Look for the ability in disability

Look for the ability in disability
By Aruna Sankaranarayanan

First Published in Mint, 9 December 2014

Focusing on deficits only makes individuals seem inadequate. Find out what their special abilities are and help them use those as strengths

Children struggle to learn in mainstream classrooms for a host of reasons. Difficulty with reading and spelling, an inability to pay attention, and problems with comprehension are some of the reasons. Those failing to meet teacher expectations are often referred to special educators or psychologists, who dole out labels like “dyslexic,” “ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)” or “autism spectrum disorder”. While these labels may describe and explain a child’s difficulty, they stigmatize the child.

The portrayal of these labels, both in education circles and popular culture, highlights what these children cannot do. Some preliminary research suggests that the brains of these individuals may be wired differently to confer certain advantages as well. In a study published in 2003 in the Brain And Language journal, Catya von Károlyi and her fellow researchers found that dyslexics were better at a global visual-spatial task. More specifically, those with dyslexia were faster at determining whether certain figures were possible or not.

Research by Gad Geiger and Jerome Lettvin, published in the New England Journal Of Medicine in 1987, found that dyslexics had a wider visual peripheral field in which they were able to accurately identify letters, but showed compromised performance in the central field and near periphery. Another paper also suggests that dyslexics may have an advantage when it comes to their peripheral field. In a 2007 paper published in the Mind, Brain, And Education journal, Matthew Schneps, L. Todd Rose and Kurt Fischer hypothesize that dyslexic and normal readers make varying use of their central versus peripheral visions. While our central vision is tailored for visual search tasks, our peripheral vision is better able to scan broad areas rapidly. According to the authors, dyslexics may be more adept at making visual comparisons; however, the “trade-off” is that their visual search capabilities are diminished.

In their 2012 book, The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking The Hidden Potential Of The Dyslexic Brain, Brock L. Eide and Fernette F. Eide say the visual-spatial strengths of dyslexics are more pronounced in real-world 3D tasks, like navigating objects in space, than the 2D paper and pencil ones used in most standardized IQ tests. In fact, the authors posit that dyslexics may have superior “material reasoning” abilities, which refer to a person’s skill at reasoning about the shape, size, location or orientation of physical or material objects. Architecture, design, taxi driving and surgery are some of the professions that require enhanced spatial reasoning skills.

Psychologists typically make a distinction between two types of intelligence. Crystallized intelligence, which refers to the knowledge and skills a person acquires over time, is usually gauged by the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (Wisc). Performance on school tests typically correlates with a person’s crystallized intelligence scores.

In contrast, fluid intelligence reflects a person’s reasoning skills and ability to solve novel problems. The Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices provide an index of a person’s fluid intelligence. In a 2007 study published in the Brain And Cognition journal, Mika Hayashi and colleagues in Japan administered two IQ tests to children in the age group of 6-12 with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and normal, age-matched controls. While the two groups did not differ in their Wisc scores, children with AS outperformed the typically developing children on the test of fluid intelligence. The authors conclude that children with AS may have “superior abstract reasoning ability”.

The link between creativity and ADHD is explored in a 2011 paper published in the journal Personality And Individual Differences. In addition to replicating the finding of previous studies that individuals with ADHD perform better on measures of creativity in the lab, the researchers, Holly White and Priti Shah, also found that those with ADHD were more likely to have actual creative achievements in the real world, especially in the performing arts, than those without the condition. Interviewed for an article by Denise Mann in 2011 on the health and medical information website WebMD, White said, “While distraction can be a limitation in a traditional learning environment or workplaces with structured approaches, people with ADHD can be very innovative and generate useful and novel ideas.”

So what do we make of these disparate findings? The first take-home message is that we should not focus exclusively on the deficits of individuals with disabilities. Rather, we should look for areas of strength that may not typically surface in traditional classrooms. By exposing children to a variety of activities, we may be able to tap their latent potential in offbeat areas like birdwatching, mimicry or sculpture. We then need to nurture these competencies and make sure that children do not feel circumscribed by their deficits. Further, we need to realize that there is a lot of individual variation in development, even among those who have received a diagnostic label.

