Tags: Africa, SLP
This story from Advance is really cool. Christopher Merkley, a Speech-Language Pathologist, became known as the only “speaking specialist” in a large area of Africa. People would come from far and wide to see him, and because of widespread cultural feelings, such that disabled people are possessed by evil spirits, he had to get permission from village elders for therapy. He gives other details, including descriptions of a lack of electricity in their clinic, very few supplies, and a local thirst for knowledge that can help those of us in far different settings to give our vocation some much needed perspective. Here’s the link: http://speech-language-pathology-audiology.advanceweb.com/Features/Articles/Speaking-Specialist.aspx
Engineers at the University of Washington are nearing completion of cell phone software that can work effectively without hogging as much bandwidth as typical video-conferencing. This story from ScienceDaily reports that a field trial is nearing completion, with generally positive results. The new software specifically optimizes video quality around the face and hands, which makes use of sign language on cell phones more practical for potentially, more people.
Tags: language form, language function, linguistic niche, texting and language
Study Probes Connection Between Texting and Language Impairment - This study, from these people, at the University of Manchester, finds that teens with language impairment (or SLI, to be specific), don’t use texting technology as much as their typically developing peers. The study authors surmised that this relative lack of texting is caused more by societal factors, such as shyness, and lack of friendship networks, rather than lack of ability.
Doctors and Sreenings – Good; Doctors and Referrals – Not so Good – A report spearheaded by John Hopkins Children’s Center shows that while pediatricians may be doing a good job of screening kids, referrals for further assessment often go unheeded. The study recommended that instead of placing referrals in the hands of parents, these referrals should be directly placed to specialists. My information comes from this this link from Science Daily.
Study Challenges Current Thinking on Language Evolution – Again from Science Daily: According to a statistical analysis of more than 2,000 of the world’s languages, they may evolve more like biological organisms, and less from more random forces, as previously thought. The bullet synopsis is that the more people speak a language, the simpler the language becomes. The researchers called this the “Linguistic Niche Hypothesis.” One possible explanation for this is that simplicity holds an evolutionary advantage over complexity, particularly when children learn languages. It should be noted that simpler languages are not necessarily inferior languages. They just do not have aspects which aren’t as necessary, such as elaborate gender marking, for example. Pschologists from the Universities of Pennsylvania and Memphis conducted this analysis. More info can be found at this Penn site.
Children Make up Their Own Rules To Help Them Learn Language – This study used computer analysis to theorize that early language development follows formulas that children generate on their own, rather than specific rules governing such things as nouns and verbs, as linguists have traditionally thought. Or as I’ve simply put it, in language development, Form Follows Function. Leading this work was Colin Bannard, at the University of Texas, and Elena Lieven and Michael Tomasello, two colleagues working at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. The more in-depth article can be found at the University of Texas site.
Tags: cognitive referencing, discrepancy model, IQ and language
Cognitive referencing is the practice of using IQ scores to establish eligibility for special education services, specifically in areas of language and learning disabilities. It’s often called by it’s gentler label, the “discrepancy model,” or the “wait to fail” model by many others. Cognitive referencing has been denounced by groups such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (link), the President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002, and very explicitly, by the U.S. Department of Education (link, pg. 31). It has been eliminated in many states, but persists in many others. Even those who don’t come right out and denounce this practice (as they should), state that it should be only one component of a larger process used to determine eligibility (e.g. this CEC link). The problem is that wherever it is used, the IQ-Academic discrepancy becomes the sole method of determining eligibility in nearly all cases. In my state of Missouri, our state law very specifically mandates this discrepancy, unless a school district is willing to go through much expense and work to use other methods, such as RTI. My guess is that 99% of kids tested for LD and Language Impairment in our state use only IQ comparison to determine eligibility.
Despite its prevalence, cognitive referencing is wrong on many levels.
- It uses a single IQ score, ignoring standard deviation. A kid that scores 80, may actually have a “true” IQ of something like 85 or 90, but could have performed poorly on that one day, for various reasons. Tough luck for that kid. An IQ score of 80 usually means that your academic or language scores have to be 58 or lower, an extremely difficult thing to do.
