Learning about Learning and Special Education
Do students learn by sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher? For many students, including me, the answer is a resounding “No.” We just get “Bored!”
It wasn’t until I finished a MASc. degree, and started developing educational software for children, that I discovered I’m a kinesthetic learner. I learn by doing, including computer-based interaction. Visual images are also effective for me, especially if they are highly interactive. Listening to someone lecture just puts me to sleep.
Multimedia and Education
The revelation of my own learning style led me in 1997 to develop a web site (www.kidport.com) focused on providing interactive online education for kindergarten through 8th grade students.  Kidport.com now provides web-based interactive education to about 1 million students a month. Based on the many emails I have received from parents and teachers over the past 15 years, I’ve concluded that:
- New media educational techniques can open education and learning to millions of students that struggle with traditional classroom instruction.
Children with Special Education NeedsIn 2010, the National Center for Educational Statistics estimated that 6.5 million children, or about 13 percent of all public school students, have special educational needs . That’s a lot of students. And, the majority of these students simply have learning disabilities, with no social or behavioral problems.
My proposition is that we need to change the way we think about these children. For many of these children, it is not their ability to learn, but our ability to teach, that is the problem. We need to learn how to teach them, and create learning environments that take advantage of how an individual child learns, so that these children can excel.
Education and Learning Styles
In studying my own learning abilities and challenges, I discovered that understanding one’s learning and thinking style can significantly improve educational approaches. One common way to classify how children learn is through Learning Styles. The three most common learning styles are:
- auditory, and
That is, some people learn best by seeing, others by hearing, and others by doing.  Although a child generally has one dominant style of learning, we all learn best when all three modes are integrated into the teaching method.
Another approach is classifying thinking and learning using Multiple Intelligences . Multiple Intelligences was first defined by Howard Gardener in the early 1980′s.  He discovered that children often have special strengths or intelligences in areas such as:
- Spacial reasoning
- Interpersonal, and
It’s beyond the scope of this blog to go into details. The important point is that some children may be very intelligent when it comes to language, or math, or music, … , but struggle with other skills. Until we understand how a child is smart, we cannot help them achieve their full potential.
What does this mean to you?
Whether you are a teacher, parent, or even a student, it is important to understand how you think and learn. To provide effective education to students, we must first discover “How a Child is Smart,” and their “Learning Style,” and customize our education strategy to leverage these skills. Otherwise, we may label a child as “Learning Disabled” when in fact we are just ignorant of his or her special thinking and learning skills.
How are You Smart?
Okay, that’s enough theory. Now that you understand the importance of thinking and learning styles, you might want to discover your own learning style. Brad James at the University of South Dakota has provided a short quiz to test your learning style.  Check out the following link:
After completing the quiz and discovering your learning style, think about how your own education might have been more effective when you were a child? Do you now understand why you struggled with a specific class or subject? Why some things came easy to you, and others didn’t? Or, why you had problems learning from a specific teacher?
Now Convert this Learning into Teaching!
As a teacher or parent, how might you more effectively teach your child or children? How can you personalize learning to take advantage of a child’s unique abilities?
Where to Go for More Information?
There are several organizations dedicated to providing support for teachers and parents of special education students. The Council for Exceptional Children  advocates for children with special needs, develops policies and standards for special education, and provides professional development for special education teachers <http://www.cec.sped.org>. The International Association of Special Education (IASE) is an organization of special education professionals and parents focused on improving the education and quality of life for individuals with special needs <http://www.iase.org>. 
I hope that I’ve caused you to think about thinking, and learning. And, given you some ideas about how to improve the education of your special education child. Let me know what revelations you have discovered.
 Knysh, Bryan. Kidport. <http://www.kidport.com>
 National Center for Educational Statistics. <http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cwd.asp>
 James, Brad. “Three Different Learning Styles”<http://people.usd.edu/~bwjames/tut/learning-style/styleres.html>
 Hoerr, Thomas. “How Is Your Child Smart?”. <http://www.scholastic.com/resources/article/how-is-your-child-smart/>
 Public Broadcasting System. “Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory” <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/education/ed_mi_overview.html>
 James, Brad. ”What’s Your Learning Style?”. <http://people.usd.edu/~bwjames/tut/learning-style/stylest.html>
 Council for Exceptional Children. <http://www.cec.sped.org>
 International Association of Special Education. <http://www.iase.org>