When we think about how we learn, most of us do not realise that several perceptions are involved to make us learn in different ways.
1. Visual Perception
This is not whether we can see well or not, but a person’s ability to form good visual images from what they see and to be able to retain them in the brain. Many images need to be retained in the correct order (eg. one’s phone number, and all spelling words). This is called visual sequential memory.
Many have particularly good visual perception, and some will learn to read without seemingly being taught. At an early age, they may read signs, flashcards and words on television.
However, if a person has poor visual perception, they will not learn through visual memory. They may depend instead on listening and trying to interpret what they hear into spelling. Typical spelling mistakes for this person would be ‘any’ as ‘eni’ or does’ as ‘dus’ or even ‘duz’.
2. Auditory Perception
It is a vital process in learning. Many of the learning disabled have poor retention of what they hear or cannot decide which noise they are listening to – the voice of the teacher or the chatter of others.
It becomes increasingly difficult for those who have these problems in auditory perception to attend to and retain the appropriate information they are receiving through auditory channels. They are often described as having ‘poor listening skills’ and may have trouble remembering more than one spoken instruction at a time.
3. Kinesthetic Perception
We also gain information through movement. The nervous system retains the memory of the movement of muscles, bones, and touch. It is a vital area of learning. If one were to think about when we were learning the basic skills, the importance of kinesthetic memory must be accepted.
An example of this is that many of us, when asked to spell a difficult word, may say ‘let me write it’. The pen seems to spell the word without direction, because the memory of the movement in writing the word previously is used. We may then look at the word and say ‘yes, it looks right’, or ‘no, it looks wrong’. So we are using visual memory as well.
It will be obvious then, that anyone who has a deficit in anyone, or even two of these perceptions will be greatly disadvantaged in learning, particularly when they or she attempts the basic tasks of acquiring skills in reading and writing and spelling, and in some cases, mathematics.
Many terms have been used for this problem including dyslexia, word blindness, minimal brain dysfunction and learning disabilities. Whatever term is used, the need is for an awareness that some people may have this disadvantage and the realisation that each one can be helped.
Understanding How We Learn in Different Ways
A great amount of frustration is experienced by parents for example, in trying to identify their child’s problems. Parents know that their child is not coping up to his or her ability, but they are thwarted in their attempts by a ‘glossing over’ by some teachers.
It is often hard for teachers and parents to detect a person with a learning disability when they show brilliance in many areas. He or she may well be fluent in expressing their thoughts or ideas. They may be outstanding in understanding mathematics (except if the questions are written), or may have exceptional ability in art or music. And yet, have great problems in acquiring skills in reading and spelling and therefore in writing.
It is said that Winston Churchill, Hans Christian Andersen, and Leonardo Da Vinci were dyslexics. We also believe that Kerry Packer, Dick Smith, and stars of stage and television like Tom Cruise, Fonzie, and Cher also have dyslexia.
Every student has the right to leave school able to read and write sufficiently well to cope in the community, which is achievement-orientated and highly dependent on the written word.
We believe that one in five have a learning problem to some degree. The range of their intelligence and ability will be from low average to very high. There have been many instances where parents or teachers have rung deeply concerned about a child who is obviously gifted. Yet they have inexplicable problems in learning to read, spell and therefore to write down information, in line with the expectations of the child’s teachers or parents.