In my last post I referred to the talk Norman Doidge gave at the Centre for Confidence and Well-being.

I enjoyed the presentation, although once my companion, Alan Coady, had pointed out the similarities between the speaker and Woody Allan, I kept waiting for the jokes. Believe me, they did not appear.

However, I do take issue with his contention that compensatory interventions are to be deplored. He used the example of students with poor memory tape recording lectures. As I tapped away on my netbook knowing all would disappear into the ether otherwise, he declared that because such strategies do not address the aetiology of the problem they were to be discouraged.

child broken armI was distressed by the a clip of little children with poor motor control whose good arms were encased in plaster all day so as to re-train damaged limbs. Doidge stressed the necessity of incremental concentrated practice to enable new neurons to take over lost functions.

There can be no argument that such interventions must have a profound and positive effect upon the nervous system and that eventually re-generation is possible.

However, Doidge seems to ignore the impact on a child’s need to belong, to feel as much like his or her peers as possible. I still shudder at the memory of the patch I had to wear to correct a lazy eye and the ostracism I endured. Had I been of a piractical disposition I might have got away with it.

While Doidge’s talk focused principally on neurological difficulties that result in physical symptoms, he also appeared to say that teachers of children with learning difficulties were working inappropriately unless they acted to ‘re-programme’ the brain.

This is a concern many of us have for  much of our working life. But realistically – and for the sake of learners’ sense of self worth – is is also our job to provide alternative strategies and resources if children are failing to learn at the pace of their peers or their own intellectual capacity. The balance between spending time improving memory skills and teaching a child to use an electronic word bank, for example, is one that we need to examine regularly.

This may mean that the learner will always have difficulty in some areas – but then, don’t we all?