Thursday, October 23, 2008

Posing a question: working memory/rote learning

I'd like to pose a question or point of discussion about rote learning.

Kids with working memory problems find rote learning onerous ... I noticed this with the times tables and sometimes with spelling.

I've noticed if rote learning takes place almost as an after thought, or in tandem with some other activity it is more tolerable and beneficial. So walking along the road spelling aloud is much less of a misery than sitting at the table.

Another idea I had for phonics (though I am personally not a big advocate of phonics because my child was a whole language reader, though he does not have reading struggles at all, so perhaps I'd revise this position if he did.)
I had this idea that schools should take a small hockey goal and rig it up so you can hang sound combinations from it and then have the kids kick a ball at the hanging card, clearly labelled, and as they kick they must shout out the sound they are kicking at. Give them 10 balls to kick.

The concept is a kind of sporting, interactive reading room in a gym setting. So they could move station to station. One station of a physical nature, such as kicking at a goal and then afterwards sitting down with a text where those sounds appear and seeing whether this physical interaction with the sound helps solidify recognizing it on the page.

It could even be done in a team format with baseball. That as the kids are playing they are also identifying recurrent words or sounds. It's fun, it's active.

I've also wondered if the same thing could be applied with music and spelling, for example working with a glockenspiel that was labelled with letters and singing out the letters that you're trying to form a word with. This could almost be a computer progam where if you made an error in spelling you could hear the tone of the note changes...

Another little trick I tried sometimes if a child was struggling to identify a recurrent sound when reading was to physicalize it by pushing a pretend buzzer on the table every time they noticed the sound come up on the page.

These are all experimental ideas.. but I digress... the question I'd like to pose is really on whether there is any benefit in pushing things like rote learning on kids with working memory struggles. Does it help build working memory or not? Or does it just put the child under unnecessary stress?

I did not push the times tables because my child would get frustrated with when he fluffed it up. Now though he's quite competent in most of them and we have not really done any hard graft on them. Abacus classes have solidified number concepts in a concrete way though, so perhaps I have Soroban to thank for much of this progress.

I also found Soroban to be a great working memory aide and would encourage education/neuroscientific researchers to conduct studies on how this could be employed in our classrooms, so all children can benefit from an ancient, but relevant and proven system. This could also be of great benefit to seniors.

If you have thoughts, or ideas or good links, please post them or drop an email to

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Working Memory Workout

This was sent to me by someone: we tried the demo ...the game is quite fun.

JungleMemory is a fun and interactive computer program based on
cutting-edge science. Your child plays games that train working memory
in key learning activities, like reading and math.

Benefits of JungleMemory(c):
* The games are scientifically proven to increase working memory and
* Acts like a personal tutor to boost your child's working memory and learning
* Trains both verbal and visual memory for a complete brain workout
* Games are engaging, with bonus features to motivate the player

Try a FREE demo now:


Apologies for epic lull in posting; will be gathering up lots of interesting stuff to add to the blog in the coming months.

Here's an article that caught my eye: I'm sure many parents will relate to these cutbacks and this also may impact the kinds of therapies and extra support parents will be able to seek to help children struggling with dysgraphia or output issues. In the next while I'll also be looking at lower cost solutions and adding suggestions.

From today's New York Times

WHEN Wendy Postle’s two children were younger, saying “yes” gave her great joy. Yes to all those toys. The music lessons. The blowout birthday parties.

SALE Wendy Postle, with Kaitlyn, 15, has an eye on the register.
But as her son and daughter approached adolescence, yes turned into a weary default. “Sometimes it was just easier to say, ‘O.K., whatever,’ than to have the battle of ‘no,’ ” said Mrs. Postle, a working mother who lives in Hilliard, Ohio, a middle-class suburb of Columbus. the economy totters, many families have no choice but to cut back, which may lead to a shift in their thinking about money and permissiveness.

Entire article, including excellent cartoon is here

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Best Kept Secret in the World: Miracle of Soroban (Japanese abacus)

Soroban is something I am very excited about. It's Japanese abacus and an amazing system of becoming proficient at maths for all children.

My experience with it is very positive and the results I've seen with my own child have been very inspiring. I believe it helps working memory and the method of mental calculation -- anzan -- that it teaches can be very useful for children with different learning styles.

Here are some Soroban links: do your child a favour and sign up for Soroban classes. You need to see it as a longer term project that you commit to and much of the stress around maths will dissolve.

How to find Soroban classes in Canada and US:

Here are some links to Soroban schools:


Click here for contact info and class location and schedules.

OREGON Abacus School


Please advise me if you know of other Soroban classes. Note I am only interested in classes not abacus textbooks for sale. I believe children thrive better with an expert abacus teacher to help them.

Soroban Education Centre Singapore

Over examined: another news report link

The second investigative journalism link I came across that may be of interest examines the testing situation in UK schools. The title says it all: Tested to destruction

I can only say how bonkers all this testing is when I recall the abject stress of having to take exams at age 16! Never mind sets of exams at 7, 11, 14. Pure madness.

