In order to understand how a student learns in an academic environment, we also have to understand our expectations of the student and the level of expertise in the profile of the student. We have to forget the notion that all 20 to 22 students in a classroom is learning at the same pace, the same internal rhythm with the same ability to integrate sensory information from the learning material.
- In order for a student to enter the classroom, adults already expect and assume a certain level of executive functioning. They are expected to be able to inhibit their impulses, sustain their attention, shift their attention, exhibit emotional control, initiate tasks, have working (multi-tasking) memory, to plan goal directed behavior, to organize themselves and their environment, to self-monitor, to understand the concept of time and to be flexible as well. Not all children have experienced the same development through play and exposure and it is during the play of early development that these functions build their first foundations.
- For the student to fully grasp the meaning and message of the learning of educational material, the student has to have adequate development of his/her different sensory processing systems. The child has to be able to attend using his visual and auditory system, while maintaining a stable base in his/her vestibular (movement) system with no fidgeting, as one example.
- To maintain seated posture in an attentive way, the student has to be able to exercise good postural control over both extensor and flexor groups (core control), so the seated position can be maintained for extended length of time.
- The student has to be able to use an innate sense of timing that will reflect on their ability to socially respond to their peers in a timely manner, to coordinate motor movements while also processing thought and language simultaneously, and also play games at recess at a speed and timing that would want peers to play with them and have them on their team.
- This innate timing is also involved in learning the reading and writing process as the sound/symbol association requires the visual system to scan the word, while the phonics kicks in with split second timing. Writing also adds the visual-motor and fine motor control that is further impacted by timing.
- A student also has to be emotionally ready to learn regardless of their sleep patterns, the occurrences at home, the anxieties they are trying to hide, the insecurities in the face of learning, the desperate need to be accepted in a social group at school to mention only a few of the myriad emotional factors.
- Another very important aspect needed to learn, to understand symbols, to understand jokes and hidden innuendos, and to discover the unwritten meaning of text in the way of abstract thinking and creative visual imagery opens the doors to exploration, inquisitiveness, and a need to learn.
- And though there are more factors involved, I would like to end this list by mentioning the importance of being intrinsically motivated to learn. When a child feels successful this will pull them towards learning. When the environment feels insecure, and relationships evoke feelings of self- protection, the student tends to turn away from learning.
I want persons/ caregivers/teachers/therapists to know that every single academic task required of a school student asks for competencies on these aspects above. We need to think about this if we want to consider Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. Are the goals on any child’s program plan (IEP, etc.) the goals of where we would like to see the child be because of his age and grade that he is in? Or are the grade expectation goals written in a way that harnesses the student’s individual differences, meeting the student where he is at, and providing sufficient pace for the student to feel successful so she would be intrinsically motivated towards learning?
Maude Le Roux, OTR/L