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Cooperative Learning Strategies in the Classroom: Creating a Culture of Inclusiveness

cooperative learning strategiesIt’s more than just a generational trend: research has shown that employing cooperative learning strategies in the classroom can actually help students learn better and even like each other more. But breaking students into effective working groups, training them in cooperative learning techniques, and promoting positive experiences for all learners takes know-how.

Research out of Stanford University shows that lower-status students may be excluded from full participation in cooperative learning groups even when they repeatedly attempt to engage with the group. While certain students may remain silent because they lack confidence in their ability to contribute due to a language barrier or lower ability, other students who do attempt to participate may be ignored when they speak or are blocked from accessing a task (e.g., other students may physically dominate an area where building materials are laid out).

Shaping Social Perception

One wonderful benefit of cooperative learning is the opportunity that it affords teachers in helping their students appreciate what every student has to offer. When a teacher takes the time to notice a unique skill or ability of a quieter learner—say, Rosa—and to point it out to the entire learning group, every member of the group gets the chance to shift their perception of Rosa and of her value to the group—including Rosa herself. It’s as simple as saying to the group, for example, “Rosa is good at planning things out step-by-step; your group can use her as a resource and rely on her to help keep your project on track.”

Learning How to Learn Cooperatively

As with most new skills, learning how to learn cooperatively must be trained. Teachers can help by ensuring that all students understand the purpose of cooperative learning and have the knowledge and tools to participate effectively.

Recommendations for enhancing a classroom’s cooperative learning culture include:

  • Knowing what type of instructional grouping is best for achieving the desired goal
    • Formal cooperative learning groups meet for a time span of at least one class period, and potentially up to several weeks with the goal of completing an assigned project
    • Informal cooperative learning groups are ad-hoc groups that support direction instruction (e.g., breaking up into small groups to discuss a teacher demonstration)
    • Cooperative base groups are comprised of students of varying ability and perspective, forming for a year or longer to provide social support and academic encouragement to members
  • Assigning students to diverse groups and avoiding long-term groupings based on ability
  • Helping students learn what behaviors work best for cooperative learning
    • When contributing ideas, students can listen, take turns, and use language like “I suggest” and “We could”
    • When checking for understanding, students can make eye contact, wear an interested expression, and use words like “Can you give me an example?” and “How do you get that result?”
  • Assigning a group facilitator to ensure that every member of every group is contributing, offering and seeking help, and practicing active listening
  • Allowing students to practice cooperative learning strategies risk-free before beginning to grade on group outcomes

Who is a Leader?

Students who are easily recognized as leaders may not be the only leaders in the classroom—or even the best. Within cooperative learning groups, teachers can, and should, place many different students in leadership positions during group projects.

When a teacher makes the effort to recognize a student with hidden leadership potential and to reframe the learning group’s perception of her with a positive statement about her ability, real opportunity can arise for her within the group—even if that student has weaknesses in other areas, such as literacy.

Authenticity is Key

When her teacher stands up in front of the group and says that Rosa is good at planning step-by-step, you can bet that at least some students are judging that statement. An attempt to manipulate the group’s opinion isn’t likely to fly.

To help reframe a student’s status within the group, then, any statement about the student should meet a few basic criteria:

  • Be specific to the student (not generalizable to every student in the class)
  • Be recognizable in the student (others should be able to recognize the trait in the student when they try)
  • Be useful to the group (everyone, including the student, should be able to understand its value)

The real beauty of authentic acknowledgement is that it spotlights the recognition that every learner brings ability to the group and that no one learner is good at everything—and that that’s okay.

The sooner students realize this truth, the sooner they can discover that knowing how to work with others to get the job done is what ultimately counts in life—and that’s a real-life skill that every single student can take out into the world and use.

Related reading:

Creating a New Culture of Teaching and Learning with Alan November

Beating Bullying for Better Learning


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Categories: Education Trends, English Language Learners, Reading & Learning, Special Education

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Student Engagement Strategies That Can Help Your Learners Read Better

help your students read betterHow can we build better readers? What should we be doing to ensure each student leaves the classroom able to read better than they did when they arrived? Teachers are plagued by these questions. Even when teachers are highly prepared and expertly understand the strategies for reading improvement, learners may disengage. With limited instructional time and the added pressures of today’s classrooms, teachers need effective student engagement strategies along with appropriate instructional strategies for reading improvement.

