Inside the Brain of a Struggling Reader [Infographic]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - 21:45
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

When a child struggles to learn to read, we often look to social or economic factors, access to books, or the home environment for an explanation. While each of these factors can play a part, treatable brain differences are often part of the equation.

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Inside the Brain of a Struggling Reader [Infographic]

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Neuroscience-based interventions like the Fast ForWord program create specialized learning conditions that can rapidly improve reading and cognitive skills in struggling readers. These interventions work because the brain can actually reorganize itself, changing its internal wiring in response to learning. This ability does not “turn off” after infancy as once thought, but remains active throughout our lifetime.

Many struggling readers who have fallen behind or thought it was “too late” have overcome their reading difficulties. The journey to proficiency starts inside the “plastic” brain.

Related reading:

Dyslexia – How Far We’ve Come!

The Neuroplasticity Revolution With Dr. Norman Doidge


How The Arts Can Help Students Excel

Tuesday, December 11, 2012 (All day)
  • Jessica Velasco

arts and achievement

Many people disregard the importance of the arts in education.  Sure, the arts are good for blowing off steam and encouraging creativity, but are they useful in the real world?  If a student doesn’t have the capabilities of being the next Beethoven or da Vinci, what is the point of wasting resources on their continued arts education?

The Current State of Arts Education in Public Schools

The prevalence of art education in public schools has been on the decline since the early 1980s and in recent years, budget cuts have made it almost obsolete.  Nowhere are these cuts more severe than in urban areas where minority children are the most unlikely population to receive arts education. 

Why Parents and Teachers Should Be Worried about the Future of Arts Education

Several new research findings are proving what art education teachers have been saying for years: art isvaluable.  A well-rounded educational experience that includes the arts is closely linked to academic achievement, social and emotional development, civic engagement, and equitable opportunity.  

A recent study of high schoolers revealed a correlation between arts education and math and writing test scores. These high school students were tracked for three years and were required to take a minimum one credit of art education.  Students who took more than the minimum requirement were 1.5 times more likely to meet or exceed the ACT Plan national average composite score!  These students excelled in statewide tests, earning proficient levels in math, reading and writing.

How the Arts Enhance a Student’s Education and Overall Development

Plenty of research has supported the role of arts education in providing a comprehensive education.  Let’s take a closer look at howexactly the arts affect a student’s ability to learn and develop: 

  • Learning to read music and understand concepts like time, rhythm, and pitch have a direct effect on a child’s ability to comprehend math skills.  One study showed math scores of music students surpassed those of their non-musical classmates.  Students from low socio-economic backgrounds were twice as likelyto excel in math if they had musical education.
  • Studying the lyrics of music can teach students about syllabification, phonics, vocabulary, imagery, history, myths, folktales, geography, and culture.
  • Studies show there is a direct correlation between continued involvement in theater and success in math and reading.
  • Non-native English speakers may learn the language more quickly with the use of music.  Thematic learning helps children learn in a safe, enjoyable, student-centered environment.
  • Students who take the time to master a musical instrument learn about hard work, practice, and discipline.  While performing in a group – like an orchestra, band, or choir – students learn to work together, appreciate teamwork, strive for a common goal, and develop negotiation skills.
  • Cultural awareness is achieved through every form of arts education.

Arts education has always been important to those who value creativity.  Now, as new evidence continues to emerge, more and more people are realizing its importance – especially when it plays such a crucial role in a well-rounded educational experience. What if the next Picasso is sitting in your classroom right now?

Author Bio:

Jessica Velasco is a freelance writer.  She has 15 years experience working as a teacher and child development specialist. 


Schwartz, J. (2012). Kids Like Blues: Using Music and Video to Rock Your Classroom.  Retrieved from Edutopia website:

Kloberdanz, K. (2012). Want Your Kids to Excel in Math and Reading? Teach Them to Paint.Retrieved from Take Part website:

Good Reasons Why Your Child Should Study Music.Retrieved from Schoolatoz website:



Related reading:

Musical Training and Cognitive Abilities

Teaching Creativity in the Classroom

Deliberate Practice: How to Develop Expertise

Thursday, April 12, 2012 (All day)
  • Bill Jenkins, Ph.D.

