Saturday, 23 January 2016

Instrument Enrichment Program
It happened on a Thursday evening, nearly ten years Ago. Varun’s remedial class had just got over. We were working on page 3 of the instrument Comparisons. His mother requested to have a word with me.

Varun was around 12 years at that time, studying in class VII in a main stream school. He had been attending one to one remedial classes with me for nearly two years then. We had addressed his issues of reading, spelling, math & comprehension and the improvement was very gradual. His exam performances were inconsistent, sometimes he could score up to 80% and sometimes he would score single digit marks. Varun’s school refused to understand his issues of attention & learning though both his parents were extremely cooperative and willing to do anything within their means.
I gave Varun a jigsaw puzzle to keep him busy and called his mother. After prolonged hesitation & discomfort, varun’s mother finally came to the point. She expressed her view that I should not be spending so much class time on teaching thinking skills, but focus more on academic areas, especially since his marks were inconsistent. The school was complaining a lot and threatening to detain him. I listened patiently and tried to explain the philosophy behind the IE program. Teaching thinking skills was an integral part of the remedial program and the results can be perceived only after a long period of time. I tried to convince the parent that we needed to bring about a qualitative change in the child and equip him with adequate cognitive skills to make him an independent learner& a holistic individual. (of course), out of great respect for me and the fact that varun was attached to me, his mother reluctantly gave in. Varun & I worked on several instruments of the IE program for almost two years along with study skills and other academic areas. Out of three classes per week, one class was allotted to IE program.

Today Varun is a marketing professional in the financial services industry. He appeared a s a private candidate in 10th & 12th and scored above 80%. He obtained an MBA from a reputed college and secured a job immediately. He has very good communication skills, is very organized and mature for his age. He is well aware of his strengths & weaknesses and never hesitates to acknowledge his need to seek guidance / support. He is able to prioritize his goals and has good decision making skills.
Varun never fails to wish me on Teacher’s day. But my biggest reward came on the day his mother called and thanked me for teaching him thinking skills. She saw great value in the IE program as she witnessed so many youngsters (many of them Varun’s friends) lost and confused & having several problems mainly because they lacked clarity in thinking
Remedial intervention is rather incomplete if thinking and reasoning skills are not included in the program. The IE program teaches the child critical thinking skills through paper pencil activities. The methodology is called ‘Mediated Learning Experience’ or ‘bridging’ of specific thinking skills at three levels of input, processing & output. Skills like planning, systematic thinking, problem definition, hypothesizing, empathizing, information gathering, problem solving, comparing/categorizing etc. are taught.

Dyslexics have significant difficulties in information processing skills and restraining impulsivity. So teaching them specific thinking skills and how & when to apply them should be made an integral part of the remedial program.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Mathematical intelligence is only one among the many types of intelligences put forward by Edward Gardener in his theory of multiple intelligence. But in our society, there is a myth that if a child is intelligent, he has to score well in math. Generally, we find many school going children having difficulties with mathematics and which is why maths tuition teachers are in great demand. So, more importance and focus is given to math teachers.
Difficulty with math is labelled as dyscalculia. It can occur along with dyslexia or in isolation. But the challenges in learning math are not due to differently wired brains as in the case of dyslexia.
Quite often the difficulty in acquiring math skills may be precipitated or aggravated by four major factors.
·         Inadequate time spent in establishing the basic mathematical reasoning at the pre-primary level.
·         Unrealistic pace of the math syllabus which does not give the child enough time to internalize, establish, apply and generalize the concepts learnt.
·         Disregard for readiness –It is important to keep in mind the cognitive maturity of the child to understand the mathematical concept.
·         Bad teaching- The teacher focuses more on the product than on the process which means the marks scored is given more importance than the child’s ability to do mathematical reasoning.

Dyscalculia does not merely mean lack of comprehension of word problems. It is much deeper than that. A child with dyscalculia struggles with very basic things like number concept, one to one counting, place value, more/less, before, after, between etc. If these issues are not addressed, it leads to secondary mathematical issues like difficulty with mathematical operations, word problems, and higher order reasoning.
Broadly speaking, math teachers should focus on developing and mastering pre number skills, math vocabulary (big, small, more, less, ascending, descending, predecessor, successor, factors, multiples), inter relationship of mathematical concepts (connection between addition and multiplication, addition and subtraction, fractions-decimals –percentages etc) reversibility of mathematical operations, writing a mathematical sentence before moving on to abstract math concepts etc.

In conclusion, there is art in teaching maths. The joy of learning should not be lost in the dysfunctional practices of comparing, competing and criticizing. Math, it should be remembered is a life skill. Therefore, it is our responsibility to keep the children motivated to learn math.
Dyslexia- A gift
A lot has been said and written about the difficulties/disabilities that a dyslexic individual faces. But it is also a fact that they are also very gifted in several ways. The brain of the dyslexic individual is differently wired. This enables them to process information differently and see things which others may miss. This unusual wiring combined with the dominance of the right brain functions help them to think out of the box.

Limitless curiosity, creativity, multi-dimensional thinking, vivid visualisations, intuitions, originality, sense of humour, empathy, and ability to arrive at imaginative solutions ate some of their strengths.

Famous dyslexics have reached great heights, not in spite of their dyslexia, but I would say because of their dyslexia. When information is processed visually with an innate capacity to make quick connections with seemingly unconnected pieces of information, processing speed is phenomenal. This is how information is processed in a dyslexic mind through ever evolving neural pathways.

Therefore the child needs environment which appreciates and enhances this ability rather than focus on the “glitches” that may occour as a fallout. It is the same mind that is able to spontaneously figure out complex electrical circuits, abstract scientific algorithms, complex spatial structures, and complicated psychological thought processes that also gets  confused between a ‘b’ and a ‘d’ or ‘was’ and ‘saw’.

No two dyslexics are alike and therefore not all of them are equally talented. But it is a fact that they have different strengths which should be nurtured and enhanced. As teachers and parents it is our responsibility to encourage free thinking without imposing external constraints, insisting on uniformity & conformity.