Sunday, July 31, 2011

Cassandra's Thoughts About Reading and Time | Perspectives on Language and Literacy

A single minute, released from the chronological order of time, creates in the human being a similar release, so that we may sense the minute. -Proust (1906)

With both inspiration and perspicacity, the editors in this special issue of Perspectives on Language and Literacy ask us to think about the future of research on reading and dyslexia.

The very process of asking this question serves to release us, as Proust wrote, from the constraints of time, so that we can see our present more clearly. Let's look backwards to the ancient Greeks for a look at a period that underwent a similarly seismic transition in modes of thought and communication as ours in the 21st century.

We will then move forward, but only to the present moment of time. In doing so, we find ourselves becoming akin to a modern Cassandra, with her unwanted worrying and warnings to the world. This too has its place within the deeply serious purposes of thinking about our work "outside" of time.

Ancient Greeks Impart Modern Lessons
To begin, we have much to learn from the Greek transition from orality to literacy as we make our own transition in the 21st century from a reading brain to a digital one. At the heart of that ancient moment in time, Socrates cautioned youth not to learn to read.

Two generations later, Aristotle, an habitual reader, cautioned his literate society not to lose its capacity to reflect. Socrates worried that the young would be deluded by the semblance of truth in seemingly impermeable text and think that they knew something before they had ever begun to learn how to think.

He cautioned that reading would forever alter our memory, our ability to internalise knowledge, and most importantly, our relationship to knowledge. For Socrates and Plato the lifelong pursuit of knowledge represented the best path to wisdom and virtue.

Aristotle worried about instilling in the young all three of the lives of the "good society." The first life is the life of productivity and knowledge gathering; the second, the life of entertainment; and the third, the life of reflection and contemplation.

Our role as a 21st century Cassandra is to raise some of the same questions as Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The formation of the "good reader" follows a similar course as the three lives of the good society's citizen.

The digital immersion of our children will provide the first two rich lives of productivity, entertainment and information gathering. Our concern is that they will not learn, with their passive modes of digital immersion, the joy and the effort of the third life i.e. developing and thinking one's own thoughts and going beyond what is given.

Read more of this article: Cassandra's Thoughts About Reading and Time | Perspectives on Language and Literacy

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Social deficits associated with autism, schizophrenia induced in mice

Researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have been able to switch on, and then switch off, social-behavior deficits in mice that resemble those seen in people with autism and schizophrenia, thanks to a technology that allows scientists to precisely manipulate nerve activity in the brain.

In synchrony with this experimentally induced socially aberrant behavior, the mice exhibited a brain-wave pattern called gamma oscillation that has been associated with autism and schizophrenia in humans, the researchers say.

The findings, to be published online in Nature on July 27, lend credence to a hypothesis that has been long floated but hard to test, until now.

They mark the first demonstration, the researchers said, that elevating the brain's susceptibility to stimulation can produce social deficits resembling those of autism and schizophrenia, and that then restoring the balance eases those symptoms.

Autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia each affect nearly 1 percent of all people. At present, there are no good drugs for mitigating the social-behavioral deficits of either disorder.

While they differ in many ways, each syndrome is extremely complex, involving diverse deficits including social dysfunction. Mice are social animals, and there are many well-established tests of sociability in these animals.

Social behavior can't be ascribed to a single brain region, said Karl Deisseroth, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of bioengineering and the study's senior author.

"To form a coherent pattern of another individual, you need to quickly integrate all kinds of sensations. And that's just the tip of the iceberg," said Deisseroth, a practicing psychiatrist who routinely sees autistic-spectrum patients.

"It's all changing, millisecond by millisecond, as both you and the other individual act and react. You have to constantly alter your own predictions about what's coming next. This kind of interaction is immensely more uncertain than, for example, predator/prey activity. It seems that it has to involve the whole brain, not just one or another part of it."

One intriguing hypothesis holds that social dysfunctions characteristic of autism and schizophrenia may stem from an altered balance in the propensity of excitatory versus inhibitory nerve cells in the brain to fire, resulting in an overall hyper-responsiveness to stimulation.

