Cognitive Science, Pedagogy, Mind, Brain, and Education (MBE)

The authors conducted a meta-analysis of 25 primary studies to further explore the link between working memory and reading. 

The inconsistency of working memory assessments

Although working memory is important for reading, working memory assessments are too inconsistent to compare results.

Written assessments yield greater information

The study was conducted by comparing the type of tests, type of measurements and tasks used to assess the correlation of working memory and L2 reading comprehension in the chosen 25 primary studies. The results were meticulously compared to form conclusions. The study found that there is a medium correlation between working memory and L2 reading comprehension. This is greater when participants are asked to recall information in a written format, highlighting that the type of tasks during the test also impact the correlation between working memory and L2 reading comprehension.

Rigorous testing necessary to produce accurate results

The results highlighted the complexity of measuring working memory and its impact on L2 reading comprehension because it can be influenced by the participants prior L2 proficiency, type of measurements, and task with which the assessment is performed. The research suggested that consistent, rigorous tests must be used in future to be able to compare results and minimize variations across studies to gain a true picture of the correlation between working memory and L2 reading comprehension.

Notable Quotes: 

“Although the format of the RST(reading span test) […] currently the most commonly adopted version, variations in the task design are common in research that explores the link between working memory and reading comprehension. Yet, little work has been done to examine how methodological features of the RST might influence the final working memory scores and its correlation with reading comprehension.”

“The overall results of the present study confirmed the medium-sized relationship between WM and L2 reading comprehension (r = .30).”

“With respect to the inconsistent measurement practices, researchers should first be aware of the moderator variables identified in this meta-analysis and take caution in interpreting findings of previous research.”

Personal Takeaway: 

I found the research interesting because as educators and SENCOs we rely on these test to interpret the students‘ progress. The study has shown me that tests cannot provide a full picture of a student‘s learning but have to be seen alongside other data and tasks performed by the student. Therefore, it is always important to not take the assessments as fully comprehensive but as a piece in the puzzle of monitoring progress. Conversations, variety in tasks and scaffolding might allow students to expand their reading and language skills to access and comprehend texts rather than provide support merely on one reading assessment. It is important to keep working memory in mind for L2 teaching but through the right teaching methods and tasks students will comprehend and progress regardless of their working memory.—Frankie

Shin, J. (2020). A meta-analysis of the relationship between working memory and second language reading comprehension: Does task type matter?. Applied Psycholinguistics, 41(4), 873-900.

Personalized Learning, Professional Learning

Educational innovators are beginning to explore the concept of personalized learning as a way to reimagine and redesign the United States education system. However, there is currently a lack of research surrounding this approach to teaching and learning. This study seeks to “offer strategic guidance for designers of personalized learning programs to consider while the evidence base is catching up.”

Historical efforts made to personalize learning

Many of the strategies that personalized learning leverages are not new. As the author of this study (John F. Pane) states, “There is a long history of educators striving to meet students’ individual needs and incorporating their interests and preferences into instruction. These efforts include developing individualized education plans for students with special needs, using data to help make instructional decisions for individual students, providing instruction to individual students or small groups of students, providing tutors or support teachers to supplement the classroom teacher’s instruction, and offering diverse elective courses.” In addition, technology has afforded teachers more time to work with individuals or small groups, due to a reduction in complex monitoring systems, largely supporting a personalized learning approach. 

When determining the rollout of personalized learning it is important to consider the possible challenges to implementation. The fact that educators may need to spend valuable time and effort assembling the necessary supporting materials and making them work together as well as navigate potential conflicts with current state or district policies were both cited as challenges to consider. 

Despite these challenges, existing evidence suggests that enthusiasm around personalized learning exists, and Pane suggests that providing guidelines for adoption can be helpful for those who are interested in trialing the approach. Such guidelines include: embracing evidence-based strategies, focusing on time spent with students, leveraging teachers’ skill-sets, using rigorous learning materials (ie. educational software), monitoring implementation, and being prepared to adapt.

More research needed to fine-tune personalized learning

Pane summarizes evidence collected by a team of RAND Corporation researchers who surveyed 32 schools using personalized learning. Considering this data, they identified challenges to implementation and then offered some potential design guidelines for interested educators in addition to outlining the application of these principles in a way that fosters skill development for students. Pane explains that personalized learning holds promise for K-12 educators in the United States as we begin to embrace more customized educational experiences for our students. 

However, it is important to acknowledge that “because personalized learning is composed of so many interrelated strategies, considerable additional research will be needed to sort out the fine details of which strategies, and in which combinations, are most effective for which students.”

Effective strategies needed for teachers

Overall, the study suggests that further research needs to be done on effective personalized learning strategies prior to a major rollout in school districts. Due to the individualized nature of personalized learning, it is important that teachers are provided with effective strategies as a means to reduce the amount of failed implementations and “put it on a path toward meeting its full potential as a major reform of the K–12 education system.”