Deliberate practice

Anyone who has ever conscientiously taken on the challenge of learning a skill – from playing a musical instrument to speaking a foreign language to simply improving one’s penmanship – understands the importance of practice.

As a neuroscientist, practice fascinates me because it is all about establishing pathways in the brain. The ability of the brain to form and re-form routes for specific thought patterns, and for those routes to become more deeply ingrained the more we exercise those thought patterns, makes it possible for us to learn and refine a multitude of wonderful skills throughout our lives.

The Best Practices

In her recent article “The Myth of ‘Practice Makes Perfect,’” Annie Murphy Paul reviews a book by Gary Marcus, a cognitive psychologist at New York University who studies how the brain acquires language. Marcus’ book, Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning, discusses how learning a new skill, such as playing the guitar, requires practice—but the right kindof practice.

Certainly practice requires a commitment of time. But more importantly, to be truly effective it requires a commitment of the mind – a deliberate intent – for optimal learning to occur.

According to Marcus, “Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect” (2012).

In other words, the best practicedemands that the learner be attentive to his or her errors, weaknesses and deficiencies, and consciously work to remedy them.

From a neuroscience perspective, this observation points to a natural conclusion. Research has shown us time and again that the more we utilize certain neural pathways for building skills – such as throwing a ball or multiplying by fives or recalling all fifty state capitals – the more effectively we ingrain those patterns in our brains and the more automatic the correct skills become.

The Hardest Work

Imagine the budding guitarist bent over her instrument. At 11 years old, she focuses on learning three more chords beyond the three she learned last week. She’s having great trouble with that F, but she’s well in control of the other five. Should she spend her hour of practice playing the music she truly enjoys and save that F for another day, preserving her positive attitude? Or should she feel her frustration, work through it and spend her time on ironing out that problematic F, again and again and again?

Which is the better practice?

Researcher Anders Ericsson of Florida State University wrote that “deliberate practice requires effort and is inherently not enjoyable” (1993). Long hours spent repeating the easy or already-mastered work is simply not enough and not as effective. The best practice requires us to dig deep and uncover our weaknesses. With a greater focus on our faults, we become better able to find them and develop solutions to remedy them.

Robert Duke of the University of Texas-Austin demonstrated this effect when he and his team videotaped piano students as they practiced a challenging concerto, and then ranked the quality of their final performance. In the end, it was not the repetitions nor the hours of practice put in. The best performers zeroed in on their errors and strove to fix them before moving on. (2009)

Behaviors for Success

The students in our everyday classrooms have an advantage over the guitar student practicing at home. She has to work independently the majority of the time, interacting with her music instructor only once or twice a week; the lion’s share of reinforcing her learning and practicing behavior is her personal responsibility.

In our day-to-day classrooms, we get – relatively speaking – much more time to help our students devise strategies and establish behaviors for success. Through helping them learn how to face the hard work, to focus on what’s difficult or wrong and make it easier or right, we can help them to establish those all-important neural pathways that will lead to success.

For further reading:

It’s Not How Much; It’s How: Characteristics of Practice Behavior and Retention of Performance Skillsby Robert A. Duke, Amy L. Simmons and Carla Davis Cash

Related Reading:

The Brain Gets Better at What it Does: Dr. Martha Burns on Brain Plasticity

Musical Training and Cognitive Abilities

The Mirror Neuron System

Tuesday, February 21, 2012 (All day)
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

Mirror neuron system

What is a parent to do to get a child’s brain started out on the right path – to be able to concentrate on one task for extended periods, be able to handle rapidly changing information, and be flexible enough to switch tasks easily?

Well, it turns out the human brain seems to have a strategy: by developing two core capacities during the first few years of life, interactive play and language, the brain seems to become uniquely equipped to build a range of cognitive capacities.  Recent research suggests that a specific area in the frontal lobe – ‘the doing part of the brain’ - begins to wire itself very early in development through imitation of the movements and sounds made by others. This area, the so-called mirror neuron region, allows an infant to watch or listen to other people and respond with imitative or complementary movements or sounds.  