Evidence for this hypothesis includes the higher seizure rate among patients with autism, and the fact that many autistic children's brains exhibit elevated levels of a high-frequency brain-wave pattern -- known as "gamma oscillation" -- that can be picked up by an electroencephalogram.

Many schizophrenics also exhibit social deficits as well as higher levels of this anomalous brain-wave pattern, even at rest.

In addition, said Deisseroth, "autistic kids seem to be over-responding to environmental stimuli." For instance, they find eye contact overwhelming, or may cover their ears if there are too many people talking at once.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Spare the rod and develop the child

Children in a school that uses corporal punishment performed significantly worse in tasks involving “executive functioning” – psychological processes such as planning, abstract thinking, and delaying gratification – than those in a school relying on milder disciplinary measures such as time-outs, according to a new study involving two private schools in a West African country.

The findings, published by the journal Social Development, suggest that a harshly punitive environment may have long-term detrimental effects on children’s verbal intelligence and their executive-functioning ability. As a result, children exposed to a harshly punitive environment may be at risk for behavioral problems related to deficits in executive-functioning, the study indicates.

The study – by Prof. Victoria Talwar of McGill University, Prof. Stephanie M. Carlson of the University of Minnesota, and Prof. Kang Lee of the University of Toronto, involved 63 children in kindergarten or first grade at two West African private schools. Their families lived in the same urban neighborhood. The parents were largely civil servants, professionals and merchants.

In one school, discipline in the form of beating with a stick, slapping of the head, and pinching was administered publicly and routinely for offenses ranging from forgetting a pencil to being disruptive in class. In the other school, children were disciplined for similar offenses with the use of time-outs and verbal reprimands.

While overall performance on the executive-functioning tasks was similar in the younger children from both schools, the Grade 1 children in the non-punitive school scored significantly higher than those in the punitive school. These results are consistent with research findings that punitive discipline may make children immediately compliant – but may reduce the likelihood that they will internalize rules and standards. That, in turn, may result in lower self-control as children get older.

“This study demonstrates that corporal punishment does not teach children how to behave or improve their learning,” Prof. Talwar said. “In the short term, it may not have any negative effects; but if relied upon over time it does not support children’s problem-solving skills, or their abilities to inhibit inappropriate behaviour or to learn.”

Despite the age-old debate over the effects of corporal punishment, few studies have examined the effects on executive-functioning ability. This new study uses a quasi-experimental design to derive data from a naturally occurring situation in which children were exposed to two different disciplinary environments. The parents of children in both schools endorsed physical punishment equally, suggesting that the school environment can account for the differences found.

There are many further questions that remain unanswered. “We are now examining whether being in a punitive environment day in and day out will have other negative impacts on children such as lying or other covert antisocial behaviors. Also, we are pursuing the long term consequences of experiencing corporal punishment. For example, what would children’s cognitive and social development be 5 or 10 years down the road?,” said Prof. Kang Lee.

Addendum: My Latin teacher was a very aggressive man and believed in corporal punishment for the slightest thing. He also insisted on complete silence whilst translating Latin text into English. It was during one such exercise that the teacher slumped over his desk and died of a major heartattack. But, because we were in fear of this man, even in death, it was fully 10 minutes before anyone plucked up courage to seek assistance. At the age of 12 years I learned a very salutory lesson on how to behave, or how not to behave, when in a position of authority.

Student with Learning Disabilities relates her experiences

I had just sat down at my desk when my teacher called me out to the hallway. I remember it so clearly. I was six and all I could think was I’m in trouble. As we entered the hallway there was a women standing in the hall. When the women began to come over I could hear my heart beating out of my chest.

My teacher had introduced us, then she bent down to explain that this woman here is going to do a few tests with you, and take your time with the tests there is no rush. A few weeks later my parents and I had come in for the results of the tests. When I sat down at the table, the silence in the room began to make me feel very scared.

Then my feelings had become even more real. They started to tell me that I had a reading problem, that I was not developing reading skills as fast as the other children in my grade and that I would be going to see another teacher who would be helping me with my problems.