Even though the studies mentioned club people with dyslexia or ADHD under one umbrella, we have to realize that not all children with dyslexia or ADHD are alike. So the research evidence reported may not hold true for every individual in a diagnostic bracket. While some may show potential in certain areas, others may exhibit talents in different domains. But most importantly, we, as a society, need to recognize that a “disability” in one area does not preclude abilities in others. We owe it to our children and ourselves to celebrate these proclivities.

(The author is Director, PRAYATNA.)

Watch This Space

By: Bhavna R

The story of Henri’s scissors illustrated the meaning of a second life. The board with the bold letters, “WATCH THIS SPACE” intrigued the kids, as it was the first time they had seen a blank board for a book club. Without wasting time we jump started the book club with the tale of Henri. The story revolved around the famous avant-garde artist Henri Matisse and his transformation to an artist who painted with scissors. His tale showed that age is no bar for being creative.

Children were shown fascinating art work by Matisse. The art works comprised of copies of his earlier oil paintings and paper collages that he made during his old age. They were really involved while the story was read out and were able to answer most questions easily during the quiz based on his life. We delved deeper into Henri Matisse’s life. Through his story we highlighted to the kids, Matisse’s rebirth as an artist despite being unwell and limited to a wheel chair.

The exciting part of the afternoon kicked off with the paper collage activity. The kids were given the opportunity to do paper collages in pairs but there was a twist. They were only allowed to use a single arm throughout. Despite the simulated handicap, the pairs exhibited superb team work and created their own masterpieces. Their artwork was then put on display on the board. They learnt from this simple activity that disability cannot come in the way of creating and doing something meaningful. Children were given greeting cards with paintings by foot and mouth artists. This gift during the festive season was a reminder that no disability can extinguish the human spirit.

(Bhavna R. is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Purpose of this Blog

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

Since 1998, I have been running a centre for children with learning difficulties called PRAYATNA (www.prayatna.org) that has branches in Bangalore and Chennai. The main activities of the centre include assessing children and providing intervention to children who struggle to cope in mainstream classrooms. The centre also develops innovative teaching aids, counsels parents and conducts a training program for teachers and parents. In addition, PRAYATNA runs a book club for children and has developed programs for developing children’s social and communication skills. The centre also runs a study skills program to help children learn more effectively.

Running PRAYATNA has indeed been a life-altering experience for me. Over the course of these years, I have interacted with scores of children with indomitable spirits who fight the odds against them, parents who have been pillars of strength and cradles of compassion and schools that have dared to challenge conventional wisdom. On the other hand, I have also dealt with kids who are sinking under parental and school pressure, parents who prefer denial to dealing with a problematic issue and schools that close their doors to special children.

In order to help children, parents and teachers, the team at PRAYATNA continually seeks new methods. We read books and journals in the hope of finding concrete and practical solutions to children’s social, emotional and learning problems. And it is indeed gratifying to see a strategy actually working on a child or a parent who says that her home is a lot calmer after undergoing our counselling program.

As the PRAYATNA Team would like to share these methods and insights with a wider audience, we created the blog In Sync with Kids: Parenting & Teaching Today’s Kids.

Can there be a bright side to trauma?

