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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Successful Educational Therapy Remediation: Learning How Each Student Thinks


Every student processes information and learns differently because we each have our own, individual cognitive makeup as well as strengths and weaknesses.  As a result, the key to successful remedial outcomes is to celebrate, understand, and accommodate the unique ways that each student thinks.

How Can Educational Therapists and Learning Specialists Uncover How Each Student Thinks?
There are a number of things that professionals can do to reveal how each individual processes information.
  1. Read comprehensive psycho-educational evaluations and progress reports. 
  2. Talk to parents, teachers and other professionals that know this student well.
  3. Ask the student.
What Valuable Information Can Be Gained From Prior Testing and Reports?
A comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation can help uncover each student's strengths as well as their areas of challenge.  On the one hand, by focusing on strengths, professionals can help students to develop compensatory learning strategies, so that they can learn to work around difficulties by using their best abilities.  For instance, a student may struggle with writing due to spelling and graphomotor challenges. However, if this student also possesses excellent expressive language skills, they could use speech recognition software to sidestep their difficulties.  On the other hand, by remediating areas of challenge, students can often improve cognition and develop abilities.  For example, by repeatedly exercising an area of cognition, a student's capacity can improve over time.

How Can Discussions with Parents, Teachers, and other Professionals Help?
Discussions with parents, teachers, and other support personnel can also help to uncover areas of talent and challenge.  What's more, feedback can provide clues concerning strategies that have and have not worked in the past.

The Most Valuable Person to Speak to is the Student Themselves:
The most important individual to consult is the student.  Surprisingly, they are often overlooked.  In fact, many students, when asked the right questions, can guide you to quick and easy interventions. One of the most important activities is asking the student how they think and approach different learning tasks.
  1. Ask each student how he or she processes information, and if they can not express it in words, allow them to draw a picture and then explain it.  Focus on one achievement area at a time.  For example, ask a student what it is like for them to read.  What is their inner process?  If needed, you can ask guiding questions such as: 
    • Do you see images?  
    • Do you hear an inner voice? 
    • Do you make personal connections to the information that you are learning?
  2. Question them more about their capacity to visualize?  
    • Can you imagine imagery in your mind's eye? 
    • How strong are your visualizations?
    • Are your mental pictures in color or black and white?
    • Can you see movement?
    • Can you hear, taste and smell your visualizations?
    • Do you use mental imagery while learning in school?
  3. Ask them more about their internal voice.  
    • Can you hear thoughts and ideas in your head?  
    • Can you hear your memories?
    • Do you ever rehearse information aloud when trying to learn or memorize it?
  4. Ask each student about his or her best ways of learning.  You can do this qualitatively or you can use an inventory such as the Eclectic Learning Profile.  Consider asking about all 12 ways of learning:
    • Visual - seeing
    • Auditory - hearing
    • Tactile - touching
    • Kinesthetic - moving 
    • Sequential - ordering
    • Simultaneous - categorizing
    • Reflective/Logical - thinking to oneself
    • Verbal - talking and sharing thoughts
    • Interactive - collaborating
    • Indirect Experience - learning vicariously
    • Direct Experience - encountering in real life
    • Rhythmic/Melodic - applying music or a beat to aid memory or maintain focus
Four Specific, Student Illustrations that Show the Importance of Evaluating How Each Student Thinks:
  1. Pat struggled with school-related anxiety and expressive language deficits.  He experienced great difficulty communicating verbally and through written language. When I asked him to try and explain to me what it was like inside his brain to write, I offered him the choice of using words or a drawing to share his thoughts.  I was surprised that he had no difficulty finding the words.  Pat expressed that it was like trying to do a puzzle.  His problem was that he could only look at one piece at a time.  He had no access to the gestalt or big picture.  This was such an insightful comment that helped me guide his instruction to learning the "formula" to writing, so that when he "picked up a single piece of the puzzle" he would know where to place it.  
  2. Peter was diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD, and he had the most trouble with written language.  When he came to me, everyone reported that he struggled with "writer's block." When I asked him how his brain worked when trying to write, he could not come up with any words to describe his internal process.  However, when I gave him a dry erase board and some markers.  He quickly produced an insightful image.  Many squiggly, overlapping lines were trying to get through one small opening.  Peter didn't have writers block, he had, what I like to call, "writer's bottleneck." Instead of having no ideas, he had too many ideas, and we found that creating his own graphic organizers was the solution.  
  3. Sue struggled with memory deficits and her problems manifested in poor test grades.  Through discussion, I soon learned that Sue had what I call, "a blind mind's eye." She was unable to create mental imagery, and her visual memory was extremely poor.  Through discussion, Sue remembered having a wonderful imagination as a young child and recalled using mental imagery when playing.  Soon, she realized that her ability to visualize stopped after she experienced the traumatic experience of seeing her father die of a heart attack.  This event was so disturbing for Sue, that, as a coping strategy, she mentally blocked her capacity to visualize. Once she realized this, she was able to make the conscious effort to tap into this ability again and her visual memory and capacity to visualize improved, resulting in higher test grades.
  4. Jay attended sessions to determine strategies for improved reading comprehension.  I was happy to learn that he had strong decoding and verbal abilities and also had a strong capacity to visualize.  In fact, Jay possessed all the needed skills.  However, he had never considered visualizing text, and after a few lessons, was able to apply this skill to reading.  Not only did Jay's reading comprehension ability soar, but he reported that the process of reading was, "so much more enjoyable!"
Once You have Learned How Each Student Thinks, Help Share This Valuable Information:
Once you understand how a student processes the world around them, this information often uncovers the best remedial methods.  Most importantly, be sure to share your discoveries with others, so optimal ways of learning can continue to be realized.  Be sure to:
  1. Communicate with teachers and other professionals.
  2. Tell the parents.  
  3. Educate the student and help them to learn metacognitive skills, a growth mindset and self-advocacy skills.
I hope you found this blog helpful.  I would love to hear your thoughts.
 
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to https://godyslexia.com/www.goodsensorylearning.comwww.dyslexiamaterials.com & www.learningtolearn.biz  
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