alternative learners: artists

tonight i’m preparing a presentation to teachers about alternative learners. alternative learners are people whose learning processes are different from most of their peers. they’re often called dyslexics, or people with learning disabilities. the problem with using the term “learning disabilities” is that it implies that alternative learners are learning dis-abled, which is often not true at all. alternative learners often have amazing learning abilities – hans christian andersen, for example, who memorized entire shakespeare plays at an early age.

it also looks like people with learning disabilities tend to be more creative than the average population. a very simple explanation for that is that neurologically, challenges such as dyslexia (difficulty reading and/or writing) may very well stem from greater involvement of the right brain hemisphere in the processing of language. the right hemisphere is also our “creative” hemisphere.

thus, some alternative learners may have a terrible time spelling and be very slow and reluctant readers – but at the same time they may be able to throw together a poem like a quick stir-fry.

speaking of stir-fries, one famous creative is jamie oliver, the naked chef. his dyslexia caused him to leave school with no qualifications. cooking is a tactile activity. (the tactile sense is often very prominent among alternative learners, which is why some people propose using three-dimensional letter sets to help alternative learners acquire reading skills.)

then there is john lennon, who was thrown out of school because of poor behaviour. only later in life did he become aware of the fact that he had dyslexia. his spelling, too, was “poor” – but i say say it was rich. he saw something in words and language that is not visible to everyone – like in this poem:

I sat belonely down a tree,
humbled fat and small.
A little lady sing to me
I couldn’t see at all.

(click here for the rest of the poem and other poems by lennon)

cher is another person who was so plagued by dyslexia that she left school early. like lennon and andersen, she and numerous other actors (including keanu reeves and tom cruise) put to rest the idea that alternative learners have problems with language. while this may be the case for some (including many – but not all – people with autism), what happens for many alternative learners is not so much that they have problems with language but that they experience, use or express language in ways that are a little different from the average person.

for instance, they tend to experience or use language in patterns rather than in bits. as an example, many people who have finished grade 12 can easily parse the word “geographical” into the parts geo-graphic-al. this parsing may not make any sense to an alternative learner, and they may not recognize the parsed word. however, if they see or hear the word in context, then it becomes recognizable. this is probably what accounts for the feats of memory that alternative learners often show.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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