Because this area is the same region, in the left hemisphere, that is responsible for fluent, easy articulated, speech, researchers have speculated that it might have been an evolutionary starting point for development of human language. But, because it is also active in the right hemisphere, it seems to play an important role in social, and perhaps athletic, interaction. In fact, Miella Dapretto and her colleagues at UCLA recently reported research showing that children with autism spectrum disorders, which include a range of disturbances that impact, among other things, social skill development, have observable deficiencies in the mirror neuron system.

There is reason to speculate, based on the research now available, that exercising the mirror system in general, can build a brain that is better equipped for socialization, school, music and athletics. At this time existing research has demonstrated that exercising Broca’s area of the brain (and other areas that are connected to this area through complex cognitive networks), either through natural parental stimulation in infants or through intense specific practice in school-aged children or adults, one can systematically build a brain that is better equipped for many cognitive tasks including language, reading, writing, and math as well as remediate a brain that seems to have deficits or learning disabilities in one or more of these areas.

Every time a parent plays a game like “Patty-cake, Patty-cake” where the child and parent duplicate a routine with actions and a poem or song, the parent is helping the child to exercise the mirror neuron system. Parents have been doing these action/nursery sequences for years, and there are many similar routines in many cultures. Examples of “mirror neuron” routines that have been around and passed on for generations in Western cultures include – “So Big!” where a parent ask the child something like, “How big are you?” and the child and parent respond together holding up their arms in like fashion, “SO BIG!” or, with older children, “Eensie Weensie Spider” where parent and child imitate each other by alternately touching the thumb of one hand to the forefinger of the other hand to emulate the spider climbing up a water spout.

The wonderful thing about these types of routines is that they illustrate how intuitive parents have been for centuries, at identifying and exploiting the natural directions and priorities of brain development. What worries many of us in neuroscience is when parents abandon these time-tested and intuitive interactions with our young children, swayed by technological advances that enhance productivity and drive positive cognitive changes in a mature brain but by abandoning natural parental interactive routines may actually jeopardize the delicate balance of stimulation in the developing brain.

We must exercise caution when adults develop products that appeal to parents with names that inspire confidence like, “Baby Einstein”, if the products have not been subjected to reasonable controlled studies that will help us understand the impact of these activities on young brains. Most companies that develop products for young children do not conduct this type of research because the assumption is that toys and play activities that engage infants and keep them entertained are not harmful. But, unfortunately, that assumption is not warranted. Many of us who put our children in “walkers” or “swings” in the latter part of the twentieth century learned that these “toys” had unintended consequences (i.e., negative effects, on early motor development).

As developmental neuroscientists and other specialists have begun to understand the implications, both positive and negative, of early stimulation on later brain development, those of us in the sciences need to better inform parents and “toy” makers may need to attempt more accountable to parents. In all fairness, however, it may be unreasonable to expect toy makers to conduct independent controlled research studies that we have not even demanded of drug companies. So, the view held by many scientists is that an educated parent can look beyond the hype of advertising and provide for the young child in their care, a fostering environment that is calmly yet convincingly brain-enhancing.

For Further Reading:

The Mirror Neuron System and the Consequences of Its Dysfunction. Marco Iacoboni and Mirella Depretto. Nature Reviews | Neuroscience Volume 7, December 2006

The Mirror Neuron System is More Active During Complementary Compared with Imitative Action. Roger Newman-Norlund, Hein T van Schie, Alexander M J van Zuijlen,and Harold Bekkering. Nature Neuroscience Vol. 10, May 2007

Using Human Brain Lesions to Infer Function: A Relic from a Past Era in the fMRI age?Chris Rorden and Hans-Otto Karnath. Nature Reviews | Neuroscience Vol. 5,  October 2004

Understanding Emotions in Others: Mirror Neuron Dysfunction in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Mirella Depretto, Mari S. Davies, Jennifer H. Pfeifer, Ashley A. Scott, Marian Sigman, Susan Y. Bookheimer, and Marco Iacoboni. Nature Neuroscience Vol. 9,  December 2005

Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships. Daniel Goleman. NY, NY: Bantam Books, 2006.

Neural Plasticity: The Effects of Environment on the Development of the Cerebral Cortex (Perspectives in Cognitive Neuroscience).  Peter R. Huttenlocher. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002

Neural Mechanisms of Selective Auditory Attention are Enhanced by Computerized Training: Electrophysiological Evidence from Language-Impaired and Typically Developing Children. Courtney Stevens, Jessica Fanning, Donna Coch, Lisa Sanders,and Helen Neville. Brain Research Vol. 1205, April 2008.

