Saturday, July 21, 2012

Special: Lazy, stubborn, and badly behaved

Have you ever silently applied one of these labels to a student in your studio? I know I have, and now I look back and wonder how accurate I was. Some students have been truly stubborn or lazy or badly behaved for reasons that varied from situation to situation. I wasn't always patient enough to work through these situations either, nor did I think my time and the student's money were being well spent when the resistance level was too high.

After reading "The Woman Who Changed Her Brain" by Barbara Arrowsmith-Young, I suspect that some of these situations were created by an unidentified learning disorder. Often the only recourse for a student who is cognitively challenged is to act out (stubborn, badly behaved) or act in (lazy, unresponsive).

Arrowsmith-Young was a student with multiple cognitive limitations as well as innate genius. As a young adult, she began to push her way through the fog, one limitation at a time. She devised a series of exercises that directly addressed each challenge. She then applied them to other students and realized how successful they were. She now continues this work in Toronto and has trained teachers to take her approach forward.

Here are some key points from Arrowsmith-Young's approach:

  •  She is not teaching compensation. She is attacking each limitation head on, pardon the pun. Music teachers are familiar with this idea. She takes it to a universal level.
  •  She is retraining the brain to change itself so that it can function normally or, in some cases, beyond normal.
  •  She is identifying cognitive challenges based on the processing required for a task, not on the subject matter. A person who has trouble with math may have more than one processing challenge, including the inability to hold information in working memory, for example. It is quite a different limitation from the dreaded being "bad" at math, and it probably crosses over into other subject areas.
  •  She realizes that the brain-changing work is best done outside a traditional school setting. Her school-age students will be removed from regular school for a period of time, then returned after they are well under way toward overcoming their limitations.
  •  She works with adults of all ages, proving that there is no fixed "window of opportunity" to change the brain.

I was fascinated to read about improving spatial awareness as I am a Wrong Way Corrigan or, if you remember Rocky and Bullwinkle, a Wrong Way Peachfuzz.  I swear that the GPS was designed just for me!  Before that, I leaned on my husband and daughter, both of whom have excellent orientation skills. Now I am thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could retrain my brain to get better at finding my way without GPS or familial support.

We all have strengths and weaknesses which we can recognize. Most of us have moved forward in life by playing to our strengths. Arrowsmith-Young did the opposite; she played on her weaknesses. I think there is much to learn from this approach as we work with students who need specific cognitive training.You can learn about her school at

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