Not investigating comprehensively into the factors preventing a child’s success in learning is one of the mistakes of ineffective teaching. The Person, Environment, Occupation Model is one of the frameworks I use to investigate the factors.
For example, below shows the model with some of the possible factors that could be preventing a child from successfully learning to do handwriting. The Person factors are the abilities of the child, the Environmental factors are the external factors and the Occupation factors are the complexities of the task itself.
Investigating the Person factor.
Sometimes, adults may find it difficult to accept that the child may have difficulty picking up ordinary skills such as handwriting because “everyone just picks it up”. However, everyone is inherently gifted with their own strengths and weaknesses. By doing proper investigation, we are helping the child succeed with the appropriate learning strategies.
Assessing the child’s abilities is one of the tasks that Occupational Therapists do. In my work, I use both standardised assessments and (clinical) observations for the assessments. Standardised assessments are scientifically proven measuring instruments. These assessments have been tested on a big children population. The data from these assessments may help to identify if the child is preforming on, below or above average level. For example, if the child was assessed for his motor skills using the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency- Second edition and found to be performing well below his age level for fine motor skills, the Occupational Therapist may use this data to work on bringing this child to average level within a specific treatment time.
Apart from using the standardised assessments, the Therapist may also use her own (clinical) observations to explain the results of the assessments. This is because sometimes raw data from the standardised assessments does not fully explain what is going on in the assessment. For example if a child is feeling very anxious during the assessment, this may be a contributing factor to the child scoring poorly in the standardised test. The therapist may include this clinical observation to explain the results from the standardised tests in the assessment report.
Investigating the Environmental factor.
Investigating the Environmental factor is very important because this is where the child has to conduct his daily tasks. The school is an example of the child's environment. For a child to be successful in school, the child has to participate in classroom activities such as following classroom rules, participating in social activities and working on independent tasks. The Occupational Therapist have to ensure that the tools the child is learning in the clinical setting is successfully transferred into the more complex and dynamic setting of the school. Thus, the need to investigate the environmental factors comprehensively. For example; how is the child behaving in school, how does the school respond to the child, what interventions can be implemented into the school setting successfully?
Working together with the school, the Occupational Therapist will be able to plan out the appropriate strategies that empowers both the student and the school. In some countries, there are school-based Occupational Therapy helping children succeed in schools. If a school does not provide school-based therapy, parents may find it helpful to connect the therapists and school together. Communicating as a group and discussing on how to help the child progress helps everyone to understand the child better.
Investigating the Task factor.
Vygotsky, a soviet psychologist known for his work on psychological development in children, created the Zone of Proximal Development model which helps to identify where learning takes place most effectively with the right guidance. This model explains that if the task is too easy for the child, the child may not be interested to join in learning. If the task is too difficult, the child will feel failure as he struggles to understand what he has to do. It is important for the educator to meet the child where he is at and to challenge him further by increasing the challenge of the task gradually.
"What a child can do with assistance today, she will be able to do by herself tomorrow" (Vygotsky, 1978).
In Occupational Therapy, the child’s tasks are continuously being evaluated and adapted to ensure that the child is getting the right level of challenge to progress forward. For example, if a child has been assessed to have handwriting issues, loading the child with tons of handwriting homework may not work. Instead the therapist may work with foundational handwriting skills such as strengthening the muscles of the hands and improving the dexterity skills of the fingers. These foundations will strengthen the skills needed for writing. As the child’s handwriting skills improve, the assignments will be adapted to continuously challenge these skills to progress further.
In summary, a comprehensive investigation of the factors affecting the child’s success has to be done to ensure a successful learning process. Working on the child alone is not enough because the other external factors (the environment and the tasks) may also play a part in preventing the child from learning successfully. When all these factors are analysed and the appropriate tools are used to address them, we will find the best fit in helping the child’s learning progress.
Stay tuned for my next article; Assessing and understanding the child's strengths and weaknesses for successful learning.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Written by: Nur Yusoff Smits
Mother of 2 and an Occupational Therapist.
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