Harrold, R. (2012). The iPad Effect: Leveraging Engagement, Collaboration, and Perseverance. The International Educator. Retrieved from: http://www.tieonline.com/view_article.cfm?ArticleID=100
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I am sure you have noticed that there are many technology programs out there that claim to “build,” or improve your brain function. Every week I receive emails from companies advertising brain games that promise to train attention and memory skills. You may have wondered, do “brain games” really work? A recent article in The New York Times entitled "Do Brain Workouts Work? Science Isn't Sure," actually asked that very question as well.
How would a memory brain game that I purchase from a website be different from a card or board game like “Concentration”? How is an attention game different or better than the concentration required to read a good book or play a card game that requires focused and sustained attention to cards played or discarded each round? Do good old fashioned paper pencil activities like crossword puzzles help with brain function? How about Bridge or Chess? Does watching Jeopardy on Television help your memory? Wouldn’t any challenging video game help us with attention if we had to stay focused for long periods of time to get to a new level?
The answers to the above questions are all “yes, to some degree.” The brain is the only organ of our body that changes each day based on our experiences. And if we do any activities that challenge memory or attention for extended periods of time it will likely be beneficial for improving those capacities. If I play bridge, for example, many hours a week, I will likely get better at the game and boost my short term (working) memory as well. But, neuroscientists who study brain plasticity, the way the brain changes with stimulation (or lack of stimulation), have determined there are ways to enhance the beneficial effects of brain exercises to maximize the efficiency and positive outcomes so that children or adults can specifically target some capacities over others in a short period of time. And, controlled research is showing these targeted exercises have benefits on other brain capacities as well.
So, for example, researchers have shown that when seven year olds do a simple computer-based exercise that targets working memory for just a few minutes a day for a few consecutive weeks they show improved working memory (we would expect that) but also improved reading comprehension compared with children in their classrooms who received reading instruction but did not do the working memory activities (Loosli, 2012). Or, aging adults in their 70's who did computer-based processing speed exercises a few minutes a day for six consecutive weeks so they could do things like react faster when driving showed improvements in processing speed (again we would expect that) but also in memory when compared to adults who did other exercises but not the processing speed exercises, and the improvements lasted for ten years without doing additional exercises (Rebok, 2014).
The question, then, is what are the critical active ingredients neuroscientists have found that need to be "built-in" so brain exercises effectively build targeted skills compared to the benefits we get from just using our "noggin" in everyday activities? And, more important, how is a parent or consumer to get through all the hype and determine which brain exercises have the important design features shown to be effective?
Fortunately, neuroscientists who have thoroughly researched this have published excellent summaries in respected scientific journals. Below are the key elements to look for in brain exercises:
So, parents may ask, ”This sounds fine for making our average brains work better but what about my child who has been diagnosed with a learning disability or other issues like autism spectrum disorder?” According to Ahissar et al. (2009), for our children (or adults) with learning issues, distortions or limitations at any level will create bottlenecks for learning and the changes we want from brain exercises. But, according to the authors, if the exercises have sufficient intensity and duration on specific sets of activities that focus on lower-level (perceptual) and middle-level stimuli (attention, memory and language) tasks, brain changes will enhance higher level skills and learning will be easier and more advanced.
So for parents, or anyone wanting to understand which brain exercises are worth the investment of valuable time and money, a rule of thumb would be to avoid products that advertise themselves as "brain games" - because that is what they probably are. Rather, seek out programs or products that contain "exercises" that focus on specific high and low level skills like language, reading, memory and attention, and those who have research evidence to support their value when used by children like yours.
