Just this morning, a mother told me that her son is having increasing difficulty with reading and math. He was tested at his school and diagnosed with something called “specific learning disability.” He was given an IEP (individualized education plan) which allows various helps, but the mother said she feels he is not disabled; rather, he is not learning the way he is being taught. She is not alone. Over and over again I hear from parents who are desperate to find something for children who have been judged unable to learn.
Who should get the label?
I think in many, many cases, the teaching method should be the one labeled rather than the child. If a child cannot memorize strings of information or facts, is there something wrong with her? OR, is there something less than desirable with how she is being taught? Is memorization the best way to teach? Is it effective? How many adults out there find it difficult to just memorize? Is there a more effective way? If so, why are we still relying so heavily on memorization?
Alternatives to memorization
Use visuals that SHOW the information so that the child can look, understand, and remember. Example: understanding the difference between b and d. You can either tell the child, OR you can show the child a visual of the stylized letters. For the kinesthetic learner, you can act out the difference between b and d.
Let the child work out the problem for himself. Instead of asking the child to memorize math facts, give him some manipulatives such as plastic disks and two bowls, or a handful of smooth pebbles and two cups, and let him work out the answers as you pose the problems. Example: “Toby, count out five pebbles. Now, let’s find out how many pairs of numbers will equal five. In order to do this, divide your pebbles into the two cups and write down what you find.” The child would put the pebbles in the two cups and would write 2+3. You would prompt him to divide them up again another way. He might put one pebble in one cup and the remaining four in the second cup. He would then write 1+4. After some thought, he might decide that he can put all the pebbles in the first cup and have none for the second cup to make 5+0. The child will have discovered that there are only three pairs of numbers that will equal five. This is powerful. The child will have thought it through, handled the pebbles, represented the combinations in writing, and he would have been engaged in the activity rather than being passive.
For the visual & tactile learner, use dot cards to practice learning how many each number is. For instance, if you steer a child away from counting up to add, she will begin to rely on her strong visual sense to understand the “how many” of each number as well as to learn the combinations of numbers that equal each target number. Example: These dot cards show various ways to arrange five dots so that not only will a child have practice just glancing and guessing “how many,” but also a strongly visual learner will begin to absorb that 5 can be made of different combinations of numbers. If you encourage your child to rely on her visual strengths, she will be much farther ahead than if you sit her down to do math the old way, which is to count up, count on her fingers, or just write the answers to problems written on paper. BO-ring!
Get away from memorizing words. How many of you have had children who just struggled to the point of discouragement with trying to learn to recognize words he was supposed to be learning? What is engaging about that? Frankly, it is the quickest way to make reading a chore and something to be avoided. Our colorful SnapWords® have rescued many a child from the drudgery of having to try and memorize (and later recall!) his all important lists of words. If you show your child a word like this one, is it not clear how engaged he will be? What will happen is this: He will put himself right into a pleasurable time when he was in the store with Mom and saw a teddy bear (or something cooler!). He will take a picture of the word in his mind and his recall will be easy. The tall letter was Mom, the U was the buggy holding the bear, and the Y was the front of the buggy. Best of all, your smart visual learner will attach a positive emotion to this experience of learning how to read “BUY” so that rather than avoiding word work in the future, he will come to look forward to it.
Let’s throw out the labels!
I’d love to suggest something here. Please, can we be a little slower to call a child disabled? Is it not in the perfect design of a child to learn via pictures, images, movement? Is that not how she was beautifully created? What if we promised to react to a struggling child by looking FIRST at what we are doing to see if it might need changing? We could transform the world for many children! There is a better way; there is a more child-friendly way to teach.