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SUMMARY OF RESEARCH ORIGINS



HOFFMANN LEARNING RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Chico, CA.
SUMMARY OF RESEARCH: Lee Hoffmann, Ph. D

 

 

Reading through the volumns of material relating to perceptual dysfunctions, there is no evidence that anyone has ever looked at all three major modalities - visual, auditory and motor - concurrently. We believe the major reason that 'perceptual dysfunction' as a usable tool has been discarded is primarily due to misunderstandings and not to lack of trying or searching. Another important factor which added to the confusion lies in the individual inconsistencies discovered. A student might be good at math but terrible at reading, or the opposite, or an average reader but incapable of doing the motor skills. The only groups that scored consistently were the performing gifted population and top reading groups. Add to this the experience of each first grader being capable of learning all ten motor skills given the opportunity, and the problem is seen as one of awareness. The difficulties, for students and teachers, are real enough, but explaining them and then improving them have been virtually impossible due to the confusion involved. 

 

Only by a process of trial and error has it been possible to find the materials and diagnostic tools that correlate with observed levels of functioning. The diagnostic tools used, and the exercises developed, are not random. They are a core program because they have been shown to retain their predictability when literally hundreds of others did not and were discarded. In addition, to be useful it was necessary that progress be monitored, with a predetermined beginning and ending that would correlate with gains in academics. Once that was accomplished, the pieces gradually began to fit. 

 

One factor proved essential in the development of HIPP; the fact that Dr. Hoffmann was in daily contact with her students for seven years of their academic life, whereas the average teacher has only one year to observe any given student. 

 

Purpose: To test the validity of diagnosing and remediation of information-processing deficiencies in k-6 students, utilizing a program developed over a 20 year period of classroom research and remediation. The crucial difference between this intervention curriculum and others is the diagnosis and remediation of three major brain modalities: motor, visual and auditory. It is our experience that if any one of these modalities is deficient and left unattended, the child may suffer serious academic underperformance. It is well known that those students in the second grade who fail to perform, are the same students in the third, fourth and fifth grade who fail to perform, even though they've been singled out for numerous interventions all along. 
 

Summary of pilot projects:
 

In order to test the validity of the “halo” effect, (that is, any source of special attention will cause an increase in productivity), a school psychologist worked with a group of fifth and sixth grade students who were acting-out, non-learners. At the end of the six month study the negative behaviors had lessened noticeably, yet there were no gains in academic skills.
 

A group of senior high school boys were provided a time and place to practice only the motor skills. At the end of two months, they had gained an average of nine months in word-attack skills.
 

Thirty-eight students at a juvenile detention facility were tested in all three processing areas. Based on the well-documented fact that this population is among the lowest in academic skills, the hypothesis was made that they would be among the lowest in processing functions. Ninety-two percent failed the auditory assessment.

A remediation program set up in the juvenile court school lasted two and a half months. Although no post-testing was possible due to the transience of the students it was found that two years later none of those involved in the study had returned (recidivism is normally about 80%). 

 

In two classes of identified gifted children, administration of the same visual processing test yielded deficiencies of 2% in one and 10% in the other. Two first grade classes of 13 students each were used as control and experimental groups. The pre and post testing for the control group covered a nine month period. Average reading gain was nine months. The testing and remediation period for the experimental group ran only five months. Average reading gain was twenty months.
 

General Summary of Data:
 

Beginning with Pilot Program number three, funding from the David and Lucille Packard Foundation enabled the testing of over three thousand students. Included in the sample populations were the following categories:


Severely Emotionally Disturbed (out-of-control )
Primary Mental Development Delayed
Special Day Class - severe Learning Dysfunction
Resource Specialist - moderate Learning Dysfunction
Regular classes
Cluster Gifted Classes
OK Classes: Alternative classes organized by involved parents along “Summerhill”lines
Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Blind and Partially Sighted
Orthopedically Disabled
English Language Learners

 

What has emerged is a continuum that runs from non-functioning to the functioning. Stronger information-processing skills correlate with higher academic achievement, produced by the performing gifted population. Weaker processing is found among low achievers, as in the case of incarcerated youth and learning disabled populations in schools or at work.
 

This pattern might also help to explain the phenomenon of low processing students doing well under individual or small group instruction but unable to maintain an adequate level of achievement in the larger classroom. With a slowed-down program they can process most of what is required, yet their core learning skills remain unchanged.
 

Many leaders in the field of brain research now agree that the three major processing modalities in the classroom are visual, auditory, and motor. However, these systems are not vision, hearing and action as we normally understand them. They are the processes by which the brain perceives and interprets what is going on in the environment as those signals enter the brain. Each perception and interpretation of abstract data, such as letters and numbers, is made on the basis of what signals enter the brain, coupled with whatever information is stored and accessed and how well neural pathways in the brain move that information along. Our study reveals that normal school activities do not address the neural levels of perception and interpretation, which are key to organizing information. If students' brains do not clearly perceive the letters and numbers, and the myriad organizations thereof, they will not process that information correctly, consistently or efficiently.

We do not have to look far to see examples of this. Even a cursory observation of students in a public classroom will indicate profound disparities between the independent and the inefficient learner. The independent learner seems to get all the information necessary to carry out the assigned task while the inefficient learner has large gaps in skills necessary to process the needed information. This study indicates a strong link between poorly developed neural mechanisms, poor information processing and academic under-achievement.
 

There is evidence to indicate that certain selected materials can strengthen in-put, out-put efficiency. Implementation of this program at the first and second grade levels looks most promising. As a preventative measure it is possible to strengthen the core processing skills that undergird all academic activities.
 

Evidence for a neural-development approach to learning is to be found in many studies being issued from laboratories around the world. Russell Barkley (Scientific American, Book of the Brain; 2004 ) posits that key brain circuits may not have developed properly. Neuroplasticity indicates that given appropriate stimulation, new circuitry can be developed and strengthened. “While new connections can form quickly, the process must be initiated by appropriate challenge/stimulation…Such fundamental changes come from external challenges and can result in behavioral changes.” For our purposes this means higher levels of achievement in the classroom, or at work, as the case may be.

Ratey, in A Users Guide to the Brain, equates the brain to a “set of muscles...in need of training and practice”. We humans are literally a product of our sensory-motor system, but that system is not yet fully developed in many of us. The abstractions confronted in the modern classroom are far removed from the tactile, rough and tumble world that has historically been the training ground of the sensory-neural system.
 

Our thesis is that, in those cases of under developed sensory-neural systems, academics start at too high an initial level. The brain circuitry isn’t well organized enough when those students who need it start school. Beginning at the correct level and using new tools, the necessary circuitry can be developed in weeks, not years. Our brain's amazing neuroplasticity can be harnessed through special training curricula to achieve much more than we currently realize.