Friday, September 30, 2011

Thousands of UK 7 year olds struggle with schoolwork

Tens of thousands of seven-year-olds in UK are struggling to master the three Rs, official figures show.

The new statistics reveal that after three years of schooling many UK children can read only the easiest words, such as "cat" or "dog", and do the very simplest sums.

Almost 106,000 seven-year-olds have failed to reach level 2 – the standard expected of the age group – in writing.

More than 83,000 pupils have a reading age of a five-year-old or lower. And over 58,000 children are falling behind the expected standard in maths.

The figures, published by the UK Department for Education, are based on teachers' assessments of pupil achievement at the age of seven.

They show that 85% reached the expected level or higher in reading, 81% achieved it in writing, 90% made at least level 2 in maths and 89% reached it in science. These figures are broadly the same as last year.

The percentages of pupils achieving level 3 – one above the required standard – in each of these subjects has also remained static this year, except in science, where it dropped from 21% to 20%.

The statistics also show that boys are still lagging behind girls.

Nearly nine in 10 (89%) seven-year-old girls reached level 2 or higher in reading, compared with 82% of boys.

In writing, 87% of girls scored at least level 2 compared with three-quarters (76%) of boys, and in maths there was a gap of three percentage points, with 91% of girls achieving the expected level against 88% of boys.

UK Coalition Schools minister Nick Gibb says: "These figures show that many children are doing well. But it is worrying that there are still so many who are behind just three years into their school careers.

"Success in later life is founded on an understanding of the 3Rs in the first few years of school. Problems must be identified at a young age and rectified before it is too late."

There is also a gap in achievement between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their more affluent classmates. Just two-thirds (67%) of pupils on free school meals (FSM) – a measure of poverty – reached level 2 in writing, compared with 85% of all other pupils.

And while 88% of all other pupils reached the expected standard in reading, the same was true for only 73% of children eligible for free dinners.

In maths, 81% of FSM pupils reached level 2 compared with 92% of other youngsters.

UK Schools Rating System to be Cheapened

Pupils at the Hugh Myddleton primary school reading
Under new rules, UK school inspectors will listen to primary school pupils read. 
Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

Fewer UK schools will be rated outstanding from next year, inspectors have said. The move comes after Michael Gove, the UK coalition education secretary, said many schools awarded the ranking did not deserve it.

Under rules coming into force in January, UK school inspectors will pay more attention to pupils' behaviour, the quality of teaching, and children's ability to read.

They will also spend more time scrutinising whether schools are narrowing the gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers.

Miriam Rosen, Ofsted's chief inspector, said she expected it would become "more difficult to achieve the accolade of outstanding".

Education Audit: Ofsted's most recent annual report, published in November, showed that 13% of schools in England were rated as Outstanding, 43% were Good, 37% were Satisfactory and 8% were Inadequate.

Earlier this month Gove told a conference on UK school leadership that it was "a worry to me that so many UK schools are still judged as Outstanding overall when they have not achieved an Outstanding in their teaching and learning".

Inspectors give an overall rating to schools, but also give individual verdicts on teaching and learning. Ofsted figures show that of 3,577 schools judged outstanding overall at their latest inspection, 923 would have been ranked as good or very good at teaching.

The UK coalition government has instructed Ofsted to dramatically reduce the inspection categories to four: the achievement of pupils; the quality of teaching and learning; the effectiveness of the leadership and management; and standards of behaviour and safety..

Schools will no longer receive separate verdicts on whether they are doing their best to achieve community cohesion or safeguard their pupils.

Will Google+ Be a Real Benefit to Teachers?

If you’re a teacher or in the US parliance, an 'educator' and you haven’t yet started experimenting with Google+ you may be missing out on a useful tool.

Google+ is being promoted as the next best and the most amazing, awesome collaboration tool. To be more moderate, it may help you promote your classes in a better way.

There are some good ways to think about this and how you get started. Possibly the best function of Google+ is it's availability and the savings on promotional overheads. The tool is open to anyone with a Google Gmail account and is free to users.

Setup an Account

First connect to Google+ at www.google.com and establish an account using your existing Gmail account or follow the online instructions to make a new account.

Making a Class Circle

Let's look at one of the basic functions that may assist teachers i.e. building a class environment and populating this with like minded and motivated students /people.

After you’ve set up your account and published your profile, go to your Circles page and start adding people in your class to the circle.

Circles

When you have it all populated, share it with the people in that circle, so they can all add each other to the same circle.

Do this by clicking “share this circle” in the upper right hand side of your screen. (If you have any questions, leave them in the comments section and Google+ promise to sort you out.)

Sharing your Lesson Plans

You can post your lesson plans to your circle without sharing them to the outside world. Simply click the X on other circles and sharing options like “public” and “extended circles” until your special class circle is all that’s remaining, and you have your privacy.

Post your lesson plans to your circle.
Now, post lesson plans, share YouTube videos, photos, and more via links. You can even do location-related homework by having people post location check-ins to the circle as a response to your plans.

Conclusion
I hope this posting has been of some assistance to you and wish you and your students great success for the future.

Inattention: Try Chore Cards

Homework: What to Do and What not





Homework Do's and Don'ts - Part I

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Dyslexia - Blue Coloured Filters

The effects of blue on dyslexia
Coloured filters, either worn as spectacles or used as overlays, have been successfully employed in the treatment of dyslexia for many years but there is no agreement about how they work.

Bright white light increases the activation of the parts of the brain involved in directing attention, such as the posterior parietal cortex.

Abnormal function in these attention-modulating parts of the brain has been implicated in the pathogenesis of dyslexia.

It is therefore likely that blue light selected optimally to recruit ipRGCs will have the greatest effect on improving alertness and concentration and may therefore be the best for remediating the impaired attentional responses seen in dyslexia.

The DRT has carried out a randomised control trial that showed that in suitable dyslexic children wearing blue filters for 3 months improved their reading age by an amazing 9 months.

The effects of blue light on sleep
Blue light therapy has been shown to help people with sleeping problems, to improve alertness during night shift work and to help overcome jet lag.

It probably works on the suprachiasmatic nucleus to alter the timing of diurnal rhythms. We found that children whose reading benefitted from wearing blue filters during the day often reported also that their sleeping patterns had improved, and we showed that this was probably due to an effect on the SCN; at night secretion of the sleep hormone, melatonin, which is also under the control of the SCN, can be inhibited by just 15 minutes of blue light ie blue light can reset the SCN rhythms to improve sleeping.

The effects of blue light on migraine
Likewise we found that in these dyslexics, who often complain of migraine type headaches, the blue filters often improved their headaches.


Migraine was previously thought to be due to swelling of the arteries in the membranes surrounding the brain, the meninges, but we now believe that the hypothalamus and specifically the SCN is responsible.

Coloured filters, worn as spectacles, have been found to be highly effective in reducing the frequency of migraine symptoms. Their efficacy probably does not result from their effects on conscious visual perception via the retinogeniculocortical pathway, but rather by affecting the hypothalamus via the retinohypothalamic pathway.

So blue filters are the most efficacious in reducing migraine.

Light and Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depressive syndrome experienced by around 5% of the population, the symptoms of which recur in winter and autumn.

A number of experimental findings combined with the circannual pattern of symptom expression implicate disordered diurnal rhythms controlled by the SCN in the pathogenesis of SAD.

