Christmas is just around the corner and almost half of the school year is over already. Whether your children are in traditional school or homeschooled, many parents are taking stock of their children’s academic accomplishments so far.

And too many are feeling discouraged and helpless, because their children are experiencing poor grades, low test scores, and even lower self-esteem.

The following information can give you a fresh perspective on this issue, and encourage you to have a conversation with your child’s teacher, or make changes to your homeschooling program.

Did you know that the majority of the population are Hands-On or Picture Learners? Yet most teaching is geared for Listening and Print learners who are also schedule-oriented, linear learners. These people make up only about 1 percent of the population. These are the three to five students in any classroom who get all the A’s.

Hands-on and Picture Learners are often considered “special needs” learners because they do not learn in the “normal” way. But how is “normal” being defined? Is it normal just because it’s been done this way for years in traditional classrooms? Or, will we use the scientific definition of “normal” which translates to “the majority”?

Hands-On Learners make up 50-60 percent of the population, 80 percent when combined with Picture Learners. These are potentially the most brilliant people: mechanics, engineers, builders, architects, artists, musicians, scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs.

What would happen if the classroom became a place that truly provided for these “normal, average” learners? The result would be that the Hands-On and Picture Learners would become the A students.

Instead, these are the learners who are labeled with disability labels: ADD, ADHD, Dyslexic, slow, below average, etc. These are the kids who experience failure almost daily in school. These are the kids who don’t realize how smart they are and that they have unlimited possibilities. They don’t realize they could go to college, start their own businesses, go to graduate school, seek a specialized career — in other words, choose exactly what they want to do!

What if we looked at these students from a learning style perspective? Here are some examples:

--- If a student needs to “say it out loud” in order to learn something, we would recognize the Verbal Learner, instead of thinking that student is disruptive.

--- If a student focuses better when doodling, we would recognize the Sketching Learner, instead of labeling the student ADD.

--- If a student does not learn spelling words by writing them over and over, we would recognize that this student is a non-print learner and find the modalities that do work, rather than saying this student is dyslexic.

When students are looked at through the lens of learning styles, very few are labeled as disabled.

Students who come to our program have often been labeled with a learning disability by their school. The first thing we do is give them a learning style assessment. This is such a no-brainer to us! Would you build a house without a blueprint? How can you know what will work for a student’s learning if you don’t have his learning style blueprint?

Once we know the student’s dispositions, modalities, interests, talents and best work environment, we can move forward customizing a learning plan. This is what Individualized Learning Plan (IEP) really means --- customizing for a student’s strengths, and every single student should have one.

Then the magic happens:

---A “dyslexic” student begins to listen to audio books and a couple of years later becomes a voracious reader.

---An “ADD” student is given the space to create, tinker, invent — and suddenly focus is no longer an issue.

---A student who supposedly has “low comprehension” begins to thrive when encouraged to draw her assignments

The possibilities are endless. When educators choose to focus on the learner’s strength, everything changes and truly no child is left behind. Furthermore, children who are supported in their strengths by the adults in their lives become confident young people who have no need to bully others and do not attract bullying, either. These young people develop a strong inner sense of who they are, and believe they have something to contribute.

This verse from James 3:1 gives us all something to think about: “Not many of you should become teachers, because you know that we teachers will be judged with greater strictness than others.”

Christian parents and teachers are called to help children discover who they are as unique creations of God and what God has in mind for them. They will discover this by being celebrated for their strengths and talents. I am hopeful that we will take this seriously.

©2013 by Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis

Mariaemma Pelullo-Willis is a California credentialed teacher and certified Master Catechist who holds a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She is co-author of “Discover Your Child’s Learning Style” and “Midlife Crisis Begins in Kindergarten.”