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+ Brain Research Targets Concentration

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“The ability to focus your attention is physically separate in the brain from distracting things grabbing your attention,” says Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT.  He led a study published in the journal Science that shows it takes one part of the brain to start concentrating and another to be distracted.

The discovery could help the developments of better treatments for ADD and ADHD.

“Now we know these two things are separate, it raises the possibility that we can fix them independently.”

The brain pays attention in two ways: “top down” (willful, goal oriented attention, the kind needed for reading), and “bottom up” (reflexive attention to sensory information — loud noises, bright colors, perceived threats).

In addition, there are different degrees of attention disorders: some people have a harder time focussing, while others have a harder time filtering out distractions.

Up until now, scientists have studied only one region of the brain at a time, although they have known that paying attention involved multiple brain regions.  So Miller studied monkeys by tracking two key areas and how they react together.

The monkeys were trained to take attention tests on a video screen in return for a treat of apple juice.  Sometimes they had to concentrate (picking out, say, the left leaning red rectangle  from a field of red rectangles) in the way a human picks out the face of a friend in a crowd.  Other times bright rectangles — the attention grabbers — flashed off screen at the monkeys.

When the monkeys concentrated voluntarily the “executive center” in the front of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) was in charge.  But when something was distracting, it grabbed the brain in the parietal cortex, toward the back of the brain.

The electrical activity in these two areas began vibrating in synchrony as they signaled one another.  But it was at different frequencies, like being at different spots on a radio dial.

Lower-frequency neuron activity was involved in sustaining concentration;  distractions occurred at higher frequencies.

The study provides the first good look at how these pysically distinct brain regions interact to govern (at least part of) attention.  Dr Debra Babcock, a neurologist at the NIH says, “Once we understand how attention works, we’ll understand how better to treat disorders of attention… This could, in the long term, help us devise therapies.”

That these two types of attention would originate in different areas makes evolutionary sense.  Reflexive attention is a more primitive survival tool, while concentration is more advanced.

“If something leaps out of the bush at me, that’s going to be really important and I have to react right away.  Your brain is equipped to notice things salient in the environment,” Miller said.  “It takes a truly intelligent creature to know what’s important and focus.”

The logical next question is, how does the parietal lobe evaluate what’s important to focus on after it recognizes an attention grabber? “We have a lot more to learn,” says Babcock.

sole source AP article reported online by Komo TV news

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or


+ Book: ADD/ADHD Kids and What You Need to Know

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“How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD: Practical Techniques, Strategies, and Interventions”, by Sandra F Rief, is a comprehensive and valuable resource.  This is a book for parents, teachers, administrators and clinicians. 

Its 439 pages and 35 sections are divided into six parts:

  1. Key Information for Understanding and Managing ADHD
  2. Managing the Challenge of ADHD Behaviors
  3. Instructional and Academic Strategies and Supports
  4. Personal Stories and Case Studies
  5. Collaborative Efforts and School Responsibilities in Helping Children with ADHD
  6. Additional Supports and Strategies

Each section ends with “General References” and “Recommended Resources” pertinent to its topic. 

You will find comprehensive, practical guidance on preventing behavior problems (in the classroom and out); learning styles and appropriate intervention; cooperative learning techniques; management of medication; relaxation and visualization techniques; and tips on communicating among schools, agencies, physicians and parents.

“How to Reach and Teach Children with ADD/ADHD” is published by Jossey-Bass, ISBN  0-7879-7295-9.  Rief is a past member of the CHADD National Professional Advisory Board and was on the faculty of NICHQ (National Initiative for Children’s Healthcare Quality – Collaborative on ADHD).   

She is the author of several books on this topic, including “The ADHD Book of Lists: A Practical Guide for Helping Children and Teens with Attention Deficit Disorders”, ISBN 0-7879-6591-X.  She has a website at .

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or

+ Jamestown’s 400th Anniversary; and Captain John Smith

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This year is a good time to visit Jamestown, Virginia.  The city is celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding.  That tale is told as well in the vivid writings of Captain John Smith, one of its swashbuckling founders, 1300 pages of which are being published by the Library of America.

If you had elected the month of May for your visit, you might have run into Queen Elizabeth II, who was there. 

