Learning strategies – key points to teach

 

 

 

The information in this post comes from Albert Ziegler, an internationally accredited researcher based in Germany. I share it with you in the hopes that our South African teachers may benefit from the knowledge and pass it on to their learners. 

Young learners can’t be expected to know how to learn by themselves.  The teaching approach in many of our schools still results in children trying to memorise content – without true understanding or critical judgement of the material.

Mastering a cognitive learning strategy is valuable for most learners. This might involve the steps of (1) Rehearsal, by repeating learning material; (2) Organisation of the material by restructuring the content in a form that is easier to memorise, and (3) Elaboration, or integrating the new knowledge into existing learning structures. Examples of this would be thinking through new material and evaluating it, or using own words and being able to teach it to others.

But research shows that teaching only cognitive strategies results in a limited effect on academic achievement.  When metacognitive strategies are taught as well, the effect is much more positive.

Metacognitive strategies include the steps of (1) Planning – learning how to set goals, knowing what resources to use; (2) Monitoring – involving continuous assessment of own learning, and (3) Evaluation, which requires analysis of one’s own performance and the effectiveness of the learning method used.

Using metacognitive strategies requires the early teaching of skills, one of which is called ‘self-regulated behaviour.’

Self-regulated behaviour

Self-regulation includes being able to reflect about your own learning, to understand your strengths, weaknesses and as a result, be able to set your own realistic goals. This may be as important as acquiring new content knowledge and some of you may be surprised that children in Grades 2 or 3 are already capable of learning how to do this. It certainly is a critical learning strategy that can stand them in good stead throughout their school years and beyond.

To my mind, these aspects of learning are as critical, if not more, than the content of the current curriculum. It is truly much more important to teach children how to learn rather than spending too much of their time learning what to learn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movement matters

 

Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) practitioners have tried hard over the years to encourage schools to introduce more movement into classrooms.  We understand the terrible pressure put on teachers and learners by curriculum demands, so have worked with pre-school teachers, believing that they have more classroom time to devote to all-important movement.   Imagine our disappointment when we heard from one school that had followed our movement programme with their Grade R learners for some years – with noted success – that they were obliged to stop the programme. The reason was that they now have to use that time to teach the preschoolers how to read.

 

This is doubly sad because not only are those children missing out on the chance to ‘catch up’ on any possible areas of delayed brain development, they are also missing out on vital time spent moving.  There is much written these days about the value of movement and the positive impact that physical activity has on academic learning. With this knowledge, there should be no doubt that introducing movement into classrooms is worthwhile.

 

To our knowledge, many teachers are trying hard to do this, so I thought some information about the latest research might help justify their efforts.  Also, some information about different types of movement might be helpful to get maximum benefit in the shortest possible time.  Before discussing the research into different physical movement strategies, this article will briefly discuss ‘mindful movement’ versus ‘non-mindful movement’.

 

Mindful movement (also called ‘purposeful movement’) is referred to when physical activities are integrated directly with learning goals.  For example, when children form the letters of the alphabet with their bodies, or illustrate the orbits of the planets by walking around a central sun.  The quality of the movement is less important than the fact that learners are focusing on academic content.  Movement is used here as a tool for reaching teaching goals.

 

Non-mindful movement is physical activity that is unrelated to academics.  Examples would be running on the spot, running around the playground before a lesson, sitting on a wobbly cushion, pushing legs against a length of elastic tied around the chair legs, and so on.

 

In other words, mindful movement uses movement activities to teach and learn directly; non-mindful movement does not.

 

Generally, research shows that both types of movement can benefit learning.  Teachers (and school administrators) may fear that movement takes time away from teaching and so will interfere with academic performance.  The evidence gathered in recent years indicates that these fears are groundless.  Learners benefit in more ways than one and a responsive brain results in more efficient learning.

 

To help teachers understand more about the value of movement for learning, the next few posts will share some of these research studies.

