It seems so long ago now, but in my life before kids I was a physiotherapist. As such I was an expert assessor of the neurological, cardiorespiratory, and musculoskeletal systems, combining subjective history and objective testing to formulate working diagnoses and subsequent treatment plans for my patients. Not until reading Dr. Mel Levine's A Mind at a Time five years ago did I consider that struggling learners require a similar systematic approach. In Revealing Minds: Assessing to Understand and Support Struggling Learners, Craig Pohlman delves into the nitty-gritty of assessment, using a neurodevelopmental framework to organize findings or 'phenomenae' and to assist in developing a learning plan.
Have I lost you already? Perhaps. Let's use Dr. Pohlman's book to figure out why.
Were you paying attention? There are multiple facets to one's ability or inability to attend to the task at hand. Did you sleep well last night? Do you ever sleep well? To take in new information you need to have adequate mental energy. You also need focused cognitive activation so that you don't drift off task. For instance, when you read the word 'neurological' above did you think about your dearly departed granny who died of a stroke? If so, you might have completely missed the point of the paragraph, through no fault of your own. A third aspect of attention is one's production control system which has more to do with controlling what you do, or your output, than what information comes in.
My second sentence above is a doozie! Thirty-two words, in fact. I'd say its a personal record, if I kept track of such things. It would be easy to forget the beginning of the sentence by the time you got to the end, especially if your short-term memory was weak. There are also quite a few long and potentially unfamiliar words, demanding you, the reader, to access your long-term memory for clues as to their meaning. Each word is composed of 2 to 15 letters, each with their own individual sound which imposes on the reader's paired associative memory. Quite frankly, it's a miracle the sentence can be read at all.
Reading draws upon one's receptive language abilities. It begins at the phonological level, as the brain converts letters on the page into sounds, a highly unnatural process. Not only do the formulated words need to be understood, but also their relative meaning given the sentence structure and context. "When push comes to shove," is an expression that could summon violent images in the mind of the most literal reader.
Other Neurodevelopmental Factors to Consider
My opening paragraph put no demands on your Spatial Ordering. If, however, I were to ask you to copy a pencil sketch of a three dimentional cube, that would be another thing altogether. Temporal-Sequential Ordering comes into play when assembling Ikea furniture. Neuromotor Function refers to your ability to control your body's movements. It can be broken down into four main categories--gross motor, fine motor, graphomotor, and oromotor--none of which are being significantly taxed as you read this blog. Higher-order cognition, on the other hand, is working overtime to see the parallels between physiotherapy assessment and treatment and those used to help struggling learners. Finally, Social Cognition may come into play when you leave a comment. Will you be friendly or analytical in your response? Or both? Which would be most appropriate given the present context?
Revealing Minds is an absolute treasure for any educational professional who wishes to better understand and thereby assist their students. It is not a system of assessment that will result in a label. On the contrary, it will produce a clear, individualized student profile highlighting not only weaknesses, but also relative strengths and affinities. Neurodevelopmental Assessment is no more restricted to testing than is physiotherapy assessment. Extensive history taking is key, not only from a child's teachers, but also from parents and the students themselves. The appendices are extensive, offering abundant supporting research, tests and batteries, and learning plan resources. I can't over emphasize how eager I am to put Dr. Pohlman's approach into action. It's not a question of if, but when.