Notable Quotes: 

“The goal of personalized learning is to make each student’s educational experience

responsive to his or her talents, interests, and needs.”

“Teachers are the next-most-valuable resources available to students when their skills are properly focused on providing instruction and related support to students. Successful personalized learning strategies or models likely will be designed to conserve teachers’ time and effort for activities that are most directly helpful to students.”

“States, school districts, and school leaders who want to allow mastery-based approaches to play out over multiple years will need to rethink how systems of standards, assessments, and

accountability operate. This might require a shift away from age- or grade-based targets of attainment toward systems that focus on growth in achievement.”

Personal Takeaway: 

Personalized learning is at the core of my classroom as a learning support teacher. Allowing students to create their own learning goals strongly aligns with personalized learning and, in my experience, adopting personalized learning strategies often leads to positive learning outcomes, stronger student-teacher relationships, and increased student engagement. However, in order to be successful, personalized learning requires a level of experimentation and a willingness to be flexible. For those of you who are interested in trying out more personalized learning opportunities in your classes, know that it’s okay if things get a little messy, it is all part of the learning process!—Taryn McBrayne

Pane, J. F. (2018). Strategies for Implementing Personalized Learning While Evidence and Resources Are Underdeveloped. RAND Corporation.

Interventions, Cultural Context, Law & Policy

The study presents an analysis of the overall language skills of youth offenders involved in the juvenile justice system. This will help identify avenues that can increase the likelihood of successful interventions.

Youth with language disorders have a higher chance of being involved in crime

Developmental Language Disorders [DLD] are a common comorbidity in youth with involvement with the juvenile justice system, and boys with DLD are an estimated four times more likely to engage in delinquent behavior. 

Because of these challenges, youth offenders are at a higher risk of experiencing difficulty engaging in the high-stakes judicial process, as well as navigating their environment, forming relationships, and succeeding academically.

Youth in juvenile facilities have lower language skills

A systematic literature review was conducted, and data was extracted and coded according to age, gender, nationality, and language processing abilities. Language scores of youth in juvenile facilities were then analyzed. Results showed youth offenders presented with significantly lower language skills than their non-offending peers. Further, high proportions of the present sample were classified as youth with moderate (50%) and severe (10%) language disorders.

Extra support needed for children with language disorders

Considering the importance of our language-focused lifestyles, we need to support these life skills of youth offenders in the courts and via educational intervention to maximize the likelihood of success. Sixty-three percent of the current study’s sample demonstrated a mild to severe language disorder. This rate of prevalence is much higher than in the general population and

underscores the need for additional speech and language support among youth offenders or in the child protection system.

Youth with behavior indicative of a behavior disorder are more likely to experience juvenile justice involvement and are at higher risk for unidentified language disorder.

Notable Quotes: 

“It is essential to note that language type has the potential to impact youth in juvenile facilities and their ability to navigate the juvenile justice system effectively and successfully.”

“Socio-economic status (SES) is positively associated with language development, and

children from lower SES families are more likely to have a language disorder than their peers

from higher SES families.”

“[…]parents and caregivers with a higher education level and more readily available resources typically talk with their children more than parents with a lower education level and less resources.”

Personal Takeaway: 

I found it very sad that students with language disorders who do not receive the support they need at school have a much higher prevalence of getting involved in a life of crime. This reinforces the saying, “no child left behind,” and this is what we need to implement in all our schools.—Shekufeh

Chow, J. C., Wallace, E. S., Senter, R., Kumm, S., & Mason, C. Q. (in press). A systematic  review and meta-analysis of the language skills of youth offenders. Journal of Speech,  Language, and Hearing Research.

Cultural Context, Inclusion, Pedagogy

The uses of culture–based educational approaches in music education in Hawai’i have not been previously explored.

Culture-based teaching leads to a greater sense of belonging

When culture-based educational strategies are used, studies show relatedness to Native Hawaiian students’ greater sense of belonging and cultural affiliation, an application of cultural skills outside of school (even increasing the likelihood of engagement in social and political causes), higher rates of college graduation, and greater comfort with their heritage language. Similar results linking culture-based teaching and student academic achievement have been found within Indigenous communities.

You have to understand the culture before you teach it

The author utilized a collective descriptive case-study design and had four teachers, representing different specialties (instrumental, choral, general music, and Hawaiian music), serve as separate case studies within their respective music classrooms. Data collection involved interviews with teacher participants, student focus group interviews, and on-site field note observations. The data were then analyzed with the help of a “cultural auditor” that could look at the data through the lens of someone familiar with Hawaiian culture. Four major themes emerged across the cases. 

1. Approaches to culture-based education: There were a variety of approaches to culture-based education in each classroom, for some it was deeply entrenched and connected due to cultural background in an immersion style education and for others, it was not as deeply embedded and more an add-on to the existing curriculum. In many classrooms, it was important not just to include Hawaiian music but teach the meaning and historical context behind the music included. 

