Professional Development: Blog

The Science of Learning

May 30, 2017
5 Tips for Parents of Struggling Readers [Summer Edition!]

Every year, parents and educators work hard to help their children and students learn as much as possible, squeezing in all the high-value knowledge they can. But come the end of the school year, a solid percentage of that learning — anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks — is lost during summer vacation. This is especially true for children with learning challenges. Here are 5 tips for helping struggling readers get ahead this summer. 1. Read, Read, Read…But Don't Do It Alone It makes sense that if you read more, you'll be better at reading, right? Not so fast. If your child is struggling with decoding, fluency, and/or comprehension, it turns out that silent reading may not be helping at all. Research shows that independent, silent reading does not increase proficiency for struggling readers, but "guided oral reading" — reading with an expert reader by your side — does.  This summer, make sure your child gets help when a word or passage is too difficult (which is exactly what Reading Assistant technology does), so that time spent practicing moves reading skills ahead. Also, take turns reading a story to each other. Talk about the story, model what you're thinking, and ask open-ended questions, e.g., "I think Betty is feeling hurt that her friends are leaving her out. If I were her, I would find new friends. What would you do?" 2. Get Back to Music Decades ago, families gathered in the evening to play music together. How things have changed! Still, summer is a great time to break out the instruments. Music is good for the brain, so if piano practice has gone by the wayside during the year, or if you like to play the guitar and sing, summer is a great time to bring your child in on that activity, or to […]

May 16, 2017
A Rewarding Journey: Summer Learning with Auditory Processing Disorder

Manuel and Carol have twin sons who were born eight weeks early and weighing only two pounds. After spending seven weeks in NICU, they came home together but were late to begin talking. 18 years later, the boys are about to graduate from high school. Manuel and Carol were kind enough to share their sons’ journey using Fast ForWord with us. See more of Manuel and Carol's story on YouTube > Tell us about your twin sons' history. Manuel: We noticed there seemed to be some sort of a language delay around the age of two and a half to three. They developed a twin language. That was the way they communicated with themselves. Obviously, it wasn't consistent with normal child development, because we do have an older child, so we've had a little bit of experience on how it should go. We started having them examined, took them into a neurologist and various doctors, and they were diagnosed with central auditory processing disorder, which is, for those who don't understand, it's how we process sounds, or what things are said to us. Most learning comes that way. How did you find out about Fast ForWord? Manuel: We found different tutoring programs that would help them. Wings Speech & Language Center has done a great job. We've known Liza (Herrera) since before she opened this center. She knows the boys' history very well. When she identified Fast ForWord as a potential program for them, we were very excited. We did our research and discovered that potentially it could help them. They've done it pretty much every year since the age of six or seven. How did you make sure your twins didn't lose progress over the summer? Manuel: Three months [in the summer] is a long time not to have any […]

May 2, 2017
Listen Up! 5 Tips to Improve Students' Attention Span

Paying attention  Sounds easy to some of us. But is it really? Consider the various objects and applications vying for your attention right now. Email updates, texts, app notifications, voicemails -- each of these distractions in one pocket-sized device. Factor in your numerous daily tasks, social commitments, and family matters, and it's no wonder the average attention span continues to decline. And many of these distractions begin long before adulthood. I recently read that humans have a shorter attention span than goldfish. Intriguing, right? Goldfish apparently have an attention span of 9 seconds; humans 8 seconds. In 2000, before the advent of the internet, humans had an attention span of 12 seconds.  What is behind this change of attention in our lives? Of course, the advent of the internet and our smartphones. Who knew 20 years ago that we would all be carrying around our phones the way we do? They have become necessities.  Children and Smartphones   Smartphones are becoming part of childhood.  Consider these statistics: Children are now catching onto the smartphone revolution. Over half of children under the age of 12 have one.  21% of children under the age of 8 use smartphones — more than 1 in 5. The average age for a child to get a smartphone is now 12.  Smartphone/internet addiction could be surpassing drug addiction for young adults. More research is being done on this topic and I am certain we will see more in the years to come. How do you think this impacts your students every day as they come to school, in a world that was very different from the one their parents grew up in 20, 30, or 40 years ago?  Imagine how they feel when they come to school and now have to turn off the phones and other electronic devices and pay attention for 40, 50, 60 […]

April 4, 2017
3 Ways Poverty Impacts Children Learning to Read

  “Reading is a luxury,” says Dr. Martha Burns, director of neuroscience education at Scientific Learning Corporation. This is a powerful quote when it comes to understanding the impacts of poverty on children learning to read. Research tells us that children who come from homes in poverty are often not ready to learn to read due to the impacts poverty has on how their brains develop.   Let’s explore the reasons for this. The Poverty Trifecta According to Dr. Burns, there are three major factors that adversely impact learning and reading on children who come from homes of poverty. Factor #1:  Children from homes of poverty do not have as much exposure to language. Frequently cited research by Hart & Risley (1995) found that there is a 32-million word gap in students who come from homes of poverty. They simply do not get as much language exposure as peers from homes of higher income levels. This affects development of oral language at early ages, so that by the time these children enter our classrooms there is already a significant difference in how they are able to understand, respond, and be ready to learn. Factor #2:  Poverty changes the way the brain matures. We can agree that all children have the capacity to learn. Experience in the world drives this learning and affects the development of the brain. What does the world of a child in poverty look like? We don’t always know the answer to that question because many factors can be at play. However, neuroscientists have studied the brains of children from different income levels, controlling for variables, and have identified significant differences in the brain maturation of children in poverty. Findings have shown: Differences in the frontal lobe, affecting cognitive control and self-control (in the classroom, this translates […]

