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May 1, 2024

Teaching Channel Talks Episode 91: Unlocking Student Success Through Cognitive Skills (w/ Dr. Greg King)

This episode of Teaching Channel Talks features a conversation between Dr. Wendy Amato and Dr. Greg King, the Director of Research from Mindprint Learning, discussing how different cognitive skills in students impact how they process information. They delve into the importance of leveraging cognitive skills for personalized learning, the impact of Mindprint assessments on student growth, and the practical application of data in educational settings to empower students and improve teaching strategies.

Our Guest

Dr. Greg King is the Director of Research for MindPrint Learning, a cognitive assessment that uses objective data to teach students how they learn best and provides strategies personalized to students’ learning strengths and needs. With over 15 years of experience in education research and policy analysis, Dr. King is passionate about collaborating with others to solve complex and systemic problems in education.

Our Host

Dr. Wendy Amato is the Chief Academic Officer at Teaching Channel’s parent company, K12 Coalition. Wendy earned her Master’s in Education and Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Virginia. She holds an MBA from James Madison University. Wendy began teaching in 1991, has served as a Middle School Administrator, and still teaches at UVA’s School of Education. She has delivered teacher professional development workshops and student leadership workshops in the US and internationally. Wendy and her family live near Charlottesville, Virginia.

Resources for Continued Learning

If you enjoyed this episode, you can learn more about how MindPrint Learning’s cognitive assessment is helping students identify their strengths and reach their highest potential by visiting their website.

Teaching Channel is proud to partner with MindPrint Learning with a new course that helps teachers who have access to the MindPrint Learning Assessment engage every learner in their classroom. If you’re a part of the MindPrint community, you can check out course 5298: Science of Learning: A Practical Approach to Engaging Every Learner.


Episode Transcript

Dr. Wendy Amato: Welcome to Teaching Channel Talks. My name is Wendy Amato. I’m your host, and as often as I can, I jump into conversations about education. And in this episode, I’m welcoming Greg King from Mindprint. Greg, welcome.

Dr. Greg King: Thank you so much for having me. It’s such an honor to be here.

Dr. Wendy Amato: Tell everyone what you do, Greg.

Dr. Greg King: I am the director of research for Mindprint Learning, and prior to that I was part of NWA as a research scientist, and I’ve been working in education for a while.

Dr. Wendy Amato: That sounds very nerdy, so I’m glad you’re here. I’m with the right people when I’m with my nerd herd. So Mindprint helps us understand what is happening in student thinking.

Tell me what people should know about Mindprint.

Dr. Greg King: All right. Sure. What we do is we measure cognitive skills of students. So really how a student processes information. It’s not learning styles. It’s really about how the brain, students brains, encode, decode information in ways that they can then access.

Which we want them to do, right? We want them to be able to access that information, so that they can tell us what they know, or that shows up on assessments, state tests, things like that that we look to say students are, making progress in these areas. But beyond that, it also tells us, hey, this student’s really talented and really gifted, and this specific way of encoding and decoding information has these types of cognitive skills that we should pay attention to.

Dr. Wendy Amato: And so you’re the data guy for this organization. What kind of numbers, what data is flowing through your hands? Can you tell us a little bit about how you measure cognitive skills?

Dr. Greg King: Sure. We measure 10 different kind of skills. From executive functioning skills to complex thinking to memory and to verbal reasoning and things like that.

Spatial reasoning. So we measure 10 different cognitive skills and this assessments developed through the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, their brain development lab and then we have a license to actually go and take that test and apply it to. Students across the country because we think that every student should have the ability to see their strengths, their cognitive strengths and have supports for those areas where we might need supports.

So we have all that data.

Dr. Wendy Amato: Are you looking at that data at an individual level in aggregate? What are you looking for when you are like in the matrix with the numbers flowing down from the ceiling? What do you see a lady with the umbrella?

Dr. Greg King: I tend to see more of Neo doing the backward bend trying to do the backward bend, but and sometimes I tried to do it. It doesn’t work out for me anymore.

Really what I’m looking at is at the individual level. So we want teachers to know their students. But we also want to be able to build a different way of thinking about how we group students in classes so they can learn, right? So we do have some aggregate data that we build up to so that we can look at where schools or grades are, where students are clustered at.

