On April 13, 2013 in San Francisco the 5th annual EdRev returned to the Giants Ballpark. It was a huge success. Parents Education Network, the producers of this model event, offered a wide variety of programming for those passionate about understanding, finding solutions, and resolving issues facing those with dyslexia, ADD/ADHD and other learning disabilities. Students, parents, teachers and other were treated to a wide variety of new ideas, new technologies, new skills and much more. The energy at the event, gathering 2,000 people together, was very high.
There were two keynote speakers with a similar theme; the need for a different education process.
Sir Ken Robinson, an education and creativity expert and author of the New York Times best-selling book ‘Finding Your Element’ set the tone stating:
The challenge with the education system is a world-wide problem. One word describes the cause: Conformity. Currently the education process is based on the belief that everyone must conform to basic principles. This denies the fact that we are all biologically different which means students are spending time on what they must do instead of what they can do.
A recent study has shown that 30% of students in 9th grade don’t finish the 12th grade. Many of these students end up in jail. The current solution is to pour more money into the correction system ($25,000 a year for an individual). If that funding was redirected to the education system to address the learning needs of the dropouts, the costs to state government would decrease. Educating a student has the average cost of $10,000. Cutting by half the number of dropouts from grade nine the net gain result in 10 – 11 years would be twelve Trillan dollars.
Sir Ken promotes three principles for an evolving education system.
Accept the principle that we are all different with unique talents. We are different because we are biologically different. Human life relies on diversity. It is why human life is so interesting. The reason the current education process is unsuccessful is its lack of focus on diversity.
Creativity is at the heart of what it is to be a human being. The opportunity for each student to explore their creativity is essential. Our imagination gives us the ability to bring into mind what doesn’t exit. Sir Ken asked us to remember that creativity is what has driven this country, the United States of America, to be successful. It’s a national asset. Now is the time to re-energize the education system allowing creativity which presents itself differently in different people to flourish.
We need an education system that supports students in finding what is their true talent, what do they love to do. It will result in them defining who they are so they can discover a path that is satisfying and provide a lifestyle that supports their life. The goal is to do something you have a natural talent for. Something you get. It is time those administrators leading the educational process think differently.
In light of the above he offered a commemt about ADHD and the high % of students currently being diagnosed with ADHD. If students are required to sit and listen to boring things, don’t be surprised if they develop ADHD behavior.
3. Life is organic, not linear
We can’t predict how a life will shape up. The key is following the passion that comes from creative exploration. Keep the focus on what is it that you love to do. It is the parent’s responsibility to help their child discover his or her talent, to encourage, support and expect it to go in different directions. The path will not be linear. Remember, we compose our lives. It’s time to accept that one’s life is about diversity and being creative.
We have to press for a different education system. The academic world needs broad curriculum that embraces the fact that we learn differently. We have to get governments away from trying to impose standardization. Education has to be radically personalized so individuals can identify their special talents. There is no reason why students should do the same things every day. Conformity doesn’t work.
If you are teacher, parent or student take up the challenge and be the change you want to see. Collectively teachers, students, and parents are the ones who can change the system. The movement is powerful enough.
And, don’t waste time on those who are stuck in the old model. They are never going to change.
Sir Ken Robinson’s new book is titled Finding Your Element: How to discovery your talents and passions and transform your life.
The 2011/12 Parents Education Network lecture series in San Francisco began with a bang, a powerful bang. The lecturer, Dr. Leyla M. Bologlu, shared advice that made my heart sing. She underscored the importance of good, thorough evaluation for both ADHD and learning difficulties stating that the faster the parents take action the better. It is now proven that early intervention can impact neurological change. The goal is to ensure that the child has a healthy psychological life as he or she goes through the challenges of the learning process.
Some clues: A child exhibiting behavioral issues is a flag that the problem could generate from a brain-based neurological issue. (A dyslexic has different neurological pathways.) Or a child exhibiting executive functioning shortcomings as a result of the brain’s inability to manage learning activities may be experiencing ADHD.
Dr. Bologlu gave a graphic description of the brain’s development. The infant brain is relatively smooth. As the child grows and develops the complexity of bumps and squiggles on the brain increases from experience and exposure. This description had me wondering how physically crisscrossed is my brain from my dyslexia and hyperlexia. It wasn’t until I was in my forties when I learned i am dyslexic and in my sixties when I discovered that my real issue is hyperlexia meaning I had trouble in imaging words which are essential for reading and aural comprehension.
The lecture moved on to many types of specialists. At the outset is the need for parents to identify a competent evaluator who is comfortable embracing specialists in several different fields with discreet skills to address particular shortcomings. Dr. Bologlu reminded us that kids want to do well. The adult team needs to discover what is holding them back, what skill set they are missing and sets in motion the steps necessary to improve the ability of the child to learn.
The path Dr. Bologlu recommends to identify the learning challenge includes.
1. Obtaining a clear statement from the school with details of what seems to be going on/what are their concerns? If it is you, the parent, who is recognizing there is an isuue, ask for a meeting at the school to check out your hunch.