There can be reenactments, exhibits, and concerts.  

The Jamestown Colony and poor Captain Smith have been argued over by scholars and historians for generations.  Was the colony a success or a miserable failure?  Both points of view can be argued.  Was Smith an incurable liar as well as an impossible leader — or not?  Ditto.

An article by Jill Lepore in the New Yorker (4/ 2/07) can fill you in.  I’m sure Amazon, Borders, Barnes and Noble or your favorite bookstore has (or will have) the Library of America volume, as well as other books on these matters.

source: The New Yorker, April 2, 2007, article by Jill Lepore, professor of history at Harvard.  Her most recent book is “New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in 18th Century Manhattan”.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or

+ Multisensory Structured Language Education (MSLE): Glossary of Terms

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What Is Taught in an MSLE Teacher Training ?

The content includes phonology and phonological awareness; sound-symbol association; syllable instruction; morphology; syntax; and semantics.  The method of instruction includes techniques that are simultaneous and multisensory (VAKT); systematic and  cumulative; directly taught; diagnostically taught; synthetic and analytic in principle.

Let’s take a look at the content piece, and what the words mean.

  1. Phonology and Phonological Awareness: this means the study of sounds.  A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in a language; to understand the internal lingustic structure of words one has to be able to distinguish these discrete pieces.
  2. Sound-Symbol Association: this is the understanding that arbitrary marks on a page stand for particular sounds in a language. 
  3. Syllable Instruction: a syllable is a single burst of phonemes which must include one – but only one – vowel sound.  In English there are six kinds of written syllables (closed, open, vowel-consonant-E, r-controlled, diphthong — aka “vowel team”, and consonant -LE).
  4. Morphology: a morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in a language.  Any suffix or prefix is a morpheme, carrying its own peculiar meaning.  So is a base word.  So is a word root. So are common final syllables such as -tion and -ence.
  5. Syntax: this is the set of principles that dictate the sequence of words in a sentence a well as their function.  Grammar, sentence variation and the mechanics of language are syntactical elements.
  6. Semantics: the aspect of language that concerns itself with meaning.  Since comprehension is the goal of literacy, semantic information is included at every level of a lesson from the very beginning.

And now the method elements.

  1. Simultaneous, Multisensory (VAKT): this teaching uses all available sensory pathways – visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile; all are employed together to enhance memory and learning.
  2. Systematic and Cumulative:  teaching material must be organized to follow the natural order of language, beginning with the easiest and progressing methodically to subsequent elements.  Learning builds from simple to complex, never skipping steps.
  3. Direct Instruction:  instructors never assume something will be inferred.  Every element is presented directly, and involves continuous student-teacher interaction.
  4. Diagnostic teaching:   every instructional session is in a sense an assessment, and based on the daily assessment of a student’s needs, the teacher knows what to prescribe for the following lesson. 
  5. Synthetic and Analytic Instruction:  teachers show how to bring the elements of language together to form a meaningful whole (synthetic – bringing together) as well as separately presenting the whole and showing how to break it into its parts (analytic – taking apart).  This is “critical thinking”.

 sole source for this posting is a “Perspectives” article from Fall 2006 by JS  Pickering and VG Tucker

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or

+ “Choking” Games: Hard to Talk About

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Levi Draher, 16, was declared clinically dead after a session of self-choking that went awry last October.  Recently, he walked into a gym, picked up a microphone, and told a hushed audience of kids and teachers, “I died and came back.”

He had slung a rope from his bunk bed-frame and pushed his neck into it, in an effort to achieve the surging rush that occurs when the brain becomes starved and is then replenished with blood just before the point of unconsciousness. 

Levi passed out faster than he could react and had a heart attack.  His brain was deprived of oxygen for more than three minutes.  He survived against the odds — three days in a coma and then antiseizure drugs that he still takes.  He is perhaps the first scared-straight, been-there-and-back spokesman against the “game”.

This is a subject that remains in deep shadow and denial among families and schools, say health professionals.  An article by Kirk Johnson today (3/28/07) in the New York Times brings choking games out of  darkness and into the light of the front pages. 

Asphyxiation games have been around for years; they have any number of names, like “space cowboy” and “cloud nine”.    Tragically, these days teenagers are seeing the game on Internet  sites like YouTube and then playing it in more and more dangerous variations. 

