Learning problems: finally an approach that works
Terrific new work on children's learning is being done by the
pediatrician Mel Levine, M.D. I am incorporating his theory and methods in my
evaluation and treatment of learning difficulties in all my clients. Dr.
Levine's work has that great quality that brings up the question: "Why
hasn't anyone thought of this before?" Dr. Levine has pulled together good
work accomplished by others through the past 20 years, and he has added his own
efforts to produce the first comprehensive and truly helpful approach to
learning difficulties in children of all ages. Finally we have a system that
produces a specific diagnosis for most all learning problems, coupled with
sensible methods of working around and through the learning difficulties.
Dr. Levine rightly asserts that the diagnostic label of
learning disability, such as dyslexia, or the diagnosis of Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) are not specific enough to be of any significant
help in treatment. Dr. Levine points out that children who seem to be lazy in
school are simply discouraged, because their specific difficulty in learning is
not understood, and the teaching received is not successfully allowing that
student to learn. Dr. Levine says that there are no lazy students, and he shows
how to help almost all "problem students".
The system for diagnosing and understanding learning problems
is not simple. Dr. Levine calls it developing a Neurodevelopmental Profile for
each student. A Neurodevelopmental Profile inspects eight different broad areas
of brain or neurological function, and each of those have somewhere between
three to eight different sub-categories, and many of those have up to eight
sub-sub categories of their own. An outline of all those categories can be seen here,
taken from Dr. Levine's book A Mind at a Time.
The investment in effort to understand each student's
learning in such extreme detail pays off as soon as you start to actually help
the student. Now we are able to explain the exact difficulty to each student,
and the students respond well when the explanation fits their own experience of
their difficulty so well. We do not give a general diagnosis of Attention
Deficit; instead, we explain, for example, that the student has significant
difficulty in maintaining control over the depth and detail of the information
he must attend to and receive. (There are 14 different specific functions in the
Attention Control System, and the Depth and Detail Control is only one of those,
among the Input Controls.)
Such specific description of a student's difficulty then
leads to specific exercises that can improve the student's learning. In this
example, the student would profit from practice at finding what level of detail
he should be directing his attention to in, say, reading a chapter in the
history textbook for homework. It is very helpful to such a student for the
parents to politely question and coach the student about which details are
relevant and necessary, and which are not. This is far more helpful than having
the parents tell the student to concentrate harder.
Another student's problem with attention control might be a
difficulty in previewing the output (work product) that is required, plus
difficulty in maintaining the pace of output. In that case, of course, efforts
would be concentrated there.
Each student would have some different combination of
weaknesses and strengths. The students are much more receptive to
information about themselves when it is accurate, precise, and when it leads
directly to those things that can be practiced to remedy the problem. Students
certainly want to do well when they know what they can do, but each student is
unique. That is why Dr. Levine has named his website All Kinds of Minds, which
can be found here.
The diagnostic system and assessment tools developed by Dr.
Levine finally give us the kind of information that can be immediately helpful
to students with learning problems.