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Understanding Learning Differences in Children

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If you have children, you have probably seen how they can be similar to each other in some ways, and so different in others. Learning differences can be just as varied as children’s personalities, tastes and opinions, even between siblings. It is important to understand learning differences in children in order to ensure that a child’s education needs are being met and that he or she remains motivated and encouraged through the education process.

Learning differences can appear in a number of forms. Learning styles refer to the ways one learns best, while learning differences can also show up in how much time it takes one to learn a concept or skill, which is referred to as a Rate of Learning. When one is significantly struggling or unable to make sense of the material being taught, Learning Difficulties are another way one child may have a different learning experience than another.

Learning Styles

Howard Gardner’s work on Multiple Intelligences has been widely studied in education and has been the basis for much of the understanding of learning styles today. While he has defined very individual categories, Gardner’s intention is flexibility, as he believes that no one should be labelled by any single intelligence.

Gardner’s list:
• musical
• visual/special
• verbal/linguistic
• logical/mathematical
• bodily/kinesthetic
• interpersonal
• intrapersonal
• naturalistic
• existential

He writes “The two most important scientific implications [are that]…all human beings possess these 8 or 9 intelligences…no two human beings…exhibit precisely the same profile of intelligences.” Gardner

While one child may be able to solve a math problem by looking at the numbers on a page, another may have to count out a solution with physical objects, while a third student may make up a story and draw it to make sense of the equation, for example. They will likely all arrive at the same answer by solving it different ways.

“…children are smart in different kinds of ways…more students can be reached more effectively, if their favored ways of knowing are taken into account in curriculum, instruction, and assessment.” Gardner

Rates of Learning

Just as there is a variation in when a child may take his or her first steps or get a first tooth, there are educational variations as well. Children enter school the same age, but are often at developmentally different stages. As they get older and more accustomed to the education system, the gap can close, stay the same or begin to widen, sometimes depending on the rate at which a child learns.

While some children arrive in kindergarten with a good grasp of the English language, the ability to follow routines, get along socially and manage snacks and dressing for outside, that may not be the case for others. They may be later bloomers, as it was noted in the video, the case for Albert Einstein. Einstein also had other learning difficulties.

Learning Difficulties

There is a wide range of normal with regard to an individual’s rate of learning, but when a child begins to fall significantly behind, and a learning disability has been ruled out, that child may be learning at a slower rate than his or her peers and will simply need more time and support to meet learning goals.

Learning difficulties can stem from a variety of areas from vision, hearing, health and medical issues, to frequent absences, learning English as a second language, social concerns such as bullying to name a few examples. A child who is bright may not be impacted by any of these factors, however, may still struggle in certain areas of his or her education. It is in this situation that a learning disability may be suspected.

The Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario provides the following working description of Learning Disabilities:

• Learning disabilities can affect the way in which a person takes in, remembers, understands and expresses information.
• People with learning disabilities are intelligent and have abilities to learn despite difficulties in processing information.
• Living with a learning disability can have an ongoing impact on friendships, school, work, self-esteem and daily life.
• People with learning disabilities can succeed when solid coping skills and strategies are developed.

For those who work in education, understanding and supporting learning differences is a part of everyday planning, teaching and assessment. Every child is unique and different, just as every child has strengths to draw from to help them succeed in their education and life.

Mr. Einstein identified one of his strengths here:

It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.
~Albert Einstein

Can your child identify one of his or her strengths? Can you identify one of yours? What makes you unique and different?

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