Language-processing problems constitute the largest proportion of learning disabilities. These include hearing sounds and words, understanding meaning, remembering verbal content, and communicating clearly.
The following are just a few examples:
Speech and Language Comprehension
Students tend to process information more slowly than usual. Sometimes teachers move on when they feel a response is not forthcoming. Often these students may be considered unmotivated or lazy. Also, language-processing disabilities affect their thinking. Language (words) are necessary to name people, places and things. Social development is influenced with this disability as they struggle with speaking, so they become fearful, shy and withdrawn; some deal in the opposite manner and become bullies. Others prefer to spend time with younger kids, using simpler language.
Word usage and comprehension is found in the left cerebral cortex. Inefficient neural "networking" can also result in processing issues. Some areas are underworked while others are handling too much. There also appears to be a genetic or heredity link with family members, as well.
The best way to intervene is with early recognition and appropriate and intense instruction. Special education is essential. They can use audio materials or simplified texts to handle the information overload. Extra time is often needed for tests and assignments. Test questions may need to be read to them. Teachers may need to speak slower and with simpler one-step instructions. Technology can assist in many ways with reading texts aloud, dictation, voice-to-text recognition, along with spelling and grammar checking.
Despite reading, writing or verbal problems, students with this language-processing disability can end up achieving amazing things, especially in professions that do not rely on advanced language skills: medical technology, architecture, finance, photography, engineering, mechanics, TV production, fine arts and computer programming, to name a few. The key thing is to maintain understanding and encouragement in order to maintain their self-confidence and enthusiasm for learning.
Source: Learning Disabilities: A to Z; Corinne Smith and Lisa Strick, 2010
Matthew Crawford, a writer and research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia feels that today's education needs to return to its practical, hands-on roots, not its current state of representation in the virtual world. Crawford worries that since attention is a stimulus-driven, goal-directed and a limited resource, children, in particular, are subjected to and bombarded with continuous stimulus-driven attention of ads and manipulative messages. Social media is designed solely to have users engaged constantly and returning to their platforms. "Distractibility," says Crawford, "might be regarded as the mental equivalent of obesity." He worries that all this clutter of digital noise may dampen imagination, as well as the clear sense of self. Who are we as people or individuals, when so much of our self-image is now being shaped by marketers, friends and followers? Crawford also feels the philosophical movement of individualization and autonomy has gone too far. "I think, therefore I am, " stated Descartes, in the Age of Enlightenment. However, so much of reality, argues Crawford, now resides in our minds as representations, and the physical reality of the world has lost its meaning and value. Crawford wants genuine individuality and agency, which comes from skilled practice and experience affecting objects in the real world.
Professor Guy Claxton of Winchester University feels that attentional habits are a part of good learning habits, such as collaboration or listening. He believes this disposition of attention can be shaped over time, but not explicitly in the form of a workshop or lecture. He suggests approaching it from the point of losing mindfulness. The goal is when students are distracted, how quickly can they return to attention? Some classes work on a scale of 1 to 10, to see how distracted they have been in a week. Other classes will use a show of five fingers: 1 = not distracted; 2= vaguely distracted; 3= minor distraction; 4 = major distraction; 5 = I was the distraction! The goal is to get kids interested in their own distractibility and to gain greater control and assume responsibility. Another method is for students to keep track of their own distractions, marking a tick every time they are off task on a line scale of completely distracted and completely focused.
Source: Attention: Beyond Mindfulness, Gay Watson, 2017
Most of us have heard the analogy that our brain is a thinking machine. But, according to Willingham, our brains are not really designed for thinking, because it is slow and unreliable, and requires much effort. In fact, your brain uses most of its processing power to see things and to move around physically. Nonetheless, the good news is that people are curious, as long as the problem is not too easy or too difficult--the Goldilocks special.
So how do we manage to get through life if we don't think well? Essentially, we rely on our memories. Once we've figured out how to do something once (or twice), then we rely on our memory system to recall that piece of information, so that our brains don't have to work hard and figure it out again. For example, when driving a car, you don't have to relearn how to press the accelerator, apply the right amount of pressure on the brakes for stopping, shifting gears, checking for cars on the side, and much more. All those discrete steps are memorized and now recalled perfectly and efficiently. That explains why travelling to a country with a different language and culture is so tiring: you have to relearn all of the simple rules and customs of that particular place.
How does thinking work in basic terms? There are four factors: information from the environment, facts in long-term memory, procedures in long-term memory, and the amount of space in working memory. If any of these is lacking, then thinking will likely fail.
Therefore, one of the reasons why students don't like school is because the tasks and problems they face are either too easy or too difficult, or the thinking required to solve them breaks down in one of the four key areas. So what can be done to alleviate this conundrum?
Have solvable problems: Make sure students have a variety of cognitive work during the day that pose moderate challenge. Are there cognitive breaks? Consider their suitability.
Respect Students' Cognitive Limits: Do students have the necessary background information to solve the mental challenge? If not, prepare them accordingly. Also, don't overload their working memory. Slow the pace and use memory aids, such as writing on the board.
Clarify the Problems: It's difficult for any problem to be "relevant" to an entire group of diverse learners with unique interests. When planning a lesson, start with the information you want students to learn. Then prepare key questions at the right level of difficulty to engage your students and respect their cognitive limitations.
