Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
Case Study: Michal Ricca on “ReaDefying the Odds of Dyslexia”

Case Study: Michal Ricca on “ReaDefying the Odds of Dyslexia”

June 27, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast for episode #142, with Michal Ricca[i], the Founder of Now I Can Read who created an online literacy program called ReaDefy Learning[ii] for children aged 10-17 who struggle with literacy.  

Watch the interview on YouTube here. https://youtu.be/B-V003TGVu8 

See past episodes here https://www.achieveit360.com/episodes/

We know from our past episode #136[iii] with Lois Letchford, with her dyslexic son who went on to graduate with his Ph.D from Oxford University, that some children need different learning strategies than how they are taught traditionally in the classroom. Michal’s program focuses on the critical life skills of verbal and written language and communication with the backbone of social and emotional skills to help propel these students to excel both inside and outside of the classroom.  Michal has a powerful story that I wanted to share, to open up some ideas and strategies if you are a teacher in the classroom, or if you are a parent with a struggling reader at home.  For those looking for ideas for the workplace, Michal has a compelling story that she will share on how she took all of her programs online, maximizing her time and efforts with her students, and giving her more balance back in her life.

I'm Andrea Samadi, author and educator from Toronto, Canada, now living in the United States, and like many of our listeners, have been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies in our schools, sports, and the workplace. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

When I first met Michael, through LinkedIn, I knew right away that she had created something unique, when I heard that she has been focused on helping struggling students to learn how to read for the past 20 years, and has helped over 1,000 students to read. If you have ever worked with one struggling reader, you will know that it takes someone extremely special to uncover exactly what each student needs, and Michal has this gift.

You can learn more about Michal and her programs through her website, but here’s a bit about her background.

Michal Ricca, M.Ed. Founded the Academic Associates Center in Williston, VT in 2008. She holds an Advanced Teaching Masters of Education from Northwestern University, a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary and Special Education, and has over twenty years experience working with students with all types of learning styles and differences.

Michal has been trained in Wilson, Orton-Gillingham, Academic Associates, Framing Your Thoughts, MindPlay, and many other techniques, while also having studied at Columbia University with Lucy Calkins herself.  Michal is a literacy addict and sees herself as a lifelong learner, staying current with best practice through journals, collegiate discussions, and professional development.

Michal pulls from many sources to individualize instruction, but her foundation is the Orton-Gillingham technique.  Her program is a multi-sensory and enables students, by using direct instruction, to review, learn new concepts, practice, and to apply what they are learning.  Orton-Gillingham has been utilized for over 50 years and is multi-sensory, systematic, structured, sequential, cumulative, and success-oriented.

Research states that the effectiveness of quality literacy instruction has less to do with the program used, and more to do with the efficacy of the teacher and the intensiveness of the student’s engagement. 

Let’s meet Michal Ricca and see what strategies she can bring to light after 20 years of focused work in the field of literacy and social and emotional learning.

Welcome Michal. It’s wonderful to have this opportunity to speak with you here. Thank you very much for sharing your story that I know will spark some new ideas for those listening who might be working with students who are struggling readers.

Q1: When we first met through LinkedIn, something caught my attention about your work with students. It was the fact that you’ve been focused on one thing for over 20 years and that’s to help struggling students learn how to read. 

Over the past two decades, You’ve taught “over 1,000 students how to read without the need for repeat instruction.”

What or who was it that inspired you to pick reading for your life’s work and what’s kept you on this subject area for the past 20 years?

Q2: I read on your website something that any teacher can pick up in a heartbeat and it was that “that the art of teaching can’t be taught. Instead, it’s often the result of a natural gift that has been fostered by continuous study”

Can we talk about that? We’ve all had those teachers that had that quality. They instilled the love of learning in us—

I saw it in Lois Letchford whose son failed 1st grade and went on to graduate from Oxford university with his PhD and it was because she found what motivated her son to read when he began to learn about maps and world explorers like Captain Cook. That ignited his learning. 

I saw it immediately with you-20 years helping students learning to read. 

I know what inspired your love for the subject, but what else is there? Why do you think you’ve got something that most people don’t have?

Q3: I remember when I had to move my program for the school market to an online model, and this was in 2014 when I had to learn how to code a website. There was a huge learning curve back then, not like today you can just buy a pre-made template. Can you share how the pandemic and your health caused you to change your entire business model from one-on-one instruction to online, and how exactly did you do that? 

Q4: How does your program work? Are you working with students outside of VT? How about internationally? Could someone join your program if they lived in Canada or the UK? Is your training recorded or is it live? 

Q5: Since our podcast has a huge component for implementing social and emotional learning, I loved when you mentioned it’s also your focus. How do you incorporate social and emotional learning into your programs? 

Q6: What’s your vision for your online programs? Where would you like to see yourself in the next 3-5 years? 

Thank you very much for taking the time to share the incredible work you are doing to empower students through reading. If anyone wants to reach you and learn more about your programs, is the best way through your website https://www.readefylearning.com/

Michal Ricca LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/michalricca/

Book a Consultation https://www.readefylearning.com/contact

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Readefy-Learning-101096415410740

I’m Worried My Child Has Dyslexia, What Now FREE Ebook https://www.readefylearning.com/ 

RESOURCES:

https://www.ortonacademy.org/training-certification/

REFERENCES:

[i] Now I Can Read with Michal Ricca https://www.readefylearning.com/

[ii] ReaDefy Learning https://www.readefylearning.com/readefy-learning

[iii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #136 with Lois Letchford on “From Dyslexia to Ph.D” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/case-study-the-story-of-lois-letchford-from-dyslexia-to-phd-at-oxford-using-neuroscience-to-inspire-learning/

Brain Fact Friday on “Neurogenesis: What Hurts or Helps Your Brain Cells?”

Brain Fact Friday on “Neurogenesis: What Hurts or Helps Your Brain Cells?”

June 25, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #141.

In today's episode, you will learn:

✔︎ Tips for regrowing your brain cells (neurogenesis)

✔︎ A reminder of what prevents neurogenesis and hurts your brain

I'm Andrea Samadi, author and educator from Toronto, Canada, now living in Arizona, and like many of our listeners, have been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies in our schools, sports, and modern workplaces of the future. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain. And since most of us have not had a crash course in the basics of neuroscience, and how an understanding of our brain can impact learning, I launched this podcast in June 2019 with the goal of interviewing leaders and experts who have risen to the top of their field, using these success principles.

I’m writing this before recording episode #143 with Dr. Jon Lieff, whose book The Secret Language of Cells: What Biological Conversation Tells Us About the Brain-Body Connection, the Future of Medicine and Life Itself[i], and his book has really got me thinking.

We know that brain health is important, but could the cells in our body be important for our health, translating into our productivity, results and future well-being? Just like I had never thought about my brain as it related to my results prior to understanding how important our brain was for our future, I definitely have never thought about my health down to the level of my cells. Or even thought about how brain cells (neurons) are different from the other cells in my body (like organ lining cells, immune cells, or blood vessel cells).  Have you?

This Leads us to This Week’s Brain Fact Friday:

Did you know that “we can regrow brain cells (a process called neurogenesis) that we retain throughout our entire lifetime”[ii] and that the best way to increase neurogenesis (regrow your brain cells) is “when your body produces more BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor.” (Dr. David Perlmutter).

