Learning environment matters more than IQ or talent

My son can’t take notes and listen because he has bad working memory (doing two things at once) but he is great at memorizing, so when he’s with tutors he doesn’t take notes. He listens to the tutor and memorizes as he listens.

I think people would tell me I’ve set things up poorly for him: One-on-one is indulgent, rarely leaving home is not realistic, lessons will get too hard to memorize, etc. I don’t want to hear that because it’s working well for him now and I love seeing him so happy bouncing from tutor to tutor and test to test.

He was bilingual as a toddler. His nanny spoke only Spanish and they hung out with other kids in the same situation so everyone spoke Spanish all the time. There was so much Spanish in our house that I can speak great Spanish if I’m talking to toddlers: “¡Ayúdame! ¡Ven aca! ¡Damelo!”

When I found out he had a verbal processing disorder I ditched the Spanish. But it was clear to me, about five years later, that it was a terrible decision. And now research shows that bilingual kids are better able to overcome dyslexia. Blah. Even as I write this I’m so disappointed.

I stopped with the Spanish mostly because I worried that other people would tell me kids like him should learn one language. That was the last time I made decisions about his learning out of fear.

In a fascinating discussion about bilingual kids with dyslexia, researchers found that the limiting factor is not the second language or dyslexia. The limiting factor is the learning environment. The conclusion to this interview is profound:

Scientific studies have shown that the fears about raising or educating children are largely unfounded. To the contrary, we now know that children have the capacity to learn two languages as naturally and as easily as one in the home or in school. Meeting the learning challenges of struggling second language learners calls for educators, professionals, and parents who can create learning environments that allow them to achieve their full capacity.

Of course this conclusion is true for all learners in all areas of study. Parents who homeschool spend so much time worrying about curriculum, but instead, we should focus on the learning environment. If the child is in an environment that works for that child, the motivation and determination of all humans to learn what interests us will prevail.

4 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    I agree that the learning environment always matters. In a peaceful environment we can learn and understand faster, whether our IQ is low or high.

  2. Susan P
    Susan P says:

    My husband can’t take notes because writing is too distracting for him – he can’t listen and write at the same time. Listening intently to lectures, reading the book, and doing the homework works for him. Just wanted to mention that he successfully graduated from college without having note-taking skills. :)

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    This post is about trust even though the word isn’t used. You’ve written about trust numerous times before on this blog whether it’s about trusting yourself or other people. I don’t know which is harder. I think it’s safe to say it’s dependent on the circumstance. I do know trusting someone else involves having less control and more faith. When you trust someone else, you’re trusting you’ve made the correct decision to leave the decision to someone else so really you’re trusting yourself and someone else. In this case, it’s about trusting your son to discover what works best for him as a learner including the environment. It doesn’t preclude you from giving advice based on your observations and experience. Ultimately, though, it’s a lesson for your son to know when to listen to advice and when to trust himself. After all, it was his decision.

  4. JML
    JML says:

    I had my sons assessed and both came back with mild learning disabilities and the recommendation that they be pulled from French-immersion stream and be placed in an English-only stream. That sounded like nonsense to me. I think school is dull enough for them. Not allowing them the opportunity and challenge to learn a second language would make it excruciating.

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