As years pass elementary school began to get harder for me to hide being different than other children. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I would have to go to a class with other children to be doing work that would help us better understand reading comprehension, spelling, and writing.

Each class had made me develop my understanding of reading and writing better and better, improving my grades each year. Over years my mind had improved understanding but I still had felt you’re not good enough.

In grade five my teacher had told us that we would be starting to learn French; I was so excited. We were going to do French on Monday and Friday. Monday had come and we were all so excited to meet our French teacher. After lunch the French teacher walked into the room and introduced herself.

She handed all of us an outline for her French class. It was interesting with numbers, letters, and colours we would be learning. The French teacher was going to start a game when my teacher called me of the class. He told me that I would not be doing French with the rest of the class; I would be going to my extra help class.

Feeling like a freak I walked down the empty hall, starting to cry. I was not even given the chance to succeed; they had already ruled me out to fail.

Read the full article here: Student with Learning Disabilities: Experiences growing up

Report: Development of Neural Systems for Reading

Does Your Child Have a Learning Disability?

Concerned that your child’s slipping grades or slow to grasp concepts may be eluding to a Learning Disability? If so you are among a litany of parents across the United States with the same fear. 

According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA) “there are 4 to 6 % of students classified as having a Learning Disability” (Learning Disabilities, n.d.).

A Learning Disability (LD) is not a reflection of your child’s potential. It is however, a signal to let you know that your child processes information and learns information different from others. 

There are many different areas in which a Learning Disability can be prevalent: Math (Dyscalculia), Reading/Language Arts (Dyslexia), Writing (Dysgraphia), Auditory and Visual Processing. Each of these areas can be targeted in order to provide the appropriate and effective method of instruction to help the child overcome the deficit areas.

Signs of a Specific Learning Disability
There are some signs that your child may be dealing with a learning disability. If you see any of the following signs you have the right as a parent to ask your child’s school to provide educational and psychological testing in order to determine if there is a learning disability and if so in what areas.
  • Easily frustrated when doing work(may cry easily)
  • Appearance of lack of focus when reviewing material or when doing homework
  • Difficulty with memorization
  • Difficulty grasping concepts in math
  • Difficulty with being able to make inferences when reading
If your child is diagnosed with a learning disability, work with the school to establish a safe learning environment that is structured and enriched.
What Parents Can Do To Help Their Child
The best thing a parent can do for a child with a learning disability is become educated on strategies to use when helping the child with homework, using encouraging words and rewards when progress is made, and advocate for the schools to provide what is needed to make the student successful in the classroom. 

Also, educate your self about learning disabilities and the legal forms that school will be using to created the academic plan for success for your child. These forms are called Individualized Education Programs (IEP). 
From there, learn your rights and the rights of your child in regards to modifications and accommodations for their work assignments and tests (including Standardized Test, ie. End of Grade and End of Course).

Strategies Parents Can Use with Their Child
Parents, you can work with the teachers in your child’s school and make sure that you are both modeling and presenting materials in the same format. You can also help your child by:
  • helping them study every night by using flashcards
  • sheer color coded overlays (pink works very well) when helping with reading/language arts
  • utilizing everyday activities as teachable moments, etc.
There are many structured things you can do to help your child close this gap academically.
What Schools Can Do To Help the Student Being Left Behind

The best thing schools can do to help the struggling student is to start using informal classroom assessments to measure material presented in short intervals of time (every 2-3 weeks).

The data collected from this can be used in order to justify holding a meeting to discuss how to help the student be successful academically. 

Next, the schools can work with the parents to hold an official meeting where the concerns of a learning disability may be the catalyst of the student’s low grades and partially completed assignments. Once the schools and parents meet testing can be discussed. 

This is the first step to getting all the help that your child will need for their academic careers from elementary school to college. Remember being diagnosed with a learning disability is not a death sentence it is an opportunity to help those around you think outside the box.

Learning Disabilities Association (n.d.). Understanding Learning Disabilities. Retrieved on November 10, 2009 from

Monday, July 25, 2011

MS Word Add-Ins to Engage and Support All Students

Microsoft Word 2003, 2007 and the current version 2010, has many features that cater to students who require additional learning supports. Some features are in the toolbars or ribbons, but are often not apparent or their use or relevance not evident.

