Our Journal

Putting the Practical Back into Learning

Article featured in the Vancouver Sun

Maureen Steltman’s daughter was told she would never make it into UBC because of her dyslexia. In elementary school, she was behind on learning her sounds and after four years of learning assistance, wasn’t keeping up.

But Steltman’s daughter isn’t the type to be told she can’t do something. Her parents transferred her to Fraser Academy, where the curriculum was tailored to her learning style. The first book she finally read was Angela’s Ashes, a memoir by Frank McCourt.

“I think we’re missing out on a big chunk of human potential,” Steltman said. “People with learning differences think differently and they solve problems in the most creative ways because they are not bound by the finite ways most of us think.”

Both of Steltman’s children had learning challenges and her experiences with mainstream education at that time led her to become head of Fraser Academy.

Fraser Academy is a school for children of average to gifted intelligence, who have cognitive barriers to learning to read, write or do math at the same pace or mastery as their peers. Many of the students are dyslexic, process information at a different speed, or struggle with working memory.

Signs of these differences in children come out in something as simple as being unable to learn to tie a shoe, difficulty understanding left from right, or having a hard time following step-by-step instructions.

Often, in mainstream education, these kids do not get properly assessed until they are in Grades 4 to 6 — and at that point they are already aware of their differences. Steltman recalls her son coming home after a particularly bad experience with a teacher, saying: “This proves it; now I know I’m a loser.”

For parents it can be frustrating to see their child, who may communicate at a high level, struggle in school.

“The kids at our school all have the intellect to go onto post-secondary education,” Steltman said. “A rocky school start is not an indication of overall school success if the right education intervention is in place.” She recommends that parents seek out a psychoeducational assessment if their child is smart, but struggling in school.

Steltman credits B.C.’s curriculum for being one of the best available — but, of course, reading, writing and numeracy are essential skills that everyone must develop.

Furthermore, technology has required that students, more than ever, need to process abstract information — a challenge for kids who learn best by doing.

“Take money for instance,” Steltman said. “Now that we do everything electronically, kids don’t have real money to get a sense of what makes up a dollar. We try to put the practical back into learning.”

Putting the practical back into learning was immensely helpful to Steltman’s daughter who, after being told that she couldn’t, graduated from UBC with a degree in philosophy and a minor in economics.

For more information around language-based learning difficulties, please visit the Parent’s Resource Centre.