Brain Power. According to Barbara Arrowsmith Young, creator of the Arrowsmith Program, it is, in fact, the key to opening up worlds of learning opportunity for children of average or above average intelligence that are classified as ‘learning disabled’ — those experiencing difficulty in reading, writing, mathematics, memory, comprehension, dyslexia, non-verbal thinking as well as ADD related problems.
Based upon the notion of a plastic brain, the Arrowsmith Program has demonstrated via documented success in a growing number of schools across Canada and the United States that it is possible for the brain to change and improve through cognitive exercises.
The program is described in both the New York Times best-selling book, Norman Doidge’s “The Brain That Changes Itself” and Howard Eaton’s celebrated new book, “Brain School: Stories of Children with Learning Disabilities and Attention Disorders who Changed their lives by Improving their Cognitive Functioning”.
Mind over Matter
Three decades and some after Arrowsmith Young’s establishment of the first school of its kind, the Arrowsmith Program is empowering students who otherwise would have fallen by the wayside. Unlike traditional methods, the Arrowsmith Program relies on no crutch to compensate for a student’s weaknesses. Focusing on each child’s problem, a set of prescribed individual exercises, including written, visual, auditory and computer are implemented for three to four years, involving a minimum of four 40-minute periods per day — at least half of a school day – with a student/teacher ratio of 10 to one to actually improve brain functioning — learning capacity.
Despite the long hours out of the regular classroom, there is no negative long-term impact vis-a-vis the overall curriculum, as some might suspect.
“Once students develop the necessary cognitive skills, they can catch up on the curriculum. When their memory and thinking skills advance, they are able to retain the concepts,” claims Arrowsmith teacher Sheila Brown Vitullo.
What a visitor will see upon entering an Arrowsmith classroom is students engaged with increasingly challenging brain strengthening tasks, depending on specific learning disorders. Motivated students with patches placed over their left eyes, write repeated successions of symbols stimulating the brain’s weaker left side to work harder and become stronger. Eager boys and girls work on their own mental math, memory, comprehension and time-telling related computer exercises while their progress in the assignments is monitored.
Just as the Arrowsmith founder built for herself strengths related to mathematical reasoning, reading comprehension and determining cause and effect from learning to read an analogue clock, those in the program start repetitive brain exercises with two hands and progress to ten, boosting their learning capacities.
Learning disabled students who find it difficult to decipher non-verbal information and facial expressions are given the task of putting together a story depicted through pictures. Discussing the images and seeking clues, and details stimulating the right hemisphere of the brain.
These and a host of other cognitive exercises are worked on in the program where students are evaluated based on accuracy, consistency and automaticity of task completion before having individual programs modified to an advanced and more difficult level.
“It’s like a laser targeted to stimulate specific areas of the brain,” states Barbara Arrowsmith Young. “We start just above the child’s identified cognitive level of functioning and work to strengthen the weaknesses until we get the child to an average or even above-average level of ability. It takes to time and it’s hard work, but it works.”
The theory behind Arrowsmith is much like an athlete’s preparatory work, strenuously bending and flexing the muscles, and advancing to more difficult training for a consistent duration of time so that he will be in optimum shape. When a child undergoes the regimen of progressively advanced cognitive exercises over and over again for a set amount of time, it culminates in a marked improvement in his brain capacities of comprehension in areas of math, reading, cause and effect reasoning, non-verbal learning and attention.
Children who undergo the full Arrowsmith curriculum come out with a multitude of benefits. They have strengthened cognitive processes needed for more effective learning, improved visual and auditory memory and better attention and concentration, improved fine-motor skills used in writing and note taking, fortified working memory, processing speed and cognitive efficiency, and improved verbal and non-verbal thinking, reasoning and problem solving, allowing them to participate afterward in a full academic curriculum with no further need for program accommodation.
Student and parent reports:
Who, indeed, better than the children and parents benefiting from the Arrowsmith Program can testify to its overall benefits and positive results?
“…I just wanted to share something that happened last weekend. My sister invited us to spend the weekend in Seattle and Michael was mostly excited because we found a Lego shop close by. He had $100 from Christmas gifts from our family. Picture that a Lego shop would be the ultimate paradise for Michael, ok? I was a little bit afraid he would go crazy and want to buy all the store and beg me for more… but nope, that didn’t happen: He picked 2 small sets, a bin of bricks, some guys, etc…. and he did his own math. He spent $60 because he said he wanted to still have some left for the other day. I almost cried. It’s the math, yes and also how he was able to make those decisions so maturely…”
“…I’ve been better at doing my work. It’s a lot easier for me now to do my math. I also have seen changes in my reading abilities, a lot easier to read and I’m a lot faster at reading now. I also know how to tell time on a lot instead of going to a digital so that was a really big change. So I’m pretty happy about these changes that I’ve been making…”
“…I improved on writing by writing faster and neater. I’ve also improved on math. Now I know most of my times tables. Reading I have a more clear voice and not so shaky. Now I can count money easy. I understand what the teacher is saying. I can remember words. Before I had trouble that I couldn’t put the things from my head on to the paper. Thanks to the program I’ve been able to put the words on the page. Now I can count up fast…”
Brain Power: the key to brighter futures
Barbara Arrowsmith Young has not forgotten the words of her Grade One teacher that dismissed her learning future. Envisioning a new world of educational opportunities for every child, she retains the hope of establishing two periods of an Arrowsmith Program daily for every Grade One child.
“It would help us catch some of the weaker children and bring them up to average cognitive abilities,” she says. It would help us identify those who will need more support and it would boost the average and above-average children’s cognitive abilities. Everyone would benefit.”
Yeshiva Degel Hatorah in Spring Valley, NY (111 Maple Avenue) will be hosting an information session on Wednesday, June 15 at 8:00 p.m. For reservations please call Marsha Feuer at 845-304-7053.