Showing posts with tag oral language skills Show all posts >
With the start of a new school year this month, principals and teachers are facing novel and increased challenges. Educators are well aware that the U.S. classroom is becoming more diverse and that this diversity compounds the added pressure teachers and administrators feel to meet Common Core standards and local community standards for educational performance.
The increased diversity in the U.S. classroom can be attributed to several factors:
All of these factors are contributing to an educational environment where teachers and administrators feel increased pressure to meet state guidelines and community expectations yet they are at a loss for approaches that actually increase classroom achievement for these groups. However, there are some commonalities among these diverse groups that make them more amenable to some specific types of interventions than others.
English language learners, struggling readers, special education students, and students from homes below the poverty line share specific kinds of cognitive limitations that have been shown to affect school achievement. A major limitation shared by all of those diverse groups is the reduction in oral language skills. Research published by Hart and Risley in 1995 showed that children living in homes below the poverty line were exposed on average to 32 million fewer words by the time they entered school than children from homes where the parents were professionals. And research published by Hirsch in 1996 indicated that when students enter schools with low oral language the relative difference in oral language skills actually worsens as they course through elementary and middle school. Academic interventions that improve oral language skills are one key to closing the achievement gap.
Some other diverse groups, like those students diagnosed with ADHD or special needs, show problems with attention and working memory skills. As classroom teachers are aware, attention and memory problems are difficult to “teach around” and pose a challenge for classroom management as well. Teachers may feel they spend 95% of their time trying to accommodate the 5% of learners who struggle to attend or cannot easily retain information presented in class. Interventions that focus specifically on enhancing attention and memory skills have been proven to result in increased academic achievement.
It is logical that increased diversity in our nation’s classrooms necessitates a new look at educational interventions that are designed to target the underlying deficits rather than concentrating on curriculum alone. Children with poor oral language skills or reduced attentional or memory capacities are not likely to benefit from even the best instruction until those deficits are addressed. Fortunately, there are powerful, breakthrough interventions like the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant programs that focus on those specific capacities and they have proven results with this new diverse group of students we are charged with educating.
Communication Champion. (2011). Oral language and poverty. Gross, J. Retrieved from http://www.thecommunicationtrust.org.uk/commissioners/reports.aspx
Hart, B., & Risley, T.R. (1995). Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Hirsch (1996) The Effects of Weaknesses in Oral Language on Reading Comprehension Growth cited in Torgesen, J. (2004). Current issues in assessment and intervention for younger and older students. Paper presented at the NASP Workshop.
Morris, R.D., Stuebing, K.K., Fletcher, J.M., Shaywitz, S.E., Lyon, G.R., Shankweiler, D.P., Katz, L., Francis, D.J., Shaywitz, B.A. (1998). Subtypes of reading disability: variability around a phonological core. Journal of Educational Psychology, 90(3), 347-373.
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For decades, most child language scientists have believed that human beings possess an innate capacity to learn the language spoken to them during the first few years of life. Indeed, the vast majority of children worldwide are never “taught” their mother tongue; rather, they acquire it naturally, just by living in a world where people are speaking the language.
Parsing Speech Sounds
Child language specialists have a word for the ability to tease out the sounds within words—they call it “parsing”. When children are first learning their native language they must also “parse” words into sounds so that they can figure out all the sounds in a word as well as the sequence of those sounds. All children have to learn to do this.
Children’s speech errors, like saying “top” for stop or “aminal” for animal, often reflect trouble children have with parsing. Language learning also requires parsing to learn grammatical forms like plural or verb tenses. The difference between the words rock, rocked and rocks necessitates the ability to distinguish all the sounds in each word. But for children with language-learning disabilities, it turns out that this problem parsing words into sounds is particularly difficult, and it affects not only language learning, but also reading and other school achievement.