Related Reading:

5 Things Every Parent and Educator Should Know About Early Childhood brain Development

What Does The Marshmallow Experiment Tell Us About Self-Control?

Left vs. Right: What Your Brain Hemispheres Are Really Up To

Tuesday, July 12, 2011 (All day)
  • Martha Burns, Ph.D

Right brain left brain

In the 1980’s, brain researchers viewed the two sides of the brain as dichotomously opposed: the right hemisphere was seen as a gestalt processor, good at “seeing the big picture,” while the left hemisphere was attributed with detail processing skills. Other views at that time attributed the left hemisphere with being more logical and analytical while the right hemisphere was considered more intuitive.[i]

Some went so far as asserting that men and women exhibited different right vs. left preferences: men were attributed with stronger left hemisphere skills and women better right hemisphere skills. Although this male-female distinction was never empirically verified through research, the somewhat “pop-psychology” view that the right hemisphere is important for skills like music and art, predominated. In fact, there were books written instructing individuals on how to “draw with the right hemisphere” or how to “teach to the right hemisphere”.[ii]

It now appears that some of these notions need to be revised.  A current view is that, for the majority of us, the right hemisphere is a pattern recognizer that may develop before the left. From this perspective, the right hemisphere enables a child to attend to and appreciate the gist of a sensory experience within each cognitive domain. For example, in acquisition of mathematical concepts, the right hemisphere may enable a young child to appreciate quantities in terms of more vs. less prior to assigning numerical values to the quantities (which would involve left hemisphere skills). There is research demonstrating that babies can discern a group of dots in terms of general aspects of quantity.[iii]

Patricia Kuhl at University of Washington in Seattle has shown that typically developing infants show an interest in human voices over other environmental sounds like a car horn or doorbell, and direct their attention to human voice when it conveys information that is interesting.[iv]Ultimately this may lead to an understanding of how the melody of a voice is used to convey a person’s intent.  In other words, recent research suggests that the right hemisphere may be best at processing patterns like voice contour, facial expression, aspects of size and quantity, gestalt aspects of the world which, from a developmental perspective, represent the way children begin to learn about cognitive areas like music, art, mathematics or language.

Considering the cognitive domain of music, for example, the right hemisphere appears to have a fundamental preference for recognizing melody, which allows a young infant to be interested in and ultimately reproduce early nursery songs. In the realm of visual processing, the right hemisphere has been shown to be better at perceiving the form or outline of an object than the details contained within the object.[v]. And, similarly, although many people regard the left hemisphere as dominant for language, newer research has shown that the right hemisphere is superior at processing information like vocal inflection (prosody), and perhaps going directly from word to meaning, especially in very familiar phrases like idiomatic expressions (eg., “it is raining cats and dogs”) while the left hemisphere is more important for processing aspects of language that depend on analyzing the specific sequence of the sounds and words which are essential for understanding grammatical form of language and perceiving internal details of words.[vi]

Several neuroscientists have accordingly revised and expanded the early right-left dichotomy to see the right hemisphere as preferential in processing form, structure, and perhaps, direct links to emotion,[vii]  while the left hemisphere handles complex, rapidly changing stimuli, in which discerning the specific sequential order is critical to perception (as in speech perception, for example, where one must discern and order very rapidly changing complex acoustic events very quickly.)[viii]

Another revision to the older view of right versus left hemisphere complements the view that the right hemisphere is preferential for pattern analysis, and comes from developmental neuroscience which has reported research that supports the contention that for most cognitive skills the right hemisphere matures before the left.[ix]This certainly seems to the case when one looks at the early stages of neuronal development and migration in the fetal brain,[x]and also the building of early axonal superhighways, as well as the research on myelination.[xi]In fact, it may be that when this typical right to left maturation does not occur, developmental neurological abnormalities result. For example, there is some early research evidence that Autism Spectrum Disorders may represent one example of developmental deviations in this typical right-to-left developmental hierarchy.[xii]

Although it may seem somewhat of a stretch from the early research in this area, one can observe how this organization might be reflected in early childhood development in the stages children pass through in the gradual mastery of skills. For example, when a child first begins to enjoy music, the observant adult notices that the child moves his or her whole body to the musical rhythm. For nursery songs, like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” the child often begins by humming the melodies. In both cases, this may represent right hemisphere processing.

