Category Archives: current research

It’s here! It’s clear! U Can Connect works!

kids on computers

 Reading Study at The Boys and Girls Club in Murray, Utah

 U CAN LEARN in conjunction with The Murray City Boys and Girls Club of South Valley conducted a reading study during after-school hours to access the effectiveness of the online reading program, U CAN CONNECT, (www.ucanconnect.org) and the feasibility of putting it in their club as a permanent training program. Sixteen children were tested using standardized measures, focusing on auditory and visual processing skills, rapid word naming, visual tracking and reading and spelling skills.

The children were divided into 2 groups: “trainees” and “control.” Ten trainees finished 28 days of the program, a half hour a day, in the computer lab with one to two teacher aides present to monitor the children. No other instruction was provided outside of playing the 12 U CAN CONNECT games.

Fourteen of the children were tested again. (2 children moved from the area) The control group now has begun their training.

The results for the before and after testing are described below.

Testing and Results:

TAPS-3 The Test of Auditory Processing Skills-3 was administered in part to assess a student’s auditory processing ability in 3 areas. Auditory processing is the brain’s ability to decipher and catalogue information sent to it by the ear and is very important in reading and spelling since children need to ‘hear’ what sounds constitute a word and then remember what order they heard them in. It is also important in listening to auditory instructions, and in tracking details of a conversation.

U CAN CONNECT has 3 auditory training games but none that specifically training recalling sentences.

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Although the control group also made some improvement on recalling numbers and words, they made no improvement on repeating sentences. When we view the overall standard scores (85-115 is the average range) we see that the trainee group moved into the average range overall while the control group stayed in the poor to low average range.

The Test of Visual-Perceptual Skills-R was given in part to assess Visual Perceptual skills.  Visual Perception, according to the literature, does not measure eyesight but measures instead what the subject does with what he sees.  In a broad sense, it is the brain’s ability to understand and make sense of what the eyes ‘send it’.

Visual processing is a very important factor in reading and spelling since words need to be quickly recognized as being same or different, words need to be visually recalled so that they do not need to be sounded out each time and words need to be quickly processed in order to be read fluently.

6 games on U CAN CONNECT focus on increasing visual processing skills.

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Pre and post testing, change in points from the first standard score to the second score

Visual Discrimination:   Trainees increased 30 points, control increased 1 point

Visual Memory:   Trainees increased 12 points, control increased 0

Visual Spatial Relations:   Trainees increased 24 points, control increased 3 points

This test showed a very significant gap between the children who trained and those that did not. The trainees moved form their pretesting scores of the poor and below average ranges to the average to above average ranges, while the control group, either made little improvement or went backward on the post testing.

The Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement II was administered to ascertain academic success in three areas, 2 in reading and 1 in spelling. Decoding real words, decoding nonsense words and spelling are all important variables in being a proficient reader. Form A was administered in pretesting and Form B was used on reassessment so the children were not reading or spelling the same words during the test.

One game in U CAN CONNECT focuses on spelling and one game focuses on decoding real words. None of the games addresses reading nonsense words.

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Pre and post testing, change in points from the first standard score to the second score

Decoding real words:   Trainees increased 19 SS  points, control decreased 11 SS point

Spelling:   Trainees increased 23 SS points, control decreased 15 SS points

Decoding nonsense words:   Trainees increased 56 SS points, control decreased 20 SS points

 Once again, this testing showed a very big difference in the children who trained for 28 days and those that got no specific training. It should be noted that nonsense word decoding, although not trained in any of the 12 games on U CAN CONNECT, made the biggest jump in post testing. We believe it is due to better attention to task, better visual processing skills and better auditory phonemic awareness.

The Test of Verbal Conceptualization and Fluency was given in part to assess quick visual sequencing abilities. On the Trails C, a child needs to quickly connect numbers 1-21, to demonstrate visual processing and visual sequencing speed.  Slow visual tracking means that a student would have a difficult time in looking at visual material and trying to do things quickly, affecting all school work but in particular reading and test taking.

On this testing, the lower the score the better, meaning the student connected the 21 numbers in a faster time.

Two games in U CAN CONNECT work on this skill.

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Pre and post testing, change in seconds from the first score to the second score

 

Trails C:   Trainees decreased 44 seconds, control increased 4 seconds

Trainees moved in to the average to high average range while control students remained in the below average range.