Audiologists (hearing specialists) and brain researchers have long been interested in how the brain is able to parse words into relevant speech sounds and why some children struggle so much with that task. New research centering on the electrical brain signals picked up by electroencephalogram (EEG) is clarifying the relationship between auditory processing—specifically the ability to parse sounds in words—and language learning.
Brain wave oscillation bands—sometimes thought of as differing brain wave patterns—appear to be a major mechanism coordinating billions of nerves across different brain regions to perform even basic cognitive tasks such as paying attention to someone who is talking and understanding what they are saying. These bands are grouped by their frequency; so-called alpha bands, beta bands, gamma bands and theta bands all refer to brain oscillations of different frequencies.
Brain scientists have discovered ways to use features of these oscillations bands to “see” how different parts of the brain work together. Katia Lehongre and colleagues have found that in humans, gamma bands are especially important for parsing words into sounds. Significantly, in children with language-based learning disabilities (including dyslexia) and children with aspects of language learning disabilities—poor auditory working memory and rapid naming—language and reading problems appear to be related to specific differences in brain oscillation patterns in the areas of the brain important for learning language.
New Research Questions
Scientists postulate that some children’s brains may be inefficient for learning language, but very efficient for certain other aspects of learning—perhaps visual processing or even aspects of sound processing important for musical learning. What might cause differences in brain oscillation patterns is largely unknown and open to speculation, but for parents and teachers who work with struggling learners, the question to ask is:
Does remediation of the brain wave patterns improve language skills in children with language problems?
A study published in January 2013, addressed that question and found that the answer is “yes”.
Sabime Heim and colleagues at the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University, examined whether oscillations in the gamma band range of the auditory cortex of children with specific language impairments (SLI) change after a specific kind of audio-visual training (Fast ForWord Language), and if that change resulted in improved gamma band efficiency as well as language skills among those children. Study details:
The ability to efficiently perceive and sequence two non-speech sounds presented as quickly as speech sounds are in words is often referred to as Rapid Auditory Processing (RAP).
Heim et al wanted to know:
EEG measures made by the authors before Fast ForWord Language showed what they expected— reduced efficiency components of the oscillations in the gamma-band range (29–52 Hz) among the children with LLI. The reductions occurred where the scientists expected, on the second of two rapidly presented tones. Some answers to the questions above:
The authors concluded that measures of brain wave efficiency are not only correlated with auditory processing problems in children with language-based learning disabilities, but that the Fast ForWord Language program improves at least one measure of the brain wave efficiency and that is in turn correlated with improvements both in RAP accuracy and also language skills.
Heim, S., Keil, A., Choudhury, N., Thomas Friedman, J. & Benasich, A. (2013). Early gamma oscillations during rapid auditory processing in children with a language-learning impairment: Changes in neural mass activity after training. Neuropsychologia, 51, 990-1001.
Lehongre, K., Ramus, F., Villiermet, N., Schwartz, D., & Giraud, A. (2011) Altered Low-Gamma Sampling in Auditory Cortex Accounts for the Three Main Facets of Dyslexia. Neuron, 72, 1080–1090.
Siegel, M., Donner, T., & Engel, A. (2012) Spectral fingerprints of large-scale neuronal interactions. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 13, 121-131.
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On October 30th, noted neuroscience researcher and co-founder of Scientific Learning, Dr. Paula Tallal, conducted a live webinar titled “What do Neuroscientists Know About Learning That Most Educators Don’t?” In her presentation, Dr. Tallal discussed her original research on auditory processing, its relationship to language development, and the far-reaching effects that deficiencies in those areas can have on learning.