In most cases, it will be a few years before the child will be able to read musical symbols which would presumably involve more left hemisphere skill. We do have research that shows that when three month old babies are first listening to oral language, the right hemisphere is much more active than the left.[xiii]Patricia Kuhl has shown that mothers instinctively seem to match their speech to babies’ early developing perceptual preferences by exaggerating melodic inflection with young babies, probably reflecting their intuitive knowledge that they need to exaggerate the language cues (intonational contour and vocal inflection) that the right hemisphere seems to process preferentially while deemphasizing the production of the speech sounds themselves (left hemisphere preferences).[xiv]

[i]Deutsch, Georg and Sally P. Springer. Left Brain, Right Brain: Perspectives From Cognitive Neuroscience. W.H. Feeman and Company/Worth Publishers. 2001.
[ii]Edwards, Betty. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Penguin Putnam Press. 1999.
[iii]Xu, Fei et al. (2005)Number sense in human infants. Developmental Science. Vol. 8. 2005.
[iv]Kuhl, Patricia.Early Language Acquisition: Cracking the Speech Code.Nature Reviews Neuroscience. Vol 5. 2005.
[v]Devinsky, Orrin and Mark D’Esposito.Neurology of Cognitive and Behavioral Disorders. Oxford University Press. 2004.
[vi]Hickok, Gregory and David Poeppel.The Cortical Organization of Speech Processing. Nature Reviews Neuroscience.2007.
[vii]Cahill, L. et al. Sex-Related Hemispheric Lateralization of Amygdala Function in Emotionally Influenced Memory: An fMRI Investigation. Learning and Memory. Vol. 11: 261-266. 2004
[viii]Tallal, Paula.Improving Language and Liteacy is a Matter of Time. Nature Reviews NeuroscienceVol. 5. 2004.
[ix]Huttenlocher, Peter.Morphometric Study of Human Cerebral Cortex Development. Neuropsychologia.Vol. 28. 1990.
[x]Galaburda, Albert et al.From Genes to Behavior in Developmental Dyslexia. Nature Neuroscience  Vol 9. 2006.
[xi]Herbert, Martha et al.Brain Asymmetries in Autism and Developmental Language Disorder: A Nested Whole-Brain Analysis. Brain: A Journal of Neurology.2004.
[xii]Herbert, Martha et al. Ibid.
[xiii]Hickock, Gregory and David Poeppel.Ibid.
[xiv]Kuhl, Patricia.Ibid.

Related Reading:

A Gymnast, a Cursor and a Monkey Named Aurora

7 Amazing Discoveries from Brain Research

5 Paths To Brain Health: Tips From Dr. Paul Nussbaum

Tuesday, July 5, 2011 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski, MA

Brain health

As the webinar coordinator here at Scientific Learning, I hosted yet another fascinating webinar about brain health with Dr. Paul Nussbaum in early May called “ Brain Health Across the Lifespan”.  Dr. Nussbaum combined humor with interesting facts about the brain and the webinar ended up being one of our best sessions to date.  He provided a simple yet comprehensive look at the brain and how it functions. 

One interesting story Dr. Nussbaum shared was about the development and eventual delaying of the onset of Alzheimer’s disease based on lifestyle choices.  He cited research that has been done at autopsy that shows that there can be evidence of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain that has never manifested in memory problems during a person’s life.   

Dr. Nussbaum concluded that if you look at the individual’s life, you might find that they had a higher education level or more demanding occupation or participated in complex and varied activities throughout life, building up a stronger and more “fit” brain and delaying the onset of the disease.

He then covered 5 important aspects to brain health and suggested some activities that can keep your brain fit and healthy throughout your lifetime:

  1. Nutrition:  Eat more “good” fats including Omega-3 fatty acids, more fruits and vegetables, and fewer “bad” fats and processed foods. 
  2. Socialization:  Stay involved with life and develop a personal mission and hobbies along with building networks of family and friendships.
  3. Physical Activity: Be mobile and active.  Walk, play, run, garden, exercise, bike, hike.  These activities can help reduce the risk of dementia later on in life.
  4. Mental Stimulation:  Learn a second language, learn sign language, travel, play board games, and either play or listen to music.
  5. Spirituality:  Slow down, meditate, and learn relaxation procedures.  Identify what your stressors are and how they affect you and then identify ways to handle them.

