Saturday, September 27, 2014

Brain-Training Games & Apps to Improve Executive Functions

The 21st century is nearly 15 years old, and it has become increasingly apparent that the student skill sets needed both now and in the future are and will be vastly different from those skill sets of the last century.

Success both in and outside the classroom now and in the years to come will depend on the ability of students to acquire information at increasingly accelerated rates. As teachers and parents, we now and will need to help students develop the skill sets required to analyze new information as it becomes available, to flexibly adapt when facts are revised and to be technologically fluent (as new technology becomes available). Success will also depend upon one's ability to collaborate and communicate with others on a global playing field -- with a balance of open-mindedness, foundational knowledge and critical thinking skills in order to make complex decisions using new and changing information.

There is a buzz word frequently heard these days in educational circles (and among some parents) that relates to all of this. The term is executive functions. The executive functions are those skills that would enable a corporate executive to be successful -- the ability to be flexible, interpretive, creative and have multidimensional thinking. Examples of this would include planning, risk assessment, informed decision-making, deductive and inductive reasoning, critical analysis and delay of immediate gratification to achieve long-term goals. These executive functions provide the tools the brain then uses for organizing, connecting, and prioritizing of information and tasks, attention and focusing, self-monitoring, self-correcting, accurate prediction, abstraction, and creative problem-solving.

This week's article will provide you with a list of websites AND apps with brain-training games. By accessing and interacting with these games, it is possible to significantly improve one's executive functions. The resources listed here with their direct links will address memory, focus and attention, language, reasoning, visual-spatial and other critical-thinking skills. If you or a child you know is struggling with any of these executive functions, these games could help make a positive difference. We hope you will try at least one of the resources here. Please let us know if you have discovered and utilized other good brain-training resources that might be beneficial to children or adults with executive function challenges, and we will add them to the list.

Websites for Brain-Training Games

Piece of Mind (FREE)
This website is actually an online, scientific, brain-training game center! Improve your memory and train your brain with a variety of FREE challenging, interactive and enjoyable mind exercises suitable for both kids AND adults!
http://www.pomindcake.com/

HAPPYneuron (FREE 7-day trial with the opportunity to subscribe)
There are several different types of memory: "Working memory" processes information over a span of about 15 seconds; "short-term memory" retains information for up to about 60 seconds; and "long-term memory" stores information indefinitely. Sustained practice with memory games helps to strengthen your memory functions. In addition to memory games, this website also provides FREE brain games to help improve focus/attention, language, reasoning and visual-spatial skills.
http://www.happy-neuron.com/brain-games

MyBrainTrainer Exercises (Subscriptions available at $9.95 and up)
This site provides a collection of brain-training exercises to help improve executive functions. It also includes other features to help log progress with such skills.
http://www.mybraintrainer.com/exercise/

Brain-Training Game Apps

10 iPhone Apps that Boost Brain Function
by Martina Keyhell (for Smartphones/Mobile Applications)
Your iPhone may be able to actually boost your brainpower! These 10 apps are great brain-training apps that can increase brain function, actually making you smarter!
http://www.sitepronews.com/2013/01/31/10-iphone-apps-that-boost-brain-function/

5 Must-Have Apps for Improving Executive Functioning in Children (May 2014)
from the Beyond BookSmart Blog: Executive Functioning Strategies
There are a variety of powerful apps and technologies for improving executive functioning in children who may have weak executive functioning skills. They provide some support and scaffolding that can enhance children's overall executive functioning. The key is for parents and educators to identify areas of executive weakness and then to find apps that practice and support those skills. The following are five favorites for supporting planning, working memory, organization and time management.
http://www.beyondbooksmart.com/executive-functioning-strategies-blog/5-great-apps-for-improving-executive-functioning-in-children

Five apps that could help sharpen the brain
by Jessica Naziri, Los Angeles Times
This article provides titles and direct links to 5 brain-training apps (Lumosity, Mind Games, Critical Thinking University Think-O-Meter, Brain Trainer Special & Fit Brains Trainer).
http://www.latimes.com/business/technology/la-fi-tn-brain-training-apps-20130802-story.html