Research continues to support the hypothesis that difficulty discriminating between small changes in sound is at the heart of learning problems both in students who have a diagnosed difficulty and those who do not. Dr. Tallal described how oral language is the foundation for learning and for most successful educational outcomes, adding that oral language itself is dependent on the brain’s ability to discriminate and process auditory information. Children who have difficulty perceiving the many subtleties of language find the deck stacked against them in their educational careers. They can experience a variety of impediments to learning, including:
Students with this subtle level of auditory processing problem need specific differentiation that is not possible in most classrooms. The good news, as Dr. Tallal describes, is that modern technology can be used to address the difficulties these children face and help bridge these skill gaps. In fact, it is this level of research and development that informed the development of Scientific Learning’s software programs, including Fast ForWord.
To close, Dr. Tallal took questions from the educators relating to how these insights can be used to improve educational outcomes in all classrooms. Teachers left this insightful webinar with practical strategies that can be used to help learners of all abilities.
Attend one of our popular webinars with thought leaders in learning. Live and pre-recorded webinars are available. Register today!
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of school-age English Language Learners (ELLs) more than doubled between the years 1980 and 2009, rising from 4.7 million to 11.2 million. ELLs currently represent one in nine students ages 5 - 17 in US classrooms, with the majority found in the primary grades.
In a recent webinar, Dr. Virginia Mann, Professor of Cognitive Science at UC Irvine in Southern California, confronted the barriers that ELLs face, and outlined the pathway to success for these students. In order to develop into fluent readers, she explained, ELLs rely on a couple of basics:
The good news is that building these skills in a learner’s first language can help build skills in English, as phonemic awareness generalizes across languages and it’s a short hop to understand new English words that sound similar in both languages. The bad news is that many ELLs also grow up in poverty and research shows that young children living in poverty often do not get enough early language experience and exposure to develop strong early language skills.
Because early language skills are so critical for ELLs, if parents take the time to "become teachers" for their children and immerse their children in language by having conversations with them and working with them on listening and speaking activities, learners can make significant gains.
Students whose first language uses an alphabet system have some advantages over those whose first language use an orthographic system, but the bottom line is that when students engage frequently in language-oriented activities and build oral skills, vocabulary, and phonemic understanding in any language, they are on the pathway to successful English language learning.
Mann is quick to note that while parent involvement is crucial, one-shot programs are not sufficient. Parents of ELLs need coaching and support, not just instruction. Dr. Mann references numerous studies and gives examples of the enduring programs that she has created and implemented to support parents in helping their children succeed.
To learn more about why early immersion in any language is so crucial to future academic success, view Dr. Mann's webinar here.
Join us this month for two no-cost, live webinars as we welcome back popular presenters Michael Horn and Dr. Virginia Mann!
On May 17, you are invited to “Disrupting Class” with Michael Horn, author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns and cofounder of Innosight Institute. The theory of disruptive innovation describes how products or services that offer simplicity, affordability, and convenience transform a market that was previously dominated by complicated, expensive, and inaccessible products or services. In this webinar, Michael Horn will describe how online learning is disrupting our notion of a classroom and how it offers the possibility of moving toward a student-centric learning system that is much more focused on different people's distinct learning needs. This webinar is at 11am PST (2pm EST)
Reading English as a Second Language: Some Challenges and Solutions
On May 23, please join us for “Reading English as a Second Language: Some Challenges and Solutions” with Dr. Virginia Mann, professor of Cognitive Sciences at the School of Social Sciences, University of California, Irvine. Dr. Mann will discuss the differences between English and other writing systems, the need for early immersion in English if English language learning is going to be optimal, the importance of phoneme awareness and phonological processing, and the challenge of morphology. Dr. Mann will also look at English Language Learners who have problems with reading and who suffer from some of the same phonological problems that English speakers do, showing how the Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant products can help them succeed in school. This webinar will take place at 12pm PST (3pm EST).
“It is now well accepted that the chief cause of the achievement gap between socioeconomic groups is a language gap.”
- E.D. Hirsch, 2003
Research shows that children from rich language environments start off their academic career with a definite advantage over their peers. In one study with 280 1st grade students, results indicated a strong connection between language skills and later academic performance.[i] Another study found that “children who are provided a wide variety of experiences and opportunities to talk, tell stories, read storybooks, draw, and write are generally successful in learning to read and write.”[ii]
How can parents enhance the home language environment to help their children succeed?