Ahissar, M., Nahum, M., Nelken, I., & Hochstein, S. (2009). Reverse hierarchies and sensory learning, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 364, 285–299.doi: 10.1098/rstb.2008.0253
Loosli, S.V., Buschkuehl, M., Perrig, W.J., & Jaeggi, S.M. (2012). Working memory training improves reading processes in typically developing children, Child Neuropsychology, 18, 62-78. doi: 10.1080/09297049.2011.575772
Rebok, G.W., Ball, K., Guey, L.T., Jones, R.N., Kim, H.Y., King, J.W., . . . Willis, S.L. (2014). Ten-Year Effects of the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly Cognitive Training Trial on Cognition and Everyday Functioning in Older Adults, Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 62, 16-24. doi: 10.1111/jgs.12607
Roelfsema, P.R., van Ooyen, A., & Watanabe, T. (2010). Perceptual learning rules based on reinforcers and attention, Trends in Cognitive Science, 14, 64–71.doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2009.11.005
Vinogradav, S., Fisher, M., & de Villers-Sidani, E. (2012). Cognitive Training for Impaired Neural Systems in Neuropsychiatric Illness, Neuropsychopharmacology Reviews, 37, 43–76. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.251
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For many teachers, the words “flipped classroom” are nothing more than a synonym for having students watch pre-recorded lesson videos at home and then do related assignments – formerly homework – during class time. There’s no doubt that that is exactly what the flipped classroom typically looks like on the surface. But when flip teaching is done right, what matters is that it uses time differently and more effectively, in ways that can profoundly benefit all learners, including students with learning disabilities.
The flip teaching model:
Extends the learning day.
The ability to extend instructional time is a huge benefit for learners who grasp new concepts more slowly, or who aren’t able to process information as quickly as it’s presented. With flipped learning, they can rewind and re-watch a video as many times as needed until they understand the material – or perhaps until they understand what they don’t understand so they can get help in that area the next day.
Makes precious teacher time more available to students.
With instruction now happening at home on students’ time, teachers have more time to observe students as they apply what they have learned. As a result, teachers have more opportunities to watch students at work, so they can better identify student learning challenges and support struggling students with differentiated activities or targeted intervention.
Levels the playing field.
Flipped instruction puts students with learning disabilities on more equal footing for effective classroom participation. Learners who formerly may not have immediately grasped their teacher’s in-class instruction may now feel empowered to contribute to classroom discussions and ask informed questions instead of worrying about “looking dumb.”
The Naysayers and Their Challengers
Critics of the flipped classroom approach to blended learning say that access to videos can be a problem, especially in communities with a large number of learners from low-income households. Students may not have a computer or internet connection at home, may have to share already-limited computer time with other family members, or simply may not have time at home to watch lessons for the next day. The concerns are valid, but one visionary school is demonstrating that they can be overcome.
Clintondale High School, just outside of Detroit, is the first U.S. high school to move to a flipped model of learning school-wide. With a large population of economically disadvantaged learners, the school dealt with access concerns head-on by making extra time available in computer labs during the school day for learners who need it. One student who has limited time at home because of a long bus commute watches most of his lesson videos on a smartphone as he rides home from school. In just a few years, standardized test scores have gone up and the school’s failure rate has dropped dramatically from 52% to 19%.
Clintondale’s teachers note that the process is not as simple as just rearranging where and when direct instruction takes place; it’s essential that teachers get on board with mastering the technology and creating great lessons and learning activities. That way, students can get the most from every moment they spend learning and teachers can get maximum results for the time they spend creating content and supporting learners in the classroom.
Where Gen Ed & Special Ed Meet
A big boon for schools that move to flip teaching is that general ed technology can do double time as assistive technology for special ed. It’s a benefit for everyone, helping to reduce technology expenditures, the cost of managing technology, and the time that teachers spend adapting to learners’ assistive devices.
Still, flipped classroom veterans warn that setting high behavior standards for students is a must. Students need to know how they are expected to use their time at home and at school, and what specific behaviors will enable them to achieve their learning goals. Some students with learning disabilities may need additional help allocating their time and using it effectively. But when teachers, students, and parents are all on board, flipping has the potential not only to move more students to proficiency, but also to take more students beyond proficiency to the desired goal of mastery.
For Further Reading:
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Teaching persistence in the classroom is an important part of setting up learners to succeed. Students who have mastered persistence are able to work through challenges, deal constructively with failures and adversity, and achieve the goals they have set for themselves.
It’s a lot like running a marathon. The runners who make it to the finish line are the ones who persist in showing up for practices and trainings, learn to anticipate slumps and pace themselves, engage in positive self-talk during tough times, take steps to effectively prevent and treat injuries, and adjust expectations to fit reality – even if “finishing” means having to crawl the last mile.
Like a runner who has not trained to run longer distances, learners can’t persist in their learning if they haven’t developed the stamina they need to keep going when things get tough. Teaching persistence depends on first developing student stamina as a way of conditioning learners to handle sustained effort.
