Posts Tagged ‘auditory processing’

Traditional Tutoring vs. Cognitive Training

January 4, 2011

Traditional tutoring offers additional help in a particular subject area or with a particular skill. It can be an effective addition to content delivered in the classroom, especially because it can frequently be tailored to a child’s individual needs.

Be Amazing Learning is different because the programs we offer (Fast ForWord and Cogmed) address foundational cognitive skills, rather than academic content. We work on helping children learn better. By developing skills such as working memory, attention, sequencing, and brain processing rates, our programs don’t simply give kids new academic knowledge; instead, they equip kids’ brains to better access and retain content they are exposed to, whether in the classroom or with a tutor.

Additionally, training cognitive skills with Be Amazing Learning is a one-time shot: kids build their brain fitness with the programs, then move on to better academic performance. Once children have cognitive training, they stay “fit” by using their new cognitive skills. Studies have shown that the improvements in cognitive skills we can help your child achieve are both substantial and enduring. For example, a 4-year longitudinal study conducted at Dallas Independent School District that showed that students who trained with Fast ForWord programs achieved significant gains in reading, and maintained those gains relative to their peers.

For more information about how cognitive training can help your child, visit our Web site or call (800) 792-4809.

Brain training games rise in popularity

December 27, 2010

From the San Jose Mercury News:

The idea of “brain training” has been gaining popularity since a 2006 study from the National Institutes of Health suggested that a cognitive training program can have lasting, though narrow, benefits. Numerous companies are touting products such as online games and software packages designed to improve mental sharpness and memory. More are sure to be developed as the number of users, both in the classroom and at home, continues to grow.

The article cites Alvaro Fernandez,CEO of market research firm SharpBrains. Fernandez “estimates that consumers spent about $70 million on them last year, up 40 percent from $50 million in 2008. Schools, employers and health care companies spent more than $200 million in 2009.”

The article focuses primarily on aging populations, who, according to Fernandez, generally chose a brain fitness program out of a desire to stave off age-induced mental decline, or to treat a brain injury or problem. At Be Amazing Learning, we have worked with older learners, but our focus tends to be the beginning of life: building brain fitness abilities (working memory, processing speeds, sustained attention abilities) as a foundation for future academic success.

It’s worth noting, however, that there are similarities between programs designed for young and older learners. In fact, the Posit Science programs that are mentioned in the article, are based on some of the same technology and research that are behind the Fast ForWord programs that we offer for young learners (Dr. Michael Merzenich, the founder of Posit Science, was one of the founders of Scientific Learning, which created the Fast ForWord programs.)

The Mercury News article closes with great advice: do your research before investing in a brain fitness solution. We have previously linked to SharpBrains’ 10 question evaluation of brain fitness programs. It’s definitely worth a look.

Getting to the truth on ADHD diagnosis

December 2, 2010

We just came across two studies related to the diagnosis of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that could flat-out baffle a parent struggling to get to the root of their child’s struggles:

  • The first, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, indicates that as many 10% of American children may have ADHD. Additionally, this represents a 22% increase in the occurrence of ADHD between 2003 and 2007 (the last year for which data are available). Researchers site increased awareness and better screening as possible causes for the increase.
  • The second study, by Michigan State Economist Todd Elder, (to be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Health Economics), indicates that as many as 1 million students in the United States are mis-diagnosed with ADHD. According to Elder, many of the students who exhibit poor behavior and inattention are simply younger than their classmates. The inattentive behavior, says Elder, may simply “be because he’s 5 and the other kids are 6. There’s a big difference between a 5-year-old and a 6-year-old, and teachers and medical practitioners need to take that into account when evaluating whether children have ADHD.”

ADHD diagnosis is challenging, because it is generally based on a clinical evaluation of reported behavior. We’ve previously posted on recent efforts to develop a clinical test for attention challenges, and there is research as well that indicates that ADHD may be a genetic disorder.

It’s important to accurately diagnose attention or other learning challenges that may be holding a student back from reaching his potential. However, many attention and other learning challenges, whether or not they reach the level of a diagnosed disorder, can be addressed by developing the foundational cognitive skills that support attentive behavior and learning. For example, working memory and processing speed are critical cognitive skills that may be less than fully developed in students with attention challenges (even if those challenges don’t rise to the level of a formal ADHD diagnosis). Scientifically-validated programs exist to improve these critical skills in all learners, whether typically developing or struggling with a diagnosed learning difficulty.

What’s going on in there? A look inside the teenage brain

November 12, 2010

Research tells us that significant brain development occurs in the first few years of life: the brain reaches 95% of its adult size by age 6.

But recent brain studies show that significant brain development occurs around adolescence. Up to age 12, the brain is adding gray matter (or, to put it more technically, “cortical thickness” increases), at which point, gray matter begins to thin, as the brain prunes connections that developed in childhood, but are no longer deemed necessary.

