I learned something this weekend. I was in New Hampshire and while I didn’t expect a foliage change yet, many people that we ran into were apologetic for the lack of colorful fall leaves. They sadly predicted that the leaf change this year would not be as good as expected because it is too dry. (They are apparently having their own version of a drought, which will affect the leaf change).
Now I know this is going to be a bit of a stretch, but I thought about all the discouraged parents who tell me that their children are getting special help at school or have been in tutoring for years, but are not making the changes they expected.
There is a reason for this. When bright students struggle in school, it is almost always because there are weak or inefficient underlying learning/processing skills that are not supporting them well enough. For example, if the brain is not able to think about or process the sounds in words, the student is not likely to be able to sound out words for reading as easily as you would expect.
Even with extra reading support or a real emphasis on phonics, the student may lag behind in reading, because the missing ingredient to success is that weak underlying skill (in this case phonemic awareness) that allows the brain to learn and hold onto the information.
What Parents and Teachers Don’t Understand about Special Education and Tutoring
Special education and traditional tutoring typically focus on supporting academic skills, schoolwork, and homework. Many students need this extra help in order to get through their work and through the grade.
But while this kind of support may be helpful, it’s not generally a real solution to the problem. If we are going to make real and permanent changes for struggling students, we must identify and develop the weak or inefficient underlying processing skills.
Cognitive educational therapy addresses the critical underlying processing or thinking skills, as well as remediating reading, writing, spelling, and math.
Tutoring is most effective as a solution to a short-term problem. A long term learning problem must be dealt with by getting at the root of the problem.
Tutoring provides a way to give students support and help them get their homework done. But it can also become a crutch because it doesn’t really solve the problem so that the student can do his homework on his own.
Many parents have said to me, “My child has had tutoring on and off over the years. He seems to do OK when we’ve got a tutor, but as soon as we quit, things go downhill again.”
If tutoring is used to treat a learning problem, it is likely to end up being a never-ending process.
Special education is certainly more involved than tutoring, but it also can be a never-ending service that supports but doesn’t actually correct the problem.
Here are some common symptoms, any of which may indicate that there are underlying processing skills are not supporting the learner well enough:
- Bright child, teen, or adult is underachieving
- Difficulty paying attention
- Gets distracted easily
- Avoids work
- Yawns all the time when listening
- Tries really hard for minimal outcome
- Struggles to sound out words
- Can’t remember months, days, math facts, spelling words
- Can’t follow more than one or two directions at a time
- Is inconsistent with math processes; can’t find or correct math errors; doesn’t understand how numbers work
- Struggles to read, write, or spell
- Is uncoordinated, awkward, or has poor posture
- Has to work excessively hard
- Gets fatigued quickly / has very low stamina for listening, reading, or schoolwork
- Misunderstands what is heard or read
- Misses or mishears information when listening
These issues can be changed. With specialized training the brain can learn to think and process information in more effective ways. Children and adults do not have to continue to suffer the effects of learning problems but it will typically take more than what is offered at school or through a tutor.
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