SAD symptoms are likely to be the result of an abnormal phase-delay in the circadian rhythm. Hence exposure to blue light, particularly in the morning, often improves SAD greatly.

Fluorescent Lighting
Exposure to natural daylight at work and school is often minimal and fluorescent electric lighting is usual.

Unfortunately most fluorescent lights radiate very little short wavelength blue light.

Full spectrum fluorescent lights, the spectral output of which is similar to that of natural daylight, or blue light should therefore be superior for the promotion of human health and cognitive function because they stimulate the retinal hypothalamic system more effectively.

Dyslexia Research Trust - Vision & Coloured Filters

Dyslexia - photosensitive retinal ganglion cells

Intrinsically photosensitive retinal ganglion cells and their projections (ipRGCs)
Photosensitive pigments located in the retina translate light into electrical activity.

Most photopigments are located in the retinal rods and cones, rather than in ganglion cells but recently it was discovered that some retinal ganglion cells are themselves photosensitive, the ipRGCs.

They respond most strongly to deep blue light (475 and 485 nm). The ipRGCs are spread diffusely forming a photoreceptive net that samples the whole retina. IpRGCs project strongly to the 'biological clock', the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in the hypothalamus, which controls the body's diurnal rhythms.

This retinohypothalamic tract (RHT) input synchronises this clock to seasonally changing day length to maintain the correct phase relationship between daylight and the biological rhythms of endocrine, physiological and cognitive activity.

Dyslexia Research Trust - Vision & Coloured Filters

Dyslexia - Alertness & Arousal

Alertness & Arousal
Light can increase alertness both during the day and the night; and it reduces the drowsiness that occurs at night. Short wavelength (blue) light has the greatest capacity to increase alertness.

Bright blue light can also improve auditory attention, suggesting that the effects of light on alertness and attention are not mediated by the system responsible for conscious visual perception.

Rather they seem to be mediated by the retino-hypothalamic system that starts with a newly discovered set of receptors in the retina, the 'intrinsically photosensitive ganglion cells'.

Dyslexia Research Trust - Vision & Coloured Filters

Dyslexia Research Trust - Vision & Coloured Filters

Recent research by the DRT and others has suggested that magnocellular (M) neurones in the brain play a crucial role in reading and that M- deficits contribute powerfully to reading problems because the M system is so crucial for directing visual and auditory attention and eye movements to letter and word features and sounds during reading.

These nerve cells are called magnocells because of their noticeably large size; this equips them for rapid signalling, timing events and tracking changes. Anatomical, electrophysiological, psychophysical and brain imaging studies all concur that these nerve cells develop slightly abnormally in dyslexic brains.

The main aim of DRT research into visual and auditory weaknesses in poor readers is to develop treatments that will help them and prove by randomised controlled trials that they work.

Simple treatments such as blue or yellow coloured filters or musical training3 really can help dyslexics to learn to read.

Then we aim to persuade Policy makers to make them available to all those with reading problems. If we can do these things we should be able to save thousands of children from the loss of self confidence, shame and misery that reading failure so often brings in its train.

Reading is actually very difficult, the most difficult skill that most people are expected to acquire. You need to be able to identify each of a line of small visual symbols where tiny details make all the difference (eg b,d,q,p), then put them in the right order, then translate them into their sounds, and only then can you decide what the word means.

At the same time you have to build up a background knowledge of how words can be split down into their individual letter sounds (phonology). To make matters worse English is littered with exceptions to the letter-sound rules.

Compare bough, dough, lough, cough, enough! After all that effort on reading each word many children can't remember the words they read at the beginning of the sentence to understand the whole thing.

So it is really amazing that 2/3rds of children of all levels of intelligence actually do learn to read so fluently, and perhaps it is not so surprising that 1/3rd of children leave school unable to read properly. But this is not only an appalling waste which costs the country £2 billion per year in terms of additional teaching, truancy, school exclusion, unemployment, drug addiction and crime, but it is a most potent cause of misery.

The children lose all self-confidence and hope. Because literacy is so important in the modern world, they can only look forward to a life of depression and failure. Or their anger and frustration may lead them into aggression and crime. Yet if they survive their schooling, many dyslexics can become remarkably successful.

Prof John Stein, a medical tutor at Magdalen College Oxford, was introduced to children's reading problems by a very wise orthoptist, Sue Fowler.

He found that, like patients with cerebellar damage whom he'd been researching for many years, many could not hold their eyes steady, so that letters seemed to wobble, move around and cross over each other.

These wobbles represent a mild form of oscillopsia that is often seen in cerebellar patients. You can't visually identify letters and their order if they're moving around all the time (try reading when very drunk!).

In cerebellar patients he had shown that their unstable vision was due to damage to large nerve cells in the brain, known as visual magnocells, that are specialised for detecting movement.

When these magnocells are not working properly the servo system that keeps your eyes fixed on a letter fails, and so the letters appear to move around.

So with Sue he set up a clinic to investigate whether children's visual reading problems were due to the same cause. Sue & John were able to show that many dyslexics do indeed have impaired development of these magnocells (though not as seriously as in cerebellar disease), because the cells move into the wrong positions and make the wrong connections during the early development of the brain7; this explains why many dyslexics' vision is so unstable.

They found that in everybody the quality of their visual magnocellular function plays a very important role in how well they can acquire the visual skills required for reading.

Even though letters don't move, the eyes do; so a person's sensitivity to moving visual stimuli predicts his skill at identifying the visual order of letters and the visual form of words, their 'orthography'.

Coloured Filters
Olive Meares in Australia was the first to suggest that children with visual reading difficulties can see print more easily through certain coloured filters.

This was taken up commercially in the USA and UK but these systems require that each child is individually prescribed a special colour; so the glasses tend to cost a lot!

However since the visual magnocellular system is mainly influenced by just yellow and blue light, we argued that only these two colours should really make much difference.

Skiers in a 'whiteout' know that yellow goggles can make things look brighter and more contrasty. This is because yellow enhances their visual magnocellular input.

Thus we've recently confirmed in a small double blind, randomised control, trial that in suitable children simple and cheap deep yellow filters can help them to improve their reading very significantly.

We need to carry out a much larger trial however, to convince the sceptics. Blue filters can be even more effective.

They probably work in a different way; by helping to synchronise the body's internal clock according to changing day length in order to increase magnocellular activity during the day and decrease it at night.

In addition by improving body diurnal rhythms, blue filters can often not only help greatly with reading, but they can also help children's sleep patterns, mood and even their migraine headaches.

About half of all the children with reading problems that we see can be helped simply by wearing either yellow or blue filters. 

To read the full article on Vision & Coloured Filters visit Dyslexia Research Trust

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dyslexia: Seven Types of Intelligence

Psychologist Howard Gardner has identified the following distinct types of intelligence in his Multiple Intelligences Theory ("MI Theory") in the book "Frames of Mind." 

