Recently, a friend of mine sent me the book A Mind at a Time by Dr. Mel Levine. Dr. Levine, known as “America’s Top Learning Expert,” shows in this book how every child can succeed. He explores the unique attributes of each child’s brain in relation to how a person learns. He discusses the strengths and weaknesses we bring to the table, and how as parents and teachers we can learn to encourage our child’s strengths and bypass the weaknesses. One of the best points he makes is regarding how in school children are pushed to be successful in everything; whereas, in life we almost always specialize based on our abilities, experiences, strengths, and weaknesses. The pressure, he says, is for kids to be generalists—skilled in and good at every area of learning. He says, “different brains are differently wired.”
Dr. Levine introduces the reader to the eight neuro-developmental systems in the brain: attention control, memory, language, spatial ordering, sequential ordering, motor, higher thinking, and social thinking. He shows how holes in any of these areas cause certain performance in the classroom. One of my favorite quotes in the book was “report cards are notoriously poor at predicting how your child will eventually do in a career.” It especially intrigued me that different profiles succeed at different times in a person’s life. One person’s brain set-up might be quite successful in the elementary grades, another in high school, another in college, and another during mid-life. Did you know that there is a direct relationship between how our kids were as babies, to how they will perform in school, or in which neuro-developmental system they might face weaknesses?
Dr. Levine takes the eight systems and fully explains each one, simultaneously giving true stories about students he has seen through the years (who have been sent to him by well-meaning parents and educators). In the attention control system, he exhorts parents and educators not to lump all kids with these issues in the same basket. He encourages us to focus on individual strengths and weaknesses. Under intake control, Dr. Levine talks about depth and detail control. He gives an example of two students who could have just as easily been taken out of my own family. Student A is highly perfectionistic, takes his time, works slowly and carefully (often painstakingly slow). Yet he gets bogged down in the minutiae, misses big themes, real issues, and wider implications. Student B has no problem seeing the big picture; he is good at conceptualizing and generalizing. However, this student misses many details, fails to take information in deeply, and may miss a problem in math because he failed to notice the distinction between 46 and 64.
Part way through the book, Dr. Levine discusses how the brain’s output control begins to function more slowly during high school, requiring one to be more reflective and less impulsive. The need of the student is to be able to work slowly and thoughtfully, yet at this stage, it is common in high schools for teachers to force students to work fast, think quickly, take timed tests, and meet tight deadlines.