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Brain Plasticity is a Game-Changer for Struggling Learners

Written By Geoff Nixon . September 12, 2023

Why Choose Coping Strategies (Like Tutoring) When Remediation is Possible?

Conventional thinking is that learning is fixed — that learning ability is largely formed in the first three years of life.  After that educators and parents tend to have the mindset that nothing can be done about underlying learning, and so the focus is “work arounds” –  mainly extra teaching and accommodations.

If you are told your child is a visual learner and that you need to provide visual cues to help “that kind of learner” you are basically being told that your child is a visual learner and that’s that.

But think about it.

What a devastating diagnosis.

Most learning is spoken.  Reading is a language skill – it’s spoken language in a visual format. Decoding requires language dexterity, an understanding of  language structures and vocabulary, then the ability to extract meaning. Furthermore, for the first ten plus years of life the vast, vast majority of learning is oral — listening to the world around you as a baby, then taking in verbal instructions from parents and educators.

A self-organizing, self-improving brain would not choose to be a “visual” learner in a spoken language-filled world where listening is the crucial skill. A right-thinking brain would always choose to be a “language” learner. But with a “learning is fixed” mindset, being a so-called Visual Learner sounds OK and nothing for parents to worry about since nothing can be done (they say) anyway.

What if, instead of creating an environment to help a visual learner, the effort was spent on turning that visual learning into a language learner. Enter the idea of changing how a brain learns.

Brain Plasticity Creates New Possibilities

Changing how the brain learns requires buying into the idea that learning is not fixed, that brain function is not fixed.

This should not be a big leap.  Think about how people stroke rehabilitation – that’s the brain having to reinvent itself after functioning cells die.

In fact, there is an overwhelming and rapidly expanding body of evidence that brains need not be trapped in faulty learning mechanisms. Brains are capable of change. This is brain plasticity, one of the great scientific discoveries of the last two decades and yet really, despite is great message of hope for all children with any kind of learning glitch, it is still largely ignored by educators and parents as a response to children with learning delays.

It’s a missed opportunity.

While the proven applications that take advantage of brain plasticity — like Fast ForWord software and Interactive Metronome — are still relatively few, this is an emerging area.  Of course, these interventions are not effective in every case.  The challenge is to isolate the cognitive functioning that is the source of delay for an individual and then to exercise those skills.

The most successful area of development so far has been language-related programs, like Fast ForWord, because sound-based exercises interact directly with the language centers of the brain.  Fast ForWord helps learners of all types become language learners, which has the effect of accelerating learning and reading growth.

About Gemm Learning

Gemm Learning provides reading and learning interventions at home that tap into the opportunity of brain plasticity.  It has literally hundreds of success stories that prove that learning is not fixed and that brain plasticity offers the potential for transformational change.

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