2. Sources of cultural understanding: Some of the educators were culture bearers themselves and could draw from family and personal experiences, while others had to better understand the culture they were trying to teach by consulting with local culture bearers, religious experts, and music and dance specialists. The educators that had a “deep and profound personal and generational knowledge of Native Hawaiian culture and music” saw a more powerful impact on the students in their class. Regardless, each teacher participant emphasized the ways in which they worked to learn more about Hawaiian culture itself.

3. Navigating challenges: Teachers and students struggled with how to present Hawaiian culture in ways that were authentic, and with how to motivate students to learn more about, and reconnect with, Hawaiian culture. Another challenge was trying to incorporate Hawaiian music into an already busy curriculum. There were also concerns about feeling the need to ‘legitimize’ Hawaiian music in light of the biases toward non-Western music in music education and dealing with the internalized stereotypes that come with the legacy of racism in colonized spaces. 

4. Layers of meaning: All participants described deriving meaning but for many, particularly those of Native Hawaiian ancestry, the experience of having culture-based education in music classrooms was life-changing. Some students even had their perspectives changed on what they wanted to do as adults, along with their own perceptions of kuleana (responsibility). Ultimately, culture-based education affirms and forms positive cultural identities.

More teachers who utilise culturally relevant approaches are needed

While the depth of culture-based approaches varied across the cases, with “some teachers focusing on fostering knowledge of traditional Hawaiian musical practices, others on language and history, and others, […] on deeply held cultural values and beliefs”, students found these approaches to be life-changing and culturally affirming. The depth of engagement was tied with the teachers’ cultural background and their teaching specialty, which highlights that teachers who do not resemble their students with regard to cultural identity may face more challenges when working to make their curriculum and classroom community more culturally responsive. Another common thread was the centrality of the student-teacher relationships to the culture-based approaches. 

It is therefore important for educators to continue to work on improving teachers’ cultural competence, developing innovative programs and strategies for a predominantly western teacher workforce, and consider ways in which educators with culturally relevant ties may be further recruited and supported.

Notable Quotes: 

“Culture-based education consists of “approaches to teaching and learning evolving from (but not fixed in) the languages, values, norms, knowledges, beliefs, practices, experiences, and places that are foundational to Indigenous or other cultural groups” (Kanaʻiaupuni et al., 2017, p. 318S). Culture-based education is rooted in and related to such efforts as culturally relevant pedagogy but goes further in working to “revitalize languages, knowledge, practices, and beliefs lost or suppressed through colonization or occupation” (Kanaʻiaupuni et al., 2017, p. 314S).”

“The prominence of this finding asks us to consider the role of the teacher in developing what Gay (2000/2010, 2002) calls “culturally responsive caring,” which places “teachers in an ethical, emotional, and academic partnership with ethnically diverse students, a partnership that is anchored in respect, honor, integrity, resource sharing, and a deep belief in the possibility of transcendence” (Gay, 2000, p. 52).”

“These stories encourage us to consider the profound impact of culture-based teaching within the music classroom and how we might better prepare, support, and give voice to music teachers who not only deeply engage with music of their students’ culture but work to affirm and restore understandings and ways of knowing that have been subject to colonization and marginalization.”

Personal Takeaway: 

In education, students with diverse backgrounds and cultures are often marginalized because curriculums are entrenched with one predominant cultural bias. Culture-based education can motivate students to not only succeed academically but affirm and form positive cultural identities. Since these approaches are led by teachers it is important that the educators either reflect the cultural identities of their students or have the knowledge to implement these approaches with authenticity and depth. The stories from this study encourage us to reflect on how we can better support teachers who engage in the work of lifting up their students’ culture and affirm and restore ways of knowing that have been subject to marginalization.—Ayla Reau

Fitzpatrick, K. R. (2022). “Finding the Other Half of Me”: Culture-Based Approaches to Music Education in Hawaiʻi. Journal of Research in Music Education, 70(1), 22–47.

One-to-One Learning, Interventions, High Expectations

This study investigated the impact of regular, structured, five-to-seven-minute, one-to-one conversations between a special educator and student, over a period of 6 years. This special education intervention prepares students for success in the post-secondary transition and includes cultivating learning habits in each student, such as self-direction, self-regulation, and self-awareness. 

The term MARIO describes an intervention that is Measured, Ambitious, Research-Informed, Innovative, and One-to-One centered. Each component of the MARIO intervention is both learner-driven and based on research evidence.

Measured –  As part of every class, students reflect on, and measure, the efficacy of their interventions and the impact of those interventions on their learning habits.

Ambitious – Research has shown that students with disabilities achieve greater academic success and increased autonomy (Rubie-Davies et al., 2007) when educators share high expectations for their achievement.