We covered an introduction to BDNF on episode #114 “Building a Faster, Stronger, Resilient Brain, by Understanding Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor”[iii] and how important BDNF is for learning and memory, with some tips for increasing your BDNF levels.

What Helps Your Brain Cells?

  1. Exercise releases BDNF:

Dr. Ratey, in his book Go Wild explained that researchers were looking at ways to prevent the aging brain and found that “seniors who exercised developed significantly larger hippocampal volumes (the part of the brain responsible for memory processing) improving their memory.”[iv] They found that exercise also “prevented a loss of grey matter overall (which is common in aging) and improved brain function.” (Page 107). Since we are all aging, it makes sense to me that this research is relevant to all of us, not just the aging brain, proving again, of the importance of exercise as one of the health staples we should all be aware of.

Nutrition also releases BDNF:

  1. Taking Omega-3 DHA also increases your BDNF and helps to increase neurogenesis. “Omega-3 fatty acids have the potential to influence neurogenesis through at least two distinct mechanisms. First, omega-3 fatty acids are incorporated into neuronal membranes…A second potential pathway …(where) these diets may influence neurogenesis is via omega-3 fatty acid modulation of cytokine levels, which in turn regulates immune function.”[v]

What Hurts Your Brain Cells?

We know that diet and exercise help our brain to build new neurons, but what hurts your brain and kills your brain cells?

Chronic stress, lack of sleep, poor diet and chemical and pesticide exposure all prevent neurogenesis and our podcast episode with Dr. Lieff on The Secret Language of Cells (Coming next week) we touch on this, but contrary to popular belief, “moderate alcohol use doesn’t kill brain cells.”[vi]  Not to say that alcohol does not damage the brain it just doesn’t kill brain cells. “It can damage the dendrites which are the branch-like ends of the brain cells. Dendrites are key for passing messages from one neuron to another, so dendrite degradation can cause cognitive problems.”[vii]

Conclusion:

Can we control neurogenesis by increasing BDNF?

Sandrine Thuret thinks we can, and offers her ideas in her TED TALK[viii]

She shows the clear case for exercise with an image I have put in the show notes showing new brain cells (black dots) growing in rats who were runners, versus less brain cell growth in the no-running rats.

 

rat-opt.png

(Image showing new brain cells (black dots) growing in rats who were runners

Source-You can grow new brain cells. Here’s how. Published on YouTube October 30, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_tjKYvEziI&t=5s

 

Sandrine Thuret’s TED TALK lists many ways you can grow new brain cells (the highlighted words) with intermittent fasting, flavonoids (found in dark chocolate) and caffeine being a few evidence-based strategies. Conversely, she mentions a diet high in saturated fat, sugar or ethanol, will have a negative impact on neurogenesis.

good-bad-opt.png

Image Source: Here’s how. Published on YouTube October 30, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_tjKYvEziI&t=5s  (7:26)

This Brain Fact Friday was a reminder for me to take my OMEGA-3 fatty acids. I hope it’s opened up your mind for some new ideas.

Stay tuned next week for Dr. Jon Leiff’s fascinating interview on his book, The Secret Language of Cells, as well as a case study from Michal Ricca, the founder of the Now I Can Read Program, who has taught over 1,000 children to read with her program.

See you next week.

REFERENCES:

[i] The Secret Language of Cells: What Biological Conversation Tells Us About the Brain-Body Connection by Jon Lieff, MD. September 22, 2020 https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084HKZ4HK/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[ii] Grow New Brain Cells with Exercise with Dr. David Perlmutter YouTube Published Dec.4, 2014 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4NfYd4wq7o&t=3s

[iii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #114 “Building a Faster, Stronger, Resilient Brain, by Understanding Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor”  https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-on-building-a-faster-stronger-resilient-brain-by-understanding-brain-derived-neurotrophic-factor-bdnf/

[iv] Go Wild: Eat Fat, Run Free, Be Social, and Follow Evolution’s Other Rules for Total Health and Well-Being by John J Ratey, MD and Richard Manning (June 3, 2014) https://www.amazon.com/Go-Wild-Free-Afflictions-Civilization-ebook/dp/B00FPQA66C

[v] Omega-3 fatty acids upregulate adult neurogenesis by Barbara S. Beltz, Michael F Tlusty, Jeannie L Benton, and David C Sandeman Published Jan. 7, 2007 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1892224/#:~:text=Omega%2D3%20fatty%20acids%20have,transporters%20and%20receptors%20%5B4%5D.

[vi] Brain Myth: Drinking Alcohol Kills Brain Cells https://www.brainhq.com/brain-resources/cool-brain-facts-myths/brain-mythology/brain-myth-alcohol-kills-brain-cells/

[vii] IBID

[viii] You can grow new brain cells. Here’s how. Published on YouTube October 30, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_tjKYvEziI&t=5s

 

Brain Fact Friday “Neuroscience Q&A” Livestream Andrea with Katherine Alexander-Dobrovolskaia

Brain Fact Friday “Neuroscience Q&A” Livestream Andrea with Katherine Alexander-Dobrovolskaia

June 18, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday, episode #140 and our first Livestream event.

I'm Andrea Samadi, author and educator from Toronto, Canada, now living in the United States, (but broadcasting this livestream from my balcony in HI with my co-host Katherine Alexander-Dobrovolskia who is joining us from London, United Kingdom) and like many of our listeners, we have both been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies in our schools, sports, and the workplace. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

For our FIRST Livestream event, I’ve invited my colleague, and good friend Katherine Alexander- Dobrovolskaia, the owner of Talent Investors, who is joining us from London, United Kingdom. Welcome Kate, thank you for coming on my first Live event. You know why I asked you to be here today, right?

Kate: give me a guess…maybe something about the fact we are broadcasting from Hawaii…maybe because we’ve been friends for almost 10 years, meeting in John Assaraf’s forum, and now taking our Neurocoaching Certification together? You tell me….

Andrea: Kate, since June is the anniversary of when we launched this podcast (June 2019) and now that we are going into our third year of creating bi-weekly episodes, approaching 100K downloads, reaching over 143 countries, I wanted to do something different.  Then add to the mix that this month I hit that mile marker of turning 50, I knew it was time to shake things up.

And you’ve always had an eye for innovation with the work you did with your Best Boss Series[i]. When you did that series, interviewing innovators in business, what do you think stuck out with leaders who rose to the top? What kinds of things did you notice they were doing differently from the rest?

Kate: Answer about what you learned from your Best Boss Series.

Andrea: Well, since this is Brain Fact Friday, I did want to share something we’ve recently learned from our Neuroscience coaching training that we are doing together, and invite the listeners to ask questions in the chat. Anything you’d like to know after listening to this podcast if you have been following us, from how we launched, to secrets of inviting such high-quality guests. What do you want to know? I’ll let Kate answer the questions, and I’ll sit back and relax on my balcony.

Q1: Andrea to Kate: Kate, what would you say is something you have learned recently about the brain, as it has applied to your personal and professional life?

Kate: Answer…something about the brain that’s helped you personally/professionally? What about you, Andrea? What’s something important that sticks out for you?

Andrea: It was probably from episode #100 with Mary Helen Immordino-Yang “We feel, therefore we learn” and the idea that when we connect emotions to learning, what we are studying goes into long-term memory. This brings in Friederike Fabritius’ How the Brain Learns book and her work with peak performance with the idea that we must have FUN with our work to hit those highest levels of peak performance and productivity.

