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Schools in Which All Kinds of Minds Can Grow

By: Mel Levine
As we discover more about how students learn and how different minds learn differently, our schools have a golden opportunity to increase the percentage of their students who experience true academic success.

Armed with these new insights into brain function, educators can help all children and adolescents develop their unique strengths while overcoming the negative effects of their weaknesses. In doing so, they will have created schools for all kinds of minds. Let us consider some prominent features of such optimal educational environments:

  • Teachers would be well trained in how learning works and would be knowledgeable about the specific brain functions that are critical for the age group and/or subject matter they teach.
  • Teachers would have learned about the revealing signs of specific differences in learning, how to identify these in the classroom and how to manage students with learning problems more effectively.
  • Teachers would be trained to "diagnose" students' strengths and special affinities (areas of strong interest), so as to make sure that these positive qualities are being recognized, celebrated, and enhanced.
  • Students would be learning about learning while they are learning; they would study the different brain processes and acquire the terminology needed to think about and understand their own minds.
  • All students would be expected to select a topic and study it as an independent study activity (with a mentor) for at least 3 years; in this way they would experience "expertise" and gain from its positive effects on mind and skill development.
  • Students could be evaluated in more than one way; they could choose from various forms of testing or other assessment modes to demonstrate what they have learned or accomplished.
  • Classrooms would offer an atmosphere in which it is safe to make mistakes and take some risks in one's thinking and expression; public humiliation of students would not take place.
  • Parents and schools would be close partners in educating students; their specific educational roles would be well defined.
  • Every classroom would target the strengthening of some specific brain functions (such as attention controls, higher thinking abilities, or problem solving skills).
  • Peer pressure would be reduced, and students would be taught about social cognition.
  • Verbal and physical abuse of students by other students would be considered a significant offense.
  • All students would be held accountable for being productive, for having a high level of academic output, although not every student would be expected to produce the same "products."
  • Struggling children would not be burdened with diagnostic labels but instead their profiles of strengths and weaknesses in relevant neurodevelopmental functions and academic learning would be determined and managed effectively in school.
  • There would be a stress on inclusion of students with learning problems in regular education settings, but some pullout services would still be required for a small number of children.
  • Schools would be flexible in their curricular requirements, offering accommodations as needed.
  • Students who benefit from accommodations could be expected to compensate by performing additional work in an area of their strength or affinity.
  • While there would be a concerted stress on raising academic standards for all students, such standards would not be met or demonstrated in exactly the same manner by all students in the school.

The features delineated above are attainable. Some schools are already moving swiftly in these directions. Implementation requires strong support from parents, building principals, and school boards. In some communities a public school might seek the needed waivers from certain existing regulations in order to establish a demonstration model of a school for all kinds of minds. In some instances, a charter school might be based on this model.

We are talking about a strongly humanitarian movement in education. We would be acknowledging that our society desperately needs diverse kinds of minds among its adult population. We want no child to feel hopeless because of the way his brain is wired. We are hoping that every single student can see abundantly rewarding possibilities for her kind of mind while becoming an educated person.

Levine, M. Schools in Which All Kinds of Minds Can Grow in All Kinds of Good Ways. All Kinds of Minds Newsletter, May 2006.

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