 

Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) tries to help children reach their potential by addressing all the possible barriers to learning.  Visit our website www.ilt.co.za to learn more about our approach, find a practitioner near you to help and also see what courses we offer for teachers to better understand brain development, function and learning. Our courses are accredited with SACE (for CPTD points) and ETDP-SETA (for credits towards further qualifications in Special Needs Education).

 

You can write to us directly at info@ilt.co.za.

 

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Vision and reading: Part 2

 

In last week’s post, it was explained that there is a difference between sight and vision.  Having good eyesight means that the eye is doing its job well and is able to clearly see the world both near and far.  This is what optometrists look for when children have their eyesight tested.

 

Vision, on the other hand, depends on how the eyes function as directed by the brain and also how children use the information from the eyes. This means that they have to be able to correctly interpret the information reaching the brain from the eyes. 

 

The first category covers some of the visual abilities mentioned last week, such as fusing two images from each eye into a single, clear image (binocular fusion); being able to shift focus quickly between near and far images (accommodation); to be able to stablise the eyes so that they can locate a target and ‘fix’ that on the retina so that it is seen in sharp focus (fixation) and to be able to move the eyes along a sequence of numbers, letters or words (ocular motility or ‘tracking’).

 

The second category encompasses visual perception. This includes several abilities that are necessary for schoolwork:

 

Figure-ground perception: This is the ability to separate targeted images from surrounding ‘clutter’. For example, being able to discern

Direction in space:  Being able to see the difference between letters that go up or down, left or write. For example, the difference between b and d.

Form perception: The ability to realise differences in shape, as for example, the shapes of letters.

Visual-motor coordination: The ability to coordinate body movements with visual information. For example, hand writing, copying, catching balls.

Visual imagery: The ability to picture an image in the mind’s eye. For example, to mentally picture a spelling word.

Visual-verbal match: The ability to match what we hear with what we see.  For example, forming a mental picture of what is described as we read.

 

These perceptual abilities develop with age.  Some children may not be ‘visually ready’ when they begin school and as a result, will ‘observe less, remember less, learn less, and in general be less efficient in what they do’ (From the book 20/20 is not enough, by Dr A.S. Seiderman and Dr S.E. Marcus).

 

Some of these children will learn to read but others may struggle as a result of developmental or perceptual lags.  They may become labelled as having learning difficulties.  So if a child is struggling at school, don’t only think of having eyesight tested.  While good eyesight is crucial, there are other, important aspects of vision to be considered.

Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) considers everything that may impact a child’s ability to thrive in school.  Visit our website www.ilt.co.za to learn more about our approach. We list practitioners who may be able to help and we list courses that we offer. These courses, accredited with SACE and ETDP-SETA, offer CPTD points and credits towards further qualifications in Special Needs education. They can be studied over distance.

 

You are welcome to write to us for further information at info@ilt.co.za.

 

 

Be aware of air – Part 2

 

 

In last week’s post I wrote about the potential dangers to children’s developing brains of air pollution and listed the towns in South Africa with the highest levels of measured pollution.

 

Most of us lack the freedom to live and work according to our choice. More often we find ourselves in towns and cities because of the nature of our work and the availability of jobs.  If we are forced to stay in an area said to be heavily air polluted, are there ways of reducing the risk that pollution carries to our family’s health – especially our vulnerable children?  

 

Here are some suggestions:

 

First and foremost, you need to become an activist in supporting efforts to improve our air quality because you won’t be able to change the situation by yourself.

 

Improving air quality means replacing fossil fuel combustion (i.e. burning fuel, such as coal, wood and so on) with cleaner sources of energy, including solar and wind.  Support organisations fighting for this.  On a note closer to home, be careful of fires (heating or braai) that are used in areas not well ventilated. Our increasing use of indoor braai rooms may add to the poor quality of air in our homes.

Green areas, such as parks and trees within towns and cities can improve air quality, so encourage your local municipality to develop green belts and recreation spots. Wherever possible, plant trees and shrubs in your own garden. Our easy-growing plant, the ‘Spekboom’ is a natural supplier of oxygen – every garden should have a few!