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

First published in Mint, 4 August 14

Receiving a cancer diagnosis, losing a limb, surviving a brutal terrorist attack, outliving a child—for most of us, these events signify heart-rending loss and overwhelming grief. Even though we shirk from even imagining ourselves in such calamitous situations, life, alas, is not so benign. At some point, we will find ourselves face to face with adversity. That negative life events typically cause immeasurable strain is recognized by both laypersons and mental health professionals; in fact, after a shattering event, some people develop “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD), which is now a bona-fide psychological disorder. However, while some people succumb to the throes of anguish, others not only bounce back but also emerge stronger. Knowing that we may be positively transformed by trauma can help us see the other side of death, devastation and destruction. The term “post-traumatic growth” (PTG) was coined by psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun in the 1990s. In an article in a 2004 issue of the journal Psychological Inquiry, they define it as “positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances”. Interestingly, PTG does not merely mean a return to a person’s baseline level of functioning prior to the catastrophe; rather, it involves an enhancement of the person’s life, relationships or work. In their research, Tedeschi and Calhoun have identified five domains under which PTG typically occurs. After going through a shattering crisis, some people gain a “greater appreciation of life” and reorient their priorities according to their altered goals. Others may experience enhanced quality of relationships while some may tread on new life paths. A few people become stronger as individuals, while others feel renewed spiritually. The authors are careful to point out that “growth does not necessarily signal an end to pain or suffering”. Even though they do not yet have the evidence to support their counterintuitive claim, Tedeschi and Calhoun hypothesize that less resilient people may be more inclined to experience PTG as stronger people have the resources to cope with tragedy better. So, more vulnerable people may experience growth as a result of “their struggle with trauma”. Among this set, some who were extroverted and more open to new experiences prior to the trauma, are more likely to experience PTG. Having a supportive network of people also promotes growth. As most of us quiver at the mere thought of disaster, we may think that only a handful of trauma survivors can experience PTG, possibly those with extraordinary courage. However, research indicates that trauma can favourably alter the life of the average person. In 1987, MS Herald Of Free Enterprise, a passenger and car ferry, capsized shortly after leaving a Belgian port. In what was one of the worst maritime disasters in recent history, 193 passengers and crew died. For his doctoral dissertation, which he describes in his 2012 book What Doesn’t Kill Us, psychologist Stephen Joseph interviewed the survivors both right after the tragedy and three years later. Expectedly, many of them showed evidence of great psychological distress a month after the incident. But, after three years, “43% said that their view of life had changed for the better”. Even the more horrific catastrophes can serve as a catalyst for growth. In his 2012 book Far From The Tree: Parents, Children, And The Search For Identity, Andrew Solomon interviews Sue Klebold, the mother of Dylan who, along with his friend, perpetrated the gruesome shooting at the Columbine High School in Colorado, US, in 1999 that killed 13 people. Losing a child is unbearable, but being in Klebold’s position would make most people recoil and shudder. Yet, despite the severe shock, shame and social ostracism that Klebold endured after the tragedy, this mother feels a greater affinity to human beings. As she says: “When I hear about terrorists in the news, I think, ‘That’s somebody’s kid.’ Columbine made me feel more connected to mankind than anything else.” Closer home, a parent of a special child says in an interview that she emerged as a stronger, bolder person after coming to terms with her daughter’s diagnosis of autism. In addition to providing her daughter with all the supporting services and stimulation she requires, she chose to leave her husband in the child’s best interests, a move she would not necessarily have made if her child was typical. Further, she feels that by caring for a special child, she has become more accepting and empathetic towards people. She advises parents in a similar situation to stop feeling sorry and explore all avenues to promote the child’s development. Sagely, she urges them to also take care of their own needs and aspirations as unfulfilled parental desires are only going to impede a child’s development. Interestingly, one of the greatest testimonies to PTG was written even before the term was coined. Viktor Frankl’s memoir, Man’s Search For Meaning, first published in 1946, is a glowing tribute to humankind’s inner fortitude. Even as Frankl describes the gut-wrenching ordeals of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps, he is able to discern dignity among decay and perceive beauty in bestial conditions. He writes that despite “the enforced physical and mental primitiveness” that characterized life in the camp, “it was possible for spiritual life to deepen”. He feels that as long as man has a purpose or a meaning that he attaches to life, he can withstand practically anything. While the guards stripped the prisoners bare, both literally and metaphorically, Frankl evocatively says, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s way.” In his book, Frankl narrates a poignant anecdote. He was talking to a woman who was on the verge of dying in the camp. Despite knowing that death was imminent, the woman remained in good spirits. She confessed to Frankl that in her former life she had been spoiled and had not cultivated her spiritual side. Looking out of the window of her hut, she pointed to a tree, saying it was her only companion. She also admitted talking to the tree. Frankl first thought that the woman might be delirious or hallucinating. When he asked her what the tree said, she answered, “I am here—I am here—I am life, eternal life.”