Research-informed – The high-impact strategies embedded in the MARIO intervention are supported by Marzano’s (2007) The Art and Science of Teaching, Hattie’s (2009) synthesis of evidence-based research as well as considerable research including the works of Panadero et al., 2017; Siegesmund, 2017, and Turnbull et al., 2010.

Innovative – Innovation in educational research is how practitioners implement alternative ways of increasing outcomes for learners if/when the current method of teaching is not effective (Findikoglu and Ilhan, 2016).The goal of the one-to-one conversations is to foster learners who can think critically, take control of their learning, monitor their progress, and co-create innovative pathways that will lead to their success. 

One-to-One – The structure of every one-to-one conversation, using the MARIO intervention, is focused on students driving the dialogue and the educator listening, reflecting, and providing feedback.

One-to-one conferences – the foundation of growth

During the one-to-one conference, the educator asks questions that require the student to provide evidence of their level of performance as reported on the ‘Habits and Attitudes Towards Learning (HAL)’ rubric. Based on this discussion, the student records their levels of performance on the rubric to accurately reflect their performance. The student also records notes related to their learning directly on their rubric. At the end of the conference, the student shares the most important actions they intended to sustain or change moving forward.

The variables involved in the study

A six-year retrospective cohort analysis of student grade point average data was used to measure the effectiveness of the one-to-one conversations. The independent variable was the Intensive Studies course in which each student was enrolled, called ‘the intervention’, and had one of three values in each semester for each student: not enrolled, enrolled in control intervention, or enrolled in MARIO intervention. The dependent variable was the average weighted GPA in core courses, such as science, math, English, or social studies.

Positive results that improve over time

The MARIO intervention led to a statistically significant increase in average GPA in core courses as compared to the students enrolled in control intervention or limited intervention. The
control intervention and the limited intervention groups did not show a significant increase in GPA as compared to prior to intervention. Statistical analysis revealed a significant improvement (Cohen’s effect +0.83) in academic outcomes in the one-to-one conversations cohort as compared to student outcomes prior to the course and in comparison to the control cohort. These increases persisted in the after-transition period (Cohen’s effect +0.99). Data from student feedback surveys revealed that students perceived one-to-one conversations as helpful and self-identified gains in self-reflection and independence.

Notable Quotes: 

1. “Seventy-eight percent of students responded that the one-to-one sessions helped a ‘significant amount’.”

2. “MARIO intervention students further identified their teacher as someone who pushed them to do their best, held them accountable, and with whom they had a good relationship.”

3. “The feedback survey data also indicated that the MARIO intervention promotes students’ awareness of their own development of strategies for learning.”

Personal Takeaway: 

As an elementary special educator, I have used the MARIO intervention routinely with my students, and have seen them grow in self-awareness, reflective practices, and in developing the foundational skills needed for later self-directed learning. They are beginning to take ownership of the learning process, and through frequent teacher collaboration set personalized goals. – Erin Madonna

Bowman, P., Farrar, E., and Novak, K. (2022). The impact of frequent, targeted one-to-one conversations on special education learning support. Vol.37 Iss. 3, pp. 464-479. Retrieved from

Joanna Brown Learning Letter

The MARIO Framework

After arriving at my current IB world school in Baku, Azerbaijan to serve as the whole-school learning support (LS) coordinator, I immediately realized how much exciting work there was to be done. The school had a rapidly expanding LS student population, many new team members, budding differentiation and inclusive practices, a desire to start a gifted and talented program, and two rather disjointed divisions of school operation. From different daily and weekly schedules to overall management systems, the school operated in such a way that made any whole school collaboration feel almost ‘split personality ’- not an uncommon occurrence at international schools but a challenge nonetheless.

I started my coordination work by creating more universal referral/assessment processes, developing whole school International Individual Learning Plans (IILP), arranging for external therapy and testing services, and organizing schedules and training for the LS staff. One year later, our LS population was hitting record highs as our school had been labeled the international school for learning needs in the region.

By the end of my first year, with 60+ LS students and not enough teaching staff to support the numbers, our department was stretched. Looking out for my fellow LS colleagues’ well-being, I taught well beyond the full-time teaching requirements while maintaining my coordination work. On top of all this, I received the daunting task of creating a Learning Support Handbook to unite both divisions. I was thrilled with the opportunity to create more alignment and clarity throughout the school, and bit by bit, in collaboration with various administrators and departments, I transformed the previous 10-page policy into a 64-page handbook, rich with resources that communicated critical LS information and outlined our processes and roles accurately and effectively in each section.  

Soon into my second year, our administration recognized my leadership potential and kindly offered to add a new primary LS coordinator position for the next academic year to divide the overwhelming job between two divisions, so that I could develop our services in more meaningful ways, ways that would directly impact student learning and well-being. In other words, with my attention solely on the secondary school, I could fine-tune and expand our inclusion services and even create a gifted and talented section of our program that the school so longed for. Everything was finally feeling like it was all coming together; the LS department was genuinely becoming synched up across the school to serve all exceptionalities.

