I’m writing this on the Neo while sitting in the middle of a conference on learning disabilities. The disconnect between the content of what we’re learning and the format in which we’re learning it is so extreme it almost makes me laugh out loud.
I am all about learning better ways to understand the challenges my students face and better ways to help them succeed. As I said last week, the thing that intrigues me most are the mental health issues they experience, but I recognize that learning disabilities are crucial as well — and often intertwined with other issues.
So I think it’s well worth while to spend a day of my working life at a national conference, listening to a world-famous expert in the field of learning disabilities talk about the many different brain fuctions that are involved in learning.
But here’s the thing. We’re listening to a man talk about how all kinds of minds learn differently and how we as educators need to be aware of this. In order to learn this material, we are required to sit on straight-backed chairs in a large room for six hours listening to one person talk from the front of the room. The speaker is relatively good — not high-energy, but a good communicator and often entertaining. He has a word-dense, visually uninteresting handout. He has no PowerPoint slides or other visual aids. There have been no hands-on activities, no opportunities for discussion, small-group breakouts — no chance, in fact, to do anything but sit on our backsides and absorb information through our ears.
I ask you — how many of us learn that way? Even in a room full of educators, how many of us are truly absorbing much after the first hour?
There has to be a better way to do this.
Fortunately, I do not have a learning disability, and I am mostly an auditory learner, so I am absorbing a fair amount of what he’s saying. Also fortunately, I have a pretty well-developed understanding of how my own mind and body work. I know that I have to stand up, stretch, and walk around every so often even if it’s not at a scheduled break time. I know I need things to keep my fingers and the other layers of my brain busy while I listen. Usually I doodle, but today I brought the Neo so I have written about 3000 words on my novel. Now I’m blogging. I also edited all the contact numbers on my new cellphone to add the area code prefix to them. The casual observer might say I’m doing all these things because I’m bored, but in fact these things are my defense against boredom.
I’m on the receiving end of a lot of information about learning disabilities today, but I think the most useful learning for me as an educator today has been empathetic.
I try not to lecture for long in my one-hour class periods. But I wonder if for some of my students, my fifteen-minute description the parallels between Boo Radley and Tom Robinson in To Kill a Mockingbird feels just as long as this six-hour lecture does to me? And are their distracting behaviors a sign of boredom, or a desperate attempt to keep their brains engaged?