So they can see how to help maybe tweak lessons or change. Maybe groupings in terms of reading, right? So maybe there’s a different way that we need to group students for reading that’s not achievement based, but more of a cognitive skills based. And maybe there’s a different way to do that in math. And so we’ll aggregate up to the school to the teacher, to the classroom level.

But really, we’re also really focused on the students. So I look at the individual students as well. We have reports for individual students. We have reports for teachers. We have reports for schools as well. So we look at all the different levels.

Dr. Wendy Amato: It is fascinating to think about recommendations for grouping that are based on cognitive skills instead of level because there’s the automatic default in the education world where you’ve got your rabbits and your turtles and you know the fast group and the slower group and everybody’s expected to get to the learning objectives but the it seems like speed sometimes is the is a distinguishing factor.

How would you group people by cognitive skills? What are we talking about?

Dr. Greg King: Sure. I love that example. I’m gonna actually give a way of thinking about this, right? So for some students, you have students that may have really attuned to Visual memory, right? So so you could give them a group of a paragraph.

And I think as a teacher when I was training to I did not become go into the classroom become a full time teacher when I was training a teacher, right? We had sometimes those paragraphs and you have you give us your paragraph or a word problem for math, and you had some students that would read it.

And a minute later go, I didn’t, I don’t even remember what I read, right? What am I supposed to be doing here with it? And then they read it again. And 10 minutes later, they’re still trying to go through the problem because they’re like, I cannot, I just, I am struggling to get this word problem into my brain to, to conceptualize what to do in the order I’m supposed to do it.

And that’s not necessarily that they can’t read the words. They can read the words, right? They’re, they know what each word says. They can encode it. They can decode it. They’re telling you what the definitions are, but there’s something going on where there’s synaptic connections in their brain are working differently that maybe a student that reads that word problem goes, Oh yeah, it’s this, right?

And you’re like, show your work, show me how you got to that answer. We could group students by saying, Hey, there’s some students that you could give them the word problem, but then help them or change it in a way that doesn’t change the need to solve that problem, but puts it in a way that they can process.

Maybe it’s more visual. Maybe you have a visual representation next to a verbal one and you have students that are working out the same problems. One’s doing it a little bit more with language, another’s doing it a little bit more with visual representations of those complex connections. And you might see different results, and they might come to different conclusions, but the same answer.

They might go through that process differently, is what I mean to say and come to a really powerful, similar answer, but you’re easing the frustration for those students that might be processing that information differently. And now they’re trying to believe in themselves too, right? Now you’re getting a class that fully sees, Hey, I can do this work.

I know this. I do know it. I can do it. And you’re changing that, also that student’s viewpoint of their own self worth.

Dr. Wendy Amato: I love hearing a description where you’re talking about students working on the same problem, but in a different way. Because we know as teachers prepare lessons and get ready for different activities their concern is, how can I possibly create different work for different groups, and I hear you saying it’s the same problem, they’re going to get to the Same answer and setting them up for the pathway to be different is where we really leverage the cognitive skills differentiation.

What a relief for educators. We can take our students through the same lesson and give them the tools they need to do the work differently.

Dr. Greg King: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s all about how, Hey, if I know that you process information this way, that your brain is biased towards these connections. Why don’t I just give you some ways that’s helpful or give you strategies so that you can know what you need to do to organize your thoughts in this other way when you can’t, when you can’t change what’s out there, right?

We’re all faced with those scenarios where this is really difficult for me to process this information, but it’s still going to exist in the world outside of education. So how do I use strategies that will help me be successful in that space?

Dr. Wendy Amato: Greg, some people have suggested that MindPrint can be an antidote to bias or prejudice or preference in the classroom.

How does a data processing person consider the use of MindPrint in the classroom?

Dr. Greg King: In our world today, we have so much data that we’re inundated with. Every part of our lives is driven in some way by information or data that we come in contact with, right? Like we’re getting ads to save money.

We’re getting at, we go to the store and it’s, oftentimes how even coupons that we get in the mail are based on our recent shopping purchases. From the store, right? So so we have all this data around us. And I think if I’m sitting in a classroom right now, it’s how do I connect this data so that I can see the results I need to see?

