What is an Educational Therapist?
My “elevator speech” (what I say in 30 seconds or less) is: I work one-to-one with children who have unique learning styles, and I teach them strategies to become stronger learners. I create a safe environment for atypical learners to succeed.
Naming the Way Kids Learn
As I work with students, I watch how they take in information, how they remember, how they have already figured out what they need to do to learn, what they struggle with and how. I become a narrator for their learning story: “It looks like you are very visual and I’m guessing that you see a picture of what that word means in your head. Is that right?” I get kids to think about how they think, how they work best, what their inborn strengths are, what they love to do, and what it is that they do to make that thing called learning happen for them. I ask, “What makes your brain happy? Tell me what your brain likes to do.”
Kids, Meet Your Brain
When I think about the most effective “ingredient” in my sessions with students, I’d have to say it is that I simply watch and listen. I try to really SEE them. I get a sense of who the student is as a learner and I introduce him/her to that learner. Many of my students come to me believing that they are unteachable, that they are stupid, and they have given up hope. To combat that incorrect belief, I show them that they are quite capable of learning. All they have to do is understand how their brain works, so they can get the information they need and practice it in the way that suits their brains. I often tell them, “Your brain is not wrong, it is different.” A tremendous amount of healing takes place when a someone sees you and accepts you unconditionally.
Instead of telling students, “This is how you should learn this,” or “I’m going to teach you this way,” I share an observation, then verify it with them. “It looks like you are seeing this idea like a video in your head. Is that right?” Students become active participants in their learning, and together we figure out how to learn whatever they need to learn. One of my students told me he learns best while he is moving. So, to learn to read words from his 3×5 cards, we placed one stack at one end of the hallway, and the other stack on the opposite side. He ran back and forth between stacks and read them in transit! Students have terrific ideas about how they learn best, and often it is better (and more fun) than what I could ever dream up!
Secret Ingredients in Educational Therapy
I have the luxury of focusing on one student at a time and I notice lots of things about them. I always tell students, “Can I tell you all the things you did right?” And, I say, “I want you to make lots of mistakes. We learn the most when we make mistakes.” The room where we work (a converted bedroom in my home) is comfortable and has “magic” in it (or at least it feels like that to me). I introduce students to strategies that will work for their kind of brain. We try it out and continue to “tweak” it until it becomes their own. One of my students is a wonderful artist who happens to have trouble associating vowel sounds with their letters (“ow” says “oh” like “snow”). He made a drawing for every vowel sound based on a “clue word” (snow), so that he could associate the sound and its corresponding letters (ow) with a vivid picture of his own creation (a wild flurry of snowflakes). Because he drew the picture himself, and practices consistently, he can re-visualize the picture of snow and make the connection to the sound of the letters “ow” more quickly and accurately. When kids see their progress, there is nothing like success to bring on more success. When children see that they are competent learners, there are positive changes in their behavior, mood, and engagement in learning (and their brain pathways!), which allows even more learning to take place.
Do you want to know the other secret ingredient in my educational therapy practice? I accept my students exactly as they are. Some psychologists call this unconditional positive regard. I call it love.