Professional Development: Blog

The Science of Learning

September 18, 2019
4 Little-Known Facts about Poverty and the Brain (And What Educators Can Do about Them)

A little girl wearing too-small sandals and no coat on a freezing January morning. A boy sick from eating nothing but potato chips and Kool-Aid. An eight-year-old raising himself and sleeping at night with 3 younger siblings. These are children of vulnerable populations that Linda Ann H. McCall recalls teaching at a Title 1 school, or federally assisted low-income school, in urban America. In her 2018 article in National Youth-At-Risk Journal, McCall recounts what teachers across the country witness every day: the challenges that students from low-socioeconomic (SES) families bring with them to school. Dr. McCall reflects, “I was reminded over and over of Abraham Maslow’s classic Hierarchy of Needs when I asked myself ‘how could I expect a child to focus on the concepts of long division and sentence structure, for example, if he or she was being abused and/or feeling hungry, afraid, and/or unloved?’ (p. 41-42). What worked? What worked in Dr. McCall’s classroom, and what many other educators at Title 1 schools are increasingly implementing, is brain-based teaching and learning. Dr. McCall argues that brain-based learning is especially important for teaching children impacted by poverty. What do Title 1 educators need to know about the impact of poverty on the brain? More importantly, how should school leaders apply brain-based learning to teaching? Keep reading to learn 4 little-known facts about poverty and the brain. What is brain-based learning? All learning happens in the brain, so isn’t all learning “brain-based learning”? In a way, yes. But “brain-based learning” means the application of brain science to teaching—what happens when neuroscience meets education. As Great Schools Partnership defines brain-based learning, the practice builds on “scientific research about how the brain learns, including… how students learn differently as they age, grow, and mature.” Brain-based learning is crucial for children from low-SES […]

August 29, 2019
6 Things Educators Need to Know about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

What does ESSA mean for educators in 2019-2020? As the new school year begins, educators may be wondering what the second year of implementing the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) will look like for their schools.  Keep reading to learn 6 ways that ESSA can change education in America.  What is ESSA? The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a US law passed in December 2015 that marks a major shift in education policy for K-12 schools. Signed into law to replace its predecessor No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the act governs American education policy and is the main law for all public schools. With the stated purpose of providing all children with equitable opportunities to receive high-quality education and close achievement gaps, the law retains elements of NCLB but effectively returns federal accountability provisions to states. In doing so, ESSA leaves more control to states and districts in setting student education standards and determining the consequences of low-performing schools. Although the act was initially planned to take effect during the 2017-18 school year, its implementation was delayed by the repeal of certain regulations. With every state now following ESSA’s guidelines after the act went into effect in the 2018-19 school year, let’s take a look at how ESSA will change education for our K-12 students and educators.  How ESSA will affect educators With the implementation of ESSA guidelines and requirements in every state, here are some things to expect for American education systems: 1. ESSA encourages new measures of school success. As states are responsible for having a plan in place to identify struggling schools, ESSA introduces additional accountability indicators to create a more accurate scope of student success in schools. While standard academic factors like graduation rate and test performance remain a key part of measuring success, ESSA […]

August 15, 2019
"My Life Is Forever Changed"

A Note from a Fast ForWord Graduate We love when this happens. The other week, we received a lovely email from a Fast ForWord alum. A young woman named Rachel W. told us, "I know my life has been forever changed by this wonderful company." Read her full letter below! Thank you for sharing your story with us, Rachel. We are honored to be part of it. Best of luck completing your Master’s degree in social work, and we hope you stay in touch!   July 3, 2019 Hello Richard Cheng, My name is Rachel W. and I am writing to you today to thank Scientific Learning for existing. You have no idea how many lives have been changed by Scientific Learning. I know my life has been forever changed by this wonderful company. I say this with confidence because I know I would not be where I am today without it or without the support from my speech and language pathologist. A little bit about me and my background: At the age of 8 I was diagnosed with Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). I was not socially or cognitively functioning at the appropriate age level. I could not understand what people around me were saying. I had a very difficult time following directions as well as staying engaged in school and in social settings. I was struggling to keep up with my peers academically, cognitively, and socially. After I was officially diagnosed, my parents took me to see a speech and language pathologist where my life was transformed. She bought/downloaded Fast ForWard and challenged me to never give up on the program (even when it got challenging and frustrating for me). The games and levels I completed developed new pathways in my brain which allowed me to eventually function at […]