The RAN/RAS Tests (Rapid Automatic Naming/Rapid Alternating Stimulus Tests) was administered to assess the student’s ability to name letters, numbers, objects and colors as fast as possible. Problems in Rapid Automatic Naming have a direct correlation to reading fluency and children with slow rapid naming skills are often slow readers affecting reading comprehension, fluency and interest in focusing on a story.

No games in U CAN CONNECT work on this task but many of the games require quick visual identification of words or chunks of words.

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Pre and post testing, change in standard scores from the first score to the second score

 

Averaged SS on all subtests:  Trainees decreased 50 points, control increased 6 points

The trainees moved into the average range for rapid automatic naming while the control group stayed in the below average range overall.

The GORT-5 (Gray Oral Reading Test-fifth edition) was used to assess reading fluency, accuracy and comprehension. The student was asked to read increasing harder paragraphs while they were timed on speed, marked on word accuracy and then asked 5 questions for comprehension. Form A was used in pretesting and Form B was used in post testing so the students were not familiar with the paragraphs.

No games in U CAN CONNECT have the student practicing this skill.

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Pre and post testing, change in overall standard scores from the first to the second score

 

Averaged SS on all subtests:  Trainees increased 34 SS points, control increased 4 SS points

When the areas of rate, accuracy and comprehension were assigned standard scores, and then the overall test standard score was found, we see that the trainee group made a big jump in their scores vs. the control group that showed very little change in their overall standard scores.

We feel the exciting aspect of this score in particular, is that although the games do not specifically practice the skill of reading paragraphs and answering questions, because of the other auditory and visual processing skills trained in the U CAN CONNECT program, the results prove that overall reading skills improve as well.

Only 28 days of training (approximately two months) demonstrated these positive results, therefore what would more training do for each child?

For more information, go to  www.ucanconnect.org and play the free trials!

 

Credit / Attribution – Print

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / michaeljung

 

Increasing vocabulary; leading the “blind” to sight words

Words

At age 7, Helen Keller, completely shut off from her world through the tyrant twins of deafness and blindness, recognized the word, “water” being finger-spelled in one hand while cool water flowed over the other hand. She made astounding progress, a mere 5 years later publishing her first magazine article and then in another 5 years, entering Radcliffe College. In her lifetime, she wrote 14 books and hundreds of magazine articles.

The children we teach in no way start out as sensory deprived as Helen Keller, but we do know that a child’s mind is only limited by the concepts he has names for.

Research has proven over and over again – vocabulary acquisition is one of the most important tools in expanding a child’s interaction with the world.

We know these things:

Vocabulary knowledge in kindergarten and first grade is a significant predictor of reading comprehension in middle and high school

Vocabulary strongly influences a teacher’s judgment of a student’s competency

Lack of sound vocabulary skills is a critical factor in school failure

It is estimated that a first grader needs to have 1,000 words in their reading vocabulary, which then soars to 10,000 for a third grader and 40,000 by the time a student is in twelfth grade.  That is an increase of 3,000 words per grade.  Studies show that disadvantaged children and poor readers acquire less than half of the vocabulary of their successful peers.

So many words, so little time!  hourglassWhat to do?

Have your child involved in learning programs that teach the sight words and the most frequently occurring words in print. The child should receive multiple exposures to the word by both seeing it and hearing it. Choose engaging reading games that not only build on sight word vocabulary but that also teach spelling, visual processing skills and other learning tools centered around good reading techniques.

U CAN CONNECT was designed with those ideas in mind. Each level has 3000 sight words and hundreds of the most-frequently used words in written text. Highly engaging, these online games are fun reading games that that were specially engineered so that parents do not have to monitor their child during play. The KidsSafe Seal says this is a website a parent can trust.

Check out www.ucanconnect.org.

For a list of the first 4000 words that a child needs to learn, visit www.thefirst4000words.com.

Your child has 40,000 words to learn – if Helen Keller can do it, so can your child! Just get going.

Credit / Attribution – Print

@ Can Stock Photo Inc. / photobee

Credit / Attribution – Print

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / grgroup

Low reading skills are a crime!

teen in handcuffs

2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade, will end up in jail or on welfare.