Andrea: What about the listeners? Let me know if you have learned anything from this podcast, or any other area about the brain, and how you’ve used these ideas for improved results?

Answer anything that comes in on the chat….

Q2: Andrea to Kate: I’ve known you for some time now, I think we were accountability partners at one point in time, helping each other stay on track with the projects we were working on. And then life hits, and you’ve had some extremely difficult times, in addition to the Pandemic. How have you been able to stay on track with life, positivity and look after everything that’s going on personally for you if you want to share what’s happened in your personal life that’s really knocked things off course for you? How are you working with the fears that you have around everything you are dealing with?

Kate: How about you, Andrea?

Andrea: During difficult times, I’ve usually found that sticking to routine has helped. Probably because the brain like predictability and doesn’t like change, so keeping a daily routine that starts with consistent sleep/wake times has been a good starting point. Then building everything else around that. I had no idea that research has shown that this consistent sleep/wake time is an important marker for productivity (from the interview with Kristen Holmes) from Whoop.com, so much so, that when you wear the Whoop device, it tells you how consistent you are with your sleep/wake times and this can help your health in ways that research is just discovering to be beneficial. I haven’t had anything as difficult as you have had to deal with, but I am sure our listeners have.

But for those BIG fears…like fear of someone close to you with health problems, I have found Dr. Carolyn Leif’s work to be helpful. I did a podcast on her newest book, Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess: 5 Simple Scientifically Proven Steps to Reduce Stress, Anxiety and Toxic Thinking[ii]

Andrea: For our listeners?  What have you been doing to stay productive during difficult times?

Q3: Andrea to Kate: Kate, I shared with you that an area that I know we could improve on in my household (other than sleep which is so easy to master in HI—I’ve had perfect sleep scores this week because there’s no agenda or time pressure on vacation) but other than this area, it would be our meals.

With the fact that we all have different schedules (the girls train at the gym every night during the school year, so it’s not like we can sit down as a family like my parents did with us growing up) so my dinner is usually at my desk while I’m working and if my husband is home, we will eat together, but it’s not always this simple. So, you sent me an incredible cook book that we can use to try some new recipes together. Can you share how cooking as a family has helped you?

Kate: answers how cooking as a family has helped them to stay closer.

Andrea: How about our listeners? What have you been doing to stay healthy with meals? Or sleep? Since we can’t be on vacation all the time and depending on where you live, it might be difficult to still shop for groceries. My Mom told me they just started to open up shopping in Toronto, but before that, I was shipping her items from Amazon that she couldn’t get locally.

Q4: Andrea to Kate: I know you are a reader, and you always keep me up to date with books that you have been learning from. What books have you been reading this year?

Kate: What about you, Andrea, what books are you reading?

Andrea: I’ve always got the book of the next person I’m interviewing on my phone, and love this part of the podcast. Where else in the world do you get to read someone’s book and then email them and say “hey, can I pick your brain on your book?” and they say sure, and you get to dive deeper into what they have written, and share it? This is the part of the podcast that amazes me every day.

I’ve got to mention Mandy Krueckebrg Lengrich, a longtime listener of the podcast, who has sent me at least 10 books to read/research. I want to spend some time with these books that she is picking up from her studies in the field of educational neuroscience. (Gabor Mate, Nicole Tetreault/Seth Perler) and her most recent referral of the book Into the Magic Shop by James R Doty, M.D.

I’ve also been fascinated with Dr. Bruce Perry’s work, (he’s just released a book with Oprah and my friends stop me on the hiking trails saying…you need to interview Dr. Perry). Episode #53 “Self-Regulation and Your Brain: How to Bounce Back Towards Resiliency” was inspired by his recent webinar series. I asked him to be a guest on the podcast last June 2020 and he was in the middle of writing his book “What Happened to You” with Oprah, and he told me to contact him when he’s finished the book. A year later, his book is out, and I feel like a stalker, but I don’t want to miss an opportunity like that, so I contacted him again, and we are working on getting him on the schedule for October, so this book is always open on my phone.

I’ve also got a fun interview coming in August with Mike Rousell on how surprise impacts the brain. Who doesn’t like surprises? His book comes out in September, so the interview will be released right before this book,

 Andrea: What books are our listeners reading?

Q5: Andrea to Kate: You’ve known me for a while, and I know you love to push me beyond my limits, which I love.  We can all use a friend who doesn’t let you get comfortable. If you look at the speakers I’ve had on the podcast, who would you like to see me interview next? Give me a list of some people.

Andrea: to listeners: who would the listeners like to hear on the podcast next? Send me some ideas.

In Today’s Brain Fact Friday You Will Learn:

✔︎ What brain-based strategy Andrea and co-host Kate have found to be the most useful in their personal and professional life?

Share your favorite brain-based strategy in the Livestream chat.

✔︎ How Kate has been able to stay positive during some difficult life experiences.

Share what you have been doing to stay positive and productive during times of difficulty/challenge.

✔︎ How Kate has used cooking as a family to keep healthy habits during the Pandemic.

Share anything you have been doing as a family to stay healthy and productive.

✔︎ What books are Kate and Andrea reading now?

Share what books have been inspiring you.

✔︎Who does Kate think Andrea should have as a guest on the podcast?

Share ideas of speakers/authors you would like to see on the podcast.

What else? Any other thoughts?

Kate, I want to thank you for almost a decade of friendship, mentorship and learning. Thank you for co-hosting this livestream with me, it’s been a blast.

Thanks to all the listeners who have downloaded an episode, and are supporting the podcast. Thank you for joining the Livestream and sharing your ideas with us.

I’m off to the beach now, and hope everyone enjoys their weekend.

REFERENCES:

[i] Best Boss Series with Katherine Alexander Dobrovolskaia https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/best-boss-series-first-year-conclusions-alexander-dobrovolskaia/

[ii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #106 Review of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s Cleaning Up Your Mental Mess https://www.achieveit360.com/review-of-neuroscientist-and-best-selling-author-dr-caroline-leafs-cleaning-up-your-mental-mess-coming-march-2nd/

Brain Fact Friday on “The Fascinating Discoveries That Link Math, Literacy and the Brain”

Brain Fact Friday on “The Fascinating Discoveries That Link Math, Literacy and the Brain”

June 11, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #139 on “The Fascinating Discoveries that Link Math, Literacy and the Brain Together.”

If you are listening on iTunes, click here to see the images in the show notes.

I'm Andrea Samadi, author and educator from Toronto, Canada, now living in the United States, and like many of our listeners, have been fascinated with learning and understanding the science behind high performance strategies in our schools, sports, and modern workplaces of the future. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Our goal with this podcast is to bring the most current neuroscience research to you and make it applicable in your life whether you are a teacher in the classroom, a parent homeschooling, or using these ideas to improve productivity and results in your workplace. The idea is that these strategies will give you a new angle and provide you with a new way of looking at learning, results and productivity, with the brain in mind. As I am researching and uncovering new ideas, I’m also implementing them myself, and making connections to past speakers, so that we can all benefit from the research that is emerging in this new field of educational neuroscience.

 

I want to thank the listeners who have sent me messages through social media[i] about how you are using these ideas in your schools, community and personal lives. It does help to know that these episodes are useful, and how you are using this information, and that it’s not just me who finds the intricacies of the brain and learning to be fascinating.  Thanks so much for the messages.

Back to this week’s Brain Fact Friday.

