Leveraging the Strengths of Our Students

Often, a learning disability is not so much a difficulty in learning, as it is a difficulty in being taught.

As we grow up and attend school, many of our ways of gathering information are taken away. We are told to sit still, be quiet, stop daydreaming, not to doodle and pay attention. For the child who learns best by moving around, we have taken away his or her primary mode of learning. For the interactive learner who needs to talk about ideas to understand them, we have taken away the ability to integrate information.

For the child who understands best by drawing diagrams and symbols, he or she loses that most vital tool. Although music is used to teach the ABC's in elementary school, it is considered too childish to use in the higher grades. Before we know it, learning becomes boring or school becomes a challenge to meet without our full set of tools. The joy is gone.

School programs and educational techniques reflect our western values which elevate science, math, and logical achievement above success in the arts and human relations fields. Schools teach most effectively to those with strong language and logical thinking skills. If you were successful in school, you are probably strong in these areas. Yet your students may not be. Those who learn differently are often misunderstood, neglected, or undeserved by our educational systems.

Studies of the brain have shown that we need to move, sing, dance, draw, talk, and reflect to learn effectively. So the first thing we need to let go of is the expectation that there is one "right" way to learn or teach. Secondly, we need to let go of the expectation that our learners will be most successful if they use the same strategies that worked for us. Diversity is the key.

Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, developed his theory of multiple intelligences more than twenty years ago. Simply put, Dr. Gardner argues that people employ several different types of intelligence, rather than one general type.

Dr. Gardner defines intelligence as “The capacity to do something useful in the society in which we live.  Intelligence is the ability to respond successfully to new situations and the capacity to learn from one’s past experiences.”

We as educators need to be helping our students discover their many intelligences and how to use them effectively in mastering whatever content is being learned in the classroom and at home. The emphasis is on tapping into the student's unique and natural learning processes to ensure success.

In order for students to leverage their strengths in school, they first need to become self-aware of their strengths by identifying their most dominant intelligences.  Moreover, students need to also identify their learning styles, interests, and needs.  This helps to paint the whole picture of the learner profile for each student.

I have included some resources to help students paint their own learner profile picture, below.



A key to successful teaching is understanding what the learner already "reads" well. Although a reader may have difficulty reading print, he or she reads other things successfully, such as car engines, menus, blueprints, football plays, body language, situations. It is our challenge to discover with our learners what they "read" well and to break down how they do it.

It is the premise of innovative educators like Peter Kline that each of us is an "everyday genius," that we have a great capacity to learn. The key to unlocking that capacity is to create an environment that supports discovery and allows us to enjoy learning because our natural talents are being used more successfully.

In short, let's leverage our students' strengths to enhance their learning and educational experience!

References
  1. Dr. Howard Gardner, author, Frames of Mind and Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice
  2. Peter Kline, author, The Everyday Genius: Restoring Children's Natural Joy of Learning, and Yours Too
  3. Why Arts Integration? http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/educators/how-to/arts-integration-beta/why-arts-integration-beta/why-relevant-literature-beta.aspx
  4. I'm Determined http://www.imdetermined.org/ 
  5. Literacy Works: Multiple Intelligences http:www.literacyworks.org/mi
  6. Multiple Intelligence Assessment: Find Your Strengths: http://www.literacyworks.org/mi/assessment/findyourstrengths.html
  7. Practice: Engaging the Intelligences: http://www.literacyworks.org/mi/practice/index.html

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