Posts Tagged ‘reading’

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.

Your Brain on Metaphors

November 17, 2010

We’re suckers for an article tagged “philosophy” and “neuroscience.”

In the NY Times, Robert Sapolsky explores the fact that while the neuron of a common housefly is remarkably similar to that of a human, we benefit from having a lot more neurons (about 100 million for every one the fly has). And, as Sapolsky says, this quantity yields quality, enabling us to carry out complex tasks like the digit manipulation required to trill on a piano, or make the decision to study hard to get good grades and eventually a good job. Gophers, Sapolsky points out, don’t do that.

Sapolsky, though, is taken with a different human-only trait:

Symbols, metaphors, analogies, parables, synecdoche, figures of speech: we understand them. We understand that a captain wants more than just hands when he orders all of them on deck. We understand that Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” isn’t really about a cockroach. If we are of a certain theological ilk, we see bread and wine intertwined with body and blood. We grasp that the right piece of cloth can represent a nation and its values, and that setting fire to such a flag is a highly charged act. We can learn that a certain combination of sounds put together by Tchaikovsky represents Napoleon getting his butt kicked just outside Moscow. And that the name “Napoleon,” in this case, represents thousands and thousands of soldiers dying cold and hungry, far from home.

And we even understand that June isn’t literally busting out all over. It would seem that doing this would be hard enough to cause a brainstorm. So where did this facility with symbolism come from? It strikes me that the human brain has evolved a necessary shortcut for doing so, and with some major implications.

We won’t get into the neurochemical analysis that Sapolsky does, but if you’re a fan of the brain, his article is a great read.

 

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:

 

 

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 beamazinglearning.com or call (800) 792-4809.

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.

Children of the Code

September 29, 2010

Reading is such an incredibly complex task that it’s not notable that some students struggle with reading, but rather miraculous that any of us can read at all. The Children of the Code project calls attention to the problems that we face when our children do not learn to read:

We don’t look at reading difficulties through the lens of how to improve the ‘teaching’ of reading, instead through the lens of ‘understanding the challenges involved in learning to read’ –  from the learner’s perspective.

The Children of the Code web site teems with information about reading challenges from experts in the field, including Sally Shawitz, who has used neuro-imaging to understand the basic nature of reading and reading difficulties, and  Paula Tallal, whose foundational research into the link between oral and written language led to the development of Fast ForWord.

At Be Amazing Learning, we are committed to offering individualized, validated solutions for students who are struggling with reading. We are intrigued with depth and breadth of interviews on the Children of the Code site from experts in the fields of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, linguistics, instructional design, literacy, and teaching. If you have an interest in reading difficulties you should take a look at this great site.

Building reading fluency with repeated reading

September 28, 2010

From the Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching Children to Read:

Fluent readers are able to read orally with speed, accuracy, and proper expression. Fluency is one of several critical factors necessary for reading comprehension. Despite its importance as a component of skilled reading, fluency is often neglected in the classroom. This is unfortunate. If text is read in a laborious and inefficient manner, it will be difficult for the child to remember what has been read and to relate the ideas expressed in the text to his or her background knowledge. Recent research on the efficacy of certain approaches to teaching fluency has led to increased recognition of its importance in the classroom and to changes in instructional practices.

So how do we move students from decoding to reading fluency?

One excellent for developing reading fluency is called repeated reading. Repeated reading allows a student to get practice with expression, speed, and accuracy. Repeated reading allows the student to become comfortable by reading the same text more than once, while synthesizing all of the components of reading fluency.

Be Amazing Learning offers programs to help students practice reading fluency at home in a systematic way. Reading Assistant, from Scientific Learning, uses the strategy of repeated reading to help children and teens become fluent readers.

With Reading Assistant, students preview text and read it silently. Then they listen to a model reading of the text.  Voice recognition software records their multiple readings of the text, calculating rate and words correct per minute. Along the way, students answer guided reading questions that check for passage comprehension. Reading Assistant even helps when the student is unfamiliar with vocabulary.

Be Amazing Learning offers Reading Assistant, typically in concert with the Fast ForWord programs, which build foundational cognitive and language skills and promote brain processing efficiency. Our comprehensive approach can help students gain reading fluency and maximize their potential.

For more information, visit our Web site at beamazinglearning.com or call (800) 792-4809

Getting to the root of reading comprehension struggles

September 24, 2010

We hear from parents a lot that their child does just fine with the mechanics of reading (decoding, spelling, etc.), but struggles with comprehension. Reading comprehension is a difficult task, as it represents the synthesis of so many language and literacy skills, from phonemic awareness to sequencing and working memory. As such, it takes time and a lot of practice to develop reading comprehension skills.