DID YOU KNOW:

There is a test called the finger gnosis test[ii] (a child holds their fingers under the table and has to tell you which fingers you touch) and “this test is a strong predictor of future mathematical ability” (Dr. Ansari taught us this in our last episode) and that “finger movement and counting are closely associated with the brain?” (David Sousa).

David A Sousa in his book How the Brain Learns Mathematics found “that the region of the brain that controls finger movement is the same region associated with counting” [iii] and he thought it was interesting that finger movement and counting are closely associated in the brain. 

I asked Dr. Ansari what he thought about this, and he agreed there might be something to what David Sousa is thinking. This might explain why Dyslexia (a learning disorder that involves a difficulty with reading) and Dyscalculia (a math learning disability where children struggle with number sense) are so closely related. Dr. Ansari mentioned that 50% of children who struggle with math, also struggle with reading. The two go hand in hand.

We did cover the societal significance of our children or students learning to read proficiently by 3rd grade with last week’s Brain Fact Friday, episode #137[iv] where we examined the math learning disability dyscalculia, that’s closely related to dyslexia, but here’s a quick reminder of the importance of knowing why literacy is so important, especially understanding the implications of NOT staying on top of our children/students who might be struggling with the foundations of reading, or mathematics, at an early age.

When we look at the statistics, the importance of developing the foundational skills of literacy is clear. Just a reminder:

  • 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  • 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read at all.
  • Students who don't read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school.
  • Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime.

 

When researching Dr. Ansari, I came across similar statistics for students who did not have the foundational skills in mathematics.

Did you know that:

  • “Low numeracy skills are associated with physical illness, depression and incarceration?” (Bynner and Parsons 2005)[v]
  • Students with poor numerical and mathematical skills are more likely to default on their mortgage payments than those with strong mathematical skills “(Gerardi, Goetta and Meier 2013).[vi]

Dr. Daniel Ansari’s interview #138[vii] provided many insights of the importance of understanding how the brain learns, but one of the most profound analogies he gave was about the importance of looking at the foundational competencies in mathematics to help students “build a solid foundation to their learning”[viii] so they build a strong foundation that is not at risk of collapsing.  

The Foundational Skills of Reading and Mathematics

There is a clear case for ensuring our students are proficient readers by 3rd grade, and we have just started to dive deep into strategies for struggling readers with episode #136 with the case study of Lois Letchford[ix] and how she helped her son to overcome dyslexia and graduate with his Ph.D. from Oxford University. Since this episode was released, I have had many emails with stories and case studies to support innovation in this field. Like Dr. Burton Clark[x], who sent me his story about beating the odds and overcoming dyslexia in the field of firefighting. We also can see the importance of developing the foundational skills in mathematics.

The core of reading, Dr. Ansari explains is “connecting sounds to letters” or phonemic awareness that David Sousa explains in depth in his “How the Brain Learns to Read” series and on episode #78[xi] but the core of math, Dr. Ansari reminds us is “connecting quantity to symbols” (or knowing that 3 apples is also three apples).

What Are the Foundational Reading Skills That Should Be in Place By 3rd Grade? 

David Sousa’s How the Brain Learns to Read[xii] has a clear list on page 208, reminding us that

“Teachers make a difference. Students of experienced teachers with knowledge of scientifically-based methods had higher reading achievement scores than students of inexperienced teachers.” (David A Sousa)

Most researchers agree that these skills must be in place by 3rd grade to ensure students will be able to cope with the increased difficulty in future grades.

They must:

  • Master the alphabet
  • Read fluently
  • Understand what students are reading
  • Have strategies to sound out unfamiliar words
  • Be confident in spelling
  • Read almost any book in the elementary school library
  • Write almost anything that falls within a child’s knowledge and experience
  • Have an appetite for reading and writing

Now we learned from our interview #136 with Lois Letchford that learning to read doesn’t come naturally for some children. It’s a serious struggle. But her episode focused on some strategies to help the students who do struggle with reading, and our next interview coming in the third week of June that will feature Michal Ricca[xiii], the Founder of the Now I Can Read Program, from Williston, VT (USA) who has in the past 2 decades, taught over 1,000 students how to read. She will share why she saw the need to create an online reading program for students that has greatly expanded her reach beyond what she was able to do working with students one on one.  Her program helps students with more than reading, but also with the social and emotional aspect that comes along with a student who is struggling, and who just wants to fit in with the other children in their class.

Instructional Strategies to Help Improve Reading Comprehension from David Sousa’s How the Brain Learns to Read (Page 99-101).

  • Using graphic organizers
  • Asking questions
  • Summarizing
  • Mental imagery
  • Paraphrasing

Screen_Shot_2021-06-09_at_125309_PM_copybrb2k...

What Are the Foundational Mathematical Skills That Should Be in Place By 3rd Grade? 

When looking at the foundations to math that Dr. Ansari thinks are important to be in place by 3rd grade, he reminded me that math is much more complicated than reading, and that many skills need to be in place, but he did think that number sense is very important.

Students should understand:

  • Quantities
  • Concepts like more or less
  • Larger and smaller
  • Understanding the order in a line (1st, 2nd, 3rd)
  • Understand that symbols like 7 represent quantities and mean the same thing as seven.
  • Making number comparisons (like 12 is greater than 10)
  • Recognizing relationships between single items and groups of items (seven means one group of seven items)
  • Understand fractions, proportions, multiplying and dividing
  • Also the gradual progress of finger counting to the mental process of adding/subtraction numbers

Instructional Strategies

Dr. Ansari mentioned the 6 evidence-based strategies from the most recent report Assisting Struggling Students with Mathematics.[xiv] I will put the image of the 6 strategies in the show notes, but thought it was important to mention the importance of using number lines, since any time an abstract concept can be visualized, it makes it easier for the student to understand. Lois Letchford mentioned this with her work with her son, and that using a number line with the dates brought the maps they were studying to life.

Screen_Shot_2021-06-09_at_32912_PM_copybawi2....

REVIEW and CONCLUSION with This WEEK’S BRAIN FACT FRIDAY

David Souza uncovered finger movement and counting to be closely associated in the brain and Dr. Ansari spoke about finger gnosis and mathematical ability[xv] and that it is widely known finger gnosis (a child holds their hand under a table and someone touches their fingers, then asks, “which finger did I touch?” The ability to perform this test well is a strong predictor of future mathematical ability.

He also mentioned that even before brain scans, they knew from patients who had damage to the left hemisphere of the brain, the left angular gyrus, they became terrible at finger gnosis and terrible at math.

If you look at the diagram of the brain in the show notes, you will see how close the angular gyrus is to the Wernicke’s area (the part of the brain that controls speech) and the Broca’s area (also linked to speech production).

Screen_Shot_2021-06-09_at_105115_AM_copy6sheb...

This is where Dr. Ansari says “we know that there’s a connection here, but we just don’t know the mechanism” which to me is the fascinating part of this work. Maybe next year, or maybe in 3 years’ time, neuroscience advancements will be made to show exactly what is happening in the brain when we are counting and using our fingers, but for now, we just know there is a connection, but what it is, remains to be discovered.

I hope today’s Brain Fact Friday has made you think, like it has opened up my mind, to all the possibilities that exist when we begin to study and learn this powerful topic of the human brain.

The next time you use your fingers to count something, or you watch someone else doing this, remember that what you are saying and counting with your fingers are firing off pathways in your brain that are very closely connected. I know we can’t see this happening, but we can get a clear image of this happening, and with time, we will learn even more about our brain, learning and ways we can use this information to improve our productive and results.