To find out more about Brain Health, watch our previously recorded webinar or visit Dr. Nussbaum’s website.

Related Reading:

Lifelong Leaning and the Plastic Brain

Educating Kids about Nutrition and the Brain

Antidotes to Summer Brain Drain (Part 2): 5 Ways to Pull the Plug on Learning Loss

Thursday, May 5, 2011 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

Summer brain drain antidotes

Last month Terri Zezula doled out tips for math skills practice over the summer.  But what about keeping up in reading and “staying in shape” for learning? 

Here are 5 more ways you can help your child stay sharp over the summer:

  1. Read, Read, Read…and Understand

    If your child is working on basic reading skills such as phonics and decoding, provide plenty of opportunities to read silently and aloud.  Generate excitement about reading by helping your child create a reading list at the beginning of the summer.  Ask for recommendations from your child’s teacher and friends and from the children’s librarian at your local library.  If reading is a struggle for your child, take turns reading a story to each other.  Talk about the story.  Ask your child questions—what might happen next, and why?  What does your child think about what has happened so far? 

    If your child is good at decoding, broadening her exposure to life may be the key to improving reading comprehension [i] .  Find creative ways to associate new experiences with reading—such as pairing a field trip with a book.  After a trip to an art museum during which your teenager is taken by Matisse, visit the library for a book about Paris in the 20’s.  Or visit an observatory and follow up by reading about the constellations; then, take your child out into the dark night and see if you can identify the constellations yourselves.

  2. Take Up a Musical Instrument

    Decades ago, families gathered in the evening to play music together.  Revive the tradition!  However poorly you might play, you’ll have fun together and stimulate your child’s brain to develop in beneficial ways.

    Research has shown that actively playing a musical instrument has positive effects on the brain.  In one study, six months of formal musical trainingresulted in positive changes for participants, such as improved perception of pitch in spoken language and improved processing of speech. The study authors concluded that a relatively short period of brain training—just 6 months—can have a significant, positive impact on the organization of children’s brains.

  3. Cultivate a Growth Mindset

    Regardless of your child’s ability, the right attitude is essential in fostering risk-taking behavior and perseverance in learning. Research has shown that learners with a “ growth mindset” who believe that their ability is fluid and that life is filled with opportunity thrive on new and challenging experiences, while those who believe their ability is fixed and unchanging are more likely to balk at challenges.

    To help your child develop a growth mindset:

    • Explain that the brain develops new neural connections in response to challenging learning experiences.
    • Give your child a challenge, and provide support by praising effort and progress rather than intelligence.
    • Model a growth mindset for your child– take on a challenging learning opportunity of your own and be up front when you encounter difficulties.  Talk with your child about how you plan to overcome obstacles that you encounter, and then follow through.
  4. Give Your Child Stronger “Learning Muscles”

    All learning takes place on a foundation of critical cognitive skills, including memory, attention, processing, and sequencing.  A child must be able to hold information in working memory in order to complete all the steps in a multi-step task, and to stay focused on the task long enough to complete it.  A child’s brain must be able to process information rapidly enough to keep up with new incoming information, and to put all the elements in the right order to comprehend and use that information.

    Fun, web-enabled learning programs like Fast ForWord Home® software with consulting (for learners who are below grade level and need some extra help) can help strengthen your child’s cognitive skills to accelerate learning.  Learners using these programs typically improve up to 2 years in reading level in just 12 weeks and often see improvements in other subjects that rely on reading as well, such as math and social studies.

  5. Unstructured Play

    While it’s easy to write off summer vacation as downtime from learning, it’s important to remember the importance of unstructured play in a child’s development.  Summertime can provide your child the freedom and opportunity to grow and explore in ways not possible during the busy, and often over-scheduled, academic year.

    Your child uses play to develop a host of important characteristics such as self-confidence and creativity, as well as social skills like negotiation and working in groups.  Opportunities for active, physical play set the groundwork for lifelong healthy habits and promote physical well-being.  Physical activity is an effective way for the body to rid itself of the stress hormones [ii] that build up during the challenges of daily life.  Make time for play.