Aruna Sankaranarayanan is director of Prayatna, a centre for children with learning difficulties.

Choosing a Career

Gita Nambiar

Choosing a career is one of the most important decisions we take in our lives.  While many children are confused when they come to the crossroads of Class XII, it is best for parents to let children make the choice for themselves while providing guidance and information.  However, very often parents foist their unfulfilled aspirations on their children.  Is it fair on our part to thrust upon children the dreams and aspirations that we were unable to realize?  The best possible course for parents is to recognize a child’s aptitude, interests and capability and guide them accordingly.  For those who have already selected their career, we can list the pros and cons so that they can judge for themselves whether they have made an intelligent choice.  For the majority who haven’t, give them sensible options based on their performance at school and areas of interest.

Ajay passed his Class X exams with a below average percentage.  He preferred continuing in the Commerce stream.  However, his father was determined on his studying Science as he wanted his son to pursue engineering after school.  The school refused admission into the Science stream due to his poor grades.  Admission was sought in another school that agreed to allow him to join the Science stream.  With much reluctance Ajay started attending classes at the new school.  The child, miserable to say the least, after a point, refused to go to school.  After a month of absence, the school took him back, with a dire warning that he should perform well or else would be asked to leave.  Under such circumstances, is there any likelihood of Ajay performing well at school or even at college subsequently?

In contrast, Rohan was identified as a slow-learner in middle school.  His parents realized the limits of his potential and admitted him in a school following the National Open School curriculum.  Without succumbing to social pressures, these parents surveyed unconventional career options that might suit their child.  As he went through high school, they taught him essential survival skills.  Rohan learnt to travel by public transport alone, help with household chores, carry out simple transactions at the bank and so on.  He sailed through his public exams in Class X and XII with average marks and is currently pursuing a degree in animation.  His career choice does not involve the three R’s.  An outstanding example of understanding parents and a happy child!

We parents need to rethink the choices we make for our wards.  Taking the help of counselors, teachers and other experts in the field would be a wise decision.  Rather than coercing children to follow our directions, we should allow them to consider all possibilities and select a course that they are comfortable pursuing.

(Gita Nambiar is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)

Latent Talents

Gita Nambiar

"What are your child’s strengths?" I asked, as part of our routine parental profile interview.  Both parents pondered awhile, glanced at each other, turned towards me and shook their heads.  I was taken aback that these parents had nothing positive to state about their eight-year old.  How could parents not notice anything good in their child?  The same couple rattled off a litany of negative traits when I asked them what their child’s difficulties or shortcoming were.

Our unidimensional quest for academic excellence blinds us to other talents or skills a child may possess.  While art, music, dance and athletic abilities are recognized to some extent, we do not necessarily encourage children’s talents in these domains.  Moreover, we do not pay heed to other strengths a child may possess.  For example, a ten-year old may exhibit qualities like being empathetic, caring and patient, which also need to be recognized and nurtured.  A sensitive child with good people skills can make an excellent counselor when she grows up.  A child who is extremely fond of his pet dog and cares for animals deeply may be a potential veterinarian. 

As parents we need to observe our children closely, for in every child there is a latent trait, quality or talent.  It is more obvious in some but less discernible in others.  Teachers are also in a position to identify and acknowledge these strengths in children.

Discovering and nurturing a hidden talent or skill brings immense pleasure to parent and child alike.  Not to mention the confidence it instills in the child in his ability to excel in a particular field.  He may not be an academic achiever, but his success in art, music, theatre or sport can do wonders in boosting self-esteem.  Pursuing extracurricular talents also promotes discipline and instills focus in a child. 

We must remember that our children did not ask to be born to us.  It is out duty to nurture and bring out the best in our child, no matter what her weaknesses or deficits might be.  Like a caring gardener who gently coaxes his plants to grow, we need to offer children warmth, sunshine and water so that they bloom in their own unique ways.

(Gita Nambiar works as a special educator at PRAYATNA.)