Here are a few simple ways:
It’s never too early to help children appreciate the usefulness of language, the power of communicating effectively with others, and the joy of words. Every word spoken and every word read is truly a gift to a young child.
[i] Elements Comprising the Colorado Literacy Framework: III. Communication Skills, Including Oral and Written Language. (2010). Colorado Literacy Framework. Retrieved April 26, 2012.
[ii] Kastner JW, May W, Hildman L. Relationship between language skills and academic achievement in first grade. Percept Mot Skills. 2001 Apr;92(2):381-90.PMID: 11361297
In the recent Scientific Learning webinar "Language and the Reading Puzzle Part 2: Morpheme Awareness and Working Memory," cognitive scientist Dr. Virginia Mann continues the conversation she began in Part 1, this time focusing on the importance of developing working memory and morpheme awareness skills in order to attain the goal of fluent reading (the ability to read at the right speed with no mistakes and good expression).
Morpheme awareness is the ability to recognize and contextualize the basic semantic building blocks of the English language. Here’s an example of how it works:
Can you fill in the blank with the most appropriate fictional word from the multiple-choice list below?
She is very __________.
Most experienced English speakers will be able to select the nonsense word "lorial" (choice b) to complete the sentence above, as it is the only adjective on the list. Completing this exercise also requires working memory, the ability to temporarily retain information long enough to complete a new task.
In her presentation, Dr. Mann compares morphemes to Legos, the interlocking toy building-block system, describing morphemes as vocabulary-building roots for language. One example she gives of a morpheme is the root word “play,” which can morph into the words “plays”, “played,” “playpen,” “replay,” and “unplayfully,” (to name a few) with the help of prefixes and suffixes.
In the webinar, Dr. Mann refers to a study which showed that normally developing children between the ages of 4 and 5 already understand this kind of morphological activity and are able to build new words in this manner. Research has also shown that young readers who do not develop strong morpheme awareness skills can sometimes end up with "frozen" reading skills, typically around the 3rd grade, just before morpheme awareness become central to a student's journey towards fluent reading.
Working memory is also explored in-depth in this webinar. Dr. Mann connects the dots between the importance of working memory and oral comprehension difficulties in school, and clearly identifies the kinds of classroom challenges (e.g., difficulty following directions, problems with multiple choice tests) students with poor working memory skills eventually face.
“If you can’t retain what is said, you can’t comprehend it,” Dr. Mann succinctly states, demonstrating the very real connection between poor working memory skills and diminished comprehension, which are common barriers to fluent reading.
All parents and educators can benefit from a deeper knowledge of morphemes and working memory (even if you selected the correct word in our little pop quiz above). Click here to view the full webinar.
Dr. Mann has collaborated with Scientific Learning on our learning acceleration products since the year 2000, playing a crucial role in the development of the Fast ForWord READING series.
Poetry is a powerful vehicle to teach children to learn and love language, reading, and writing. In some ways, using poetry to teach reading is analogous to sneaking highly nutritious (and occasionally child-repellent) vegetables into otherwise kid-friendly dishes. By making use of creative devices like rhythm, rhyme and choral reading, educators can help students learn about phonemes, morphemes, grammar, and other language-based skills, all while having a great time with poetry.
Many poems written for children have some sort of meter, or basic rhythmic structure, that is catchy and relatively easy for kids to copy orally. This provides a great opportunity for classroom teachers (particularly at the primary-grade level) to go line by line through a poem and focus on the number of syllables (or "beats") in a given word, and demonstrate how each sound and word plays a part in maintaining the meter of the poem. Asking students to swap out one of the words in a highly rhythmic poem for an appropriate new word (which has the same number of beats and a similar sound as the original) is a fun activity that exercises phoneme awareness, vocabulary, and creative writing skills. Haiku and its established structural confines, which require detailed syllable counting on the part of students, is a favorite for students of all ages to read and write.