  6. [i]Strauss, Valerie. Active Summer, Active Minds: Educators Seek Ways to Prevent Learning Losses During Vacation. Monday, June 15, 2009.

    [ii]Cotman CW, Berchtold NC. Exercise: a behavioral intervention to enhance brain health and plasticity. Trends in Neurosciences.  2002;25(6):295-301. doi:10.1016/S0166-2236(02)02143-4

    Related Reading:

    5 Reasons You Should Limit Screen Time

    Fit Bodies Make Fit Brains: Physical Exercise and Brain Cells

4 Ways to Celebrate Brain Awareness Week 2011

Monday, March 14, 2011 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski, MA

Brain Awareness Week 2011

It’s Brain Awareness Week! Join us every day from March 14-20 as we share information about the brain, how the brain learns, and how educators can address some of the challenges in education today.

Need some ideas for how to celebrate Brain Awareness Week and honor this most important of organs?

  1. Incorporate “Brain Awareness” Into Your Classroom
    Need some ideas on this one? For starters, download some of our educational Classroom Resources for Teachers, a variety of fun and informative worksheets and experiments on topics related to the brain.  (My favorite is the Grocery Store Game, which tests memory span and mnemonic strategies.) Then have your students try our free Scientific Learning® BrainApps™ games for a brain fitness challenge!

  2. Catch Up On the Best Blog Posts About the Brain
    Whether you’re new to this blog or a long time reader, there are sure to be some great posts you haven’t yet explored.  In celebration of Brain Awareness Week, here are some of the most popular brain-related posts: Educating Kids about Nutrition and the Brain– learn how you can create the ultimate brain-health meal, the "Brainiac Blue Plate Combo!” The Adolescent Brain–find out what your adolescent is really thinking and how his or her developing brain works.Benefits of Music in Schools: The Effects of Music on the Brain– check out what the latest research says regarding the importance of music education and its benefits for learning. Dr. Norman Doidge on Brain Plasticity– discover the truth…old dogs can learn new tricks, all lifelong.

  3. Tweet the Brain, Learn, and Win
    This week on Twitter, we will be testing your knowledge of the brain.  Play with us for a chance to win one of our “brain” goody bags each day!  Follow @brainfitnessand join in the fun! 

  4. Subscribe to Receive All of Our Brain Awareness Week Posts
    Subscribe to this blog (below) to have our blog posts show up in your inbox during Brain Awareness Week and beyond. Thanks for joining us for Brain Awareness Week!  All of The Science of Learning bloggers look forward to sharing it with you!

Listen: Don’t Ignore the Benefits of Music on the Brain

Thursday, November 4, 2010 (All day)
  • Bill Jenkins, Ph.D.

benefits of music in schools

Educators, researchers and education policy-makers have long discussed the benefits of structured music education. In today's environment of shrinking district resources, the arts are often early arrivals to the budgetary chopping block. Certainly, math, science, language arts and social studies are essential subjects, but we must also understand exactly what is lost when we cut arts programs. When we let go music education, we let rest layers upon layers of essential learning.

  • We lose the cultural understanding and historical knowledge that accompanies such training.
  • We remove an environment and a medium that is highly conducive to the acquisition and honing of essential skills for workplace success such as collaboration and creativity.
  • We lose proven benefits to learning and brain function. Through the mechanisms of brain plasticity, music contributes to the development of listening and cognitive skills essential for language.

While all of these losses are arguably of equal importance, I wish to focus on the last. In their August 2010 article Music Training for the Development of Auditory Skills, Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran present the neuroscience research demonstrating that music training, in the same way that physical exercise impacts body fitness, "tones the brain for auditory fitness." Specifically, Kraus and Chandrasekaran examine three specific areas of brain function where music training positively affects function:

  • Transfer of cognitive skills: Music has been shown to affect how the brain processes pitch, timing and timbre. Along with describing music, these are also key elements of speech and language—that are positively affected by musical training.
  • Fine tuning of auditory skills: "Musicians, compared with non-musicians, more effectively represent the most meaningful, information-bearing elements in sounds — for example, the segment of a baby's cry that signals emotional meaning, the upper note of a musical chord or the portion of the Mandarin Chinese pitch contour that corresponds to a note along the diatonic musical scale." While music does not appear to affect visual memory or attention, research shows that it does affect auditory verbal memory and auditory attention.
  • Better recognition of "regularities": The human brain is wired to filter regular predictable patterns out from the noise surrounding us (e.g., we can pick out a friend's voice in a room filled with many other sounds and voices.) Musical training enhances this cognitive ability.