We want to build lifelong learners. We know that most jobs in the future don’t exist today. And so how do we build students that are flexible in their thinking that have complex reasoning that have really good executive functioning skills or have the strategies to rely on those things? So if I’m a, if I’m a data person or sitting in a classroom looking at my students or looking at my teachers, if I’m a principal or looking at my district, if I’m a district administrator, how do I Take all of these information, these piece of information and connect them in meaningful ways.

And I think MindPrint if I’m looking at the data, the cognitive skills that are that we deliver that with the information we deliver, it’s really saying, okay, so I know that I have this spread of students in my school. Or in my classroom, and here’s what the achievement tests say. And here’s maybe if we use social emotional learning or grit or whatever.

We want to call those types of things that tell us where a student is dealing with the blockers that they’re that they have, right now in terms of belief or motivation or things like that. And we connect all of that. We start to get a really clear picture that, you know, A, if I improve or rely on some cognitive skills, I can see a better increase in growth and on my achievement.

And I can also. improve some self efficacy. I can improve students belief in oneself because I’m connecting their learning back. And that then reinforces these ideas as I go forward to, hey, better self efficacy, improve student achievement, improve student growth, better commitment to understanding, hey, these are the strategies that you need as a student, improve student growth, improve student self efficacy, and we start building better students that know that they can solve the problems that are put in front of them, even if they don’t know the answers right now.

Dr. Wendy Amato: Let’s get personal with this and see how you built a better Greg because you have your own MindPrint. I’d be interested in hearing what some of those findings were, how your brain works, and maybe if you’re willing to get personal, share a little bit about what may have changed since you got a better understanding of your own cognitive skills.

Dr. Greg King: This is a, this is such a interesting thing. So I did not know, I did not know Mindprint. I said, I didn’t know the specific results that I would get when I took it. And I went ahead and took it, was looking at all the data and was really something clicked for me because I have my lowest area, Was, or the area where it was like low expected.

It was, I was like on the bottom end of average and it was visual motor speed and I was and so visual motor speed is essentially the your brain’s ability to process the. You know what comes in and how fast you move. So like really top tier athletes have high visual motor speed, right?

So if you’re thinking about baseball or something like that, where a pitcher throws a ball in a batter is able to process that where that ball is going to go in a mat in a millisecond, swing the bat and hit a home run that requires really great visual motor speed. We know we don’t all have that. So I was a decent athlete, but I was terrible at handwriting.

So I’m a very slow writer when I have to do it by hand, and it looks awful. And I would always get tripped up in school because I would say because the teachers would give us lessons, and I would take notes, and I would look at my notes, And I would have no clue what I read, and then I would focus on taking notes so I could read what I wrote, and the teacher would already have moved on, so I’d miss an entire section because I was taking one sentence, and it took me 10 minutes to write that one sentence.

And I remember re looking at my print going, that explains it! I am just not, that is not a skill and no matter how much I work at it, I might improve elements of it. I’m never going to be the fastest writer, but if a teacher stops for a minute, And lets me catch up, then I’m going to be successful.

Then I’d be more successful. What I relied on in school. And I realized when I was in school, I just didn’t write notes. I never wrote notes. I was looking back. So I took my MindPrint. I looked back and I was like, that’s an interesting finding. So then I went back and looked at my notes. And realized I never took notes.

All my writings were all based on, were arrows pointing to when teachers handed me a handout of notes. I relied on my working memory, which is really high. So I was always, I always told people, Oh yeah, I never really took notes because I just remembered what the teacher said and then could just go do it.

So that’s how the mind, so the mind perfectly in that. And then the other piece was flexible thinking that I’m really, I was really high on flexible thinking and complex reasoning. And I was thinking back about that, of how I would always be the person in the groups that would try to find my ways around rules.

So I was always the person that was like it doesn’t say. That we can’t do this.

Dr. Wendy Amato: Flexible thinking that you’re talking about also, if I understand Mindprint correctly, is about taking information that has been learned in a specific context and being able to be in another context and use that knowledge in a fresh location.

