Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter

May 2013

Nobles Parents' E-Newsletter May 2013

Addressing the Concern of Learning Style Differences and Stigma by Jennifer Hamilton, School Psychologist



For kids with learning style differences, learning and studying often become a real chore.  They are trying as hard as they can, yet they can feel like they are spinning their wheels and not seeing the kind of results they (and others) expect from them.  As their school work shifts from concrete tasks to abstract reasoning and analytical thinking (usually around eighth grade), the methods they have employed in the lower grades no longer get the job done.  It can feel like they suddenly hit a wall.  I have talked to countless kids who feel that they "used to be smart," or that something is wrong with them.  This can be a huge blow to self-esteem and can cause students to experience real anxiety.  We know that all learning is emotional; when you are interested in what you are studying, it is like your brain is ignited to want to learn more.  When you respect and connect with your teacher, you want to participate more in class and go the extra mile on your homework.   But when you feel anxious or "not good enough," the "emotional brain" (amygdala) becomes activated, making it extremely difficult to focus on learning new material.  This creates a vicious cycle:  You are having trouble because of a learning style difference, you feel anxious that you can't learn, and your brain shuts down, making it even harder to learn.

At Nobles we are so fortunate to have learning specialists, Gia Batty and Sara Masucci, whose job it is to help students understand that we all have strengths and weaknesses in our learning profiles.  They are willing to work with students to help tease out why they might be struggling in a particular area and are armed with insightful strategies to help remediate weaknesses and capitalize on strengths.  Techniques at their disposal might include working one-on-one with a student, making recommendations to teachers about different teaching methods that might be helpful, and helping families implement strategies at home. In some cases, Gia or Sara may recommend that a family pursue some formal educational testing for their child to better understand his or her learning style. In the past, everything from using the Learning Center to educational testing to doing a PG year were avoided for fear that a student might feel stigmatized. Today, it's clear that our society is now moving toward a model in which optimizing learning strategies is the priority.  When we use all of the tools at our disposal to help a student feel successful, he or she gains confidence as a learner and this sets in place a positively perpetuating cycle.

Working with Gia or other members of the AAC team provides students with an explanation for why they have been struggling.  Instead of "I need to try harder" or "I'm too lazy" or  "I'm just not smart enough,"  it becomes "My brain processes information in a different way but if I apply some new strategies I can be successful!"

Often in a challenging academic environment we need to remind ourselves (and our kids) that using the resources at our disposal is not a sign of weakness.  If you feel that your child might be struggling in one or more academic areas, I encourage you to reach out to your student's advisor or to Gia Batty.  In addition, members of the counseling team are always available to talk with you or your children about the emotional aspects of working through learning difficulties.

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If you have questions, comments or suggestions for this newsletter, email Kim Neal at kim_neal@nobles.edu.