Friday, February 8, 2013

Training the Educators


I am passionate about learning!  Why? I know learning happens!  I witness so many individuals incredible perseverance living with all sorts of learning challenges, such as dyslexia, ADHD, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, NLD,....I am lucky to be a part of overcoming their learning challenges.    First, assessment is critical in understanding and demystifying learning difficulties. Students are working and trying, many times harder than their more successful peers and they need to know why!  Second, appropriate instruction facilitates learning and the processes we need for efficient and effective learning.

Conversely, I know when learning isn't happening, or happening with undue strain and stress, that I need to take a look "underneath" the tasks at hand to figure out the underlying cognitive pieces that need building and supporting.  So, many times---usually much more quickly than anyone expects---by providing direct instruction in the cognitive processes needed to do certain tasks, say, read or write, as part of reading or writing instruction, I can facilitate leaps in student learning.  And, this, if you haven't experienced it, is REALLY FUN! If my students don't exceed expected growth in a year, I know I am not doing my job.

Like Sal Khan said in his presentation in Seattle at Town Hall this week, when we don't teach to mastery, we set up students to fail.  He used a building analogy.  We start with a foundation that is, say, only 80% up to code.  It passes. Then, we go ahead and build the first floor, hoping that the bad corner won't affect the structural integrity of the building.   Oh, well, the first floor is 74% up to code, so let's go for the second floor....and so on.  At some point, the structure will crumble. We build failure into our system, when we can build success. 

On the other hand, if we address underlying processing difficulties, including sensory integration, fine and gross motor development, automatic visual - auditory processing, direct instruction in language, along with strategic study strategies as we are learning reading, writing, and mathematics, we can teach to mastery and students can build a solid foundation for creatively pursuing their goals and interests.  While our focus on standardized tests needs rethinking, we can help students succeed  and pass standardized tests.


Again, I was lucky to teach some in-service classes for the North Olympic Peninsula AmeriCorps volunteers, all of whom work with students in schools and for various before and after school programs,. Very impressive group of dedicated,  service-oriented young adults, who accept the challenge of believing success is a possibility for their students. Yet, even with 100% willingness to try, in order to integrate new strategies takes practice and on-going reinforcement.  The first shifts in thinking are as simple and as profound as examining learning as opposed to finishing a worksheet.

So, my goal in offering training classes is to facilitate a collaborate learning community that supports and trains  tutors,  teachers, and parents so that students experience success.  Ideally, we start with in-service trainings for several weeks, and then, continue to meet with tutors and teachers every  few weeks for on-going training and consultation. We take time for closer examination of their hardest to reach students.  What is working? What is not working? How do we provide effective instruction for this student? for this group of students? etc.  Through a year-long, on-going training, consultation, and facilitation, we can together dramatically impact student achievement.  Mostly, every child deserves the right of enjoying school and of surpassing their highest expectations.  And, as the AmeriCorps volunteers know, we all have to have more FUN getting there!

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