IEP Answers - Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.
Fit Learning
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Liz Weaver:          Hi and welcome back to IEP answers. I'm Liz Weaver of Learning Success and I'll be your host for this exciting video series. IEP answers is an initiative to help you understand individualized education plans, otherwise known as IEPs and this video series you will hear from educational professionals and parents alike giving you a well-rounded perspective from a variety of viewpoints. This information will help you determine if an IEP is needed at all and if so, how to work with the school to design an IEP that is scaffolding to building a better student rather than a crutch for them to lean on. In today's video, we have Kimberly Berens, Ph.D. Dr. Berens is the founder of fit learning and regional director of fit learning tristate in 1988 as a doctoral student in learning and behavioral science, Dr. Berens founded fit learning in a broom closet on campus at the University of Nevada Reno.

Liz Weaver:          Since her humble beginnings, Dr. Berens has driven the expansion of her organization by establishing a formal certification and licensure in her powerful method of instruction. As a result, fit learning now has 31 locations worldwide. With three to five new locations opening every year in 2010, Dr. Berens relocated to New York to open locations throughout the tristate area and beyond. For 20 years, Dr. Berens and her team had been developing and refining a powerful system of instruction based on the learning, behavioral and cognitive sciences. This system consistently produces over one year's growth in 40 hours of instruction. Her learning programs target areas such as basic classroom readiness, phonemic awareness, reading fluency, comprehension, inferential language, basic and advanced mathematics, grammar and expressive writing. Dr. Berens is also an experienced educational researcher who has published and presented extensively on science-based approaches and education. I think you're really going to enjoy this video. It's a little bit longer than the others but absolutely worth your time. Let's watch.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          Hi there. My Name's Dr. Kim Berens and I am here to talk to you today a little bit about navigating the IEP process. But before I get into that, let me just tell you a little bit about myself and why I have any authority on the matter. So I have a Ph.D. in Behavioral Science, which I will articulate a little bit more. And I'm also the founder of fit learning, which is an organization that provides transformative services, um, to kit you all kinds of kids, um, in the academic and cognitive area. And we rapidly transform and accelerate learning games because we divide designed and instructional methodology based on our science. And again, our science is extremely w, you know, unknown to most people, sadly and definitely misunderstood and miss characterized by, you know, people in the dominant establishments out there. So today when I provide you with this information, I want you to understand that this is a very different perspective than your you have been provided with in the past.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          You know you haven't had the opportunity to hear this because again, most people who are involved in this process with you are trained very differently. They come from the dominant traditions of psychology, the dominant traditions of education, or even from that, from the medical perspective, which, you know, your pediatrician might've been involved at some point inside of this whole thing. So, you know, again, I want you to understand that that is, that is one perspective. Um, and that sadly is the dominant one that, you know, runs the show in education and in our society more generally. But to be quite frank, there's actually a very well established science out there that is extremely pragmatic. And what by pragmatic, I mean, we create effective change, we solve problems and we improve the quality of life for individuals. Um, you know, of all types.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          So behavioral science is actually the science of learning. And I'm going to repeat that because that's not kind of understood. You know, when people, I don't know what people think when they hear behavioral science, but most of the time you're probably thinking problem behavior, right? We deal with people with real problems. You know, we're dealing with those kinds of behaviors. But that's not necessarily the case. Now, sure there are branches, there are people in our field that focus on that. And that's been, they're profoundly affected and you know, vastly improved the quality of life for people with really serious behavioral issues. However, what's not understood is that behavioral science is actually the science of learning. We are the science of learning, which is kind of an interesting thing to know because we are marginalized and excluded more often than not from educational practices and from what happens in traditional psychology because our perspective on learning, and again, it's not an opinion, it's based on almost a century of science kind of goes against the grain of what traditional, you know, perspectives are.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          So what does that mean? So from the behavioral perspective, you know, learning is actually best defined as the change in behavior over time. Um, you know, that is the only way from a scientific perspective, and again, you know, you have to remember we are in that, you know, behavioral signs as a science. And not only that, it's a natural science. So similar to chemistry or biology or physics, we study learning with the same scientific methodology. So, meaning we observe our phenomenon over time and then we manipulate specific variables in the environment and evaluate their effects over time. And so we do this in the area of, of behavior, which is the only observable evidence we have that learning has occurred. So, so, so that being said, so we define behavior at learning as a change in behavior over time because to be quite honest, that's the only way we can know that learning is taking place.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          That's something changes, right? So for instance, when a child is reading, the only way we know that their reading is improving is if we watch them reading over time and we somehow, and we are experts in knowing how to do this, you know, design a way to measure reading behavior such that we can evaluate if reading is improving over time. And so our fundamental measure in our science is actually count per minute. And again, there's a century of science that suggests that this is the most precise and sensitive and reliable measure of learning. So count per minute. So, for instance, a hundred words read correctly, permit, that is a scientific measure of reading behavior that comes from the science of learning or behavioral science. Uh, you know, in math you might look at, you know, number of correct math problems completed per minute.