Help for Children with Learning Difficulties…
and for Students, and for Adults
Plato, the great Greek philosopher, once said that the direction in which education starts a man will determine his future life. In modern Western society mastery of basic academic skills — reading, writing and arithmetic — is a necessary prerequisite for success in both school and employment settings and society at large. However, due to learning difficulties, the futures of many children are put in jeopardy.
School can become an unhappy place for children with learning difficulties. They are often misunderstood, and may be mistakenly seen as lazy or poorly motivated. It is often said that 'they could do better if they tried harder'. Many do not graduate high school due to the failure of the school system to accommodate their learning difficulty. Many adults with learning difficulties are underemployed, often stuck in dead-end jobs that do not tap into their true vocational potential. Many others are not finding employment at all.
Since learning difficulties bring such devastation in the lives of so many children, no stone may be left unturned to eradicate this problem. As Richardson states so succinctly, "Literacy gives us the keys to knowledge and wisdom — the keys to the Kingdom. Isn't it time now for us all to put our heads together, to work together to see to it that those keys are given to every child?"
Find the Cause to Find a "Cure"
Successful intervention is dependent on finding the cause or causes of a problem. Most problems can only be solved if one knows their causes. A disease such as pellagra, also called the disease of the four D's — dermatitis, diarrhoea, dementia and death — took the lives of thousands in the Southern states of America during the early part of the twentieth century. Today, pellagra is virtually unknown because we know that it is caused by a vitamin B3 deficiency. A viable point of departure would thus be to ask the question, "What causes learning difficulties?"
To fully understand the cause of learning difficulties it is important to take note of the fact that learning is a stratified process. This is a self-evident fact, yet its significance in the situation of the child with a learning difficulty has apparently never been fully comprehended. Throughout the world in all educational systems it is commonly accepted that a child must start at the lower levels of education and then gradually progress to the higher levels. If human learning had not been a stratified process, if it had taken place on a single level, this would have been unnecessary. It would then not have been important to start a child in first grade. It would have been possible for the child to enter school at any level and to complete the school years in any order.
A simpler example to illustrate the stratified nature of learning is the fact that one has to learn to count before it becomes possible to learn to add and subtract. Suppose one tried to teach a child, who had not learnt to count yet, to add and subtract. This would be quite impossible and no amount of effort would ever succeed in teaching the child these skills. In the same way, there are things — certain foundational skills — that a child must learn first, and only then does it become possible for him to learn to read, spell, write, et cetera.
Note that a foundational skill is not the same as a process, strategy or technique. The difference between these can be explained by using the game of soccer as example. In order to be a soccer player, a person first has to master the foundational skills — passing, control, shooting, dribbling, goal keeping and heading. Only after that can he be taught strategies or techniques.
What passing, heading and dribbling are to soccer, concentration, perception, memory and logical thinking are to learning. They are the foundational skills of learning.
Paying attention must be distinguished from concentration. Paying attention is a body function, and therefore does not need to be taught. However, paying attention as such is a function that is quite useless for the act of learning, because it is only a fleeting occurrence. Attention usually shifts very quickly from one object or one thing to the next. The child must first be taught to focus his attention on something and to keep his attention focused on this something for some length of time. When a person focuses his attention for any length of time, we refer to it as concentration.
Concentration rests on two legs. First, it is an act of will and cannot take place automatically. Second, it is also a cognitive skill, and therefore has to be taught, after which one's proficiency can be constantly improved by regular and sustained practice.
Before one can learn anything, perception must take place, i.e. one has to become aware of it through one of the senses. Usually one has to hear or see it. Subsequently one has to interpret whatever one has seen or heard, and this can only be done on the basis of past experience of the same, similar or related phenomena. Perceptual ability, therefore, heavily depends upon the amount of perceptual practice and experience that the subject has already enjoyed. This implies that perception is a cognitive skill that can be improved tremendously through judicious practice and experience.
Perceptual skill is extremely important in order to become a good reader. As far as reading is concerned, perception is a foundational skill, just as counting is for the ability to calculate. A child who cannot learn to read, a so-called dyslexic, is frequently simply a child in whom one or more perceptual skills have not been adequately developed in order to make it possible for this child to acquire the skill of reading.
A variety of memory problems – a poor receptive memory, sequential memory, working memory, short-term memory, or long-term-memory – are evidenced in children with learning difficulties.