Dr. Greg King: Yes that’s flexible thinking. I think, other things, working memory, visual memory, those are things that are core to how we process information. So there’s all these examples in my life that I look and go, wow, that was really spot on for where I struggled and also where I was successful because I could figure out how to do things.

Dr. Wendy Amato: We’ve got this opportunity to talk with you about the data that comes from taking a MindPrint assessment. I’d love to hear also if you’re involved in the data that shows the impact on classes and schools and programs that have committed to using MindPrint in a widespread way.

Dr. Greg King: Yeah, we’re just finishing up some preliminary studies on MindPrint with an organization called CAST, and We’re really excited about those results.

So one of the things that I saw in the data in our first preliminary study was the percent of students who met their growth goals, their academic growth goals, right? At their achievement growth goals, when they had MindPrint and they coupled it with a course that taught them how to use their own data, which is called boost yourself course, they, those students were increasing in both math and reading.

The class was increasing the number of students that were meeting their growth goals. And it was at a pretty amazing clip, right? That’s a that’s an impressive thing to be able to do to help students actually meet their growth goals. So it’s not about achievement. We’re looking at achievement because really right now it’s how do I help you grow?

How do I help you show your knowledge and meet your goals? And so Mindprint was showing that in our first study. We had a treatment and control group. I think in reading the first term after, like while they were going through the course the percent of students who met their growth goals increased by 15%.

Dr. Wendy Amato: That’s significant. If you’re a school leader, those are numbers you want to be celebrating in your program.

Dr. Greg King: Yeah, that’s our, and so we’re redoing this study again to, to get more data on it because it was our first preliminary study, but that was amazing. In math, the difference between students meeting their growth goals, the students in the boost yourself course, the treatment group were growing in math while the students in the control group, actually that percent dropped.

The percent of students meeting their growth goals dropped. There was a 10 percent difference between students meeting their growth goals in the treatment and students who are meeting their growth goals in the control group, a 10 percent difference. And those that maintained into that next term after the BOOST course was done, right?

Dr. Wendy Amato: And MindPrint has a new course available called, Science of Learning: A Practical Approach to Engaging Every Learner, that helps educators understand how to put these recommendations into practice. That makes all the difference. Getting the results is great.

It’s an important first step, but understanding how to improve the teaching and learning experience, that’s what we’re all in this.

Dr. Greg King: And giving that students to students as well, so that they can empower themselves, right? So that they know what they need. They provide those strategies. They see it actually working for themselves and they work with the teachers to do that, right?

It’s not just we’re not just saying teachers do this one job. It’s saying hey, this is every person You as a student, you as an adult here’s information for you to understand how you learn and process information. Let’s use that together with all these other things than all these other tools that we have in our hands.

Dr. Wendy Amato: Greg, what recommendations would you make to educators right now, based on the knowledge you have, the data you’ve seen and the experiences that, Mindprint can provide? What is the call to action for educators?

Dr. Greg King: Sure. My, my call to action is really, it’s not about just having more information. It’s about having connected, meaningful information.

And so what my call to action is to educators to really think about what are the information, what’s the information that I need to make a difference in my students lives. And. Where can I go to get that information? So we know that, for instance, cognitive skills, we did a study that showed that cognitive skills account for about 50 percent of variability in achievement tests.

But only account for about 10 percent of the data that our schools have, right? So it’s not just more data. It’s about better connected data. And the second question is, how do I use that to create lifelong learning knowing that Where our students need to go to be successful, right? We don’t just need to teach them facts.

We need to help build students that know what their cognitive skills are, understand their abilities, and then can go out and capture what they want to do with those things.

Dr. Wendy Amato: Thank you for reminding us that this really is about the long term benefits. It’s not just to get a good grade on a test or quiz.

It’s about setting our students up for a lifetime of success and use their strengths. Greg, thank you.

Dr. Greg King: Thank you so much. This is Wonderful. And I’m so happy to be a part of it.

Dr. Wendy Amato: To our fellow educators, thank you all for joining us in this conversation. If you’d like to explore the topics that Greg and I discussed today, please check out the show notes at teachingchannel.com/podcast, and be sure to subscribe on whatever listening app you use. It will help others to find us and to learn how to support their students. I’ll see you again soon for the next episode. Thanks for listening.

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