Different: the NEW Normal?

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As an educator, I often wonder why we sometimes let red-tape and administration or the old ways of doing things, get in the way of what we know better about learning and teaching today. Not that we haven't come a long way in our evolution and our approach to children who learn differently; however I still think there is much progress yet to be made, particularly in our approach to teaching students in a way that speaks to HOW they learn as opposed to the way they SHOULD learn. It's antiquated - plain and simple - I won't sugarcoat it. Yes, there are exceptions to this, some very progressive learning institutions that have implemented looser ways of allowing children to take in information. And of course, we have certainly made great strides in special education and developing resources for learning disabled students. But for the most part, unless one has access to a private, expensive education, it's still the status quo. And, essentially I write this article to ask why? It doesn't cost more to understand that children learn differently. It does not cost more. It doesn't even cost more to be aware of this nuance for educators as a whole. It doesn't even cost more to be open to changing our approach at least slightly. So where is the disconnect? I think it still has to do with a certain stigma. We still believe as a competitive culture that learning differently means you have a mark of some kind, you aren't as smart, or you won't go to Harvard - the gold standard. All made up mythology that is simply and categorically untrue. So the call to action is this: unless we as educators begin to view "learning" as an individual endeavor, than we will indeed risk failing to be better for the next generation. Isn't the goal to reach every student? And I speak not only of students who ARE singled out, those who are given learning accommodations because they have been dutifully identified. Instead I am speaking now, in this article, of every student. Our brains DO NOT process information the same way. We know this yet we still teach them all the same.

Wouldn't it be lovely if the majority of students could say, "I am great at the humanities AND math?"

When I was a young student in high school, we were asked to embark on a three week long experiment. Keep in mind I went to one of the highest ranked high schools in America. Learning "differently" wasn't really a priority there. You were expected to perform academically or you were out. So when I was told that there would be a learning experiment, I was intrigued. The experiment involved the testing of left and right brain learners. Each of us was tested. Based on the results, we were then allowed to turn in assignments tailored to the way our brain functioned. In other words, if you were right brain, instead of a chart or a test, you might do a pictorial or video to complete a homework assignment. But you were given the choice. I remember, at the time prior to this event, being so bored in Latin and Chemistry, and for the first time, I could not wait to do my homework. I created a giant poster of the Trojan war - I received an A grade. It was exciting and for some reason, I didn't get that it would not last. After I was sufficiently motivated to pay attention and was actively re-engaged in the subject matter, we went back to normal. I went back to daydreaming about whatever was outside the school windows and the school went back to the status quo. I never quite understood the reason for the experiment or why it ended. Because the students, all of them, top and lower-ranked, seemed engaged again in academics so why not adapt at least partly to what we had discovered? It sort of made no sense to me that we wouldn't have learned something more about educating than just, "Oh yeah we all have right brain and left brain function to a varying degree."  Sure, looking back now, it was a minor hiccup in my educational journey - I wasn't scarred in the least; I went on to excel eventually earning a post graduate degree. But I refer to the example because i think it speaks to an antiquated educational model that is failing to excite students about learning. It says more about the way we teach and less about a lack of interest from students - or even an increase in learning disabilities.

One day, at least I imagine in my current daydreams, maybe real inspiration will come when change our outdated modus operandi to one which seeks to understand that EVERY student learns differently to a varying degree. And thus, as a community of parents and educators we decide to teach all students based on their needs, not our rigid, outdated modalities.