school-age child

Rehearsing so as not to forget

August, 2010

A new study shows that verbal rehearsal develops considerably between the ages of six and eight.

A study involving 117 six year old children and 104 eight year old children has found that the ability to preserve information in working memory begins at a much younger age than had previously been thought. Moreover the study revealed that, while any distraction between learning the words and having to recall them hindered recall, having to perform a verbal task was particularly damaging. This suggests that their remembering was based on “phonological rehearsal”, that is, verbally repeating the names of the items to themselves. Consistent with the research suggesting children begin to phonologically rehearse at around 7 years of age, the verbal task hindered the 8 year olds more than the 6 year olds.

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Adults recall negative events less accurately than children

August, 2010

A word experiment shows that unpleasant or traumatic events are likely to be inaccurately remembered, and this memory distortion increases with age. The findings have implications for eyewitness testimony.

Findings that children are less likely than adults to distort memories when negative emotions are evoked has significant implications for the criminal justice system. Experiments involving children aged seven and 11, and young adults (18-23) found that when they were shown lists of closely related emotional words (e.g. pain, cut, ouch, cry, injury), they would tend to mistakenly remember a related word (e.g. hurt) although it had not been present. Despite the prevailing theory that being involved in a very negative experience focuses your mind and helps you notice and remember details, words that had negative emotional content produced the highest levels of false memory. With arousal (such as would be evoked in a traumatic experience), memory was distorted more. These tendencies increased with age.

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[1670] Brainerd, C. J., Holliday R. E., Reyna V. F., Yang Y., & Toglia M. P.
(2010).  Developmental reversals in false memory: Effects of emotional valence and arousal.
Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 107(2), 137 - 154.

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Benefits of music training on the brain

August, 2010

A comprehensive review of the recent research into the benefits of music training on learning and the brain concludes music training in schools should be strongly supported.

A review of the many recent studies into the effects of music training on the nervous system strongly suggests that the neural connections made during musical training also prime the brain for other aspects of human communication, including learning. It’s suggested that actively engaging with musical sounds not only helps the plasticity of the brain, but also helps provide a stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns. Playing an instrument primes the brain to choose what is relevant in a complex situation. Moreover, it trains the brain to make associations between complex sounds and their meaning — something that is also important in language. Music training can provide skills that enable speech to be better heard against background noise — useful not only for those with some hearing impairment (it’s a common difficulty as we get older), but also for children with learning disorders. The review concludes that music training tones the brain for auditory fitness, analogous to the way physical exercise tones the body, and that the evidence justifies serious investment in music training in schools.

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[1678] Kraus, N., & Chandrasekaran B.
(2010).  Music training for the development of auditory skills.
Nat Rev Neurosci. 11(8), 599 - 605.

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Cultural differences & developmental changes in working memory

January, 2010

A comparison of Ugandan and Senegalese children has found differences in which working memory system is dominant. This may be a product of literacy training.

‘Working memory’ is thought to consist of three components: one concerned with auditory-verbal processing, one with visual-spatial processing, and a central executive that controls both. It has been hypothesized that the relationships between the components changes as children develop. Very young children are more reliant on visuospatial processing, but later the auditory-verbal module becomes more dominant. It has also been found that the two sensory modules are not strongly associated in younger (5-8) American children, but are strongly associated in older children (9-12). The same study found that this pattern was also found in Laotian children, but not in children from the Congo, none of whom showed a strong association between visual and auditory working memory. Now a new study has found that Ugandan children showed greater dominance of the auditory-verbal module, particularly among the older children (8 ½ +); however, the visuospatial module was dominant among Senegalese children, both younger and older. It is hypothesized that the cultural differences are a product of literacy training — school enrolment was much less consistent among the Senegalese. But there may also be a link to nutritional status.

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Design help for children with dyslexia

January, 2010

A digital designer is developing an online toolkit to help teachers more effectively assist children with dyslexia. The tool aims to help children remember the sound connected to the letter.

A digital designer is developing a toolkit to help teachers more effectively assist children with dyslexia. The tool aims to help children remember the sound connected to the letter. For example, you can scroll over the letter "p," and the "p" will then morph to display common items associated with the "puh" sound: (peach, peppermint, pie, pea and piano). Or when moving over a long vowel, the vowel lengthens horizontally; silent letters are shadowed or repel the mouse. And so on. The toolkit has not yet been tested, but I do like the idea. You can catch a 2-minute video showing how it works.

