Friday, April 13, 2012

Informed Practice Makes Perfect...

flickr image via matthewpiatt

Well, maybe not perfect, but a whole lot better.

I was involved in a conversation about learning disorders recently, (I actually prefer to call them learning challenges.) I myself am a challenged learner... learning disabled in the traditional sense. I am dyslexic. The problem is I didn't know I was dyslexic until I was in my second year of university. I was taking an educational psychology course and we were talking about learning disabilities. As the professor described dyslexia, I began to remember the sorts of problems I had in school, and then I began to wonder if perhaps I was dyslexic. I spoke to him after class, and we decided to assess my problem. Sure enough; I was dyslexic. So how come it took until I was 21 years old to figure that out?

There isn't a teacher in the universe that would deny learning disorders can be terribly detrimental to a child's learning progress. I am certain that I have dealt with dozens of learning disabled kids during my teaching career. I am also certain that the vast majority of these kids are surviving in school, as I did, undiagnosed, or perhaps misdiagnosed... an equally or perhaps even more serious concern for teachers trying to do the right thing for all students.

Here's the problem... teachers aren't qualified to diagnose learning disorders, (unless of course they are also trained psychologists,) however, they are expected to effectively support kids who suffer from one or more of them even if they don't know exactly what the potential disabilities are. Teachers are confronted with the reality that they must teach kids who may very well present with a legitimate learning disorder, but also that they will seldom be working with really good data to support the effective mitigation of the problem. We are not practicing in an informed way when it comes to learning disorders. We need to know what a child is challenged by, and we need to know that early enough in the game to curb any added anxiety and stress a child will inevitably feel when he knows he is struggling.

I submit that we need to invest in a process that assesses every child early enough in primary school to know what learning path we should be travelling. We need to ask every child what works best for them, and investigate ways to make that a reality. We can't continue playing guessing games long after a child is deemed to be struggling... we shouldn't let them get to the point of struggle. We should be responsibly assessing them at the beginning of their learning story in order to support them all the way through their kindergarten to grade twelve journey. A cognitive test for every child early enough in the school experience would eliminate the ineffective trial and error game we play later on when we notice a child isn't "getting it."

Assessment costs money... of course it does. Pay now, or pay later? How many teacher, counselor, learning assistant and educational consultant hours are spent guessing and checking what challenges may be present for kids? I will guess when compared to the cost of early and comprehensive assessment for all kids so we can fly with instruments right from the start, that the total cost in person hours trying to deal with the problem is very high, and may end up being more expensive than just doing the assessment in the beginning.

I recently viewed this TED talk by Dr. Aditi Shankardass... A second opinion on learning disorders:



I can't imagine there would be more compelling evidence supporting the effort we should be making to be informed about every learner before they begin to experience stress and anxiety as a result of potential learning disorders. It appears Dr. Shankardass has proven that these "disorders" need not be terribly detrimental if we can become aware of them early enough to establish good action plans mitigating the challenge and maximizing learning opportunities for kids. Knowledge is power. We need to empower kids by helping them understand themselves within their own learning contexts.

I sure would have liked to know about my dyslexia when I was a kid.
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