(Name has been changed to protect our client’s privacy)
I know Charlie, and I bet you do also. He’s thirteen, carries a lacrosse stick pretty much everywhere. Wears one earbud umbilical to his phone. Clothes too large; sneakers untied, hair full of product, Axe wafting from him in clouds you can taste.
He’s a great kid with lots of friends, effective social skills within his group, and no particular ambitions beyond pizza after today’s practice.
But he’s not a great student. He’s affable until threatened by reading or writing demands which will inevitably reveal weaknesses he spends too much energy concealing from teachers, family, and friends. Teachers have generally struggled more than he has to figure out why he struggles in classes. The older he gets, the greater that evidence. By middle school he’s way past learning-to-read, and the academic curriculum has begun leapfrogging through ever distressing demands that he read-to-learn.
Charlie has a slightly above average IQ, which has kept him out of the special education and 504 pipeline of services that might mitigate some of his learning burdens. However, he has language issues which cut across most language tasks…reading, writing, listening, and even speaking in anything remotely like an academic learning environment. He is not fluent with function words like prepositions and conjunctions. He has processing speed issues which create learning gaps across the motor processes of writing, in addition to reading, listening, and speaking.
These learning challenges accumulate for Charlie and increasingly leave him grinding his teeth and twirling his lax stick in frustration. If he hasn’t yet given up in increments he will soon unless something changes.
That something has to be instruction. His teachers need to learn not only how to accommodate him with extra time for assignments and assessments, but also how to customize his instruction, to meet him where he is. Charlie learns differently not by choice but by DNA, however, his teachers can learn to customize instruction by choice.
The latest brain research has revealed more and more about what that means for many types of learners. Organizations like the Stern Center stay ahead of the curve on that research and offer state-of-the-science courses, workshops, and mentoring to help teachers learn how to help Charlie overcome his learning challenges, think beyond the after-practice pizza, and dream about a career without a lacrosse stick.
Edward R. Wilkens, Ed.D.
Ed Wilkens served as a Vermont public school principal for 19 years across all grade levels pre-K through grade 12. He lives in North Ferrisburgh, VT with his wife and enjoys reading with his grand kids.