They are listed here with respect to gifted / talented children.
1. Linguistic Children with this kind of intelligence enjoy writing, reading, telling stories or doing crossword puzzles.
2. Logical-Mathematical Children with lots of logical intelligence are interested in patterns, categories and relationships. They are drawn to arithmetic problems, strategy games and experiments.
3. Bodily-Kinesthetic These kids process knowledge through bodily sensations. They are often athletic, dancers or good at crafts such as sewing or woodworking.
4. Spatial These children think in images and pictures. They may be fascinated with mazes or jigsaw puzzles, or spend free time drawing, building with Leggos or daydreaming.
5. Musical Musical children are always singing or drumming to themselves. They are usually quite aware of sounds others may miss. These kids are often discriminating listeners.
6. Interpersonal Children who are leaders among their peers, who are good at communicating and who seem to understand others' feelings and motives possess interpersonal intelligence.
7. Intrapersonal These children may be shy. They are very aware of their own feelings and are self-motivated.
MI Theory teaches parents and educators to look for signs of innate precociousness in children and then to help develop them. 
When asked for advice on how parents could rear successful children, Gardner replied that we should not try to make our children good at what we ourselves were good at, or what we ourselves were not good at. 

Gardner says that our job is to help our children become who they are supposed to be, not what we think they should be. Some parents find it difficult to follow this course.

Since publishing his original list of seven intelligences, Gardner has added Naturalist and Existential to bring the total number to nine Intelligences.


All of Howard Gardner's best books on multiple intelligences are on sale at Amazon:

Helping to Decode New or unknown Words

Three common curriculum gaps that can intensify children’s reading problems are failing to teach them phonological awareness, automatic word recognition, and an alternative to single letter phonics.

Teach Phonological Awareness. This is the ability to identify and manipulate sounds within spoken words. For example, say the word bat without the /b/ sound. Unfortunately, may struggling readers struggle with phonological awareness. To develop proficiency, they need instruction.
  • Good phonics instruction should develop phonological awareness. The key to learning to decode words is the [alphabetic] principle that letters can represent sounds
  • The key to the development of the alphabetic principle, word recognition, and invented spelling is phonological awareness
  • Phoneme awareness [part of phonological awareness] is the awareness of sounds in spoken words. As words are spoken, most sounds cannot be said by themselves. For example, the spoken word /cat/ has one continuous sound and is not pronounced “kuh-a-tuh.” 
  • Children ordinarily concentrate on the meaning and do not think of the sounds in the word. But, since letters represent sounds, a child must learn to think of words as having both meaning and sound in order to understand the alphabetic principle. (Stahl, Duffy-Hester, & Stahl, 1998, p. 340, references omitted)
Teach Automatic Word Recognition. Struggling readers who accurately identify words—slowly and laboriously—will likely tire of reading, resist reading, and become overwhelmed by the volume of all they must read.

Three keys to helping these children become fluent readers are to teach them how to quickly and accurately recognize words, to give them lots of daily practice in doing so,  and to engage them in lots reading they find easy and enjoyable. This will help them to quickly identify words.
  • Good phonics instruction leads to automatic word recognition. In order to read books, children need to be able to read words quickly and automatically. If a child stumbles over or has to decode slowly too many words, comprehension will suffer. 
  • Although we want children to have a strategy for decoding words they do not know, we also want children to recognize many words automatically and be able to read them in context. (Stahl, Duffy-Hester, & Stahl, 1998, p. 343, references omitted)
Teach Word Families. Many phonics programs emphasise the sounds of individual letters and emphasize sounding out most words one or two letters at a time. This helps many struggling readers to quickly and accurately identify unknown words. But many does not mean all.

Here’s a way that can help struggling readers who struggle with the sounds of individual letters, especially vowel sounds. It uses word families, such ake: bake, brake, cake, make, quake, rake, sake, snake, take.

Word families are also called phonograms or rhymes.
  • Recent scholarly inquiry into how children learn to decode words suggests that knowledge of certain sound and letter patterns in words may help readers figure out unfamiliar words. This is often called the analogy approach to word recognition, and a considerable amount of research supports its use as an instrument for word-recognition instruction
  • Predominant among such letter patterns are onsets and rhymes.  An onset is formed by the individual consonant or consonant combination (such as pl, ph, st, sch, str, or th) that precedes the first vowel in a word or syllable. 
  • Rhymes are another name for letter combinations that we have for years called “phonograms” or “word families,” the part of a syllable that contains the vowel and all subsequent consonants. For example, in the word bat, the b is the onset and the at is the rime; in slick, the sl is the onset and the ick is the rhyme.  
  • Fry (1998) has pointed out that just 38 common rime patterns can be used by readers to decode 654 one-syllable words. Moreover, these same rimes can also be helpful for partial decoding of a much larger number of longer, more difficult, multisyllabic words. (Rasinski, 1999)
If your child struggles to identify unknown words when reading, ask yourself:
  • Has the school assessed his phonological awareness skills? If they’re poor, are his teachers teaching him how to identify and manipulate sounds he hears in words?
  • Are his teachers teaching him to recognize words quickly and accurately, or just accurately?
  • If he struggles when using individual letters to sound out (decode) unknown words, can his teachers teach him to use word families (rimes, phonograms)?
References
Rasinski, T. (1999). Making and Writing Words Using Letter Patterns. Retrieved 9/22/2011, from http://www.readingonline.org/articles/rasinski/MWW_LP.html.

Stahl, S.A., Duffy-Hester, A.M., & Stahl, K.A.D. (1998). Everything you wanted to know about phonics (but were afraid to ask). Reading Research Quarterly, 33, 338-355.

Children's reading: Real Books versus the iPad and Kindle

Apple's much-anticipated iPad is expected in the UK at the end of April. But I'm not expecting its e-book features to take off in my family.

From the Apple demo there's no denying it looks like a great new way to read a wide variety of previously printed media, but we aren't ready to hang up our dusty hardcopies quite yet.

Having educated them in the ways of Star Trek (for my sins), I'm sure they will be intrigued about the device when they see it, and are going to want a PADD of their own. But this thought raises mixed emotions for me.

I've had a love of physical books from my own childhood that's never died. There's nothing that can replicate the same smell and feel of turning pages or seeing the hand-drafted illustrations of the old fairytale storybooks.

Maybe it's genetic, but having these classic old books around has also piqued the interest of my own kids. They are always keen to pull a book from the shelf and flick through the pages.

The process of sitting down and reading together, turning the pages and looking at the pictures has a quality that the e-book readers simply can't match.

No matter how impressive the Apple iPad is, it can't take the place of that fifty-year-old tome of Grimm's Fairy Tales with its tatty cover, thick cracking pages and variety of ill advised scribbles.

I recently borrowed an Amazon Kindle from a friend to see how we got on reading together electronically.

My kids weren't having any of it. Sure, the Kindle looked cool with its creamy-white shell and excellent text-reproduction, but it didn't deliver the same experience. It's difficult to explain without coming across as an elitist bibliophile but I still find the experience of reading electronic media a little soulless.

There are, of course, plenty of great reasons to own an iPad. I'm looking forward to trying it out properly when the family goes on holiday in the summer -- carrying a ton of books on a vacation doesn't seem like a great idea compared to just having a Kindle or iPad.

But as a home device I'm pretty happy that my kids prefer the old and fusty way to read books and hope that technology, just this once, doesn't supplant the traditional way of being a parent.

Unappreciated Benefits of Dyslexia?

Normally dyslexia is considered a handicap: a mental deficiency that makes reading, long-division and remembering whether letters and numbers face left or right difficult.