Abhishek Bachchan, Scott Adams, Whoopi Goldberg, Jay Leno, Bill Hewlett-what do they have in common?  Despite experiencing learning difficulties, they have all gone on to become high achievers.  For the parent forum at PRAYATNA, Bangalore, this time, we celebrated some of our own little stars-young achievers who we had the privilege of teaching in their younger years.  One child holds a record for running 400m in an interschool athletic meet and the other was selected to represent India at the Young Global Leaders’ Conference held in Washington and New York.  Yet another completed her BA and is a special educator herself, helping children with learning difficulties.

These youngsters shared their experiences, growing up-the challenges at school that included difficulties copying while listening to the teacher, trying hard to stay alert in class and preparing for exams to name just a few.  They also recounted the support they received from their parents, teachers and friends.  Each of them emphasized the important role of friends-from copying notes for them and explaining lessons to ‘whacking’ them on their heads to stay awake in class.  With maturity, they explained that teachers at school do their best to help children with difficulties and it is important to give them time so that both the teacher and child get to know and understand each other.  Further, they were very appreciative of the significant people in their lives for understanding, accepting and loving them despite their difficulties.  They expressed their gratitude for the untiring support they received from their parents in simplifying lessons for them, helping them focus on important points, encouraging their talents and interests and never allowing them to give up.  The confidence with which these youngsters spoke to the audience was truly impressive!

We had also invited parents of some of our alumni.   Their candid description of their journey with their kids through their schooling years was helpful in reassuring parents of kids currently enrolled at PRAYATNA.  They outlined the difficulties their children faced in the initial years with speech, reading, spelling, writing, attention and remembering academic information.  It was gratifying to hear the parents admit that their children did not require any other help when they were enrolled at PRAYATNA as their difficulties with academic skills were adequately addressed.  It was in the later years that they felt a lack of support services.  Consequently, one mother did a training program to understand her child’s difficulties better and to equip herself with skills required to help the child with her academics.  Another sought the help of a supportive tutor who understood her child’s difficulties and helped him with his curriculum.

The parents also elucidated the process of deciding a curriculum and school for their children and applying for accommodations for board exams.  While one parent chose ICSE as it allowed extra time on board exams, overlooked spelling errors, allowed substitution of math or second language with another subject, another chose it as her child required a scribe.  Yet another parent opted for NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) as it offered more flexibility.  Applying for accommodationswas a long-drawn process; the children had to be periodically assessed and reports sent to the boards via their schools.  The parents revealed the pain-staking efforts taken by both them and their children to crack the board exams-making concise notes to tackle vast portions, studying from the exam point of view by referring to previous years’ papers, etc.  However, they emphasized that the efforts were worth it as the children passed with flying colours.  Subsequently, they decided on a course based on their child’s strengths and interests; in the present scenario with various options available, it was not difficult to find a course their child wanted.  However, they will continue to require accommodations on exams.  One parent frankly admitted that it was quite challenging to decide a course for her child as she did not have clear-cut interests and the child herself was unable to express what she would like to do; hence, they enrolled her for a distance education course. 

To conclude, the parents advised that it is very crucial for the child’s well-being that the child is allowed to learn in a non-threatening environment; even in the most difficult times, it is important not to lose hope and to have faith in their child’s abilities.  They also urged parents to meet their child’s school teachers regularly and to discuss the child’s difficulties with school authorities without inhibition.

While it may not be possible to predict a child’s future, this parent forum was intended to inform and reassure parents of the children enrolled presently at PRAYATNA.  The guests at the session proved to us that though the road ahead may be challenging, with a sensitive and supportive environment, it is possible for children with different learning needs to become happy, confident and contented individuals and of course SUCCESSFUL!  

(KushalTalgeri is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA)

Performing Under Pressure

Aruna Sankaranarayanan

(First published in Education Plus, THE HINDU, 30 June 14)

Ratan is elated as he finally got an interview call from his dream company.  He was sorely disappointed a couple of years earlier when he was bypassed by this company during campus recruitment.  At last, he has got a chance to enter its hallowed portals.  He is fairly confident of impressing them with his credentials.  He is performing well on his current job at another reputed company and has made a number of impressive presentations.  In college, he was in the top 1% of his graduating class besides being a quizzer.  On the day on the interview, he strides in confidently wearing a full-sleeved collared shirt and tie.  But the moment the interviewer starts questioning him, Ratan’s mind freezes.  He is unable to articulate clearly what his current job entails.  Within seconds, he is fumbling for words and knows that his chances are doomed. 

