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Can All Children Learn?

April 17, 2009, 9:05 pm

by MaryBeth Palo, mother of a child with autism and founder of Watch Me Learn

In today’s society, we generally rely on professionals for answers and for guidance on how to teach a child.  We receive medical reports, educational assessments and scientific data to answer this question.  Then a method of treatment and teaching is formulated.

The problems are:

1) Reliance on data that may or may not be accurate.  Test/assessment results are only as reliable as the methods used to administer the test. In other words, the test results are only as good as the test delivery method.   As an example, if you assess a deaf child by asking auditory questions, your results will indicate a very low functioning cognitive ability.  If you assess the same child by using a method of communication the child can comprehend, you will get VERY different results.
 

2) Scientific information used may not be current with today’s science and the data are only as good as the knowledge, experience and skills of the person doing the interpretation.  Medicine is a science that relies on scientific proof, history and independently verified results.

When making a decision about how to educate a child, do we analyze the brain connections being built when a child is provided with a sensory stimulation?  No!

Do we base our selection of materials to provide to a child based on brain wave activity? No!

We don’t have either of these available. So, basing our education decisions on what we do know is obviously insufficient.
 

3) Treatment/teaching methods are usually formulated based on what we have available to us or what we know is available. Educational placements are usually based on what is available, not what is needed.  More insufficiency.


4) Grouping children by learning disabilities does not provide all children the opportunity to learn: yet one more insufficient element in our decision.


In summary, when determining whether a child can learn and how the child learns, we are relying on data that may not be accurate or up-to-date, and educational opportunities that are insufficient or inappropriate for the learner. The result is bad decisions.

It sounds so complicated…  In many ways, it is complicated but it doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t be.  Society and time have created pathways we use when deciding whether a child can learn.   But as we all know, existing pathways may not be the fastest or most efficient ways to get to a designated place.  Often they will not allow us to get there at all. 

Many children are able to follow existing paths and learn effectively.  For these children, the established paths are sufficient.  For many other children, however, the paths are not sufficient nor will they reach the destination.  Learning and the complex job of teaching requires us to get off the path and figure out another route to reach the destination.

What does this mean?  It means we have to look past the test results, the assessment results and the inventory of teaching tools available to us, and look at the individual child and how that child learns.  Next, we need to determine what means are needed to teach this child.  What we find will allow us to create a new individual path for learning. It will create new experiences and learning opportunities for EVERY child.  These new pathways will benefit all children, not just the children in need.  Every child will experience new things and maybe even learn about how people are different and learn and experience differently.

The child who can’t understand what you are saying will understand if you show him. The child who can’t understand what you are showing him will understand what you are saying.  The child who can’t understand what you are saying or showing will understand what you are doing. The child who can understand what you are saying, showing and doing will gain a much more comprehensive understanding when saying, showing and doing are combined.

We must provide each child with the best available means and delivery to maximize his learning.  Use the information and tools you have but realize that they may not be sufficient to make an accurate decision about a child’s ability to learn.  Look past the assessments, tests and resources and determine what the individual child needs and then provide the tools to the caregivers, the parents and the teachers.

Can this child learn?  The answer to this question is YES.  What a child learns, how a child learns and how much a child learns depends on YOU!  YOU are every member of society. At some time, in some manner, YOU influence decisions about a child’s life, about education, about science and about opportunities.  The opportunity to learn is a right.  It is your duty and my duty to provide this opportunity.


Mary Beth Palo
Founder
Watch Me Learn