Guided oral reading, for example, is a highly effective instructional strategy for improving reading. But engaging all students with sufficient guided oral reading opportunities is a daunting and difficult thing to do. Students who do not read well are often clever enough to find ways to avoid reading in front of their peers. I know from personal experience that students paired together may sometimes “cheat,” letting the stronger reader do all of the reading while the struggling reader listens. Too often, the students who need it most simply do not get the daily reading practice they need to grow their skills.

Reading comprehension—the entire aim of reading—requires active engagement. Too often students read a text purely with the intent of moving through it and completing the assignment. The purpose of reading for learning and discovery is lost to them. Students need to be drawn into the text. They need to use their background knowledge, to make predictions, to concentrate on details and hold information in their minds. The reading practice needed to realize improvement cannot be a passive activity.

Picture for a moment an engaged classroom working on a reading lesson. We would see every student participating, each one of them focused on learning. We’d see body language reflecting their mental participation and physical responses as they learn. We would also hear them asking questions and getting excited about what they were reading. A zealous vibe would be palpable. When we feel that excitement in a classroom we know that our instructional strategies are working to help students learn. 

So what can we do, as teachers, to help our students engage?

  • Make the challenge manageable. It’s important for us to assess student ability and find the right balance of challenge and success. Appropriate challenge is motivational. 
  • Make the learning meaningful. Students engage when their learning is made relevant to their lives and they are able to feel connected to what they are doing.
  • Provide feedback in the moment. When students get the feedback they need as they need it, they can compete against themselves and see growth.

Self-esteem is built through engaged, dedicated effort that yields results.  Our focus needs to be on ensuring participation, motivation, and excitement around reading for every student.      



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Categories: Reading & Learning

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Reading and Riding: How Learning to Read is Like Learning to Ride a Bike

reading acquisition

As spring begins to overtake winter, I’ve noticed an increasing number of children riding their bicycles in my neighborhood.   

Seeing one father helping his daughter with her new two-wheeler reminded me of my own initial experience with my first bicycle. The bike I received for my birthday had no training wheels on it and so I floundered on my first attempts to ride it. 

A Wobbly Start

My dad came home from his factory job one spring afternoon and saw me struggling to keep my balance as I rode. Getting out of the car, he walked over to me and had me get on the bike while he steadied it by grasping the seat.  

As I pedaled and steered my bike, he ran next to me holding me up. When I turned, I usually leaned too much or too little into the curve; my dad gave me feedback (he’d say “lean the other way”) and supported me by tilting the bike in the opposite direction. 

The Power of Supported Practice

After a few trips up and down the block he gave me a push, let go of the seat, and before I knew it, I was riding without his help. I could ride my bike! Later that afternoon my father gave me a few more tips on bike safety and expressed how proud he was of my accomplishment.

The experience of learning to ride my bike reminds me of what happens during assisted reading with feedback.  

The Importance of Feedback in Learning to Read

A considerable body of theory and research in reading acquisition tell us that the foundational skills in reading (in the Common Core Standards, phonics, word recognition, and fluency) are best developed through instruction followed by practice with support and feedback. 

When a struggling or developing reader reads a text while simultaneously hearing it read to them (either with a partner, a group, or a recorded reading) the developing reader will eventually be able to read that text (and others) without assistance. 

An essential key to the assist, however, is to provide formative feedback to the reader in the same way that my father gave feedback to me. That feedback can take a variety of forms—emphasizing a word that was mispronounced, providing the definition to a word or phrase, or briefly discussing the reading after the reading and focusing on an area of need or areas in which the reader has improved.  

Most learning, it seems, is facilitated by an assist, scaffold, or support provided by another.  Learning to read and learning to ride a bike are no exception.   

The Teacher’s Touch

As teachers, our role in reading acquisition is to find ways to support our students in their reading while providing formative feedback during and after their reading. When we do so we will find our students not only making great progress in their reading but also viewing themselves as competent and independent readers.