 

We’ve recently put our reading program U CAN CONNECT in a local Boys and Girls Club and it has been so rewarding.  I discovered a whole new group of kids to admire – those who functionally cannot read but they’re so willing to try.  One third grade boy with a bright smile and dark tousled hair looked me in the eye and said, “You gotta to teach me to read or I’m going to be junk.”

Sadly, he’s right.

Year after year we hear these sad statistics but if we don’t know a low reader, we don’t think much about them. When a child is unable to read on grade level by the 4th grade, it affects ALL of us.

These statistics are not made-up statistics by publishers of children’s books or by tutoring companies – they are the yearly national facts pulled from court documents and employment records.

Here are the most-recent facts:

85 % of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.

prison doors

    More than 60 % of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.

Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.

Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, “The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure.” Over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.

Many of the USA ills are directly related to illiteracy. Just a few statistics:

Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write.

One child in four grows up not knowing how to read.

43% of adults with low literacy skills live in poverty compared to only 4% of those    with good reading skills

3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform in the lowest 2 literacy levels

90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts

Low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs. A recent study by Pfizer put the cost much higher.

These are staggering costs for our society and they do affect each and every one of us.

lightbulb guy

Want to help?

Look around in your community for opportunities to work with these low readers. Some ideas are the Boys and Girls Clubs, residential drug programs that house families, afterschool programs, Big Brother/Big Sister program and homeless family shelters.

This one simple solution will help children learn to read:

Choose a book that is on his/her reading level, not grade level. Read it together in this way: You read the first sentence while the child follows along. Then, both of you read the same sentence together. Then the child reads the sentence all by himself. This teaches the sounds of the words, the feel of fluent reading and the sight recognition of the words.

We all can change the sad face of illiteracy in this country, one child at a time.

photo credit© Can Stock Photo Inc. / gajdamak

photo credit© Can Stock Photo Inc. / txking

photo credit© Can Stock Photo Inc. / julos

Is Working Memory more important than IQ?

 

boy remembering

Yes, Yes, Yes, according to the leaders in working memory research! I just attended a conference where I had the privilege of hearing several of the world’s leading experts on working memory present their perspective on the link between Working Memory and ADHD (Dr.s Rapport, Tannock and Fassbender/Schweitzer), the state of Working Memory and increasing cognitive skills (Dr. Klingberg), and Working Memory in the classroom and an increase in academic scores (Dr. Gathercole).

Basically the new research points to this:

  • A child’s suc­cess in all aspects of learn­ing comes down to how good their work­ing mem­ory is regard­less of their IQ score. This means that having a good work­ing mem­ory at the start of for­mal edu­ca­tion is a more pow­er­ful pre­dic­tor of aca­d­e­mic suc­cess than knowing the child’s IQ score in the early years.
  • The studies also found that, as opposed to IQ, work­ing mem­ory is not linked to the par­ents’ level of edu­ca­tion or socio-economic back­ground. This means all chil­dren regard­less of back­ground or envi­ron­men­tal influ­ence can have the same oppor­tu­ni­ties to ful­fill poten­tial if work­ing mem­ory is assessed and prob­lems addressed where necessary.
  • As many as 10% of school age children may suffer from poor working memory, British researchers found, yet the problem remains rarely identified. “You can think of working memory as a pure measure of your child’s potential,” Dr. Tracey Alloway of Britain’s Durham University studies said of their results. “Some psychologists consider working memory to be the new IQ because we find that working memory is the single most important predictor of learning,” Alloway added.
  • Many children that had been thought to be lazy or underachievers really were found to have poor working memory ability.
  • Another finding was that with early identification and formalized memory training, these poor memory skills can improve and problems in ADHD, math, reading comprehension and overall learning speed also improved!What is working memory?

Working memory is described as “the ability to hold several facts or thoughts in short term memory while solving a problem or performing a task.” We use our working memory all day long without thinking about the process. People with working memory problems can’t “hang onto” the information long enough to do that.

For example, here is a working memory task.  An adult would listen to this sequence of numbers and letters, “4-B-1-D-5” and then repeat them by first putting the numbers in order from low to high and the letters in order at the end from A-Z. The answer is “1-4-5-B-D. After 12 to 15 trials of this, the mind starts to fatigue. You are in trouble because you can’t just guess at the answer to get it right; you actually have to be actively engaged with the material! Other working memory tasks might be that you are shown a series of 6-8 pictures, then the cards are shuffled and you need to put them back in the correct order or you hear words like, “cat-green-bowl-jump-boat” and then you are asked, “What was the second word? What is the fourth word?”

