Posts Tagged ‘education’

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.

Working memory and reading comprehension

November 29, 2010

Reading comprehension is a complex task requiring the synthesis of several cognitive functions:

  • Sequencing is critical for making meaning from text (the sentence “Man bites dog” has a very different meaning from “Dog bites man”).
  • Processing speed must be developed for the brain must be able to successfully process visual and auditory stimuli associated with reading
  • Working memory must be sufficiently developed to remember the beginning of a sentence when you get to the end. Or the first sentence of a paragraph when you get to the last.

Several studies have looked at the impact of Fast ForWord, a training program designed to improve these critical cognitive skills. One that we like a lot looked at reading comprehension improvements in middle and high school students in the Dallas Independent School District. The students made a 22-month gain in age-equivalent reading scores after just 6 months of training.

A recent study, published in May 2010 in the Journal Reading and Writing (link is to abstract only) examined the impact of Cogmed Working Memory Training on reading comprehension abilities. The study also examined the relationship between working memory and reading achievement, hypothesizing that working memory problems can be a root cause of poor reading comprehension. The researchers found Cogmed training to significantly improve reading comprehension development, and working memory measures were shown to “be related with children’s word reading and reading comprehension.”

Having a brain that can efficiently process the visual and auditory inputs that take place during reading is critical for successful comprehension. Students whose brains are not processing efficiently can struggle with reading comprehension. But research shows that programs, such as Fast ForWord and Cogmed, that build efficiency in skills such as processing rates and working memory can have a positive impact on comprehension abilities.

High Schooler Reading at 2nd Grade Level Goes to College After Fast ForWord

November 18, 2010

Articles about educational programs in scientific journals are generally concerned with significant, measurable and repeatable effects on a large pool of subjects. They’re focused on improvements in scores on standardized assessments or, increasingly, physical changes in the brain that can be established by before and after imaging using fMRI.

The measured results of Fast ForWord training are impressive. From the initial university research that led to the development of the programs to the over 1 million students around the world who have now used Fast ForWord programs, students have and continue to make significant gains in critical learning skills after short, intense training with Fast ForWord programs. For details, check out Scientific Learning’s databases of measured user results.

But sometimes it’s the anecdotal results that can be most compelling. Take, for example, this recently publicized story of a high school student who went from struggling reader to scholarship football player after using Fast ForWord:

When Kenny Hilliard reached high school, he was a gifted football player; he was not a gifted student. He was reading at the level of a second grader and struggled in all of his academic courses. School district officials in St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, originally put him on a GED track, hoping he could earn a general high school equivalency diploma instead of a traditional diploma. But today, Kenny is looking forward to not only graduating from Patterson High School with the traditional diploma, but also to attending LSU on a football scholarship.

“What changed is that Kenny did a computer program called Fast ForWord,” said Patterson High School Principal, Rachael Wilson. “He is such a talented football player, and his talents can carry him far, but recruiters are looking for kids who have talent and good grades. The first two questions recruiters ask me are ‘What kind of kid is he?’ and ‘What kind of grades does he make?’ Thanks to the progress Kenny made in Fast ForWord, he does not need to rely on athletic talent alone.”

“Before Kenny did Fast ForWord, I was worried sick that he would drop out of school,” said Brenda Hilliard, Kenny’s mother. “I knew something was different when he began reading on his own. I’d find him reading sports magazines. I knew then, that he was actually understanding what he was reading. Now he’s going to college. I am so proud of him.”

Aside from the fact that we generally cheer for the Pac-10 over the SEC here at Be Amazing Learning, this is pretty cool stuff.

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.

November is Family Literacy Month

November 8, 2010

Many factors contribute to academic success, including a family’s income, education level, or cultural background. But research shows that a home environment that encourages learning is more important than any of these other factors.

We’ve previously posted on the importance of providing early language exposure to young children. As children get older, exposure to print is a critical determinant in students’ reading abilities. So in celebration of Family Literacy Month, here are a few suggestions from Education.com on how to increase children’s exposure to the written word:

  • Make reading materials available
  • Be a reading role model
  • Read aloud to children
  • Encourage personal libraries
  • Limit television, computers and video games

You might want to check out these other reference articles, also from Education.com:

 

 

Study skills are the Talk of the Nation

October 22, 2010

We posted a couple of weeks back about new research into effective study techniques that was featured in the NY Times. Yesterday, NPR’s Talk of the Nation featured the author of the Times article, Benedict Cary, sharing highlights and answering questions from listeners.

Cary reports that research indicates that there’s a benefit to taking tests and quizzes (the act of recalling information for a quiz can actually improve the likelihood that you’ll be able to recall the information again later) and mixing up your study locations increases the number of associations your brain forms with the information you’re studying.

NPR’s Web site has a summary and a link to the audio from the show (there’s also a transcript for you visual-spatial learners).

Can we be serious here for a minute?

October 21, 2010

Last week, we posted about kids’ recognition and use of ironic language. Today, it’s the serious stuff.

Dutch researcher Lotte Henrichs has examined what she terms “academic language.” It’s not a unique language, but rather is:

Characterised by difficult, abstract words and complex sentence structures. The language often contains a lot of clauses and conjunctions and due to the methods of argument and analysis it has a scientific appearance.

Why is academic language important for children? From a Science Daily summary of Henrich’s research:

Children at a primary school need a certain type of language proficiency: academic language. Academic language …  is the language that teachers use and expect from the pupils. It enables children to understand instructions and to demonstrate their knowledge in an efficient manner.

Henrich says that how parents approach language interactions with their children has a significant impact on the children’s development of academic language: “Those who address children as fully-fledged conversation partners lay an early basis for the development of ‘academic language'”:

If children are given the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to conversations, they often use characteristics of academic language proficiency naturally. In addition to this, the knowledge of academic language depends on the extent to which parents read to their children, tell them stories and hold conversations about interesting subjects.

We’ve also previously posted about the importance of engaging children with language.

 

Changing Education Paradigms

October 20, 2010

If you’ve got 10 minutes, check out this 10 minute excerpt from a talk by creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. The visual presentation is fantastic (calling all visual-spatial learners!), and the subject of the talk fascinating.

Robinson hits on the roots of many challenges in education today, focusing on our lack of ability to engage students and to foster what he calls “divergent thinking”: an essential capacity for creativity, which includes the ability to see lots of ways to interpret a question, and multiple answers to a question, not one (distinct from “creativity” itself, which is the process of having original ideas that have value).

Robinson’s talk was given to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), which (from their Web site) “has been a cradle of enlightenment thinking and a force for social progress.  Our approach is multi-disciplinary, politically independent and combines cutting edge research and policy development with practical action.” Robinson was the recipient of the RSA’s Benjamin Franklin Award.

If you’ve got a bit more time, you can see Robinson’s talk in its entirety (and in a much more traditional presentation).

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.”


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