Related reading:

Building Your Child’s Self-Confidence

Goodnight Room: Story Strategies for Building the Best Bedtimes



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Categories: Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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Behavior Problems in School: Empowering Students to Self Discipline

Behavior problems in the classroomsIn my five years in the classroom, I was often the teacher who wrote the least amount of discipline referrals in the school. Some of my colleagues would say it was because of the students I taught (mostly advanced classes, with roughly half of the students being classified as gifted), to which I responded that talented kids are just as capable at problem behavior as traditional students. They just tend to misbehave in more creative ways.

The real reason for my lack of paperwork was that I could usually relate to why a particular student was acting out and tried to address the problem at the source. I credit that approach for a lot of the success I experienced in the classroom.

As anyone who has spent more than five minutes with a middle school student would tell you, the cause was usually a lack of self-discipline. I simply did not see how getting a student suspended from school would solve a student’s lack of self-control.

Why the traditional approach no longer works

To me, the traditional approach of working up a discipline ladder that usually ended with a suspension was contrary to what most of these children actually needed. Think about it. A kid lacks the social skills to be successful in a class group, so we’re going to make sure he gets less practice in working within the class by sending him home.

Let’s face it: society is providing us with more and more students that simply are not prepared socially to be successful in the traditional classroom setting. Debating the causes of this situation is outside the scope of this article, except to say that the role of the modern teacher is now equally defined by social as well as academic instruction.

The social skills that these students lack, and which we fail to address through traditional discipline, are skills that will haunt them throughout their lives. They will not “just grow out of it”. The same skill deficiencies that affect their success in school will affect their success in the workplace, if they make it that far.

So what do we do?

Instead of blaming society for forcing us to be parents to these children, we should embrace the role. Because, frankly, we don’t have a choice. It’s easier to change a classroom than change a society. We need to recommit ourselves to empowering students rather than entering in a power struggle with them.

Just as parents would, we should provide more social opportunities for students. The days of “sit down quietly and copy the notes on the board” are over. That approach just invites more anti-social behavior. Give them opportunities to help and be helped. Embrace a classroom culture of ideas and sharing. There are wonderful, restorative practice ideas on how to make this happen in the Further Reading section down below.

My most important tip: just listen. We all have our least-favorite students, and there are hundreds of things we would rather do than talk to them, which is where the majority of referrals come from. But just hearing their perspective on things could yield the largest return on investment of anything you do all year.



Further Reading:

How to Develop a Welcoming Culture

Study Finds Social-Skills Teaching Boosts Academics

SaferSanerSchools: Transforming School Culture with Restorative Practices

Related Reading:

Beating Bullying for Better Learning

Inspiring Students to Dream, Learn and Grow

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Introverted Students in the Classroom: Nurturing Their Hidden Strengths

student introversion

When it comes to dynamic, busy environments, today’s school classroom is one of the busiest. Most teachers must manage upwards of 25 learners, sometimes 30 or more, and help them all move together towards specific learning goals. In such environments, academic ability is only one part of the equation determining a student’s ability to function and succeed.  The rest depends to a significant degree upon aspects of temperament, such as whether the learner is an introvert or extrovert.  

Extroverts – simply because they are outgoing, social, and talkative – tend to be more visible to their teachers and classmates. They shine brightly. They are often natural leaders and may be the first ones to raise their hands and speak up with quick answers. While such a desire to interact is an excellent asset, it can also result in responses that are not fully thought through. The extrovert might be the first one to enthusiastically jump into a project, but may do so before gaining clarity on direction and goals. But when it comes to staying energized to learn, interacting with others gives them a real, palpable boost.

But what about introverts?  Because they can be quiet in a bustling group setting, they may not be as visible to their teachers and classmates.  However, they bring much to the table. In fact, the introverts’ perspective has the potential to bring quiet leadership and methodical perspective to the classroom dynamic that – if we’re not tuned in to it – can go untapped. The more we can understand their outlook on the world, the more effectively we can implement strategies to nurture their strengths.