Researchers from Durham University, who surveyed over three thousand children, found that ten percent of schoolchildren across all age ranges suffer from poor working memory seriously affecting their learning.
Working memory is the ability to hold information in your head and manipulate it mentally. Lead researcher Dr. Tracy Alloway from Durham University's School of Education, who, with colleagues, has published widely on the subject, explains: "Working memory is a bit like a mental jotting pad and how good this is in someone will either ease their path to learning or seriously prevent them from learning."
Children at school need this memory on a daily basis for a variety of tasks.
Until the child with learning difficulties develops adequate memory skills, he will continue to face each learning situation as though it is a new one. No real progress can be attained by either the child or the teacher when the same ground has to be covered over and over because the child has forgotten.
In his book Brain Building Dr. Karl Albrecht states that logical thinking is not a magical process or a matter of genetic endowment, but a learnt mental process. It is the process in which one uses reasoning consistently to come to a conclusion. Problems or situations that involve logical thinking call for structure, for relationships between facts, and for chains of reasoning that "make sense."
The basis of all logical thinking is sequential thought, says Dr. Albrecht. This process involves taking the important ideas, facts, and conclusions involved in a problem and arranging them in a chain-like progression that takes on a meaning in and of itself. To think logically is to think in steps.
Logical thinking is an important foundational skill of math. "Learning mathematics is a highly sequential process," says Dr. Albrecht. "If you don't grasp a certain concept, fact, or procedure, you can never hope to grasp others that come later, which depend upon it. For example, to understand fractions you must first understand division. To understand simple equations in algebra requires that you understand fractions. Solving 'word problems' depends on knowing how to set up and manipulate equations, and so on."
It has been proven that specific training in logical thinking processes can make people "smarter." Logical thinking allows a child to reject quick and easy answers, such as "I don't know," or "this is too difficult," by empowering him to delve deeper into his thinking processes and understand better the methods used to arrive at a solution.
Audiblox is a system of cognitive exercises, aimed at developing and automatising the foundational skills of learning, i.e. concentration, perception, memory and logical thinking.
Audiblox helped Adam to overcome his learning difficulties. Adam's mother, wrote:
"Adam had so many learning difficulties when we first began with Audiblox that all I could do was hope, with all my heart, that this would finally be the program that would help him.
"We had struggled for so long; and I have to say we because he has always been taught at home and it has been a long arduous process teaching him to read, write and do basic math. Since none of our other children had the difficulties with learning that Adam displayed I knew he needed special help; help that I did not know how to give him.
"Thank goodness for the Internet because that is how I found Audiblox. Adam was already 16 years old by then and well aware that he had learning difficulties (why wouldn’t he, when his younger brother was ahead of him in subjects like math and reading). When I told him about the Audiblox program he was willing to give it a try so we ordered the program and the journey began.
"At one time his reading was slow and halting. He would skip words and sentences and had difficulty understanding what he had just read. Reading used to be so much work for him that he didn't enjoy it and only read when he had to. Now he reads with ease and confidence. As a matter of fact, he enjoys reading so much that it isn’t unusual to see him reading for pleasure now. The first time I heard him say he was 'going to bed a little early so he could read before going to sleep' was music to my ears!!
"His handwriting used to be very difficult to read. Now, when he writes, the letters are smaller, more uniform in size and are legible enough for anyone to read. He even commented recently that 'it is so much easier to write now and my hands don't jerk like they used to.'
"His math scores have made a dramatic improvement. He is in a combined Geometry/Algebra course and lately his scores have been in the 90's or above on his daily work and tests. And for the first time ever he is ahead of his younger brother in their math lessons.
"Adam has come a long way over this last year. Even he comments on how much easier reading and math are for him now. In his words 'I can think faster now and my thoughts don’t get jumbled up like they did before.' He has worked very hard. He learned early on that 'attitude' was ninety percent of the battle. If he was determined and committed and did his best during the sessions, it made all the difference in the world. Yes, it was long and hard and at times boring. But anything really worthwhile takes time and effort. We both decided to stay committed and see it through. We are so grateful we did.
"Thank you Audiblox!!! You have given our son Adam a priceless gift."
Edublox provides cognitive training programs aimed at developing and automatising concentration, perception, memory and logical thinking.
Stock photo used.