Weak underlying mental tools cause smart students to struggle in school
My husband is fond of saying, “If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” But the bottom line is that even though a hammer may be an excellent tool, it isn’t the right tool to do all jobs.
There are many underlying learning skills that are needed in order to learn comfortably and efficiently. Struggling learners tend to have a pattern of real strengths and weaknesses in their underlying skills, causing them to have to over-rely on their strengths.
Tony has very weak phonemic awareness – the ability to think about the sounds in words. He relies on his excellent comprehension to help him guess at words, but this makes his reading slow and inaccurate, as he has to
reread over and over.
Jeremy has good verbal skills but struggles to get information from head to paper, so he chats up his classmates instead of doing his work.
Alicia has weak comprehension skills, so she relies on rote memory to write down everything the teacher says and memorize her study guide exactly. This results in very dense and unhelpful notes and poor test scores. Questions phrased differently than the study guide will seem like completely different information.
Having the right tools always makes the job easier. In the case of students, these are “mental tools” such as memory, attention, sensory motor integration, processing speed, auditory and visual processing, language processing, and executive function.
Weaknesses in any of these underlying skills can cause smart students of any age to struggle.
The Trouble with Compensation
In my experience, kids want to be successful and will use whatever tools they have to get there. Unfortunately, compensations only work until they don’t. A child with good memory skills or one who is willing to work
excessively hard, may go for years in school getting adequate grades, but at some point, the lack of solid underlying skills will catch up with them and they begin to fall behind.
Parents and teachers may get mixed messages and think that students are lazy, unmotivated, or careless because their performance is inconsistent. In reality, the students’ strengths allow them to compensate with some tasks but don’t support them in others.
The Right Tools Can Be Developed
Thankfully, brain research in neuroplasticity and over 60 years of clinical and scientific research proves that these underlying skills can be developed, making dramatic improvements or completely correcting learning and attention challenges.
Having the right tools to do the job, allows students to become the comfortable and independent learners they have the potential to be.
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