“Learning Skills are a foundation for higher processing, without them even the brightest students will struggle.” – Maria Bagby
So what exactly are Learning Skills ? Can they be changed or improved?
All over the country there are regular classrooms that have individuals with the potential to be comfortable, independent learners, but they function like a computer that doesn’t seem to work, even though there appears to be nothing outwardly wrong with it. The computer story is what learning challenges are like for many students.
Every day there are parents asking themselves “what’s wrong with my child?” They can see the intelligence, but when it comes to schoolwork, they are living with things like:
- Taking 3 hours to do 45 minutes worth of homework
- Need someone sitting right there with them in order to get their work done
- Can’t keep their attention on their work for more than a few minutes
- Don’t get it, in spite of lots of help and repetition
- Appear lazy or unmotivated
- Don’t recognize words from one line to the next
- Can’t seem to get the “big picture” in a story or textbook
- Seem disorganized
- Cant’ follow directions
It just doesn’t “add up” and both parents and students end up “tearing their hair out” trying to make sense out of things that don’t seem to make sense. Well, the reality is that many of these children have impaired ‘Learning Skills‘ that are not readily apparent unless they are specifically assessed by a professional.
In “technical” terms, these ‘Learning Skills‘ are underlying processing and executive function skills and can include such areas as:
- Phonemic awareness – the thinking process that supports phonics for reading and spelling
- Processing speed
- Auditory and visual memory
- Visual and auditory processing
- Language processing
- Logic and reasoning
- Integration and organization
The good news
The Learning Skills building blocks can be “reprogrammed” or “retrained” to work more, which means that most students can become comfortable, independent learners in school situations. And because of the “plasticity” of the brain, this work can be done at any age. In computers, it is as easy as installing a new program. In humans, the concept is the same, but it takes more than a few minutes. (More about Plasticity)
There are now tools/programs that remediate the inefficient Learning Skills so that a student who needed extra help can, over a matter of time, become both independent and comfortable.
“Patience is a virtue” the old saying goes. But for many students, going more slowly or repeating the directions over and over again, simply doesn’t make a difference. They can pay attention all day, but until they can process the information, it simply doesn’t make sense. And that becomes exhausting to the student, the instructors, and parents. I know how quickly I give up when the information on my computer doesn’t “work” properly.
Here at the Therapeutic Literacy Center, our sequence is:
- Evaluate and determine exactly what are the inefficiencies
- Apply the right tools to strengthen the underling skills
- Transfer those skills to academic areas until those skills are automatic
The focus is to invest the time to build a strong foundation of underlying Learning Skills -in the computer analogy, ‘install the programs’- so that the brain is ready to learn and hold onto the academic information, and then extra help will no longer be needed.
By using the right tools, students can strengthen and overcome the inefficiencies that hold them back. Rather than “limping” through academic life, these students can truly become comfortable, independent learners.