Others can be accessed via a mouse or preferred pointing device whilst others can be invoked using a variety of keyboard shortcuts. These can be introduced and taught to students who have different learning styles. Remembering where the functions are or mastering the combinations of keyboard shortcuts can often present difficulties and challenges for both teaching staff and students.

Using colour to differentiate background and foreground, page magnification, line and word spacing, ready-made templates, and highlighting tools guarantees that this powerful word processing software can be used more efficiently and enable users to be more productive and competent in dealing with text.

Students of all abilities and ages can become more confident in completing school tasks and master skills to meet their specific needs, over time. Most schools use this program but many students are still disadvantaged as it has so many different features but most are not used well, if at all.

A number of add-ins exists for MS Word. These handy add-ins provide increased functionality over and above the inbuilt features and tools. Simple yet powerful tools provide additional supports – at no cost to the student or school.

They may introduce features not readily available within MS Word or provide easier access to MS Word – visually, physically and/or cognitively. They may be useful in supporting students or users who have:
  • Learning disabilities
  • Dyslexia
  • Learning Difficulties
  • A print handicap
  • Issues with English as they are recent arrivals and English is their second language
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Reading, spelling writing or planning/organisational difficulties
Read the Full Article and View the suggested Add-ins here: MS Word Add-Ins | The Spectronics Blog

Autistic Wandering: New CDC Code Approved

A very large percentage of people with autism "wander" - meaning they simply get up and walk or run off, for no obvious reason and in no obvious direction. This behavior is by no means limited to people with autism: the Alzheimers community may be even more vulnerable.

Wanderers often seem compelled to wander, which means that locked doors and fences aren't always enough to curb the behavior and caregivers can't possibly be vigilant all day and night, nor should they be asked to lock their loved ones in escape-proof settings.

The result of "wandering" can be tragic, and most of us have read stories of autistic people drowned in pools or dying of exposure.

To address this issue, the CDC has created a somewhat controversial new medical code which can be added to certain diagnoses, including autism, Alzheimers, and dementia. According to a CDC press release:
The , effective October 1, 2011, is designed to promote better data collection for and understanding of wandering and to prompt important discussions about safety among healthcare providers, caregivers, and the person with a disability to the fullest extent possible.
Wandering places children and adults with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) or other disorders in harmful and potentially life-threatening situations--making this an important safety issue for individuals affected and their families and caregivers. Children and adults with ASDs and other developmental disabilities are at higher risk of wandering off than are children and adults without these disorders or other cognitive disorders....

This code is intended to capture information about individuals, with any condition classified in the ICD, who wander. Wandering was deleted as a subcode under the Alzheimer's and dementia code and added as a condition to be noted in association with disorders classified elsewhere [V40.31]. The intention is to provide a way to document, understand, and improve the situation for individuals who are at risk of injury or death due to dangerous wandering. Wandering should be coded if documented in the medical record by the provider (i.e., physician).
The wandering code is not linked to a specific diagnosis, nor is it part of the diagnostic codes used for autism or intellectual disabilities. The ICD-9-CM classifies behaviors and risk factors in addition to diseases and syndromes; as such, the wandering code is used in conjunction with other diagnostic and symptom or procedure codes.
More on Wandering and Autism

New Diagnostic Code for Autistic Wandering Approved for October, 2011

Scottish Children Juggling Words - Making learning fun: Video

Watch footage of Scottish kids juggling with words at Edinburgh's Central Library.

This initiative is supported and sponsored by local and government finance as well as backed by the education authorities.

Author Ruth Young talks on Facebook about how children learn

Pleased to see the rise in 'forest nursery schools'. Chldren play outside all day regardless of the weather. Children learn once they have got all the 'play out of the way'. 
These schools provide this. Writing letters in the mud, counting bugs you find is fun. Then they are ready to then be taught formally. 
Learning when you are little should be exciting. They learn by discovering for themselves and won't forget it.
Visit Ruth's facebook page for some more sage advice and good conversation: Ruth Young on Facebook