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Attack the learning difficulties PDF Print E-mail

We all come across barriers in learning
Pioneers in the science of psychology, such as Binet, Galton and Burt demonstrated early in the 20th century the wide ranges of individual differences in intellect over the various samples of populations that they investigated. Galton regarded intelligence as relatively fixed, whereas Binet, and later on Piaget noted differing rates of reaching, and passing through, several stages of development. However, only recently have neuropsychologists been able to demonstrate, using modern advances in brain scanning technology that children do differ in brain structure, or brain 'wiring' and that our brains also differ in the rates of development of the various parts of the brain.

The important practical educational conclusion from the above is that every class of students that a teacher faces has students at various different stages of brain development. So, for the teacher to classify as "stupid" or "not one of my bright sparks" a student who experience extra ordinary difficulty with a particular task, may well be condemning a child whose brain has not yet passed the relevant stage of development.

Teachers nearly always damage the student's self-esteem and confidence level by such reactions and particularly unfavorable consequences may occur in these cases. The student, in a very difficult developmental stage, may be dissuaded from persisting and, from a single traumatic instance, develop a dislike for the whole subject being taught, or a lack of enthusiasm which may last the victim's lifetime!

Special attention for special difficulties
Ideally, as soon as any student faces a particularly difficult learning task (ie when not much progress occurs after more than usual effort) the student should receive special attention, creative tuition, and encouragement to 'beat' the problem, but without "overblowing" the situation.

Assuming competent tuition(a necessary assumption, as many teachers do not know their subjects well enough to 'explain' efficiently in such cases) the student's brain will "incubate" the problem and all that is needed is a little more time, tuition and encouragement. Each such barrier which is successfully crossed by the student will add to increased academic self-confidence and further perseverance, whereas condemnations, followed by failure, may permanently 'injure' the student, as explained above.

What can the parents do?
Firstly, if your child has a damaging teacher, as described above, it would be a public service for parents to help or persuade the teacher never to apply the "stupid" category of value judgement to any student. Consult with other parents, other teachers, even the Head Teacher and accept the risk of "victimization" of yourself. The student has already been a victim!

Only help the student with a study problem if you feel expert enough to cope insightfully with the student's difficulty. One possibility is for extra tuition to be obtained from a highly competent teacher, like the one or two that you might, if very lucky, have come across during own education. Professional help from an educational/vocational psychologist is expensive, and even more difficult to find, although the educational and career-relevant information that can be obtained from one should add to your confidence and to that of the student.

Barriers due to prior learning
Full early understanding of "the basics" is essential for later progress in mathematics and sciences. Any student who has been badly taught or ill during the foundation classes of such subjects will experience enormous difficulty if required to "catch up" independently. I have come across many mathematically talented persons (having high levels of numerical, logical and spatial reasoning) who have "given up" on mathematics due to early gaps in basic knowledge or traumatic encounters with bad teachers. Accordingly, parents should attempt to supply the necessary books, computer programs and direct tuition necessary for overcoming the disadvantages of earlier educational "gaps."

Lack of interest
Persuading a youngster to show an interest in a school subject can often be as difficult as is persuasion to eat a nutritious but disliked item of food. However, it is worth persisting if the revulsion is caused by negative educational experiences - as the interest may be generated afresh. Of course, we can never be certain whether or not the dislike has been caused by the environment. It may be "natural" for the student. "Little Jonny just doesn't like mathematics." But mathematics to little Johnny may have been presented as a boring accumulation of various "rules" and procedures, with no sense of purpose or joy of discovery that can readily be instilled by a fine mathematics teacher.

Unfortunately, many students enter university without having ever had their occupational interests systematically investigated. They may then study for a degree to which they are unsuited and drop out, or, perhaps worse, continue, and begin a career path that will be a living vocational hell, possibly leading to a traumatic career path change later on.

A good example, germane to this article, is the teaching profession. A teacher, suited to the career by strong persuasive and social welfare occupational interests and by an extraverted, assertive (but not aggressive), and sufficiently dominant personality can enjoy a fulfilling and worthwhile working life. On the other hand we have all experienced teachers in the "wrong" careers. They did not enjoy themselves, nor did the students enjoy them!

Career choice is often a complex decision involving, not only the suitability of the student to the career content, but also the costs and logistics of study, family obligations, and the job market in the country of intended domicile after qualification. Parents should encourage students to learn about careers in every possible way in order to acquire essential information for career choice at the appropriate stage. Vacation work, "shadowing," books, and the internet are all possibilities that can be tried. Also, most adults are flattered, and cooperative, when responding to polite enquiries about the nature of their work.

David E. Harrison is a consulting Industrial & Vocational Psychologist. Website: Email:  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it   Tel: 04-700867

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