Challenging this view, learning disabilities experts Brock and Fernette Eide argue that dyslexia is an alternative way brains can be wired - one with many advantages.

While dyslexic children may struggle in the early grades, they often grow into gifted story tellers, inventors and entrepreneurs. The Eides' new book The Dyslexic Advantage, helps dyslexics and their families recognize and nurture the benefits of a dyslexic brain. The authors recently discussed some of these benefits with Wired.

What is working definition of dyslexia?
The generally accepted definition focuses on the difficulties with reading and spelling that are unexpected, given a child's individual level of intelligence and their educational exposure. We think that definition is inadequate for practical use, because the actual symptoms vary a lot.

We'll see dyslexic kids with a verbal IQ of 140 or 145 who will read with good comprehension, and as a consequence won't be recognized as dyslexic. But they still read at fairly slow pace relative to other students in the gifted programs, and their performance will suffer from their slow reading speed.

For some dyslexic students, their problems with reading may be less than in other areas, like writing and rote or procedural mathematics, but they arise from the same wiring differences that underlie dyslexic reading and spelling challenges, and traditional definitions of dyslexia that focus entirely on word sound or language processing really don't capture the breadth of these differences.

What are the major misconceptions surrounding the condition?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that dyslexic brains differ only in the ways they process printed symbols, when in reality they show an alternative pattern of processing that affects the way they process information across the board.

Dyslexic brains are organized in a way that maximizes strength in making big picture connections at the expense of weaknesses in processing fine details.

It's a huge mistake to regard a dyslexic child as if his or her brain is trying to follow the same pathway of development as all the other kids but is simply doing a bad job of it. In reality, the brains of kids with dyslexic processing styles are actually developing in a very different way.

They establish a different pattern of connections and circuitry, creating a different kind of problem-solving apparatus. The difference is global, not just in certain areas of the brain.

So for many dyslexic students, normal development really consists of having a brain that's wired so that reading is naturally more difficult to learn when they're 7 or 8 years old than it is for other students. And this difference in development creates a real mismatch between what they need to learn and the way that traditional education is doled out in the early grades.

There's a real clash between what they can really do well at particular ages and what they're being asked to do in the classroom, and this makes it very hard for them to thrive in the traditional classroom setting.

The other big misconception is that dyslexia is fundamentally a learning disorder which is accompanied only by problems, rather than a different pattern of processing that can bring tremendous strengths in addition to the well-known challenges.

Are there major strengths to having a dyslexic brain?
We outline four major strength profiles in the book, and fundamentally each of these profiles reflects a different but related way in which dyslexic brains are especially good at putting together big pictures, or seeing larger context, or imagining how processes will play out over time.

Some dyslexic individuals are especially good at spatial reasoning. Putting together three-dimensional spatial perspectives is easy for them. They may work in design, 3-D art, architecture, be engineers, builders, inventors, organic chemists or be exceptionally good at bagging your groceries.

Interconnected reasoning is another kind of strength. These connections can be relationships of likeness - analogies for example - or causal relationships, or the ability to shift perspective and view an object or event from multiple perspectives, or the ability to see the "gist" or big-picture context surrounding an event or idea.

Many dyslexics work in highly interdisciplinary fields or fields that require combining perspectives and techniques gained from different disciplines or backgrounds. Or they're multiple specialists, or their work history is unusually varied. Often these individuals draw the comment that they can see connections that other people haven't seen before.

Most dyslexics tend to remember facts as experiences, examples or stories, rather than abstractions. We call this pattern narrative reasoning, which we consider the third strength. These kids have a very strong ability to learn from experience.

It's very common for their families to describe these kids as the family elephant. They'll be the go-to person when someone wants to remember who gave what to sister for her birthday two years ago. They might be the family historian, but they can't remember the times tables or which direction the three goes.

These individuals excel in fields where telling and understanding stories are important, like sales, counseling, trial law or even teaching. In addition, a large number of professional writers are dyslexic.

For example, Philip Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, recently  wrote a wonderful piece for The New York Times about his new memoir, My Dyslexia He shows the kind of profoundly clear and vivid memory of personal experiences even from very early in his life that we commonly see in dyslexic individuals.

The fourth ability we outline is the ability to reason well in dynamic settings when the facts are incomplete or changing. People strong in this area often work in the business field, in financial markets or in scientific fields that reconstruct past events, like geologists or paleontologists.

These people are comfortable working with processes that are constantly changing, and in making predictions.

Do most dyslexic individuals demonstrate a particular strength?
Most dyslexics show combinations of these strengths. Probably 80 to 90 percent of the dyslexic individuals we've worked with show a narrative-type brain, and many of these individuals show strengths in dynamic reasoning. Interconnected reasoning is similarly common.

Surprisingly, spatial reasoning, which is often viewed as the quintessential dyslexic skill, is a bit more hit or miss. In the book there is a great interview with Douglas Merrill, who was the Chief Information Officer at Google for several years and a tremendously impressive person.

He said, "If I close my eyes right now I couldn't tell you which direction my door is." But he was very strong in all of the other mind strengths we describe.

What is an example of a perceived mental weakness that hides a mental strength?
Most of what is done in the classroom in the early grades focuses on acquiring the kind of rote skills that are dependent on perceiving visual or auditory things very clearly, and learning skills automatically to the point where you don't have to think about them.

These are just the kinds of rote and fine detail skills that dyslexic kids tend to have difficulty learning. But because that's where the focus is in the early grades, their strengths in big-picture processing or remembering personal experiences tend to get overlooked.

But over time, what we see is that this same lack of ability to over-learn things so well that they no longer need to be thought of keeps dyslexic individuals more in touch with or mindful of the tasks they're engaged in, and as a result makes them more likely to innovate and tweak and modify.

You make the case in your book that the brains of dyslexic people are wired differently. What do you mean by that?
From our perspective the most interesting data comes from Dr. Manuel Casanova, from the University of Louisville, Kentucky. He has analyzed the brains of thousands of individuals.

He's found that, in the general population, there is a bell-shaped distribution regarding the spacing of the functional processing units in the brain called minicolumns. These bundles of neurons function together as a unit. Some people have tightly packed minicolumns, for others they are spaced widely apart.

This is significant because when the minicolumns are tightly packed, there is very little space between them to send projecting axons to make connections to form larger scale circuits. Instead the connections link many nearby minicolumns which have very similar functions.

As a result, you get circuits that process very rapidly and perform very specialised fine-detail functions, like discriminating slight differences between similar cues. But people with this kind of brain tend not to make connections between distant areas of the brain that tend to support higher functions like context, analogy, and significance.

Among individuals with the most tightly packed minicolumns, Dr. Casanova found many who were diagnosed with autism. In contrast, people with broadly spaced minicolumns, at the other end of the scale, tend to create more connections between functionally more diverse parts of the brain, which can help to support very life-like memories of past events, and more complex mental simulations and comparisons. It's at this end of the spectrum that Casanova tended to find people with dyslexia.

As the parent of a dyslexic child, what advice would you give to me?
One of the most important things is to remember to focus on identifying and building strengths. Too often all the focus is on "fixing what's wrong" rather than celebrating and nurturing what's right, and that's a big mistake.

But when it does come to improving performance in areas of struggle, help should be tailored to the specific child.

Some children are not too bothered by the fact that they're struggling more than their equally intelligent peers; they just love to be in school with their friends.