See you next week.

RESOURCES: 

The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics by Stanislas Dehaene April 29, 2011  https://www.amazon.com/Number-Sense-Creates-Mathematics-Revised/dp/0199753873/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=the+number+sense&qid=1623114414&s=books&sr=1-3

REFERENCES:

[i] Contact Andrea Samadi  https://www.achieveit360.com/contact-us/

[ii] Finger gnosis predicts a unique but small part of variance in initial arithmetic performance by Mirjam Wasner, Hans-Christopher Nuerk, Laura Martignon, Stephanie Roesch, Korbinian Moeller June 2016  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022096516000163

[iii] How the Brain Learns Mathematics by David A Sousa Sept. 19, 2007 https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Learns-Mathematics-David-Sousa/dp/1412953065 Page 15

[iv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #137 on “Understanding Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/brain-fact-friday-understanding-dyscalculia-the-math-learning-disability/

[v] PEN Distinguished Lecture Series with Dr. Daniel Ansari Published on YouTube Dec.16th, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sioNHbGOkg&t=1580s (16:22)

[vi] PEN Distinguished Lecture Series with Dr. Daniel Ansari Published on YouTube Dec.16th, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sioNHbGOkg&t=1580s (17:05)

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #138 with Dr. Daniel Ansari on “The Future of Educational Neuroscience” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/professor-and-canada-research-chair-in-developmental-cognitive-neuroscience-and-learning-on-the-future-of-educational-neuroscience/

[viii] PEN Distinguished Lecture Series with Dr. Daniel Ansari Published on YouTube Dec.16th, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sioNHbGOkg&t=1580s (18:51)

[ix]Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #136 with a Case Study of Lois Letchford “From Dyslexia to Ph.D. Oxford”  https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/case-study-the-story-of-lois-letchford-from-dyslexia-to-phd-at-oxford-using-neuroscience-to-inspire-learning/

[x] The Dyslectic Legend Who Failed Probation by Dr. Burton Clark Dec. 4, 2020  https://www.firehouse.com/careers-education/article/21165174/the-dyslectic-legend-who-failed-probation

[xi] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #78 with David Sousa on “How the Brain Learns” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/award-winning-author-david-a-sousa-on-how-the-brain-learns/

[xii] David Sousa How the Brain Learns to Read March 2014 https://us.corwin.com/en-us/nam/book/how-brain-learns-read-0

[xiii] Michal Ricca http://www.nowicanread.com/about-us.php

[xiv] Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Intervention in the Elementary Grades March 2021 Institute of Education Sciences with Lynn S. Fuchs https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/WWC2021006-Math-PG.pdf

[xv] The relationship between finger gnosis and mathematical ability by Marcie Penner-Wilger and Michael Anderson December 5, 2013 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3851991/

 

Professor and Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning on “The Future of Educational Neuroscience”

Professor and Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning on “The Future of Educational Neuroscience”

June 7, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, EPISODE #138 with Dr. Daniel Ansari[i], a professor and Canada Research Chair[ii] in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning in the Department of Psychology and the Brain in Mind Institute[iii] at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario where he heads the Numerical Cognition Laboratory.[iv] His name is well-known in the field of educational neuroscience with a focus on numeracy and math which I know our listeners will find fascinating as we make connections with how children acquire math and numeracy, with brain science in mind.

You can watch the interview on YouTube here. 

I'm Andrea Samadi, an educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Our goal with this podcast is to bring the most current neuroscience research to you and make it applicable in your life whether you are a teacher in the classroom or using these ideas to improve productivity and results in your workplace. As I am researching and learning new ideas, I’m also implementing them myself, and making connections to past speakers, so that we can all benefit from the research that is emerging in this new field of educational neuroscience.

Which brings me to our next guest, who I came across a few months ago while researching neuroscientists who specialize in the field of education. Dr. Daniel Ansari’s name came up as a speaker at the Dropping Out, What Neuroscience Can Teach Us[v] International Symposium on the long-held paradigms of dropout prevention with his session on “The Best Way for Children to Learn Math” and my attention was caught. When I worked at Pearson Education, (2004-2010) I was on a sales team that had a focus on one product, for dropout prevention at the high school level (NovaNET)[vi] and I spent years promoting this program with the hopes of saving students who were at risk of dropping out. This conference was happening just as I had begun to study the brain and learning in 2015, and I only wish I had found it sooner. I wrote down Dr. Ansari’s name on my desk, with the idea that I would look him up, and see if he would come on the podcast as a guest.

Then went back to work on researching in the field of educational neuroscience and the researcher I am working with, Mark Waldman, sent me an article that he thought would be of interest to me with a project I am working on. I opened the article called “Annual Research Review: Educational neuroscience: progress and prospects”[vii] by Michael S.C Thomas, Daniel Ansari, and Victoria C.P. Knowland and immediately contacted Daniel Ansari. I don’t believe in accidents and when someone’s name continues to come to my attention as someone I need to learn from, I don’t waste any time. Without further ado, let’s meet Professor and Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning, Dr. Daniel Ansari.

Welcome Daniel! I was so happy when you wrote back after I contacted you after reading your research abstract on educational neuroscience, thank you so much for being here.

Daniel, you let me know when I first contacted you that you were in lockdown in London, Ontario, Canada, that your son was doing his schooling in your office and as I am writing these questions, I saw that schools in Ontario (where I grew up, got my teaching degree, and was a teacher) have according to Professor Prachi Srivastava, a professor at Western University “the longest school closures in Canada. As of today (June 3rd), 23 weeks since March 2020).” What is going on with the schools in Ontario, and how do you think this is impacting student learning?

 

Q1: Dr. Ansari, when I first began to research this field of educational neuroscience, it was in 2014 when an educator urged me to go in this direction with the leadership/SEL program[viii] I created for middle and high schools, and there wasn’t a lot of resources to follow. There were books to read on learning and the brain and I have interviewed many of these leaders on the podcast (David Sousa, How the Brain Learns Series[ix], John Medina’s Brain Rules[x]) but I certainly had no idea there were undergraduate programs in this field. ((The term educational neuroscience came to me a few years later as I began to learn from Dr. Lori Desautels[xi], who runs the educational neuroscience graduate program at Butler University, but aside from her program, or taking a certification course like I am doing now from a leading researcher, I didn’t know of any pathway that an educator could take to learn more about the brain and how it impacts learning.)) Can you share how you came on this path, that took you from your work in England, to Dartmouth College’s first undergraduate program in neuroscience and perhaps your vision for where this field is going?[xii]

Q2: I’d love to dive into the work you are doing at Western University’s Numerical Cognition Lab where you are studying how children develop numerical skills. I’m sure that you hear this often, and it was the first thing that came across my mind when I began researching your work. Why did you put your focus on numeracy and math? What are the scientific and societal implications that you’ve uncovered to build a case for everyone to look mathematical skills with a new lens?

Q3: Now that you’ve built the case for the importance of numeracy and math for our students/children, and many students have been homeschooled for the past year, so this is information is important for parents, not just for those teaching in the classroom. What are some of the foundational numerical skills that our children/students should be proficient with by 3rd grade (since 3rd grade is such an important marker for literacy) and how can we be sure to not put our fear of math (if we have it) onto our students or children?