Encourage recycling.  Waste that is burned in the proximity of living areas releases toxic chemicals that can reach children’s lungs.  Although lead in the air has been reduced since its removal from petrol, if car and cell phone batteries are burned, lead can be released into the air.  Use the battery disposal units set up in some of our supermarkets.

Try to reduce children’s exposure to air pollution.  Wherever possible, avoid travelling at times where roads are congested.  If your home or child’s school is in an area of severe pollution, strenuous activity outdoors should be avoided. In spite of the importance of sport and play, exercise in harmful air should be minimal – especially if your child has a medical condition such as asthma or another respiratory ailment.  Make sure your child’s school or daycare centre has a well-greened play area with trees and plants.

The quality of air inside school buildings and other community structures can be improved by ventilation and air filtration systems.  Mention this at your school and help work towards implementation of such methods.

Other indoor air pollutants should be avoided too.  The bad effects of second-hand cigarette smoke on children’s health is well-documented so homes and cars should be smoke-free zones.  Other common sources of potentially harmful inhalants include certain cleaning materials. Use products that are manufactured to be harmless to our bodies and brains.

Lastly, but by no means the least important, strive to maintain optimal levels of health in your children.  Healthy diets and lifestyles build resistant immune systems and bodies that can help reduce the overall impact of air pollution.  The healthier a child is, the less likely that he or she will develop health complications due to the exposure to air pollution.   This is partly why Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) continually encourages healthy eating patterns and other tried and tested ways of living that contribute to optimal brain development and function.

 

Learners with reading problems: Can it be vision? Part 1

 

In our schools across the country, we find thousands of learners who just can’t manage reading.  In the lower grades, children struggle to learn to read, and in the higher grades, they cannot read to learn.  In all other respects, they seem to be normal and just as intelligent as their reading classmates.

 

This is so sad. We know that these children start school with an eagerness to learn. Then they are confronted with reading and in spite of trying really hard, cannot do it. They fail and fail again. The primary path to learning is through reading, so this first experience of school, of the world of learning and education, has become a disaster. 

 

In spite of the high number of children with reading problems, not all teachers or their schools are aware of the visual problems that may underlie the difficulties. Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) practitioners are confronted on a daily basis with families who report that their child’s eyesight has been tested and found to be normal. But they still can’t read.

 

The truth is that vision for reading requires far more than is tested in a standard eye examination. This aims at identifying refractive errors (near or far-sightedness, astigmatism) or an eye turning in (strabismus). These problems are caused by irregular eyeball shapes which prevent the image focused by the lens from falling accurately onto the retina. 

 

Reading requires more than accurate focusing – it also needs good binocular vision. This is the process requiring several sets of nerves and muscles which make it possible for the two eyes to work together so that an image falls on the centre of each retina, then fuses into one and finally has the lens focus the image.  Binocular vision is what enables us to see in three dimensions, to estimate distance and basically is crucial for almost everything we do with our eyes.   Reading especially requires good binocular vision so that the eyes can fixate effortlessly on a visual target; images appear clearly as one; the eyes are able to track along letters, words and sentences or shift from one target to another.  A child with poor binocular vision may show other problems as well.  She may appear clumsy, have trouble stacking blocks or pouring water into a cup – all because she cannot judge space accurately.

 

All of this means that a child may not be visually ‘ready’ by the time they begin school. The question of why puzzles us, and we have no definitive answer. The changing nature of children’s games may be questioned. Instead of games of the past that challenged visual-motor coordination have been replaced by electronic and battery-operated toys, leading to a lack of practice of the visual system.  TV occupies a significant percentage of children’s leisure time without providing practice for the visual system.

 

If reading is a problem, then the child’s vision needs closer investigation.  This should be carried out by a Developmental or Behavioural Optometrist, who is a professional with additional training in Binocular Vision and can help a child with Visual Therapy to improve binocularity.

