How do you spot (and correct) the weaknesses behind a child's academic struggles?

Find out in this Q&A with the authors of Helping Children Learn: Intervention Handouts for Use in School and at Home, Second Edition

About the authors

Dr. Jack A. Naglieri

Jack A. Naglieri, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia and a senior research scientist at Devereux Center for Resilient Children in Villanova, Pennsylvania. For his scholarly efforts, he was awarded the American Psychological Association's 2001 Senior Scientist Award.

Dr. Naglieri has devoted most of his career to the study of intelligence and its relationship to learning and learning problems. His more recent areas of interest include personal factors related to resilience, autism, psychological impairment, and their measurement.

Dr. Eric B. Pickering

Eric B. Pickering, Ph.D., is a school psychologist with the Grandview Heights City Schools in Grandview, Ohio and a private psychologist at Crossroads Counseling in Columbus, Ohio. His focus has been on the development of well-researched instructional interventions for teachers and school psychologists that can help children learn.

Dr. Pickering was awarded the 2008 Best Practices award by the School Psychologists of Central Ohio.


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Q: The new edition of your book Helping Children Learn provides intervention handouts educators can refer to when a student is struggling academically. How does an educator know which handout to use?

A: The handouts are listed by academic area and by cognitive process. When a child has an academic problem, the educator can select a handout based on the academic area, apply the intervention, and then monitor progress. If the intervention was not successful, the educator can examine whether the student may have a cognitive weakness and then select a handout that addresses the cognitive weakness. The PASS Rating Scale is helpful in examining the cognitive weaknesses behind a child's academic struggles.

Q: What is measured by the PASS Rating Scale?

A: The PASS Rating Scale helps evaluate the child's Planning, Attention, Simultaneous and Successive cognitive processes. A weakness in one or more of these areas can significantly impact a child's performance in academic areas in a number of specific ways. Using the the PASS Rating Scale can help identify whether a child has a weakness, what the weakness is, and how it may contribute to his or her academic struggles.

Q: What are some things a teacher may see in the classroom that might signify difficulty in one of the four areas of cognitive processing?

A: Many problems a teacher sees in the classroom may signify difficulty in one of the processing areas. For example, difficulty figuring out how to start a project may signify a problem in Planning; problems staying on task could signify a problem with Attention; difficulty understanding how all the characters in a story are interrelated may indicate a problem with Simultaneous Processing, and difficulty remembering the steps or order in which to do something may indicate problems with Successive Processing.

Q: One of the benefits of knowing a student's cognitive processing weakness is the ability to select an instructional approach that does not depend on that weakness. Can you provide an example where one instructional approach is likely to work better than another for a child with a particular cognitive weakness?

A: Let's say a student has a simultaneous processing weakness. That student may have trouble, as noted above, understanding how the characters of a story are interrelated to the other characters and parts of the story by just reading the story. Even talking about the story with the student may not help the student understand it adequately. Knowing this, selecting an approach that is graphic—using a pictoral "web" or map to show connections between parts and characters—is a good teaching strategy to help the student learn. Moreover, it is a great strategy to teach the STUDENT to use which also helps him or her overcome the weakness independently.

Q: Your handouts also include interventions designed to nurture a child's cognitive strength. How does nurturing a child's strength boost efforts in areas where the child is struggling?

Helping a child realize a personal strength can greatly influence future success. When we teach a child about his or her strength we can help them learn to be more self sufficient and overcome areas of weakness. Further, the emotional boost that a student gets from knowing his or her strength can help them persevere at the times they struggle. Allowing the child the opportunity to use the ability they are best in not only increases academic success but it also increases overall satisfaction with learning.

Q: Given that these cognitive processes are brain based, is it preferable to teach the student to apply alternate approaches that avoid their areas of weakness or to encourage plenty of practice to strengthen their areas of weakness?

A: Both. In some cases, using an alternate approach may help the student acquire and use new information. In other cases an alternate may not be the best option and so using a strategy that helps the area of weakness would be a better choice. For example, a student low in planning likely can't "avoid" planning out a project so using specific strategies from the book to help develop the plan would likely make the student more successful.

Helping Children Learn: Intervention Handouts for Use at School and at Home, Second Edition

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