To help learners build stamina and persistence, it’s important to create the right learning environment:
Help Learners Develop a Growth Mindset
Learners need to know that they have the ability to grow and change, and that effort is the key. Praise them when they focus their efforts toward specific, clearly defined goals. When you say things like, “Those extra 10 minutes of reading each day are paying off – you are decoding unfamiliar words much more easily now,” you help learners make the connection between effort and achievement. The goal is for learners to become intrinsically motivated to engage in effortful learning now and in the future.
Push a Little Bit – and Know When Enough is Enough
Sometimes learners just need a little bit of encouragement to get past a hurdle. A few supportive words, like, “Think of how good you will feel when you finish those last two addition problems and you know you did the whole worksheet all by yourself!” can make all the difference. On the other hand, a learner may need to know that it’s okay to take a break and come back to a particular task when he’s feeling less frustrated. In that case, it’s important that the learner really does come back and complete the work to get the experience that he truly can “do more” when he persists.
Most learners love to hear personal stories from their teachers. Telling your learners about your weekend plumbing project that didn’t go as planned – and how you got through it and completed it – is a great way to help learners see that everyone feels like giving up sometimes. It also models for them how to overcome those feelings and reach a goal – without coming off as preachy.
Teach Positive Self-Talk
Some learners need a lot of help knowing what to say to themselves to stay motivated. If a learner’s typical internal dialogue consists of statements like, “This is too hard,” or “I don’t know how to do this,” it may come as a revelation to discover that there are other options. Giving learners specific wording, like, “I know I can do this if I keep at it,” or, “If I’m really stuck I can ask a friend or my teacher for help,” can begin to change the way they think and act when faced with a challenge.
Let learners know that you have high expectations and that you have confidence that each and every one of them can meet those expectations. Be sure they have access to the tools they need to be successful, and that they know how to use them.
Make the Most of Technology
Online tools like the Fast ForWord program can help learners make the connection between effort and achievement. The Fast ForWord program gradually builds learner stamina for enduring increasing degrees of cognitive load. The exercises develop reading and language skills at the same time as they boost memory, attention, processing, and sequencing ability. It gives learners immediate feedback on their performance and automatically adjusts the difficulty level for just the right degree of challenge. Fun reward animations help learners see when they have achieved a goal to help them stay motivated.
Call Out the Brain
It’s never too early – or too late – to teach your students about how the brain learns. Introduce the concept of brain plasticity – the idea that the brain changes in response to how it’s used – as a way of reinforcing the idea that learning is achieved through focused, sustained effort. Help them understand that every brain is capable of making dramatic changes and leaps in learning.
Repeat, Repeat, Repeat
Students learn persistence in the same way that they learn sight words or multiplication tables – through repetition. Strategies like modeling persistence, connecting effort to achievement, and pushing students to do a little more than they think they can aren’t a one-time deal. But when repeated over time, the cumulative effect will likely be increased stamina, improved persistence, and intrinsic motivation for ever greater learning.
For Further Reading:
A brand new year certainly has a way of getting us thinking about the future. The holidays are behind us, the first term of the school year has wrapped up or soon will, and New Year’s resolutions beg for action. It’s a natural time to look forward.
So why not get out our crystal ball once again and look into the future of education? What trends are predicted for 2014?
The inclusion of listening standards in the Common Core heralds a new focus on listening instruction in the classroom. The Common Core raises up listening as a literacy skill, giving it equal weight to the more traditionally emphasized reading, writing, and speaking.
In 2014, teachers will spend more time demonstrating what listening “looks like;” explaining what students should be doing with their eyes, ears, and bodies while listening; directing learners to notice when they haven’t been listening; and measuring how well learners apply what they’ve been taught.
More schools are shifting toward project-based learning as a way of increasing engagement and creativity in the classroom. It’s not a matter of simply marking the end of a lesson or unit by making a book or a diorama; instead, project-based learning engages students in meaningful, long-term projects that are themselves the learning experience.
Fourth-grade students might conceive, coordinate, and run their own semester-long weekly farmer’s market. They then learn as they go – how to market their goods, how to anticipate what will sell, how to total a purchase and make change, and what it feels like to accomplish all that and contribute the cash earned back to their classroom or school.