- By even using IQ at all, the assumption is that this is as good as a kid can get. That was the initial rational for the discrepancy model way back before we knew better. Now we know that IQ can go up (or down) in relationship to environmental factors. (When IQ scores of large groups of children are studied, IQ scores do tend to remain stable, especially in older children. However, this skews the fact that a smaller percentage of children do show substantial IQ fluctuations over time. For more on this interesting topic, see Sigelman and Rider, 2008.)
- IQ and language are correlated. Vocabulary and IQ especially correlate well. This means that children with low language scores tend to have comparably low IQ scores. It is virtually impossible to obtain a low IQ score and say that language difficulties didn’t have something to do with that score.
- Kids with certain scores are especially difficult to qualify for special education under this model. Whenever a child scores in the 70s or low 80s, especially, you can just pretty much rest assured that the kid will not qualify, and you will be testing that kid again, and perversely hoping that the academic and/or language scores have fallen enough to qualify the next time. Generally kids must score 22 points below their IQ in a specific area, and it is very difficult for a non-mentally retarded person to have scores in the 60s or below in academics or language (until, we’ve given them sufficient time to fail in these areas, of course.) In effect a child is punished for having an IQ in that certain range.
- IQ scores can set artificially low levels of expectation for kids, teachers, and parents. IQs describe obstacles, not limits. It may be harder for someone with a lower IQ to learn, but it is never impossible. Only comatose or dead people can’t learn, and IQ scores too often allow somebody to say, “Well he’s achieving close to his level.” IQs can provide a stimulus to somebody with a high IQ who is not motivated to learn, and can provide a bit of insight into why a particular student may be having trouble learning, but to withhold helping a child because of a lower then average IQ is at the least dishonest, and borders on unethical.
So how can this horrible practice persist? For starters, no states have been forced to abandon cognitive referencing. It is almost amazing that so many have, considering the financial implications of having to provide more help to kids. That nobody has come up with anything better seems to be the main excuse given for continuing the discrepancy model. I don’t really understand why this practice hasn’t been challenged in court. Perhaps someday, somebody such as these special ed lawyers with a great web site, will.
That cognitive referencing can continue to exist is a symptom of a larger problem in our society. We attempt to find labels and categories to justify providing (a good thing) or withholding (not so good) help to kids that could really benefit from extra help. In my opinion the most ethical method of providing special education services would be to establish a bare minimum of expected competence in various areas, and at least offer to help any child achieve the next step toward reaching that bare minimum. If this were to happen those of us in special education might then be able to spend more effort looking for ways to help, and less time looking for excuses not to.
Tags: educational testing, teaching to the test, testing problems, testing solution
- Testing takes too much time.
- There is too much pressure to teach to the test.
- Tests measure limited aspects of a student.
- Ignores standard error of measurement.
- Increases anxiety and stress
I don’t think I even have to write an introductory sentence for this post – if I did, it would be something like, “The way group testing is done now creates a lot of problems.” It’s become almost cliche to say that No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on testing has created a lot of headaches and hassles. The testing emphasis and the accompanying problems have been shared by other countries. Research has been mounting in support of the overwhelming mountain of testimonies from educators, and even the general media at large has joined the bandwagon. (For example: CBS news story; Boston Globe article; UK Daily Telegraph study story) Everyone agrees that accountability is a good thing, and there’s only one way to measure how our children are learning. Well, actually, there’s something wrong with that last part… There is another way. Individual testing.
I’ll go ahead and get my bias out of the way, because I am a diagnostician. I test students for speech and language competency in order to decide special education eligibility, and to help provide planning for appropriate speech and language therapy. I work with a team of other diagnosticians serving 13 school districts. Most students that we test receive IQ and educational testing, and probably two-thirds get speech and language testing. I am not exaggerating when I say that when we finish testing a child parents, teachers, and the students themselves know the tested child like never before. We can tell exactly what’s wrong, and exactly how to fix it. Individual testing trumps group testing in so many ways. Individual testing specifically…
- takes less time with greater accuracy.
- is impossible to teach to the test.
- We can measure any educationally relevant aspect of the student that we want.
- takes special circumstances into account.
- has less anxiety.
Additionally, individual testing …
- specifically measures progress (or lack of) in very specific areas.
That’s the only bullet there, but its important enough to merit its own list. Put another way, this means that when we are able to test kids this way, we can determine exactly what a student knows, and what a student should know, but doesn’t. We can also tell what’s developmentally appropriate for each student to learn next.
