Posts Tagged ‘intelligence’

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).

Nature vs. Nurture? Well, both, actually.

October 19, 2010

The Nature, of course, is what we are born with: our inherited resources, our DNA. Nurture is our environment and the experiences we have. There has been a long-standing debate between which of these two determines who we are and what we can do.

But both are important. Our abilities grow out of how our environment has interacts with our brain. And our environment influences the way our brain develops.

Tantalized? Check out this great video from the Children of the Code Web site that features prominent scientists, Dr. Jack Shonkoff, Dr. Michael Merzenich, Dr. Terrence Deacon, and Dr. Paula Tellal.

What does this mean for children and learning? It means that what children experience can support, or not support, their learning.  The brain can develop and change based on activities, experiences, environmental influences.

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.

Creating an Optimal Learning Environment

May 19, 2010

For decades, scientists believed that outside of development that occurred during the critical period of brain development early in life, our brains remained essentially unchanged. The concept of brain plasticity introduced the idea that we CAN change our brains throughout life, provided we create an “optimal learning environment” to promote brain development.

So what does an optimal learning environment look like?

Dr. Michael Merzenich’s research into brain plasticity determined that effective training that promotes physical brain growth must be:

  • Frequent
  • Intense
  • Adaptive
  • Motivating

If you’re familiar with the Fast ForWord programs, you will recognize these characteristics in the exercises your child has worked with: daily training sessions of at least 30 minutes, highly adaptive exercises that ensure students are challenged right at the limits of their abilities across a range of language and reading skills, and frequent and varied rewards including animations, bonus levels and point trackers. As professionals offering the Fast ForWord programs, we observe the criticality of each of these elements: students who are engaged and stick with Fast ForWord’s rigorous schedule make the most dramatic gains with the programs.

We just encountered some additional research that suggests that a critical component of learning may also be how well a student embraces the very concept of brain plasticity. In her new book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dr. Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford differentiates between fixed and growth mindsets. Summarized by Dr. Bill Jenkins on Scientific Learning’s The Science of Learning blog:

  • A person with a fixed mindset views their intelligence, talents and abilities as fixed and unchanging. As a result, those with this mindset protect themselves from failure by avoiding new experiences and challenges.
  • A person with a growth mindset sees him or herself as fluid and changing. They see their lives as full of opportunity and personal growth.

As parents and professionals who work with students, there’s a lot we can do to promote a growth mindset. Some specific suggestions, offered by Dr. Dweck in an interview published on Edutopia, include:

  • Teaching students to think of their brain as a muscle that strengthens with use, and have them visualize the brain forming new connections every time they learn.
  • Discouraging the use of labels (“smart,” “dumb,” and so on) that convey intelligence as a fixed entity.
  • Praising students’ effort, strategies, and progress, not their intelligence. Praising intelligence leads to students to fear challenges and makes them feel stupid and discouraged when they have difficulty.
  • Giving students challenging work. Teach them that challenging activities are fun and that mistakes help them learn.

How otherwise bright people struggle to read

January 5, 2010

We frequently hear from parents of bright kids who are just having a tough time with reading. A new study, published in the January 1, 2010 issue of the journal Psychological Science, looks at the relationship between intelligence and reading ability.

From Medical News Today:

The researchers found that in typical readers, IQ and reading not only track together, but also influence each other over time. But in children with dyslexia, IQ and reading are not linked over time and do not influence one another. This explains why a dyslexic can be both bright and not read well.

The study examined data from the Connecticut Longitudinal Study, an ongoing 12-year study of cognitive and behavioral development in a representative sample of 445 Connecticut schoolchildren. The researchers each child in reading every year and tested for IQ every other year.

From Sally E. Shaywitz, M.D., the Audrey G. Ratner Professor in Learning Development at Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics, and co-director of the newly formed Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity:

“I’ve seen so many children who are struggling to read but have a high IQ,” said Shaywitz. “Our findings of an uncoupling between IQ and reading, and the influence of this uncoupling on the developmental trajectory of reading, provide evidence to support the concept that dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty with reading in children who otherwise have the intelligence to learn to read.”

Typical readers learn how to associate letters with a specific sound. “All they have to do is look at the letters and it’s automatic,” Shaywitz explained. “It’s like breathing; you don’t have to tell your lungs to take in air. In dyslexia, this process remains manual.” Each time a dyslexic sees a word, it’s as if they’ve never seen it before. People with dyslexia have to read slowly, re-read, and sometimes use a marker so they don’t lose their place.