Davis, M.R., (2013, June 11), Computer Coding Lessons Expanding for K-12 Students. Education Week, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2013/06/12/03game-coding.h06.html
Fairbanks, A.M., (2013, May 20). Digital Trends Shifting the Role of Teachers. Education Week, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2013/05/22/32el-changingrole.h32.html
Lynch, M. (2013, November 22). Future Trends in K-12 Classroom Management and Discipline. Education Week, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/education_futures/2013/11/future_trends_in_k-12_classroom_management_and_discipline.html
Murphy, A.P. (2013, October 29). Ready to Learn? The Key Is Listening With Intention Annie. MindShift, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/10/ready-to-learn-the-key-is-listening-with-intention/
Schwartz, K., (2013, January 2). What Project-Based Learning Is — and What It Isn’t. MindShift, Retrieved December 9, 2013, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/01/what-project-based-learning-is-and-isnt/
Schwartz, K., (2013, October 14). Five Research-Driven Education Trends At Work in Classrooms. MindShift, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/10/five-research-driven-education-trends-at-work-in-classrooms/
Vangelova, L. (2013, November 13). Subverting the System: Student and Teacher as Equals. MindShift, Retrieved December 5, 2013, from http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2013/11/subverting-the-system-student-and-teacher-as-equals/
There’s a tug of war going on in American schools, a tension between learners’ developmental needs and the academic rigor required to meet challenging educational standards. In the classroom, where standardized assessments are the driving force of the day, the developmental realities of learners are often overlooked and shortchanged—and it’s something we ought to be talking about.
Signs of a Struggle
My co-worker’s son, Eli, is a case in point. As a kindergartener, he was expected to sit cross-legged with his hands in his lap on an 18” x 18” carpet square for 30-40 minutes of circle time each morning—something he was often unable to do. His teacher regularly reported home that Eli needed to improve in his ability to sit still, and the enthusiasm he had for school in September quickly waned.
His mother discussed the situation with her child’s pediatrician, who replied that Eli’s difficulty sitting still was a developmental stage that was perfectly normal for a five-year-old boy. The doctor also noted that Eli was expending so much energy trying to sit still that he was probably not able to attend to what he was supposed to be learning.
Eli’s parents transferred him to a different school the following year where he was assigned a teacher who designed her learners’ activities with their developmental needs in mind. For example, she gave her socially focused first-graders many opportunities to work with other learners in pairs or groups. Eli’s motivation skyrocketed, and in addition to performing at the top of his class academically, he began describing himself as a person who liked to be challenged.
Meeting Learners Where They Are
With so much to accomplish each year, and so little time, it’s no surprise that considerations around learners’ developmental stages often take a back seat to the focus on academic rigor. But as Eli and his parents learned, a standards-based curriculum isn’t likely to be effective if students are developmentally unable to attend to the material as it’s presented.
Some educators are calling for a renewed interest in child development and a move toward creating more developmentally appropriate classrooms for young learners. What might classrooms look like if developmental considerations were given greater weight? Here are just a few possibilities:
The Original Common Core
Long before we had the Common Core Standards, we understood that there are developmental stages that children step through as they move toward adulthood. Although children progress through them at different rates and there can be considerable overlap between stages, the stages are predictable for most children.
Learners bring their entire developmental selves to school each day, not just the cognitive components that are reflected in their standardized test scores. Classrooms that don’t take standards and developmental considerations into account aren’t likely to move students as far ahead as they need to go to stay on track.
Educators may find that aligning communication styles and classroom activities with their learners’ developmental stages results in less time spent on discipline and more time on task. Loosening the reins a little by adapting to learners can support the more “serious” work of building the cognitive skills that matter so much in meeting today’s standards.
Wood, C. (2007). Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14. Turners Falls, MA: Northeast Foundation for Children.
Eccles, J.S. (1999). The Development of Children Ages 6 to 14. The Future of Children, 9(2), 30-44.
If you want to master something, teach it. Or so the saying goes. But is the platitude based in fact? Can students really learn better by explaining? The evidence says yes.
