Addressing the Impact of the Pandemic’s Lingering Learning Gap
By Betsy Hill and Roger Stark
Schools continue to explore new ways to address the impact of COVID-19 on our learners. As leadership teams around the country consider the most effective options to help close the learning gap for their students, it is helpful to remember what the Kennedy Forum, stated:
“Neuroscience research now proves what parents have known all along. Even the best teaching and curricula have surprisingly little effect when a child’s cognitive and emotional readiness to learn is not addressed.”
Innovative schools in New York, Indiana and other states have adopted programs that directly target each child’s cognitive and emotional readiness to learn. They are doing this by using a nationally normed, scientifically valid and reliable cognitive assessment to help teachers and students understand their cognitive strengths and weaknesses, and by providing cognitive training to the students using researched, comprehensive, integrated cognitive training tools. The cognitive training incorporates techniques developed over more than 40 years of multi-disciplinary clinical collaboration and is delivered in a highly engaging video-game format. The program can be implemented in-person or in a distance-learning environment. Cognitive growth is demonstrated by administering the cognitive assessment again following training. Academic growth is also assessed using existing formative and summative assessments.
The cognitive assessment provides deep insights into how each student learns and enables teachers to more effectively support student learning with differentiated and personalized, evidence-based learning strategies. Cognitive training develops the mental processes that are needed for efficient and effective learning, accelerating the acquisition of academic knowledge and skills. These processes include Executive Functions, which also play a key role in social and emotional competence.
In addition to improving cognitive skills and academic results and helping students close the learning gaps which have resulted from COVID’s impact, teachers and parents typically observe improvements in students’ perseverance, confidence in their learning ability, willingness to take on challenging work, and relationships with others.
Learning to Be Smart
As far back as 2011, researchers at University College in London offered dramatic, direct evidence that intelligence can change after early childhood. The study was characterized as providing “new hope for boosting the brain’s abilities.”
In the study, there was no purposeful intervention or attempt to change the participants’ intelligence, but some teens experienced gains or losses in IQ of as much as 20 points. The results suggested to some that intentional efforts could have an impact. Dr. Frances Jensen, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston, said, “It suggests there’s still plasticity at this stage … so you can still work on weaknesses and enhance strengths.”
Based on what we have been hearing in the last few days from therapists working with individuals in their teens and 20s, there is plenty of plasticity to take advantage of. What they’ve shared with us underscore how pioneering this field is and the amazing plasticity of intelligence.
One client wrote to us about a young man in his 20s classified as Educable Mentally Handicapped. The term is also expressed as Educable Intellectual Disability and refers to individuals with a mild or high-moderate degree of intellectual disability, that is, with IQs in the 50 to 70 range. The “educable” descriptor suggest that these individuals are capable of achieving approximately a fifth-grade academic level.
This young man used cognitive training software for 18 months* and completed all 168 levels in the program. When he was recently assessed using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), his IQ was measured as average (85 to 115).
A couple of days before, we heard about a young lady on the autism spectrum. She used the same cognitive training program for a number of months with her learning specialist and then wanted to continue the program on her own because she enjoyed it so much. All in all, she has been using the program for a little over 2 years, logging 403 sessions and has completed 158 of the 168 levels in the program.
Her mother reports that she has improved in many areas. “She is more focused and her communication, comprehension and analytical skills have improved exponentially. In addition, she no longer has any inappropriate behaviors and her self-esteem has greatly improved.” Mom also reports that her daughter has enrolled in state college where she has gotten A’s in her first two courses – Algebra and Art.
These are remarkable stories that emphasize that we are not born ‘smart’ or ‘dumb,’ but develop intelligence over time, and have far more ability to impact our intelligence than most educators realize.
Fortunately, cognitive skills are not something we are born with and can never develop any more of. Cognitive skills can be enhanced with the right kind of comprehensive integrated cognitive training.
About the authors
Betsy Hill is President of BrainWare Learning Company, a company that builds learning capacity through the practical application of neuroscience. She is an experienced educator and has studied the connection between neuroscience and education with Dr. Patricia Wolfe (author of Brain Matters) and other experts. She is a former chair of the board of trustees at Chicago State University and teaches strategic thinking in the MBA program at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management where she received a Contribution to Learning Excellence Award. She received a Nepris Trailblazer Award for sharing her knowledge, skills and passion for the neuroscience of learning in classrooms around the country. She holds a Master of Arts in Teaching and an MBA from Northwestern University.
Roger Stark is Co-founder and CEO of the BrainWare Learning Company. Over the past decade, he championed efforts to bring comprehensive cognitive literacy skills training and cognitive assessment within reach of every person, and it all started with one very basic question: What do we know about the brain? From that initial question, Roger Stark pioneered the effort to build an effective and affordable cognitive literacy skills training tool, based on over 50 years of trial and error through clinical collaboration. He also led the team that developed BrainWare SAFARI, which has become the most researched comprehensive, integrated cognitive literacy training tool delivered online anywhere in the world. For more, follow BrainWare Learning on Twitter @BrainWareSafari