It’s important to note, however, that while kids may be struggling with comprehension, the root cause of their struggle may be more foundational in nature. For example, a child may decode well, but if his brain is working overtime on decoding, there may just not be anything left when it comes time to comprehend what he’s just read. Comprehension requires things like a working memory that’s developed enough 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. But if we can get a child’s brain to process more efficiently, the mechanics of reading become easier, which frees up energy for more complex tasks like comprehension.

The good news is that we can help kids’ brains process more efficiently. 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.

Be Amazing Learning provides solutions that build brain processing efficiency in critical cognitive skill areas like working memory, processing rates, attention and sequencing. The programs are based on decades of research into brain plasticity, and provide effective, enduring and validated results in just 3-4 months. If comprehension is a struggle for your young reader, visit our Web site at http://www.beamazinglearning.com or call (800) 792-4809 for more information.

Stopping Summer Brain Drain

August 3, 2010

Many families chose summer as a time to work with our programs, as kids are free from homework and have a bit more cognitive energy available to devote to improving brain processing efficiency. And parents have always liked the idea of having something “academic” for kids in the summer in order to cut down on summer brain drain.

Concerns about summer brain drain are real. From the NY Times Wellness blog:

Several studies have documented a “summer slide” in reading skills once school lets out each spring. The decline in reading and spelling skills are greatest among low-income students, who lose the equivalent of about two months of school each summer, according to the National Summer Learning Association, an education advocacy group. And the loss compounds each year.

The good news is that it’s not too hard (or expensive) to beat summer brain drain. Many families we work with report that after training with Fast ForWord, their kids are ready to tackle the academic challenges of the new school year, armed with brains that process more efficiently and better working memory. And a new study from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville showed significant academic improvement in students who were given free access to books at spring book fairs.

From the NY Times:

Children who had received free books posted significantly higher test scores than the children [in a control group] who received activity books. The effect, 1/16th of a standard deviation in test scores, was equivalent to a child attending three years of summer school, according to the report to be published in September in the journal Reading Psychology.

Interestingly enough, the effect is present no matter what kids read – apparently a biography of Brittany Spears was the most popular book selected by students in the UT trial. Ellen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute and author of a book about how children learn, “Mind in the Making,” quoted in the Times blog said the findings should encourage parents and teachers to give students more leverage in selecting reading material:

“A child’s interests are a door into the room of reading … If your child is turned off by reading, getting them to read anything is better than nothing.”

Speech recognition, mobile apps help build reading skills

June 18, 2010

This week’s eSchool News (free registration required) reports that while reading scores have remained relatively flat for the past 40 years, there’s renewed hope that technology might provide a breakthrough and help struggling readers.

The article caught our eye because it highlights Reading Assistant, a program from Scientific Learning that Be Amazing Learning recently began offering. Reading Assistant uses speech-recognition technology to create a virtual reading tutor for students, identifying areas of difficulty like mispronunciations and hesitations and providing students with the necessary support. The program also automatically calculates fluency rates (a process that would otherwise be performed one-on-one with a teacher), which correlate highly to comprehension.

Jacky Egli, executive director of Bridges Academy in Florida, said she’s used Reading Assistant for about two years and is constantly amazed by the confidence that students build using the program. Bridges, a private school for students with disabilities, focuses on helping students close the academic gap. “You see changes by January or February. Reluctant readers are becoming more confident readers,” she said.

We’re pretty firm believers in Reading Assistant, so we weren’t particularly surprised to hear the vote of confidence in the program from Bridges Academy. But we were a little more intrigued by the new research into the opportunities afforded by mobile technology:

An April paper, written by Nian-Shing Chen, Daniel Chia-En Teng, and Cheng-Han Lee and presented at the 2010 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Conference on Wireless, Mobile, and Ubiquitous Technologies in Education, looked at the attempt to integrate the strengths of mobile technology into paper-based reading activities to enhance learners’ reading comprehension.

“While conventional print text provides very limited information in fostering learners’ comprehension, integrating mobile technology with paper prints is a possible way to offer learners essential content-related resources to make sense of the text,” they wrote.

And, as parents of young children who are constantly begging for a turn with our phones, we were particularly interested in a PBS study that showed that students who download mobile applications to their smart phones can boost their vocabulary significantly within just a few weeks:

The study found that vocabulary improved as much as 31 percent in children who played with the Martha Speaks Dog Party app, based on the popular PBS Kids’ television series Martha Speaks, about a dog who eats a bowl of alphabet soup and gains the power of human speech.

Technology doesn’t replace reading instruction, but technology programs like Fast ForWord and Reading Assistant can be effective interventions for students who are struggling with reading because they are highly adaptive and offer a systematic and individualized approach to addressing reading problems. As new technology-based reading interventions come on the market critical consumers should continue to seek out research-based options. The Fast ForWord programs, for example, are based on over 30 years of university-based research into language acquisition and brain plasticity. And the programs have been the subject of hundreds of studies in a wide variety of settings. (We’ve got links to many of these studies on our Web site).


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