Cue the pandemic.

“Disjointed” now became a dreamy description. Most of our campus was scattered around the globe, and our school’s instruction went fully virtual. Those of us who remained in Azerbaijan were thrown into a four-month quarantine with only two hours outside each day upon police SMS approval. How we all heroically scrambled to make it work for all students and staff! Wellbeing became the name of the game, and we were continually checking on each other as a school community while focusing on getting through the rest of the year with as many students actively engaged and sane as possible.

Finally, in August, the quarantine was lifted, and we had the freedom again to be outside and enjoy the rest of the summer. Our school prepared to return to campus for hybrid learning in mid-August, even though much of the population remained dispersed and unable to leave or return to the country. Still, I remained optimistic that this hiccup would not interfere with all the progress we had made as a department, and now released from the primary section of the school, I was ready to tackle the hurdles of the new year.

We had three glorious weeks of hybrid learning, and on September 27th, a very unexpected war began between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Stress levels were at an all-time high. This whole period was extremely surreal for everyone in Azerbaijan. The school remained online with teaching hours extending far beyond the norm to help the growing number of struggling students, but we didn’t know if we were properly assisting parents and students in this new reality. Further, how could we enforce proper engagement from an ‘audience’ so distracted by all the events unfolding in the world around us?

The new normal was here. With shifting pandemic rules, safety operations, and of course, the oh-so-personable face masks, our students were crumbling in these unprecedented times. It seemed like every classroom was in need of support, as every teacher worked to the bone to help their students slowly recover from an era that we could scarcely process. Equally taxed, our primary and secondary LS teams adapted quite independently to meet the evolving demands faced by each section, and with sweeping senior leadership team changes, the two levels were now again operating very differently from each other. I felt deflated after so much hard work to unite them previously.

Then, The MARIO Framework entered my life.

My good friend and previous colleague and I often message about our latest practices and job developments. Like most special educators, we are mostly alone in our quest to find the latest research, best programs, and teaching strategies out there for our students, so we love staying in touch through this passion. I was introduced to the framework via an Instagram message chat, when she asked me to check out this remarkable course she had taken recently through The MARIO Framework. Knowing our similar mindsets and callings as educators, I investigated immediately and could not stop myself from enrolling in the first course.

The framework with its research-based approach, called The MARIO Approach, turned all my teaching idealism into reality. It took all the personalized and high impact teaching practices that I loved to the next level, added more I had yet to consider, and backed them all up with a surplus of reliable and current research. Even more amazing, the framework itself provided a flexible structure to allow for the pervasive and consistent implementation of its one-to-one conversational strategies. In my past application of some high impact teaching practices, I would unpack and practice them with students in isolation, almost as a unit of exploration. It never occurred to me to utilize them in harmony through a naturally evolving, on-going conversation with a student… where the student is directed to lead the conversation!

After completing the MARIO Educator Level 1 and 2 Certifications, I clearly saw how it could be the innovative solution that my school needed for alignment  while also providing an innovative platform for gifted and talented instruction. The course shook me out of the pandemic slump and kick started this gestalt shift within me. The MARIO Framework truly allows educators to “fall in love with teaching all over again,” and it couldn’t have come at a more needed time. Through its measured practices, we educators can empower all students to become experts in their own learning and recuperation, so we all become more resilient and evolve in our practices as teachers and learners.

Finding the correlation between serious games based on multiple intelligences and the improvement of concentration and attention in students with Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] and Specific Learning Disability [SLD].

Serious Games and Their Effect on Improving Attention in Students with Learning Disabilities


The effect of ‘serious’ games on focus and attention
Using the Tree of Intelligences (ToI) method, based on Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, serious games such as Cuibrain and Boogies Academy have improved the attention and concentration of students with ADHD and SLD.
“Video games are increasingly used in the field of special education to support well-being, social skills, independent living, and inclusion in varied samples of students with special needs such as autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, and giftedness [8–11].”
In other studies, serious games offer a fun learning environment for students that are often motivationally challenging. The authors also shared a study done by Garmen et al. showing that both serious games used in the study, called Boogies Academy and Cuibrain, also showed reduced anxiety levels in participants and an increasing level of self-concept after using both games as intervention. Because there is an increase in technology use in education, it has shaped the learning platforms we offer students. How can we then utilize this shift to improve cognitive processes?

The benefits of using serious games for students
A quasi-experimental study with an experimental and control group was used. The 44 participants were aged 6-16 with either ADHD or SLD. Each participant completed 28 sessions (Two 10-minute sessions per week). Performance and observation measures (questionnaires for parents) were used to compare the attention profiles of both groups. Boogies Academy (6-10) was used for younger participants, and Cuibrain with the older participants (11-16). “This study was conducted in accordance with the Code of Ethics of the World Medical Association, named Declaration of Helsinki, which establishes the ethical principles for research involving humans [41].” After the study, the control group was also exposed to the intervention.