Sadly, Ratan’s poor performance is not indicative of his potential.  In fact, he is just the type of candidate the company is looking to hire.  Psychologist Sian Beilock who has studied the phenomenon extensively, defines ‘choking’ as “sub-optimal performance” under high pressure.  When a person who is capable of performing at a higher level and has done so in the past, plummets in a stressful situation, he has fallen prey to choking.  And while it can happen to any of us, we would like to minimize the chances of its occurring. 

Beilock recommends that we not only practice for a high-stakes event, but that we also practice under stressful conditions similar to the actual event.  So, instead of simply anticipating the interviewer’s questions, Ratan could have asked his friend to fire a volley of questions like a formal interview where he has to answer crisply, without hemming and hawing.  By practicing under simulated stress, Ratan would have been more prepared to face the barrage of questions.  If you have to give a speech on stage, it is better to practice in front of an audience at home than to simply recite it to yourself.  The closer the practice conditions are to the real event, the less likely you are to choke.  This is one reason why schools and colleges have mock exams before the actual Boards.

Further, it helps to anticipate potential stumbling blocks and plan how you would circumvent them so that you do not trip up during the actual event.  In fact, Olympic swimming legend Micahel Phelps used to prepare to face any eventuality.  An article in the The Telegraph in 2012 describes how Phelps trained, almost foreseeing every conceivable calamity.  He used to even practice swimming blindfolded by darkening his goggles with a black marker pen.  This way, he attuned his kinesthetic awareness of every stroke and had to feel the wall as opposed to seeing it.  He says in the article, “It’s weird, sure, but we want to be ready for literally anything…”  And Phelps penchant for planning for every rainy day paid rich dividends during the Beijing Olympics.  During the 200m butterfly final, his goggles began filling up with water, impairing his vision.  But Phelps didn’t have reason to choke as he had practiced swimming in the dark and went on it win the gold and setting a new world record.

Another technique used by Phelps and long advocated by sports psychologists is visualization where an athlete imagines a positive outcome during a high-stakes event.  In fact, researchers have found that this technique can be used to quell queasiness during public speaking, an event that provokes butterflies in many people.  In a study published in Communication Education, Joe Ayers and Theodore Hopf found students who had visualized themselves making a cogent speech reported lower levels of anxiety compared to those who had done this exercise.

Many people, even those who are otherwise confident, are stymied by talking in public.  However, if you have choked while addressing a gathering, do not despair.  Confidence, like most other traits, can be cultivated and you might be humbled to hear of the story of a young Indian lawyer who ran out of the courtroom while arguing his first case.  Recounting this traumatic experience, the lawyer later wrote, “I stood up, but my heart sank into my boots.  My head was reeling and I felt as though the whole court was doing likewise. I could think of no question to ask.”  This very lawyer then went on to become a master orator who inspired and mobilized millions of Indians as Mahatma Gandhi.

Finally, you must remember that you don’t have to quell your anxiety entirely.  As the famous Yerkes-Dodson law states, performance actually increases with arousal up to a point.  So some amount of nervousness before an exam, debate or job interview may work in your favour, as long as you don’t cross the threshold to drown in your worries.

(The author is Director, PRAYATNA.  Email:arunasankara@gmail.com)

