It was report card time at school and once again, my friend felt frustrated. Her three kids often seemed to have difficulty learning and she couldn’t pin down the reason. She understood that there’s a science to learning disabilities and the exceptional education program, but she told me she didn’t think that’s why her kids have difficulty learning. She knew I taught school for almost 20 years and wanted to ask: “Other than diagnoses like dyslexia, what are the most common difficulties kids have with learning?”
I offered a wry smile. It is a question I field a lot from families. Every child, exceptional education or not, A student or C’s and D’s, rich or poor or middle-income, deals with stuff that gets in the way of learning. Not diagnostic, not one-size fits all, but in years of experience, observation, and banging my own head against a wall, the following popped up over and over and are 4 of the most common difficulties kids have with learning.
This is everything from homework not done to pencil not sharp to brain not tuned in to body not rested.
Solution: Be as in-tune with school as you expect your child to be, teach your child to take responsibility in all elements of life, make sure you know what your child needs to know.
Something is more interesting or more compelling than the lesson. Could be the girl in front, or the big game your kid is thinking about, or the fight he or she witnessed before class, or the text he or she wants to send. Learning requires concentration.
Solution: Collaborate with your child’s teacher, identify distractions, identify potential reinforcements, and design a short-term reinforcement schedule to encourage concentration.
Is your kid worried about grades? Did something happen on the bus? Is he or she being bullied? Is there trouble or illness at home?
Solution: Listen, ask open-ended questions, reassure, take steps to intervene.
There may be a dozen reasons a child acts out, is defiant, or disrupts the class. Regardless, behavioral issues have a real impact on learning.
Solution: Learn the “A-B-C’s” of your child’s acting out. A is for Antecedent (What comes immediately before the behavior?), B is for Behavior (What behavior is problematic?), and C is for Consequence (What happens as a result of the behavior?). It is often possible to modify B when we understand (and change) A and/or C. Work with the teacher to establish consistent interventions that reinforce appropriate alternatives.