The Self-Explanation Effect
Research shows that coming up with an explanation can help students learn more effectively than having an explanation handed to them (Fonesca and Chi, 2010). For example, when two groups of learners study the same material but only one group is tasked with explaining it (the other group engages in alternative tasks or spends an equivalent amount of time studying), the explainers typically outscore the non-explainers on a post-test (Lombrozo, 2013).
How Explaining Helps Students Learn
How does explaining yield these results? Hypotheses abound:
There’s recent evidence, as well, that explaining may be easier than predicting. Preschoolers in one study, for example, were able to explain another person’s behavior more accurately than they were able to predict it (Legare, Wellman, & Gelman, 2010).
Why Does Explaining Help Learning?
One theory says that explaining sheds light on causal relationships and causal mechanisms. For instance, when a group of children was asked to explain how an unfamiliar mechanical toy worked, the explainer group showed a greater understanding of the toy’s mechanics than did children in another group that was invited to simply observe the toy. However, the explainer group did not have any greater awareness than the observer group when it came to details that weren’t relevant to the toy’s workings—such as the toy’s colors (Legare and Lombrozo, unpublished data, cited in Lombrozo, 2013).
An alternate theory suggests that explaining helps learning because it requires the learner to relate a specific property or event to more general principles or patterns. In studies of category learning, learners who were tasked with explaining were more likely to discover patterns underlying the category structure than learners who were given alternate tasks (Williams and Lombrozo, 2010). This theory also predicts that explaining can sometimes impair learning when the material being explained is not strongly rule-based—and recent findings confirm this prediction (Williams, Lombrozo, & Rehder, 2010).
Much is still unknown about the role of explanation in learning, but it’s clear that explaining engages the brain in a way that other tasks do not. Perhaps some of the benefit comes from the fact that explaining something clearly and accurately demands more evolved language skills than those required when simply receiving an explanation. Students who improve their language skills, as with Fast ForWord, are likely to be better explainers and learners—and that sounds like a pretty big win in the classroom.
Fonesca, B.A., & Chi, M.T.H. (2010). Instruction based on self-explanation. In R. Mayer & P. Alexander (Eds.), The handbook of research on learning and instruction (pp. 296-321). Oxford, UK: Routledge.
Lombrozo, T. (2013) Explanation and abductive inference. In K.J. Holyoak & R.G. Morrison (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of thinking and reasoning (pp. 260-276). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Legare, C.H., Wellman, H.M., & Gelman, S.A. (2009). Evidence for an explanation advantage in naïve biological reasoning. Cognitive Psychology, 58(2), 177-194. doi:10.1016/j.cogpsych.2008.06.002
Williams, J.J., & Lombrozo, T. (2010). The role of explanation in discovery and generalization: evidence from category learning. Cognitive Science, 34(5), 776-806. doi:10.1111/j.1551-6709.2010.01113.x
Williams, J.J., Lombrozo, T., & Rehder, b. (2010). Why does explaining help learning? Insight from an explanation impairment effect. In S. Ohlsson & R. Catrambone (Eds.) Proceedings of the 32nd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2906-2911). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. Retrieved from http://cocosci.berkeley.edu/joseph/WilliamsLombrozoRehder.pdf
Do you recall how you learned to read? Were you an early reader, someone who learned to read before starting school? I was an early reader and so were my brother and sister. Yet, we didn’t learn to read in the way that most early readers learn.
According to Dolores Durkin’s landmark study of early readers, most children who start school knowing how to read were read to on a regular basis by their parents. My family was lower middle-class and I cannot recall my parents reading to or with me in the traditional sense—sitting next to me with a children’s storybook. Indeed, after reading Durkin’s study, I had to ask my mother how I learned to read.
When I chatted with my mother about this, she reminded me that my father was a musician who played in his band on weekends at local clubs. Although his day job was as a factory worker, he would regularly come home from work, take his shower, and come into the living room with his saxophone or clarinet in hand. For a half hour to an hour several days a week he would rehearse for his upcoming gig (big band songs popular from the 1940s and 50s) while my mother, brother, sister, and I would often sit with him and sing along with the songs that we had heard him play and heard on the radio throughout our childhoods. We also had songbooks in front of us so we could follow along with the words after my mother’s lead. The rhythmic and melodic nature of these old songs made them easy to learn and remember. As we sang them week after week, we apparently began to match the words that we were singing with the printed words in the songbooks. I never thought of this as reading, but in retrospect it clearly was one of my initiations into reading the printed word.
