How to Tell Why Your Child is Struggling
By Dianne Craft
Many children who are not struggling have one or two of the characteristics in the checklists below. It is a matter of degree, and how it is impacting the learning process that we will consider in determining the needs of the learner.
Many educators who follow brain research believe that there are four learning gates that need to be properly functioning for a child to have an easy time learning.
The four learning gates are:
These checklists show some of the characteristics that a child exhibits when a learning gate is not working properly. Also included is a list of informal evaluations that you can perform at home. In addition, you will find some resources for correction that can be done at home, or with a professional. Learning is all about energy output. Read the following characteristics and see if you can find where your child is experiencing an “energy leak.”
Compensation or Correction?
Before you begin evaluating your child, you should know that once the process is complete you might face a fundamental choice: compensation or correction. Many educational experts debate whether it is more beneficial to help a struggling learner compensate for the learning processes that are difficult, or if time and effort should be spent in the pursuit of a correction of the processing problem.
An example of compensation would be for a child to use a keyboard at a very young age to write papers when he or she struggles with handwriting. A correction would be to do a handwriting exercise that eliminates reversed letters, for instance, and helps the child write more neatly. Another common compensation is to reduce the spelling list required at a grade level for a child who is struggling with spelling. A correction would be to train the child's photographic memory so that the task of spelling is easier.
Many times this does not need to be a debate. One can easily pursue both compensation and correction simultaneously. Compensation makes the learning task easier while the correction reduces the stress in the child's learning system so that learning can flow. We call this “opening up the child’s learning gate.”
Sensory Integration Issues
Many times a child who appears to have great difficulty with focusing and attending to a task is really struggling with a sensory processing problem. The child’s sensory system is not functioning correctly, resulting in errant signals. An example of this would be a malfunctioning sensory system that shouts “pain,” when a tag on a shirt touches the skin. Another example is when a child covers his ears at fairly minor unexpected sounds, because the sensory system is giving the errant signal that the sound is too loud. This child is not just distracted by his outside environment, but is distracted by his inside environment as well.
The following are some of the typical symptoms of sensory dysfunction:
Resources for Correction
A Right Brain Learner Stuck in a Left Brain Curriculum
You may have noticed that your children have totally different learning styles. Your left brain child tends to like workbooks and working on his own. The right-brainer, on the other hand, likes discussion, prefers projects to workbooks and tends to be a little higher maintenance during the school day, requiring more of your interaction time.
Since most curriculum teaches in a more left brain manner, focusing on auditory and sequential aspects, as well as writing, our children who are more right brain learners often feel left out, and even struggle with learning and retaining material using this same curriculum. Once we have identified the right-brainer who is struggling because he is stuck in a left brain curriculum, then we can tweak our teaching process to help these right brain children get in touch with the “smart part of themselves.”
Before we explore these many different teaching strategies, let’s identify the common learning styles of these children.
Common Characteristics of a Left Brain Learner
Common Characteristics of a Right Brain Learner
Many right brain dominant children can adapt to left brain curriculum without much effort. If that is the case, then no changes need to be made for this child. However, if a child is struggling to be successful in learning, then some accommodations need to be made. Sometimes just putting the struggling child in a more right brain friendly curriculum, makes all the difference in the world in how easy his school day goes.
Other times a child needs a totally different strategy to make learning easy. That is when we turn to right brain teaching strategies.
Who Needs Right Brain Teaching Strategies?
What Are Right Brain Teaching Strategies?
In 1981 Dr. Roger Sperry received the Nobel Prize for his split brain research. Prior to that, little was known about the separate responsibilities of the two brain hemispheres. President George Bush declared the 1990s as the Decade of the Brain. Much brain research came to the forefront during that time. It has been a very exciting time in beginning to understand the processes of learning.
The right brain is responsible for long-term memory storage. Ultimately, we all store learned material in our right brain, for easy retrieval. Generally this process of storing material in the short term memory (the left brain’s responsibility), and then transferring it to our long-term memory (the right brain's responsibility) is automatic, and we don’t even think about the intricate process that is taking place. However, when the left brain methods of repetition (either orally or in writing) is not transferring to the right brain long-term memory storage unit, then we need to look at ways to make this transfer more efficient. This is where right brain teaching strategies comes in. When we use right brain teaching strategies with our children, they are required to use much less energy to store learned material. Both right and left brain learners love these techniques!
Right brain teaching strategies involve using “visual Velcro” to easily memorize material. For example, if learning math facts through oral repetition, games, or writing them isn’t working, then by making little stories (not rhymes because these are auditory) with emotion, and adding picture and color to the math fact, the child finds that it is easy to recall. This is using an easy, inexpensive learning strategy that totally transforms how a child remembers something as important as math facts. This type of teaching applies to all areas of curriculum. When a child says, “I can't remember,” then it is time to use right brain teaching strategies to make the memory process so much easier. Let’s explore some of these troublesome learning areas:
Possible Remedial Solutions for Daily Teaching
As a special education resource teacher for remedial reading and language arts I developed this method of teaching these bright, hard-working, but struggling students. The key for you is to have your struggling child work with you in a one-on-one situation for defined periods of time during each day. Struggling children do not learn independently, but need much teacher involvement to be successful. Using this method, I regularly saw a two-year growth in one year in both reading and spelling in the children I worked with, even if they had dyslexia and were non-readers at the beginning. Feel free to modify the plan in any way that works for your family. There are many other methods that work. This is just one of them.