So why don’t we just test each kid individually then? Well, it would require a lot of change – change sparked and implemented by bureaucrats in an educational system who would only do so in response to mandates from politicians in a government who would only mandate in response to political pressure which would require much greater media attention. As the ongoing attempt to overhaul health care has demonstrated, real change in our country is often extremely difficult. Especially systematic change. And even when the need for change is obvious.
Tags: autism inattention, Language Development, language gene, language news, Mabel Rice, talking study
Here’s some recent language learning news that I’ve found interesting:
Talking helps language development more than reading alone – Although the conclusion of this UCLA study seems almost blatantly obvious, there is a significant implication, which is that the importance of talking to children has been obscured by the recent emphasis on reading with children. The study found that back-and-forth conversation was strongly associated with future improvements in the child’s language score. Conversely, adult monologueing, such as monologic reading, was more weakly associated with language development. TV viewing had no effect on language development, positive or negative. The study’s lead author, Dr. Frederick J. Zimmerman noted, “What’s new here is the finding that the effect of adult-child conversations was roughly six times as potent at fostering good language development as adult speech input alone.”
Inattentive behaviors in young children with autism predict lower later language development – The authors of this study, from the University of British Columbia, looked at autism from a different perspective than most previous research. Rather than focusing on social and linguistic aspects of autism, the authors looked at five types of inappropriate behaviors and how these behaviors predicted later language development. The study looked at some behaviors that parents and teachers frequently focus on, such as acting out, resistance to change, and socially unresponsive behavior, but the one that best predicted later language difficulties was inattentiveness. This is strikingly significant for autism intervention. Why is inattentiveness such a large problem? Creating a desire to change is critical with these children. Often, current intervention practices target making autistic children communicate (such as in ABA therapy), instead of trying to convince these kids to want to communicate.
Gene found to be associated with language, speech, and reading disorders – The gene in question is found on Chromosome 6. The significance is that variability in the gene was associated with both language and reading disorders, but not other disorders, such as autism or hearing impairment. Mabel Rice, from the University of Kansas, Shelley Smith, from the University of Nebraska, and Javier Gayán of Neocodex, Seville, Spain led a team of researchers that is part of a 20 year research program that is being funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one of the National Institutes of Health.
Tags: fun learning, motivational learning, motivational teaching
Although the title of this post sure looks like a set up for some boring educational acronym, it really describes making learning fun. More significantly, it describes using fun to teach. The purpose of the bureaucratic looking title is to please the administrative types that sometimes try to understand why it is often in the best interest of our students to use teaching methods that are actually fun. I could have called it “Goal Directed Teaching,” or “Learning for a Reason,” or “Why’s Before Whats,” but these other possibilities simply don’t seem to fit as well.
Achievement oriented instruction is when a teacher provides a goal that requires the student to use a targeted skill to accomplish something. This is not quite functional teaching, and its almost the opposite of drill. The goal itself provides the motivation, and for this reason the choice of the goal is critical. It is perhaps as or more important than any teaching method that may be used. And this is how achievement oriented instruction most differs from traditional teaching.
Here are some examples that may best serve to illustrate my overall point:
Achievement Based Teaching
teacher instruction/ text book/ worksheets
using jelly beans, pennies, etc. and asking motivating questions, such as “Would you like two more, or six all together?”, etc.
discussing prepositions/ worksheets
asking preposition laden questions while playing hide and seek, hidden pictures, Simon Says, etc.
parts of speech
sentence diagrams/ teacher instruction/ worksheets
Mad Lib style activities, separate students into different parts of speech teams and score points when correctly identifying parts of speech, etc.
internet typing games, practice typing labels, letters, etc.
As you can see, the achievement based teaching column contains more possibilities, and an “etc.” The only limit to one can go in the final column is the teacher’s imagination. The more creative and varied the activities, the more salient is the learning. This should not in any way disparage traditional teaching, however. Another way to put it is that traditional teaching relies on expectations. In achievement based teaching the learning is elicited. The student constructs his own expectations, and uses specific targets to achieve these expectations. Expectations and elicitations are both critical when teaching.
So when an administrator comes in and sees you playing a game with your kids, if you did this kind of teaching, you could say: “You caught me on my ABT day. Some days I do drill, some days I do direct instruction, some days worksheets, and about half of the days I do activities specifically designed to elicit my students’ target skills. It just so happens that fun motivates.”