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          You might look at, you know, number of correct equations, identify per minute. So everything is measured as count per minute. And what this has allowed us to discover as a science is that the, the most, you know, number one precise and sensitive measure of learning is count per minute or count per time. And another is that the most that the, the, the way to evaluate mastery other behavior is by looking at something called fluency. So fluency is also measured as count per minute. But what we have discovered in our science, which coincides with what, with what happens in neuroscience is that as, as we engage in repeated reinforced practice of a behavior, over time that behavior becomes more and more rapid, that behavior becomes like a, at a higher pace, more correct or, or you know, error list or accurate. Alright. And then there comes a, there comes a point where that behavior hits a ceiling and can't improve anymore because it's occurring at the pace, at the highest piece of can, and then what we discovered is when kids achieved that level of fluency or automaticity, effortlessness, other ways, you can talk about that.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          When children achieve that level of fluency, three things reliably occur. Number one, that behavior is neurologically permanent. What does that mean? If it is remembered, it is remembered over long periods of time, even in the absence of ongoing practice. So number one, when children achieve fluency, which is a true measure of mastery of a skill or behavior, that's something the child does, then that is neurologically permanent. It doesn't go away. All right, number one. Number two, when children achieve fluency, there is a grand resistance to distractions and fatigue. What does that mean? That means that fluency increases attention span. Now keep that in the back of your hat because let's think about all the ADHD diagnoses that are happening out there. So attention span has improved and number three children are more likely to apply skills easily as easily and effortlessly for the learning of more complex things.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          All right, so our science, which again is not re not well-liked by the establishment, it is marginalized, has discovered that when you ha, when you have repeated reinforced practice of skills over time they moved to a level of mastery called fluency, which produces neurological permanent increases in attention span and the ability to apply skills to learning more difficult things, which should be the the basic outcomes of what education should produce. That's what we should be wanting our kids to do. Sadly, the educational establishment is not based on our science at all. They don't allow us in there unless it's dealing with kids with profound disabilities. We aren't involved because education isn't based on science. It's based on opinions and traditions and beliefs that go back. You know, since the turn of the 20th century it's archaic. So they haven't evolved. So sadly what's now happened is because kids are moved ahead in the grade levels based on age, not based on mastery of skills.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          What happens, kids have moved ahead because we're, you know, the expectation out there because of developmental psychology and developmental theory, which is all theory. The theory is that kids are going to improve and be able to learn more complicated things because they've turned a year older, which is not correct. And our science has demonstrated this. Learning cognitive or academic skills is not a function of development or age. It's a function of a very specific kind of training like anything, tennis, golf and a musical instrument, chess, math, reading, all of those things are based on training. They've, those are things we do and those are things we have to learn and we have to learn them via instruction. So sadly, when instruction is not designed based on science but based on opinions and traditions, many, many kids fail. 60% of the American population of students fail to achieve proficiency by the time they graduate.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          And that is a fact. We can look that up on the national assessment of educational progress. Nape go to the website. 60% of American schoolchildren graduate below proficiency. So 60% of kids fail. The educational system fails 60% of kids so we shouldn't be surprised that some of those failures are now being medicalized, meaning the blame is being placed on the child and it's being suggested that they have a learning disability or something inherently wrong with them that is promoting or producing this failure. However, I will tell you right now in my 20-year career with thousands and thousands of learners, less than 1% of the time our children impaired because of some neurological learning problem. More often than not, they have been classified for a learning disability because they have been instructional failed and they have been moved ahead through the grade levels. Process without true mastery of core component skills being achieved and as a function they can't function at the level they're expected to function because their core skills are not in plates and what do they need.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          They only need effective fluency based instruction so that they can have repeated reinforced practice of skills to mastery and then successfully move up the ladder. We have repeated these outcomes with thousands of kids for 20 years and most of them were either classified for the learning problem or on the way to being classified. And guess what? There was no learning problem. The problem lies in the instructional environment and the fact that education refuses to evolve. So as parents, if I can leave you with anything, it is the distinction that if you have not yet gone down this road and you've been told that your child is, has probably had a learning disability, needs to have a neuropsychological evaluation, please, if I can, you know it, do anything for you is find a way of getting them a, a skills assessment, a core skills assessment so that your child's core academic skills can be looked at with precision and can be identified as where are they not masterful?