I also remember my mother regularly reading poetry to me after I had said my nighttime prayers and before I went to sleep. Mom often had a favorite child’s poem or prayer that she would read once or twice while I would listen. After a minute or two to chat about the poem I was off to sleep. Over the course of the next several days she would bring in the same poem and invite me to join in the recitation, eventually reaching the point where I could often recite the entire text on my own. Later, she would show me the poem in the printed form and I found I could read it to her. Although my “reading” was mostly a matter of memorization of the poem, the fact that I was matching the words I recited to the words on the page was an early form of reading. Interestingly, when my mom took me in for first grade screening (we didn’t have kindergarten in my school), I read for the teacher and found myself spending time in the second grade classroom for reading instruction.
Now years later as I reflect on how I learned to read, I realize that many of the things my parents had done to introduce me into reading were much the same methods that have been advocated for building phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency—the Common Core foundations for reading. My parents exposed me to short, highly rhythmic and melodic texts that were enjoyable, easy to learn, and played with the sounds of language. Before I recited the songs and poems on my own, my parents modeled the texts by reading or singing them to me. Later we engaged in a form of assisted reading by reading them together as a family or with one of my parents. And then, once I had learned the songs and poems, I found myself reciting them over and over again—I had a hard time getting them out of my head. Although my parents may not have known the term “repeated reading,” that was exactly what they were providing for my siblings and me.
Sometimes the best models for good reading instruction can be found in our own personal histories. I think I found my models and inspiration for my work in reading fluency from my own parents. Thanks Mom and Dad!
Reutzel, D.R. & Cooter, R.B. (2004). The Essentials of Teaching Children to Read. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
1Durkin, D. (1978 - 1979). What classroom observations reveal about reading comprehension instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 14, pp. 481-533.
Chances are, you’re doing something else at the same time you’re reading this blog post—at least partially. Divided attention is just part of the program in today’s “always-on” environment, and being constantly connected usually means spending a lot of time in front of a screen.
Not surprisingly, our kids’ screen time is increasing along with our own. As a result, language delays due to excessive screen time are becoming a cause for concern.
Too Much, Too Young
When children spend a lot of time in front of a screen—especially when that screen serves as a virtual babysitter for the child—it makes sense to expect that there’s going to be an impact.
One study published in Acta Paediatrica (Chonchaiya & Pruksananonda, 2008) found that children who started watching television before their first birthday, and who watched more than two hours per day, were six times more likely to have language delays than children in a control group.
The Dwindling Art of Two-Way Conversation
What seems to matter even more than the amount of screen time is the degree of adult involvement and interaction with that screen time. Both the Chonchaiya & Pruksananonda study and another study published in PEDIATRICS (Zimmerman, et al., 2009) have shown that when adults guide a child’s screen time and engage the child in two-way conversation about it, the detrimental effect on language development can be neutralized.
Children require conversation to develop robust language skills, and they need adults to invite and shape that conversation in ways that help them think about the world and formulate the language that expresses their thoughts. Even reading to children and telling them stories—both of which are important—are not enough by themselves to support healthy language development.
Connected vs. Connection
In some cases, it may actually be parents’ screen time that’s the problem. For a variety of reasons—including job pressures and shifts in culture—parent screen time has started to encroach upon family time, displacing adult-child interaction.
In her book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age, Catherine Steiner-Adair shares the stories of children and teenagers who are sidelined by their parents’ use of technology and who long for their undivided attention. The overwhelming message from the kids is that “it feels ‘bad and sad’ to be ignored.”
If kids aren’t getting the attention they want from their parents, how likely is it that they’re getting enough of the conversation that they need to develop important life skills—including language skills?
Language isn’t just a tool used to communicate at the dinner table or in the classroom; it’s a living part of who we are, and comes to life and grows in our relationships, our conversations, and in caring for—and being cared for—by others.
As hard as it can be to manage the competing demands of work and family—or to break the habit of being “always on”—there’s no substitute for listening, asking questions, and being interested in kids’ lives.
