Learning Skills Continuum Overview

What is the Learning Skills Continuum?

The Learning Skills continuum is a hierarchy of skills that follows natural human development beginning with movement and self-awareness; increasing to include awareness, understanding, and interaction with the world around us; and finally, higher level learning and self-management skills.

Why is it important?

Academic and social success depends upon a solid foundation of cognitive learning skills. If you think about these skills like a ladder or a continuum, academics and school subjects are at the very top. Many other skills must be in place in order to learn easily at the top of the ladder. When the underlying learning skills, or skills lower on the continuum are weak, they may keep children and adults from learning and functioning as well and as independently as they should. Compensating for weak underlying skills will divert attention and energy from the learning task.

What are “Underlying Learning Skills?

We all understand the top levels of the continuum because these are school skills: reading, spelling, writing, math, and other content areas. But what are the underlying skills that are needed to support comfortable, independent learning in the academic areas? From bottom up on the continuum, they are:

Core Learning Skills: These are foundational movement, visual, and auditory skills that help children develop a sense of self, internal organization, and body and attention awareness and control.

Processing Skills: These are skills such as attention, memory, auditory and visual processing (how we think about and understand things that we see or hear), processing speed, language comprehension, and phonemic awareness (the thinking process critical to reading that supports learning and using phonics).

Executive Function: This is our personal manager that guides and directs our attention and behavior. It helps us reason, problem solve, organize, and make decisions.

Attention and the Learning Skills Continuum

The most common symptom of struggles in school is poor attention, but there are many reasons why students struggle to pay attention in class and when doing homework that are not ADHD.

Poor attention in class may be a symptom, not the real problem. If a child has problems with any of the underlying learning skills, his attention system will also be stressed. While attention may become a problem in school or with homework, it may not actually be the real problem.

Dyslexia, Reading, and the Learning Skills Continuum

Learning to read easily, accurately, and fluently depends upon having a solid foundation of many underlying learning skills including:

  • Auditory processing skills that allow you to think about the number, order, and identity of sounds inside of words (phonemic awareness)
  • Visual processing skills that allow you to appropriately and accurately see and discriminate the letters, words, lines, and spaces on the page
  • Auditory and visual working memory that allows you to remember all of the sounds and letters in the correct sequence
  • Discrimination skills that allow you to tell the difference between letters and sounds that look or sound similar
  • The ability to see patterns
  • The ability to understand the words and sentences as you read

Weaknesses in any of these underlying skills can cause bright students of any age to struggle more than they should.

Learning Disabilities and Struggling Students

Whether a student has a diagnosed learning disability or minor struggles in school, the culprit is most often related to a weakness or inefficiency in one or more of the underlying learning skills. This causes students to have to work harder and longer than expected and often with a lesser result.

Correcting Learning Challenges and the Learning Skills Continuum

Dyslexia, learning disabilities, and struggles with attention or academics can chip away at a student’s self esteem and impact nearly every aspect of a child’s and their family’s life.  Smart, talented kids can decide that they are dumb. Older students and adults may find ways to cope with their challenges, but compensations are not comfortable or efficient, and often keep them from becoming as independent as they should be.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Most learning and attention challenges can be dramatically improved or completely corrected by addressing the weak underlying processing/learning skills that are causing the problem and then remediating the basic academic skills.

The Learning Skills Continuum provides an understanding of the skills needed to learn and function optimally and becomes a guide in identifying and developing these skills so that students can become the truly independent and comfortable learners they have the potential to be.

Core Learning Skills

  • Sensory input
  • Postural security
  • Body Awareness
  • Reflex integration
  • Interpret tactile, proprioceptive, and motor input
  • Balance
  • Motor planning
  • Bilateral integration
  • Cross Lateral Integration
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Ocular-motor control
  • Listening skills
  • Visual-Spatial perception
  • Attention awareness and control
  • Sensorimotor integration

Processing Skills

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Processing speed
  • Language
  • Auditory processing
  • Phonemic Awareness
  • Visual processing
  • Sensorimotor integration
  • Sequential processing
  • Simultaneous processing

Executive Function

  • Visual Inner Language
  • Verbal Inner Language
  • Organization
  • Time Orientation
  • Patterns and relationships
  • Problem solving
  • Strategizing
  • Using information
  • Making connections
  • Logic and Reasoning
  • Relevance vs. Non-Relevance
  • Planning
  • Mental flexibility
  • Evaluation

Basic Academic Skills

  • Language
    • Receptive, Expressive
    • Articulation
    • Vocabulary
    • Comprehension
  • Reading
    • Sound-symbol
    • Phonics
    • Sight recognition
    • Morphology
    • Vocabulary
    • Comprehension
  • Writing
    • Printing
    • Cursive
    • Spelling
    • Sentence structure
    • Grammar
    • Organization
    • Composition
    • Edit / proof
  • Math
    • Concepts
    • Computation
    • Problem solving

Content Area Higher Academic

  • Subject areas
  • Refining and applying basic academic skills
  • Study Skills

Motor, Visual, Auditory, Language, Attention, Memory, and Executive Function Systems develop and are used with increasing sophistication as one moves up the continuum. Higher-level success is dependent upon a solid lower level foundation.

