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Learning through Your Strengths

Is This the Solution to Our Educational Crisis or Just More Hype?

I have spent 16 years trying to solve the riddle of ''Learning Disabilities.'' After working directly with over a thousand dyslexic, hyperactive, attention deficit disorder (ADD), and ''hopeless learning disabled students,'' I now believe that what some label as ''learning disabilities'' may instead be a shortcoming of some teaching methods and school curriculums.

I am one of those "learning disabled" students. I couldn’t take a multiple-choice test well or read and retain information effectively in school. I struggled with all the signs of ADD. I was a daydreamer, a compulsive talker, and I couldn’t stay focused on any subject unless I was stimulated by the material or had an internal desire to learn it. I was never formally diagnosed with ADD, and I didn’t understand that I was a kinesthetic learner — one who learns by doing — until 10 years after I graduated from college. My husband teases me often with, “You may not know where Bhutan or Tanzania are, but you’re pretty smart when it comes to living life.” I learn by doing, so I guess I make things happen in life by default!

By my second semester of college, I learned what time of day my brain received information best and how to switch my negative self-talk into positive self-talk. I also learned how to effectively communicate with some of my professors about my learning style, which resulted in two of them giving me a different testing format than the rest of the class. Because of these new insights into my unique learning style, I studied almost half as much as I had in the past. I went from a 2.3 GPA my first semester of college to a 3.5 GPA. I didn’t get smarter; I just learned an aspect or two of how I learn. I agree with the adults who have graduated from EmpowerMind: "If I’d only known then what I know now, after taking EmpowerMind, …."

Let’s try an analogy. Let’s say our brains are like computers and we have classrooms of computers (students). Many teachers are cramming Apple software into IBM computers. But there is no converter to make a connection; therefore, learning does not take place. However, like the computer, if a converter is created for students that helps them discover how they learn, then students will learn. Learning to learn creates that converter and facilitates effective learning. It helps students learn to think for themselves.

If a student is a visual learner and has a good imagination, then that student can take auditory information and convert it into mental imagery. For example, I taught 12 "hopeless" students to learn the prologue to Romeo and Juliet using this method. Once they were shown how to imagine the words as pictures in their heads, they remembered them. We also put the prologue to a rap music beat, so those who learned rhythmically could also be reinforced by the beat of the words in addition to the pictures. The more senses the students use to learn something, the better chance they have of retaining the information they have learned. These students learned the 14 lines of the prologue verbatim in only one session and retained 100% four weeks later. Because the students learn how to do this for themselves, they own their own mental converter. I don’t need to be there for them to convert it; they can convert it themselves and learn to take responsibility for their own learning process, no matter who their teacher is, what school they attend, or what material they are learning.

Here’s an example of the conversion process taking place within the student and without my physical proximity. By the end of third grade, eight-year-old Zach didn’t know most of his multiplication tables. It was because he had been taught in a left-brain style, when in reality he was a right-brain learner. So, he just learned to convert it himself. Zach looked at two 7s next to each other for “7x7,” and the two 7s looked like upside down feet to him. So he pictured the upside down feet in his mind. Then he looked at “49” and thought of the 49ers in his mind. Then he attached the two pictures together. He saw the upside down feet belonging to the 49ers, and they were all running upside down. So when he saw “7x7,” he thought of the upside down feet which reminded him of the 49ers. He used this method of association and learned the eight multiplication tables he could not previously learn. He learned them in less than 10 minutes, and he retained the answers without much review.

Another example: I just tutored a student, 10-year-old Garrett, who a few months ago still could not recite 12 of his multiplication tables. His mom was at her wits end: the once-a-week tutoring since kindergarten, the expense, the hours of painful homework, the extra help the school was trying to provide, and yet nothing was working. Garrett was easy for me because he’s a kinesthetic learner and he’s 12, so if I associate anything to bodily functions and we act them out, it’s like magic. For instance, I asked him if a “4” reminded him of anything. He said he loves dogs and dogs have four legs, so he said, “A dog.” (It may sound like a stretch for you, but if it works for him — it works.) So, I had us both get down, on all fours, on the floor next to each other (four times four) and bark like dogs, then we looked up and imagined a “sick teen” (sixteen) coming into the room. (Fortunately, I don’t have video cameras in my basement, or it could get hard to explain.) Anyway, after the 75-minute session he got all 12 multiplication tables perfectly and performed them for his mom when she arrived. His mom got teary-eyed and just couldn’t believe it. It’s so easy for all children to learn when they are taught in the way they learn best.

A 12-year old boy named Donald had an I.Q. of 168. The school system said he was "learning disabled." He was labeled ADHD and was an incessant talker. When I gave him the opportunity to doodle and build a clothes pin model, while listening to an auditory exercise, he got 22 out of 24 questions correct after hearing the auditory exercise only once. If he hadn’t been allowed to doodle and keep his hands active, he would have reversed his score, (which is what he was experiencing in the school system). When he went back to school, his teachers were astonished! They called his mother to find out what had happened to Donald. The secret was that he had uncovered the mystery of how he learns. The school now lets Donald doodle.

When schools have curriculums that help students discover their own way of learning, children’s chances for success increase. This can start in early elementary school and be reinforced in middle and high school. When students learn to learn and think for themselves, they can use it in all aspects of their lives. Students are less likely to drop out of school and have degrading labels attached to their learning process. These tools for success can be applied to any field of study that they choose to explore, regardless of the constantly changing needs of our society.

About the Author

For more information about Kimberly’s company, based in Commerce, MI, her EmpowerMind learning to learn workshops, her books, or her upcoming documentary, visit, or call 800-272-4675.
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