What is Educational Therapy (ET)?
A child who is struggling and falling behind in learning new skills is not a happy child. Children who have learning disorders, or attention problems that make learning unusually difficult often struggle for several years before parents and teachers figure out that something is standing in their way of learning. These identified learning challenges are ideally mitigated through ET.
ET involves understanding an individual child’s learning challenges, and the patterns and behaviours he/she has developed to work around, or mask, his/her deficits. It offers children with learning disabilities and other learning challenges a wide range of intensive, individualized interventions designed to remediate learning problems. It demystifies learning problems and stimulates children’s awareness of their strengths so they can use those strengths to their best advantage to overcome or compensate for areas of weakness. It also creates and implements a treatment plan that utilizes information from a variety of sources including the child’s social, emotional, psychoeducational, and neuropsychological contexts.
What does ET involve?
ET is not making children learn through the 3 R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic), rather it involves a holistic approach to learning various attributes that are not independent; but each one influences the other. An educational therapist collaboratively sets goals and develops an intervention plan that addresses not only academic difficulties, but also psycho-educational and socio-emotional aspects of life-long learning.
A tutor and or remedial educator frequently focuses on improving grades and commonly uses traditional teaching methods to reach academic goals. Tutors often work with clients alongside parents and teachers in addressing academic needs according to their expertise.
ET differs from tuitions and other remedial interventions in that (1) it considers the impact of school, family, and community on the client’s learning, (2) it fosters communication with all significant members involved with the client, and (3) attends to psycho-educational and socio-emotional goals as well as academic goals. It focusses on the process and is not product oriented.
- ET begins with Planning for instruction – the therapists (1) identify the knowledge and skills they want their client to acquire; (2) determine an appropriate sequence in which to foster such knowledge and skills; and (3) develop activities that will promote maximal learning and keep client continually motivated and on task.
- Once the plan for each client has been set, the introduction of materials as an aid in learning begins. There are numerous ways to help clients acquire new knowledge and skills. The commonly used strategies at DIRECT are as follows –
- Discovery learning – the information is presented in the final form, where clients interact with their physical or social environment and derive information for themselves.
- Mastery learning – to minimize the likelihood that the client has not acquired the maximum knowledge and skill in a particular area, the client is helped to master the content.
- Expository instruction – information is exposed to clients in essentially the form of lectures, explanations, textbooks, and audio/visual instructions.
- Direct instruction – it incorporates elements of both mastery learning and expository instruction, which uses a variety of techniques, designed to keep the client continually and actively engaged in learning.
- Computer-based instruction – is the use of computer as an aid in delivering knowledge and content of information for acquisition of new knowledge and skills.
- Promoting elaboration of materials – it’s not enough for clients to simply learn the information and skills presented in the discovered environment. Clients are far more likely to remember material over the long run if they elaborate on it; that is, if they embellish on the material using things they already know through task generalization.
- Taking diversity in account – instructional decisions individualized and differentiated not just on age but also current levels of development. The background knowledge that our clients bring to the topic at hand will also make a difference. The extent to which our clients are self-regulated learners will also be considered. Instruction is always constructivist in nature and built on existing/prior knowledge.
How does it help?
The process by which people construct their own personal understandings of the world is called individual constructivism, whereas, people’s collective efforts to impose meaning on the world around them is social constructivism. It is believed that individuals construct knowledge from their experiences, rather than simply absorb it in the form presented to them. They then organize what they have learnt in a variety of ways. A concept provides a way of mentally grouping or categorizing objects or events.
At DIRECT, we enable clients to construct accurate interpretations of the world around them by (1) providing opportunities for them to experiment with the physical world, (2) emphasizing conceptual understanding, (3) promoting interaction, and (4) using authentic activities.
Promoting conceptual change is a key aspect of ET. Conceptual change is enabled by (1) determining what misconceptions clients have before instruction, (2) show clients that their current understandings are inadequate, (3) motivate them to develop a more accurate understanding of the topic in question, and (4) monitor their work, as well as their questions and comments during therapeutic session(s), for any persistent misconception.
Lastly, the diverse experiences and knowledge help promote multiple constructions of the same situation, by encouraging them to look at events from the perspective of different groups. At the same time, we are on the lookout for counterproductive constructions that some clients may derive from their experiences.
Who does it help?
Despite some disadvantages of assigning categories and labels to children with special needs, several factors contribute to their continuing use. Children with disabilities are entitled to the most typical and standard educational environment that can reasonably meet their specific needs. They should also be provided with sufficient supplementary aids and support services to make success in that environment possible. At DIRECT, utmost care is provided in making sure that such aids are easily accessible for our clients. The specific areas for which ET is being provided at DIRECT, are as follows –
- Children with specific cognitive or academic difficulties – children with learning disabilities often have average or above average overall scores on intelligence tests but experience difficulty with one or more specific cognitive processing skills. Children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) either have trouble focusing and maintaining their attention or act in a hyperactive, impulsive fashion. Children with speech and communication disorders have abnormalities in speech or language comprehension that significantly interfere with classroom performance.
- Children with social or behavioural problems – children with emotional or behavioural disorders exhibit either externalizing behaviours (e.g., aggression, defiance) or internalizing behavious (e.g., depression, withdrawal from all social interactions) that significantly interfere with their learning and performance. Children with autism have marked impairments in social interaction and communication, repetitive behaviours, and narrowly focused interests. They may also perform more successfully in a structured environment in which desired behaviours are clearly identified and consequences for desired and undesired behaviours are consistently administered.
- Children with physical and sensory challenges – included in this general category are children with physical and health impairments (conditions that result in reduced energy, alertness, or muscle control), visual impairments, hearing loss, and severe and multiple disabilities. Although our strategies will depend to a great extent on the children’s specific challenges, strategies beneficial to most children in this category include maximizing use of technological innovations that can facilitate communication and learning, and providing assistance only when children really need it.
- Children with general delays in cognitive and social functioning – many children who fall into this category have been identified as having mental retardation, a condition characterized by low general intellectual functioning and deficits in adaptive behaviour. Strategies for working effectively with such clients including pacing instructions more slowly than usual, explaining tasks concretely and in very specific terms, and encouraging independent and self-reliant behaviours.
- Children with advanced cognitive development – children identified as gifted often require ET services to meet their full potential. Strategies for promoting the achievement of students with gifts and talents include teaching complex cognitive skills within the context of various academic areas, and providing opportunities for independent study.
How do we achieve this at DIRECT?
All educational therapists at DIRECT are graduates with minimum one year post graduate training in ET. All therapists undergo intensive observational and practical training for a minimum of 250 hours before beginning practice. ET sessions are conducted with a focus on –
- Learning and cognitive processes
- Knowledge construction
- Learning in content areas
- Generalization of learning
- Higher-level thinking skills
- Behavioural impediments in learning, and
- Motivating clients to learn.