The results of the study confirm previous research that there is a potential for serious games to improve performance in attention and concentration. The authors’ study noticed the most significant increase in variables was performance accuracy. There was an improvement in accuracy, concentration, and the total effectiveness of the test.
The value of technology and games in Learning
As technology and video games have become essential in learning, the article implores educators and schools to consider using serious games based on multiple intelligences as an intervention to help students with ADHD and SLDs increase attention, concentration, and problem-solving skills. Based on performance measures, the results showed a general improvement in accuracy and concentration for both experimental and control groups. According to the parent questionnaire, there was no evidence to support that attention and concentration symptoms were reduced overall. Still, there is definite evidence of concentration and accuracy in the game improving after the sessions. “Previous research has highlighted the existence of a low correspondence between the scores of children and adolescents in traditional performance tests and the difficulties observed in various areas of daily life functioning, such as school or home, reported by different informants—particularly parents and teachers [44–48]. ” Overall, both games offer the potential to improve attention variables.

Notable Quotes
“With respect to attentional variables assessed by means of performance measures (D2), the results indicated a general improvement in both the experimental and control groups after the intervention, with a general increase in concentration and accuracy.”
“The main conclusion arising from these findings is the need to broaden the study of educational video games and their possible benefits to different cognitive variables and diverse populations, especially those with difficulties in the automation or control of cognitive processes, such as attention.”
“These results invite consideration of the applicability of boosting different intelligences, talents or unique abilities through educational video games as an important bridge to improving areas of deficit, in this case, attention in students with learning disabilities.”

Personal Takeaway

The correlation between serious games and increased attention and concentration in students with ADHD and SLD allows educators to widen their repertoire regarding intervention. There are considerations for using these games based on multiple intelligences to improve areas of deficits-particularly the attention-of SLD students. According to Gardner’s theory, student strengths can be built up to counteract attention challenges. Serious games can either be incorporated into classrooms as the transition time to hone problem-solving skills or be used as reinforcements to strengthen attention and concentration at the end of the day. It would be great to see the transfer of concentration and attention from these games to classroom performance.


Nika Espinosa

Article Summarized:

García-Redondo, García, Areces, Núñez, & Rodríguez. (2019). Serious Games and Their Effect Improving Attention in Students with Learning Disabilities. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(14), 2480.

There exists much debate about the effects of digital technology environments on children. The study aimed to determine whether or not the use of an educational app can positively impact preschoolers’ attention development.

A connection to the Theory of Multiple Intelligence 

Howard Gardner’s widely embraced Theory of Multiple Intelligences, though a subject of much criticism, might provide a valuable segue into how technological classrooms adopt similar scaffolds for encouraging diversity in the varying degrees of student strengths, development rates, and preferences for learning. Further, there continues to be mounting evidence for how gamification elements might serve to motivate and engage learners. Elements leading to this success are clearly stated goals, self-choice, and immediate feedback. Gamification allows for all three.

Neumann & Neumann (2013) suggest how previous studies’ conclusions on computer-based tasks, serious video games, or digital cognitive training games can be used as scaffolding tools to assist with children’s cognitive development.

Developing sustained attention in children

171 children between the ages of 3 and 4 years old were divided into experimental and control groups for a quasi-experimental study. The children were all from a northern city in China and the income and parents’ education levels from the school were in the average range of the city.  The experimental group used an educational tablet app twice a week for 12 weeks in an effort to examine their sustained attention and attention orientation speed. Building on previous findings, educational digital apps could promote attention development in young children. The researchers believe their first hypothesis was proven, that tablet training with an educational app can foster sustained attention development in young children. However, their second hypothesis two – that tablet training with an educational app could accelerate young children’s attention orientation development – was inconclusive.

Sustained, but not gained

The results indicated that children in the experimental group had significantly longer fixation duration than that of the control group after 12 weeks of training using the app. However, the results did not provide evidence for accelerating the children’s orientation development. According to the study, attention in young children can be sustained but not necessarily gained from the use of technology apps. Yet, the researchers believe the outcomes show how educational game-based tablet apps lead to positive attention development in young children. The results of the study serve to reinforce previous research that children as young as 4 years old can have improvements in sustained attention with intervention.   

Aside from limiting media usage, a suggestion for practice is allowing students to complete one task before moving on to another. This requires setting up an expectation for how many tasks, activities, or games children are engaged with, as this will allow for greater ease in student completion.

Notable Quotes: 

“The study suggests more collaboration between educational organizations and software companies to create appropriate educational apps with built-in, routine school activities, and appropriate features for preschool students to operate, play, learn, and practice.”