Those kids will often be fine in a normal classroom, with additional outside help in the areas where they are struggling. But there are a lot of kids who are devastated by the experience of seeing other kids master things easily, being called out, laughed at or pressured by the teacher.

For those kids, when you see their self-image, their ability to sleep, their ability to function really deteriorating, that is a real tragedy. They need to be moved into a place where the education fits their developmental profile better.

We mention various alternatives in the book. But it's important to recognize that these kids can be destroyed by being kept in a difficult place for too long, without understanding why it is they are struggling.

Would you want to be dyslexic if you could choose to be?
Absolutely! It's a phenomenal kind of wiring.

Learning disabilities specialists Fernette and Brock Eide are the authors of  The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain

They blog about the little appreciated benefits of dyslexia and run a private practice in the greater Seattle area. Read an excerpt from the book.

Original Source: Wired.com

Nemours Brightstart!: Program For Children Who Show Early Signs Of Dyslexia

The Luma Center™ for Development and Learning today announced that this fall it will begin offering Nemours BrightStart!, an innovative pre-reading program for young children who show early signs of dyslexia or may be at risk for reading challenges.

Nemours BrightStart!, developed by Nemours Children’s Health System, is a specialized program for “literacy success” in at-risk children. Through systematic instruction and carefully designed, engaging, multisensory activities, 4- and 5-year-old children learn the foundational skills that will support them in learning to read.

A study of at-risk children in Florida conducted by Nemours showed that children who participated in the program showed dramatic increases in reading readiness test scores compared to children who did not.

“We are very excited to be able to offer a great research based program for our young children at risk for reading challenges,” said Nancy Allard, MA, OTR/L, Director of The Luma Center™. “We work with many families who have one or more children with learning differences.

For their children, this program will be such a great ‘jump start’ to help build the foundation for success in learning to read.”

The Luma Center will offer screenings for BrightStart! October 4 and 6 to identify children who could benefit from the program. Luma’s BrightStart! program will consist of 20 weeks of twice-weekly small-group sessions taught by an experienced early childhood teacher.

The BrightStart! curriculum integrates classic children’s literature and music with fun, multisensory lesson materials.

While creating and tracing “gluey, gooey” G’s to learn to recognize letter forms, listening to read-alouds, or engaging in creative movement activities, children learn critical concepts of oral language, print awareness, letter knowledge, phonological awareness and emergent writing.

More information about the screenings for BrightStart! and enrollment process is available at www.lumacenter.org.

Multi-sensory teaching: Helping dyslexic children as independent learners



The description from the site reads: "In an average class about five per cent of children have serious dyslexic problems and a further five per cent show some dyslexic characteristics.

This programme reveals how the use of multi-sensory teaching can help dyslexic children become independent learners and boost their self esteem.

For Elizabeth Henderson, a dyslexia adviser, it is crucial that children with dyslexia are encouraged to believe in themselves and to become independent learners from an early age.

In this lesson, Elizabeth describes these characteristics and some of the tell-tale signs in reception age children. Kate Bodle, a specialist in teaching dyslexic children, works several days a week at Ewelme Church of England School in Oxfordshire.

She uses a multi-sensory approach which she feels benefits all children, not only those with dyslexia. Kate explains the approach in this programme, and we see various methods in use such as fuzzy boards, a wooden alphabet and the practice of writing on childrens backs to help them memorise their letter shapes.

The importance of teaching continuous cursive handwriting and the need to "overlearn" is also covered. The staff at Ewelme School plan to do some formal training later this year."

To Read More Visit the Ethos Multi-sensory Blog

Children born after their mothers were treated with chemotherapy

Children born after their mothers were treated with chemotherapy during pregnancy appear to be unaffected by the experience in terms of the development of their mental processes and the normal functioning of their hearts, according to new research presented at the 2011 European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress.


Professor Frederic Amant will tell the congress: "To the best of our knowledge this is the first time that children of 18 months and older have been examined after chemotherapy during pregnancy, and the news is reassuring in respect of the effects of chemotherapy on cognitive and cardiac outcomes."

However, he will say that a significant number (47) of the 70 children born from 68 pregnancies were delivered preterm and the researchers found that prematurity, but not chemotherapy, did affect these children's cognitive development significantly.

Prof Amant, a gynaecological oncologist at the University Hospitals Leuven (Leuven, Belgium), and colleagues in two other European countries (The Netherlands and the Czech Republic) started to recruit children to the study in 2005.

They included children who had been born before that time (between 1991-2004) as well as those born between 2005-2010, so that they ranged in age from 18 months to 18 years. The children were examined at birth and at the ages of 18 months, 5-6, 8-9, 11-12, 15-16 and 18 years.

The children's health was monitored for an average of nearly two years, with some of them being followed for as long as 18 years.

While the 68 mothers were pregnant, they were being treated with chemotherapy, either on its own or in combination with radiotherapy or surgery or both, for a range of different cancers.

The most common cancer was breast (35 women), followed by haematological cancers such as leukemias and lymphomas (18), ovarian cancer (6), cervical cancer (4); other cancers included brain, skin, colorectal, nasopharyngeal, and Ewing's Sarcoma.

The researchers collected data on the mothers' treatment and medical history, and then assessed the children's general health, school performance, any sporting activity and the family's social situation by means of questionnaire completed by the parents at each assessment visit.

They looked at the development of the children's mental processes by evaluating intelligence, verbal and non-verbal memory, attention, working memory and executive functions (the ability to control and regulate other abilities and behaviours).

Parents also completed a questionnaire on behavioural and emotional problems. Cardiac function was assessed by electrocardiography (ECG) and echocardiography.

Read more on this article here

Development Dyslexia

Developmental dyslexia is a condition or learning disability which causes difficulty with reading and writing.

Its standard definition is a difficulty in reading and writing in spite of normal development of intelligence, cognitive and sensory abilities.

People are often identified as dyslexic when their reading or writing problems cannot be explained by a lack of intellectual ability, inadequate instruction, or sensory problems such as poor eyesight.

Some disagreement exists as to whether dyslexia does indeed exist as a condition, or whether it simply reflects individual differences among different readers.

For more information about the topic Dyslexia, read the full article at Wikipedia.org, or see the following related articles:

The Definition of 'Learning Disability' differs in US and UK

In the United States and Canada, the term learning disability is used to refer to psychological and neurological conditions that affect a person's communicative capacities and potential to be taught effectively.

The term includes such conditions as dysgraphia (writing disorder), dyslexia (reading disorder), dyscalculia (mathematics disorder) and developmental aphasia.In the United Kingdom, the term learning disability is used more generally to refer to developmental disability.

Someone with a learning disability does not necessarily have low or high intelligence, nor any innate inability to learn.

It just means this individual has an impairment to their ability due to a processing disorder, such as auditory processing or visual processing, that is detrimental to learning from traditional teaching methods.

Learning disabilities are usually identified by school psychologists through testing of intelligence, academics and processes of learning.

For more information about the topic Learning disability, read the full article at Wikipedia.org, or see the following related articles:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dyslexia: How long do you wait before you seek help?

It’s September! Your child is starting to struggle with reading. How long should you wait to get help? Should you wait until November, December, January? After all, his teacher needs a chance to help him. Will it pass if you just show patience and encourage him to do better?