Often described as having sensitive temperaments, introverts need to find comfortable ways into stimulating social situations. In classrooms, such students take their time to get acclimated to new settings or new people. They might not speak up in large discussions, but they work well on their own and often excel in small groups. Unlike extroverted individuals, introverts recharge by taking quiet time to process their experience away from the group.   Their reflectiveness can be a significant strength, taking learning deeper.

According to neuroscience researcher and psychoanalyst Marti Olsen Lany, Psy.D., there is a biological basis for the differences between introversion and extroversion. She explains that the dopamine that our brains produce in situations like parties tends to give extroverted people a pleasurable feeling. In introverted people, on the other hand, the same stimulation can create a sensory overload. 

Is one type more common than the other? Education Week reports that 50 percent of us are extroverts and 50 percent are introverts – an even split. Thus, the essential question for educators to consider is how can we help harness the hidden strengths of both kinds of students in the same learning environments?

So, how can we best support all students – introverted as well as extroverted – in the classroom?

  • At the beginning of the year, make it a goal to get to know each student individually to develop a feel for where they land on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.
  • Plan for a flexible classroom environment that allows introverted students the space they need to get acclimated to the group.
  • Without singling anyone out, explain to students the differences between introversion and extroversion to help foster self-awareness and allow each individual to take better charge of their own learning. 
  • Balance classroom time between large groups, small groups and independent work to create multiple environments where both kinds of students can think, learn and express themselves effectively.
  • Place an equal value on interactive discussion and thoughtful independent work.

Although our culture values extroversion, introverted students cannot simply change the way they experience and interact with the world. As educators, we need to learn to recognize them and to focus our energies on seeing their strengths, so that we can teach them to harness and cultivate their abilities. In doing so, we will help our introverted learners develop the self-confidence and self-knowledge they need to successfully pursue their dreams.  And that’s a benefit for all of us. 



For further reading:                      

Raising an Introvert in an Extrovert World

Studies Illustrate Plight of Introverted Students

Don’t Call Introverted Children ‘Shy’

Related reading

Creating Safe Learning Environments: How Classroom Management Influences Student Performance

Building Your Child’s Self-Confidence

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Categories: Reading & Learning

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The Flipped Classroom: A Pedagogy for Differentiating Instruction and Teaching Essential Skills

differentating instruction

Summer is almost over and some educators, when thinking about the upcoming school year, may be considering “flipping their classroom” as a new method for instruction of essential skills.

A flipped classroom is one in which the background learning of a particular topic or skill occurs outside of class time - utilizing technological tools like videos and podcasts to teach the essential skills. This leaves class time free to work collaboratively on the higher-order thinking needed to utilize these skills. 

In other words, class time is now free to spend working with the students because everyone has already received the background instruction that takes up so much time in the traditional classroom.

For example, let’s say you are teaching the Pythagorean theorem. This is how a “flipped” lesson about the theorem might go:

  • The students are instructed to watch the instructional video and then post one question about the theorem on your online classroom message board.

  • The question acts as both a record of participation and to guide the discussion in tomorrow’s class.

  • In tomorrow’s class, you already know who grasped the concept and who is still struggling, based on their questions.

  • Collaboratively, the class answers these questions, hopefully using some real-world examples.

Opponents of flipped instruction point to the widening “digital divide” and how our disadvantaged students might not have an opportunity to get on a computer and participate in the online components of the class.  For those students, you may have to alter your expectations for turnaround time to allow for them to make it to the library or a computer lab. You may also want to modify your online components to be used on a cell phone.  Many kids who do not have computers or internet at home have a phone that can meet the requirements of online coursework. 

Opponents also worry that flipped classrooms are a precursor to a school where teachers are obsolete, replaced by computers and other technologies. If anything, the teacher is more important in a flipped classroom. Only a trained educator can differentiate the class time instruction that makes the method effective. Teachers frequently feel that their class time gets eaten by paperwork and other obligations. Flipped classrooms are a way of taking some of that time back, making you a more efficient teacher.



Scott Sterling is an education writer and commentator from St. Petersburg, FL. He spent five years teaching English/Language Arts in Title I middle and high schools.

