"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
― Albert Einstein
The human brain likes to group and organize everything. It makes us more comfortable when things fit. We compare new experiences to old experiences unconsciously, trying to find a link, trying to make things make sense. Sometimes, as grownups who care and work with children, we find ourselves grouping them that way as well. We talk about "typical learners", as though that exists, and "typical development". Though we can point to developmental benchmarks, especially in very young children and those benchmarks can help us support children more effectively, we need to be careful with labels.
In her book "Raising A Left-Brained Child in A Right Brain World", Katharine Beals points to the danger of labeling children, including her own three children and asks the question, "Why does my inquisitive child dislike school?" For Beals, the answer is the child's approach to learning. Beals describes left-brained children as shy, transition-wary, children who may prefer to work alone, or may express intense interests in one particular topic. She highlights the struggles these children may have in social aspects of school or collaborative work and calls on families and teachers to see the value in alternative approaches to learning.
For me, it was a particularly interesting perspective as I see the struggles of one of my daughters who, in Beal's definition, would be "right brained". Intuitive, spontaneous and creative, my daughter struggles to understand the need for assessments, testing, and "right answers". So to me, the question really is "Is there a typical learner?"
Teachers have a tough job. Differentiating or individualizing instruction to meet the needs of 25 or more people with differing approaches or styles of learning is an arduous if not sometimes impossible task. Families and teachers need to work together to share what we know about our children and to listen to each other, free from labels. One place to start is to spend time is family conferences discussing learning style not just learning outcomes. Teachers support the idea of families observing student learning. Creating a shared understanding of your child's strengths and weaknesses benefits the teacher, the family and the child. We need to approach our children as Einstein calls us to—geniuses who may be fish trying to climb trees.
Published in Education