So what’s the answer for parents with otherwise bright kids who struggle with reading? Shaywitz’ previous research into dyslexia suggests that a neurological signature for dyslexia is under activation of the parieto-temporal region of the brain. A Stanford University study that examined brain imaging scans of children with dyslexia who used Fast ForWord programs showed normalization of activity in this critical area of the brain (used for reading). Furthermore, the students in the Stanford study showed significant improvements in reading and oral language skills on a number of assessments.

Baby Robots?

July 12, 2009

Can scientists build a “baby robot” that, like a child, learns as it goes and plays well with others? July’s Smithsonian magazine profiles Project One, a “wildly ambitious effort to crack the secrets of human intelligence. It involves, their grant proposal says, ‘an integrated system … whose sensors and actuators approximate the levels of complexity of human infants.'”

As the article points out, we have been able to develop robots that effectively carry out a wide variety of tasks, from building cars to playing the violin. And through a process called “supervised learning” (the “laborious analysis of spoon-fed data” such as a smile-detection system that “learns” by being shown tens of thousands of photographs of smiling and non-smiling faces) we can train robots to respond to humans. However, supervised learning isn’t how babies discover their world.

“If you want to build an intelligent system, you have to build a system that becomes intelligent,” says “Giulio Sandini, a bioengineer specializing in social robots at the Italian Institute of Technology in Genoa. “Intelligence is not only what you know but how you learn more from what you know. Intelligence is acquiring information, a dynamic process.”

This is the goal of Project One:

The robot baby will be able to touch, grab and shake objects, and the researchers hope that it will be able to “discover” as many as 100 different objects that infants might encounter … and figure out how to manipulate them … The subtleties are numerous; it will need to figure out that, say, a red rattle and a red bottle are different things and that a red rattle and a blue rattle are essentially the same.

Javier Movellan, a psychologist at UC San Diego and the director of the school’s Machine Perception Laboratory, was also involved with the development of RUBI, a robot designed to test interactive computing applications in the classroom. Interestingly enough, we first learned of RUBI at a talk given by Dr. Paula Tallal, one of the creators of the Fast ForWord programs, in which she emphasized the criticality of timing in language. RUBI, she said, also showed how important timing was in developing human interactions. The initial RUBI responded fractions of a second too slowly to the toddlers it encountered, and the children disengaged. However, when the researchers sped up the interaction time to approximate how quickly humans respond to sensory input, the children developed a relationship with RUBI.

In RUBI, the Smithsonian article says, Movellan developed a robot that humans can love. The goal of Project One is to develop a robot that can love humans.

The project is not without its skeptics, who doubt that a “baby robot” will tell us much about how humans learn. For example. Ron Chrisley, a cognitive scientist at the University of Sussex in England cites the fact that infants develop physically as well as mentally as they grow:

“To mimic infant development, robots are going to have to change their morphology in ways that the technology isn’t up to.”

And besides, says Chrisley, Project One is going at things all wrong by focusing on things like realistic human features. After all, “Human beings learned to fly when we mastered aerodynamics, not when we fashioned realistic-looking birds.”

Still, any new insight into how children learn to observe and reflect their environment will be welcome in the field of learning. And Project One’s robot won’t need diaper changes and could probably be programmed to make its bed and clean up its room without nagging…

Memory training turns up brain power

May 1, 2008

From the May 1, 2008 New York Times:

A new study has found that it may be possible to train people to be more intelligent, increasing the brainpower they had at birth.

Until now, it had been widely assumed that the kind of mental ability that allows us to solve new problems without having any relevant previous experience — what psychologists call fluid intelligence — is innate and cannot be taught (though people can raise their grades on tests of it by practicing).

But in the new study, researchers describe a method for improving this skill, along with experiments to prove it works.

The key, researchers found, was carefully structured training in working memory— the kind that allows memorization of a telephone number just long enough to dial it. This type of memory is closely related to fluid intelligence, according to background information in the article, and appears to rely on the same brain circuitry. So the researchers reasoned that improving it might lead to improvements in fluid intelligence.


This is pretty fascinating stuff and goes right to what Be Amazing finds the most under-reported positive feature of Fast ForWord training: that average or even above average students can improve academic performance by targeting foundational skills like working memory, sequencing, attention and processing rates. In other words, Fast ForWord does incredible things for struggling readers, but can create an optimal foundation for academic success for all students.

The complete study is available online at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Web site.

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