Posts Tagged ‘gifted and talented’

Creativity in Young Learners

March 8, 2011

Two blogs we follow have recently tackled the topic of creativity in young learners, each from a slightly different perspective:

A recent post at features an excerpt from John Medina’s book Brain Rules for Baby that looks at the link between creativity and a certain kind of risk-taking. Medina describes “functional impulsivity”, the presence of which makes you more creative:

What ever their gender, creative entrepreneurs have functional impulsivity instincts in spades. They score atmospherically high on tests that measure risk­ taking, and they have a strong ability to cope with ambiguity. When their brains are caught in the act of being creative, the medial and orbital sectors of the pre­frontal cortex, regions just behind the eyes, light up like crazy on an fMRI. More “managerial types” (that’s actually what researchers call them) don’t have these scores—or these neural activities.

Medina is careful to differentiate functional impulsivity from, say, putting life and limb at risk on a dare, which tends to be associated not with creativity but with substance abuse.

At Scientific Learning’s Science of Learning blog, the topic of creativity is focused on the books of Edward de Bono, who proposes methods for teaching students to think creatively and “create context from nothingness.”

In one example, he describes how a teacher shows his students a photo of people dressed in street clothes wading through water at a beach. The teacher then asks the students to come up with interpretations as to what is going on in the picture. The teacher has de-emphasized the context; the crux of the activity is to develop the context using their imaginations.

In this situation, de Bono says that students might respond by saying that the picture shows a group of people caught by the tide, or a group crossing a flooded river, or people wading out to a ferry boat which cannot come to shore, or people coming ashore from a wrecked boat.

The fact that the photo is actually of a group of people protesting at a beach is completely irrelevant. The author stresses that the right answer is not important; generating as many interpretations as possible is. The teacher has created a safe, controlled environment and activity where students are encouraged to think outside the box and exercise creative habits of mind, free from qualitative judgment. He even goes on to suggest that if a student comes up with a particularly unfeasible interpretation, the teacher should not judge, but continue to question the student until the context for the interpretation becomes clear, encouraging cultivation of the student’s creative skill.

Medina’s books on the neuroscience of development differentiate between the “seeds”, which is what a child is born with, and the “soil” which is what parents and others can do to nurture that raw material. These two posts, taken together, indicate that when it comes to creativity, both play a role.

Music on the brain

November 9, 2010

The relationship between music and language (and to a degree, overall academic performance) has been explored extensively in the research. We’ve previously posted on the topic (and have also posted on why it’s so hard to shake a song that’s stuck in your head, which isn’t really as academically important, but is interesting…).

Most parents are familiar with the so-called Mozart Effect, wherein exposure to music (or more specifically, classical music) (or even more specifically music written by Mozart) (or if  you really want to get down to brass tacks, the first movement “allegro con spirito” of the Mozart Sonata KV 448 for Two Pianos in D Major) can improve academic performance. The idea was born out of a 1993 study published in Nature that reported that individuals who listened to the Mozart Sonata scored significantly higher on standard ized tests of abstract/spatial reasoning ability than those who were instructed to relax or those who just sat there in silence.

Listening to music we like does make us feel good, which, in turn, increases focus and attention, which improves performance on many tests of mental sharpness. According to an article in the Racine Journal Times, some studies have shown “improvement in the kind of mental skills we use in doing complex math problems, interpreting driving directions and pondering how to fit a large bookcase in the trunk of a small car.”

But the idea that simply listening to music will have a profound and lasting effect on academic performance has generally been dismissed. (For a thorough analysis of the shortcomings of the initial research, check out this post at the Sharp Brains blog). Instead, researchers (including, says the Journal Times, those who conducted the original “Mozart Effect” study) have shifted to focus on the cognitive effect of learning to make music. Says the Journal Times: “If you want music to sharpen your senses, boost your ability to focus and perhaps even improve your memory, the latest word from science is you’ll need more than hype and a loaded iPod. You gotta get in there and play. Or sing, bang or pluck.”

Learning to make music engages and demands coordination among many brain regions, including those that process sights, sounds, emotions and memories, says Dr. Gottfried Schlaug, a Harvard University neurologist.

Years ago, Schlaug found a glaring and suggestive difference between the brains of 30 professional musicians and 30 non-musician adults of matched age and gender.

In the musicians, the bundle of connective fibers that carry messages between the brain’s right and left hemispheres – a structure called the corpus callosum – was larger and denser on average than that of their non-musical peers. The brawnier bridge was particularly notable toward the rear of the brain, at the crossing that links areas responsible for sensory perception and voluntary movement.

It suggested not only that musicians might be able to more nimbly react to incoming information but also that their brains might be more resilient and adaptable, allowing right and left hemispheres, which specialize in separate functions, to work better together.

Schlaug and colleagues also found that the musicians who had begun their musical training before the age of 7 showed the most pronounced differences – suggesting an early start might rewire the brain most dramatically.