Based on this information, Kraus and Chandresekaran argue "that active engagement with music promotes an adaptive auditory system that is crucial for the development of listening skills. An adaptive auditory system that continuously regulates its activity based on contextual demands is crucial for processing information during everyday listening tasks."

Kraus and Chandresekaran end their article with a discussion of the implications for education. All of the skills and abilities discussed above clearly have the potential to impact student success and achievement "by improving learning skills and listening ability, especially in challenging listening environments."  Whether considered as content, as skills or as brain processing exercise, the benefits of music should be carefully weighed as we evaluate its place in the school day.

For additional reading on the positive effects of music education, check out:


Musical Training and Cognitive Abilities

Thursday, August 5, 2010 (All day)
  • Bill Jenkins, Ph.D.

musical training and cognitive abilities

The debate over music and its benefits for the development of early cognitive abilities have raged now for almost two decades. Can classical music transform children into smarter, more effective learners? Today's research indicates that the clear answer is that this is the wrong question. The question is this: What are the differences in the effects of passively listening to music vs. active musical training upon cognitive abilities?

On passive listening
Ever since French researcher Dr. Alfred A. Tomatis, in his 1991 book Pourquoi Mozart?, put forth the assertion that listening to the music of Mozart can retrain the brain, laypeople and researchers alike have been on the hunt for evidence to support his claims. Two years later, University of California at Irvine psychologist Frances H. Rauscher reported findings demonstrating that passivelylistening to Mozart's music enhanced college students' cognitive abilities. (Such claims gave rise to numerous products that were aggressively marketed to parents, the most popular being the highly scrutinized Baby Einstein series. See this 2009 article in the NY Times.)

While they garnered a fantastic amount of attention, researchers around the world have been highly skeptical of Rauscher's conclusions. Today, numerous studies have demonstrated that, alas, passively listeningto music will not transform babies' brains into mini computational powerhouses. See this May 10, 2010 article in Science News.

On active training
All this does not translate to the conclusion that there is no educational benefit to music. I'm happy to report that activemusical training, such as taking formal lessons in learning to play the piano or read music, does produce substantive positive changes in the brain in children as well as adults. As we know, the brain is plastic; it changes based on how it is exercised. (That is why we talk so much about brain fitnessat Scientific Learning.)

In contrast to Tomatis and Raucher's work in passive musical listening, last year a team of European researchers published a study entitled, " Musical Training Influences Linguistic Abilities in 8-Year-Old Children: More Evidence for Brain Plasticity." Researchers tested thirty-two non-musician children over nine months to look at their predispositions for music, as well as to measure the effects of musical training upon non-musical functions.

Remarkably, they found that just six months formal musical training had positive affects upon subjects' abilities in speech. Specifically, subjects' musically trained ears allowed them to better discern differences in pitch. Further, this research supported the idea of brain plasticity in showing that even short periods of training the brain can have large effects upon brain function.

But how does musical training affect language processing in adults? Again, the research clearly outlines the positive affects, demonstrating that brain plasticity continues on through adulthood:

  • Schon, Magne and Besson published in 2004demonstrated that training helps adults process not only music, but also speech. In studying the perception of fundamental frequency--the lowest threshold of audible tones--in eighteen musicians and non-musicians (mean age of 31), results showed that extensive musical training does have a clear affect on "the perception of pitch contour in spoken language."
  • The research from Gabb, Tallal, Kim, Laskminarayanan, Archie, Glover and Gabrielasuggests that musical training actually "changes the neural network involved in rapid spectrotemporal processing so that it overlaps primarily with brain areas traditionally associated with language processing (e.g., Broca's region)."

The significance of all this research is clear; don't just listen to the music. Take up producing your own and you'll be rewarded with all that music has to offer, while gaining improved brain function as a bonus.

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