Once you know a child’s learning style, you have a good idea of HOW to teach him. However, knowing how to teach him does not provide insight into what to teach him, what areas of neurological processing, memory, perception, comprehension, etc. need improvement, and which areas of his neurological foundation for learning are strong.
The second portion of Task Analysis seeks to delve deeply into your child’s specific learning needs. This portion of the Individualized Instructional Design task is the most critical and most overwhelming portion of your task analysis. For this section, you need note paper, a COPY of your child’s comprehensive evaluation report (because you are going to mark all over it), two highlighters of different colors, and a pen or pencil.
Truthfully, you are highly unlikely to find the proper solution to your child’s learning struggles without a comprehensive, neuro-psychological evaluation in hand. Many parents think they have a good idea about their child’s learning needs, but often they only have a surface view of what is going on neurologically. Take dyslexia, for example. MANY parents assume a child struggling to learn how to read has clinical dyslexia. The child may or may not actually have true dyslexia. A myriad of providers misuse the label “dyslexia” to provide solutions through vision therapy (ocular motor deficiencies), colored glasses or overlays (scotopic sensitivity), focal point training (visual perception issues), etc. None of these conditions or treatments will correct true dyslexia, which is a learning disability where a child lacks phonemic awareness. The child must have specialized, direct, explicit instruction to overcome this learning disability, so no glasses, vision therapy, nor focal point training will enable a child with true dyslexia to overcome his/her learning disability. Many providers don’t even understand the differences between the phonologically-based learning disability, called dyslexia, and ocular motor deficiencies (evidenced by words jumping on the page, headaches while reading, or eye-strain), scotopic sensitivity, or visual-perception issues, so they market their wares to “cure dyslexia” and parents waste their time and money on solutions that don’t meet their child’s actual needs.
That said, a child can have true dyslexia AND other conditions such as ocular motor deficiencies, scotopic sensitivity, visual perception issues, etc. IF a child has multiple conditions, sorting out what areas are causing the child to have difficulty learning to read is critical. If you don’t know precisely what your child’s problem(s) are, you cannot provide the correct remedial solution. You simply must have neuro-psychological testing to determine what underlying cognitive processes are affecting your child’s learning so that you can provide the proper educational solution.
As another example, a child can seem to lack an ability to pay attention because he doesn’t remember what he has been taught. The underlying issues MAY be ADHD, but they could also be difficulty with working memory or long-term memory. There might be a problem with processing speed where a child can remember information if is provided slowly in small chunks, but is lost if teaching is too rapid and there isn’t enough processing time. A child might have issues with processing or comprehension that require multiple multisensory presentations before the information can be remembered. Again, a parent cannot know which area of cognitive processing is at fault without a comprehensive assessment to determine the root causes of the child’s learning struggles.
The point is, you cannot KNOW what areas of neurological difficulty and what kind of remedial provisioning your child needs through simple observation. You must have a comprehensive neuro-psychological evaluation. I stress this point because so many parents try to provide educational solutions for their child, but the solutions often don’t work. After multiple attempts with varied programs, all met with failure, frustration, or mediocre results, the parents think they are “unable to teach” their child, but the real problem is trying to apply the wrong learning solution to a child’s specific learning needs. You must know your child’s neurological strengths so you can use those for reaching and teaching him, and you must know your child’s neurological weaknesses so you can implement training programs to improve areas of deficit cognition, memory, processing, etc.
Thus, if you don’t have a neuro-psychological evaluation report, the rest of the planning for overcoming learning disabilities is probably not going to bring about stellar results for you. While you may guess some areas of neurological deficiency, you are not likely to assess all areas of need correctly through observation of your child. Thus, the rest of this page and the following steps in the process assume you have received an accurate and comprehensive diagnosis of your child’s specific neurologically-based learning needs.
Given you have an evaluation report in hand, I recommend a three-pass process for determining your child’s learning foundation and needs. With this process, you will read through your child’s report three times, focusing on only one area at a time.
- 1st Pass, Read through and use one highlighter color to mark every aspect of your child’s neurological functioning that measures with an above average, superior, or genius score.