More Brain-Training Sources & Resources

Tips and Strategies to Improve Executive Function Skills and Working Memory
from Brain Balance Achievement Centers
This article provides excellent ideas to promote and improve executive functioning skills.
http://www.brainbalancecenters.com/blog/2014/03/improving-executive-function-skills/

Improving Executive Function: Teaching Challenges and Opportunities
by Judy Willis, M.D. (via Edutopia.com)
In this article, Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist, explains executive functions, the tools the brain needs and uses to organize, connect, and prioritize information and tasks, solve problems and much more.
http://www.edutopia.org/blog/improving-executive-function-judy-willis-md


Games & Strategies to Improve Executive Functions
from Help for Struggling Readers blog
This is an earlier article from our blog (July 2013) with additional brain-training resources.
http://helpforstrugglingreaders.blogspot.com/2013/07/games-strategies-to-improve-executive.html

Games and Apps for Improving Executive Functions in Children with ADHD
by Randy Kuhlman, PhD
This SlideShare presentation from the CHADD 2013 Annual International Conference on ADHD provides good information on how games and apps can support, practice and help acquire executive functions.
http://www.slideshare.net/rklearningworks/games-and-apps-for-improving-executive-functions-in-children-with-adhd-28120311

For more information on customizable reading tools to improve focus and attention, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers
314-892-3897

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com

Monday, September 15, 2014

BEST Resources for Dyslexia

Dyslexia can affect children and adults of all levels of intelligence and ability. However, very often, individuals with dyslexia possess an above-average intellectual level.

It is important to address the unique symptoms of dyslexia as well as accommodate individual learning challenges so that the persons affected can progress in the classroom, in the workplace and in life. Doing so will enable them to actually reach their potentials. Persons with dyslexia often have exceptional talents and gifts that can positively influence their lives and our world. If we use the right strategies and accommodations to help dyslexics, not only will the 1 in 5 persons affected with dyslexia benefit, but all of society will enjoy the positive results of addressing their learning needs.

Dyslexia Vocabulary & Definitions

Visual dyslexia is the term used for the specific learning disability called visual processing disorder. This form of dyslexia is the result of immature development of not only the eyes, but the entire neurological process that receives and manages information from the eyes to the brain.

A child's eyes that are not fully developed will send incomplete information to the brain. This incomplete information then results in poor comprehension of what the child has read or poor memory of visual information. Sometimes this process results in number and letter reversals as well as the inability to write symbols in the correct sequence. However, this does not always occur. In other words, letter reversals are not an automatic indication of this type of dyslexia, as some may believe.

Phonological (auditory) dyslexia is the specific learning disability involving poor auditory processing. The more severe condition is called Auditory Processing Disorder (OPD). This form of dyslexia involves difficulty with sounds of letters or groups of letters. With this form of dyslexia, sounds are usually perceived as jumbled or not heard correctly.

Dyspraxia refers to the learning disability term sensor-motor integration. It is a widely pervasive motor condition characterized by impairment or immaturity of the organization of movement with associated problems of language, perception and thought. Typically, the child affected by dyspraxia may appear clumsy with poor coordination.

This learning challenge called dyspraxia is separated into several groups. True dyspraxia is a lifelong condition that, to some degree, can respond to consistent, early and structured intervention. Developmental dyspraxia reflects neurological immaturity. It is evidence of a delay rather than a deficit that can be resolved over time with appropriate treatment. However, only time will determine the difference.

Verbal praxis refers to the weaknesses observed in the mechanisms of speech production which can cause articulation to be impaired and expressive language to be inhibited. Speech production and articulation are not considered learning disabilities but should certainly be addressed by a speech and language therapist.

Dysgraphia is the term referred to as an inability to hold or control a pencil so that the correct markings can be made on paper. These symptoms most often manifest themselves in poor letter formation in printing or deficient cursive writing skills. When talking about a specific learning disability, these symptoms would be identified as immature, fine-motor development.