When to Puzzle Students: Do we start with a thought-provoking question, or conduct an interesting demonstration or present a fact? Which is more effective? Sometimes a startling experiment can capture students' attention, but without the proper background information, the temporary thrill will be akin to a magic trick.
Student variance and differentiation: Because students come to class with varying levels of preparedness, understanding, motivation, it is best to assign work that best suits their current level of readiness.
Change the Pace: If you feel you're losing the attention or interest of the learners, then switch gears, change topics, start a new activity or find out what they are having difficulty with, or if it is too easy.
Keep a Diary: As a teacher to improve professionally, it's important to keep track to successes and failures, in order to build up a library of best practices. What worked best for the students? What failed miserably?
Source: Why don't Students like school? Daniel T. Willingham, 2009
How did such creative and novel ideas such as the iPhone, the Apollo 13 rescue mission, or Picasso's Les Demoiselles come about? Did they merely appear out of thin air, or is there a more logical and replicable explanation? According to Brandt and Eagleman in The Runaway Species, there are three categories (cognitive operations or strategies) that all innovations can fall into: bending, breaking and blending.
Bending takes the original item and then changes one or more aspects of it, such as shape, size, colour, or viewpoint. One basic example is Monet's many views of Rouen Cathedral in the 1890s. A more practical example of bending would be the invention of the polarized windshield. In order to not be blinded by headlights in the past, the idea of glare-resistant windshields were suggested. The problem: a calcite crystal was six inches thick! However, Edwin Land used "orthogonal thinking" and made sheets of glass with thousands of tiny embedded crystals. Miniaturization solved the dilemma. Other examples of bending include umbrellas, cars, jazz, language, architecture and television signals.
Breaking involves taking something whole, taking it apart, and reassembling something new out of the fragments. The first cell phone systems followed in the footsteps of radio and TV broadcasting, a single cell tower transmitting signals everywhere, but only a few people could make calls at one time. Bell Lab engineers then divided the single coverage area into small cells, each with its own tower, thus solving the problem of too many users. Another example of breaking comes from motion pictures. In the early cinemas, scenes in movies were told in real-time. Soon, filmmakers began to cut the beginning and endings of scenes. Then in Citizen Kane, we see time moving rapidly in years, and soon montages of long scenes can be done in seconds. Other examples of breaking include the following: computers, carbon copy, LCD screens, acronyms, and MP3 files.
Blending combines two or more sources in novel fashion. A classic example would be the Egyptian Sphinx, part human, part lion. With advances in genetics, professor Randy Lewis was able to splice the DNA of a spider to a goat to create Freckles the spider-goat; she's a goat but her "superpower" is she can secrete spider silk in her milk. This spider silk will be used to weave ultra-light bulletproof vests in the future. We also have fish and pigs that glow thanks to the jellyfish gene. Creoles are the blending of languages. Children in a remote village in Australia used their parents' baby talk (which combined 3 languages, Warlpiri, Kriol, and English) and then created their own syntax, known as Light Warlpiri. Blending is nearly limitless: a kingfisher + train = Japanese bullet train; soccer + volleyball = futevolei in Brazil; copper + tin = alloy bronze.
Source: The Runaway Species, Anthony Brandt & David Eagleman, 2017
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Children with ADHD make up 3 to 5 percent of the school population. There are three forms: predominately inattentive; predominantly hyperactive/impulsive; and the combined type. Inattention includes the inability to sustain attention in tasks or play, great difficulty getting organized or does not follow through on instructions or finish schoolwork or chores. Hyperactivity includes fidgeting and squirming, leaving one's seat in the classroom or talking excessively. Impulsivity includes blurting out answers, trouble taking turns or intruding on others.
Boys and girls are both equally likely to be affected, but girls tend to be less aggressive and disruptive, so are often less diagnosed than boys. Students struggle with attention and disruptive behavior, which leads to academic struggles. When they can't manage their emotions with peers, their social lives begin to suffer, often being left out of playdates and parties. Even at home, children with ADHD can strain the relationship between parent and child, because of their stubbornness or embarrassing behavior. If left unaddressed, these children often end up becoming teens that indulge in more thrill-seeking behavior, more drug and alcohol abuse, and are at risk for mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. Ultimately, unchecked, their chances for completing school, pursuing higher education and finding satisfying jobs are reduced.
First, determine whether it is indeed ADHD and other factors, such as allergies, hearing or vision problems, stress, diet, inappropriate placement, and maturity level. Generally, students with ADHD require more time and guidance to master information. They may need reinforcing lessons and methods to monitor their own attention, to bring them back on task. Assistive technology can also be a benefit. Parent support and education, as well as family counselling, may be helpful. By their teens, many children show improvement though they remain energetic. Medication may be necessary for some with an extreme condition of ADHD.
Source: Learning Disabilities: A to Z; Corinne Smith and Lisa Strick, 2010
Daniel H. Lee
This blog will be dedicated to sharing in three areas: happenings in my classroom and school; analysis and distillation of other educators' wealth of knowledge in various texts; insights from other disciplines and areas of expertise that relate and connect with educational practices.