Jimmy is one of those charming third graders—you secretly feel he’ll grow up to be a senator or even the President.
He was looking forward to starting school again. Sure the summer had been fun. But after a while, even long days at the pool get old. How many flips can you do off the diving board?
A new year, a new teacher. This would be the best year yet. Then, Jimmy’s teacher asked him to read out loud. He stumbled, mumbled, and left out words. Jimmy’s teacher quickly moved on.
For Jimmy, his dreams of a wonderful school year were over. “Why does it have to be so hard,” he thought. Worse, he had to ride the bus home and Jack would start calling him Mumbles again.
It’s Not the Teacher’s Fault
Betsy, Jimmy’s teacher, wants to help. Should she meet with the parents? Recommend an assessment for Dyslexia? Avoid calling on Jimmy and hope that he gets it on his own? Jimmy looked like he was going to cry the last time she had him read.
She chose to setup a conference with Jimmy’s mom, and things went wrong right from the start. The mother immediately blamed Betsy. “Jimmy never had these problems last year,” she said.
“Has Jimmy been to the eye doctor lately?” Betsy asked. Sure, said his mom—his eyes are perfect.
Betsy asked the school psychologist to evaluate Jimmy. Only, the psychologist quickly remarked that Jimmy’s grades were alright, and he would not qualify for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Betsy was not surprised. In spite of her best efforts, she’d learned to expect seven or eight kids who struggle to read or struggle to learn. It was the same way in her classroom last year.
It’s Not Jimmy’s Fault
Stupid. Angry. Scared. That’s how Jimmy feels. The other kids seem to do OK. Why me?
If anything he learns to be more charming and endearing. That makes it harder for the teacher to call on him and possibly embarrass him again.
The real cause is that Jimmy is using his brain inefficiently. Jimmy isn’t hearing and decoding the words as he reads. He’s too busy translating the text into images and then trying to remember how each word sounds. It’s like trying to read and speak a foreign language at the same time.
He’s doing a lot of work. Too much work. That’s why it’s a struggle. But, there is a solution.
It’s Not the Schools Fault
Schools are expected to do more than ever. Parents are busy working and making their lives turn out. They want their kids to do well in school, but they’ve also got to earn a living.
Solving Jimmy’s reading struggle, though, is very possible. The answer is to reprogram his brain so that he uses it for efficient reading. That means building up new neural pathways.
Neural pathways are like the freeways of the brain. Do you ever avoid an area because the roads are clogged and it takes forever? Do you get in the habit of going a certain way and don’t even think of taking a short cut?
That’s what the brain does. If the roads (pathways) are not there, your brain avoids the area.
Certain areas of the brain are very good at certain activities. Still, our brains are very adaptable. When we get in the habit of using an inefficient part of our brain, our brains do the best they can. It’s all fine until Jimmy has to read out loud.
New Neural Pathways
Jimmy needs some new superhighways to connect up his efficient language processing centers.
He’s got some bad brain habits that have to be unlearned. The sooner this gets started, the sooner Jimmy will become a successful student. He’s not going to grow out of the problem.
It takes frequent practice—several times per week—to break bad brain habits.
Intensity and challenge are also required. The instruction must be personalized—adapted for Jimmy. He’s already frustrated and the challenge must be “just right” or he’ll feel stupid again.
And it takes time. If it’s just reading that’s limiting Jimmy, 20 weeks is enough. When there are other learning skill gaps, it may take from nine to eighteen months.
Jimmy quickly learns new brain habits and builds new neural pathways. After all, he is a bright kid.
He’s finally a confident, comfortable, independent learner, ready to take on the world.
Jimmy still has to do the work. It’s just that it’s not nearly as hard as it was before. He’s freed up all his brain power for efficient learning.
After all, he’s got to get ready for law school and running his first campaign for congress. Watch out world.