Our Response
Usually, it won’t pass, so don’t wait. Make a formal request to the school to evaluate his reading and related needs and to provide whatever services he needs to become a successful reader. A good evaluation, supported by quality resources, should help your child and his teacher.

Our Reasoning
  • “More than 88 percent of children who have difficulty reading at the end of first grade display similar difficulties at the end of fourth grade” (Juel, 1988; in Leipzig, 2001).
  • “Longitudinal studies show that, of the youngsters who are identified as having reading problems in the third grade, approximately 74% remain reading disabled through the ninth grade. This appears to be true even when special education has been provided. It should be made clear, however, that interventions applied after a child has failed in reading for two or three years may not be effective for several reasons, including the student’s declining motivation and impaired self-concept” (Lyon, 1996, p. 66).
  • “Three-quarters of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain poor readers in high school” (Shaywitz et al., 1997; in Leipzig, 2001).
  • “Educators and researchers have long recognized the importance of mastering reading by the end of third grade. Students who fail to reach this critical milestone often falter in the later grades and drop out before earning a high school diploma. Now, researchers have confirmed this link…. Results of a longitudinal study of nearly 4,000 students find that those who don’t read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave school without a diploma than proficient readers…. While these struggling readers account for about a third of the students, they represent more than three fifths of those who eventually drop out or fail to graduate on time” (Hernandez, 2011, p. 3).
More Information
Chapters 3 and 4 of Reading Disabilities: Beating the Odds (www.reading2008.com) will show you what to look for. They list the questions you need to ask the school to answer in its evaluation. If you don’t ask the right questions, you may not get the right answers.

Chapter 5 will show you how to evaluate the quality of the school’s evaluation and how to use it to help your child get a program that increases his chances of success.

References
Hernandez, D. J. (2011) Double Jeopardy: How third-grade reading skills and poverty influence high school graduation. The Annie E. Casey Foundation; Center for Demographic Analysis, University at Albany, State of New York; Foundation for Child Development, http://www.aecf.org/

Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of fifty-four children from first through fourth grade. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80:437-447.

Leipzig, D. H. (2001). Top 10 things you should know about reading. NY: LDOline. http://www.ldonline.org

Lyon, G. R. (1996). Learning disabilities. Special Education for Students with Disabilities, 6 (1), 54-74, p. 66.

Dyslexia: Mother and daughter continue to triumph

A mother and daughter who have both battled with dyslexia to earn degrees, have enjoyed further success since their joint graduation this summer.

Sara Jane Williams and her daughter Ashleigh both received BA Honours degrees in contemporary applied arts from Hereford College of Art and Design in July.

Now Sara Jane, who left school with no qualifications, has had her work selected to appear in several galleries, with one - the Llantarnam Grange Arts Centre, in Wales - selecting her as one of the top 13 applied arts graduates in the UK.

Meanwhile Ashleigh has also enjoyed success, with her work being selected for display at The Fold, in Bransford. She has also been asked by other galleries to produce some work for the Christmas period.

“It seems that our work is in demand, which is really pleasing for both of us,” said Sara Jane. “When Llantarnam Grange selected me as one of the top graduates I could not believe it. I was surprised and delighted and it made me quite teary when I saw my work up on the wall.

She added: “All my work is based on dyslexia and is, I hope, raising awareness of the condition. Maybe this will encourage someone else out there to have a go at doing something.”

Helping Struggling Readers Decode Unknown Words

Three common curriculum gaps that can intensify children’s reading problems are failing to teach them phonological awareness, automatic word recognition, and an alternative to single letter phonics.
Teach Phonological Awareness.

This is the ability to identify and manipulate sounds within spoken words. For example, say the word bat without the /b/ sound. Unfortunately, may struggling readers struggle with phonological awareness. To develop proficiency, they need instruction.
  • Good phonics instruction should develop phonological awareness. The key to learning to decode words is the [alphabetic] principle that letters can represent sounds 
  • The key to the development of the alphabetic principle, word recognition, and invented spelling is phonological awareness. 
  • Phoneme awareness [part of phonological awareness] is the awareness of sounds in spoken words. As words are spoken, most sounds cannot be said by themselves.
  • For example, the spoken word /cat/ has one continuous sound and is not pronounced “kuh-a-tuh.” 
  • Children ordinarily concentrate on the meaning and do not think of the sounds in the word but, since letters represent sounds, a child must learn to think of words as having both meaning and sound in order to understand the alphabetic principle. (Stahl, Duffy-Hester, & Stahl, 1998, p. 340, references omitted)
Teach Automatic Word Recognition. Struggling readers who accurately identify words—slowly and laboriously—will likely tire of reading, resist reading, and become overwhelmed by the volume of all they must read.

Three keys to helping these children become fluent readers are to teach them how to quickly and accurately recognize words, to give them lots of daily practice in doing so, and to engage them in lots reading they find easy and enjoyable. This will help them to quickly identify words.
  • Good phonics instruction leads to automatic word recognition. In order to read books, children need to be able to read words quickly and automatically. If a child stumbles over or has to decode slowly too many words, comprehension will suffer. 
  • Although we want children to have a strategy for decoding words they do not know, we also want children to recognize many words automatically and be able to read them in context. (Stahl, Duffy-Hester, & Stahl, 1998, p. 343, references omitted)
Teach Word Families. Many phonics programs emphasize the sounds of individual letters and emphasize sounding out most words one or two letters at a time.

This helps many struggling readers to quickly and accurately identify unknown words. But many does not mean all.

Here’s a way that can help struggling readers who struggle with the sounds of individual letters, especially vowel sounds.

It uses word families, such ake: bake, brake, cake, make, quake, rake, sake, snake, take. Word families are also called phonograms or rimes.
  • Recent scholarly inquiry into how children learn to decode words suggests that knowledge of certain sound and letter patterns in words may help readers figure out unfamiliar words.
  • This is often called the analogy approach to word recognition, and a considerable amount of research supports its use as an instrument for word-recognition instruction.
  • Predominant among such letter patterns are onsets and rhymes. An onset is formed by the individual consonant or consonant combination (such as pl, ph, st, sch, str, or th) that precedes the first vowel in a word or syllable. 
  • Rhymes are another name for letter combinations that we have for years called “phonograms” or “word families,” the part of a syllable that contains the vowel and all subsequent consonants. For example, in the word bat, the b is the onset and the at is the rime; in slick, the sl is the onset and the ick is the rime.
  • Fry (1998) has pointed out that just 38 common rime patterns can be used by readers to decode 654 one-syllable words. Moreover, these same rhymes can also be helpful for partial decoding of a much larger number of longer, more difficult, multisyllabic words. (Rasinski, 1999)
If your child struggles to identify unknown words when reading, ask yourself:
  • Has the school assessed his phonological awareness skills? If they’re poor, are his teachers teaching him how to identify and manipulate sounds he hears in words?
  • Are his teachers teaching him to recognize words quickly and accurately, or just accurately?
  • If he struggles when using individual letters to sound out (decode) unknown words, can his teachers teach him to use word families (rhymes, phonograms)?
References
Rasinski, T. (1999). Making and Writing Words Using Letter Patterns. Retrieved 9/22/2011, from http://www.readingonline.org/articles/rasinski/MWW_LP.html.
Stahl, S.A., Duffy-Hester, A.M., & Stahl, K.A.D. (1998). Everything you wanted to know about phonics (but were afraid to ask). Reading Research Quarterly, 33, 338-355.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

SIDS - Monitoring breathing wirelessly: Noninvasive

University of Utah engineers who built wireless networks that see through walls now are aiming the technology at a new goal: noninvasively measuring the breathing of surgery patients, adults with sleep apnea and babies at risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).


