A Development-First Approach to Learning

be-you-tifulAcceptance versus tolerance. What to change versus what to keep. How to improve without losing the core of what makes you, you? We pose these philosophical questions to ourselves and often think the answers will reveal themselves as time goes on and life continues. And as our confidence in our own abilities improves, so does our interpretation of ourselves.

The Current Problem: Teaching to the Middle

In education, we struggle with these thoughts as well. Standardization has proven incomplete to assess the whole child and although we’re trying (ie: Common Core) we haven’t been able to agree on a better path of testing.

The classroom is about averages. There is a standard-bell-curve approach to teaching. We know there will be some kids who dip below while others excel in that subject. Mostly, however, we teach to the middle.

But what if we could approach the classroom just like we approach our own self-development?

Currently, the system is set up so that once you turn five, you are automatically moved forward, up the educational escalator, until you’re 17/18. We agree that retention is not a viable option anymore due to its negative social implications, yet we also agree that not all students are ready to move on to the next grade even though they are the “right” age.

This herding issue creates major problems during formative years as well as after graduation. For example, a student may naturally struggle in peer-to-peer play but excel in reading or vice-versa. Yet we move that student to the next grade level, not because they are truly ready to transition but because we want them to be with their initial class. We are afraid they will be left behind. A spiraling-effect ensues, thus creating a student who struggles in multiple areas.

A Real Solution: Measuring According to Development instead of by Age

On the educational escalator, we fail to place emphasis on development and by doing so we fail to embrace a whole-child approach to teaching and learning. Teachers, parents, and other students have a profound effect on a child’s social-emotional development, which helps a child’s cognitive abilities. Transitioning when the child is ready developmentally versus transitioning when the child is a certain age makes more sense.

Turning six doesn’t automatically mean she’s mastered all areas of development and is ready to be successful in first grade. Heck, turning 36 doesn’t mean I’ve automatically mastered how you’re supposed to be in your 30’s (whatever that may look like).

The range of development, the spectrum of differences, is a concept we learn to accept when we have more life experience. When life has kicked us around a bit and we’ve had to learn the hard way.

Our educational system is a reflection of our culture. In our culture, we place so much emphasis on achievement by a certain age, when in reality we may hone those social-emotional-physical-cognitive pieces of development at different ages.

And that’s ok!

Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Executive Director of Terry Tutors Specialized Education Services.

She created the One Wraparound Service for The Struggling Student, which includes Academic Support, Behavior Management, Special Education Advocacy and School Placement services. Christine truly loves helping struggling students realize their inner potential and the possibilities that await them in and out of the classroom.

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Standardized Testing Limits Potential

test The education world, like any other industry, goes through phases. The importance placed on standardized testing is just one of the phases but it’s been a tough one for educators, parents, and students alike. With the “No Child Left Behind Act” teaching to the test became the norm. “Common Core” is our public education’s response to too much testing and not enough learning.

We’ve Created a System that Requires Us to Measure a Person’s Potential In & Out of the Classroom

Common Core’s true underlying focus is a belief that we all learn differently and that we should promote those learning styles. In fact, the progressive and developmental education movements believe we should be teaching to a child’s strengths rather than their weaknesses. This makes sense because as adults we all learn to compensate for our weaknesses and choose careers that play to our strengths.

Standardized objective tests are not a true indicator of potential. They simply measure where a child stands in relation to his peers at that moment in time. However, the system we’ve created, both in and out of the classroom, requires us to measure a person’s abilities.

A Student’s Self-Worth Hinges on Where they Score on the Scale of Perceived Success

We use these tests to define if and where a student will go to college, what type of job they are most suited for, and how stnd deviationmany public services and how much funding a child will receive. By default, we are defining how much learning potential our students have by how well they take a test. When we continue to define a person by an objective standard we slowly chip away at their uniqueness, which leads to defining ourselves by how well we fit in with the crowd. Our self-worth now hinges on where we fall on that scale of perceived success.

The SCERTS Models Teaches the Foundational Skills to Get that Job & Keep that Job

The reality of life after school is that a person is not measured by how well they do on an exam but rather how well they (a) perform the task, and (b) connect with those around them. EQ is more important than IQ. Simply said, if people like you they want to work with you.

The SCERTS Model is based on the belief that Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and putting in place a Support System to implement those tools maximizes a student’s learning potential. It’s not a test; it’s a way of life.

Traditionally designed for children on the Autism Spectrum, SCERTS can be used for any child because it teaches how to effectively communicate with one another, which should be the foundation of our learning model. Skills such as Functional Spontaneous Communication, Social Interaction in Various Settings, Teaching of Play Skills, Instruction Leading to Generalization and Maintenance of Cognitive Goals, Positive Approaches to Address Problem Behaviors, and Functional Academic Skills are important for every child at the crux of a developmental period.

