Damage Control for Learning Disabilities: The Hybrid Teacher

09/06/2012 01:24 pm ET | Updated Nov 06, 2012
  • Jerome Schultz Clinical Neuropsychologist; Lecturer on Psychology, Dept. of Psychiatry Harvard Medical School

In my last blog, I described what I regard as the failure of the inclusion movement to meet the needs of students with LD, and promised to introduce you to the Hybrid Teacher -- the evolutionary bi-product of a well-designed co-teaching collaboration between a highly skilled general education teacher and an equally skilled and experienced special educator. I hope I got your attention. If not, may I recommend reading that blog as a prelude to this one.

Let me use this opportunity to share the top four characteristics of this new breed of teacher, so that you will recognize one when you see her or him. In my view, a professional with many of the traits listed below is the closest thing I can find to a "great teacher" for kids with learning disabilities. As I said in Part I, this is not a solution for the dearth (or death) of self-contained specialized programs in which intensive specialized instruction can take place (clearly my preference), but perhaps a way to do some damage control.

The Hybrid Teacher...

...understands the relationship between emotion and cognition. Unless she's working with a child who is known to have primary emotional disturbance, she does not assume that learning difficulties are the consequence of being upset. Rather, she understands that emotional reactions, and in many cases negative behaviors, are coping mechanisms triggered by the stress generated by frustration and fear of what a child sees as inevitable failure. She does not use this understanding to excuse, or allow the student to excuse, this behavior, but to help explain it and work through it or around it. She also understands that many of these negative emotions and troubling behaviors go away when students feel competent and successful.

...knows that students learn in different ways, but does not trivialize this by saying: "He's a visual learner." The Hybrid Teacher says things like: Because testing and my observations have confirmed that Jamilla can't hold on to the auditory images of [sounds, syllables, words, sentences, paragraphs, my voice, the voices of many kids and teachers in the cafeteria, the sequence of directions, etc. etc., etc.], I need her to understand that (1) this task is going to be difficult and (2) that she has the skills, or that I am going to teach her the skills to handle this task, and (3) that some of the other kids may not have to use these tools, but that she does, and (4) that she will be successful if she does.

...focuses on the learner first and the curriculum second. He takes the student to a place of cognitive and psychological safety before venturing into deeper waters of new material. He reviews not what was taught yesterday, but the student's feeling of success with that material. This teacher understands the importance of creating a positive connection to prior learning, of tapping into a student's positive emotions about a task or a topic, and helping students recognize and reduce negative influences on learning (e.g., automatically saying or thinking: I can't DO math!") by practicing thought-stopping techniques and generating positive self-statements that are tied to actual successful experiences.

...demonstrates the ability to expose students to a variety of stimuli, and knows when students are connected emotionally and cognitively to the experience. The Hybrid Teacher also gives students the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned in a variety of ways, and publicly values these alternative ways to display knowledge and skills.

Other characteristics of the Hybrid Teacher will follow in subsequent blogs. Stay tuned, and let me know what you think -- or better yet, if you know any of these exquisite creatures!