For further reading:

Bill Tucker, The Flipped Classroom, EducationNext, Winter 2012, Vol. 12, No. 1

Ramsey Musallam, Should You Flip Your Classroom?, Edutopia, October 26, 2011

Alan November and Brian Mull, Flipped learning: A response to five common criticisms, eSchool News, March 26,2012.

Watch Salman Khan’s TED talk, Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education

Related reading :

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools  

Students who Struggle in the Mainstream: What their Homework Patterns May Tell You

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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What Blended Learning Looks Like: Great Teachers and Proven Technology


Technology and blended learning

In a previous post I discussed some benefits of blended learning.  Now I’d like to share how those benefits might be achieved within a hypothetical blended learning “classroom” using the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs together in addition to a core curriculum and other technology.

The Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs are adaptive, technology-based tools that allow each student to receive differentiated instruction and progress at their own pace. While much of the work can be done independently, teachers play a critical role in reinforcing the concepts covered in the programs and intervening when students have difficulties.

With these programs:

  • Productivity is increased – for both teachers and students
    • After completing the Fast ForWord program, students typically become more productive because they are more focused and confident, and are better able to understand and retain what is taught in the classroom.  When cognitive ability improves, learning is accelerated and behavioral issues are often reduced.
    • With the Reading Assistant program’s proprietary technology, every student receives the personalized oral reading practice and corrective feedback that would take hours for a teacher to provide individually without it.  Students can complete this reading practice independently while teachers provide other students with small group instruction and intervention. Students benefit more from the time they spend reading with the Reading Assistant program, as guided oral reading is the most effective method for building fluency (according to the April, 2000 report of the National Reading Panel[i]).
  • Students move at their own pace and excel
    • The Fast ForWord program progressively builds cognitive, language, and reading skills, adapting to provide individualized challenge and feedback to each learner.  Within a short time of starting the program, a group of students will be on different learning paths based on individual strengths and weaknesses.
    • The Reading Assistant guided oral reading program provides leveled reading selections based on grade and Lexile level.  Students listen to a modeled reading of each selection before they read aloud, and can listen again as often as needed.  After reading a selection aloud, students can view their fluency rate on that selection and an individualized list of words that need more practice.
  • Students receive “just-in-time” intervention
    • With the Fast ForWord program, students receive immediate feedback indicating whether an answer is correct (a ping) or incorrect (they hear a clunk or else the target statement is repeated and they are shown the correct response). This information is a help to the learner the next time that item appears.
    • In the Reading Assistant program, students receive immediate corrective feedback on pronunciation in the teachable moment when they stumble on a word or get stuck on a word they do not know while reading aloud.  Additional real time support is provided via a glossary that pronounces a key word when it is clicked, defines it, and provides an example of how it is used in a sentence (Spanish pronunciation is also heard if the teacher has turned on that option).  Pronunciation support can be accessed for any other word to hear it read orally.
  • Teachers group students more effectively
    • The Fast ForWord program provides error reports that allow teachers to see what types of mistakes students are making in areas such as subject-verb agreement and other grammatical areas.  With these reports, teachers are able to group students for re-teaching in the areas of difficulty before the students practice those skills again in the Fast ForWord exercises.
    • Teachers can use the performance level indicators (Emerging, Developing, and Proficient) in the Reading Assistant reports to group students for additional reading activities.  The comprehension report that breaks the quiz questions down by type (cause and effect, inferential, etc.) also provides information that helps teachers identify students to group together for additional or re-teaching activities.
  • Students construct meaning rather than just memorizing (and forgetting) facts
    • Constructing meaning is crucial in learning.  The Fast ForWord program helps students process more efficiently so they understand and retain more of what they hear and read, retrieve vocabulary and information more easily, and better apply what they learn.  With the additional demands of the Common Core State Standards and the increased rigor in content areas, students must have cognitive skills that are strong enough to allow them to truly understand, assimilate and generalize classroom instruction.
  • Learning opportunities are created across grade levels, subjects, departments and between teachers and students
    • Because learners work independently on individualized learning paths, the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs can be implemented in multiage, subject-independent settings.  Both programs offer students and teachers an opportunity to learn about learning by understanding the principles of frequency, intensity, adaptivity, and timely motivation upon which the learning acceleration software is based.
  • Problem-solving is taught in multidisciplinary units
    • Within the Reading Assistant program, about half of the content is non-fiction, and much of that relates to science and social studies.  Students must answer both guided reading questions and quiz (comprehension) questions for each selection.  The program provides teachers with lesson plans enabling them to extend the learning within these thematic units to other content areas.

