Professional Development: Blog

The Science of Learning

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 […]

April 19, 2018
Fast ForWord Program Is Named a Finalist for Two EdTech Cool Tool Awards

Fast ForWord® has been named a finalist for two Cool Tool Awards in The EdTech Awards 2018. Fast ForWord was recognized for the second year in a row as a finalist in the special needs solution category, and it was chosen as a finalist in the language learning solution category as well. Now in its eighth year, the EdTech Awards recognize outstanding contributions in transforming education through technology to enrich the lives of learners everywhere. The U.S.-based program is one of the largest and most competitive recognition programs in all of education technology, and finalists are selected from thousands of entries. “Struggling readers’ brains don’t process sounds and words as quickly as typical learners, and English language learners’ (ELLs) brains are not prepared to process the sounds of English. The Fast ForWord program is designed to directly target these root causes of difficulty. It’s a different approach and that’s precisely why it’s so effective with so many students, including struggling readers, students with disabilities, and ELLs,” said Jeffrey D. Thomas, co-chief executive officer of Scientific Learning. “We’re honored to receive this national recognition for the Fast ForWord program and its unique approach to helping students get the help they need to catch up, once and for all.”  Fast ForWord was developed by neuroscientists and uses a unique three-step approach to deliver fast gains to struggling students. First, it prepares the brain for reading by improving the foundational language and cognitive skills that are often weak in these students. Second, it provides personalized, intensive practice on a variety of language and reading skills — more than any other approach or intervention. Third, it uses speech verification technology to support and listen to students as they read aloud, like a guided reading coach. Once these areas are addressed, students’ language, reading, and […]

January 24, 2017
4 Education Trends in 2017

While education policy was one of the less contentious issues of 2016, a new administration is always bound to have some impact. Let’s take a look at the biggest 2017 education trends, and how they may take shape in the coming year. 1. School choice and education reform The recent election has brought us one of the most ambitious initiatives in the history of school choice – a proposal to redirect $20 billion of federal funding towards vouchers for low-income students. This is consistent with the new president's choices of appointees, showing a clear preference for market-based education approaches. Incoming Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been a proponent of school vouchers and an architect of Detroit’s charter school system, Vice President Mike Pence greatly expanded the voucher program in Indiana, and researchers from the American Enterprise Institute and Hoover Institution have been tapped as advisors. But this may not mean a major shift in education policy. School choice has already become bipartisan over the last decade, though there is fear the coalition is now unraveling in precisely the urban areas where school choice has been most effective. While the $20 billion proposal may prove difficult to implement even with Republican control of Congress, it’s reasonable to expect an acceleration of school reform, with expansion of vouchers and relaxed restrictions on charter schools. 2. Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) The recent replacement of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) increased local and state control in ensuring that students from low-income, minority, and other disadvantaged groups are making educational progress. The new administration is expected to leave ESSA intact, although some supplemental regulations passed by the outgoing administration – particularly regarding teacher training and spending of Title I funds – are likely be rescinded. While […]

May 12, 2011
68% of Students Improve MEPA Proficiency Significantly after Fast ForWord®

This study looked at 118 English Language Learner students who used Fast ForWord® products in the 2009-2010 school year from Everett Public Schools in Everett, MA.  A small minority of the students also used the Fast ForWord products in the previous 2008-2009 school year. These students were tested in both 2009 and 2010 with the Massachusetts English Proficiency Assessment, or the “MEPA” for short.  The impact of Fast ForWord products was dramatic and positive.  Following Fast ForWord participation, students averaged about 15 and a half scaled score points of improvement between 2009 and 2010.   In addition, no student scored at proficiency level 1 (the lowest proficiency level) after using Fast ForWord products.  On the other end of the spectrum, the number of students in the top two proficiency levels (levels 4 and 5) more than doubled, from 33 to 74 students.  Finally, 68% of participants improved one or more proficiency levels; 26% maintained the same proficiency level they had in 2009; while only 6% dropped a level.  This shift is statistically significant.

September 2, 2010
79% of ELL Students Increase Proficiency by One or More Levels

During the 2008 – 2009 school year, a group of kindergarten through sixth-grade students used the Fast ForWord® products. All participants were English language learners. Participants used products from both the Fast ForWord Language and Fast ForWord Reading series. Kindergartners typically started with the Fast ForWord Language Basics product and then progressed through Fast ForWord Reading Prep and Fast ForWord Reading Level 1 while students in first grade and above started with the Fast ForWord Language product, and then progressed through Fast ForWord Language to Reading followed by the Reading product.  On average, students used the products for 54 days across a 3½ month period. The Arizona English Language Learner Assessment, abbreviated as AZELLA, is used to determine the English language proficiency of Arizona K-12 students whose primary home language is other than English. AZELLA results include a composite proficiency level score and separate subtest scores for Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Total Writing. Scores are reported in terms of scaled scores and proficiency levels. The five proficiency levels of the AZELLA are Pre-Emergent, Emergent, Basic, Intermediate, and Proficient. Students in this study were assessed on the AZELLA in the fall, prior to using Fast ForWord products, and again in the spring, after using the products. Seventy-nine percent of the students increased their proficiency by one or more levels. According to a study through the Arizona Department of Education, students typically have a difficult time moving beyond the Intermediate level, with 38% moving to Proficient after one year, and 46% moving to Proficient after two years.  After using the Fast ForWord products, 68% of the Intermediate students reached the Proficient level.  In fact, 22% of the students who were initially at Basic reached Proficient.

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