Neurodiversity and Learning Differences: How Understanding the Underlying Causes Can Empower Your Learners

Empowering Education: Understanding the Underlying Causes of Neurodiversity and Learning Differences

Neurodiversity – What Are The Underlying Causes? Part 1

In these two short segments on learning differences, we continue our kōrero with Annette Tofaeono, a neurodiversity educator at Ako Aoteara, to discuss some of the underlying causes of learning differences.

Understanding Learning Differences

In a world of ever-growing neurodiversity, it’s crucial to understand the learning differences and difficulties that may arise in the classroom. Recently, Annette Tofaeono and I sat down to discuss this critical topic. Here’s a summary of our conversation, designed to shed light on how to adapt teaching practices to meet students’ needs.

Recognising Learning Differences

Learning differences often fall under the umbrella term of neurodiversity. These differences could be due to a lack of schooling rather than literacy or learning difficulties. They require us to think about our teaching methods, considering whether we are pitching programmes at the right level.

Annette highlighted the importance of alignment between the programme’s readability level and the students’ abilities. If a programme is pitched too high, it may appear that students have difficulties, when in fact, the mismatch in levels is the problem.

Addressing the Widespread Issue

This issue of mismatched levels is widespread. Many educators find that trades and vocational content often maps onto the higher steps of the learning progressions (Step 5 and 6). Technical vocabulary often compounds this problem.

Annette’s testing across different programmes revealed that in most cases, they were over-pitched, leading to unnecessary challenges for learners.

Implementing Good Teaching Practices

So, what can you do about this? Annette offers some practical suggestions emphasising using plain English, keeping sentences short, and pre-teaching technical vocabulary.

These strategies may not necessarily solve a neurodiversity problem, but they can alleviate comprehension difficulties and other problems that may arise in the classroom. Such practices reflect general good teaching principles and can be instrumental in supporting students who face challenges.

Annette also touched on the need to assess the complexity of technical vocabulary, especially in specific programmes like construction. By addressing these areas, you can help students realise their capabilities and abilities within the programme.

Understanding and adapting to learning differences isn’t just about catering to individual needs; it’s about aligning our teaching methods and materials with students’ abilities. The insights from Graham and Annette remind us to examine our practices critically and to embrace strategies that foster an inclusive and effective learning environment.

Whether you’re a seasoned educator or just beginning your teaching journey, these insights could reshape how you approach learning differences. If you’re interested in delving deeper into this area, you’re not alone. Let’s continue this conversation and strengthen our collective understanding.

Neurodiversity – What Are The Underlying Causes? Part 2

In this next segment, we continue our discussion of some of the underlying causes.

Here’s a further summary:

Dyslexia often brings up heated discussions and divides opinion. Our task as educators is to delve into this issue, striving to better understand and support our ākonga (students).

Equity in the Learning Journey

All of us have different starting points in our learning journey, but equity in education remains a crucial goal. Intergenerational factors such as genetics and family history can contribute to disparities, including dyslexia running through families. We often witness common patterns where students have never had a working parent, and this affects their perception of work and education.

Intergenerational Factors

For Māori and Pacific people, intergenerational factors also include the history of colonisation. Literacy levels were high, but things changed, flipping the scenario completely. Now, opportunities and access to quality education vary significantly among different groups.

The Nature vs Nurture Debate

When looking into dyslexia, the nature versus nurture debate is becoming more prevalent. Is the rise in dyslexia diagnosis due to genetics or environmental factors? This question is currently sparking more and more debates among researchers and academics. Statistics about dyslexia may be underrated, and the lack of proper monitoring contributes to this uncertainty.

The Changing Perception of Dyslexia

Since 2007, when dyslexia was officially acknowledged in New Zealand, awareness has increased. More inclusivity, understanding, and research are now available, but we still have a long way to go. Educators like you and I are key to this process.

How Understanding Helps Educators

As vocational or trades tutors, understanding the underlying causes of dyslexia is essential. Having empathy and understanding can make a huge difference. It’s not about blaming educators or ākonga; it’s about learning more to provide support.

Educators often feel uncertain or afraid because they don’t know what to do. But understanding dyslexia helps in fostering patience and planning the right steps. It might be challenging, but avoiding it isn’t the solution. We must embrace this challenge for the benefit of our ākonga.

Educators’ Struggles

The struggle goes deep, and opinions differ among us. Some educators might avoid situations that make them uncomfortable. Yet, this avoidance can hinder our ability to help our ākonga.

The journey to understanding dyslexia is complex and multifaceted. As educators, we must confront our fears and uncertainties, dig deep into both nature and nurture aspects, and work tirelessly to support our ākonga.

Stay tuned for the next segment on strategies for supporting your ākonga.

More on Neurodiversity

If you found this useful, we have more on neurodiversity and learning differences here

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

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