Chonchaiya, W., & Pruksananonda, C. (2008). Television viewing associates with delayed language development. Acta Paediatrica, 97(7), 977-982. doi: 10.1111/j.1651-2227.2008.00831.x
Steiner-Adair, C. (2013). The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age. New York, NY: Harper.
Zimmerman, F.J., Gilkerson, J., Richards, J.A., Christakis, D.A., Xu, D., Gray, S., & Yapanel, U. (2009). Teaching by Listening: The Importance of Adult-Child Conversations to Language Development. Pediatrics, 124(1), 342-349. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-2267
The number of English language learners (ELLs) in American schools is rising faster than that of any other student population. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) 2012 report, The Condition of Education, ELLs in US schools increased from 3.7 million in 2000-01 to 4.7 million in 2009-10, up from 8% to 10% of all students. In California, the state with the greatest increase, 29% of enrolled students in 2009-10 were ELLs.
Given these numbers, it’s clear that the challenges are enormous. There are more than 150 languages spoken by ELLs in the country’s schools. In some states, the vast majority of ELLs speak a single language—often Spanish—while in other states fewer than half of the students speak the top foreign language. Schools face a shortage of qualified bilingual teachers and, often, rigidity within the traditional school structure that impedes effective teaching of English learners.
It’s no surprise, then, that when it comes to ELL’s academic achievement, the data shows that our schools are failing to meet the Department of Education’s promise of “fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”
Where’s the Excellence?
Consider the following data from the 2011 Nation’s Report Card:
4th Grade ELL
8th Grade ELL
8th Grade Non-ELL
% Proficient or
4th Grade ELL
8th Grade ELL
8th Grade Non-ELL
% Proficient or
The non-ELL achievement levels are unimpressive, but the ELL results are downright depressing—especially for 8th graders who may be at risk of dropping out. For the vast majority of English learners, the language barrier remains unacceptably high.
School Success Stories
Despite these dismal statistics, some schools have done an exceptionally good job educating English learners. Take, for example, Coral Way Bilingual K-8 Center in Miami, FL, which started providing two-way bilingual education for all students in the 1960s in response to an influx of English learners from Cuba. Of the 70% of kindergarteners who enter the school with a Limited English Proficient (LEP) classification, most move out of the classification by 2nd grade.
On the West coast, a technology-based approach has made a big difference at a school formerly in Program Improvement. At Korematsu Discovery Academy in Oakland, CA, where the student population is 65% LEP, Principal Charles Wilson introduced the Fast ForWord online reading intervention program to help struggling learners move closer to proficiency. Within two years, the reading proficiency rate for 2nd – 5th graders increased from 17% to 41%. The math proficiency rate increased from 39% to 67% in the same period.
As a result of these gains, Korematsu received an award from Oakland Unified School District for the largest increase in the proficiency rate of English learners of all elementary schools in the district. According to Wilson, English learners who go through the program “are able to understand English more quickly, maintain their focus for a longer period of time, and are better at following directions.”
While the jury’s still out on which program model—two-way bilingual as used at Coral Way, late-exit bilingual, pullout ESL, etc.—is “the best” for helping English learners make strides academically, research shows that successful schools have typically made an effort to restructure for better learning. School restructuring can include a variety of elements, such as:
Many of the benefits of restructuring—such as greater parent involvement and teacher collaboration—extend beyond ELLs to the broader school community. With a more flexible structure in place, teachers have greater latitude to help all their students build the skills they need to succeed in reading, language arts, and all subject areas.
The Fast ForWord online reading intervention program used at Korematsu Discovery Academy is easier to implement than school restructuring and can provide rapid results within traditional or restructured learning environments. The program helps ELLs learn to hear the critical differences between similar sounding English phonemes so that so they can make sense of the English language. Once they can hear the sound differences, the “code” is broken and they can accelerate their acquisition of reading and language skills. It’s this unique intervention approach that makes it possible for ELLs to achieve significant academic gains in just a few months.
The demographic changes in American schools are demanding that educators demonstrate the same globally competitive skills that their students are expected to develop—the ability to innovate, implement effective technologies, work collaboratively to solve pressing problems, and communicate cross-culturally with parents and the broader community. There are schools like Coral Way and Korematsu Discovery Academy that have demonstrated what’s possible. Who’s up for the challenge?