Over at the New Science of Learning Blog, Dr. William Jenkins (one of the neuroscientists behind the Fast ForWord programs), highlights a recent article, Music Training for the Development of Auditory Skills by Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, that examines three specific areas of brain function where music training positively affects function:
  • Transfer of cognitive skills: Music has been shown to affect how the brain processes pitch, timing and timbre. Along with describing music, these are also key elements of speech and language—that are positively affected by musical training.
  • Fine tuning of auditory skills: “Musicians, compared with non-musicians, more effectively represent the most meaningful, information-bearing elements in sounds — for example, the segment of a baby’s cry that signals emotional meaning, the upper note of a musical chord or the portion of the Mandarin Chinese pitch contour that corresponds to a note along the diatonic musical scale.” While music does not appear to affect visual memory or attention, research shows that it does affect auditory verbal memory and auditory attention.
  • Better recognition of “regularities”: The human brain is wired to filter regular predictable patterns out from the noise surrounding us (e.g., we can pick out a friend’s voice in a room filled with many other sounds and voices.) Musical training enhances this cognitive ability.

Based on this information, Kraus and Chandresekaran argue “that active engagement with music promotes an adaptive auditory system that is crucial for the development of listening skills. An adaptive auditory system that continuously regulates its activity based on contextual demands is crucial for processing information during everyday listening tasks.”

So while the idea of a Mozart Effect, by which we can improve academic performance simply by exposing children to music, seems feeble at best, there are significant cognitive benefits to musical training, particularly in the area of language and processing abilities.


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).

Even gifted students can improve

October 13, 2010

When the Fast ForWord programs were first introduced in the late 1990s, there was a general consensus that the programs were appropriate for students with diagnosed language and learning difficulties. The standard for “appropriateness” was typically that students should score at least one standard deviation below the norm on a standardized language battery.

When Fast ForWord was introduced into schools, students from across the learning spectrum were exposed to the program. Mainstream educated students, including many who were designated as gifted and talented, trained with the programs and saw tremendous improvement in foundational cognitive skills as well as general learning and reading abilities.

The programs target cognitive skills that are critical for effective learning. These skills don’t necessarily correlate to grade levels (for example, there’s no such thing as a second grade working memory), so kids with varying abilities across these skills and of many ages can benefit.

Scientific Learning (creators of Fast ForWord programs) just released the results of a study of gifted students who trained with the programs. The study looked at early fourth graders whose average reading grade equivalency was mid-fifth grade. After training with the Fast ForWord programs, the students grade equivalency in reading improved to mid-seventh grade. These dramatic results indicate that even gifted and talented students, who would not be identified for additional reading support, can still benefit from improved foundational cognitive skills developed by Fast ForWord.

There is more information on the study at Scientific Learning’s blog.

Be Amazing Learning is a provider of Fast ForWord programs. At Be Amazing Learning, we have helped students across the learning spectrum, including many gifted students, reach their full potential. For more information, visit our Web site at or call (800) 792-4809.

Developing abilities in gifted and talented kids

October 6, 2010

We spend a lot of time talking about struggling students, from kids with diagnosed learning difficulties like dyslexia or auditory processing disorder, to kids for whom reading and learning is just plain harder than it should be.

But students across the learning spectrum can struggle to reach their potential. As an example, check out this recent post from Prufrock’s Gifted Child Information Blog (Prufrock Press publishes books and other resources about gifted education; blogger Carol Fertig is the author of Raising a Gifted Child: A Parenting Success Handbook):

Young people who have a strong visual-spatial ability visualize and retain images in their minds and then mentally manipulate those images. Kids who have this ability may be very smart but, because they learn in a style that is different from the usual sequential and verbal style of the classroom, they may not be a good match for the typical school.

Maybe. Or perhaps with assistance developing other foundational cognitive skills like sequencing and auditory processing, these visual-spatial learners can thrive.

We know from fMRI scans that learning and reading tasks activate various centers of neural activity in the brain, including those responsible for visual and auditory processing as well as memory. And we know that when particular areas are abnormally activated, significant challenges to learning can occur (for example, the visual centers of the brains of students with dyslexia tend to be hyper-activated during reading, while their auditory centers are under-activated).

But most importantly, we have programs that can strengthen areas of the brain, such as those responsible for sequencing and auditory processing, that may not be operating at peak efficiency.

Learners across the spectrum will struggle to reach their potential when their brain processing efficiency isn’t maximized. For gifted students who are visual-spatial learners, this may mean that they need assistance to develop their auditory sequencing and processing abilities. At Be Amazing Learning, we have helped many gifted students reach their full potential. For more information, visit our Web site at or call (800) 792-4809.

Scientifically-based research

March 2, 2008

The Fast ForWord programs have undergone numerous research studies to establish and validate the impressive improvements that students make after training with the programs. From the initial university-based foundational research, to field trials conducted by Scientific Learning; from subsequent peer-reviewed studies of efficacy, to formal assessments conducted by school districts around the country, there is probably no more thoroughly researched educational product on the market.

Scientific Learning makes a lot of the research available on their Web site, including studies of just about every population of students, from Title 1 to General Education. Two studies that really hit home for us, because they really go to the core of what we’re doing here at Be Amazing, looked at the impact of Fast ForWord training on Gifted and Talented (GATE) students. 

The studies were conducted by school districts in North Carolina and Tennessee. In one study, “students classified as ‘gifted’ showed significant gains in decoding and reading skills” after training with Fast ForWord. In the other, “high performing sixth graders increased overall scores and significantly exceeded expectations on state assessment tests.”

In the North Carolina study, on two subtests of decoding skills (sound blending and word attack), the students moved from near the top of the average range into the above average range (one standard deviation above the norm) after Fast ForWord training.

The details of these and other scientific studies of Fast ForWord’s efficacy are available in the Results section of Scientific Learning’s Web site. 

Be Amazing has extensive experience helping gifted and talented students reach their full potential with Fast ForWord.

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