Surfin’ Safari

Just as there are two sides to the brain, there are often two sides to any argument. This is not about an argument but it is about wondering where the other side was in a recent conversation.

I recently attended an evaluation meeting with a student and a learning specialist, along with other adults involved in the student’s education. Remaining consistent with testing results over the past eight years, the student had recently tested in the Superior range in vocabulary and reading comprehension, demonstrated continual strength as a conceptual learner, and tested in the Average range in mathematics and following written directions, with continued demonstration of organizational issues.

In-class test scores in English, Science and History classes were in the 80s and 90s but homework, especially in History, was not getting turned in. The learning specialist wanted to know why, and the student had difficulty elaborating. And then came the portion of the conversation that surprised me. The learning specialist repeatedly commented that the student should try harder, put in more effort, and become more organized.


hand-contour.jpgExcuse me, but where was the learning specialist in this meeting? Where was the conversation? Why didn’t this specialist ask more questions or refer to in-depth testing results from previous years? Why didn’t this specialist explain that when someone has to struggle with certain cerebral issues it can be taxing and tiring, and mental fatigue at doing something that is difficult makes it tough to actually do that something? Why didn’t this specialist discuss some strategies for dealing with motivation and organization?

Metacognition. It’s a beautiful thought.

I am not a learning specialist, but I also am not a novice in the area. Last summer, 2006, a school grant funded the creation of the Safari Wiki, co-created with my school’s middle school learning specialist. We created this wiki for fifth through ninth graders to help them learn about how they learn. [UPDATE 2018 – Both of us have long since transferred to other schools and the site is no longer available.]

Another resource, written for parents and teachers, is Mel Levine’s A Mind at a Time. Dr. Levine also wrote a book specifically for students, Keeping A Head in School, to help them understand how their minds work.


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