Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Stop Riding on a Flat Tire

We had a speaker at our teacher meeting yesterday who talked about helping students with "learning difficulties": ADD, dyslexia, sensory processing problems, etc. It was a VERY valuable in-service.

One of the points he made that really stuck with me: those of us who are good teachers tend to find ways to accommodate these difficulties. Like . . . we allow a student extra time to take a test . . . or to have the test read aloud to them . . . or to type an assignment instead of hand-writing it. Ways to help their learning continue despite the problem. All well and good. Except that when they're in the real world, college professors and employers don't make such accommodations. You can't just "accommodate" these learning difficulties for the rest of your life, and why would you if there's a way to fix them?

He equated it to pushing a child on a bicycle that has a flat tire. They may ride that bike like a boss, but once you let go, they will crash. You  push them for a while so they get their bike-riding skills down, but at some point, you also have to stop and fix that flat tire, or your efforts are a waste.

I've realized this for a while in my homeschooling. When my youngest was in kindergarten or so, I subbed in her Sunday School class one week and was able to observe her in a "school" setting. It was fascinating. She knew she had to sit still and be quiet -- and the energy it took for her to do that left her with nothing to absorb anything that the teacher said. It was one or the other: sit quietly or understand the lesson. There was no hope of doing both.

So when we homeschooled, I recognized that I had to work on those two tasks separately. When I had content to teach her (2 + 2 = 4), I let her be up and moving and loud and whatever she needed to do or be. But then we worked on her ability to sit quietly when necessary as a separate skill. I didn't make her do both at once until she was better at both of them.

And by the grace of God, my now almost-fifteen-year-old is quite capable of sitting quietly and learning at the same time. Praise Jesus.

So last night and this morning, I found myself struggling with my own "mental difficulties": I can't control the thoughts that roam through my brain. I want to turn them off to go to sleep . . . and they come back. I want to pray about something specific . . . and other thoughts invade my prayers. I need to think about a lesson I'm writing . . . and thoughts about a different problem disrupt me.

And I remembered that speaker yesterday and considered, maybe instead of just getting annoyed with myself that this keeps happening, and letting my sleep be interrupted, and letting my prayers be disturbed, and letting my work be prolonged and weakened . . . maybe I need to fix that flat tire and teach myself the skill of controlling my thoughts.

I mean, I keep telling my daughter with the anxiety problems that it really is possible to do control one's thoughts. Just because my own uncontrolled mind doesn't dramatically debilitate me as it does others like her doesn't mean it's not worth the effort to fill that gap in my cognitive functioning. Right?

Right. Yeah, I need to look into that seriously. Why keep making accommodations if there is a solution to the problem?

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