“The main purpose of the study is to examine the effect of using an educational serious game in preschools on young children’s attention development. A preschool classroom has an environment full of visual, aural, or other distractions. Many empirical studies (Axelsson et al., 2016; Del Moral et al., 2015; Falloon, 2013; Neumann, 2014, 2018; Ramos & Melo, 2018; Walczak & Taylor, 2018) proceed with cognition, literacy, numeracy, and other digital interventions in school or classroom environments for the best ecological validity.“

“On the basis of the feedback from classroom teachers and children, a qualified, children-friendly app can play an important role in young children’s learning process… This implies that the school and the government should establish appropriate tablet- assisted educational serious game learning activities in preschool curricula. However, factors such as age, settings, children’s development level, teacher’s familiarity on an app content, and features have to be considered in the introduction of new technology. This requires evaluations and personal use experiences from educators and practitioners.”

Personal Takeaway

As an educator, the one element in the study that resonated most was the need for diversification of methods for how students might access learning. The tablet app provided for a range of activities, including video, drawings, nursery rhymes, and games versus a more traditional approach. Though evidence continues to be compiled for the positive effects of technology, the authors indicated how technology should be intentionally used and in balance. This aligns with my experiences in the classroom but also with years as a boarding school faculty house parent. The nature of this research centering on such young children and the introduction of technology only emphasizes the gravitas of intentionality


Matt Piercy

Summarized Article:

Wen Liu, Liting Tan, Dan Huang, Nan Chen & Fang Liu (2021) When Preschoolers Use Tablets: The Effect of Educational Serious Games on Children’s Attention Development, International Journal of Human–Computer Interaction, 37:3, 234-248, DOI: 10.1080/10447318.2020.1818999

If you asked me two years ago while I was in Teacher’s College what
my dream job would be, I would have replied without hesitation…”Easy! A High School English teacher.” From a high
schooler with a passion for reading to an undergraduate student
taking English courses on everything from comics & cartoons to
Shakespeare and dystopian narratives, I thrived in teaching
placements where I was assigned to an English classroom. There
was no better feeling than doing a read-aloud as a class and seeing
a student engaged in a book for the first time all year or witnessing
students discuss how a novel sparked their interest in a social justice
issue and what they were going to do to get involved…or so I thought.
This was before I had experienced a MARIO classroom.
My first teaching position was as a High School Learning Support Associate. Correct, I did not accept a job as an
English teacher and instead moved across the world to take a job in an area that I had no prior experience in
(shocking, I know!). However, I would soon come to realize that this seemingly nonsensical decision would
significantly change my career trajectory. It was in this learning support role that I was fortunate to be
introduced to the MARIO Framework as my colleagues used the framework on a daily basis within the
department and my mentor was in fact a highly-certified MARIO Educator. As I started to orient myself around
campus and gain a better picture of what my new roles and responsibilities would be as an associate, I took
time to observe my mentor in action. It was during this time of observation that a few things stood out to me
about a MARIO classroom:

Students were willing to share about
themselves as learners and individuals.

Within the first few minutes of class, students were sharing about their days, speaking honestly about
what was going well and what was challenging, as well as openly sharing their authentic feelings,
everything from tired and bored to nervous and excited. Until then, I had never met students who
were so aware of their feelings and needs, let alone who were comfortable sharing these with a
teacher (and sometimes their classmates) without fear of judgment.

Students were excited to become
improved versions of themselves.

I witnessed students running into class practically bursting at the seems to share about their grade
on a recent test, yet at the same time, would acknowledge that they crammed their studying and
wanted to use the Pomodoro studying technique for their next assessment to improve their
academic performance. What high school student gets excited about studying!?

Students were reflective thinkers and
independent problem-solvers.

Students were describing situations and identifying actionable next steps that would bring them an
appropriate conclusion with only subtle prompting from the teacher. Students were not being
enabled, but rather empowered to find their own solutions.

Over the course of the semester, I became more confident in the use of the framework and began to co-lead
some of the learning conversations alongside my mentor. Here, I witnessed powerful student transformations
unlike anything else I had seen before and formed strong, trustful student-teacher relationships. As January
rolled around, my one-year contract was halfway done, and it was time to make a decision. Do I stay in this
role? Or do I leave and try to start my journey as an English teacher? If you are reading this letter, I guess it is
obvious that I chose to stay. While there are a whole host of reasons that contributed to this decision, put
simply, I could not imagine being in a job that did not allow me to put students first. In a MARIO classroom,
students are everything. The conversations I have with my learners, the lessons that I create, and the
celebrations and moments of growth they have, are all a result of what my students tell me is meaningful to
them and my willingness to listen and respond appropriately.

