There is one approach that I believe works best when trying to help a struggling learner. This is it.
After spending all last week offering support for struggling writers, I sat down to help my own son complete a writing assignment for one of his distance learning classes.
We brainstormed ideas. He grew irritable. We talked about different options for presenting the information (essay or slides?). He started clinching his fists.
Finally, after about 15 minutes with no progress, he said through gritted teeth, “I have things I want to say. I just don’t want to say them THIS WAY.”
Recognizing that the mere thought of writing, something that is very difficult for him as a dysgraphic learner, was creating too much anxiety, I backed off.
“Well, then tell me. What would you say about this topic? We don’t have to write it down. Let’s just have a conversation.”
He adeptly walked me through his perspective on the cultural geography of the United States. I marveled at his insight.
Later, after a break, I asked if he wanted me to sit with him and type out a few of the things he had verbalized.
He told me he didn’t need me to help now. “I already typed it. I guess just needed to talk about it first.”
My son is 17. Three years ago, it would not have ended this way. I would’ve had to sit with him for another 20-30 minutes, praying we could get something on the page, hoping he wouldn’t meltdown. Seven years ago, he would’ve broken his pencil and refused to do any writing at all.
What do I think changed?
Well, time and experience has helped to be sure.
And along with his own developmental growth, the very best thing I’ve done to help him as he struggles is to focus on his strengths first.
What Is The Best Way To Help A Struggling Learner?
I share this example from my own life with a struggling learner because it illustrates how to take a strength based approach to learning, even in an area that is definitely not a strength. Writing is my son’s nemesis, but he still needed to complete the assignment.
We got it done by starting with what he is good at first. He has always been a little mini-professor. Giving him the opportunity to tell me all the things allowed him to build confidence in the topic itself. It also showed both of us that he was more than capable with the material. The only thing left to do was figure out how to deliver it back to his teacher.
I was prepared to have him only do an outline to start and email the teacher to let him know. I was prepared to type whatever he said, to avoid the actual brain/hand connection that can be a struggle with his dysgraphia.
Both would’ve been fine, but he didn’t need the accommodation this time. He took the confidence he felt in the area that was a strength (i.e. verbally teaching me all about the topic) and applied it the area of weakness (writing the paper).
It’s exactly what the research has shown over and over again to be true of strength based learning.
Why Strength Based Learning Is So Effective For Struggling Learners
The truth is, our struggling learners hear an awful lot about what they aren’t doing, or in some instances, what they can’t do.
Overtime, this focus on what is not working slowly diminishes the child’s confidence and self-perception. A strength based approach flips it and allows the struggling learner to feel less of the struggle and more success.
And the best part is, it works.
Resources For A Strength Based Approach For Your Struggling Learner
I have already written at length about Strength Based Learning and I will link those posts for you below.
Even better, my friend Colleen and I discussed this in practical detail on her podcast last week. If you think this approach makes sense for your own struggling learner, our conversation covers everything you need to get started!
In an effort to help as many families as possible right now, I have also updated my strength based learning workbook to include a much more in-depth look at strength based learning itself, along with more sample learning plans from real life families with struggling learners.
In honor of my conversation on the Raising Lifelong Learners Podcast, I am offering 25% off the workbook. You can get it HERE with coupon code RLL25 .
More Ideas, Support And Encouragement
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.