Furthermore, these skills can be used in multidisciplinary, crossover home and school environments to provide our children with a foundational communication skill set that will not only allow them to get that job doing what they love but keep that job.

Less Emphasis on Testing = More Emphasis on Cultivating Great “Changers of the World”

I realize that our education system will probably never eliminate standardized testing, but my hope is that we place much less emphasis on its scores. Every child is different. Every child learns differently. We cannot expect to cultivate great thinkers, innovators and “Changers of the World” if we continue to define our children by a number. The more we come to accept this truism, the more chances we give each of our children to achieve real success.

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.

My Student is a Self-Described “Sheldon Cooper”

Big Bang TheorySheldon Cooper, Ph.D. is, of course, a fictionalized character from the comedy series The Big Bang Theory, which explores the friendships between four young scientists and their ability to navigate sticky social situations together. From dating to work related politics, it is very difficult for Sheldon, a genius who exhibits tendencies of Asperger’s Disorder, to know what to say and how to say it.

In contrast, his friends know the importance of social conformity and provide guidelines to help Sheldon sidestep social pitfalls. Leonard, Raj, Howard, Bernadette, and Penny often call him out when he’s engaging in behavior that is not up to social standards. His girlfriend,  Neurobiologist Amy, gives Sheldon social “due process” in a way as she is more apt to indulge him by listening to his point of view and trying to explain the way of the world in his language.

Teaching Social Skills for Those with Context Disorders

Underlying the comedic shenanigans that Sheldon often finds himself in each week is the real life issue of teaching social skills, especially when it comes to helping those who are diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. The DSM-V has bundled Autistic Disorder, Asperger’s Disorder, and PDD-NOS into one umbrella diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) separated by various severity levels. Due to this new way of diagnosing, we will see more kids labeled with ASD and there will be more of a need to teach social skills in the mainstream classroom. This means incorporating Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) into daily lesson plans, as Common Core recommends.

High-functioning Autism, formally known as Asperger’s, is really an overall context disorder, meaning that it is difficult to naturally decipher and pick up on social cues. Rather, the person must learn these relational tools just as someone would learn math or physics or any other structured subject.

The problem with teaching social skills, however, is that there is not one formula and not one correct answer. Every social situation presents a different nuance. So how then do kids really learn social skills?

My Student is a Self-Described “Sheldon” & Uses Social Thinking to Understand Patterns in Behavior

My student is diagnosed with Asperger’s and is a self-described “Sheldon Cooper”. She identifies with his character because reading social cues and exhibiting appropriate social expressions can be trying. It does not come naturally to her but she has learned to compensate by using social thinking– applying a set of social standards to various like social situations. She is very bright and independent. For example, when I was a young girl reading “Anne of Green Gables” she was a young girl reading “The Origin of Species”. But for all her intellect she can seem lost when it comes to relating to others on a social level.

Sheldon provides her some context. Although somewhat exaggerated, his character is ultimately relatable. Sheldon’s love for physics overcomes his love for people. Why? Physics makes sense. People don’t. My student would agree. Her favorite thing is Paleontology. Why? Paleontology makes sense. People don’t.

To navigate her way through real-life social situations, my student has developed social thinking skills, whereby she looks for patterns in social behavior and then correlates those behaviors to appropriate responses. For example, when I’m smiling, she mirrors that facial movement back to me by smiling too. When I’m telling a story, she knows that her response should be something related to my story to show empathy and understanding. Oftentimes though, the conversation quickly reverts back to paleontology because that is the thing that she can most relate to. We’re still working on that one.

The Best Way to Learn Social Skills is Through Your Peers

The fact of the matter is that there is not a one-size-fits-all social formula for every situation because every situation presents different variables. But through pattern recognition and good old-fashioned trial and error, a student can learn what to do and what not to do. With my younger students who are diagnosed with Non-Verbal Learning Disorder or ASD, we spend a lot time deciding what is appropriate and inappropriate in social situations. I cannot prepare my students for every social encounter but I can arm them with an arsenal of social tools that they can use to decipher an appropriate response in a new social situation.

The best way to learn social skills, however, is by way of a student’s peers. Mirroring and social cues will come more naturally if a student’s peer is teaching them through modeling. This is simply because students can relate more to someone their own age rather than an adult. The best social thinking groups are those who intentionally have designed the group for both typical and atypical developing children. (Here are some recommended Social Thinking Skills Groups in Los Angeles.)

Just like Sheldon, everybody can learn something from their peers and social thinking is no exception to this social rule.

A funny but true moment: Sheldon “Masters” the 3 Big Social Expressions

 

Christine Terry, J.D., is a Special Education Advocate & Founder of Terry Tutors. She created the One Comprehensive Support Service for The Struggling Student by combining Academic, Behavior, and Advocacy support. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com.