Now, two years later, I have made the decision to leave. However, I am not leaving to become an English
teacher (although I still love supporting students in their English classes) or because I do not enjoy what I do,
but rather to further my career in special education as a full-time Learning Support Teacher because I love it so
much. My colleagues can attest to the fact that I say “I love my job” at least once a day, and no, this is not an
exaggeration. I love that student voices can shine and that I can have a genuinely student-driven classroom. I
love that every day is different because students help inform what we discuss and what we learn. I love that
parents/guardians notice tangible growth in their children. I love that students are excited about their learning
and want to participate in the learning process after seeing and celebrating their own improvements. I love
that I am part of a group of educators who are dedicated to improving their practice to best serve students. I
love that I have a job that I enjoy so much that it makes it hard to leave the amazing students and colleagues
who I have come to know. While I am sad that this chapter is closing, I could not be more excited to start my
new position and continue to work at a job that I truly love for many more years to come. Thank you, MARIO, for
helping me fall in love with an avenue of teaching that was never even on my radar.

“Don’t offer a lecture to a person who needs a hug” – Funmi Iyanda

Dear fellow educators,

As I write, it is nearing the end of the much-needed summer break after our third COVID teaching year. This pandemic has brought about so much hand-wringing stress and disorienting change to those in our line of work; I’ve ceased to think in terms of ‘years AD’ and am now measuring the passage of time in ‘years PP’ (post-pandemic). As in, “Maybe in 4 PP we’ll be teaching face-to-face for the whole year.” Or, “I wonder if I’ll be able to visit my friends in Tasmania/Beijing/Romania by 5 PP.” It would be comical if this were the plot of a new dystopian Netflix show and all the characters were shuffling around in hazmat suits; as it is, I can’t watch those shows anymore, because they all hit too close to home. 

There have been moments in the last three years where all of my international teaching experience, parenting experience, life experience pre-Covid seemed to mean very little in the face of the volatility, instability, and ambiguity of the lives we were now forced to lead. Students have melted down in my office and refused to return to school for weeks. Colleagues have suffered distressing outbursts in staff meetings. My own mental well-being and that of my children is something I have to keep in careful balance every day, lest we all spiral into a Very. Bad. Place. A lot of the time it feels like I’m walking on a tightrope with my feet in flippers.

So, as I look toward the start of the new academic year, what can I carry forward in my teaching practice in ‘4 PP’? 

Meticulously planned provocations, an exciting array of extracurricular activities, rigorous assessments designed with three levels of differentiation—all of these things mean nothing if we don’t first recognize that our learners are still in a state of chronic trauma. We need to stop and address their traumatized brains first; only then can we expect them to be ready for academic learning.   

Our autonomic nervous systems have evolved to respond to stress in three different ways. On the less adaptive end of the continuum are the fight/flight and freeze responses. The extreme pressures that have come from lengthy isolation and the constant threat of loss—loss of income, loss of freedoms, loss of loved ones—has made many of us more likely to resort to these more primitive responses, through no choice of our own.

The third, more evolved response to stress is our ability to lean on those close to us for support and security. This is known as our social engagement system, which is developed through consistent empathic treatment from humans around us, and the single most important factor in soothing a brain that has become susceptible to fight/flight or freeze is human-to-human connection. The act of having someone listen to us, validate our feelings, and work with us to solve problems has proved to be highly effective in activating this type of response and forms the basis of many existing therapeutic approaches.  

Of course, every student deals with trauma differently—some to a greater or lesser degree than others. Learners whose brains have become more prone, over prolonged hardship, to default to fight/flight or freeze tend to demonstrate the most maladaptive classroom behaviors. This can be incredibly challenging, especially when our own autonomic nervous systems are overburdened. But here’s the bottom line; knowing where the behavior is coming from is hugely consequential. When we handle our students’ emotional dysregulation in a way that is compassionate and solutions-oriented, we also soothe ourselves, because it allows us to be more consistent in our interactions and promotes positive relationships between us and our learners. 

This is why I strongly believe that my training in The MARIO Framework could not have come at a more opportune time. I already knew from experience that children and young people need meaningful connections in order to learn, but MARIO has shown me how to operationalize this concept in the classroom through one-to-one learning in a way that is both flexible and powerful. 

When you start having structured, intentional one-to-one sessions with students, one thing is absolutely guaranteed; your relationships with each of them will be deepened. Once I began to truly listen to my learners, they opened up in ways that I couldn’t have anticipated and told me things about their lives that I never would have known otherwise. Some of this can certainly be intense. There have been disclosures that made me run to our child protection officer as soon as class was over. With that said, there is a real comfort in knowing that I am able to forge connections with a child or young person that contributes, in a tangible way, to their long-term well-being.  

My students’ post-pandemic mental health has been, and continues to be, a significant worry. As with all things in special education, there is no quick fix for this. And as a school year wears on and anxiety over IEP goals mounts, it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to muscle through academic skill-building to the detriment of my learners’ emotional needs. Nevertheless, being able to implement The MARIO Approach in my classroom and understanding why those high-impact strategies work has been my port in the storm these past couple of years. I know that as long as I stay focused on my one-to-one relationships with my students, we’ll be able to get each other through.

With affection and gratitude,