Rhyming poems are ripe with abundant classroom activities. Students can examine the sounds in each rhyming line, identifying the rhyming sounds and coming up with alternate rhyming words that could work in the poem. As an oral activity, creating "silly" substitute rhymes that have the correct matching sound but make absolutely no sense within the poem can also be a lot of fun for students of all ages, while flexing their phoneme awareness and vocabulary skills.
Choral reading of a poem (reading aloud in unison with a group of students or whole class) gets students to use their voices, collaborate with their classmates, gain an understanding of the potential dramatic power of the written word, and strengthen their understanding of punctuation. Leading students through a choral reading session can include a significant emphasis on punctuation and how it affects oral reading (pausing when there's a period, inflecting upwards in pitch when there's a question mark, etc.) and affords opportunity to work on enunciation skills as well. Breaking up a choral reading poem so all students have a chance to read a line or phrase on their own can also get the whole class to participate and feel positive about their relationship to the written word.
Using poetry to teach reading is a fun way to inspire students of all skill levels to engage with the subtle beauty and nuances of a language, encourage expression and creativity, and become excited about words, reading, and writing. The possibilities for using poetry in the classroom to teach valuable concepts and skills are almost as boundless as the potential combinations of words in a poem.
*I am the author of the haiku in this post. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my second grade teachers, Tina McCarter and Sharon Kamimoto, helped kick-start a lifelong love of words...for which I am grateful.
About the author: PC Muñoz is a San Francisco-based writer, recording artist, and educator. Information on his past and future projects can be found at http://www.pcmunoz.com
Categories: Reading & Learning
Dr. Virginia Mann's recent Scientific Learning webinar, "Language and the Reading Puzzle – Part 1" focused on the way families, schools, researchers, and technology can work together to create a "circuit for success" by helping students attain the goal of fluent reading (reading at the right speed, with few or no mistakes and good expression). The information in Dr. Mann's webinar is extensive, covering both the research data on the barriers to fluent reading and the various solutions parents and educators can employ to demonstrably improve reading readiness and fluency.
Here are five steps that can help steer beginning readers and struggling readers of all ages towards fluent reading:
1. Identify barriers.
Most readers begin as "hearers" of language, and written language is fundamentally a transcription of spoken language. Dr. Mann identifies poor oral/spoken language skills as a common barrier to fluent reading, a barrier that involves a lack of phoneme awareness and morpheme awareness (the subject of a separate webinar to be covered in a future post). She also dispels any lingering belief in the myth that visual "reversals" in writing or reading (e.g., mistaking a b for a d, confusing bad with dad) are a predictor or cause of poor reading skills in any way. Identifying the real barriers to fluent reading is the first step in determining how to best assist struggling readers.
2. Build phoneme awareness.
The data Dr. Mann presents in this webinar tell us that phoneme awareness, which develops with age and exposure, is directly related to reading ability. Activities which promote phoneme awareness include learning the ABCs (especially the letter sounds), matching and sorting words by phonemes (e.g., noting that the beginning sounds of cat and cup match, while the beginning sounds of cat and dog do not match), and manipulating phonemes (e.g., substituting an s for the c in cat to create a new word with a new beginning sound—sat). Understanding how the letters c-a-t spell the aural word cat takes a kind of “mental surgery” which can only occur with strong phoneme awareness.
3. Enrich vocabulary exposure and oral language skills.
Research shows us that students with weak oral language skills in kindergarten have a substantially more difficult time learning to read or reaching the appropriate reading level for their age group. A difference of 5.2 years between age and reading level is not uncommon in young people who begin kindergarten with deficient oral language experience. A great way to support and build on a strong foundation of phoneme awareness is through cumulative oral language experiences, which provide new and struggling readers with incremental exposure to letter sounds and vocabulary, laying the groundwork for better language comprehension and reading.
