Professional Development: Blog

The Science of Learning

October 24, 2019
What I Wish I Knew about Dyslexia as a Teacher

When I taught writing, I had hard-working students who articulated great ideas in class discussions and didn’t seem to have any learning issues. And then they’d submit papers that were riddled with simple spelling errors or were even downright incomprehensible. Sometimes the essays demonstrated surprisingly low levels of reading comprehension. “What’s going on?” I’d wonder, give feedback, and move on. While puzzled, I figured there wasn’t much more for me to do than help them improve one paper at a time. What I wish I knew then was that these students might have had dyslexia. And if you’re a teacher, you’ve had students with dyslexia too. No, really, you probably have—even if you didn’t know it. One out of five people have dyslexia, and many go undiagnosed until adulthood, if ever. Out of students with learning disabilities, 80-90% of them have dyslexia, making it the most common learning disability that often accompanies other conditions like ADHD and apraxia. Some of your students or children might already be diagnosed and have IEPs to accommodate their learning differences. But many others with dyslexia might be hiding in plain sight. I spoke to Marlene M. Lewis, M.A., a registered speech-language pathologist, who works with children with dyslexia, among other learning disorders. She shared what she wishes everyone—educators, parents, and students—knew about dyslexia. These are the 4 things she said. 1. “Do not wait till grades 2 or 3 or later to see how a student progresses. Dyslexia should be treated as soon as a teacher or parent sees a student not picking up phonological awareness skills, which is typically noticed already in early grade 1.” Waiting to offer targeted support to learners until they begin failing at reading in 2nd or 3rd grade is called the “wait-to-fail” approach, and research has found that this common […]

October 10, 2019
2019 Update on Dyslexia Research

This week, to honor Dyslexia Awareness Month, neuroscientist and Northwestern University professor Dr. Martha Burns presented our 5th annual webinar on updates to dyslexia research. Here are highlights from just two of the 2019 articles that Dr. Burns covered. 1. Interventions are typically not early enough. Too many schools employ the “wait-to-fail” approach to dyslexia diagnosis, meaning they wait until children fail to learn how to read before providing them with targeted support. Sound familiar? This approach causes long-term damage to students’ education, mental health, and future economic success.  Led by Harvard researcher Dr. Nadine Gaab, Sanfilippo et al. (2019) argue for earlier dyslexia interventions. They state, “Currently, children are typically diagnosed at the end of second or beginning of third grade (and many much later), after they have already failed to learn to read over a long period of time and have fallen behind their peers academically” (p. 8). Rather than wait until age eight or nine to diagnose and treat dyslexia, parents, teachers, and clinicians can recognize “key linguistic and pre-literacy measures…in children as young as four years old” (p. 7). The following are predictors of dyslexia to look for in young children: struggles in letter-sound correspondence struggles in pseudoword repetition (the ability to pronounce spoken nonsense words) struggles in identifying rhyming sounds struggles in rapid automatized naming (the ability to automatically retrieve the names of objects, letters, or colors) deficits in oral language comprehension deficits in receptive and expressive vocabulary (p. 7). As she summarized these findings in the webinar, Dr. Burns claimed, “If we can get to them as 3- and 4- and 5-year-olds, and we can build up their cognitive skills—working memory and attention, build up their auditory processing skills, build up the brain’s capacity through multiple repetitions to become more plastic to sensory stimuli, then we […]

October 1, 2019
3 Reasons Why Neuroscience Should Be Important to Title 1 Educators

Under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), schools need to be more transparent than ever about how they use government funds. With higher accountability, administrators and school boards, especially at Title 1 schools, who want to make the most out of their funding should consider what neuroscience research can contribute to their programs. “Wait a minute!,” you say. “What does neuroscience have to do with Title 1?” Below are the top 3 reasons why neuroscience should be part of the Title 1 conversation, along with corresponding action items for educators. What is Title 1? Title 1 (officially Title I) is a federal program that provides funding to K-12 schools with children from vulnerable populations, including those impacted by poverty or homelessness. To close the achievement gap, Title 1 funding can be used for supplementary reading or math instruction and for after-school or summer programs, among other resources. High-poverty schools with 40% or more of the student population receiving reduced or free lunches are designated Title 1 schools and use their funding for school-wide programs. Other qualifying schools support specific students with targeted-assistance programs. Title 1 is the nation’s oldest and largest federally funded program and distributes over $15 billion annually to schools across the country. Why should neuroscience be part of the Title 1 conversation? When we discuss the urgent needs of children from low-socioeconomic (SES) families, we focus on state test scores, social-emotional learning (SEL), and adverse traumatic experiences (ACEs). What we need to talk about more is neuroscience. Scientific research on the brain offers insight into effective strategies for educators teaching vulnerable students. Here are 3 reasons why neuroscience should be at the center of the Title 1 conversation. 1. The most important learning tool is the brain. All learning happens in the brain. So, a better understanding of it allows […]

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 […]

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