Dyscalculia refers to an impairment of the ability to solve mathematical problems, usually resulting from brain dysfunction. Persons of any IQ can be affected and often have difficulties with time, measurement and spatial reasoning. Dyscalculia can be detected at a young age. Because of this, measures can be taken to ease the problems faced by younger students by implementing specific strategies or modifying the teaching methods. However, because dyscalculia is not as well-known as other learning disorders, it is often not recognized nor addressed.
(Source: TYPES OF DYSLEXIA by Understanding Learning Disabilities: http://www.understanding-learning-disabilities.com/types-of-dyslexia.html---Please see active link to follow.)

Our purpose here is not only to inform our readers about the semantics of dyslexia but also to provide helpful resources to aid in addressing the unique learning needs of those affected. We have gathered together here some of the links we believe might be most beneficial. We hope you will agree and use them to help a struggling dyslexic child, teen or adult.

BEST Resources for the Dyslexias

Top 10 Resources on Dyslexia
by Reading Rockets via LDOnline.com
Resources and links to help you learn about dyslexia and how to help a reader challenged with its symptoms.
http://www.ldonline.org/article/42331/

TYPES OF DYSLEXIA
by Understanding Learning Disabilities
There are several types of dyslexia (or learning disabilities) that can affect the child's ability to spell as well as read. The types are identified by the nature of the problem within the central nervous system or brain.
http://www.understanding-learning-disabilities.com/types-of-dyslexia.html

Accommodating Students With Dyslexia
by Cecil Mercer, EdD via NCLD (National Center for Learning Disabilities)
Teaching students with dyslexia across settings is challenging. Listed here are some accommodations that general education and special education teachers can use in a classroom of heterogeneous learners.
http://ncld.org/students-disabilities/ld-education-teachers/accommodating-students-dyslexia

Types of Accommodations(for Dyslexia)
from Davis Dyslexia
Different kinds of accommodations that can be provided to dyslexic students when studying and taking exams.
http://faq.dyslexia.com/cgi-bin/faq_wiki.pl?Types_Of_Accommodations

Reading Focus Cards Desktop App (Patent 8,360,779)
This DESKTOP app is the digital version of the low-tech, physical Reading Focus Cards tools (Patent 7,565,759), solutions for struggling readers. This app provides very practical support for children and adults with ADHD, dyslexia, autism and other conditions that can affect reading success. It promotes more FOCUSED online reading of almost ALL digital media (webpages, PDF files, Word docs, Excel spreadsheets & more.) In addition, the app supports touch-screen technology (where applicable).

1. For Macs (desktops & notebooks):
Visit the Mac App Store and search for Reading Focus Cards or go directly to
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/read-and-focus/id920617853?mt=12

2. For Windows PCs (desktops & laptops):
Visit Gumroad at https://gumroad.com/l/ReadingFocusCards OR visit the Microsoft Windows Store and search for the app called Reading Focus Cards. (No URLs are ever provided for apps in the Windows Store.)

For more information on customizable reading tools for dyslexia and other reading issues, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers
314-892-3897

Image courtesy of:
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com

Monday, September 8, 2014

Helpful Literacy Tools & Resources for Autism

This past weekend, we had the great privilege of attending the 2014 World U.S. Asperger and Autism Association Conference in Kansas City, MO. What an outstanding event it was with 30 of the top autism speakers and experts in the world---all in one place!

Many parents, educators, occupational therapists and numerous other medical professionals from the Midwest and around the globe came to this one metropolitan center to hear these excellent speakers and authorities in order to return home better informed, re-energized and ready to help even more children and adults on the autism spectrum. The attendees were very dedicated individuals with exceptional patience and a unique commitment to teach and care for the growing numbers of individuals on the autism spectrum.

For this reason, we are honoring these special autism care givers with an article dedicated just to them. For the parents who have spent far too many sleepless nights caring for a sensory-challenged child with ASD, for the teachers who work tirelessly each day to help children with autism read with more success, for the medical professionals who treat these children, teens and adults and many other special care givers, we salute you ALL.