Q4: I watched the video on your website[xiii] that gives an overview of the work you are doing in your lab, and it caught my attention with the brain imaging you are doing to see how the brain’s structure and function impact our mathematical abilities. The only research I have come across so far on the brain and mathematics is David Sousa’s “How the Brain Learns Mathematics”[xiv] and in this book he says that with brain imaging they came across an interesting finding that he wasn’t sure was coincidental. They found “that the region of the brain that controls finger movement is the same region associated with counting”[xv]  and he thought it was interesting that finger movement and counting are closely associated in the brain. Do you have any interesting findings like this (linking brain functions) that would be interesting and helpful for teachers learning to integrate brain science into their lessons, or parents homeschooling? What are you seeing with your brain scans?

Q5: We just released a podcast on a fascinating story of a child who had a developmental reading disorder, who failed 1st grade in 1994, yet went on to graduate with his Ph.D. from Oxford in 2018 with brain-based learning strategies. Can you explain a brief overview of Developmental Dyscalculia, how we can recognize it with our children/students and some strategies we could all use to help those who show the signs of this brain-based disorder, so it doesn’t dictate their future?

Q6: What is your vision for the future of education, and how educational neuroscience can advance our understanding of best practices to accelerate learning, social/emotional and academic?

 

Thank you for your time, research and strategies linking neuroscience to the future of learning. If people want to learn more about your work, I will put your website in the show notes numericalcognition.org and social media links Twitter @NumCog. Is there anything else we should know about that I have missed or any final thoughts?

 

Thank you, Dr. Ansari.

Dr. Daniel Ansari

Website http://www.numericalcognition.org/

Twitter https://twitter.com/NumCog

RESOURCES:

Dartmouth College Educational Neuroscience Undergraduate Program https://pbs.dartmouth.edu/undergraduate/neuroscience

Donna Coch Faculty of Education https://educ.dartmouth.edu/

Bridges over troubled waters: education and cognitive neuroscience by Daniel Ansari, Donna Coch March 10, 2006 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16530462/

Casel’s SEL State Initiative https://casel.org/collaborative-state-initiative/

Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #77 with University Professors and Authors Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey on “Developing and Delivering High Quality Distance Learning for Students” Published on YouTube August 4, 2020 H https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nLe3P50j4Q

The British Psychological Society https://www.bps.org.uk/

What is Number Sense? https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/math-issues/number-sense-what-you-need-to-know

How number-spaced relationships are assessed by Katarzyna Patro, Hans-Christopher Nuerk, Ulrike Cress, and Maciej Haman May 14, 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4030170/

David Sousa’s “How the Brain Learns Mathematics” Sept. 19, 2007 https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Learns-Mathematics-David-Sousa/dp/1412953065

The Number Sense: How the Mind Creates Mathematics by Stanislas Dehaene April 29, 2011  https://www.amazon.com/Number-Sense-Creates-Mathematics-Revised/dp/0199753873/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=the+number+sense&qid=1623114414&s=books&sr=1-3

What explains the relationship between spatial and mathematical skills? A review of evidence from brain and behavior by Zachary Hawes and Daniel Ansari January 2020 https://link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13423-019-01694-7

Hand 2 Mind Math Tool Kits https://www.amazon.com/hand2mind-Manipulative-Toolkit-Grade-Hands/dp/B07S259K8N

https://www.college-de-france.fr/site/en-stanislas-dehaene/presentation.htm

The relationship between finger gnosis and mathematical ability by Marcie Penner-Wilger and Michael Anderson December 5, 2013 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3851991/

The role of fingers in number processing in young children by Anne LaFay, Catherine Thevenot, Caroline Castel, and Michael Fayol July 30, 2013  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00488/full

Assisting Students Struggling with Mathematics: Intervention in the Elementary Grades March 2021 Institute of Education Sciences with Lynn S. Fuchs https://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/Docs/PracticeGuide/WWC2021006-Math-PG.pdf

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/what-is-dyscalculia

REFERENCES:

 

[i] Daniel Ansari  https://www.edu.uwo.ca/faculty-profiles/daniel-ansari.html

[ii] https://www.psychology.uwo.ca/about_us/achievements.html

[iii] Brain in Mind Institute https://www.uwo.ca/bmi/

[iv] http://www.numericalcognition.org/

[v] Dropping Out, What Neuroscience Can Teach Us International Symposium, Quebec, Canada, 2015. https://www.edcan.ca/event/dropping-out-what-neuroscience-can-teach-us/

[vi] Pearson’s NovaNET https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/one-dot-com/one-dot-com/ped-blogs/wp-content/pdfs/dc1-pearsondigitallearning-novanet-research-based.pdf

[vii] Annual Research Review: Educational neuroscience: progress and prospects by Michael S.C. Thomas, Daniel Ansari and Victoria C.P. Knowland (April 2019)  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6487963/

[viii] Andrea Samadi’s Level Up Program, Books and Tools for the Classroom https://www.achieveit360.com/courses/

[ix] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #78 with David Sousa on “How the Brain Learns” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/award-winning-author-david-a-sousa-on-how-the-brain-learns/

[x] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #42 with Dr. John Medina on “Implementing Brain Rules in our Schools and Workplaces of the Future” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/dr-john-medina-on-implementing-brain-rules-in-the-schools-and-workplaces-of-the-future/

[xi] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #56 with Dr. Lori Desautels “Connections Over Compliance: Rewiring Our Perceptions of Discipline” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/educational-neuroscience-pioneer-dr-lori-desautels-on-her-new-book-about-connections-over-compliance-rewiring-our-perceptions-of-discipline/

[xii] https://pbs.dartmouth.edu/undergraduate/neuroscience

[xiii] http://www.numericalcognition.org/

[xiv] How the Brain Learns Mathematics by David A Sousa Sept. 19, 2007 https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Learns-Mathematics-David-Sousa/dp/1412953065

[xv] How the Brain Learns Mathematics by David A Sousa Sept. 19, 2007 https://www.amazon.com/Brain-Learns-Mathematics-David-Sousa/dp/1412953065 Page 15

Brain Fact Friday “Understanding Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability”

Brain Fact Friday “Understanding Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability”

June 4, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #137.

In Today’s Brain Fact Friday You Will Learn:

✔︎ Why the Foundational Skills in Literacy and Mathematics are so Important.

✔︎ How Students with Reading Difficulties and Like Students with Math Difficulties.

✔︎ An Introduction to Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability.

✔︎ How to Recognize Dyscalculia, and Strategies to Assist Students Who Struggle with Math.

✔︎ Many Celebrities Have Dyscalculia and Dyslexia: It’s Not a Matter of Intelligence.

I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Our goal with this podcast is to bring the most current neuroscience research to you and make it applicable in your life whether you are a teacher in the classroom or using these ideas to improve productivity and results in your workplace. The idea is that these strategies will give you a new angle and provide you with a new way of looking at learning, with the brain in mind. As I am researching and learning new ideas, I’m also implementing them myself, and making connections to past speakers, so that we can all benefit from the research that is emerging in this new field of educational neuroscience.

The Importance of The Foundational Skills: Literacy and Mathematics

Which brings us to this week’s Brain Fact Friday and the connections I made while recording episode #136[i] with Lois Letchford, and her son who failed first grade in 1994 when testing revealed he could only read 10 words, had no strengths and a low IQ and was clearly struggling with his academics in his early years.  Thank goodness his Mother figured out that he needed to learn how to read with different learning strategies that you can learn about in episode #136, and see how her son defied the odds he was given at an early age and graduated from Oxford University with his Ph.D.

