Teachers taught to tune into students' needs

Publication Date: Wednesday Sep 8, 1999

SCHOOLS: Teachers taught to tune into students' needs

Children's Health Council regional site for teacher training

by Charlie Breitrose

Teachers strive to bring the best out of every student in their class. No matter how they try, however, there are a few students who struggle to learn. Ninety-two teachers from around the western United States recently came to the Children's Health Council in Palo Alto to learn how to reach every student in their class.

During the two, one-week sessions in August, the Schools Attuned program showed teachers how to identify where students struggle, as well as where they excel. Mel Levine, the creator of Schools Attuned, said every child learns in a different way.

Levine, a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School, is a founder of the All Kinds of Minds Institute in Chapel Hill, N.C. He is the co-chair of the institute, along with discount brokerage founder Charles Schwab. Through his work on how the brain functions, Levin has found ways to identify why people struggle and how to assist them.

"We want to make sure students are not punished for the way they're wired," Levine said.

Levine said Schools Attuned stresses students should not be stigmatized for their learning problems. A student is not labeled as having a particular learning disorder or pigeonholed as suffering from a disability. Instead, teachers are taught to observe students and treat problems in a way that does not hurt the youths' self-confidence.

"If a child has a problem writing, you probably don't want other children correcting his papers," Levine said.

The students that struggle are not the only ones the program helps. The child who gets straight A's, but has troubles socializing, is also someone Levine wants to aid.

Sally Peck said the program will aid her efforts at The Phillips Brooks School in Menlo Park. The history teacher and part-time administrator said teachers tend to teach in ways they themselves learned best. The Schools Attuned program helped Peck see the differences in the way children learn.

"The program really allows us to be more tuned-in, aware and maybe a little more empathetic to children who are struggling," Peck said.

The program is powerful, but not simple.

"The curriculum is very complex and sophisticated," said Levine. "They are learning what we would teach a neurologist in training."

The teachers attended a week's worth of all-day workshops where they learned half the program. The second half of the program will be taught next summer. This summer's workshop focused on four topics: attention, memory, language processing and language production.

"(The workshop) will not make us experts," Peck said. "What (Phillips Brooks) hopes to do is work more closely with the Children's Health Council on children who are struggling."

Levine said he chose the Children's Health Council to host Schools Attuned because of its reputation and resources. Peck said her school has worked with the Children's Health Council in the past to deal with difficult cases. She and the other attendees of the program will return to the site a few times during the year for additional training.

The Children's Health Council is only one of 10 sites around the country to run the Schools Attuned program, which is tailored to the region it serves.

"The Children's Health Council feels it is important to include bilingualism and multiculturalism, because it's so germane in this area," Levine said. "In North Carolina they focus on the effects of rural life and in New York City the focus is city kids."

In the coming years, Levine hopes to start more centers for Schools Attuned, and may even make the program international. Levine has been approached by educators in Denmark and Canada about bringing a program to them to help their children. 

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