The internet allows us to learn and experience the world in a new way and blended learning can help make the most of it for a generation of students for whom technology is a way of life.  Technology isn’t replacing teachers but it certainly can enhance both learning and teaching opportunities and effectiveness.

[i] Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction. June 21, 2012.

Related Reading: 

Blended Learning Implementation Strategies for the K-12 Classroom

The Role of the Teacher in Blended Learning: Data, Management, and Student Support

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Categories: Education Trends, Fast ForWord, Reading & Learning, Reading Assistant

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Characteristics of Rapidly Improving Schools with Bill Daggett

Rapidly improving schools

In one of my favorite Scientific Learning webinars, "Our Changing Education Landscape", Dr. Bill (Willard) Daggett outlines a proven, step-by-step blueprint for successful change in the rapidly evolving education landscape. Dr. Daggett shares the results of a study conducted jointly by the organization he leads—the International Center for Leadership in Education—which locates and evaluates the most rapidly improving elementary, middle, and high schools in the United States—and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The findings were encouraging and inspiring: Dr. Daggett asserts that contrary to popular opinion, schools are actually improving, especially those that are adjusting well to the deeper needs and transitioning priorities of 21st century education. In the webinar, Daggett presents the three stages (Why, What and How) these schools go through when undertaking their evolution into successful 21st century schools.


Educators at the nation's most rapidly improving schools first come to the realization that they have the power to change things.  They actively decide to take responsibility for problems in the education system and identify themselves as the solution. Once that breakthrough is made, they begin to foster a culture to support change...and success follows.  Coupled with other, practical motivations (e.g., the accelerated pace of technological developments, globalization, etc.), this shift in perspective gives school leaders plenty of incentive (WHY) to make the necessary changes to survive and thrive in the changing education landscape.


Schools that are rapidly improving have taken the time to identify exactly WHAT it is they need to change, and then decisively put into place innovative methods to make those changes. This requires a frank look at current and often antiquated models of teaching and evaluation, as well as the development of forward-looking models, which focus on interdisciplinary collaboration, significant real world application, and an embrace of technology (by both students and teachers).


Daggett suggests a three-year transition plan for schools considering HOW to re-imagine themselves in the changing landscape. It takes time to make the full transition to the Common Core State Standards, and to switch from old to new paradigms that focus on rigorous academic standards. Daggett also touches on the need for educators  at all levels and in all subjects to prioritize reading proficiency, and uses the  Lexile Framework  (a system for measuring reading skills) to illuminate relevant statistics on how schools fall short.



About the presenter: Willard R. Daggett, Ed.D., CEO of the International Center for Leadership in Education, is recognized worldwide for his proven ability to move preK-12 education systems towards more rigorous and relevant skills and knowledge for all students. He has assisted a number of states and hundreds of school districts with their school improvement initiatives. He serves on several advisory boards, including the NASA Education Advisory Board and USA Today's Education Advisory Board.

Related Reading:

Blended Learning Implementation Strategies for the K-12 Classroom

The Role of the Teacher in Blended Learning: Data, Management, and Student Support

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Using Stories to Teach: How Narrative Structure Helps Students Learn

Teaching narrative structure

Ever since the letter K was a baby, she loved to make her signature sound: ka, ka, ka. K knew that the only other letters in the alphabet that could make her “ka” sound were the letter C (when he didn’t sound like an S) and the letter Q. K enjoyed making her “ka” sound as often as possible in as many words as she could. Soon, however, K also learned that whenever she stood in front of the letter N at the beginning of a word, it was impossible to make her signature sound. At first, K was very sad about this, but after working with N and other letters to make fun words like knot, knob, kneel, and know—words that the other letters could only make with her help—K learned that staying silent sometimes was an important job for a letter, and that many of her alphabet friends also had to be silent from time to time. After a while, K was just as comfortable being silent as she was making her signature “ka” sound.

