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Is the education pedagogy partly to blame for my strudent's struggles?
Here we take a critical look at the learning process, our current educational pedagogy, why some students, particularly dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic students continue to struggle, and what teachers and parents can do to help them.
To begin, let's look at how most textbooks and curriculum are organized. They are remarkably consistent throughout the grades and across almost all subjects. The way information is typically organized and presented in our educational system is to describe the subject matter in terms of its characteristics and features. In other words, most curriculum are detail-oriented.
The textbook and/or teacher presents specific details and/or examples, and from these details and examples, the student is required to generalize, extrapolate, or induce the general concept or big picture, if you will.
So, the fundamental learning process is INDUCTIVE REASONING. This is the principle learning process and for most students, this pedagogy works just fine. If, for whatever reason, a student is struggling, the textbook and/or teacher will provide the student with additional details or specific examples to assist the student in arriving at the general concepts or big picture, again, using inductive reasoning.
This basic pedagogy is so ingrained in our educational system, it is beyond question. While we may question the competence of the teacher or more likely that of the student, the fundamental pedagogy of teaching by inductive reasoning, literally, beyond question.
Now that we’ve established the foundation of our educational paradigm, let's look at our typical dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic student. I think most people will agree that most dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic folks are, as a group, intelligent and creative. What most people may not fully understand or appreciate is the source of that creativity and how it effects the learning process.
That creativity that we see in so many dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic persons is founded in INDUCTIVE REASONING—outside-the-box, nonlinear thinking. This is critical to understand. The foundation of invention and creativity is inductive reasoning. You take something that exists—specific examples or details and using inductive reasoning create something completely new—something that maybe no one has ever seen before. It might be an invention, literature, art, or music. The point is, you're creating, inventing something new.
So, while most students use inductive reasoning to LEARN something new, the typical dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic student will use inductive reasoning to CREATE something new. Can you see what a disadvantage it is in the classroom to be a creative, outside the box, non-linear thinker?
Then, how does the typical dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic student learn? Exactly the opposite of most neuro-typical students. To acquire new learning and information, they typically rely on DEDUCTIVE REASONING.
This means that the typical dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic student needs to understand the general concept (big picture) first. And from this big picture or general knowledge the student will deduce the application of the specific characteristics, features and examples.
NEURO-TYPICAL STUDENTS INDUCE THE GENERAL FROM THE SPECIFIC.
DYSLEXIC, ADHD, AND AUTISTIC STUDENTS DEDUCE THE SPECIFIC FROM THE GENERAL.
Once you understand this critical difference between how most neuro-typical children think and learn as a process and how dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic children learn, you're in a much better position to help them in. and out of the classroom.
One of the many skills we teach our dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic students is to ask the question: WHY? Why is the teacher doing what she's doing? Why do we divide both sides of the equation by 3? Why do we bring down the 5 and carry the 2? Why is the ‘p’ silent? And why does ‘i’ come before ‘e’ except after ‘c’?
Something we see all the time is dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic students sit through class and not have any questions. Everything feels fine until they come home and have to do homework and soon after they start, they’re confused and frustrated. And the obvious question is, why didn't you ask the teacher for help in the classroom?
And the student says… I don't know.
And this is confusing to everyone—teachers and parents, alike. I don't think I've ever met a single parent or teacher who understands why this happens. So, right here, right now, I will tell you why.
The reason the typical dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic students DON’T have any questions in the classroom is because they’re not stupid. They’re intelligent. They can see WHAT the teacher is doing. They can see HOW the teacher is doing what she’s doing. There is no reason for them to ask questions in the classroom because everything the teacher doing and saying—all the examples and the features and the characteristics, and all the details—it all makes perfect sense.
The problem comes when they are expected to use their inductive reasoning to extrapolate out or generalize from the specific examples features and characteristics that the teacher gave them to the general concepts. That's when the confusion happens.
That's why a student will often come home (after NOT having any questions in the classroom) and start on their math homework. (How many parents have experienced this?) They do the first 4 or 5 problems without any trouble. Why? Because the first 4 or 5 problems are exactly the same as the teacher’s examples.
The next 4 or 5 problems may be a little challenging. They might take a bit longer to complete, but the student will probably manage to get through them because they're intelligent and because they can figure things out.
But by the time we get down to the bottom of the page to those last 5 or 8 problems, the student is totally confused and frustrated. Why? Because the problems no longer match any of the specific examples given by the teacher. And as we said before the student is not ‘wired’ to generalize a concept from specific examples using inductive reasoning. Once the students inductive reasoning takes over, once they go into their non-linear, outside-the-box thinking, they may come up with an almost infinite number of theories and possibilities for solving those problems—theories and possibilities that are likely of very little use with respect to the actual lesson.
Again, for most students, most linear thinkers, this is not a problem. They simply draw straight line from example A to example B to concepts C and D. It simple, linear inductive reasoning.
The fact is, most students are not burdened with the level of creativity with which most Dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic students struggle. This is not to say neurotypical students can't be creative period. Of course, they can. They can have moments of creativity or periods of creativity, but on a day to day basis, they think and learn, in a fairly linear, inside the box thought process.
The question remains, what can we do to help these dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic students in the classroom?
Ideally, we can help them by presenting information in such a way as to allow them to use DEDUCTIVE REASONING to learn. We can give them the big picture, the generalized concepts, from which they can use deductive reasoning to extrapolate and apply the specific details, characteristics, and features.
However, since it's probably not realistic to change all the textbooks or convince all the teachers to change how they teach, a more practical approach is to teach the dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic students to ask the question: Why? Not how or what: Why?
Typically, dyslexic, ADHD, and autistic students don't need to worry about what the teacher is doing or how she's doing it. They are typically intelligent enough to see and understand what the teachers doing or what the textbook is trying to say. They don't need to ask the question: How? They need to ask the question, WHY? Why? Why? Why?
To parents: if your child is struggling with their homework, do not focus on the “how” or the “what”. Focus on the Why? Help your ADHD, and autistic student understand, “Why?”, and you’ll likely be on the road to success.
At the Neuro-linguistic Learning Center, we’ve been helping students in overcoming the effects of dyslexia, ADHD, and other learning challenges since 2006.
Please feel free to contact us directly or by completing the NLC Learning Profile (See In-home Programs).