Organizations like Students Against Destructive Decisions, based in Marlborough Massachusetts, the Dylan Blake Foundation, and Games Adolescents Shouldn’t Play ( have formed to offer information and support.  The American Camp Association, which certifies summer camps, discussed choking games at its annual meeting last year.

According to one count, there were at least 40 deaths and 5 serious injuries last year from this activity, although there has been no certain research.  And many of the teenage deaths that have been called suicide may indeed have been the result of asphyxiation games.   In 2004, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 779 children between the ages of 10 to 19 committed suicide by suffocation, up from around 400 a year in the 1980s. 

Indeed, suffocation overtook gunshot in 1997 as the number one way 10 – to 19- year olds took their own lives.  “Asphyxiation games have been with us for generations, but what makes the current generation’s execution of this game different is that more kids are willing to play it alone,” said Thomas Andrew, chief medical examiner in New Hampshire.

Anxiety about sex is another factor in the uneasiness people feel about discussing the subject.  In some older teenagers and adults, the game is associated with autoerotic activity. Dr Andrew and others think this is not the case with younger children.

The new debate coincides with a reassessment of how teenagers assess risk.  Conventional wisdom said adolescents flirt with danger because they feel invulnerable, but newer studies dismiss that notion.  They say most teenagers are quite cool-headed in assessing risk and reward, while it is adults who are more likely to rely on experience or gut reaction rather than rational calculation.

Valerie Reyna, professor of human development and psychology at Cornell, asked adults and teenagers whether it would ever make sense to play Russian roulette for a million dollars.  Adults immediately say no.  But teenagers, asked the same question in intervention sessions to teach smarter risk-taking behavior, often stop to calculate or debate — what exactly would the odds be?

“I use the example to try to get them to see that thinking rationally like that doesn’t always lead to rational choices,” she said.

Andrew McNabb, professor of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia, is working on a major survey of the choking game in American and Canadian schools.  “The best way is to get teens to talk to teens,” he says, adding that whoever is talking should use visual, concrete imagery.

Mentioning specific, narrow risks like brain damage, anti-psychotic medication and physical disfigurement (along with pictures) can be even more powerful disincentives to adolescents than the idea of dying.  Death seems theoretical or abstract.  When adults  say it’s a bad idea, he says, “That tends to make it all the more attractive.”    

sole source: NYT article by Kirk Johnson 3/28/07

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or

+ Can You Turn a Kid Into a “Real” Reader?

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More from Rafe Esquith’s book “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire” (Viking /Penguin Group).

What keeps children from learning to love reading?  “Powerful forces of mediocrity,” he writes.  “These forces include television, video games, poor teaching, poverty, the breakup of the family, and a general lack of adult guidance.”  I would add ipods, videophones and instant messaging.

One of the misconceptions young people have is that reading is a “subject” that you study in English class, not a foundation of life.  Esquith wants his students to love reading, to associate the words “passion” and “excitement” with the activity. 

He believes guidance is one key element, and leads them to wonderful books. 

“I am not smarter than my students.  But I know more than they do because I am older than they are.  I know about fabulous books that they might not yet have come across.  Because the kids trust me, they are more likely to try a book I suggest.”  Books like “The Phantom Tollbooth” or “Alice in Wonderland”; any of the many years’ worth of volumes that have won Newbery or Caldecott Awards. 

Trips to the library can be experiential wonderlands. Unlike searching for books online, shelves of real books offer the opportunity to browse and make discoveries.  But carefully prepare for and supervise these trips.  Explain the geography of the space and “how it works”.  Help children think about what they might want to look for before they go.  Once they’re inside, review what they know about the layout and the procedures;  assist them in their searches;  make suggestions.

Occasionally, Esquith uses books on CD.  Two books that are particularly successful, he says, are “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” (read by actor Joe Morton) and “The Diary of Anne Frank” (read by Winona Ryder).  But he cautions teachers never to take the CD readings as a time to skip out of the classroom.  It takes a master teacher to use an audio book or a film effectively.  A good teacher stops the CD or the film at intervals, to make sure the students understand a point, or to lead a discussion on a crucial issue.  (This takes practice, though; it’s important to plan these interruptions ahead of time.)  He monitors the students meticulously, to make sure they understand what they’re hearing.

