Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shame as a Barrier to Learning

Last week I wrote about barriers to learning.  Today I was reading this Dylexia Insight post on the National Center for Learning Disabilities website and this statement got me thinking again about what we should be doing as teachers in our efforts to break down barriers to learning: "For starters, let me tell you that when it comes to dyslexia, most people focus on reading or spelling. They should instead focus on shame. Shame is a feeling that you’re unworthy because of something you are. It’s different from guilt, which is feeling bad about something you did, like stealing or cheating. Shame comes from not feeling normal."  Sadly, as the following video outlines, this becomes a cyclical process that is difficult for a student to break out of.  
It gets bigger though.  The ripple effects can go so much deeper than just not acquiring reading because reading is connected to language and we need language for self regulation.  This video outlines why we seem to see a move from a student having a learning disability code to having a behaviour disorder code.  It may seem extreme but I think it would be worth taking a look at data to see how often students move from mild cognitive/intellectual disability codes to behavioural codes through the course of their schooling. 

It is critical to recognize how closely tied together emotion and cognition are.  Emotions will either interfere with or facilitate learning.  A student who feels shame will not be able to learn and it will be difficult for that child to ever develop a sense of efficacy of themselves as a learner. 

What is the solution for the student who has difficulty learning to read?  We clearly must increase the intensity of instruction and/or intervention to support acquisition of reading skills.  Is that enough?  Are we contributing to the shame that child feels by focusing only on their area of weakness?  How do we ensure balance?  How long do we continue to think in terms of intervention and remediation before we also think in terms of compensation.

I would say the Dylexia Insight post I referenced at the beginning should give us some insight in to what is helpful to him... auditory text for "reading" and dictation software for "writing".  This involves understanding learner variability and perhaps even redefining what "reading" and "writing" in order to break down barriers to learning.  If a student is not getting stuck in the shame of reading because they can listen to or view content rather than read it, they can engage the cognitive processes required for learning.  The flip side of this is, if we have one student doing something a different way, it can also set up a situation where the student will feel different (and therefore potentially feel the same shame).  The key seems to be more related to having flexible options for students so that they can learn in the way that is most effective and efficient for them. 

There are many components in the concept of "21st Century Learning" that would open up more doors for students who feel shame about what we have labeled as learning and intellectual disabilities but without explicit awareness of how we can design materials and learning activities to address learning variability an opportunity to reduce the achievement gap might be missed. 

Todd Rose has several great talks about learner variability. The following talk was presented at a Cyber-learning Symposium. He talks about how critical it is to think about learning variability as we move forward with designing our next generation of learning environments. The Rubric's Cube example speaks to the concept of using different paths or strategies to get to the same end goal. Technology simply opens up more paths and more strategies that can allow for increased learner variability.  The second cube that he presents is about "retrofitting" rather than "designing". In order to approach addressing learner variability from the design standpoint, we need to start with an understanding of variability and it seems the only way that we can really understand variability is if we have the whole range of it in our classrooms. 

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