Your child has difficulty in third grade math. You send him to a tutor. The tutor works diligently for several weeks with him on his grade-level math concepts and assignments. He goes on to pass the third grade with B’s. So far so good. Summer comes and goes. His fourth grade assignments hit, and once again, basic weaknesses prevent him from learning the new concepts. The processing and visualizing skills he needs just aren’t there. You could pay for another round of tutoring to help with these assignments as well, but the underlying reason he failed to understand them in the first place goes untouched. It will reemerge…
How do you “train” someone to learn?
Current learning science makes it necessary to look at learning as two distinct parts: specific academic study and a student’s underlying ability to learn. To create the best opportunity for maximum academic progress, the underlying mental skills that lead to easy learning must be as strong and efficient as possible, and this may require specific training. Why? The brain physically changes in response to appropriate training. Its neural pathway efficiency improves in much the same way that muscle cells respond to progressive resistance training by developing added strength. The “untrained” brain that performs slowly and inefficiently (resulting in persistent sub-par learning) can become a fit brain, quick to respond when facing new learning challenges. You can literally train and strengthen your mental skills and have more brainpower!
What is Brain Training?
Brain training (also known as mental or cognitive skills training) is significantly different than tutoring. Common academic study, and special help such as tutoring, both focus on specific academic tasks, and simply ignore the condition of a student’s underlying mental skills. In fact, success in general academics or special tutoring is completely dependent on the student’s underlying ability to learn. For those who struggle or fail, it is not necessarily his or her study habits or missing academic knowledge that is the problem. Underlying cognitive weakness is often the cause of the difficulty.
Until the underlying skills that provide the basic ability to learn are strengthened, tutoring help can only produce temporary progress at best. Struggles WILL reemerge at the very next new challenge, and the next, and the next, until the challenges grow too difficult even with tutoring help, or the student simply gets frustrated and gives up. If this is your child, he or she is at risk of being identified as a failure by these repeated struggles. You risk paying for tutoring each and every year with absolutely no guarantee of future success.
The appropriate mental skills training is different. It provides you and your student the chance to get to the root of the problem and literally rebuild his or her basic ability to read and learn. A struggling student, or one seeking to optimize academic performance, must consider training the mental skills that are the foundation to learning.
Two Different Needs, Two Solutions
As mentioned above, learning can be divided into two elements: the specific academic challenge (such as reading) and the underlying skills needed to perform it well (for example, auditory processing and word attack). A tutor can enhance academic success in a given task if the student has sufficient underlying skills to meet the challenge. If that student struggles due to skill weaknesses, a trainer, not a tutor, is needed. Once you learn to read, you should be able to do it with little thought. But if one of the basic and necessary reading skills (such as sound blending and auditory processing skill) were missing, you’d have difficulty reading well no matter how much tutoring you got. Further assignments in reading theory or even practice reading wouldn’t overcome the underlying problem.
Look for Better Testing and Training Options
Intense training exercises focused on specific areas of weakness can quickly strengthen key mental skills, and literally change the way a student learns. But how do you know if training is what your child needs? When looking for effective help, the right testing is also critical. Far too often a student’s individual underlying skills are either not identified or are averaged and reported as an IQ score.
Even when classified in terms such as “an auditory learner” or “a visual learner” this imprecise identification limits the help a student can receive. On the other hand, testing prior to skills training is designed to single out key skills that impact the learning or reading struggle. It is then possible for a qualified mental skills trainer to enhance cognitive skills such as auditory and visual processing, logic and reasoning, and working memory through direct training. The results are better academic performance almost immediately, and an enhanced ability to learn into the future.
Tutoring can benefit students in certain situations, but for those with underlying cognitive skill weaknesses, cognitive skills training is the answer. So, when you’re looking to help your child eliminate persistent struggles in school…think brain training first.