- 2nd Pass, Read through and using the other highlighter color to mark every aspect of your child’s neurological functioning that measures below average, borderline, or deficient in scoring.
- 3rd Pass, Read through and find every “Grade Equivalent” for any reading, writing, or mathematics area of achievement and circle every GE score. This is sometimes expressed as a GE, and is usually in the format such as 3.5 or 4.6 where 3.5 equals third grade, fifth month and 4.6 equals fourth grade, sixth month.
In order to determine how to best teach your child, you will want to consider all areas marked with the highlighter in step 1 as strengths that can help you teach your child. In an evaluation, there are usually several elements in testing that assess visual aspects of learning (visual discrimination, picture-based tests, visual memory), auditory skills (receptive language, oral comprehension, auditory memory, etc.), or kinesthetic abilities (eye-hand coordination testing, fine motor and gross motor skills). It is helpful to use your notebook and write down every area of above average, superior, or genius level performance and see if you see a pattern or strength emerge. You may see several tests that assessed visual or pictorial elements of learning, which would indicate that your child processes images that he sees fairly well. You may see several types of memory assessment listed, which may indicate your child has a strong memory. Whatever areas of strength you see two or more high measures for, you will want to consider those as possible avenues for teaching and enhancing your child’s learning. The strengths coupled with your child’s learning style preferences will build the best picture for how to effectively teach your child.
In order to determine what underlying cognitive areas need aggressive training, you will analyze the areas highlighted with your second color of marker in step 2. Again, there will be the varied elements of testing that assess visual, auditory, kinesthetic, memory, processing speed, comprehension, perception, etc., that were assessed. You will list all areas of low performance on another sheet of paper to look for patterns of deficiency which need to be addressed. Most often, you will see several entries for memory or processing speed or comprehension. If your child has a very slow processing speed, you will want to implement brain-training types of programs to improve his processing speed. If your child has several indicators that he has difficulty with short-term, working memory, you will want to implement programs and games to improve his working memory. For each area of deficit, implementing a program or programs to build these neurological processes will help improve your child’s ability to learn more efficiently.
Let’s consider a math example for a moment. IF your child has a deficit in his short-term, working memory, it will be difficult for him to do mental math problems. He may have difficulty with math facts or reading decoding because of the working memory deficit. You repetitively teach your child the math facts, but until he can hold information in his memory and process it, it will be difficult for him to work math problems quickly and effectively in his head. Thus, it would help your child to strengthen his short-term, working memory. There are programs, practices, and games that can help improve working memory. That is not to say you’d stop working on math until your child’s memory has improved, but you would want to work improving memory, which is an often overlooked area of provisioning when trying to help a child overcome learning disabilities. The same thing will apply for processing speed, comprehension, or any other area of cognitive processing that is less than average in your child.
The third step of noting your child’s GE scores will help you know how advanced or behind your child is from his current grade level. Make sections on your paper for math computation, math reasoning, reading decoding, reading comprehension, written expression, and spelling. For each GE score, sort it into an appropriate category, adding new ones if needed, to get a general idea of your child’s grade equivalent performance in each subject area. If your child is in the middle of third grade (GE 3.5) and scores below that in some areas, then those will be areas where he may need direct, explicit instruction in order to gain understanding. If your child scores above a GE 3.5, then you know your child is performing well enough in those areas. For the advanced areas, you can continue on your child’s current educational progression and not worry too much about his learning in those areas. For the areas of deficit, you will want to provide additional focused instruction through your child’s strengths and preferred learning style, being aware that any underlying cognitive processes (memory, processing speed, comprehension, etc.) will interfere with learning until they are also improved.
While this is not a comprehensive guide to determining how to meet your child’s needs, I do hope it provides a foundation for getting started and allows you to head in the correct direction with your child’s learning. I know receiving a comprehensive neuro-psychological evaluation report can be overwhelming, but dissecting it bit-by-bit can add insight into your child’s learning processes that is invaluable for helping him overcome his learning challenges.
This article is rather long, but I hope it is helpful! Next up, we’ll discuss the hunt for solutions that are designed to help your child overcome his specific learning challenges.