Tags: complex sentences, conjunctions, Language Teaching
Conjunctions are an important method of extending sentence length and complexity, because they are a common method of joining words or parts of sentences together. Coordinating conjunctions join independent clauses (as well as words and phrases), while subordinating conjunctions can join both dependent and independent clauses (as well as words and phrases).
The acquisition and frequency of conjunctions have both been studied extensively. Among the findings are that the word and often initially takes the role of other conjunctions (Bloom et al., 1980; Scott, 1988; cited by Owens, 1996). The conjunctions but, so, or, and if soon are acquired in typically developing children to serve functions that and isn’t as easily able to achieve. Conjunctions like because then develop to express not only a relationship between sentence elements, but additionally a temporal sequence. According to one estimate, by the time a normal child’s mean length of utterances reach 5.0 (at an average age of 4 to 5 years), 20% of the sentences they use in spontaneous speech contain embedded or conjoined clauses (Paul, 1981).
Language itself doesn’t require conjunctions, but effectively communicating advanced ideas usually does. As with other language modalities, conjunctions exist because they assist. We use them to achieve a goal. Just try giving a reason for something without using the word because, or try describing the time relationship between two completed events without using conjunctions such as before, after, or then. It can be done, but much less effectively.
Generally, developmental order of conjunctions is determined by the complexity of the relationship the conjunction serves. Conjunctions appear frequently in assessments such as the CELF, CASL, OWLS, and SPELT. Also, Conjunction Junction is a timeless piece of art.
Tags: deductive teaching, Language Teaching, lizbeth finestack, marc fey
That’s the gist of a new study by Lizbeth Finestack and Marc Fey from the University of Kansas, published in the August ’09 American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. Their study compared 6-8 year olds assigned to either a deductive training group, or an inductive training group. A computer program was used to teach a specific aspect of an invented alien language. The deductive training group received explanations, i.e. a brief description of the target. Both groups were made aware that the alien – “Tiki” – used many of the same words that we use, but this alien language also contained something different. In this case that was different word endings for male and female verbs. The kids in the deductive group were told that when it’s a boy you add -po to the end, and when it’s a girl you add -pa to the end. The kids in the inductive group were just supposed to figure it out on their own, another way of saying they were required to use inductive reasoning.
Finestack and Fey’s results showed that significantly more kids in the deductive group acquired the target. They concluded by asserting that generally, the most efficacious treatment may be one that combines natural language approaches with explanations. For those with access, here’s the link.
Nicaraguan Sign Language – Linguistic Holy Grail?
When, in the 1970′s and 1980′s, increasing amounts of Nicaraguan children without a common language were brought together in special education schools by a new government, one result was the invention of a completely new language. These children had each been previously using unique forms of homesign or gestures to communicate. Once brought together (after an initial period when their teachers unsuccessfully attempted to teach the native language), the children became part of a new and growing deaf community located in the capitol city of Managua. Their newfound socialization necessitated creating a way to communicate; hence, Nicaraguan Sign Language. The chance to study the formation of a new language in unprecedented ways appeared to many linguists to offer hopes of holy grail proportions.
Several researchers pounced on this unprecedented opportunity in hopes of finding clues about the formation of all human language. Judy Kegl, an MIT trained linguist, and Ann Senghas, from Barnard College, were among the first prominent linguists to jump in. Research on the early users of Nicaraguan Sign Language described some key aspects; the language was concrete, there were primarily only verbs and nouns, and no complex sentence structure. This group of early users became known as the “first cohort.”
The number of deaf kids entering the school in Managua increased incrementally each year after the Sandanista Revolution in 1979. Soon there were hundreds of students with the new students communicating amongst the new and old using this rudimentary sign language. A transformation occurred in the language after the arrival of this “second cohort” in the early 1980s. It became quicker, more complex, and included grammatical aspects more like other sign languages than the gestural system used by the first cohort. A language was born.
One thing has become clear from all of this: the second cohort, and later incoming children, have generated much of what has become a complex system of communication. Initially, at least, these aspects were not learned, but created. Interestingly, studies have shown that earlier learners tend not to use aspects of the language created by later users, and that creations adding grammatical complexity occur only before age 10. After that age, language advancement seems to occur by adding vocabulary, but not grammar. Some have seen this as evidence supporting a “critical period” of language development, while others have seen this as supporting an evolutionary model of where language originated. Research has yet to focus on the critcial reasons why the first cohort continues its use of a simpler language. Is it that they can’t learn these things, or is that they don’t care to? Is it that language itself is innate, or rather the desire to socialize coupled with the physical ability to talk, listen, and understand? It seems certain that whatever else is hard wired into us, people are born with an innate desire to communicate.