In their honor, we have written this article that includes many literacy tools and resources to help with the challenging work they do each day. We hope at least one item on the list here will help even in a small way to lighten their workload just a bit---if only for a little while.

Literacy Tools & Resources for Autism

Literacy Resources for Children on the Autism Spectrum
Compiled by Wendy J. Schroder, M.Ed.
A listing of books, curricula and programs, websites, software and iPad applications that can be used to promote literacy among children on the autism spectrum. This extensive listing can help practitioners or family members involved in teaching reading and enhancing comprehension.
http://www.iidc.indiana.edu/styles/iidc/defiles/IRCA/Literacy11final.pdf

The Virtues of the “Whisper Phone” for Independent Reading
Posted by Colleen Cadieux
Take a look at the “whisper phone” as an important tool for early and struggling readers. If you haven’t seen one yet, you should check out the simple instructions below, for making your own. The whisper phone supports the acquisition of phonemic awareness by allowing the student to hear his/her own voice while reading. Students are also able to focus on blending, proper sound use, and fluency in the text.
http://info.marygrove.edu/MATblog/bid/79584/The-Virtues-of-the-Whisper-Phone-for-Independent-Reading

Adapting Books (for Children on the Autism Spectrum)
It is important for children with autism to have early exposure to literacy (reading and writing) activities. It can be beneficial to use books that are interactive. For best results books should be about something your child is interested in and can relate to. If the child is interested, he will be motivated. Repetition is key; reading the books over and over again reinforces learning. The activities presented here can help children to develop their communication abilities. Also,there are examples of how interactive literacy activities can be created.
https://sites.google.com/site/speaking4autism/tools-for-literacy/adapting-books

Positively Autism---Teaching Literacy to the Student with Autism
This is a web page with a short list of links to literacy resources for autism.
http://www.positivelyautism.com/volume3_issue05/

Sites for Autistic Support Teachers
This large list of educational links for ASD educators includes literacy as well as some math resources.
http://www.angelfire.com/pa5/as/asteachersites.html

The Reading Focus Cards (Patent 7,565,759)
From Brennan Innovators, LLC
Sensory-appealing and customizable reading tools and solutions for challenged readers of all ages.
www.FocusandRead.com/products

APP---Overlays! (for OS X 10.8 or later---Price: $6.99)
Created by Abbie Gonzalez
Use to help with reading or sometimes to help following large tables and lists of data. Battle the wall of text, eyestrain and distractions with this on screen overlay to help you keep your place!
- Keep your place in huge walls of text, tables and lists.
- Pick the color, height and transparency that helps you read better.
- Use a lightly colored overlay or a completely solid line to help you keep focused. Pick what works for you!
- Easily access preferences from the menu bar icon.
- Works in full screen applications, and even over virtual machines.
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/overlays!/id868499627?mt=12

APP---Reading Focus Cards (for Macs & Windows PCs---Price: $5.99)
(Patent 8,360,779)
From Brennan Innovators, LLC
This DESKTOP app is the digital version of the physical Reading Focus Cards (Patent 7,565,759), solutions for struggling readers. This app for Windows PCs and Macs provides practical READING SUPPORT for children and adults with ADHD, dyslexia, autism and other conditions that can affect reading success. It promotes more FOCUSED online reading of almost ALL digital media (webpages, PDF files, Word docs, Excel spreadsheets & more.) In addition, the Reading Focus Card app is compatible with and supports touch-screen technology. The application can be moved on the screen over text by the fingers, mouse or arrow keys as needed.
1. For Windows PCs:
Visit Gumroad at https://gumroad.com/l/ReadingFocusCards
2. For Macs:
Visit the Mac App Store and search for "Read and Focus" or go directly to
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/read-and-focus/id920617853?mt=12

For more information on customizable reading tools for all kinds of learners, please visit:
www.FocusandRead.com Tools for struggling readers of all ages!
www.BrennanInnovators.com Info & support for struggling readers
314-892-3897

Image courtesy of:
Pixabay at http://pixabay.com/en/puzzle-puzzle-piece-puzzles-75658/ and
Brennan Innovators, LLC at www.focusandread.com