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The project, titled "Reading by Design: Visualizing Phonemic Sound for Dyslexic Readers 9-11 Years Old," was presented at the Southwest International Reading Association Regional Conference in Oklahoma City, Okla., on Feb. 5, 2010.

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Evidence that dyslexia 'uncouples' reading and IQ over time

January, 2010

A long-running study confirms that, as theorized, in typical readers, IQ and reading track together and influence each other, but neither of these things is true for children with dyslexia.

The ongoing 12-year Connecticut Longitudinal Study, involving a representative sample of 445 schoolchildren, has found that in typical readers, IQ and reading not only track together, but also influence each other over time. But in children with dyslexia, IQ and reading are not linked over time and do not influence one another. Although this difference has been assumed, this is the first direct evidence for it. It should also be noted that the language problem is not confined to reading: those with dyslexia take a long time to retrieve words, so they might not speak or read as fluidly as others.

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[550] Ferrer, E., Shaywitz B. A., Holahan J. M., Marchione K., & Shaywitz S. E.
(2010).  Uncoupling of reading and IQ over time: empirical evidence for a definition of dyslexia.
Psychological Science: A Journal of the American Psychological Society / APS. 21(1), 93 - 101.

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Women teachers transfer their fear of doing math to girls

January, 2010

A study involving first- and second-grade teachers found that boys' math performance was not related to their (female) teacher's math anxiety while girls' math achievement was.

Consistent with studies showing that gender stereotypes can worsen math performance in females, a year-long study involving 17 first- and second-grade teachers and their 52 boy and 65 girl students has found that boys' math performance was not related to their (female) teacher's math anxiety while girls' math achievement was. Early elementary school teachers in the United States are almost exclusively female. Math achievement was unrelated to teacher math anxiety in both boys and girls at the beginning of the school year. Moreover, achievement was negatively associated with belief in gender stereotypes. Girls who confirmed a belief that boys are better in math than girls scored six points lower in math achievement than did boys or girls who had not developed a belief in the stereotype (102 versus 108). Research has found that elementary education majors have the highest rate of mathematics anxiety of any college major.

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[1450] Beilock, S. L., Gunderson E. A., Ramirez G., & Levine S. C.
(2010).  Female teachers’ math anxiety affects girls’ math achievement.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 107(5), 1860 - 1863.

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Length of time in institutional care may influence children's learning

February, 2010

A study of internationally adopted 8- and 9-year-old children has found those adopted from institutional care performed worse on some cognitive tests.

A study involving 132 8- and 9-year-old children, some of whom had been adopted into U.S. homes after spending at least a year and three-quarters in institutions in Asia, Latin America, Russia and Eastern Europe, and Africa, while others were adopted by the time they were 8 months old into U.S. homes from foster care in Asia and Latin America, having spent no or very little time in institutional care, has found that those adopted early from foster care didn't differ from children who were raised in their birth families in the United States. However, those adopted from institutional care performed worse on tests measuring visual memory and attention, learning visual information, and impulse control -- but not on tests involving sequencing and planning. The findings suggest that specific aspects of cognitive function may be especially vulnerable to postnatal experience.

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How lead exposure damages the brain

July, 2010

The damage lead exposure does to brains, especially young ones, is well-established, but new research tells us how it works.

We know that lead damages the brain, and that it does so by somehow affecting the release of neurotransmitters at synapses (the process by which neurons pass messages on). Now a new study explains exactly what lead does. Apparently, during the formation of synapses, lead lowers the levels of key proteins involved in neurotransmitter release (synaptophysin and synaptobrevin), and reduces the number of fast-releasing sites. These effects may occur through the inhibition of the NMDA receptor (which produced similar effects), disrupting the release of BDNF. While new synapses are created throughout our lives, there is an explosion of synapse formation during a child's early brain development, explaining why young children’s lead exposure is particularly damaging.

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Children with home computers likely to have lower test scores

July, 2010

An American study suggests that getting a home computer can have a negative effect on reading and math scores in middle-grade students, particularly those from disadvantaged families.

Data from North Carolina's mandated End-of-Grade tests (2000-2005), which includes student reports on how frequently they use a home computer for schoolwork, watch TV or read for pleasure, reveals that students in grades five through eight (c.10-13), particularly those from disadvantaged families, tended to have lower reading and math scores after they got a home computer. The researchers suggest that the greater negative effect in disadvantaged households may reflect less parental monitoring.

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[1635] Vigdor, J. L., & Ladd H. F.
(2010).  Scaling the Digital Divide: Home Computer Technology and Student Achievement.
National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series. No. 16078,

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