The PBS series Frontline recently dedicated a show to the teenage brain. The show’s Web site is loaded with content, including the transcript of interviews with several researchers who are looking at the development of the teenage brain. One in particular that caught our eye is with Dr. Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Giedd is focused on how to turn what we’re learning about the brain into practical advice for parents, teachers and teenagers. Now that we have established the concept of brain plasticity, says Giedd, researchers are turning to:

… the forces that can guide this plasticity. How do we optimize the brain’s ability to learn? Are schools doing a good job? Are we as parents doing a good job? And the challenge now is to … bridging the gap between neuroscience and practical advice for parents, teachers and society. We’re not there yet, but we’re closer than ever, and it’s really an exciting time in neuroscience.

At Be Amazing Learning, we regularly work with teenagers who themselves (or whose parents) are looking for solutions for their developing brains. In many cases, these teens have difficulty planning, organizing, and paying attention to and remembering details. Cogmed and Fast ForWord programs can be effective interventions for children and teens with these “executive function” deficits because they develop and strengthen the cognitive skills associated with successful executive function, including working memory, attention and processing rates.

The Frontline series on the teenage brain is fantastic, and there’s a bunch of information available on the show Web site. We’ll be highlighting additional interviews in future posts.

Baby’s Developing Brain

November 3, 2010

Over at the Science of Learning blog, Dr. Martha Burns has just completed a two part series on the development of the infant brain. The good news and bad news for parents is that we play a significant role.

In August, Dr. Burns described the infant brain as a learning machine: working to determine the relevant information about language and the environment, while designing itself, quickly, to become an expert in said language and environment. The parents’ role is to provide an environment that fosters the development of skills that will be helpful later in life.

In her recent conclusion, Dr. Burns provides some more detail on how parents can help the developing infant brain, especially with the goal of developing the kind of sustained attention skills required in a classroom. The brain, says Dr. Burns, wires itself for learning based on early stimulation and experience. To facilitate this development:

  • Parents of infants can build sustained attention to speech by ensuring that children are seeing and hearing speech at the same time. In other words, get in their face!
  • Parents of older children should set aside time for reading together or talking about the highlights of the day.

Getting a child accustomed to sitting for 30 minutes and listening to songs or stories will establish the attention skills required in school.

Oh. And unfortunately, while this probably goes without saying, lay off the TV:

The American Pediatric Association has recently published research indicating that too much exposure to television during the first two years of life seems to increase the likelihood that the child will be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder in the early school years.

We have previously posted about the importance of engaging children with language. From that posting:

Particularly in the critical stage of brain development (when only stimulation is required to develop neural pathways), continuous exposure to language is of utmost importance. The differences in students early experiences with language and literacy are meaningful: by first grade, children whose parents have engaged them with language know twice as many words as those whose parents have not. And it continues: high school seniors near the top of their class know four times as many words as their lower-performing peers, whose vocabularies are equivalent to high-performing third graders.

Babbling Babies

October 14, 2010

On a visit to the pediatrician’s office, parents of newborns can expect to be asked about whether or not their kids are making noise. Recent research, highlighted in the NY Times, suggests that we should be looking for a specific kind of utterance from babies as young as 7 months old: their sounds should have developed into “canonical babble” that includes consonant sounds as well as vowels:

Babies who go on vocalizing without many consonants, making only aaa and ooo sounds, are not practicing the sounds that will lead to word formation, not getting the mouth muscle practice necessary for understandable language to emerge.

“A baby hears all these things and is able to differentiate them before the baby can produce them,” said Carol Stoel-Gammon, an emeritus professor of speech and hearing sciences at the University of Washington. “To make an m, you have to close your mouth and the air has to come out of your nose. It’s not in your brain somewhere – you have to learn it.”

The consonants in babble mean the baby is practicing, shaping different sounds by learning to maneuver the mouth and tongue, and listening to the results.” They get there by 12 months,” Professor Stoel-Gammon continued, “and to me the reason they get there is because they have become aware of the oral motor movements that differentiate between an b and an m.”

What’s the best way for babies to learn? Sorry parents, but it’s on us: “Babies have to hear real language from real people to learn these skills. Television doesn’t do it, and neither do educational videos: recent research suggests that this learning is in part shaped by the quality and context of adult response.”

Working memory deficits

September 30, 2010

Working memory is the cognitive function responsible for retaining, manipulating and using information. We use working memory to delegate the things we encounter to the parts of our brain that can take action. Because of this, working memory is critical for staying focused on a task, blocking out distractions, and keeping us updated and aware about what’s going on around us.

