Anxiety, Executive Functions, and WritingThis is a guest post written by Noel Foy, a Keys to Literacy trainer/consultant who specializes in how anxiety and executive functions affect learning. In this post, she addresses how this is related to student writing. Do your students find it challenging to get started on a writing task? Do they have difficulty with stamina, effort and self-regulation or find it hard to remember the directions/steps of an assignment? If so, anxiety and underdeveloped executive function may be interfering with their productivity and motivation.
Understanding DyslexiaOctober is Dyslexia Awareness Month, so I decided to focus this post on providing information and resources related to teaching reading to students with dyslexia. I first learned about dyslexia at the start of my teaching career in the mid-1970's when I started teaching at the Landmark School in Massachusetts. At that time, Landmark was a pioneer in the field of learning disabilities and dyslexia, serving over 400 students of all ages each year. The first thing I learned is that even though dyslexia poses challenges to students, it can also be seen a gift. I say this because, while it may be difficult for many dyslexics to learn to read and write, the same neurobiological factors that cause dyslexia also cause many dyslexics to be extraordinarily bright and gifted in many other areas.
How the Brain Learns to ReadReading is a relatively new cultural development. While there were some people who could read dating back to the invention of writing during the 4th millennium BC, it was not until after the Industrial Revolution in the 1800’s that large numbers of the population in many countries learned to read. The human brain did not evolve to be able to read the way it did for spoken language. In order to read, the brain has to learn to re-purpose brain functions that were developed over thousands of years for other, more basic needs.
We Need to Pay Attention to the Science of Reading!
The scientific evidence base on how we learn to read and how to best teach reading has been growing and converging over 40 years. This includes brain imaging studies that show how our brains learn to read and underlying causes of why some students have difficulty learning read.
Sadly, teachers often do not have access to this evidence base. Many teachers report that their preservice education in college did little to prepare them for teaching reading. Many veteran teachers report a lack of quality professional development once hired that could help them improve their reading instruction. And for too long, the reading wars have confused teachers and administrators. These wars started in the 1990's when whole language advocates succeeded in convincing too many schools that learning to read comes naturally without the need for explicit instruction in decoding skills. Even today, there are many reading "experts" that say they promote a "balanced" approach to beginning instruction, but what that actually represents is a little bit of incidental phonics thrown in on top of the same approaches to reading instruction that have not worked for the past 25 years. The latest scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation's report card, were just released—and things aren't looking good for the country's young readers.
Stress: Toxic to the Brain and Learning Literacy Skills by Noel FoyThis month's blog post was written Noel Foy, one of our Keys to Literacy trainers who is an expert on learning and the brain and who has just published a children's book about anxiety titled "ABC Worry Free". In her post, Noel discusses how stress affects learning. Stress is a topic typically associated with adults, but with the increase in anxiety disorders among children over the last ten years, its impact on their ability to learn literacy skills is worrisome. Neuroscience research reveals the brain can experience stress as feelings of anxiety, anger, frustration, boredom or lack of personal relevance. Unfortunately, many students in classrooms across the country find themselves in at least one of these negative states on a chronic basis, causing the amygdala, the brain’s personal watchdog for potential threats, to activate the stress response.
Executive Skills and Reading ComprehensionThe role of executive functioning in learning has been researched for many decades, and we now know that executive skills play important roles in literacy learning, and especially in successful reading comprehension. I recently finished a book by Kelly Cartwright, Executive Skills and Reading Comprehension: A Guide for Educators (2015, Guilford Press) that explores this connection in detail and provides suggestions for supporting students who have weak executive skills.
This is Your Child’s Brain on ReadingCNN recently reported on research that looked at young children who underwent brain scans while listening to a story. The research found that when parents read to their children, the difference not only shows in children’s behavior and academic performance, but it also shows in their brain activity.
The report explains that when young children were being read a story, a number of regions in the left part of the brain became active...
Reading and White Matter in the BrainI recently read an intriguing article in the New Yorker, “How Children Learn to Read” by Maria Konnikova, that summarizes the finding of studies conducted by Famiko Hoeft, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco.
Hoeft and her colleagues have been conducting longitudinal studies looking at the basic neuroscience of reading development. They have found that the one thing that consistently predicted how well a child would learn to read was the growth of white matter in one specific area of the brain – the left temporoparietal region. The amount of white matter that a child arrived with in kindergarten didn’t make a difference, but the change in volume between kindergarten and third grade did....
Technology Quest: Let the Games BeginOkay, I have a confession to make before we actually let the games begin. I am not a gamer. I smile politely and fain unwavering interest when my son Nathan shares the intricacies of characters, plots, and imaginary worlds that wink and blink from his computer. I try, a little, to keep up with the open world survival game conversation of Minecraft, and express joy (which is real, I swear!) when successes such as upgrades from huts to castles are accomplished. I am a mom, what can I say. I am a teacher, too, and it is through this lens, more specifically a literacy lens, that technology and gaming has actually become meaningful to me. So, with admissions behind me, let’s try this again: Let the Games Begin....
Technology and Early ReadingI recently visited this web resource that was started in 2014: Seeding Reading: Investing in Children’s Literacy in a Digital Age.
Seeding Reading offers a series of articles and analysis aimed at answering this question: Given that today’s children are surrounded by digital media of all kinds, how will they learn to read?
Here are two of the articles posted on the site which is hosted by New America’s Education Policy Program and the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop...
Good Resource for Literacy WebinarsEarlier this winter I delivered a literacy webinar for Voyager Sopris Learning, and discovered that they offer a number of complimentary, one hour webinars delivered by nationally-recognized literacy experts. And, they archive the webinars in case you are not able to participate in the live sessions.
Here is a link to my archived webinar titled “A Best-Practices Instructional Routine for Writing in the Content Areas”...
Reading and the Brain
Recently I ran across two articles related to studying the reading brain:
- Learning to Read Does Not End in Fourth Grade by Abby Abrams, Time Magazine
- The Emerging Field of Educational Neuroscience in The Examiner (e-newsletter from the International Dyslexia Association - IDA)
Advances in this area are made every day, but unfortunately very little of what these researchers learn gets in the hands of educators in the field. So I decided to devote this post to providing links to resources about this fascinating topic of reading and the brain.....
Critical ThinkingRecently I came across an Edutopia article called "Critical Thinking Pathways" by Todd Finely which reminded me of both the Keys to Argument Writing and The Key Comprehension Routine.
In this article, Finely talks about how critical thinking has become a "buzz phrase" associated more and more with Common Core. Here at KTL we understand the importance of critical thinking and have been encouraging teachers to incorporate more critical thinking into their lessons for several years.....