Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Students With Learning Disabilities Thrive Using Cognitive Assets

Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the 20-year anniversary of BrainSMART, we are sharing some of our educators stories. All of the featured educators earned their Master’s in Brain-based Teaching curricula and/or the Minor in Brain-based Leadership, co-developed by Dr. Donna Wilson and Dr. Marcus Conyers, co-founders of BrainSMART. Below is a synopsis of one of those stories.

As a veteran teacher, Paul Farmer appreciated a fundamental principle of the M.S. program with a major in Brain-Based Teaching—that all students, even those with learning disabilities, can become functionally smarter when they are taught how to learn.

“I am no longer content to see my job as an educator being limited to that of teaching A, B, C and 1, 2, 3, and I feel that such a limit is a disservice to the disabled students in my classroom,” said Mr. Farmer in an interview for the BrainSMART publication, Effective Teaching, Successful Students. “I feel that a greater and more profound service is provided by viewing all students as having the capability not only to develop their bank of knowledge and skills, but also their capacity to learn and function in the world in which they live.

“I am grateful for the graduate degree program introducing me to the ideas of individuals such as Reuven Feuerstein, who devoted his life to teaching cognitive assets and believed and demonstrated that children with intellectual disabilities can grow in their cognitive capacity,” Mr. Farmer added.

Mr. Farmer has taught special education classes for students with moderate to severe and multiple disabilities in California for many years. He earned his M.S. degree from NSU in August 2011, having previously earned an M.A. in Special Education at California State University, San Bernardino.

As he progressed through his graduate studies, Mr. Farmer realized that the most powerful educational experience he could provide came from merging the art of teaching with the science of learning. For example, giving students the power of choice in their learning resulted in a greater degree of student participation in lessons. And incorporating auditory, visual, and kinesthetic elements to lessons along with opportunities for movement and strategies to enhance retention have resulted in learning gains.

“All of the strategies and principles discussed by Wilson and Conyers have revolutionized my lesson planning,” Mr. Farmer said in the ETSS interview. “I teach cognitive assets along with curriculum. I ponder and reflect upon how the lessons can connect and be meaningful to my students, because that is a pathway to long-term retention. Whenever I plan lessons, I try to keep in mind that learning is not something I impart to students, but rather it is something created in the mind of the learner. The lessons must be focused on and related to what the learner finds meaningful.”

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