When I heard about “The Shut-Down Learner” by Dr Richard Selznick I was very interested. Dr. Selznick coined the term “Shut-Down Learner” to describe ‘children who thrive with hands-on tasks requiring visual and spacial abilities, but who become discouraged by their difficulty mastering core academic skills such as reading and writing.’ This describes my 14 year old son Jordan to a “T”.
Jordan is one of the lucky ones though, it is estimated that up to 40% of Americans have these same problems, and many fall through the cracks in the public school system. Since we homeschool, I have been aware since 3rd grade of Jordan’s strengths and weaknesses and we have worked on ways to accommodate and to learn those necessary, yet difficult skills. I am proud to say that he improved significantly in his reading comprehension this school year and tested on grade level for the first time ever.
Dr. Selznick calls these kids “Lego kids” because of their amazing spacial abilities. That describes Jordan, even at age 14 he loves to spend hours creating interesting things with his Legos and other building toys. Dr. Selznick suggests that there are 2 styles of Shut-Down Learners, I realized I have worked with both types. One of my homeschool co-op students is definitely a Style 1-disconnected, unmotivated and difficult, while Jordan is a Style 2-Pleasant and Terribly Insecure.
“The Shut-Down Learner” gives suggestions to parents and educators on how to help these students see their strengths and work on improving their weaknesses. I am incorporating some of the suggestions into this fall’s homeschool day.
Here are a few samples of De. Selznick’s advice:
1. Identify the “cracks in the foundation” as early as possible. Find a professional who knows the “red flags” to identify for early learning problems. So much heart-ache can be avoided if you address the skills weaknesses early.
2. If the cracks are widening, seek outside help if possible. Don’t be passive and wait for the schools to intervene. They may, but it’s often a long process. Many of the children I see are not bad enough to warrant the school’s intervention. It’s a negative snowballing effect. Use word of mouth in your community to find people who can intervene
3. Know the kind of reading problem you’re targeting. There are essentially two types. In the first type the child has trouble decoding the words and reading fluently. This type is the largest majority of the struggling kids. In the second type, the child can read fluently, but has great trouble understanding what he/she has read. Get clear on what you are targeting!!!! Don’t scattershot your remediation.
4. Take the heat out of the interaction. For most of the struggling kids, the daily ritual of yelling about school is a constant. Households are tense. Lots of blame goes around. Pecking at your child, nagging and yelling are not working. Why continue?
5. Find the child’s true strength and help kid embrace it. The shut down learners that I know do not feel very good about themselves and they do not see their strengths. Most of these kids are very solid in the visual spatial dimension of ability. This is often not valued in school. The kids need to learn to value this trait and see it as a potential.
6. Find someone to connect and mentor your child in school. If your child is older, push the kid to have one adult in the building as child’s mentor. It should be someone that your kid can form a relationship with. Too often shut-down learners go through school not bonded to anyone. This is tragic.
7. Keep your humor. Try not to let school problems become all consuming. Go out for an ice cream sundae with your kid even if he hasn’t done his homework! School problems can be so all consuming – don’t lose touch with your kid’s good qualities.
Fortunately, the value of The Shut-Down Learner doesn’t end with advice. Dr. Selznick shows you how to apply this advice. With great sensitivity, he writes about several of the shut-down learners he has known. He shares their conversations and insights and shows how they didn’t let their learning problems and the rigidity of schools destroy their lives.
If you think your child may be a Shut-Down Learner I suggest you get the book and visit the website www.shutdownlearner.com, and get involved in helping your child succeed.