Brain Training Empowers Students to Tackle Learning Challenges Head-On
“You don’t know what frustration is until your nine-year-old son spends three to five hours doing 4thgrade homework every night. It’s equally disturbing when he spends all recess finishing up his schoolwork while his peers are outside playing, forming the bonds of friendship that he’s left out of, while he sits inside…alone. The frustration is duplicated daily when quality time can’t be spent with his siblings or my spouse because one of us is preoccupied at the kitchen table with a kid who just says, “I don’t get it,” or he immediately forgets what was just taught to him seconds earlier.”
This is one dad, Mike’s, real story but it is a story that I hear over and over in my office every day. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending …which is also how stories end in my office daily.
These happy endings are the result of exciting brain science. The idea that the way the brain functions is changeable, was a few years ago what science fiction or spy movies were made of. But with loads of research becoming available about how the brain works and it’s ability to change and modify itself in response to absolutely everything we do and experience (called brain plasticity) this idea of changing your brain is becoming increasingly mainstream. In fact, I was recently in an airport bookstore and 3 of their top sellers were actually about making your good brain even better! Exercising your brain for optimum performance is becoming as accepted as exercising your body for optimum health. Even cooler is that it can be done at any age. No longer are school age children stuck with the ability they are born with making learning challenges something that can be overcome.
What kids learn in school is information or knowledge. Their ability to take in and efficiently use that information depends on their individual learning skills. Think of them as the tools that you need to get the job done. Compare it to this. If you tried to build a house with a hammer, hand saw and a few assorted hand tools, you might (with hard work and diligence) be able to get the job done. If you had all the latest power tools though, you will get it done faster and better by far. Mental skills are the tools of learning and actually are not something that can be taught. I could talk to you about auditory processing (a key skill involved in reading) for hours and at the end of that time you might know more about auditory processing, but you wouldn’t actually be better at it. These are skills that need to be practiced and practiced appropriately in order for them to develop. But with the right practice they can be improved.
Traditional approaches to learning difficulties have been:
- Teach to a child’s strengths (which ignores their weaknesses and forces them to have to constantly work around them).
- Make accommodations for learning weaknesses. This usually results in lowered expectations for a student which does allow them to “get through” but doesn’t actually fix the underlying problem. 80% of learning difficulties are the result of weak underlying learning skills. Brain science proves these skills can be strengthened which is so much more effective than accommodating.
- Tutoring. Tutoring may help a child keep up but it also doesn’t address the underlying cause of the problem and so it effectively means that the child will never get beyond the need for extra help.
- Medication. At least 5 million American children take medication for ADD/ADHD. Although there is definitely a need for this medication in many students it ignores other weak learning skills. Weak skills create the need for much more mental effort (they are using hand tools as opposed to power tools) in learning and often children cannot sustain that amount of mental effort requiring frequent “mental breaks”. Medication can in some cases improve attention but cannot make mental skills stronger. In many cases, they also have significant unpleasant side affects.
- Mental skills testing and training. Identifying the cause of learning difficulties and strengthening these underlying skills allows students to overcome learning challenges.
The happy ending to Mike’s story is that his son who hated school now enjoys it more each day. He is able to complete his homework in much less time without all the tears and frustration. He even came home recently with a 100% on a math test. He now has self-confidence he lacked and a can-do attitude that extends beyond the four walls of his classroom to the ball field and family life. Even when he makes mistakes they are much easier to deal with because he really listens, double checks his work and looks for answers on his own. He “get’s it” now.
Dr. Jedlicka is an audiologist, master brain trainer and director of LearningRx of the Fox Valley. Contact her directly with questions about learning and the brain by phone at (920) 267-4551.