This “being engaged” with the material and mental fatigue is why new studies on ADHD point to working memory deficits as being one of the main causes of that disorder. Once the mind fatigues, the person stops listening or performing the task because it’s too hard. With less to attend to, the child becomes focused on other things that don’t require diligent brain work.

We know that besides having a huge impact on attention and focus, working memory deficits also impact:

  • Reading comprehension because it’s too hard to remember the characters in the story, the sequence of the plot and the order of the syntax.
  • Understanding spoken language because the listener needs to track the meaning in the speaker’s words long enough so that there is meaning and not just a bunch of little phrases being processed.
  • Writing because a person needs to recall perhaps one or two thoughts or main ideas as he is putting them on paper. To write a paragraph or a story, a person needs to remember the overall story, the order in which he needs to tell it and the characters, events, the rules of writing, the grammar, etc.  It’s too much to remember!
  • Problem solving because it requires that you cling to clues in your head while deducing or inferring from a small amount of information at hand.
  • Math because so much of arithmetic is a two or three step operation. Any part of a problem that should be rehearsed while doing the next step has a very good chance of being forgotten in a person with poor working memory skills. (Like in real life. If you have forty dollars and you’re shopping and you are keeping track of what you have spent so far, that’s working memory.

The question many researchers are struggling with is how to help people with this problem. In the past, children have been taught compensation techniques like rehearsing everything they hear and see in order to keep it active in the mind, but this isn’t very efficient and the carry-over to performance is slow or non-existent.

Dr. Mel Levine, co-founder of All Kinds of Minds, in Durham, North Carolina says, “In children with learning difficulties, working memory becomes a huge issue, especially around middle school where the demands on working memory grow dramatically.” Short term memory can become overloaded if everything circulating there is not moved on to long term memory areas. By making the working memory process more efficient or fluid, this frees up the ability to take in more information faster.

Recent research out of Sweden and other big universities in the United States demonstrated that children with ADHD, academic problems and adults with symptoms of stroke all greatly benefited from working memory practice from a program called CogMed. (www.CogMed.com.)

Poor working memory has been proven to influence a person’s ability to learn or to pay attention to a task for a longer period of time. Poor memory can come about because of Dyslexia, ADHD, a brain injury, people recovering from chemotherapy, or persons with generalized specific learning disorders. Whatever the cause, we now know that greater focus needs to be paid to the working memory ability of an individual instead of the person’s IQ or intellectual function.

Working memory is the new IQ.

 photo © Can Stock Photo Inc. / kennykiernan

Is too much praise ruining your child’s success?

girl with a trophy

Let’s lay out a scenario. You decide as a parent that you will build your child’s self-esteem, no matter what, because they will need great self-esteem to stand up for themselves and to succeed in this oft-times challenging world.

From the moment your child starts walking and talking, you let them know they are winners! “You were the best today in karate” even though they may be the child that is behind on all of the moves. “I don’t know what the dance teacher was talking about; you danced better than the other girls.”  Your child’s confidence grows and they believe you…they are the best in the activities they get involved in. They are the smartest in preschool and then in elementary school. Life is good!

Then a strange thing happens. As soon as new activities get hard, your child won’t step up to the challenge. They bulk and choose the simple road, choosing an easy activity or a sport they have always played over a harder one or something new. They read simple books instead of trying a story that is at their grade level. They don’t “like” games or activities that are hard or challenging, calling these things “boring.” They seem to be playing it safe.

What in the world happened to the winning spirit you have infused in this child?

In the book Mindset, (2008 by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.), she explains in simple terms what has happened.

She talks about two mindsets that we can have. The first is called a Fixed Mindset. In this one, we believe (even as young children) that our talents or our traits are set. That our talents don’t change. We are successful because people have told us we are successful and we seem to have a few talents we just were born with.  We become caught up in success and failure situations to validate ourselves. Working harder wouldn’t matter to us since we believe that our talents are not developed. We are just lucky enough to have them.

