When Children Don't Learn As Well As They Should
by Suzanne Stevens
Opinions vary, but many experts now suspect that 30% to 50% of todayâs children have learning problems similar to those associated with learning disabilities. When homeschoolers are not satisfied with their childâs progress in reading, writing, spelling or math, they torture themselves wondering, ãIs something wrong with my teaching?ä Or, they jump around from one curriculum to another, asking themselves, ãIs something wrong with my child?ä In many cases the answer lies in exploring non-traditional materials and alternative instructional approaches. Whether or not a child can be technically classified as LD is of very little significance. The techniques that help learning disabled youngsters overcome their weaknesses can help any student learn. By taking a close look at the student, itâs easy to determine which aspects of the teaching process needs adjusting.
The Non-Traditional Learner
When children demonstrate intelligence through questions and explorations to satisfy an inquiring mind, we assume they will do well in school. when their achievement does not measure up to expectations, their failure is likely to be blamed on lack of effort. A six year old who can name every car on the road will be considered unmotivated if he doesnât learn to name the letters of the alphabet. A girl who wins prizes for embroidery will be accused of carelessness if her handwriting is messy. Any child who stays glued to a video game for hours will be expected to apply an equal intensity of concentration to spelling practice.
Bad attitude. Lack of self-discipline. Immature. These are the words frustrated adults use to explain the puzzling contradictions in bright children who donât succeed in school. Yet traditional classrooms and homeschools are full of youngsters who:
have better than average intelligence
are not emotionally disturbed
are not physically handicapped
do not learn satisfactorily when taught by traditional methods
These four characteristics are the basic elements in the official definition of ãlearning Disability.ä If tested by an educational psychologist, some children with these traits would qualify as LD and some would not. With or without formal evaluations, official guidelines, or handy labels, all youngsters who fit the simple four-part description above can be considered Înon-traditional learners.ä Any alert individual can recognize them. Their problems usually cluster in one or more of the following areas:
Those who canât tell right from left tend to reverse letters, syllables, and words. They canât tell the difference between b and d, p and g, E and 3. When intending to write ãitä, they write ãtiä. In reading they canât remember to start at the left. They copy numbers backwards to make 26 out of 62. children with directional confusion stand out in a game of Simon Says. They quickly learn to avoid situations that display their difficulty.
Those who canât tell right from left usually carry their problem into adulthood. They run football plays to the wrong side, march out of step, and get mixed up when giving directions. In grown-up, directional confusion is usually shrugged off as an interesting idiosyncrasy.
Trouble with Time and Sequence
Most non-traditional learners have no concept of time. Clocks, calendars, and schedules have very little meaning for them. They have trouble learning to use a non-digital clock, and terms describing time relationships (like before and after) frequently confuse them.
A simple errand that would take any other child ten minutes will keep this child gone all afternoon. Failure to live up to even minimal requirements for punctuality, time limits, and deadlines often becomes a life-long problem.
A sequence is a series where one item follows the next in a specific, fixed order. Without a clear concept of time relationships, it is all but impossible to remember sequences. Thus, memorizing the alphabet or the twelve months of the year is a monumental task which many of these non-typical students never master.
A three minute pop quiz requiring nothing more than name, date, and an alphabet can provide homeschooling parents with a quick check-up to see if their child is a non-traditional learner. This technique is useful with older students whose academic difficulties are masked by lack of motivation and bad behavior. Itâs equally appropriate for young children. Those who have not learned the alphabet by mid-first grade are very likely to be unsuccessful when taught by traditional methods.
Problems with Organization
The non-traditional learners have little desire to keep things orderly. Neatness rarely interests them They are often criticized for failing to use time wisely. They canât keep track of their books, their homework, their pencil. They lose their glasses, gym shoes, sweater. They don't get Fâs for unsatisfactory work; they get 0âs for work that is incomplete, late, lost, not done according to directions. They look like they could succeed if theyâd just get organized.
Inability to Concentrate
Non-traditional learners almost always have problems keeping their attention focused. They have a short attention span, are easily distracted, and are often hyperactive. In the primary grades theyâre in constant motion. Even when in their seat, theyâre wiggling, digging through their materials, turning around to look out the window. With maturity they learn to stay at their desk and confine their activity to fidgeting, talking, horsing around, drawing, day-dreaming. Their hands are always busy. They never seem to get down to work.
Even when diagnosed by a doctor, labeled as ADD and put on prescription drugs, itâs hard to believe these children couldn't sit still and pay attention if they really tried.
Difficulty Acquiring Basic Academic Skills
The problems listed above make it very difficult to learn to read, write, spell, and do math. These children are usually poor oral readers and have particular difficulty with the small words. Their handwriting is often totally illegible, and their papers tend to be messy. They often continue to prefer printing long after other children their age have switched to cursive handwriting. Even with special help, their spelling rarely gets to be even adequate. Non-traditional learners often have unusual talent for creative writing, but producing term papers, essay test, and book reports almost always causes them problems. Such projects require 1. organizing ideas 2. into a logical sequence 3 of legibly written 4 correctly spelled words - four skills they sometimes never acquire.
As a general rule, the academic failures of non-traditional learners usually look like theyâre caused by carelessness. These youngsters donât look like they canât do the work. The look like they wonât do the work. And, the older they get the more difficult it becomes to recognize the real cause of their academic difficulties.
A Bright Future
The traditional view of learning disabilities considers only the problems. However, recent research in the neurosciences has given us a new perspective. It is now possible to see these non-traditional learners from a more balanced point of view that considers their strengths as well as their weaknesses.
While some scientist caution against the dangers of over-simplification, for those who take the time to learn about the human brain and how it works, q whole new set of glorious possibilities emerge. Many experts now believe that God didnât make a mistake ö these children donât need fixing. Perhaps being a non-traditional learner is not a difference to overcome, but a difference to celebrate!
Do you have questions in this complex area? Is Suzanne describing your child? In her new book The LD Child and the ADHD Child... Ways Parents and Professionals Can Help, Suzanne discusses in extremely practical and readable format how to work with the non-traditional learners.