In the classroom, working memory supports a wide range of learning activities, from reading to science to math. Students who struggle with working memory struggle with classroom activities and frequently fail to complete them properly because their memory can’t hold crucial information that guides their action. As a result, children may not get the benefit of successfully completing an activity, which slows their rate of learning. These children also struggle to engage with the normal pace of ongoing classroom activities because of their inability to follow multi-step directions (they forget the instructions before they complete the whole sequence of actions). Teachers may report that the child isn’t paying attention, when in fact they he or she has simply forgotten what they were supposed to do.

The Centre for Working Memory and Learning at the University of York has compiled a list of characteristics of children with poor working memory. These children typically:

  • Are well-adjusted socially
  • Are reserved in group activities, rarely volunteering answers and sometimes not answering direct questions.
  • Behave as though they have not paid attention, for example forgetting part or all of instructions or messages, or not seeing tasks through to completion
  • Frequently lose their place in complicated tasks that they may eventually abandon
  • Forget the content of messages and instructions
  • Make poor academic progress, particularly in the areas of reading and mathematics
  • Are considered by their teachers to have short attention spans and also to be easily distracted

The Centre has also compiled a useful case study of a child with poor working memory:

Nathan is a 6-year-old boy with an impairment of working memory. His non- verbal IQ is in the normal range. He is a quiet child who is well-behaved in the classroom, and is relatively popular with his peers. He has been placed in the lowest ability groups in both literacy and numeracy. His teacher feels that he often fails to listen to what she says to him, and that he is often ‘in a world of his own’.

In class, Nathan often struggles to keep up with classroom activities. For example, when the teacher wrote on the board ‘Monday 11th November’ and, underneath, ‘The Market’, which was the title of the piece of work, he lost his place in the laborious attempt to copy the words down letter by letter, writing ‘moNemarket’. It appeared that he had started to write the date, forgotten what he was doing and began writing the title instead. He also frequently fails to complete structured learning activities. In one instance, when his teacher handed Nathan his computer login cards and told him to go and work on the computer numbered 13, he failed to do this because he had forgotten the number. On another occasion, Nathan was encouraged to use a number line when counting the number of ducks shown on two cards but struggled to coordinate the act of jumping along the line with counting up to the second number. He abandoned the attempt, solving the sum instead by counting up the total number of ducks on the two cards.

Nathan also has difficulty with activities that combine storage of multiple items with other demanding mental processing. For example, when asked to identify two rhyming words in a four-line text read aloud by the teacher, Nathan was unable to match the sound structures of the pair of words, store them and then recall them when the teacher finished reading the text.

Sound like anyone you know?

Working memory deficits are a characteristic of many kids of learning difficulties, including individuals with language impairments, difficulties in reading, and some forms of attention deficit disorder (ADD or AD/HD). For example, studies have shown that 70% of children with learning difficulties in reading score very low on working memory assessments.

However, as we have previously blogged, working memory deficits are not limited to individuals with diagnosed learning difficulties. For example, one study we referenced identified students who were classified as “typically developing”, but who still struggled with reading, math and general learning due to their working memory deficits. And data in that study showed that 10% of mainstream educated kids have working memory deficits.

The good news is that like other brain processing inefficiencies, we can develop working memory skills with daily exercises for the brain that promote working memory. Just like we exercise our bodies in the gym or on the track to build physical fitness, we can build brain fitness through targeted exercises that adapt to our abilities.

A recent article by Dr. Torkel Klingberg, published in Trends in Cognitive Sciences (link is to abstract only; full article available with subscription) provides an overview of the understanding of the role of working memory, its demonstrated plasticity, and the rationale and feasibility of improving it through training. Dr. Klingberg summarizes the research that supports the importance of plasticity of working memory and the efficacy of working memory training programs on various populations with working memory deficits.

Be Amazing Learning provides solutions that build working memory and brain processing efficiency in other critical cognitive skill areas like processing rates, attention and sequencing. The programs are based on decades of research into brain plasticity, and provide effective, enduring and validated results. For more information, visit our Web site, beamazinglearning.com, or call (800) 792-4809.

Working memory in the classroom and beyond

September 1, 2010

A study published in Fetal & Neonatal compared the academic performance of very preterm children (gestational age less than 31 weeks) and  term children, and what cognitive deficits might be associated with differences in academic performance.

The researchers from the University of Nottingham found after examining 48 preterm children and 17 term control children that there was a significant difference in overall academic performance. Children born very preterm scored lower in measures of “math, English/literacy, overall academic attainment, and special education needs provision”.

We’ve previously highlighted the link between working memory and academic performance:

Auditory working memory (the capacity to hold speech sounds in memory) is needed for tasks such as comparing phonemes, relating phonemes to letters, and sounding out words. Auditory working memory also helps listeners and readers understand sentences because it allows them to remember a series of words in order. It allows students to remember and manipulate sequences of sounds, associate spoken words with written words, retain new words while identifying their meanings, and remember the beginning of a sentence while listening to the end.