Taken from At Wit’s End: A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle, Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities by Jill Stowell – Copyright © 2010 Green Dot Press

Symptoms that Indicate Challenges with Underlying Skills

Core Learning Skills

These are basic movement, visual, and auditory skills that help children develop a sense of self, internal organization, and body and attention awareness and control. Challenges in this area might show up as follows:

  • Poor posture
  • Awkward or uncoordinated
  • Fatigue, low stamina, anxiety
  • Laying on desk
  • Confusion with directions, spatial orientation, letter reversals
  • Hard time getting started or following through
  • Lack of organization – always losing or forgetting things
  • Poor handwriting
  • Can’t sit still
  • Trouble getting self going

Processing Skills

These are skills such as attention, memory, auditory and visual processing (how we think about and understand things that we see or hear), processing speed, language comprehension, and phonemic awareness (the thinking process critical to reading that supports learning and using phonics). Problems in this area may show up as:

  • Trouble sounding out words
  • Slow or poor reader
  • Trouble memorizing spelling words or math facts
  • Can read but can’t remember or understand what was read
  • Get very tired when listening
  • Miss information when listening
  • Trouble understanding visual organization in math, charts, etc.
  • Disorientation when reading, writing, or listening
  • Can learn words for spelling test but can’t remember the next week
  • Poor attention
  • Can do the work but can’t “get it together” to get the work done and turned in
  • Slow work / working too hard or too long

Executive Function

This is our personal manager that guides and directs our attention and behavior. It helps us reason, problem solve, organize, and make decisions. Problems in this area may appear as follows:

  • Poor time management
  • Can’t organize materials
  • Trouble reasoning
  • Wait until the last minute to start a long term project
  • Can’t plan and organize projects
  • Lack tact
  • Poor follow through
  • Trouble getting started
  • Poor mental flexibility

The Learning Skills Continuum Approach to
Permanently Changing Learning and Attention Challenges

The Learning Skills Continuum provides a guide for evaluating and developing both the academic skills and the numerous underlying skills that support effective learning.

The Continuum Approach applies brain science to learning. Brain research on neuroplasticity has proven that through targeted and intensive training, the brain can literally change and grow. New and permanent neuropathways or connections can be made that will allow individuals to learn new skills and process information more effectively.

Our experience and that of our colleagues in this field over the past 30 years has proven that most learning and attention challenges can be dramatically improved or completely corrected.

How is this Different than What the Schools and Tutoring do?

Schools and traditional tutoring generally work with struggling students at the top of the continuum. They provide support for students in academic areas but do not generally address the weak underlying skills that are causing the learning challenges.

As a result, students often continue to need support and have to work harder and longer than they should. They may not be able to achieve the level of confidence, enjoyment, or independence with school and learning that their intelligence and other abilities would suggest.

References

Berne: Creating Your Personal Vision
Berne: Without Ritalin A Natural Approach to ADD
Belgau: Learning Breakthrough Program
Bellis: When the Brain Can’t Hear
Das and Naglieri: Assessment of Cognitive Processes
Davis with Braun: The Gift of Dyslexia
Davis with Braun: The Gift of Learning
Dennison: Brain Gym® Teacher’s Edition Revised
Doidge: The Brain That Changes Itself: stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science
Feurstein: Instrumental Enrichment: An intervention program for cognitive intelligence.
Farmer: Train the Brain to Pay Attention the Write Way
Gibson: Unlocking the Einstein Within
Goddard: Reflexes, Learning, and Behavior, a Window into the Child’s Mind
Gold: If Kids Just Came with Instruction Sheets
Hannaford: Smart Moves
Kephart: The Slow Learner in the Classroom
Kirby and Williams: Learning Problems, A Cognitive Approach
Kranowitz: The Out of Sync Child
Lawton: PATH to Reading
Levine: A Mind at a Time

Levine: All Kinds of Minds
Lindamood: The A.D.D. Program: Auditory Discrimination in Depth Book 1, Understanding the Program
Lyon and Krasnegor: Attention, Memory, and Executive Function
Masgutova: Integration of Dynamic and Postural Reflex Patterns – MNRI
McGuinness: When Children Don’t Learn
Moyers: Learning Ears
Ratey: A User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain
Sollier: Listening for Wellness
Smith: Edu-Therapeutics
Smith: Learning Victories
Smith: You Don’t Have to Be Dyslexic
Steinbach: Samonas Sound Therapy
Stephey: Brain Spark!
Stowell: At Wit’s End, A Parent’s Guide to Ending the Struggle, Tears, and Turmoil of Learning Disabilities
Sunbeck: The Complete Infinity Walk; Book I: The Physical Self
Sutton: Building a Visual Space World, Volumes 1 and 2
Tomatis: The Conscious Ear
Tomatis: The Ear and the Voice
Truch: Discover Math