July 29, 2019
Teacher Turnover: Why It’s Problematic and How Administrators Can Address It

As the new school year approaches, administrators might ask themselves, “What can I do so that at the end of this year, all of my teachers will happily choose to stay?” Teacher turnover continues to concern K-12 educators who see teachers leave every year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 8% of teachers leave the profession yearly and another 8% move to other schools, bringing the total annual turnover rate to 16%. That means that on average, a school will lose 3 out of every 20 teachers. A recent study by Learning Policy Institute reports that turnover rates for teachers in the fields of special education and English language development are even higher, where special education teachers have a 46% higher predicted turnover rate than that of elementary teachers. Additionally, turnover rates are shown to be higher in schools with more students of color and students from low-income families, where many of the children are English language learners. Moreover, the turnover rate is greater for alternatively certified teachers, who typically have little teaching experience prior to teaching in schools. While policymakers have generally focused on increasing the attractiveness of teaching or lowering the standards to become a teacher, these solutions can exacerbate teacher shortages in the long run. Long-term solutions emphasizing recruitment and retention can minimize shortages and prioritize student learning. Before going over these solutions, let’s review the problem. Consequences of teacher turnover Although some teacher turnover can be beneficial in certain cases, high teacher attrition has potentially harmful effects. In addition to increasing shortages, high turnover rates create extra costs for schools. The Learning Policy Institute estimates that turnover costs up to $20,000 or more for every teacher who leaves an urban district. Furthermore, a study from the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data […]

July 11, 2019
Differentiation: Achieving Success in a Mixed-Ability Classroom

Aladdin and The Lion King are in theaters again, but don’t be fooled: things have changed a lot since the 90s. The last two decades have seen a significant change in the student population of America’s K-12 schools. Today’s classrooms are increasingly diverse in cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 2000 and 2015, the percentage of students enrolled in public elementary and secondary schools who were White decreased from 61 to 49 percent while the percentage of students of color increased substantially, making it the first time in American history that minority students became the new majority in the student population. The percentage of English Language Learners (ELLs) and students with learning disabilities in schools have risen significantly as well. Diversity is wonderful! But when one part of a system changes, the other parts have to change too. How can educators reach every student in the class when students have varying learning styles, levels of ability, and background knowledge? A growing body of research points to differentiation—a method of instructing—as one potential solution. A study by Dr. Lynn McQuarrie et. al demonstrated positive results for the full implementation of differentiated instruction in mixed-ability classrooms over a three-year period, with students that had learning disabilities benefitting the most from differentiated support. Furthermore, Carol Tieso’s study found that differentiated instruction significantly improved student performance in mathematics, especially for gifted students. So, what exactly is differentiation then? What differentiation means Differentiation expert Carol Ann Tomlinson describes differentiated instruction as “tailoring instruction to meet individual needs.” By including a variety of teaching techniques, educators instruct a diverse group of students with different abilities in the same classroom. The goal is to make sure that all students master key concepts while striking a balance between comfortability […]

