How Does the Brain Create the Connection Between Words and Meaning?


Medical Press
Title: Words and actions: The cerebral connection between language and movements


Study: Children Internalize Stereotypes About Abilities



By Julie Rasicot on July 2, 2012 6:35 PM

Have you ever heard a girl say she hates math because she’s “no good” at it? I’ve heard it plenty of times, even from my own daughter who actually has an aptitude for the subject.

Research has shown that children believe their ability to do certain things depends on how much natural ability they have for the task. These so-called “entity theories” can affect their performance.

And now a recent study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that involved 4- to 7-year-olds suggests that children can adopt these beliefs from information they hear about their gender or certain social groups.

According to the study, published in Psychological Science, researchers had “hypothesized that the mere act of linking success at an unfamiliar, challenging activity to a social group gives rise to entity beliefs that are so powerful as to interfere with children’s ability to perform the activity.”

Conducting two experiments involving 144 kids, the researchers found that the children’s performance was “impaired by exposure to information that associated success in the task at hand with membership in a certain social group…regardless of whether the children themselves belonged to that group.”

So that means that if a girl hears that girls are supposed to be bad at math, she may believe the same about herself and therefore do worse than she should, says a story on the online magazine Slate that also suggests the research may explain why there’s a persistent gender gap between boys and girls when it comes to pursuing careers in math and science.

The lesson for parents and educators? Make sure we teach kids that they all have the opportunity to be “good” at something if they put in the effort.


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Building blocks of English English Language Learner program grads score higher on tests than native speakers


East Oregonian East Oregonian | 0 comments

Pat Holmes stood in front of a table covered with toys  animals. She looked at 14 kindergartners in her Grove Elementary School classroom in Milton-Freewater — all students in her class to learn the English language.

Some of them are bilingual. Others came to their first day of school this year not knowing a word of English.

In English Language Learners classes such as Holmes’ these kindergartners could be learning building blocks to help them through the rest of their schooling. A preliminary look at students who have finished the ELL program show those students have done better on state tests than native English speakers.

For kindergartners, Holmes starts with the basics.

In the exercise with the toys, each child came up to Holmes, and she asked, “What do you want?”

It wasn’t an easy answer. Not only did the kindergartners have to say what they wanted, but they had to say what color it was.

Lupita Romera said, “I want the black and white penguin.”

Holmes commended the girl for using two colors and handed her the stuffed animal. Lupita took it back to her desk and hugged it to her chest. She had to give the toy back a few minutes later, with the start of the next activity, but it was clear she connected with it in the moments she had it.

“My class looks like a zoo,” Holmes admitted after the students left. Big decals of a bear, a killer whale and a lion take up most of one wall.

Holmes tries to get kids as excited as she can about their language skills. Whether that means letting kids hold toys for a few minutes during class — not too long, Holmes warns, or they start to play — or letting kindergartners work in pairs with flash cards.

Holmes is helping the youngsters learn to speak English and to excel in school later in life.

Dave Marshall, Milton-Freewater School District’s director of student services, has been working with a fellow educator with hopes of making his district’s ELL program the best it can be.

Two years ago, Umatilla School District Superintendent Heidi Sipe looked at ELL students as part of the district’s school improvement process. She noticed something surprising.

Middle school students who had gone through and finished the ELL program often did better on state testing than native English speakers — about 10 percent better, on average, on math and reading tests.

“It took us by surprise,” Sipe said. “We said, ‘Wait a minute, what’s happening in our ELL program?’”

One thing that has stood out, Sipe said, is vocabulary.

Back at Grove Elementary in Milton-Freewater, Holmes’ next group of kids were fourth graders, some of her top-performing ELL students. Like the kindergartners, they were learning about animals. They were learning tougher vocabulary words such as aquatic, nocturnal and territorial.

For the fun part, the kids played Go Fish with flash cards. But like the stuffed animal game for the kindergartners, it wasn’t easy. They would first ask another student, “Do you have a nocturnal animal?” If the other student said yes, the first student would then ask, “Is it an owl?” before getting a card for a pair.

Sipe said these are the kinds of exercises that can improve vocabulary because students aren’t just learning words and definitions, they’re learning how to use words.

“We encourage a teacher to help a child use it in a sentence, draw a picture, understand what ‘nocturnal’ means and does not mean,” she said. “All this is usually occurring in pictures as well as words to get students to internalize vocabulary.”

Even though the fourth graders are Holmes’ highest-performing ELL students, she notes the still are below their peers in vocabularly. That’s why they are getting the extra help.

Holmes does not speak Spanish in her ELL classes.

“I teach English,” she said.

Amanda Rios, another Milton-Freewater ELL teacher at Ferndale Elementary, does speak some Spanish to her kindergartners. But she only uses it with them.

And when she does, it’s not for instruction, but usually just to get a kid’s attention, saying “Eyes on me” or “Take your seat.”

Though it’s left up to the discretion of the teacher, the vast majority of ELL instruction is in English.

Sipe hopes to bring language skills beyond the ELL classrooms to benefit all kids.

In the Umatilla School District, Sipe is trying out a new class for native English speakers who are falling behind in vocabulary. It uses the same strategies the ELL classes use.

