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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Best Learning Environments For Dyslexics

We've all heard the factoid that everybody has a specific learning style that suits their brain best. You may have even taken an online test to help you determine whether you are primarily visual, kinesthetic, tactile , or auditory. As with most online quizzes, the truth is more complicated than can usually be captured in a few short questions! However, knowing how you most naturally process information can be helpful not just in education, but for the whole of life. However, there are a few 'learning styles' we all share that should be taken into account in any educational environment.

1. Children progress better in an active, play-based learning environment. This may seem too obvious to state, but it's true. Boredom is the death of learning. When children are actively engaged in a task or activity, that bit of knowledge being learned - whether practical or theoretical - is more easily made concrete in the brain. Recent pedagogical studies have brought this to light with empirical research; just Google it and you'll find many pages of relevant results! Children that are primarily kinesthetic learners especially thrive on this kind of learning environment, though all learning styles benefit from it.

2. Stress is the enemy of education. Stress reduces your cerebral activity and therefore your ability to succeed at a task. When the brain interprets there being a threat or risk of some kind, it shuts down all higher functioning and focuses on responding to the stressful situation at hand through the classic fight or flight paradigm. All kinds of learning require this higher brain functioning, so keeping activities which create anxiety or duress out of the classroom environment is key. If a child is too easily stressed, then it is important to try to build up his or her confidence through short, structured learning exercises where failure is an unlikely outcome.

3. Emotional “underload” can be just as bad as the opposite! Emotions play a key role in memory creation. And without memory, none of us would be very good at learning anything! We've all had experiences where we, for example, forget the rules of linear algebra but can remember in detail every type of cloud formation. This is probably because we couldn't care less about mathematics but fell in love with studying the water cycle in science class (it could happen!). When our emotions - excitement, fear, anger, happiness etc - are involved in an event, we are much more likely to retain that in our long-term memory. So while we wouldn't ever advocate a classroom environment of fear, the worst kind of learning environment is actually one of emotional 'underload', where we are disengaged from the learning process.

Combine these three key aspects of a good learning environment, and kids of all different types of learning styles will thrive! 

David Morgan is CEO of the Easyread System, an online course for children with reading difficulties. Easyread uses a highly visual approach to phonics that is designed specifically for children with dyslexia, auditory processing disorders, poor short-term memory, and more.
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