Professional Development: Blog

The Science of Learning

March 19, 2020
Remote Unity: Building a Sense of Community during School Closures

As schools transition to remote learning, or at-home learning, educators might consider ways to foster a sense of school community, even when social distancing means that “school” is spread out across individual homes. Teachers and those familiar with social-emotional learning already know: strong relationships are a key component of successful learning. So how can teachers build a strong sense of community during this period when “distance” has become necessary?

January 31, 2020
How to Foster Executive Function in Every Grade

What does executive function look like? When I taught English to middle school students, I learned what executive function looked like firsthand. Sasha was the model student. She followed instructions after hearing them once. She concentrated on her work without being distracted by the girls giggling next to her or the occasional chatter leaking in from the hall. I could always count on her to remember every step of a class activity or homework assignment. When chaos reigned in the classroom and I, a young teacher, questioned my own abilities, Sasha was my rock. Brendan, on the other hand—well, he was what you might call easily distracted. Somehow, he didn’t get started on a class assignment until 5 minutes after everyone else was settled in, and then he would lean over to a neighbor to ask what to do. In group discussions, he would steer the conversion off-topic or be unable to help himself from pulling up a funny video on his phone. He made teaching eventful, to say the least. If you are a teacher, I’m sure you’ve also had versions of Sasha and Brendan in your classes. These aren’t their real names, of course, but their behavioral differences are plenty real—and common. It’s not that Sasha was inherently a good student, and Brendan was a bad one. They just had different levels of executive function. There’s a lot at stake when it comes to executive function skills. Executive function determines a student’s academic achievement throughout their time in school, and it even affects success in the workplace and life more generally. But some students, like Brendan, need extra support to reach their full executive function potential. Fortunately, executive function is a skill set that can be developed, and educators can do a lot to help students along the […]

January 15, 2020
2020 Education Trends

With the passing of another year—and decade—educators have exciting education trends to look forward to in 2020. Here are 5 trends in K-12 education research and policy to keep an eye on this year.

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 […]

January 17, 2019
Building a Foundation for School Readiness for Low-Income Children

As educators with experience in child development, we understand the essential nature of being responsive to a child. Children who do not receive enough attention do not develop in the same way as those who receive consistent nurturing and feedback. Research has demonstrated how, at a physiological level, their brains simply wire themselves differently as they develop. This deficit in early childhood experiences often manifests itself as developmental delays across a wide spectrum of behaviors. These behavioral delays appear in parallel with delays in brain development. Imagine a child growing up in a home where sensitive, responsive caregiving is rare. Maybe mom and/or dad work more hours and are simply not available. Maybe they come home too tired to read or play or simply snuggle with the child. Or, this is an environment where sensitive, responsive nurturing is not valued very highly. While it is not the case in every situation like this, at its extreme, the parent or parents may be truly neglecting the child’s needs at this early stage. Even moderate differences in these important parent-child interactions have important longer-term consequences for development. Research has shown that in these situations a child’s brain development quickly gets derailed. Children who do not receive enough of what is known as “sensitive-response caregiving” and cognitive stimulation do not develop executive function skills as readily as their counterparts in more caring, stimulating environments. (Lengua et al., 2007; Li-Grining, 2007) In other words, children may not be encouraged to be aware of and interact with the world around them (cognitive stimulation). They also may not be encouraged to engage or develop planning, decision-making or troubleshooting skills (executive function). Executive functions, also known as “domain-general” functions, are those called upon in various types of learning opportunities; these include such functions as working memory, regulation […]

May 1, 2018
3 Ways We've Made the New Fast ForWord Better

For everyone at Scientific Learning, developing the New Fast ForWord has been an opportunity to step back and reflect on what we are doing well and where we can improve. Every day we see Fast ForWord users making dramatic gains in language, reading, and learning skills. However, we also see students who struggle with a particular exercise or skill. To better understand where improvements were needed, we spoke with many educators about their implementation struggles, strategies, and successes. What came out of these conversations is an intervention program that is better, faster, and smarter! Better Learning Impact To provide an even better learning impact, we looked at each exercise individually, taking a deep dive into data from hundreds of thousands of exercise sessions. Our analyses revealed who gets stuck, where the sticking points are, and what design factors are helping or hindering student progress. Specific design changes were based on these findings. For example, we learned that many students got stuck at the very beginning of Sky Gym. To address that, the entire introduction was revamped with new instructions, different stimuli and progression rules, and automated interventions for those students who continue to struggle. Faster Student Progression & Improved Student Motivators We looked across all exercises, evaluating the exercise mechanics and user interface. We identified a number of new features and improvements that will help students progress more quickly,  while making their progress more visible and rewarding. The Autoplay feature allows students to take trials more quickly, by serving a series of trials after one click of the Go button. If a student gets all trials in an Autoplay series correct, the next series will be one longer. The Current Streak and Highest Streak signs, in conjunction with Autoplay, provide game-like rewards for getting consecutive correct trials, reinforcing the behavior […]

December 6, 2017
The Reading Brain: How Your Brain Helps You Read, and Why it Matters

If you’re reading this, you’re probably an accomplished reader. In fact, you’ve most likely forgotten by now how much work it took you to learn to read in the first place. And you probably never think about what is happening in your brain when you’re reading that email from your boss or this month’s book club selection. And yet, there’s nothing that plays a greater role in learning to read than a reading-ready brain. As complex a task as reading is, thanks to developments in neuroscience and technology we are now able to target key learning centers in the brain and identify the areas and neural pathways the brain employs for reading. We not only understand why strong readers read well and struggling readers struggle, but we are also able to assist every kind of reader on the journey from early language acquisition to reading and comprehension—a journey that happens in the brain. We begin to develop the language skills required for reading right from the first gurgles we make as babies. The sounds we encounter in our immediate environment as infants set language acquisition skills in motion, readying the brain for the structure of language-based communication, including reading. Every time a baby hears speech, the brain is learning the rules of language that generalize, later, to reading.  Even a simple nursery rhyme can help a baby's brain begin to make sound differentiations and create phonemic awareness, an essential building block for reading readiness. By the time a child is ready to read effectively, the brain has done a lot of work coordinating sounds to language, and is fully prepared to coordinate language to reading, and reading to comprehension. The reading brain can be likened to the real-time collaborative effort of a symphony orchestra, with various parts of the brain […]

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