July 3, 2019
10 Ways Teachers Can Recharge Over the Summer

10 Ways Teachers Can Recharge Over the Summer Summer is finally here, and you know what that means! Summer is a great time to relax and get away from the stress of teaching, grading papers, and dealing with rowdy kids. From self-care routines to discovering new locations, here are 10 amazing ways teachers can unwind and de-stress over the summer. 1. Reflect For some, transitioning into summer when you have no set schedule or tasks can be challenging. During the break, it can be difficult to fill the void of teaching or constantly working. Reflecting on the past school year is a great way to slow down your teaching gears and smoothly transition into a relaxing summer. When reflecting, think of 3 issues you encountered in your classroom and ways that you can solve those problems. Identify different methods to improve your class and teaching experience. This is also the perfect time to plan lessons and make any changes to your curriculum. Once you tackle your classroom problems, take your mind off work so that you can relax and enjoy the rest of your summer, guilt-free! 2. Set goals for yourself To combat the inherent, unstructured nature of summer, set a few goals for yourself in order to have a fulfilling experience. For example, you can aim to try something new, like wood carving, eating foreign cuisine, or going paintballing with friends . You can even tap into your creative side and start a new hobby, or try activities that you never got around to doing. Make sure to pick a manageable number of activities to devote your time and energy to. It’s impossible to do everything over the summer, so don’t spread yourself too thin! 3. Develop healthy habits A break from work is a great time to make beneficial choices […]

May 22, 2019
Inspiring Students to Read This Summer

Inspiring Your Students to Read This Summer Four ways to avoid summer learning loss and why it matters. The end of the school year is approaching, and students are looking forward to summer vacation. Educators are ready for a break, too, but are also thinking about students losing momentum—and even some skills—during the summer months. How can we encourage kids to continue to read and learn, when we know that some setbacks are statistically probable?  Sometimes referred to as summer slide, summer learning loss, or summer setback, researchers have been looking at this phenomenon for decades. The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) attributes these setbacks to long summer vacations that “break the rhythm of continuous instruction and in turn lead to forgetting what was learned in the previous academic school year.” In a 2018 interview with Education Week, Matthew Boulay, NSLA Founder and CEO, talks about these challenges. Research by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) identifies the cumulative effect of summer learning loss as one of the principal factors—along with nutrition, parental involvement, and child motivation—that are deepening the achievement gaps between students by family income. The problem becomes more pronounced for English language learners, who may lose access to English speaking adults during summer months.  Here are some ways you can help your students stay sharp over the summer, and make summer reading a fun choice: 1. ALL READING COUNTS Let students know that all forms of reading count. From short books, chapter books, fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, and magazine articles, to ebooks on mobile devices, they should read what interests them. Books on tape build language skills and encourage a love of storytelling, and struggling readers can use audio support as they follow along with a print version.   Encourage parents to read to their children, or to […]

January 24, 2019
2019 Education Trends

The past several years have seen many advances in research impacting education, in fields ranging from neuroscience to sociology. Yet the reality in classrooms has not always kept pace. As we enter another year, it is crucial for educators to be aware of what is happening both in research and education policy.   1. The Reading Wars Literacy education in America has long been been divided between proponents of phonics, where children learn to read by sounding out each part of a new word and distinguishing between different phonemes, and those of the ‘whole language’ method, where children are encouraged to focus on the meanings of words and understanding them in context. Unfortunately, as professor Rachael Gabriel points out, the debate has often taken on the tone of an ideological battle, with back-and-forth pendulum swings resulting in contradictory policy and inconsistent classroom practice. Recent research may point to a way out. According to a 2018 meta-analysis of over 300 studies compiled by researchers in Australia and the UK, while explicit phonics instruction is indeed effective for establishing the foundations of literacy, learning to recognize the meaning of words in context is crucial for further development.   2. Every Student Succeeds Act The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed in 2015 to replace the No Child Left Behind Act, gave individual states more control in how they meet federal education standards. The law’s provisions were initially slated to take effect during the 2017-18 school year, but were delayed by the repeal of certain regulations and guidelines. With every state’s plan now approved, this will be the first year that ESSA is implemented across the country – though there are still questions about how districts will satisfy its requirement for evidence-based intervention at struggling schools. In addition, the law includes grants for […]

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