Some recent info on this subject can be found here. Languagehat has a good post here. This , from the National Science foundation, was also interesting. This book chapter from Ann Sengas’ web site has good detailed info. At the PBS evolution site you can find a good five minute long video on Nicaraguan Sign Language.
Tags: bilingual babies, language news, preschool language, recent language research, Richard Nisbett
Bilingual Babies and Executive Function – A study recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that early exposure to multiple languages increases abilities in executive function. The researchers looked at infants in their home city of Trieste, an Italian city with a history of being at the crossroads of multiple cultures. Babies from bilingual homes did better at tasks of executive function in the study – basically meaning that they demonstrated precocious abilities to switch attention compared to control babies. You are more than welcome to go to this story from the Economist for more on the study.
Preschoolers Language Skills Partly Tied to Classmates’ Language Skills – A research team from Virginia and Ohio State longitudinally looked at over 1800 preschoolers to obtain their results, which are generally self explained from the headline. The researchers mentioned the Matthew Effect in stating the importance of focusing on early childhood language skills. They also described research demonstrating the correlation between receptive language and classroom attention (strong and very important). A short synopsis of the study is here. A more comprehensive report is here.
Richard Nisbett and Environmental IQ – Nisbett, a prominent cognitive psychologist, has been getting good reviews for his book – Intelligence and How to Get it; Why Schools and Culture Count. Nisbett counters hereditarian claims that roughly 75 to 80% of IQ is inherited with his own view that the number is probably less than 50%. In addition to multiple other points, Nisbett points out the mistake often made in drawing erroneous conclusions from twin studies, such as those that find that the IQs of separated adopted twins correlate higher than twins living with biological parents. We now better understand that the homes of adoptive parents themselves correlate extremely highly with rich, nurturing environments in which to raise children. This book review from the NY Times, gives a real good feel for Nisbett’s book.
Scientific Consensus on How the Brain Processes Speech – Scientists may be reaching a consensus on how the brain processes speech. Josef Rauschecker, from Georgetown University, claimed that his studies of primate and human brain imaging confirm his decade old theory that speech is processed roughly along pathways traveling from lower to higher functioning neural regions. These pathways parallel similar visual pathways, but run from regions around the auditory cortex to regions in brain’s outer cortex. This report from Science Daily, on Raushecker’s report in Nature Neuroscience, provides more info.
Not news or research, but here is an interesting recent Q and A in Newsweek on memory with a Harvard psychologist.
Now that I’m back, I’m planning on starting off with some brief bits concerning language and learning that I probably would have posted on over the past month or two, had I been here all along.
First this: New findings from researchers at the University of Washington strengthen a suspected link between early childhood TV exposure and delayed language development. The study looked at 329 children and found that an increase in TV time correlated negatively with both attempts to speak from the children, and words used by their caregivers. This one has been reported in various places, such as USA Today, this link at LiveScience and in this link from ABC News.
Interestingly, a study published in the March issue of Pediatrics seemed to arrive at an opposite conclusion, while criticizing the widespread nature of the American Academy of Pediatric’s (AAP) often repeated recommendation that children should not watch any TV before age two. Their conclusion was that duration of TV watching has no cognitive effects on children under two. This study, from researchers at the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, surveyed 872 mothers on their childrens’ viewing habits. After controlling for maternal age, income, education, language vocabulary scores, marital status, child’s age, gender, birth weight for gestational age, breastfeeding duration, race or ethnicity, primary language, and average sleeping duration, the researchers found no correlation (negative or positive) between TV watching and scores on tests of cognition and language. More on this less reported study can be found here.
So, what to make of these seemingly contradictory studies? Actually, both studies do add support to the advice many pediatricians have already been giving parents. Because it may be unreasonable to expect that parents will completely turn off the TV for two years, the content and type of TV viewing is essential. It may be more practical to advise parents to watch educational shows, and more importantly, watch these shows together, and talk about what it is that they are seeing.
