by Rachelle Tannenbaum
The start of a new school year is a time of excitement and hope, but also a time of frustration for many children, who struggle much more than their peers to succeed in school. So what can parents do? In this issue, Dr. Lori Stello-Perez will discuss cognitive skills training and how it may help children.
Lori Stello-Perez, Ph.D., NCSP, is the mother of three young boys, so she knows personally the trials and tribulations of parenthood. Dr. Perez is an assistant professor of Psychology at Anne Arundel Community College. A nationally certified school psychologist who specializes in early intervention and neuropsychology, she has served as an educational consultant to local school districts about issues affecting infants, children and youth. She is also Executive Director of LearningRx of Severna Park, a cognitive skills training center which focuses on identifying the cause of learning struggles and building the necessary skills to be successful.
Getting Ready to Learn: The Skills Your Child Needs Before Stepping Foot in the Classroom
As summer vacation is ending, many of us are hopeful that this school year will be one of tremendous growth, inspiration, and building a love of learning for our children – no matter their age. However, as parents, we are often curious to know if there is something we can do to ignite that spark in our children and to promote their academic success. We ask ourselves, “What is it that makes learning so easy for one child and so difficult for another?" Ask any parent of a child who struggles and they can tell you about the countless hours of additional homework time, the pain we feel as a child says “I’m stupid” or “I hate school," and the hope beyond hopes that this will be the year when it will be different. Are there things that we can do as parents to set our children on the right path to success? The answer is a resounding “YES, there is hope for EVERY child!”
Two parts of “being smart”
Did you know that there were two parts to being smart? You are all familiar with the academic skills needed to be successful, but what about the cognitive skills? When we learn, we process information through a set of cognitive skills before it becomes a part of our knowledge bank. We utilize our automatic processing skills such as attention, working memory and processing speed and our high thinking cognitive skills such as logic and reasoning, auditory processing, visual processing, and long term memory to gather information and add it to our knowledge bank. This is the first part to being smart. Our cognitive skills can be stronger in some areas and weaker in others, but together, they impact the ease and efficiency of getting information into our knowledge bank which is the second part of smart. Our knowledge bank contains learned information and data and provides a storage facility for the accumulation of knowledge about different subjects like math, history, and government. Now, let’s be clear about these two parts – cognitive skills are not the subjects taught to you in the classrooms at school. Those are academic skills. Cognitive skills are the mental capabilities you need before you begin to successfully learn academic disciplines such as algebra, social studies and science. Cognitive skills are the underlying skills that must function for you to successfully read, hear, think, prioritize, plan, understand, remember, and solve problems.
- BASIC POINT 1: When cognitive skills are strong, academic learning is fast, easy, efficient, and even fun.
- BASIC POINT 2: When cognitive skills are weak, academic learning will be a struggle, or worse.
- BASIC POINT 3: Cognitive skills are, therefore, the essential tools for learning.
Think about this as you review these three foundational points: It’s not how much you know (the information that has been crammed into your head), but how effectively you process (or handle) the information you have received. Cognitive skills are the learning skills used to gather information, process and store facts and feeling, and create pictures in our head. As you begin to see how cognitive skills impact everyone’s learning, you can see how important they are. Yet, keep in mind that these are not the skills that a student learns in the classroom. Our teachers are working hard to build upon the knowledge bank. They know their craft well. Too often our teachers are blamed for the educational crisis we are facing, but this is an unfair accusation. There is a reason why Our 2007 Nation’s Report Card reports that 67% of 8th graders are reading below Proficiency levels and 61% are below Proficiency levels in math. Eighty percent of learning struggles are caused by weaknesses in cognitive skills. Our school system is designed to increase a student’s knowledge bank, not to build underlying cognitive skills.
Next: Changing the Brain