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A Letter From Sarah Major

A little history

I must have always liked teaching. My parents crack up when they recall the times I corralled a group of neighborhood kids to teach them Bible stories in our backyard. I was a very earnest 8 or 10, and the setting was Honduras in the early 60's. I am not sure I should say LIKED teaching; I didn't ever think about it. I think I just engaged in teaching automatically from time to time.

In 9th grade, I remember being fascinated with minds and fancied myself a brain surgeon. In the fullness of time I registered for Chemistry class, then had to get special permission (groveling) from the headmaster to drop the class when I chickened out before day one. Abandoning Chemistry, of course, meant abandoning my medical aspirations. My interest in minds went underground as I went on to college and majored in art. (Big segway!) I did consider a double major in education and art, but the intro to ed class was so mind-numbing that I dropped out almost immediately, thus eliminating that whole career path as an option for me. Frankly I could not imagine subjecting future generations to that level of boredom.

Many years, many "jobs" and two semi-grown children later, my interest in minds resurfaced when I started a child care facility. My teaching habit also resurfaced and I began to do circle time, chant the ABC's, teach letter sounds...you know, the "basic skills." I soon noticed that I could teach something (in some cases repeating it many times) and not every child would "get it." "Hmmm," I said to myself.

Later, while teaching kindergarten to these same kids, I decided to go to grad school and study about differences in learning. I tentatively believed that all children could learn, but I wanted some expert proof of this suspicion. Everything I read and everything I wrote went through this filter of "every child can learn" and "there is no such thing as a bad brain." So I worked with my kids during the day and studied at night. I was really paying attention to the differences in learners and trying very hard to change my practices so that they could be successful. It was when I started telling stories, drawing pictures, letting the kids lead in their learning so that I could learn from them how they learned.

My point?

What I have learned over a lifetime is that there are so many learning differences! (so many kinds of minds) While in grad school, I did prove to my own satisfaction that the brain is good - that what needs to change is how we approach a child's brain. I've been practicing with that notion ever since.

Listen to an expert: 

Mel Levine. Everyone's heard of him!

"Planet earth is inhabited by all kinds of people who have all kinds of minds. [From A Mind at a Time, Simon and Schuster...you can get it anywhere...picture included for visual learners among us]. The brain of each human is unique. Some minds are wired to create symphonies and sonnets, while others are fitted out to build bridges, highways, and computers; design airplanes and road systems; drive trucks and taxicabs; or seek cures for breast cancer and hypertension. The growth of our society and the progress of the world are dependent on our commitment to fostering in our children, and among ourselves, the coexistence and mutual respect of these many different kinds of minds." (page 13)

Main point here is that our brains are as they are by design.

One more quote:

On page 23: "It's taken for granted in adult society that we cannot all be generalists skilled in every area of learning and mastery. Nevertheless, we apply tremendous pressure on our children to be good at everything. Every day they are expected to shine in math, reading, writing, speaking, spelling, memorization, comprehension, problem solving, socialization, athletics, and following verbal directions. Few if any children can master all of these "trades." And none of us adults can. In one way or another, all minds have their specialties and their frailties."

Wow. You just need to read the book several times if you have not already. There are so many implications here, and all are so on target.

One more thing I have to say for now is this:

We have so much knowledge of minds. We know every child is gifted with a specialty. But we do not behave that way in the classroom with them when we are teaching them. We expect every child to perform exactly the same. If they don't, we assume they are faulty or broken or learning disabled. It just doesn't make sense to me. Most of the time we teach to one specialty. The others lose out. The challenge for us as teachers and parents is to teach in such a way that we reach all kinds of learners.

 



Sarah K. Major is the Founder and CEO of Child1st Publications LLC. She was the recipient of The Outstanding Parent Satisfaction award and The Major Academic Program Improvement awards during her tenure as Title 1 program designer/director. Her numerous books and multisensory learning resources such as: SnapWords®, Easy-for-Me™ Reading, the Right-Brained Math Series, The Illustrated Book of Sounds & Their Spelling Patterns and more have earned a host of five-star reviews; and have helped to advance the education of children around the world. Ms. Major taught preschool through the 12th grade and holds a Master’s degree in Education and a Bachelor of Arts.