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 […]

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