On Honoring the Neurodiversity of Children
One of the most important concepts for educators to ponder is what our educational system should look like, given the neurodiversity of children. Individual differences in brain functioning should be celebrated, and one specific type of brain functioning should not be esteemed, while the others are stigmatized.
Learning to Value Differences in Brain Processing
Our educational system has always valued one very specific type of wiring, have taught to those children, rewarded them, and promoted them. We call their brain functioning good. Children with dissimilar brain functioning have been left behind, labeled as disabled, and have in general failed to thrive. We have called their good, bad.
I believe heart and soul in the immaculate design of all children, believe all children are gifted in distinct ways, and I believe we must teach all children in a way that honors their natural brain functioning.
In the early 1990’s, I began obsessing about bright students that fail to thrive in school. It hurt that so many kids were falling behind, because I believe the brain is designed to learn! I made it my business to learn how to bridge the gap between learning theory and teaching practice.
I began to work in earnest in the fall of 1999 with a group of kindergarteners. I taught the alphabet using stories and illustrations I created on the fly that would link symbol and sound. My reading approach was a systematic, explicit phonics approach similar to Orton Gillingham and one I believe Science of Reading folks would bless and applaud.
At first, the children thrived. They had no trouble learning how to spell the sounds they heard in words. Sadly, however, they were caught in a never-ending sounding-out loop. To them, reading was sounding out words, because that was the skill I had focused on! Most did not recognize whole words nor remember words they had just decoded minutes prior. Just imagine my chagrin! To me, my kiddos were not reading at all. They were master decoders!
In November, I started to experiment with adding right-brain elements to (abstract) phonics concepts and words, and suddenly the students rocketed into reading! By that March, because of the very comprehensive phonics base they had previously been exposed to, they tested at between 2nd and 4th grade in reading! What made reading accessible to the children was embedding left-brained abstract concepts in right-brained elements that resonated with all the kids. My approach was transformed from being a left-brained discipline to being a whole-brain practice that reached the visual/spatial students within the 63%.
What We Desire for All Our Children
We can all agree that we want all children to have an equal opportunity to thrive in school. We all want children to embrace their uniqueness, their viewpoint, their thoughts, their giftedness. To enter adulthood with confidence and a sense of ability and competence. If this happened, the world would change dramatically for us all!
In our world, neurodiversity among adults is embraced. We celebrate the range of giftedness from the accountant and banker to the athlete, the inventor, designer, artist, healer, writer, and pioneer. Many of the gifts displayed by adults who forge new paths, create solutions, invent new technologies and imagine the unimaginable – those gifts fall into the category of right-brain dominant processors. I dream of a world in which all our little right-brain dominant processors are fully confident and can unleash their genius on the world.
The Impact of a Mismatch Between Teaching & Learning
Children are in school for the first 12-16 years of their lives. If they miss the opportunity to learn in a setting that recognizes and embraces their natural wiring, they will be set up to struggle and often fail.
Traditional education calls on the child to change their own wiring.
And when children fail, and fail, and fail again, they lose confidence in their own immaculate design. For many children, this precipitates the trend towards lowering their expectations in life. In order to aim high, it is essential to believe in ourselves.
In the Gap Between Learning Theory and Educational Practice
What we’re dealing with is an educational system that is perfectly suited for the 37% of children who are left-brain dominant processors. We also call them auditory/sequential learners. I imagine this system became the accepted way to teach children because those in the position to say so were also themselves left-brain dominant processors who designed a system that made perfect sense to them. According to Carla Hannaford in Smart Moves, 75% of educators are left-brain dominant so it makes perfect sense that traditional education resonates with them.
It is natural for us to promote what we understand and dismiss what we don’t.
If we look at the child first in all their neuro-beauty, when we embrace them as being “just right,” what we require of them and how we teach them will change fundamentally.
The missing piece that would change current reality is teaching and learning resources designed to teach all children. Left-brain friendly abstract content inextricably bound to right-brain elements that translate the content into something the 63% can easily learn without drill or memorization.
A System that Meets the Challenge of Neurodiversity
Over the years since my big experiment began in 1999, I have been tirelessly at work designing and publishing resources that will level the learning field for all our kids.
The criteria were clear.
- The resources had to be accessible to ALL children.
- The resources had to be ready to use without special training for the adult
- They had to be comprehensive, explicit, and complete
- They had to focus on the simplicity of skills necessary to produce excellent readers
- They had to be skill based, rather than grade level based so kids could be caught up with ease
- They had to be affordable and non-consumable
The SnapWords® System
This system is a clear example of an approach to teaching reading that meets those requirements. It marries sight word acquisition with systematic explicit phonics instruction in a wholistic approach that ties all skills together. The outcome for children has been dramatic and positive. Visit our SnapWords® System page and join the community of educators who believe that we all suffer when a significant number of our children fail to thrive. Learn more about the SnapWords® System here and the SnapWords® Collection here!
Read more about neurodiversity
Celebrating Neurodiversity in the Classroom
The SnapWords® System and Neurodiversity
Teaching Phonics: Make the Biggest Impact in 30 Minutes a Day
Sarah Major is the founder and product designer at Child1st Publications, LLC. She brings her passion for the learning child to work every day. The design of Child1st teaching resources is strongly rooted in what we understand about the neurodiversity of children. We consider the Child first (1st) when designing materials to use in teaching them.
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