March 21, 2017
What Weak Cognitive Skills Look Like in the Classroom

  "I just don't get it!" is a phrase some of us may have heard or even used in our lives. Our brains successfully comprehend and utilize incoming information when strong cognitive skills are present. With weak cognitive skills, especially in young children, learning is a challenge. The major cognitive skills necessary for optimal learning are memory, attention, processing, and sequencing. When children are deficient in one or more of these essential cognitive tools, learning acquisition problems will occur. We all use cognitive skills every day to function successfully. Just driving to the supermarket and back requires those four cognitive skills which are so ingrained that we are often not consciously aware of them. Memory Let's look at memory, often referred to as working memory. This cognitive skill allows us to remember information, an essential building block of learning. Without good recall, a child will struggle in the classroom. When kindergarteners are given directions to color the apples red, the tulips yellow, and the cats black on a worksheet, those with poor short-term memory may only remember the first color. Other children may have difficulty following a first grade morning routine which may include placing homework in the inbox, clearing desktops, and getting and completing morning worksheets. Although homework is handed in and desks cleared, some students may forget the next step in the routine. It is, therefore, imperative that memory evolves to optimal levels so that children may learn to the best of their ability. Attention Another important cognitive skill is attention. Children must be able to attend to (listen and understand) information for learning to occur. Without this cognitive skill at a high functioning level, reading acquisition along with school success will be adversely affected. Normal classroom movements or noises may not bother most children. Those students with poor […]

March 7, 2017
Impaired Auditory Processing in Children from Low-Income Homes

As the achievement gap between children of different socioeconomic levels stubbornly persists, there is increased awareness of how the home environment impacts learning. New research by Nina Kraus and Samira Anderson at Northwestern University’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory reveals that these differences are more foundational than previously thought, affecting not only language ability but auditory processing itself. Much well-deserved attention has been given to the landmark study by Hart and Risley, which showed that children in poor households are exposed to 30 million fewer words than their better-off peers by the age of four. Yet more recent research suggests that the problem begins even earlier.  According to a study at Stanford University, the gap is already present at the age of 18 months, with children of different socioeconomic levels showing a 200-millisecond difference in how long they take to process basic verbal prompts. Why does this matter? Because auditory processing ability can distinguish good from poor readers, and this is among the first of a set of studies that shows how low socioeconomic status impacts this foundational cognitive skill. Kraus and Anderson’s work indicates that differences in phonological processing may be to blame. In the study, researchers presented children with a 40-millisecond sound sample of the speech syllable ‘da’. Those in the lower socioeconomic group showed weaker response activity of the complex auditory brainstem, and lower consistency in their responses across trials. In other words, children raised in underprivileged circumstances don’t just have trouble learning words – they have trouble distinguishing sounds themselves. Consider learning English and encountering the word ‘table’ for the first time in a sentence like “the bowl is on the table”. If you’ve easily understood the rest of the sentence, you’ll be able to use the established context to narrow down the unfamiliar word’s meaning. But if your brain struggles to determine whether you heard ‘bowl’ or ‘pole’, chances are the […]

February 7, 2017
Phonemic Awareness as a Predictor of Reading Success

What is the first sound you hear in the word “cat”? Now, change the "c" sound to "m". What’s the word now? These are examples of activities we use to target phonemic awareness. We are building the understanding that every word can be perceived as a sequence of phonemes, or individual sounds. A child’s success with phonemic awareness is the best predictor of later reading success. On the road to reading, phonemic awareness is at the start. The language to reading connection As a speech-language pathologist, I’m fascinated by language development. When my son was born, I marveled at every smile, coo, sound, get the picture. Typical language development unfolds from the earliest moments in a child’s life. Babies begin to tune into the sounds of the language(s) they are exposed to. They start babbling in longer and more varied strings of sounds, then begin speaking their first words. As vocabulary grows, children start putting words together, gradually learning the grammar of their language and applying it to express more sophisticated word and sentence structures. Language and the ideas understood and expressed become more complex. Onwards and upwards! What we as parents and educators must know is that language and reading skills are connected.   The elements of language development--phonology (sounds), vocabulary, grammar and pragmatics (social skills)--come into play as reading skills grow. Among these, phonological skills influence the early learning of letters, sounds and words. Much of the time, but not always, phonological development occurs implicitly as part of language acquisition. Phonological skills are built from the recognition and production of the sounds (phonemes) of a given language and understanding of the rule-based system by which these phonemes are used to create words. A crucial phonological skill for early readers is, you guessed it, phonemic awareness!   We must teach […]

December 13, 2016
Cursive Becoming Obsolete?

Cursive is becoming obsolete. How can that be?  I remember 1st grade at Glebe Street Elementary School in Johnstown, New York, where we practiced penmanship every day.  I tried to be so perfect writing out my letters.  The next step was learning cursive in 2nd grade!  Once I learned how to make those curly letters, I was considered a big kid, like a rite of passage.  As handwriting has disappeared with the advent of computers and smartphones, this rite of passage (and some people argue an important developmental milestone) may seem old-fashioned, outdated and irrelevant in today’s modern world. Current research: Is handwriting still important? The current research on handwriting is somewhat mixed - some say yes, some say no.  Some educators and the Common Core say handwriting might be not be as relevant because it doesn’t directly tie-in to curriculum.  And many states are no longer required to teach it.  Only a handful of states are still teaching handwriting.  If I were a young student today in upstate New York, I wouldn’t necessarily be learning handwriting/penmanship.  Many skills aren’t deemed relevant if they aren't directly related to skills that state tests are targeting, which includes handwriting. Why should we teach handwriting?  Popular author/psychologist, Stanislas Dehaene, at the College de France in Paris states that, “When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated. There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain. And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize. Learning is made easier.” So when we write something down, this research has shown that our brains get activated in ways that aren’t activated when we type something.  And this brain activation helps with recall when we are learning. […]

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