We use comparing and contrasting throughout our lives to facilitate new learning, but this tool can also be a great way to learn about the learning process itself. Often when we have a point for comparison, we are able to better understand a given scenario, and when it comes to learning, the better we understand strengths and weaknesses, the better we can promote success.
Specifically, comparing and contrasting a student’s skills against different reference points can expose a great deal about learning, allowing us to make accurate and useful judgments. The following steps detail how comparing and contrasting can be used to better understand learning strengths and weaknesses:
- Find a basis for comparison. All students progress through time with their skills and abilities (that’s the nature of development), so knowing approximately where a student is on a continuum, using other kids as anchor points, is important. For example, you might observe that your 2nd grader writes with very heavy print (which can be a tip-off about something called graphomotor function, or the coordination of movements necessary for controlling a pencil), but you’ll need to have a sense of how other 2nd graders handle a pencil so that you can say whether the heavy print is out of the ordinary. Sources of comparison include older siblings (reflecting back on how they handled similar tasks), friends, classmates, and asking teachers. You don’t need to study up on standards and grade level expectations to do this! You just need to have some general markers for reality checks.
- Take a good look at contrasts in performance. One of the most useful kinds of clues you can find is a difference between two of a kid’s skills or abilities. The reason for this is that such a difference often reveals a strength on one hand and a weakness on the other.
- Make an extra effort to look for strengths, since slipping into the trap of focusing on weaknesses is so easy. Bear in mind that a strength isn’t always an off-the-charts talent. Sometimes highlighting a neurodevelopmental function that is operating just as it should is important. For a student who has had a lot of bad experiences with school, hearing that something is working okay may be very good news. Also, some strengths are relative to a student’s weakness.
For more insights about learning, refer to my book, How Can My Kid Succeed in School?
Dr. Craig Pohlman is the Director of Mind Matters at Southeast Psych. Stay connected by visiting the Mind Matters Facebook page and following @MindMatters_SEP on Twitter.