Washington Family Magazine : November 2014
3 2 November 2014 washingtonFAMILY.com A Two-Fold Approach To Learning Success In education, as in economics, there is supply and demand. In seeking the best for their children, parents often focus on only the supply side of this equation: the quality of schools, teachers and tutors. Parents relocate to neighborhoods with reputable public schools or make economic sacrifces to send children to private schools and hire private tutors. These eforts focus on improving the quality of educational "input," or "supply," to use economic terms. The hope is that the beter the supply, the beter the outcome (our child’s education). However, optimal learning outcomes are achieved only when we pair good teaching with an efective learner. The “demand” side of the educational equation represents learning — the efectiveness and independence with which a student processes and absorbs taught material. Learning is dependent on the strength of your child’s cognitive skills and how these skills interact. Every child is wired diferently, and therefore learns diferently. Every child has a unique learning style, determined in part by gaps or relative weaknesses in their cognitive skills. As a result, our brains develop automatic mechanisms to compensate, taking advantage of our personal cognitive strengths to mitigate the inevitable weaknesses. The degree to which we can compensate for a weakness depends on how heavily the weak skill is tasked, just how weak the skill is and the extent to which other skills depend on it. For example, atention, working memory and processing speed are all essential for directing information to appropriate parts of the brain. If any of these skills are weak, the learning process can be sabotaged and a child may visibly struggle, or, even more insidiously, their struggle may not be evident. This can lead to permanent and avoidable weaknesses. The reason most parents focus only on the supply side of the equation (the quality of teaching) and ignore the demand side (the strength of their child’s cognitive skills), is rational and TEXT JAVIER ARGUELLO HOME services two-fold. First, educational neuroscience is a rapidly growing feld — parents cannot be expected to keep abreast of new developments. Second, many parents are rightly skeptical of companies ofering “brain training” to improve how children learn; many appear gimmicky and slick, seeming to take advantage of good intentions to turn a proft. How do you separate the wheat from the chaf in the growing cognitive training industry? A GIMMICKY PRODUCT MIGHT: • Make huge, unrealistic claims ("double your intelligence!"). • Evaluate success internally, instead of in collaboration with parents and teachers. • Base training solely on drill and practice, which is easy to implement, but unlikely to transfer any cognitive gains to the classroom. • Ofer standardized, cookie-cuter programs (often online- only), which greatly expands their client base, but at the cost of fexibility to individually tailored programs. A QUALITY COGNITIVE TRAINING PROGRAM SHOULD: • Set unique, realistic, writen goals for each client and recruit parents and teachers to assess whether those goals are reached. • Customize programs to suit your child’s needs, ideally without relying on computers/technology, which may limit a program’s adaptability and generalizability. • While training a skill to strengthen it, teach proven techniques and coach students in applying these, in order to ensure progress is refected in educational performance. Your child is unique and his or her goals are unique. Your training program should be too. As in any industry, there are weak, deceptive players and efective, credible players. Your task is knowing the diference so you can improve your child's ability to learn from the great knowledge dispensers you’ve so carefully sought out. Tread cautiously in your search for quality cognitive training; if selected with care, the right program can make all the diference in your child’s education. Javier Arguello is the founder and executive director of COGexcel where he ofers fully customized, in-person cognitive training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.