2. The next step is identifying a highly qualified educational therapist ( with a master’s degree) who knows and works with a battery of tests available and has experience with children of your child’s age. Tests include:
- Administration of cognitive tests (not an IQ test)
- Academic achievement tests
- Other screenings/tests including but not limited to: Slingerland, Levine, language development/auditory processing, phonological awareness, visual-motor integration etc.
3. Specialized testing includes:
- Speech & Language Evaluation (be sure the tester has at least an master’s level education)
- Occupational Therapy: These evaluations and treatments are specific to motor
development, sensory-motor integration and nonverbal weaknesses.
- Psycho-educational Evaluation: Be sure the consultant has a PhD in clinical psychology. The evaluations involve IQ testing, achievement tests, behavioral
questionnaires, social/emotional testing.
- Psycho-educational Evaluation. Be sure the consultant has a PhD in clinical psychology. The evaluations involve IQ testing, achievement tests, behavioral questionnaires, social/emotional testing.
- Neurpsychological Evaluation. This can include testing for intellectual skills (IQ testing), as well as congnitive functioning ability which may involve testing for skills in a) language (expressive/receptive), b) visio-spatial/visio-perceptual function c) memory, d) attentional systems, e) executive functioning, f) fine and gross motor functioning, g) sensory integration and more.
The Educational Therapist oversees the testing process. When she/he receives the assessments from other specialists, she/he draws conclusions and makes recommendations to the parents. The Educational Therapist must provide the names of the suggested treatment providers – more than one for each type of service. In addition, the Educational Therapist should make contact with all of the treatment providers recommended to outline the reason for the referral, the treatment focus and the number of sessions per week needed.
Additional appropriate support may include:
- behavior support in the classroom and at home
- sensory motor support – handwriting
- executive functioning skill support (study skills, breaking down large assignments)
- medication management. I found it interesting that Dr. Bologhu’s point of view on medication is that it may help with behavior but not with the core issue.
At the conclusion of this lecture the President and Co-Foundter of PEN, Dewey Rosetti, when thanking Dr. Bologlu for her remarks commented: If only we had had this kind of information ten years ago, what a difference it would have made! I agree and am just grateful that teh PEN lucture series exists so parents now have the information to take reasoned steps with their child’s learning challenge.
Recently Parents Education Network (PEN) in San Francisco sponsored a lecture for school teachers given by Dr. Todd Rose. Dr Rose is on the faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he teaches a course on Educational Neuroscience. He is also co-chair of the summer institute for Mind, Brain, and Education sponsored by Harvard. Add to these credentials is his work as a research scientist with CAST, a nonprofit research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through a program called Universal Design for Learning.
According to the Society for Neuroscience, neuroscience is the study of the nervous system which advances the understanding of human thought, emotion, and behavior. The focus of his talk was neuroscience and its relationship to learning. He emphatically stated new learning science information is emerging. “We are confronting what do students need for future learning, especially those with learning differences.”
After showing us a view of the brain networks and their broad distribution encased in our head, he cautioned that it’s not just about knowing the networks, it’s the context that’s important. It seems that the networks are variable in all persons and surprisingly most are not relevant to learning. The context refers to what is happening in the environment in which one is learning.
Next he added the component of working memory which is the ability of the brain to actively hold information in the mind. Without this retention complex tasks such as reasoning, comprehension and learning become next to impossible. Again it is important to remember that working memory is very variable. In a classroom of thirteen year olds, the variability might include a student with the working memory of an eight year old as well as a student who has a working memory like a dolphin. It’s no wonder that teachers are challenged as they teach!
When the student is under stress or threat the emotional component compounds the difficulty for one’s working memory. On the other hand, the same student when feeling confident can do many tasks. The challenge for the teacher is to leave space in the teaching process for this variability.
If a student can’t hold a goal in mind, it means that the working memory is no longer in operation. Kids who are not able to automate the core basic skills are sending a signal that he or she is probably a learning challenged child.
Next Dr Rose addressed the topic of Executive Functions: His definition includes: the ability to plan, organize, be goal directed and a self motivator. He feels planning is a skill. It involves working memory. A child/student who struggles with this task needs to be given the tools to learn it. Goals really matter. Focus on one goal only. A secondary goal often means the child will get lost. Teachers need to be careful not to ask more than what the child can handle to be successful.
He re-iterated that working memory really matters now. Adolescents are increasingly not able to organize their time because there is so much information. They have to be taught how to use it. e.g: Twitter and Facebook.
These two following important skills are what teachers must take the time to teach.
1. Search: It’s not simply a matter of finding the information, just as important is
discovering what to do with the information. Kids with poor working memory get lost with the second step.
2. Organization: We are past the point where kids can do stuff in their own heads. We have to get better at cognition/working memory. Students need to learn how to better leverage their environment and the numerous technologies.
Other drawbacks to a good working memory.
Writing notes is a huge task for working memory. Any kind of motion is distractible and a hindrance to working memory.
Tools that help a good working memory.
Meditation does help some. Mindfulness exercises are important because the individual has to settle down and be quiet. Exercise in the classroom can make a child comfortable and has a major effect on increasing the ability to succeed.
Finally, the educational process has to improve so that new information reaches teachers and it includes details on how to use the information.
Dr. Todd Rose can be reached at http://isites.harvard.edu/todd_rose or firstname.lastname@example.org