What would have happened to Nicholas Letchford if he didn’t have such a happy ending to his story? If he did not find a different way to build those foundational skills that he needed for literacy achievement?  I remembered a webinar I prepared for the educational publisher, Voyager Sopris Learning in 2018 on “Nine Brain-Based Strategies to Skyrocket Literacy Achievement”[ii] and in the introduction to this webinar, I talk about the U.S. statistics that emphasize the importance of our children learning to read proficiently by 3rd grade.

Did you know that:

  • 2/3 of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. Over 70% of America’s inmates cannot read above a 4th grade level.
  • 1 in 4 children in America grow up without learning how to read at all.
  • Students who don't read proficiently by the 3rd grade are 4 times likelier to drop out of school.
  • Nearly 85% of the juveniles who face trial in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, proving that there is a close relationship between illiteracy and crime. More than 60% of all inmates are functionally illiterate.

And these shocking statistics lead to high drop-out rates, low graduation rates and college completion, illiteracy, incarceration, and welfare, proving that when a student is struggling with their reading, there is so much more at stake than what meets the eye.

Then I began researching for episode #138 with Dr. Daniel Ansari, a professor, and Canada Research Chair[iii] in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience and Learning in the Department of Psychology and the Brain in Mind Institute[iv] at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario where he heads the Numerical Cognition Laboratory[v] and I learned from Dr. Ansari that in addition to the importance of developing these foundational reading skills, he emphasized the importance of developing the foundational skills in numeracy and math saying that “low numeracy skills is associated with physical illness, depression and incarceration”[vi] and even that “students with poor math skills were likely to default on their mortgage”[vii] later in life. This builds a clear case for the need for intervention if a student is struggling with reading or math in their early years.

 

For this week’s Brain Fact Friday, I am sure you have heard of the term dyslexia for students who have difficulty with reading, problems with spelling and mispronunciation of words, but did you know there was a term like this for those who have specific difficulties learning mathematics?

Dyscalculia: The Math Learning Disability

Dyscalculia: “is a math learning disability that impairs an individual’s ability to learn number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, reason and problem solve, and perform other basic math skills”[viii]  and usually “co-occurs with dyslexia.”[ix]  I will dive deeper into this brain-based disorder on my interview with Dr. Ansari next week, but until then, if you want to learn more about recognizing the signs and symptoms of dyscalculia, with engaging and fun strategies to help your students or children learn mathematics, you can learn more with these resources below.

To learn more about Dyscalculia, watch the video with Dr. Ansari here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRJS-jeZ7Is

You will learn:

  • What is Dyscalculia?[x]
  • Areas of difficulty (seeing how numbers fit together, counting, calculating, recalling math facts, using concepts like less than, greater than, reading a clock, working with money, not able to count backwards reliably, tendency not to notice patterns, inability to manage time in daily life).
  • Strategies to help students learn: Using manipulatives for counting, number lines and other visual tools to help solve problems and provide students with extra time so they can organize their thinking.
  • Educational Companies: Like ETA Cuisenaire (now Hand2Mind)[xi] who have created what they call “Cuisenaire Rods[xii]” to help students learn math in a more fun and enjoyable way.

Remember that students who have learning challenges like dyslexia with reading, or dyscalculia with math, can be just as successful in their life, future, and careers as those who do not have these challenges.  Just ask Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Muhammed Ali, Steven Spielberg, Henry Winkler, Tom Cruise, Whoopi Goldberg, Walt Disney, Jay Leno and Keira Knightly, who all grew up with dyslexia and it was noted that Bill Gates, Henry Winkler, Cher, Mary Tyler Moore, and Benjamin Franklin also had dyscalculia.  Like we saw in episode #136 with Lois Letchford’s son Nicholas, children can be extremely successful in their life and future, if they are given the learning strategies that they need to help them to succeed whether it’s with learning to read, or with mathematics.

 

REVIEW OF THIS WEEK’S BRAIN FACT FRIDAY:

Dyscalculia: “is a common math learning disability that impairs an individual’s ability to learn number-related concepts, perform accurate math calculations, reason and problem solve, and perform other basic math skills”[xiii]  and usually “co-occurs with dyslexia.”[xiv] 

Stay tuned for episode #138 with Dr. Daniel Ansari, who I know will open our eyes with new connections with the neuroscience of learning.

See you next week.

RESOURCES:

What is Dyscalculia with Dr. Daniel Ansari https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/what-is-dyscalculia  

One page information sheet about Dyscalculia https://assets.ctfassets.net/p0qf7j048i0q/5RsIIt1qjD0YvAsE9snkHV/21d0ca1ccedcdc87385fbe591506d10e/Dyscalculia_Fact_Sheet_Understood.pdf

Celebrities with dyslexia, ADHD and dyscalculia by Amanda Morin  https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/personal-stories/famous-people/success-stories-celebrities-with-dyslexia-adhd-and-dyscalculia

https://drlindasblog.com/famous-people-with-dyscalculia/

The Difference Between Dyslexia and Dyscalculia by Peg Rosen https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyslexia/the-difference-between-dyslexia-and-dyscalculia

Dyscalculia and Dyslexia: Different behavioral, yet similar brain activities during arithmetic by Lien Peters, Jessica Bulthe, Nicky Daniels, Hans Op de Beeck, Bert De Smedt July 4, 2017 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2213158218300731

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #136 with Lois Letchford on “

[ii] Nine Brain-Based Strategies to Skyrocket Literacy Achievement Voyager Sopris Learning EDVIEW 360 Webinar Series with Andrea Samadi https://www.voyagersopris.com/webinar-series/andrea-samadi-webinar-form

[iii] https://www.psychology.uwo.ca/about_us/achievements.html

[iv] Brain in Mind Institute https://www.uwo.ca/bmi/

[v] http://www.numericalcognition.org/

[vi] PEN Distinguished Lecture Series with Dr. Daniel Ansari Published on YouTube Dec.16th, 2020 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sioNHbGOkg&t=1580s

[vii] Ibid.

[viii]American Psychiatric Association. (2018, November). What is Specific Learning Disorder?  https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder

[ix] Morsanyi, K., van Bers, B., McCormack, T., & McGourty, J. (2018). The prevalence of specific learning disorder in mathematics and comorbidity with other developmental disorders in primary school-age children. British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953), 109(4), 917–940. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12322

[x] What is Dyscalculia with Dr. Daniel Ansari https://www.understood.org/en/learning-thinking-differences/child-learning-disabilities/dyscalculia/what-is-dyscalculia  

[xi] ETA Cuisenaire, now Hand2Mind https://www.hand2mind.com/

[xii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisenaire_rods

[xiii]American Psychiatric Association. (2018, November). What is Specific Learning Disorder?  https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/specific-learning-disorder/what-is-specific-learning-disorder

[xiv] Morsanyi, K., van Bers, B., McCormack, T., & McGourty, J. (2018). The prevalence of specific learning disorder in mathematics and comorbidity with other developmental disorders in primary school-age children. British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953), 109(4), 917–940. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjop.12322

Case Study: The Story of Lois Letchford: From Dyslexia to Ph.D. at Oxford “Using Neuroscience to Inspire Learning”

Case Study: The Story of Lois Letchford: From Dyslexia to Ph.D. at Oxford “Using Neuroscience to Inspire Learning”

June 1, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, EPISODE #136 I'm Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with understanding the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports, and the workplace for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with an understanding of our brain.