Well, that post went longer than expected, so my brief accounts of other recent language and learning interest will have to come next.
Life calls, so I need to take a break from new posts for a short time. I fully expect to be posting again in May, so please check back in a few weeks. Some future topics that I’m planning include posts on Nicaraguan sign language, feral children, the reading-language link, and making language learning fun. And as always, I’ll include language research updates, with commentary, implications, and links. See you soon…
Tags: annette karmiloff-smith, language, SLI, specific language impairment, steven pinker, williams syndrome
Williams Syndrome is a rare genetic disorder, first identified in 1961, that is characterized by, among other things, outgoing personalities and deficits in processing and adaptive behavior skils. These individuals frequently have comparatively low IQs with comparatively high language skills. While initially the facts of the preceding sentence were eagerly seized by proponents of the separation of intelligence and language, the accumulation of research has (as it so often does) muddied the picture. Williams Syndrome and Specific Language Impairment (SLI) have frequently been used as converse examples of evidence to support the dissociation between cognition and language. The cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker, has made this argument in several popular books. In 1999 he wrote,
Overall, the genetic double dissociation is striking, suggesting that language is both a specialisation of the brain and that it depends on generative rules that are visible in the ability to compute regular forms. The genes of one group of children [SLI] impair their grammar while sparing their intelligence; the genes of another group of children [WS] impair their intelligence while sparing their grammar.
Subsequent assertions by Pinker leaning more toward an inextricable relationship between genes and environment seem not to have been as widely read as his earlier work.
Comparisons of SLI and Williams Syndrome hinge on the notion that SLI is inherited. While the research does suggest that at least a predisposition toward SLI is inherited, the complexity of its causes makes any comparisons like that of apples and oranges. The exact cause of Williams Syndrome is known: it is the result of missing genetic material on chromosome seven. SLI is likely the result of a stew of ingredients, with varied recipes, and varied results. Individuals with Williams Syndrome are gregarious. They enjoy talking. Is it any wonder that they may become relatively proficient at something they enjoy? As with other human behaviors and skills, language acquisition will likely never be reduced to one cause. Similarly, the fact that these individuals are poor puzzle solvers is more likely related to visual-spacial deficits than an impairment in some “puzzle solving” gene.
Anette Karmiloff-Smith has done a lot of great work on Williams Syndrome, much with a focus on accurately describing its characteristic language skills and deficits. Many of her publications are available for download on her personal web site. Language log has published an interesting post on the science and state of language research in Williams Syndrome, found here: Language Log link.
Tags: autism, incidental teaching, low functioning language, manipulating the environment, sabotaging environment
Incidental teaching involves manipulating a student’s environment to promote the natural use of educational objectives. While it can be used for a variety of language goals, incidental teaching is particularly effective in promoting initiation. Incidental teaching can be looked at as having four main features:
- The environment is arranged to set occasion for student response
- Teacher waits
- If necessary, student is prompted
- Student response
The reinforcer is whatever the child needs or wants, such as crayons, juice, or a toy. Incidental teaching contrasts with discrete trial teaching, in that while the one encourages responses, the other expects it. Each has its place, and each is better at teaching different skills.
Planning, prompting, and waiting are three critical aspects of incidental teaching. Planning may start with an observation of a child’s current initiation level, as well as determining child’s unique interests. Ways that low functioning children initiate include looking at desired objects, moving toward them, pointing, grabbing, or taking care-giver’s hand. When prompting, the child should be encouraged to produce a slightly more complex language skill than the current ability, using a developmental hierarchy. When waiting, 3-5 seconds between the event and response is often the most effective interval between prompts.
Incidental teaching is often thought of as “sabotaging the environment.” Some specific examples of how to do this include…
- controlling access to materials
- using items of special interest
- setting up repetitive routines
- starting a favorite activity, and then stopping
- looking at materials, then student, then pausing
Much of my information comes from a seminar presented at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association 2008 convention by the New England Center for Children. Their website is here. Additional information can be found at the Interactive Collaborative Autism Network.
Tags: expectations, learning research, Penn, rewards
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have used direct recordings of neuronal activity in the human brain to demonstrate that specific neurons fire more frequently in response to unexpected rewards over unexpected losses. No differences were observed in the study between expected rewards and losses.
