Really Learning with Dr. Mel Levine's
All Kinds of Minds
The The Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori staff utilizes Dr. Mel Levine's approach to understanding the mind and its eight neuro-developmental systems:
- Spacial Sequencing
- Temporal Sequencing
- Social Cognition
- Higher Order Thinking
This paradigm provides very detailed information and specific strategies about each of the eight learning systems. This can be very illuminating and helpful in understanding children. For parents who want to learn more about this as well, an excellent web site is www.allkindsofminds.org.
To gain a greater understanding and appreciation of how this work practically impacts the lives of students at The Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori, read the article below:
Really Learning at The Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori Helping Children Succeed, One Mind at a Time One of our pre-primary teachers, calls "Jane" a model kindergarten student. Jane loves school. She makes friends easily, is a self-directed worker, and at age five is developing good skills in decoding phonetic and sight words. However, there is one area of concern with Jane: she can't seem to remember what she has just read, and when in the middle of a task, will often forget what she is supposed to be doing. Sometimes Jane will go into the hallway to put something in her backpack and come back into her classroom, still clutching the object because she had forgotten what she had intended to do. Fortunately for Jane and her parents, her teacher at The Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori has been able to identify a specific area of Jane's memory that needs support - her active working memory. Active working memory is that part of our memory that orchestrates a series of tasks simultaneously, for a limited period of time, in order to successfully complete a multi-faceted activity (such as long division or completing a multi-step kindergarten craft project). Thanks to the pioneering work of Dr. Mel Levine in understanding specific aspects of human learning and behavior, our teachaer has been able to understand Jane's specific breakdown in memory, and has implemented strategies to help her. Helping Jane Succeed The teacher explains, "During conferences each year, Jane's "forgetfulness" and "absent-mindedness" would inevitably come up, and be discussed at length. Her parents and I were both puzzled by what was affecting Jane, and what we could do to help her. Before our first conference this year, I read the chapter in Dr. Levine's A Mind at a Time on memory. When I reached the section on active working memory, I kept thinking about Jane. "At conferences this year I was able to share with Jane's parents what I had read on active working memory. I told her parents that I felt that this area was a weakness for Jane, which caused her to forget tasks while she was right in the middle of them, and to have difficulty following verbal instructions. "This book also proved to be helpful because Jane's father thought that her 'absent-mindedness' was caused by her inability to pay attention. Luckily, I had also read the chapter in Levine's book on attention, and was able to explain to Jane's father that Jane does pay attention, and that her attention was not the problem. It was not that Jane could not listen when given an instruction. She did listen, and was able to retain a wealth of information on many subjects. It was simply that she could not always follow through with the instruction she was given, because, while she was in the process of trying to complete a task, her active working memory would not kick in, and she simply forgot what she was supposed to be doing. Jane did not suffer from ADD, or from a learning disability. She simply suffered from a weakness in her memory. "We were all so relieved to finally know the cause of Jane's absent-mindedness because now, we could begin discussing strategies to help her. To help Jane, we discussed the importance of breaking directions and tasks into small, manageable steps, and telling her the steps one at a time; giving her the second step after she had completed the first one. For tasks such as going to her backpack, we discussed sending a partner with her out into the hall to remind her what she was supposed to do once she got to her backpack. In writing, we talked about the importance of asking Jane to tell someone else what she wants to write about before she begins to write. This way, if she forgets what she intended to write half-way through, someone can remind her. If she is far enough along in her writing, it helps to re-read to Jane what she has already written, to jog her memory. When Jane reads out loud, it is important to ask her questions about the story after each sentence, and to discuss the progression of the story as she is reading it."
All Kinds of Minds at The Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori
Beginning in 2002, the entire staff at The Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori began learning about and applying concepts from Dr. Levine's book, A Mind at a Time. Principal Dan Teller collaborated with local experts from the Springer Center to introduce the staff to the work of All Kinds of Minds, Dr. Levine's organization that helps parents and educators understand how children learn and why they behave in certain ways.
Dr. Levine has identified "eight manageable categories, or neurodevelopmental systems." These are:
- Attention control system
- Memory system
- Language system
- Spatial ordering system
- Sequential ordering system
- Motor system
- Higher thinking system
- Social thinking system
Each system has its own subsystems as well. The memory system, for example, can be broken down into long-term memory, short-term memory, and active working memory. A child may experience challenges in certain memory tasks yet be remarkably strong in other memory tasks. The key is to pinpoint exactly where the breakdowns occur and address them specifically.
Mr. Teller said, "The great thing about Dr. Levine's work is its specificity. Typically, if a child is having trouble in school, the teacher's or parent's response may be limited to a broad statement like, 'He has trouble staying on task.' But what does this really mean, and how exactly can we respond to such a broad analysis? With Dr. Levine's framework, we can start to really pinpoint the area of the child's mind that is struggling. It may be the child's ability to select exactly what is important to focus on and to filter out nonessential details. This relates to selection control, which is part of the intake controls of the attention system. By getting such a detailed picture of the child's mind, we can really focus on specific strategies to help that child succeed. And conversely, we can also identify strengths to build on for that child."
After an initial full-day workshop in which the staff learned an overview of this paradigm, the teachers gathered monthly to read about and discuss one of these eight systems. Staff meetings are characterized by a lively exchange in which teachers share challenges they face with their students, and support one another with strategies and ideas. In addition, teachers consult semi-annually (twice each year) with experts from Springer Center, specifically discussing the needs of their students and specific strategies from All Kinds of Minds that will support them.
Mr. Teller comments, "The teachers and I are deeply grateful for the keen insights and the incredibly positive outlook that Dr. Levine offers for children. And I am particularly appreciative of how openly our staff has embraced this work and truly applied it to the children here. The Montessori approach already is very attuned to individual children's needs. With Dr. Levine's work to support us, we are even more excited to help each child excel."
"Jane's" story is just one example of how this work is making a real difference in the way children learn at The Good Shepherd Catholic Montessori.