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          Because I promise you they're not because education doesn't allow children that time or use the kind of methodologies required to produce that kind of mastery with kids. So more often than not, your children have no core mastery in skills, but they're expected to function as if they do and when they can't. They're labeled as having a learning problem which absolves the educational establishment of responsibility of educating them effectively and it medicalizes the problem. Psychological evaluations and all of those things don't look at learning at all. They look at your child's performance on one test and as a function of that performance on one test, and let me tell you it's performance. It's behavior on one test and inferences made about why they performed that way. The inference being they have dyslexia, they have dyscalculia, they have some auditory or visual processing disorder, but that has never been directly measured.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          That is an inference made based on the performance on a test by which there are many other explanations for why they performed that way. Number one is they haven't mastered the skills required to perform well. Would you say much more simple, pragmatic explanation that is based on your child's history of instruction and lack of skill mastery? And the solution pragmatically is going in there and providing your child the kind of reinforced practice required to achieve true mastery of skills so they can be independent, vital, successful kids. If there's anything that I hope to accomplish in my career, it is creating power for parents by having distinctions that they don't have around what is going wrong with the way your child is being educated and how your child is now being blamed for the fact that education doesn't work for the masses. And now your child's being medicalized for that failure.

Kimberly Berens, Ph.D.:          But the failure isn't your child's failure. That failure is the failure of the system and you need to know that. So there's my contribution to you and you can, you know, I don't know, find you. You know, I'm getting, I'm Dr. Kim Berens. You can Google me and find me everywhere. I'm happy to have further conversations with anyone who's interested in this because of the passion of my life. So good luck out there. Stay strong and be powerful with your kids and know what your rights are and know that more often than not, there's nothing wrong with your child. Thanks.

Liz Weaver:          Thank you, Dr. Berens. There was so much great information in that. This is one of those videos that you might want to watch twice. Today's video has been part of the IEP answers initiative and initiative to educate parents about IEP from a variety of viewpoints. We've created this because this is an important subject that's so many parents need to understand. Please make sure to share the video and to use the Hashtag IEP answers so we can find you on social media. If you would like to be a part of IEP answer's initiative and share your story or your expertise on the subject, please get in touch with us. Go to Use the contact form and put IEP answers in the subject line. Thanks again for watching and sharing in case no one has told you yet. Today, you are an amazing parent. I appreciate you for showing up and doing the work it takes to embrace your child's brilliance and unleash their potential. I'm Liz weaver of Learning Success, and I'll see you in tomorrow's video.



Kimberly Berens, Ph.D. is the Founder of Fit Learning and Regional Director of Fit Learning Tri-State.  In 1998 as a doctoral student in learning and behavioral science, Dr. Berens founded Fit Learning in a broom closet on campus at the University of Nevada, Reno.  Since her humble beginnings, Dr. Berens has driven the expansion of her organization by establishing a formal certification and licensure in her powerful method of instruction.  As a result, Fit Learning now has 31 locations worldwide, with 3 to 5 new locations opening each year.  In 2010, Dr. Berens relocated to New York to open locations throughout the Tri-State area and beyond.  For 20 years, Dr. Berens and her team have been developing and refining a powerful system of instruction based on the learning, behavioral and cognitive sciences.  This system consistently produces over one year’s growth in 40 hours of instruction. Her learning programs target areas such as basic classroom readiness, phonemic awareness, reading fluency, comprehension, inferential language, basic and advanced mathematics, grammar, and expressive writing.  Dr. Berens is also an experienced educational researcher who has published and presented extensively on science-based approaches in education.  

She has been an invited speaker at over 30 regional, national, and international conferences and has given over 100 presentations throughout her career on a variety of topics such as 1) the need for learning science in education, 2) the learning disability epidemic and its relation to current educational practices, 3) component skill fluency as a true measure of mastery, 4) the importance of cognitive fitness and how it is produced, 5) essential teaching skills and how to train masterful teachers, 6) the need for deliberate, purposeful practice for the production of expert performers, and 7) how to design learning environments to optimize academic outcomes for all learners.  Following an appointment by Governor Jim Gibbons, she served on the State of Nevada Board of Psychological Examiners from 2009 - 2010 where she assisted in the development of best practice guidelines for practitioners.  She has also provided clinical and research supervision to undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students in learning and behavioral science.  Dr. Berens is currently writing her first book on accelerating academic outcomes through instruction guided by learning and behavioral science.