The second mindset is called Growth Mindset. In this mindset the individual is focused on stretching him or herself to learn something new, to improve. Effort is a good thing. There is no judgment after each activity of success or failure; just an assessment of what could be done next to improve upon the last results.

Numerous studies in Dr. Dweck’s book looked at children and adolescents who were given the same task, but they were praised differently.  An experiment was done with answering questions. One part of the group was praised for being smart and getting a ceratin number of problems right and the second group was praised for their effort and how hard they had worked on the problems. When the examiners offered harder, more challenging problems to the same participants, the “smart” group refused to do any more problems for fear harder questions would make them seem less smart – a failure in their eyes. 90% of the “effort” group asked for as many new problems as possible because they thrive on learning how to get better, on earning their successes. One more astonishing fact came from this study. The children were all asked to write down their scores for other school students to see what it would be like to go through the 10 questions they had just completed. 40% of the group that were praised for their ability, and not their effort, lied about the scores they achieved, because in the Fixed Mindset, imperfections are shameful.

So, with those two mindsets established, how are we to praise our children without driving them into the Fixed Mindset group? How do we get them to stop thinking in the black and white terms of “I have to win or be the best otherwise I have lost?” How do we shift to a Growth Mindset?

  • Children know when they are being falsely praised. Sure, they will take the praise and run with it but, in the end it’s hollow.
  • Start thinking of how you as a parent can change your statements to reward effort. Let your child hear you talking about how other people tried and failed and then succeeded, not because they were smart, but because they worked hard to change, improve and to stretch themselves.
  • Begin praising the effort in your child’s day, whether emotional effort, (“I know that was a hard thing to do but your apology was very good.”) or physical effort (“When you went after that ball today in the game, that was great hustle. Soon, you’ll be able to catch that player.”)
  • Make your statements to your child non-judgmental. Don’t give opinions about their traits or talents but instead, talk about their development and how exciting that is.
  • Don’t label your children! “This one is the artist and this one is our runner.” Try, “He really worked hard on a drawing yesterday. You should see how much he has improved.” Or “She has been really working to improve her running times and it’s really paying off.”
  • Teach children that there are tiny steps in reaching a goal. Things don’t just happen. Lay out each stage your child will need to accomplish in order to achieve something hard that they want and then reward every little step in that direction.
  • A mindset can be changed – yours and your child’s.

No parent sets out to undermine a child’s skills or to create a child who is afraid to attempt anything hard because it knocks them off their safe pedestal of always being the smart one or the fast one. But when we continue to praise ability, and not effort, we fall into the Fixed Mindset and our children will follow along with us.  We are all capable of reaching for a Growth Mindset; it just takes, well, it takes some effort!

 

 

 

Bridging the gap in reading

 

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Bridging the gap in reading

Our marketing team recently showed a reading specialist of 20 years the UCanConnect Reading program, and she got very excited. “These are the exact activities we have always needed in our toolbox to help students master reading, especially since they can be done at home.”  She went on to say that it is essential that children increase their visual and auditory processing skills in order to improve reading fluency, sight word recognition and phonological awareness.

She needed to be peeled away from the games. “These are so much fun!” She added, “And the low price is something every family can afford, especially when you look at the cost of outside tutoring.”

The UCanConnect Reading Program was developed to address the findings of current literacy research, for example, studies from Expert Perspectives on Interventions for Reading, published by the International Dyslexia Association, 2012, and The International Handbook of Research in Children’s Literacy, May 2013, Wiley-Blackerll.

Current findings state:

  •     Poor word-recognition skill is a main factor in limited reading comprehension.

—-> UCanConnect exposes the reader to over 2000 sight words at each level, both through the visual and auditory modalities.

  •     Children with reading weaknesses cannot be treated alike. Instruction needs to be intensive, structured, but dynamic, and must address all the learning processes involved in reading.

—-> UCanConnect works on 12 areas of visual and auditory processing skills, gradually increasing the difficulty as the child progresses through 4 tiers of difficulty in each game.

  •     The home is the smallest school. Reading problems in a classroom can be minimized when parents become a part of the reading team.

—–>  UCanConnect is web-base and takes approximately 30-35 minutes to play. Whether the practice is 3 or 5 times a week, this intensive, yet minimal amount of time, fits into the home’s time-crunched schedule.