In that post, we referenced a study by Dr. Tracy Alloway that was published in Child Development that outlined the impact on academic performance of working memory deficits in typically developing students. This new study is unique because it identifies an underlying condition (extremely premature birth) that may contribute to the cognitive deficits that can negatively impact academic performance. However, the researcher’s came to a similar conclusion: deficits in working memory (and in the case of premature birth, processing rates) contributed significantly to poor academic performance.

Dr. Alloway has additional thoughts on the importance of working memory in our lives, both in the classroom and beyond. In addition to being critical for school-based activities (from complex subjects such as reading comprehension, mental arithmetic, and word problems to simple tasks like copying from the board and navigating the halls), working memory  seems to form a buffer for our mental health, helping ward off debilitating mental conditions like depression. Dr. Alloway has a new study underway to examine the correlation between working memory and world view; you can find more information here.

Research into brain plasticity suggests that an optimal learning environment (that features adaptive, intensive and frequent training) can improve critical cognitive functions like working memory and processing rates, which can in turn unlock improved academic performance.

Pulling a voice out of a crowd

June 28, 2010

In the most recent University of California at Berkeley College of Letters and Science newsletter, we uncovered the highlights of a Cal professor’s research into the brain’s remarkable ability to pay attention to certain sounds.

“It’s like when you focus on one voice at a cocktail party,” says Michael DeWeese, a Berkeley professor of physics. “Your brain has top-down executive control that can direct your attention to sounds you want to focus on despite all the distracting sounds in your environment.” DeWeese is working out the neurological mechanisms behind selective auditory attention.

So how does our brain filter out background noise and allow us to focus our attention on relevant auditory stimuli?

The brain is thought to modulate attention by altering neural behavior. Just as aspirin can increase the amount of stimulus required to make a neuron pass along pain messages, neuromodulator molecules such as acetylcholine can make some neurons more or less likely to relay information about sound stimuli. “There is some change in the internal cell processing of signals,” DeWeese says. “In addition,  the transmission of sensory information is gated at the circuit level.” These changes likely occur within many of the neurons in a given circuit, and to different degrees in different brain regions.

Encoding sound efficiently, and ignoring those deemed unimportant, offers strong evolutionary advantages. “It allows the brain to use those operations in a dynamical, smart way. You don’t want to waste your sensory processing resources on sounds that don’t matter,” DeWeese says.

Comprehension of speech in noise is a skill that frequently improves after Fast ForWord training, despite the fact that the Fast ForWord programs don’t include any exercises specifically geared at that skill. Ann Osterling, a pediatric speech-language pathologist with a private practice in Champaign, IL, says this is because Fast ForWord training is improving the underlying skills needed to process speech in noise. Ann offers the following examples:

  • the brain has been trained to hear each of the phonemes more clearly – for some kids there have been “fuzzy” representations of similar sounding phonemes which are now more clear – so it is easier for the brain to recognize it
  • the brain has been trained to process the phonemes more rapidly – it doesn’t have to spend as much time trying to determine what each phoneme is
  • the brain can remember more sounds/words in a row because it is processing more rapidly
  • it is now easier for the brain to attend – and thus pick up the important message and filter out what is/isn’t important
  • there is improved ability to sustain attention for listening
  • overall, the brain is more efficient at listening and understanding

As for Dr. DeWeese’s research, there are some exciting opportunities: “Understanding how the brain normally focuses on sounds could help scientists identify anomalies in those who have difficulty focusing their attention, such as patients with schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).” (The article also mentions that DeWeese’s findings could contribute to the design of hearing aids and hands-free devices that will respond to nearby voices, and deemphasize background noise, but we don’t think that’s nearly as cool.)

Auditory Processing Disorder Takes a Toll on Learning

April 28, 2010

From Tuesday’s New York Times:

“It definitely affected his whole world,” she said of her son. “Not just learning. It cuts them off from society, from interactions.”

The “she” is Rosie O’Donnell, whose son, Blake, was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder. The Times article details her family’s journey from frustrated first grader, through an APD diagnosis, to comprehensive home, school and clinic-based interventions and support.

Given its focus on Rosie O’Donnell, the article reads a little more like People magazine than most items we link to here. But there are some explanations of the challenges of auditory processing that will resonate with parents whose kids are struggling with APD.

Be Amazing Learning is a certified provider of Fast ForWord programs, which can be effective interventions for kids struggling with Auditory Processing Disorder. For more information about these programs, as well as a link to a study of children with APD who showed improvement in phonemic decoding and sight-word reading abilities after training with Fast ForWord, visit our Web site: http://www.beamazinglearning.com/capd.html


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