University of Utah electrical engineer Neal Patwari reclines in a hospital bed surrounded by wireless transceivers like those used to connect home computer networks. In a new study, Patwari and colleagues show how crisscrossing radio signals from a wireless network can detect breathing -- a possible new, noninvasive way of monitoring postsurgical patients, adults with sleep apnea and babies at risk of sudden infant death syndrome. (Credit: Yang Zhao, University of Utah)

Catching a breath -- wirelessly: Noninvasive method to watch for SIDS, help surgery patients

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Henry Winkler, the Fonz in Happy Days, Honoured with UK OBE

Henry Winkler, who played the Fonz in the classic US sitcom Happy Days, has been appointed an honorary OBE for his educational work on dyslexia in the UK.

Winkler received the honour at the British embassy in Washington DC.

The actor-turned-children's author, who was diagnosed with dyslexia as an adult, said he was "overwhelmed" to have his work recognised.

In the past two years, he has toured schools in the UK, talking about the learning disability.

Winkler told BBC Breakfast he was delighted with the "unexpected" honour.

"I got a letter from the Queen saying she graciously agreed to confer on me the OBE," he said.
'Inspiration'

He is the author of the Hank Zipzer children's book series, which features a young dyslexic protagonist.
Undated file photo of the cast of the television series, Happy Days Winkler shot to fame playing Arthur Fonzarelli (centre) in Happy Days

Zipzer's adventures are based on Winkler's own childhood struggles with school and the resulting bullying.

The author said visiting UK schools was "one of his favourite things to do".

"I walk into the room and ask if anybody has trouble in school and maybe one or two people raise their hands. By the time I've read to them from Hank Zipzer... everybody wants to be dyslexic.

"We say our goodbyes just hugging. It's very touching."

British ambassador Nigel Sheinwald presented the OBE to Winkler during the ceremony at the embassy.

Mr Sheinwald said: "Through [Winkler], thousands of young people have seen a role model and an inspiration for overcoming their learning challenges."

Winkler shot to fame playing Arthur Fonzarelli - a leather-jacket clad, motorcycle-riding, ladies' man, who was the epitome of "cool" - in Happy Days, which ran over a decade from 1974.

The Queen makes honorary awards to non-British citizens on the advice of the UK Foreign Office. It is not clear whether she is a fan of the Fonz.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Why Current In-the-Ear Hearing Aids Fail

Hearing aids have improved greatly over recent years, but they continue to be a surprisingly frustrating experience for new wearers.

Clearly, today’s hearing aids are tiny, nearly invisible in fact, and they amplify sound and are able to present a higher range of frequencies, but they have not yet completely solved the problem of amplifying the peripheral sounds we just don’t want, or don't need to hear.

For new wearers the crumpling of a paper bag on the other side of a room can sound like a jackhammer.

This is a huge challenge for technology because it is dependent on how the brain perceives sound and how we have learned to filter peripheral sound out of normal hearing. Andrew J. Oxenham is a psychologist and hearing expert at the University of Minnesota and an expert in psychoacoustics.

Oxenham explains: The ear works by analysing sound and breaking it into different frequencies and with many forms of hearing impairment it’s this frequency selectivity that is impaired.

What that means is that the ear doesn’t filter as well as it did before. So instead of having very sharp tuning to filter out different frequencies the filtering becomes much broader and there is no real way of compensating for that.

You can’t sharpen the filters or you can’t pre-process sound so it’s sharp. It’s like a broken TV set. You can process the signal going into the TV as much as you like but you still won’t get a clear picture of the output.

Recent hearing aids have made a lot of progress, like being able to present frequencies of up to 6000 Hz as opposed to limited frequencies up to about 4000 Hz, by using digital signal processing, and a lot more computing power on a lot smaller chip.

Another big leap forward has been made with directional hearing. They can focus the microphones toward the front and filter out a lot of the sound coming from the side and back. And although that is a fairly simple technique, it involves signal processing that wasn’t possible with earlier hearing aids.

Ambient or peripheral sound is horribly distracting for hearing aid wearers. A paper bag being crumpled across a room sounds screechingly loud.

This is common complaint of people who recently start wearing a hearing aid. Their hearing has deteriorated, often without them being completely aware of it, over a period of time.

When they are suddenly fitted with a hearing aid, they hear sounds they’ve got used to not hearing. The sounds are suddenly annoying and distracting. It’s a contrast effect.

It’s more to do with perception i.e the brain’s ability to analyse and prioritise different sounds.

It’s a complex interaction between the ear and the brain. The ear sends signals up to the brain; the brain does an awful lot of processing on top of that; then sends signals back down to the ear. These signals change the way the ear accepts input.

This is partly why hearing aids are not perfect because the hearing aid is not part of that natural feedback loop. There’s no way with current aids that the brain can interface with a hearing aid directly to change its characteristics.

Hearing Loops
To deal with background noise there are things called “hearing loops.”

These are systems that are set up within places like concert halls and churches that interface directly with the hearing aid. It’s like sending a radio signal to the hearing device.

The idea is that this hearing loop picks up the sound directly from the microphone in front of a speaker.

If you are in a conference and the speaker is talking into a microphone. Normally we hear the sound acoustically through the airwaves.

If you are wearing a regular hearing aid the microphone will pick up the sounds on the airwaves but that is together with all the background noise and reverberation in the room.

With a hearing loop it sends the signal directly from the microphone to the ear and bypasses all the acoustics in the building itself. So the ear is getting a much better, clearer and cleaner signal of what’s coming into the microphone.

Two hearing aids better than One?
It’s only recently that people have routinely been fitted with two hearing aids. Often people only got one.

Directional hearing and the way we localise sound: To know where the sound is coming from the brain compares the signals coming into the two ears. So if it’s slightly louder on one side then the brain knows the sound is coming from that side.

More importantly it’s the time of arrival difference between the two ears. If you think about a sound coming from the right. The sound will reach your right ear a little bit before it reaches your left ear.

Although we are talking about millionths of seconds, your brain needs two ears to make a distinction. If you only have one you lose that ability to localise sound and tell which direction it is coming from.

It’s also an important part of filtering out sound and noise. The brain can determine if there is speech right in front and background noise in back of and to the side. The brain can use those differences in localisation to help to make the speech more intelligible.

So the biggest technical challenge is developing hearing aids that can focus on what we really need and want to listen to. This is the current problem.

The Solution
We are hoping through even more sophisticated signal processing schemes that we’ll be able to work on artificial source segregation; i.e. analysing the signal that is coming in and figuring out what is speech and what isn’t, and only presenting to the ear the wanted signal.

Distinguishing between speech and noise
The assumption is that what you really want to listen to is speech, and so there are certain acoustical aspects of speech that we can recognise and there are certain acoustical aspects of noise that are different from speech.

So, we need to establish a suitable algorithm to be able to distinguish between speech and noise that will help you towards filtering the unwanted signal.