It's bizarre that the resources that go into all this testing are not applied to help children with learning disabilities to overcome them.

This culture (and it's not limited to England) of assessment is increasingly bizarre and pointless since the supports and resources are not inplace to support children to overcome challenge. It's all about governments having excel worksheets full of figures that do little but stress out teachers and do a signicant disservice to children.

roundup of recent TV/ documentary reports: PBS The Medicated Child

Here are some interesting and thought provoking links to television and investigative journalism reportage on various topics.

The first a PBS FRONTLINE follow up The Medicated Child provokes interesting quandaries around the diagnosis of Bi-Polar disorder in children and subsequent medicating of it. It's alarming viewing.

I'm not trying to make light of what's an intensely challenging situation for any parent but the sight of one child sat in front of a significant sized computer screen as his mum prompts him from the kitchen it's time to take his medication, followed by scenes of him wolfing down corndogs (excessive appetite is one of the side affects of the meds tho' the choice of what he's consuming clearly isn't) did make me wonder. There's more compelling viewing when the mother, who I admired immensely for the difficult decisions and situation she's facing, consults with his psychiatrist and bravely expresses her fear about her son's medication and inspite of it, still leaves his office with an increase of one of the meds.

We're not shown any of these parents being offered alternative supports or interventions other than medication. Yet as illustrated by the above example clearly they are open to suggestions and basically like any parent simply want to help their children however they can.

I realize these are serious challenges such children are facing, but it's alarming to watch mental health professionals prescribe medications willy nilly, whose efficacy and safety for children are not established. The parents are at the mercy of such professionals. Some of the research described and discussed certainly seems to have value and I'm not suggesting some complete anti-medication stance, but who could help but be alarmed at children taking 8 different medications on a daily basis.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

PBS Misunderstood Minds page

Here's a good writing difficulties page from PBS Misunderstood Minds site:
Mel Levine describes what can inhibit writing development and offers some exercises where you can experience assignments from the pov of child with a grapho motor problem etc.

Well worth a read. He's a great authority on different learning styles.

Working Memory Study/Research

From today's Globe and Mail:

New research suggests our capacity to remember things is lower than previously thought.

Our working memories may max out at three or four items, according to a study published this month in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Earlier research had pegged that number at about seven. But the study by University of Missouri researchers suggests the true number is lower when people are not allowed to use memory aids, such as grouping items together or repeating them over and over.

Click here for entire article

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Useful and unusual tool

Here's a useful and unusual tool.

Ghotit offers unique writing and reading online services for people who suffer from dyslexia, dysgraphia or people who are not native-English speakers. Ghotit’s first service is an online context sensitive spell checker.

Plus an excellent list of dyslexia research links here by the same crowd
How cool is that?!

We need more technological initiatives in the areas of dysgraphia, written output and dyslexia. Come on you all you pioneering programmers and glory bound geeks ... reflect on any difficulties you may have had at school and apply your current genius to creating software or better still freeware that can help other children and adults who continue to have these struggles.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Should boys and girls be taught seperately?

ELIZABETH WEIL's feature from NY Times magazine:

The walls of the boys’ classroom are painted blue, the light bulbs emit a cool white light and the thermostat is set to 69 degrees. In the girls’ room, by contrast, the walls are yellow, the light bulbs emit a warm yellow light and the temperature is kept six degrees warmer, as per the instructions of Leonard Sax, a family physician turned author and advocate who this May will quit his medical practice to devote himself full time to promoting single-sex public education.

Full article is here

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Radio Broadcast: Dysgraphia: More Than Just Bad Handwriting

Many people have poor handwriting, but dysgraphia is more serious. Dsygraphia is a neurological disorder that generally appears when children are first learning to write. Writing by hand can be physically painful for people who have it. There are different kinds of dysgraphia. And it can appear with other learning disabilities, especially involving language.

Listen again to the program here

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Boy is empowered by his weakness

Michael Guggenheim's dysgraphia, a learning disorder that impairs his writing, spurred him to open a nonprofit that teaches homeless students how to use computers.

He is 12, a sixth-grader at Los Encinos School in Encino. He can't drive, vote or write much with a pencil, but he started a nonprofit when he was 11 and teaches computer skills to elementary students once a week.

He doesn't regard his dysgraphia, a learning disorder that severely impairs writing, as a disability. Instead, he has turned it into a driving force.

Read LA Times story here.

Chromosome abnormality linked to autism, study finds

Researchers have identified a chromosomal abnormality that seems to increase a person's chances of developing autism.

A group of U.S. researchers, associated with a group of Boston-based hospitals known as the Autism Consortium, conducted complete genome scans of 1,400 samples of DNA from families of autistic children.

They found that in one per cent of people with autism, or similar disorders, a portion of chromosome 16 is either absent or duplicated. This is not inherited from the parents.

Read the rest here