Rosie O’Donnell explains how to “attune a child.”

By Mary-Dean Barringer, All Kinds of Minds CEO

It took Rosie O’Donnell less than three minutes to describe an educational approach advocated by the All Kinds of Minds Institute. The New York Times shares a video where O’Donnell, and her son, talk about how they pinpointed the root of his learning struggles. It’s the best description of the “attuning a student process” I’ve found! (http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/26/little-known-disorder-can-take-a-toll-on-learning/?8dpc)

Ms. O’Donnell’s notices the offbeat way her son responds to particular situations. “He hadn’t learned how to learn yet.” With careful observations, she and others were able to determine the specific breakdown—an auditory processing weakness. Blake was then able to get the targeted interventions and instructional support strategies he needed. Ms. O’Donnell helped him—and his siblings—realize he was not dumb; his brain was just wired differently.

And ask her son what he thinks and he’ll tell you, “It took a lot of work for me to get this smart but now I am smart.”

But Ms. O’Donnell says that process is not just about better grades. “It definitely affected his whole world,” she said of her son. “Not just learning. It cuts them off from society, from interactions. To see the difference in who he is today versus who he was two years ago, and then to contemplate what would have happened had we not been able to catch it — I think he would have been lost.”

At All Kinds of Minds we know that students differ in how they are “wired” to learn, and that the observations of these individual learning profiles – including strengths and weaknesses – can be better understood through knowledge of the brain activities that affect learning.

Our research shows that when educators have an understanding of this knowledge – along with tools and strategies for applying it in their classrooms – they are more effective teachers. They look at students differently. They make better observations about their students and where they are having trouble. They better understand why students are struggling. And they know how to target instruction to help the Blakes in their school.

And the result is exactly what Ms. O’Donnell and Blake share with us–hope, possibility, optimism, belief.

For the students it translates into a belief in themselves as smart learners. For the teachers it translates into optimism that all they can help all students learn. For the parents it translates into hope for a successful life for their child. And for us at All Kinds of Minds, it reminds us of the possibility that all of us just might be able to transform education, even if it starts with a child at a time.

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Survey Reveals A New Achievement Gap

By Mary Jo Dunnington, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships, All Kinds of Minds

MetLife just published its annual survey, “The American Teacher.” Part 2, which synthesizes feedback from teachers, principals and students on student achievement, is chock-full of revealing data. For example:

  • Most teachers (84%) are very confident that they have the knowledge and skills necessary to enable all of their students to succeed academically.
  • Only 36% of teachers and 51% of principals believe that all of their students have the ability to succeed academically.

If this doesn’t scream “urgent problem,” I don’t know what does. MetLife’s analysis of this stunning disparity largely focuses on how expectations that teachers have of their students often are not uniformly high. Fair enough. But what causes a teacher to have lower expectations of a particular student – or group of students? To write students off as unmotivated, lazy, or simply unable to learn?

The answer seems to lie, at least in part, in other survey findings. The analysis restates the finding from last year’s survey that 43% of teachers report that their classes have become so mixed in terms of students’ learning abilities that they cannot teach them effectively. This hints that the confidence teachers expressed in their own knowledge and skills may only reflect their confidence in dealing with certain learners – not those who are wired to learn differently.

Another finding suggests that the problem goes beyond teacher expertise to how learning opportunities are structured in our schools:

“Teachers believe that addressing the individual needs of diverse learners has a major impact on improving student achievement. However, only one-third of students (32%) strongly agree that students in their school get to be creative and use their abilities at school.”

Research has shown that educators equipped to use a neurodevelopmental perspective on learning are better able to work effectively with a broad range of learners, and they better understand how to leverage student affinities and strengths to engage kids in learning. The challenge is to help educators understand that the knowledge and tools are out there – beyond what most of them have acquired in their preparation and experience to date – that could shift how they look at their students’ abilities – and give them a new perspective on their own.

View the MetLife 2009 survey

Beyond Test Scores: The Missing Link in ‘No Child Left Behind’

By Mary-Dean Barringer, All Kinds of Minds CEO

The U.S. House Labor and Education Committee will hold a hearing in Washington D.C. on April 14 to examine how the use of data systems in schools across the country can help improve educational outcomes. This is a critical part of looking at how they will reauthorize No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Snooze. Wake me up when Congress decides to hold a hearing on how good data—and the right kind of data—can help improve student learning.

Accurately measuring growth in learning requires that we develop rich data portraits of learners. There is clear value in taking periodic snapshots of student progress that formative and summative tests provide. These snapshots can identify academic “hot spots” and red flags that indicate a weak skill area. But as a nation, we’ve overlooked the importance of supplementing test data with the qualitative observations that often unmask the root of learning breakdowns or discover previously unseen talents. These observations can be critical to creating pathways to student success.

We know from research that minds are uniquely wired, creating individual learning profiles. Neuroscience and developmental perspectives inform the assessment that can occur when educators dig a little deeper to know their students as learners. There are many observational protocols that provide multiple sources of qualitative data. This creates a rich description of evidence to better inform instructional decisions, as we describe in Chapter 4 of our book, Schools for All Kinds of Minds.

But my guess is that no witness invited to the hearing will discuss this type of innovation that we need in our assessment practices. And that’s too bad, because we might have started the discussion of our need for the new NCLB—Now, Children Learning Better.

Contact your House representative to help them understand the importance of looking beyond test scores to measure student learning.