Watch the interview on YouTube here.

My goal with this podcast is to bring the most current neuroscience research to you and make it applicable in your life whether you are a teacher in the classroom, or using these ideas to improve productivity and results in your workplace. As I am researching and learning new ideas, I’m also implementing them myself, and making connections to past speakers, so that we can all benefit from the research that is emerging in this new field of educational neuroscience.

Today’s episode features Lois Letchford[i], the author of the book Reversed: A Memoir[ii], that tells the story of her son who failed first grade in 1994. His prognosis was dire. Testing revealed he could read 10 words, had no strengths, and a “low IQ.”  The first few chapters of her book are painful for a parent to read, and even worse if you’re a teacher or a coach, knowing how important your role is for shaping the lives of the students who come before you.

Her book sets the stage for just how chilling, and impactful their story is. I’ll read it slowly because there’s lots to think about here.

Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.  —THE IMITATION GAME

I have to spoil the story, and tell you there is a happy ending, with Lois’ son defying the odds he was given at an early age and graduating with his Ph.D. in 2018 from Oxford University.[iii]  I can just see this story as a movie, especially when I saw the book trailer on YouTube[iv], with the beautiful and prestigious University in the background, where scholars go to earn their degrees, where one young man would work harder than most to achieve what many only dream of. This story is of dreams becoming reality, where a Mother used the principles, she learned from Dr. Immordino Yang, to help her son to achieve his dreams.

This is our third case study on the podcast, with our first with Bridgid Ruden, and her story of overcoming a severe traumatic brain injury, and then with Barbara Arrowsmith-Young and her story of changing her brain and leaving her learning disability behind. Both of these stories moved me to such an extent that I realized the importance of featuring examples of people who have used the strategies we suggest on this podcast, with outstanding results.  Which brings us to the fascinating story of Lois Letchford. She had the opportunity to homeschool her son for six short months. During this time, she applied all the principals of learning provided by Dr. Immordino Yang. It turned her son’s life around – and hers too. 

Lois Letchford BIO:

Lois Letchford specializes in teaching children who have struggled to learn to read. Her creative teaching methods vary depending on the reading ability of the student, employing age-appropriate, rather than reading-age-appropriate, material. Her non-traditional background, multi-continental exposure, and passion for helping failing students have equipped her with a unique skill set and perspective. Originally a physical education teacher, she later completed a Master's in Literacy and Reading from the State University of New York at Albany. Lois has presented her work at The California Reading Association, Michigan Summer Institute, and New York State Reading Association conferences. She is co-president of the Albany City Reading Association and a member of the Australian College of Education. Lois continues to work with students to provide education and support to their teachers.

Let’s meet Lois Letchford, and hear her story, with the hopes that it will inspire you to look at your students in a different light, or your own child, and see the unlimited potential that just might need some extra fanning, and new ideas or strategies to ignite their excellence.

Welcome Lois! Thank you for reaching out to me with your fascinating life’s story on teaching and learning that you tell so beautifully in your book Reversed.

Q1: Just to set the stage for those who have not yet ready you book, when you got that phone call that day, waiting the news that Nicholas had passed his final tests for his PHD and he said, “you can write your book now” I wondered how he handled the fact that this was his story of struggle going out to the world.  Do you think he realized that it was time to show others that there is always a way by sharing his story of determination, struggle and success?

Q2: When I read your recollection of his life at school in PART 1 of your book “He sits alone every lunch time, every day” or “He has no friends, and no communication with anyone. It’s almost like he is an outcast” I couldn’t help but remember a young kid like this in my class...now this was middle school, and this kid, would sit by himself and not say a word. It wasn’t his academics he struggled with, but more the social aspect of school, making friends and there was this group of us who all worked hard to make him feel included and a part of everything. I think it took a good year before he finally found his place, and It wasn’t hard to find him a few years ago, hes now a doctor. How did Nicholas keep his fire going through those difficult early years without those early relationships to “shape” his social and emotional development?

Q3: When I was reading your story, of the struggles to learn, I couldn’t help but to think of the extra work I’ve put in with my youngest daughter. Not even close to your story, but listeners who have noticed their child, or a student who needs constant support (not all children are the same—my oldest achieves perfect scores with little effort, but my youngest,  if I think back to kindergarten, it was with the letters of alphabet, to counting numbers by 5, progressing to vocabulary or spelling words I would print off in squares, cut out and then carry with us in the car to practice. Flashcards galore, they were everywhere in my house. The extra work built around trying whatever possible to inspire learning. Your ship at sea analogy made sense to me. Complete sense. I remember the moment I felt the same way. Can you explain why reading more books, working harder, doing the same thing, was not the answer with your ship at sea analogy?

Q4: Here I go tearing up again as I write my questions for you. It must be something to do with the process of teaching and learning. There’s something extremely powerful to me of educational institutions where you can “feel” the learning that has taken place before you. I used to spend time at the University of Toronto’s Hart House gym, and it was a feeling I’d never forget. I actually still have a towel from this gym to remind me of that feeling. Walking through these old buildings, looking at the athletes on the wall, wondering who they were. Exactly like Robin Williams in the movie “Dead Poet Society.”  Can you share what it was like teaching Nicholas to read maps, “on the outskirts of Oxford University, a seat of learning for almost one thousand years” (page 100)?

Q5: I also have tried everything to “make learning fun” and felt for you when Nana said “put the books away and make learning fun” and you said “But how do I do that?” How was learning for you growing up  and at what point did you discover that you had Dyslexia? What strategies did you use to find the joy in the learning?

Q6: What were some shifts that helped Nicholas with his learning?

Q7: How did you come across Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and what specifically helped you from her work?

Q8: What were some of the secrets that you think got you out of this Quagmire (I had to look that up!)  I must be a British term my Mum didn’t use.  She would have said jam or pickle. How can parents or teachers listening implement some of the ideas that you found to be the most useful for Nicholas?

Q9: What are you currently working on now? Where can people learn more about your innovative teaching methods?

Q10: Have I missed anything important you would like me to ask?

CONTACT LOIS:

https://www.loisletchford.com/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/lois-letchford-13762917/

https://twitter.com/LetchfordLois

https://www.facebook.com/loisletchfordauthor

RESOURCES:

Dr. Sam Bommarito talks with Dr. Brian Cambourne and Dr. Debra Crouch about the Conditions of Learning Published on YouTube May 13, 2021

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tmJLYqiD_jA&t=5s

Prof Pam Snow and Jake Downs: The Science of Language and Reading August 2020 on The Teaching Literacy Podcast

https://open.spotify.com/episode/5Q8QPjcrlpJn8cAdx7SixK

Maps from Ptolemy’s Geography https://www.carydalebooks.com/pages/books/3533/lelio-pagani-intro/cosmography-maps-from-ptolemys-geography

REFERENCES:

[i] https://www.loisletchford.com/

[ii] Reversed: A Memoir by Lois Letchford Published March 13, 2018   https://www.amazon.com/Reversed-Memoir-Lois-Letchford-ebook/dp/B079Y599W5

[iii] Reversed: A Memoir from Dyslexic to Ph.D. Oxford Published August 15, 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF-H07Ct7R0

[iv] Reversed: A Memoir from Dyslexic to Ph.D. Oxford Published August 15, 2018 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nF-H07Ct7R0

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