Films and plays are excellent ways to bring a piece of literature to life.  The movie of a book, or a play based on a book, offer opportunities to compare the two.  Staging plays or performing radio plays helps students begin to really breathe with the language and actually consider what it might mean to walk in someone’s shoes. 

After reading the final lines of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”, one of his students, fourteen-year-old Luis,  sat with tears streaming down his face.  “I’m crying,” he offered, “because this is my family.”

Esquith’s ten-year-olds have occasionally enacted both parts of Shakespeare’s Henry IV (in one evening!).  Far from seeming meaningless and inaccessible, he says, the play inaugurates heated discussions of classroom and playground behavior.

He prepares students who have difficulty reading.   He constantly explains material in order to help struggling students keep up with the flow of the story.  If students are reading aloud, he prepares easy passages for students who are beginning readers, creating their success before the lesson even begins.  (When he assigns written work he provides the scaffolding they need.)  Students gain confidence daily.

There are many study guides on the market that can help assess comprehension.  Esquith recommends teachers (parents, too) go online to .  This company offers graded study guides called Novel-ties, which he finds are excellent  supplements to reading, in addition to being a great help for busy teachers.

Young (new) teachers: if you’re discouraged by school administrators, decision makers and “reading coaches” who don’t believe kids will ever read “literature” and insist on canned reading from commercially developed textbooks, Esquith has this to say.

“Don’t fight them.  They’ll just be in your classroom interfering with your worthy efforts to get kids to read if you do.”  Rather than waste energy on a fight that cannot be won, play the game and follow the school plan.  Work around it. Find other times in the day to read fantastic books.  For example, start a book club during your lunch hour or after school.

Esquith says, “I’ve even seen any number of marvelous science, history, and physical education teachers run book clubs.  They select a good book and give all the kids in their various classes the option of reading it.  Most of these clubs have scheduled meetings, often during lunch or after school. After completing a chapter, the group meets to discuss it.”  

Students participate voluntarily, so the teacher is working with enthusiastic young people.  The kids get to meet like-minded peers from other classes whom they might not have gotten to meet otherwise.  Friendships are formed.  The teacher bonds with young scholars in a different environment, so the teacher student relationship in the classroom is strengthened.  It’s a superb way for everyone involved to spend a couple of hours a week. 

Everyone wins: it’s reading for all the right reasons.

Esquith’s fifth graders have come up with their own three question test to see if a person is a true reader.

  1. Have you ever secretly read under your desk in school because the teacher was boring and you were dying to finish the book you were reading?
  2. Have you ever been scolded for reading at the dinner table?
  3. Have you ever read secretly under the covers after being told to go to sleep?

Answering yes to all three questions means you pass the test, and are destined to be a reader for life. 

source: Rafe Esquith, “Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire”, Viking/Penguin ISBN 978-0-670-03815-2

tutoring in Columbus:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or

+ Where in the Brain Does “Number Blindness” Occur?

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Number blindness, or “dyscalculia”, is a condition in which a person appears to be unable to understand and work with numbers.  Like “dyslexia”, in which otherwise clever people experience difficulty with written words or language processing, it affects a percentage of the population. 

But unlike dyslexia, it is less well recognized.

Current research appears to have located the very spot where the difficulty lies: the right parietal lobe, situated near the back of the brain.  New knowledge may lead to finding a treatment.

In a study done at University College, London, people who were normally good at math had electromagnetic pulses fired at their right parietal lobes as they took math tests.  After being zapped, they had the same kind of number recognition problems as “number blind” people.

And firing pulses at the left parietal lobe had no impact on their ability to deal with the numbers.

Dr Roy Cohen Kadosh, who led the study, said, “We found that stimulation to this brain region during a math test radically impacted the subjects’ reaction time.  This provides strong evidence that dyscalculia is caused by malformations in the right parietal lobe.”

This is an important step toward the ultimate goal of early diagnosis, which will lead in turn to earlier treatments and more effective remedial teaching.

The findings appear in the journal Current Biology.    source is  web news site on 3/26/07 

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or