A more complete solutiion could mean that brain-computer interface may be part of the hearing aid systems of the future. Where the hearing aid is tapping into brain responses to pick up the specific signal the person wants to pay attention to.

This is an ongoing process with incremental steps and we will continue to see improvements over the next 15 years.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Laugh & learn: Put your iPhone in the hands of your baby

Placing an expensive bit of electronics in the hands of an infant is never a good idea, but with its Laugh and Learn Apptivity Case, Fisher-Price appears to disagree.

The $15 colorful plastic contraption acts as a cradle for the iPhone or iPhone Touch, allowing young ones aged from 6 months to 36 months to poke and befoul the devices’ pristine facades without the risk of destroying them.

The device also features coloured rattles on its handles and a mirror on its back, allowing it to retain its status as a somewhat entertaining (albeit not as exciting) children’s toy even when the iPhone isn’t present.

Fisher-Price will start selling the Laugh and Learn Apptivity Case this October.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Darren - assistive communication technology case study - YouTube



The ProxTalker: This exciting device recognises the sound tags to produce the appropriate stored word or phrase. Ideal for picture exchange system users of any age, for communication or as a classroom tool.

Just pick a tag, place it on a button and press - the LOGAN ProxTalker will say the appropriate sound, word or sentence. It extends the world of communication for picture exchange users, taking them beyond the classroom.

Features

Adjustable volume for different environments.
Runs on 4 standard C size batteries for months of operation between charges.
Built-in microphone for adding custom words easily.
Unique programming tags.
Five location buttons allow word or sentence level use.
Rugged construction with shock and water resistant features.
Easy access to vocabulary that can grow with need.
USB connectivity for data exchange and web based downloads and upgrades.

For more information on the Logan ProxTalker, please visit www.logan-technologies.co.uk/.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dyslexia: Online Audio Library

For some students, trying as hard as they can just isn’t enough. These students may be at a disadvantage because of widespread learning differences such as dyslexia or because of disabilities like visual impairment. Studies show that for these students to succeed, an online audio library of core curriculum textbooks and literature titles can make all the difference.

Research by Johns Hopkins University and case studies in the Baltimore City Public Schools showed significant improvements in students who use audiobooks. Reading comprehension improved by 76 percent, content acquisition by 38 percent, reading accuracy by 52 percent and self-confidence by 61 percent.

Scott Bartnick was diagnosed with a severe learning disability in 1st grade. His parents were told he might never be able to read, yet the 19-year-old recently graduated from high school with a 4.35 GPA-no easy feat given his disabilities in reading, decoding, fluency and spelling. Bartnick relied on a service called Learning Ally, which offers the most advanced library of accessible audiobooks in the world.

“Learning Ally helped me achieve academic success,” said Bartnick, who is now thriving in his junior year at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In fact, his elementary school awarded him the “Disney Dreamers and Doers Award,” an honor presented to just one student every year for “curiosity, courage and constancy.”

Early intervention can deliver dramatic results. When Leslie H. was in 2nd grade, teachers informed her mother, Lisa, that her daughter was only reading at a kindergarten level. A friend of Lisa’s told her about the Learning Ally website. Within 24 hours of signing up for the program, Leslie, who has severe dyslexia, had read three books. Lisa reported that her daughter’s speech pathologist noted a major difference in her daughter’s fluency and self-confidence. “She embraced words and books in a way she never had and that was really exciting.”

Originally founded in 1948 as Recording for the Blind, the nonprofit Learning Ally has grown to serve a complete spectrum of individuals from kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as college students and working professionals.

Learning Ally’s digital library of audiobooks has special accessibility features for readers with print disabilities, and can be played on popular devices like the Apple iPad and iPhone, as well as MP3 players, Mac and PC computers and CD.

Students with a certified print disability are eligible for an individual membership from Learning Ally, allowing them to work on assignments at home as a supplement to their school’s membership. Institutional memberships are available for schools and districts to accommodate students with IEP and 504 plans. To learn more, visit www.LearningAlly.org

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Word association: Study matches brain scans with complex thought | ScienceBlog.com

To understand what happens in the brain when a person reads or considers such abstract ideas as love or justice, Princeton researchers have for the first time matched images of brain activity with categories of words related to the concepts a person is thinking about. The results could lead to a better understanding of how people consider meaning and context when reading or thinking.

The researchers report in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience that they used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify areas of the brain activated when study participants thought about physical objects such as a carrot, a horse or a house. The researchers then generated a list of topics related to those objects and used the fMRI images to determine the brain activity that words within each topic shared. For instance, thoughts about “eye” and “foot” produced similar neural stirrings as other words related to body parts.

Once the researchers knew the brain activity a topic sparked, they were able to use fMRI images alone to predict the subjects and words a person likely thought about during the scan. This capability to put people’s brain activity into words provides an initial step toward further exploring themes the human brain touches upon during complex thought.

“The basic idea is that whatever subject matter is on someone’s mind — not just topics or concepts, but also emotions, plans or socially oriented thoughts — is ultimately reflected in the pattern of activity across all areas of his or her brain,” said the team’s senior researcher, Matthew Botvinick, an associate professor in Princeton’s Department of Psychology and in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute.

“The long-term goal is to translate that brain-activity pattern into the words that likely describe the original mental ‘subject matter,’” Botvinick said. “One can imagine doing this with any mental content that can be verbalized, not only about objects, but also about people, actions and abstract concepts and relationships. This study is a first step toward that more general goal.

“If we give way to unbridled speculation, one can imagine years from now being able to ‘translate’ brain activity into written output for people who are unable to communicate otherwise, which is an exciting thing to consider. In the short term, our technique could be used to learn more about the way that concepts are represented at the neural level — how ideas relate to one another and how they are engaged or activated.”

The research, which was published Aug. 23, was funded by a grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disease and Stroke, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Depicting a person’s thoughts through text is a “promising and innovative method” that the Princeton project introduces to the larger goal of correlating brain activity with mental content, said Marcel Just, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. The Princeton researchers worked from brain scans Just had previously collected in his lab, but he had no active role in the project.

“The general goal for the future is to understand the neural coding of any thought and any combination of concepts,” Just said. “The significance of this work is that it points to a method for interpreting brain activation patterns that correspond to complex thoughts.”
Tracking the brain’s ‘semantic threads’

Largely designed and conducted in Botvinick’s lab by lead author and Princeton postdoctoral researcher Francisco Pereira, the study takes a currently popular approach to neuroscience research in a new direction, Botvinick said. He, Pereira and co-author Greg Detre, who earned his Ph.D. from Princeton in 2010, based their work on various research endeavors during the past decade that used brain-activity patterns captured by fMRI to reconstruct pictures that participants viewed during the scan.

“This ‘generative’ approach — actually synthesizing something, an artifact, from the brain-imaging data — is what inspired us in our study, but we generated words rather than pictures,” Botvinick said.

“The thought is that there are many things that can be expressed with language that are more difficult to capture in a picture. Our study dealt with concrete objects, things that are easy to put into a picture, but even then there was an interesting difference between generating a picture of a chair and generating a list of words that a person associates with ‘chair.’”

Those word associations, lead author Pereira explained, can be thought of as “semantic threads” that can lead people to think of objects and concepts far from the original subject matter yet strangely related.