Professional Development: Blog

The Science of Learning

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 […]

February 2, 2017
5 Ways to Boost Parental Involvement at Low-Income Schools

The great Chinese philosopher Confucius professes, “Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.” It's been proven time and again: students from low-income families are at higher risk for academic and social problems. We know that parental involvement is crucial to success in school. Let us remember our role as educators in garnering that involvement and take a look at 5 ways to encourage parental involvement at our schools: 1. Ditch stereotypical beliefs about parents and poverty Lisa Montez Sullivan, a teacher in Detroit, reminds us, “For a great many […] students, just making it to school every day is a triumph.” We must not forget that we are entrusted with the care of children who may not have access to many basic resources. We may take for granted our vast and appropriate wardrobes, full stomachs, and stable, safe lives. While we may not easily see which of our students are hungry, we have a responsibility to arrive in our classrooms every day with kindness and compassion. Too often, we are blind to our own stereotypical beliefs about students and families living in poverty. When we believe that parents of poor students care less than parents of the affluent, we do our students and society a monolithic disservice. Actually, studies show that parents of lower socioeconomic status “want to be involved in their...students’ education just as much as parents with higher incomes and more education” (“What Schools Need”). In order to best help our students, we must first relieve ourselves of inaccurate beliefs. Many teachers blame the lack of parental involvement on the parents themselves, reasoning that they just don’t care. If we operate on the assumption that parents do care, which represents the truth rather than steadfast opinions without merit, we can put professionalism and empathy at the forefront […]

November 15, 2016
Underperforming Student Success Strategies

Some low-income schools are wildly succesful while others continue to struggle. Dr. Eric Jensen has researched this phenomenon, studying what makes one Title I school a place where students are as successful as their high-income peers, whereas others continue to be low-performing. Following is a transcript of a portion of his Underperforming Student Success Strategies webinar, in which he outlines some game-changing, yet simple tips. Watch the full webinar by clicking here. 7 Secrets to Accelerate Underperforming Students We've got lots to do, so let's roll up our sleeves and get started. First things first; here’s an overview of what we're going to cover: Relationships matter the most. Learn how you can create relationships with struggling students. Understand the REAL problem.  Part of succeeding with struggling students is learning how to hear what people are not saying. Sometimes it looks like there's one problem you're solving but it's really a different problem altogether. Shift mindsets and expectations. Learn what kind of expectations are realistic with the struggling student. Build cognitive capacity relentlessly. How do you build cognitive capacity? And why is this important? [Hint: Dr. Jensen recommends Fast ForWord!] Teach grittiness for the long haul. Learn how you can teach grittiness. Work on social and emotional skills. How do you teach social emotional skills? Coaching for life. How do you become a coach for your students to be successful in life? I've worked with many underperforming students and of course, you can come up with a different list of seven but I think this list is solid gold, so let's get started. Be Conscious of How You Start Your Day One suggestion is every time you begin working with your students, always ask yourself: What's the posture your students are in? What's their metabolic state? How are they feeling at the moment? You and I know when […]

January 26, 2016
10 Facts About How Poverty Impacts Education

Education reform has been a hot topic in recent years, and leaders across the political spectrum have championed measures such as increased testing and results-based evaluation of teachers and school districts. But one of the most pervasive problems affecting public schools is rarely discussed as an education issue at all. With the recent news that a majority of K-12 students in the Southern and Western United States now live in low-income households, it is time to take a serious look at how poverty affects education. Here are 10 surprising facts you may not know about poverty and its impact on children in our schools: 1. Disadvantaged even before birth. Cognitive capacity is not just a matter of genetics, but can be strongly influenced by external factors like prenatal drug use, environmental toxins, poor nutrition, and exposure to stress and violence. All of these are more prevalent in low-income households, and affect cognitive development from the prenatal stage through adulthood. 2. Less verbal exposure. A famous 1995 study by Hart and Risley demonstrated that by the age of four, children from poor households hear 32 million fewer spoken words than their better-off peers. More recent research has shown that quality of conversation differs as well. Parents with higher education and income are more likely to engage children with questions and dialogue that invite creative responses, while parents in poverty often lack the time and energy for anything more than simple and goal-oriented commands. 3. Poor sense of agency. Children growing up in poverty often experience life as a series of volatile situations over which neither they nor their caregivers have any control. Thus they fail to develop a conception of themselves as free individuals capable of making choices and acting on them to shape their lives, instead reacting to crises that are […]

January 26, 2012
Helping Low-SES Students Thrive

Studies and statistics have clearly demonstrated the link between low achievement and low socioeconomic status or SES. Still, studies have also shown that given the right conditions, every student – including those from less fortunate circumstances – have the opportunity to succeed. Not only that, but the kinds of changes that can increase achievement are available to every household, regardless of SES. Factors linked to low-SES have been shown to have an effect upon readiness for school and achievement once a child has entered school. Circumstances include a household’s lack of financial wherewithal to devote to learning resources such as books, supplies and computers. Other contributing factors include lack of parental involvement; only 36% of low SES parents read to their kindergartners, compared to 62% in the highest SES students (Coley, 2002). In addition, parents of low SES households tend to be dual-income or single parent families who have limited time and energy at home to devote to meaningful engagement with their children. That said, many successful students do come from low-SES homes. While some of this success can be attributed to the simple innate resiliency and drive arising from within the student, research has been able to tease out a number of common factors in such homes, where certain practices are clearly contributing to student success.  Factors for Success In 2006, Allison Milne and Lee Plourde studied this population, selecting six second-grade students from a Central Washington elementary school who came from low-SES homes but were also high achievers. While the number of students in the study was limited, Milne and Plourde outline a number of common factors in their homes that likely contributed to their success: Educational content in the home:In all households, these students as early learners all had access to learning materials, such as books, writing […]

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