Senses and Sensibilities

Kushal Talgeri

Psycho-educational assessment reports often mention statements such as ‘The child is a visual learner’ or ‘The child is an auditory learner’; however, these statements are rarely supported with what they imply or how they may be translated into teaching practices.  Consequently, they are interpreted to mean that this child would benefit if he is taught using visual or auditory media as the case may be; however, research has shown that though children may differ in their abilities in different modalities, teaching the child in his best modality doesn’t affect his individual achievement.  Daniel T. Willingham, a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia, explains why this may be the case.
According to Professor Willingham, research findings have revealed that memory is usually stored in terms of meaning and is not dependent on a particular sensory modality.  Further, memories are stored in a number of different formats.  Hence, a single experience may have more than one representation.  For example, after watching a movie, one may not remember the actual visual frames of each scene, but may recall the gist of the movie and maybe some dialogues.  Moreover, different memory representations store different types of information.  For example, visual representations by themselves may not be effective in providing meaning as they may have more than one interpretation.  For instance, a picture of a girl crying can draw up so many interpretations as to why she is crying.  Also, not all concepts can be visually presented-for e.g., ‘foolishness’ or ‘unanimous’. 
Besides the above mentioned factors, it is also difficult to tease apart each sensory modality for the purpose of measurement and say with certainty what each individual’s preferred modality is.  Thus, Professor Willingham suggests that instead of searching in vain for a student’s best modality, it would be more beneficial to teach children in the modality that is best suited for the content being taught. This would ensure that the child extracts and stores the meaning of what is taught, thereby forming stronger memories and subsequently enhancing achievement.  For example, in biology, concepts are best explained using diagrams whereas while teaching history, it may help to use an audio-visual approach.  If a child has to learn pottery, the only way he will is by doing it himself.  Diagrams or videos depicting the process may not guarantee success when it comes to actually making it himself.  Math is best understood when explained using a concrete to representational and then abstract approach.  For example, while teaching numbers, a child may be shown six blocks, followed by six tally marks to represent each of the blocks and then the number ‘6’ may be introduced to the child.  Similarly, if a child has to learn reading as a skill, no amount of visual presentations or listening to audio tapes can teach her the skill.  Systematic instruction in phonics, regular exposure to sight words and daily practice in reading connected text are better determiners in enhancing reading as a skill.
Thus, as teachers, it is essential while teaching that we use methods that will be most useful in making what is taught meaningful to children.  If a concept lends itself to more than one modality, then it is best to teach it through multiple media.  This will ensure that students retain concepts and perform better.

(Kushal Talgeri is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA)


Retrieved on 21 April 2012

Part 1

Gita Nambiar

At the recently concluded parent forum, PRAYATNA, Chennai, celebrated five achievers who, despite their difficulties, overcame numerous challenges to pass their X and XII standard exams.  In a series of five separate posts, I will outline the trials and tribulations of each of these stars.

Our first achiever attended classes at PRAYATNA for over four years.  He cleared his XII Standard in the N.I.O.S. stream and is studying B.Sc. Animation and Visual Effects from Zee Institute of Creative Arts.  He recollected his memorable moments at school as time spent with friends and teachers.  While some friends were helpful, others were not.  Similarly, some of his teachers offered support, but others were discouraging.  Throughout, he encountered difficulties with academics.  However, he enjoyed participating in various extracurricular activities and competitions held at school.  He also took up tennis, which he continues to play.  His ambition is to enter the movie field. 

His mother gave us her side of the story too.  As a very young child, she was dismayed that her son could not write.  While in Grade II, he suffered a seizure.  During the course of the treatment, she found out that the child was dyslexic.  She changed schools and moved him to a special school.  She herself completed a course on LD and acquired a deeper understanding of the child’s difficulties.  The child changed schools twice and finally joined a school, which followed the NIOS curriculum.  At school, the teachers advised him to appear for his XII Standard exams over two years, while his mother wanted him to clear them in one attempt.  She pulled him out of the school, few months before the board exam, registered him at another centre and coached him at home.  Her efforts were well rewarded when he cleared all his papers!

At PRAYATNA, he gained confidence to speak English and read and write fluently.  Simultaneously, his psychiatrist also provided support and guidance.  To select a suitable career after school, his mother has chosen a course that is not taxing on her son and is completely computer-based.  She has kept in mind the child’s ability with the visual medium.  As the child has difficulty mingling with peers, she has selected an institute with few students.  Over the last few months, his confidence has enhanced and he is happy with the course.  This is a striking example of the tenacity of a mother and the determination of a child in achieving what would have once been deemed impossible.  His mother hopes that her son will also do his MBA. 

(Gita Nambiar is a Special Educator at PRAYATNA.)