Scientists have long known that human beings are storytelling creatures. For centuries, we have told stories to transmit information, share histories, and teach important lessons. While stories often have a profound effect on us due to emotional content, recent research also shows that our brains are actually hard-wired to seek out a coherent narrative structure in the stories we hear and tell. This structure helps us absorb the information in a story, and connect it with our own experiences in the world.

Educators can create memorable learning experiences for their students by harnessing the power of storytelling in the classroom. A 2010 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed an intimate connection between the brain activity of speakers and listeners in conversation, demonstrating how the brain of an engaged listener “syncs up” with a speaker. By engaging students with compelling stories that impart important material, teachers reach students both emotionally and biochemically, increasing the potential for rich learning experiences.

Creating a compelling story with a coherent narrative structure requires attention to detail, descriptive language, and a beginning, middle, and end of some sort. Different kinds of stories produce different kinds of reactions:  personal stories from the teacher’s own experience can help create and solidify strong bonds between educator and student, while stories of pure fiction may stimulate imagination.

Spending a little extra time on storytelling during lesson planning and actual classroom time keeps the learning experience highly engaging, creative, and truly, dynamically human. A story-filled classroom also encourages students to relate their own stories (whether factual or fictional), which helps grow their critical thinking, memory, and vocabulary skills.



Further reading:

Melanie C. Green. Storytelling in teaching. Association for Psychological Science. April 2004.

Related Reading:

5 Reasons Why Your Students Should Write Every Day

The Question Formulation Technique: 6 Steps to Help Students Ask Better Questions

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Categories: Education Trends, Reading & Learning

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Disrupting K-12 Education: Innovating Learning with Michael Horn

Innovating learning

Disruptive innovation—that which "disrupts" existing markets with superior, more accessible, and ultimately less expensive offerings—has been occurring in the commercial marketplace for years. Innosight Institute executive director Michael B. Horn's recent Scientific Learning webinar, “Disrupting Class,” focuses on the ways disruptive innovation is already changing 21st century K-12 education for the better.

In the webinar, Horn identifies three prominent gains made possible by the disruptive innovation of online learning:

1) Blended Learning

Horn defines blended learning as "a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of instruction and content with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace, AND at least in part in a supervised brick and mortar place away from home". He is careful to point out the difference between authentic blended learning, which implies a calibrated balance between the disruptive innovation of online learning and more traditional brick and mortar learning experiences, and the simple application of advanced technology in the classroom, which is not necessarily "blended learning."

2) Communication Capacity

New technologies enable educators and students to communicate, collaborate, and initiate projects with fellow educators and students, literally the world over. Communicating and collaborating worldwide is now as easy as launching your Skype application, and currently unimagined communication vehicles will have great impact on future online learning. Says Horn, "In the next ten years, I can't even imagine where this going to go!"

3) Improved Content

The actual content of online learning is much improved from the "early days" in the 90’s; current content is much more engaging. As software continues to evolve into platforms that allow the creation of user generated content, learning modules, and tools that enable the distribution of very specific content, educators will be able to find material that meets their needs at any particular time.  Khan Academy is perhaps the best known example of this type of user generated content for learners, and appears to represent the emergence of a growing network of content modules that will connect to create a fuller, richer learning experience.

Click here to listen to the entire Disrupting Class webinar—disruption free.

Michael B. Horn is the co-founder and executive director of the education practice of Innosight Institute, a non-profit think tank devoted to applying the theories of disruptive innovation to solve problems in the social sector. In 2008, Horn co-authored the book “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” with Harvard Business School Professor Clayton M. Christensen, the father of disruptive innovation theory, and Curtis W. Johnson, president of the Citistates Group.  BusinessWeek named the book one of the 10 Best Innovation & Design Books of 2008.

Related Reading:

Blended Learning Implementation Strategies for the K-12 Classroom

The Making of a 21st Century Educator: 5 Ways to be a Better Teacher in Today’s Classroom

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