“Students can grow up their entire life speaking English but have vocabulary needs,” Sipe said. “They’ll receive the same type of general language development.”

This is the first year for that course, so it’s still in the very early stages. The Umatilla School District is waiting to see if it is successful.

“We hope to see an increase in performance both in reading and math,” Sipe said.

Sipe’s first look at student test scores was two years ago. This past fall, Sipe made a presentation to other area superintendents.

That’s where Marshall heard about Sipe’s work. He jumped at the chance to help, hoping to improve ELL programs in Milton-Freewater schools.

Marshall doesn’t know if successful ELL students are exceeding native English-speaking students in Milton-Freewater, but he believes they are at least on par.

“We have similar loose indications as well,” Marshall said. “The kids who have successfully completed the whole program tend to perform on level with their peers.”

Sipe, along with help from Marshall and other districts, is gathering data region-wide to see if Sipe’s findings are similar elsewhere. They’re looking for success stories across the area to share with one another.

“It’s a big challenge finding out how we can help these kids the most,” Marshall said. “If they get the language up to speed, the rest of the stuff tends to be easy to fall into place. The more literate they are, the better they are able to succeed in any subject.”

Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?


September 15, 2010, 12:01 am

Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?


Roger Weber/Getty Images

In an experiment published last month, researchers recruited schoolchildren, ages 9 and 10, who lived near the Champaign-Urbana campus of the University of Illinois and asked them to run on a treadmill. The researchers were hoping to learn more about how fitness affects the immature human brain. Animal studies had already established that, when given access to running wheels, baby rodents bulked up their brains, enlarging certain areas and subsequently outperforming sedentary pups on rodent intelligence tests. But studies of the effect of exercise on the actual shape and function of children’s brains had not yet been tried.

Phys Ed

So the researchers sorted the children, based on their treadmill runs, into highest-, lowest- and median-fit categories. Only the most- and least-fit groups continued in the study (to provide the greatest contrast). Both groups completed a series of cognitive challenges involving watching directional arrows on a computer screen and pushing certain keys in order to test how well the children filter out unnecessary information and attend to relevant cues. Finally, the children’s brains were scanned, using magnetic resonance imaging technology to measure the volume of specific areas.

Previous studies found that fitter kids generally scored better on such tests. And in this case, too, those children performed better on the tests. But the M.R.I.’s provided a clearer picture of how it might work. They showed that fit children had significantly larger basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and “executive control,” or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply. Since both groups of children had similar socioeconomic backgrounds, body mass index and other variables, the researchers concluded that being fit had enlarged that portion of their brains.

Meanwhile, in a separate, newly completed study by many of the same researchers at the University of Illinois, a second group of 9- and 10-year-old children were also categorized by fitness levels and had their brains scanned, but they completed different tests, this time focusing on complex memory. Such thinking is associated with activity in the hippocampus, a structure in the brain’s medial temporal lobes. Sure enough, the M.R.I. scans revealed that the fittest children had heftier hippocampi.


The two studies did not directly overlap, but the researchers, in their separate reports, noted that the hippocampus and basal ganglia regions interact in the human brain, structurally and functionally. Together they allow some of the most intricate thinking. If exercise is responsible for increasing the size of these regions and strengthening the connection between them, being fit may “enhance neurocognition” in young people, the authors concluded.

These findings arrive at an important time. For budgetary and administrative reasons, school boards are curtailing physical education, while on their own, children grow increasingly sluggish. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that roughly a quarter of children participate in zero physical activity outside of school.

At the same time, evidence accumulates about the positive impact of even small amounts of aerobic activity. Past studies from the University of Illinois found that “just 20 minutes of walking” before a test raised children’s scores, even if the children were otherwise unfit or overweight, says Charles Hillman, a professor of kinesiology at the university and the senior author of many of the recent studies.

But it’s the neurological impact of sustained aerobic fitness in young people that is especially compelling. A memorable years-long Swedish study published last year found that, among more than a million 18-year-old boys who joined the army, better fitness was correlated with higher I.Q.’s, even among identical twins. The fitter the twin, the higher his I.Q. The fittest of them were also more likely to go on to lucrative careers than the least fit, rendering them less likely, you would hope, to live in their parents’ basements. No correlation was found between muscular strength and I.Q. scores. There’s no evidence that exercise leads to a higher I.Q., but the researchers suspect that aerobic exercise, not strength training, produces specific growth factors and proteins that stimulate the brain, said Georg Kuhn, a professor at the University of Gothenburg and the senior author of the study.

But for now, the takeaway is clear. “More aerobic exercise” for young people, Mr. Kuhn said. Mr. Hillman agreed. So get kids moving, he added, and preferably away from their Wiis. A still-unpublished study from his lab compared the cognitive impact in young people of 20 minutes of running on a treadmill with 20 minutes of playing sports-style video games at a similar intensity. Running improved test scores immediately afterward. Playing video games did not.

Child Development and Child Activities: Article on how one impacts the other


Find a super article here on the topic of how activities outside of school impact child development and achievement, great stuff!

(cut and paste)

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