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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Independent School Leadership

As noted in the last entry, an independent school’s administration plays a role in developing a climate that welcomes students with diverse learning needs. Most administrations probably fall into one of these three categories:

  • Willing and able – can promote an atmosphere welcoming to the needs of individual learners
  • Willing but unable – promotes the ideal of a comprehensive learning atmosphere but lacks the understanding of how to achieve it
  • Unwilling – recognize that the school’s mission is to serve a certain segment of the student population

As a solo practitioner, I love working with the first group, and appreciate the honesty and integrity of the third group.

The second group is most interesting, and where I find great opportunities for growth.  These administrators want what is best for all students, but have too often relied on a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to learning interventions and missed out on opportunities to make a real difference for their students.

One size may fit most, but only guarantees that there will be students who fall through the cracks.  Often these students are bright, talented, and outstanding school citizens.

I welcome the opportunity to work with an administration that is open to learning more about how to serve all kinds of learners, for they will foster teacher growth and student achievement.

Consulting in Independent Schools

Many of the students I work with attend private, independent schools, and the Philadelphia area is blessed with a large variety of high-quality schools.

For students who learn differently, the atmosphere of the school they attend has much to do with their sense of success. It has been my observation that atmosphere is established in either a top-down or a bottom-up manner.

The students I currently work with are all in high school, and this is what I have observed about their teachers:

  • they have generally been open to ideas and suggestions for better serving struggling students;
  • at the secondary level, they typically have had interesting and enriching experiences with developing their abilities to teach content to students;
  • very often, they have had little training or sustained professional development about learning differences.

Sometimes, the experience of working with a struggling student has inspired teachers to promote greater faculty-wide understanding that how students learn is as important to consider as what students learn. These teacher-leaders are critical to creating the right atmosphere for students.

As a private tutor, it is gratifying to serve as a link in the chain. Consulting with a classroom teacher provides an opportunity to spread the credo that kids have ‘all kinds of minds’.

Next time, we’ll look at the role of a school’s administration.