‘Learning difficulties’ is often the first descriptive term used when a child begins to have trouble in school. In some countries it is also used as a synonym for ‘learning disabilities’ (LD). However, learning difficulties and learning disabilities are usually distinguished with learning difficulties being the broader term. Any person may experience a learning difficulty between mild and severe, which may be caused by internal or external factors, and may or may not be an “expected” consequence of the person’s potential.
Whenever a child is formally classified as “learning disabled” in the US, he becomes the financial responsibility of the state. These children, who are provided with educational programs under federal law, are in most states distinguished from other children with learning difficulties on two grounds:
First, the basis of their scholastic problems is presumed to be due to some neurological dysfunction. The LD category excludes children who have learning difficulties as a result of visual, hearing or motor handicaps, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural or economic disadvantage.
Second, to be diagnosed as “learning disabled,” there must usually be a discrepancy between a child’s potential and his achievement. In many countries a 50 percent discrepancy formula is used as a criterion for identification. A 50 percent discrepancy means that a child achieves only half as well as one would expect from him when considering his potential. One implication of a 50 percent discrepancy is that a child of normal intelligence have to spend two years at school before a one-year discrepancy (50 percent) can be calculated and the child can receive treatment.
Learning difficulties, whether they represent a learning disability or not, should always be addressed. They should receive attention while they are simply learning difficulties, before they have a chance to start a negative chain reaction that can include broad educational, social, personal, emotional, and family issues.
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Understanding learning difficulties
It is only possible to overcome learning difficulties when it is understood that learning is a stratified process.
Throughout the world in all educational systems it is commonly accepted that a child must start at the lower levels of education and then gradually progress to the higher levels. If human learning had not been a stratified process, if it had taken place on a single level, this would have been unnecessary. It would then not have been important to start a child in first grade. It would have been possible for the child to enter school at any level and to complete the school years in any order.
A simple example, which illustrates the stratified nature of learning, is the fact that one has to learn to count before it becomes possible to learn to add and subtract. Suppose one tried to teach a child, who had not yet learned to count, to add and subtract. This would be quite impossible and no amount of effort would ever succeed in teaching the child these skills. The child must first learn to count, and only then does it become possible for him to learn to add and subtract. In the same way, there are things that a child must learn first, and only then does it become possible for him to learn to read, spell, write, et cetera.
Bartoli, who says that it is “the actual practice with the real task of reading that leads to more skilful reading,” is only partially correct. “Of course,” she adds, “any soccer, tennis, or basketball coach will tell you the same thing: If you want to get better, you have to play the game — not just practice skill drills.”
Now, we know very little about tennis and basketball, but we do happen to know about soccer. The game of soccer consists of many fragmented elements or skills — passing, control, shooting, dribbling, goal keeping and heading. Before any child is expected to play in a full-game situation, he should first be trained to pass, head, control, dribble and shoot the ball. In fact, until these foundational skills have been automatized, the child will have two left feet on the soccer field.
Overcoming learning difficulties
Edublox is a system of cognitive exercises, aimed at developing and automatizing the foundational skills of reading, spelling, writing, mathematics and the skills required in the learning of subject matter.
A foundational skill is not the same as a process, strategy or technique. The difference between these can be explained by using the game of soccer as example. In order to be a soccer player, a person first has to master the foundational skills, e.g. heading and dribbling the ball. Only after that can he be taught strategies or techniques.
Edublox helped Peter Brett*, who experienced great problems with reading, spelling, phonics and creative writing, to overcome his learning difficulties. His concentration was poor, as well as his memory. His work tempo was slow and his handwriting untidy. He was very shy and reserved, with no confidence to express himself in front of others. He didn’t enjoy school.
During Peter’s first year in second grade he received remedial help. Two months before the end of the school year, his parents were not satisfied with his progress and started Peter on Edublox. As is sometimes the case, progress in the initial stages was slow and, according to his mother, sometimes discouraging. Peter failed second grade.
With much perseverance, noticeable improvement started showing the following year. Peter’s mother reported that his reading became more fluent and correct, and his spelling and creative writing improved remarkably. His handwriting and neatness improved to the extent that he received an award at year-end ceremonies. According to his teacher, “Peter has made the best progress of any of the pupils I had repeating second grade in my class.”
The improvement in Peter’s school report says it all:
|TERM 4: 2ND GRADE||TERM 4: 2ND GRADE (REPEAT)|
For Peter’s mother, his most delightful improvement was his self-confidence. Once a boy without confidence, he has now played one of the leading roles in his school’s second-grade concert. He came second in the Speech and Drama Contest and was asked to give his speech again at year-end ceremonies in front of a large audience.
An example of Peter’s schoolwork just after he started Edublox, and another example after fifteen months, are presented below.
just after he started Edublox.
15 months after starting Edublox.
* Not his real name.
Edublox Online Tutor offers multisensory cognitive training that enables learners to overcome reading problems and learning challenges and reach their full potential. Over the last 30+ years, the company behind the Online Tutor e-learning platform, Edublox, has helped thousands of children to read, learn and achieve through home kits and learning clinics internationally. Our programs are founded on pedagogical research and more than three decades of experience demonstrating that weak underlying cognitive skills account for the majority of learning difficulties. Specific cognitive exercises can strengthen these weaknesses leading to increased performance in reading, spelling, writing, math and learning.