Why can’t someone learn a skill if they’ve been shown how to do it-possibly many times, or for many years? Is it due to: poor materials used in instruction, poor attendance, lack of effort, a poor instructor, or being stupid? Although occasionally any of the above may be true, we find that none of these reasons are usually the cause of a person’s poor achievement . We find the root of someone’s learning problems usually goes unseen, undetected and often untreated for years.

If a person cannot read in America today-it is not because they have not been exposed to reading instruction. For decades it has been mandatory that citizens attend school until the age of 16. The person’s inability to read is not the cause of the problem, it is only a symptom. Additional direct instruction in reading probably won’t change that person’s ability to read because their instructor is probably treating the symptom, not the cause of the problem. Instead of asking the question, “Can someone read?” A more effective question to ask is, “Why can’t someone read?” This question should only be asked with the belief that there are cognitive, developmental, and/or neurological answers to the question. The answer is not “person” oriented, it is “skill level” oriented. That means that the ability to read well is based on many underlying abilities. This is the same as the relationship between a house and it’s foundation. When looking at a typical house or building, most people cannot see the foundation easily. They see what is built upon the foundation-the walls and roof. However, if the foundation is weak or missing, the house will not be able to stand for long-it will eventually collapse.

This happens with learning too. Think of the foundation of learning as unseen, and possibly seemingly unimportant and/or unrelated skills. Some of these skills are auditory processing, memory, language development, motor skill development, attention related skills, and phonological awareness.

The next level of learning are like the walls of the house-very important, but not the final step.

This level contains direct skill instruction in areas like reading, spelling, comprehension, written expression, handwriting, and math. Although these are important, this is not the final step.

The roof of our house of learning is in the application of the academic skills a person has learned. An example of this could include test taking, or writing a book report.

The walls of a house which is being build upon a poor foundation will never be strong enough to hold up a sturdy roof. A student who has not developed the skills needed at the earliest levels of learning will not be able to succeed in skills which are taught at higher levels.  If a house has structural problems, professionals are usually brought in to first determine what the problem is, and then how to fix it. When thinking about a learning plan, the first keys to successful treatment often lie in a professional’s ability to determine exactly what the true problem is, where the treatment should begin, and how many steps should be in the treatment plan. Because not all people have the same learning issues or the same experiences, not all people will have the same treatment plan, even if they have the same symptom of inefficient learning.

Are there any quick fixes? Just as there are rarely quick fixes for structural problems in a building, there are rarely quick fixes for learning issues. A fresh coat of paint over old wood may look better, but it will not fix structural problems. Learning problems are very similar. A person who has trouble expressing themselves in writing will immediately benefit from having someone else take notes for them-but that strategy will not teach them to take notes efficiently. A poor reader will find it easier to study using books on tape, but that strategy will not teach him to improve his reading skills.

Just as you wouldn’t buy a house unseen, be sure to check out the results of any learning treatment plan you are thinking of investing in. A good house and the results from a good learning plan should keep making you happy and comfortable for years to come. Enjoy them!

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