Why are there students of average or above average intelligence who are struggling?
Do you love or hate computers? I don’t find very many people who are neutral. See if you can relate to one of these two scenarios.
Scene 1 – My friend has typed something important into his computer. It is instructions on where he has buried 5 million dollars for ME! He saves those directions in a file, then copies that file onto a disk to give to me.
I take that disk to my computer, copy it over and then read the directions. I then follow the directions and get the 5 million dollars. I’m very happy!
Scene 2 – Same friend, same deal…5 million dollars.
But this time when I place the disk into my computer, follow all of the steps, I can’t read the file.
That’s easy…I just go through the process again.
And again it doesn’t work. What should I do next? I really want to get this!
Maybe I slow down, pay attention a little closer, make sure I’m pushing the correct keys in the right order. I ask other people how they did it. Maybe I forgot to how to read this disk. I start to wonder what’s wrong with my computer!
Finally, after a very long time and lots of “sweat,” I start to get something. It is jumbled…a word or two here and there in between rows and rows of symbols and other gibberish. I try to print it out. I try to make sense of it. The instructions seem out of order and some steps must be missing. I try to figure out what isn’t there. I try to follow the instructions. I get into the “neighborhood,” but I can’t quite get to the place where all that money is buried.
Has this ever happened to you?
What happened? Why couldn’t
Now, some of you are saying to yourselves, “This happens to me every time I try to use the computer.” Others of you are starting to figure possibilities about what might have gone wrong.
In this case, the data was written by my friend in a computer program that I did not have on my computer. His computer arranged and processed the data differently than my computer.
There is nothing wrong with either computer. They are both “smart.” But one of the computers processes the data in ways the other one doesn’t. The answer? Get the program my friend used into my computer!
What’s the Point?
All over the country there are regular classrooms that have individuals with the potential to be comfortable, independent learners, but they look like that computer that doesn’t seem to work, even though there is nothing wrong with it.
Everyday 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
- Can’t 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.
The computer story is what learning challenges are like for many students.
In “technical” terms, these “errors” are caused by underlying processing and executive function skills that need to be developed. These 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!
These building blocks can be “reprogrammed” or “retrained” to work more efficiently, 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 easy as installing a new program. In humans, the concept is the same, but takes more than a few minutes. There are now tools/programs that remediate the inefficient 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. The 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 learning center, our sequence is:
- Evaluate and determine what the inefficiencies are
- Apply the right tools to strengthen the underlying 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 skills (install the programs) so that the brain is ready to learn and hold onto the academic, 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.
by Jill Stowell of Stowell Learning Centers