4. Encourage literacy activities.
A powerful example of a literacy-oriented activity that can boost phoneme awareness and reading readiness is dialogic reading, a practice that encourages interactivity over passive listening when engaging with the written word. The main technique when practicing dialogic reading is the "PEER Sequence," which asks the adult reader to:
Dialogic reading is an active, dynamic workout for hearing, speaking, critical thinking, and working memory skills, which all play a part in building a better reader.
5. Use technology.
In the fast-moving 21st century, technology has an important role to play. Today, cutting-edge educational tools can help accelerate reading acquisition, with enormous benefits for learners and busy educators. Educators will benefit by embracing the available technology that produces better readers who can learn more effectively in the classroom.
Fluent reading is a significant goal: a challenge for beginners, and a persistent problem for some struggling students. These five steps are really just a glimpse of what Dr. Mann covers in her presentation. Click here to view the full webinar!
Just about everyone has had the experience of going grocery shopping with a small list of purchases in their mind, only to forget one or more of them upon arriving at the store. Similarly, we all have left one room to retrieve something from another room, forgetting what we are after before we have even arrived. The ability to hold information in mind for a few minutes to a few hours is called working memory. It is essential for everything from language learning in children to following a book chapter from beginning to end.
Working memory was first defined by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch in 1974. It is a form of memory that may distinguish humans from many other animals (with the exception of several primates). Working memory, commonly referred to as short-term memory, allows a person to hold on to information for a period of time (minutes or perhaps hours) long enough to do something new with the information, like take notes or solve a problem.
A typical situation in which we rely on working memory is watching an informational program on television, like a segment on a news program, and discussing it later with a friend. We may forget about the specific news event later in the week, but for a period of time we “keep it in mind,” thinking about it and perhaps talking about it with others. Each time we share the information with another person or think about it ourselves, we select details that interest us and alter them slightly to keep them interesting to us. Other examples of tasks that require good working memory in adults include taking notes during a lecture or paraphrasing information we hear or read about.
Alan Baddeley elaborated on the original concept of working memory in 1992, noting that unlike other kinds of short-term memory (such as rote repetition), working memory requires us to focus and maintain our attention on the task at hand. To keep our attentional focus, we must be goal-directed, ignoring distractions that might interfere with goal attainment. Baddeley stressed the importance of the “central executive” system for maintaining attentional focus in working memory tasks.
For children, working memory is essential for learning language. Unlike vision, where we can often study an image as long as we need to, everything we hear occurs in time. The speech signal moves very quickly: an average sentence is about 14 seconds long, an average single syllable word lasts only a quarter of a second, and the average consonant sound may last only 1/12 of a second.
We are all made aware of how fleeting the speech signal is when someone is talking to us and we become distracted, which consequently requires us to ask the speaker to repeat what was just said. In that way, speech is like a billboard that appears briefly in our peripheral vision as we travel at 55 miles per hour along a highway. It we are not paying specific attention in that instant to that part of the road, we will miss it, or only retain small bits of the message on the billboard. In a similar way, information we hear leaves us as soon as it arrives. We are not able to hold it in view like a drawing or photograph, or study it like a person’s face, so we must keep the information in our mind.
For some, improving working memory can be as simple as getting more sleep or more exercise or learning to avoid distractions. For others, whose working memory is weak enough to significantly impact learning, more help may be needed. Fortunately, the brain is a malleable structure and cognitive skills like working memory can be improved by strengthening key learning pathways in the brain (as regular readers of this blog know—working memory is one of four cognitive skills rapidly strengthened by the Fast ForWord program).
The truth is, we live in an exciting time. Scientists are learning more all the time about how cognitive skills like working memory operate. We can look forward to these discoveries yielding more insights and tools that we’ll be able to use to optimize learning throughout our lives.