 

Unfortunately, there are few such specialists in our country so if you are not in an area where you have access to a Developmental Optometrist, you can see if you have an Integrated Learning Therapist (ILT) close to your school or community.  ILT practitioners are trained to screen for binocular issues and have the tools to very successfully help children whose reading problems are causing them so much stress.

 

Visit our website at www.ilt.co.za to learn more about this approach, find a list of available practitioners and also consider a training course with us.  These courses help teachers learn more about neurodevelopment and learning as well as helping to identify the underlying causes of learning difficulties.  The courses are accredited with SACE for CPTD points and with ETDP-SETA for credits towards further qualifications.

 

You are welcome to write to us at info@ilt.co.za for more information.

 

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Dyslexia – or inner ear problem?

 

Dyslexia is a widespread diagnosis amongst learners who struggle with reading, spelling and/or or writing.  Teachers and parents are often surprised when Integrated Learning Therapy (ILT) practitioners take little notice of the diagnosis and instead turn their attention to the individual’s inner ear functioning.

 

The part of the inner-ear so often found responsible for the problems associated with dyslexia is called the vestibular system.  This little system has enormous implications for our learning and functioning – something which is only truly understood by those of us who have suffered from health conditions affecting the vestibular.  To their surprise, irregularities brought about by inner-ear infections and similar prevent them from carrying out their usual daily routines altogether. 

 

The vestibular system has several functions, beautifully described by Dr Harold Levinson in his books (see www.dyslexiaonline.com).  Here are some, briefly summarized:

 

  1. The vestibular guides our eyes, hands, feet and various mental and physical functions in time and space. We need this for our eyes to fixate and sequentially track letters, words and sentences; to be able to write on the horizontal in a neat fashion; to pronounce words accurately as we speak.
  2. The vestibular fine-tunes all motor responses that make our movements coordinated and balanced. If dysfunctional, we show delayed speech; impaired ability to walk; difficulty tying shoelaces, buttoning buttons; holding and using pens and pencils. We may also take long to toilet train and show symptoms such as bed-wetting, soiling and more.  This find-tuning function also makes it difficult to concentrate and remember what is seen and heard. You could compare this to the tuning function on a TV.  Imagine how difficult to watch a programme if the picture and sound are fuzzy, indistinct and blurred out.
  3. The vestibular also has a compass function. It allows us to be aware of spatial relationships such as right and left, up and down, front and back, east and west and north and south. If the compass system isn’t working efficiently, the brain has to compensate by finding methods such as wearing a watch on one hand, or remembering which hand is which by the presence of a scar, etc. This compass system directs all body functions: sensory, motor, speech, thought, even biophysical patterns. It isn’t always true that all functions will be dysfunctional. One sequence may be misdirected or scrambled while another remains unaffected.
  4. The vestibular acts as a timing mechanism. If it isn’t functioning as it should, a child may have difficulty in learning to tell time and sensing time.  Often, so-called dyslexic learners do not understand the difference in meaning of before and after and can’t sense whether a minute, an hour or several hours have gone by.

 

Impaired functioning of this very crucial sensory-motor system explains why such learners struggle to learn to read, write neatly and with clear meaning, reverse letters and words and more.

 

Take note that the vestibular system is located in the inner ear. This part of the ear is prone to damage through various avenues, including but not limited to ear infections. For this reason, ILT practitioners always ask about health history, because just one severe ear infection might underlie later problems in school.

 

So before treatment begins to help such learners overcome the symptoms they are displaying, it makes perfect sense to ensure that their vestibular systems are helped to restore functioning.  A perfect example of why looking for the underlying cause of symptoms is often a quicker and more efficient way of helping those with learning difficulties.

 

Visit our website at www.ilt.co.za to learn more about our approach. We do list practitioners who are ready to help you or families that you want to refer. We also offer training courses to help teachers improve your understanding of brain development and function and how to recognise and help signs of difficulties you see in your learners. 

 

The courses are accredited with SACE for CPTD points and with ETDP-SETA for credits towards further qualifications.

 

You are welcome to write to us for more information at info@ilt.co.za

 

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