Inside a Learning Specialist's Practice, Part 1

In the next 4 weeks I am going to chronicle the first 4 sessions with a new student of mine. The write-up below describes the first Family Session which occurs before I begin one-on-one work with a new student. My hope is to open up what I do to parents so they understand exactly what I do as a Learning Specialist and how it is different from taking a child to tutoring. The picture shown here is not my new student but nevertheless the sad mood that he exhibits very much resembled Augie when I met him tonight. Sad, to say the least; wonderfully this will quickly change for him once he begins coming to me.


The ‘D.M. family’ came for their initial consultation meeting this evening.  Their oldest son, Augie, is going into second grade and his parents were informed by his classroom teacher that they should seek help for him over the summer.  This is where I come in; I was referred to Augie’s family by a very satisfied mom who brings her two children to see me every week.

Augie is the oldest of two boys, his younger brother Nicky is only 14 months younger. Nicky was noticeably more confident and active in my office than Augie.  There are many games, activities, and things to play with in my office; Nicky dove right in and was eager to try everything.  Augie was more subdued and not nearly as boisterous.  His fun was muted while Nicky’s was bubbling over.

What explains the difference in their mannerisms while they were in my office? It turns out the younger brother has the OptiKode Learning Style of a traditional learner.  He is dominant in the pathways that lead to strong math and reading aptitude: he is Thinking Dominant and Reading Dominant. Augie, the older brother who I will help over the summer, is Reading Dormant - this always leads to students struggling with reading to some degree. 

When children struggle with reading, there is always a loss of morale, confidence and self-esteem.  I saw this in Augie tonight; he was tentative, less eager to explore and a lot quieter than his younger brother.  Augie didn’t engage me at all whereas his younger brother did several times. Augie’s dad reported tonight that over the course of the year Augie also seemed to lose his prior level of confidence on the baseball field. I explained that when children lose confidence in the classroom, it often leaks into other areas of their lives.  Some kids, like Augie, seem to lose their footing both inside and outside of the classroom.

During the evaluation tonight, I discussed Augie’s OptiKode with his parents, being careful to phrase things in a positive way, not a negative one that his attentive ears could pick up on. Would I be another teacher who would focus on his shortcomings and ask him to learn in a way that wasn’t working for him? Would I use the same methods that  hadn’t helped all year long?   Could I possibly know something that his classroom teacher didn’t?  I knew all these sorts of thoughts were going through Augie’s head. 

During the first family session, my goal is for my new student to grow comfortable in my setting and with me and to answer parents’ questions about the process their child will go through. As a former Clinical Psychotherapist, I also make room for both parents to bring up their worry and fears. Parents always tear up when their emotions surface; the worry they carry is heartbreaking and it is important to let them share that with me the first visit. At that moment I promise them that I WILL get their child moving towards success and just as importantly they will soon get their happy child back. This is a promise I do not take lightly and I have never broken it in almost 20 years as a Learning Specialist.

At the end of tonight’s evaluation, both Augie and Nicky learned that they had each earned 200 points for coming tonight and having a fun time while I talked to their mom and dad.   They enjoyed looking through everything in my prize cabinet and both left pleased with something they chose.  As the whole family left my office, I could feel the parents’ growing hope and the youngest boy’s pleasure at the play-filled time he had just had.  Augie, on the other hand, exuded a sadness as he said goodbye.  He did not make eye contact with me or bear even the smallest smile.  My heart sank as he left; he truly seemed sad, a child whose self-esteem and joy had been buried as his struggles with school and learning had mounted.  I know this will quickly change however when he starts coming next Monday.  As I explained to his parents, within a month Augie will have some pep in his step and he will begin making eye contact and smiling when he comes to see me. Just as importantly, during the first weeks he will begin to make measurable progress that will continue building and will lead him to feeling confident and happy again. He will absolutely be a new kid and learner by the time 2nd grade begins in 8 weeks.

It doesn’t take long to get struggling learners on track and thriving when I know their OptiKode Learning Style. Each learner has 1 of 120 different OptiKode Learning Styles. Each OptiKode presents me with a clearcut formula for success with each child. Each OptiKOde shows me HOW each child needs to learn - whether, for example they need to be active, kinetic learners, whether they need a lot of verbalizing or storyboarding, whether music will help, whether images and graphics will benefit them, whether changing locations every 12-14 minutes will re-energize them. Each child needs a bundled tool-kit of methods which puts and keeps them in their learning zone. Once they are there, learning is a breeze, skill-building is effortless, and progress is guaranteed.

And all of this will be described in the coming weeks as Augie begins to reboot his learning with me. Week by week you will be able to read how Augie becomes a natural born learner and does so according to his OptiKode Learning Style.