In a report published in the journal Science, the researchers described how they used a computer based card game and micro-electrodes measuring neuronal impulses during deep brain stimulation surgery to confirm their hypothesis that lucky wins are remembered better than expected wins, or unexpected or expected losses.
So, our brains are primed to learn when surprised. It seems like it should be common sense that variety and the unexpected should naturally engage the human mind, much more so than the expected and routine. It’s interesting to see evidence of how this is ingrained in our brains. Unfortunately, the rigid structure of the contemporary bureaucratic educational system, and the necessity of routine imposed by large classroom sizes naturally stifles the creativity necessary to take advantage of this study’s conclusion. In our current system it is far too easy to impose learning rather than to entice learning.
Tags: classroom based, Commentary, language fingerprint, language therapy, pull-out
Earlier I composed a short commentary on what I called the “Language Fingerprint” – each person’s unique language profile. It went like this: Each child demonstrates a unique “fingerprint” when it comes to the units in their language repertoire. Just as no two fingerprints are alike, no two language profiles are alike. Kids learn words, word parts, and word combinations that they’ve realized are important in their own lives, and so there are as many different language fingerprints, or language profiles, as there are word learning environments: approximately 300 million in the United States alone. The emphasis is that each one is unique. The implication is that the most effective language teaching paradigm would account for this individuality.
The notion of a language fingerprint supports why language therapists continue to use pull-out therapy in the face of mounting opposition and pressure to go into the classroom. Pull-out works because this is the only time in school that many of kids with language problems feel compelled to speak. When one person is speaking to twenty or thirty children feedback is hard enough to come by anyway. When one of those children has difficulty speaking feeback from that child becomes near impossible. Language impaired children often compensate for weak language by developing excellent skills of quietly blending into their environment.
The fewer kids there are in any given teaching situation, the greater is the possible feedback for each kid. Because kids don’t have the same language fingerprint, the more individually tailored the feedback, the greater the potential that specific needs are being addressed.
Studies have been done comparing pull-out versus classroom based models of speech and language therapy. While many of these studies have been inconclusive or incomplete (McGinty and Justice, 2006)*, the trend has been toward greater use of classroom based intervention. Justification for this trend has been supported by increased carryover, providing a natural environment for learning goals, and increased teacher involvement. (Al-Sa’bi, 2004). *
Two points seem to be missing, however. 1) While the classroom is a natural environment when compared to other classrooms, this sort of situation is relatively rare outside of school. And the setting where one leader encourages constant feedback and participation from a group under her care is uncommon even as classroom populations advance into secondary school and college. 2) Language impaired children have few times for one on one interactions with a language professional as it is. Compare the 30 or 60 minutes weekly usually given for language therapy to the thousand or more minutes during the week that the child is in class. Classroom intervention may have it’s merits, but why should it come out of the 30 or 60 minutes rather than the other large chunk of time?
Many normally developing kids have their own personal language therapist – their parents. That some parents are so effective in this role should fit right into the notion of a language fingerprint. Attentive parents know at just the right time when a word that appears in the life of their child is one not well known. These parents automatically know when a word is new to their child because they are around their children much more than teachers or any other adult. There is no better time to learn new words than in the course of everyday life. For instance a child may play hide and seek and when found (after closing the always open bathroom door) may ask “How did you find me?” An attentive parent may instinctively say, “You left evidence,” knowing that he will have to ask what evidence is in order to understand the answer. Examples like this add up exponentially over time.
Individual attention doesn’t just work well at home. What should be obvious, though, is often disregarded for reasons other than the best welfare of children.
Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics have used studies of brain waves to show how the brain makes efficient use of tiny cues and context to rapidly anticipate and process language. The studies have shown that different areas of the brain appear responsible for different aspects of comprehension. As one example, a specific brain wave pattern called N400, located in the back of the head, has implicated that area in analyzing the meaning of sentences. The N400 is a spike that occurs when a word is heard that is unexpected or out of context. The remarkable aspect is the speed with which this spike occurs after the word – literally fractions of a second. This, and other similar studies, have shown the amazing efficiency possessed by the human brain in using expectation and anticipation to assist in using language. The study, published in the journal, Current Directions in Psychological Science, was led by Jos Van Berkum at the Max Planck Institute of Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands.
The author’s research paper can be found here along with much detailed information. A little more information can be found at this blog post. My illustration derives from BrainWaves Educational Toys, which does have some cool toys.