Reviewed by Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
Do you wonder why students learn differently? Are you interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the learning process? Then A Mind at a Time by Dr. Mel Levine is just the book you are looking for! Based on years of experience as a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and director of the Clinical Center for the Study of Development and Learning at the University of North Carolina Medical School, Dr. Levine has developed his own model that dissects the learning process into eight neurodevelopmental systems: attention control, memory, language, spatial ordering, sequential ordering, motor, higher thinking, and social thinking. His theory is that struggling students are experiencing a breakdown in one or more of these areas. Through chapters devoted to each system, you will come to understand how each one works and how they affect a student’s learning style, strengths, and weaknesses.
While this may sound technical and daunting, Dr. Levine presents the information so that it is both understandable and applicable to the home and the classroom. The book grabs the reader’s interest from the beginning and maintains it through until the end. Dr. Levine provides general questions and tools for evaluating students’ abilities and describes what can be done to improve areas of weakness while encouraging areas of strength. Specifically, Dr. Levine suggests the type of information that is valuable in assessing a student, who can provide this information, and what types of testing can best help adults pinpoint areas that need improvement. Through practical explanations tied in with vignettes from his clients, Dr. Levine presents the information clearly and precisely, assisting readers to understand how and why students learn so differently. Another highlight of the book is that the information can be used to troubleshoot specific concerns and provide clues as to why a particular student has difficulty learning; and also more generally as a manual regarding the process of learning. An excellent guide for both educators and parents, A Mind at a Time describes a theory that makes sense and is supported by research as well as experience.
Parents and teachers of gifted students may be especially interested in Chapter 9: “Relating to Relating: Our Social Thinking System.” In this chapter, Dr. Levine describes “the repertoire of partly overlapping neurodevelopmental functions that equip kids to become socially acceptable, indulge in durable friendships, and make the grade politically in and out of school” (p. 228). Because gifted children often struggle with peer relations, this information may be helpful in identifying exactly why a student is having difficulty. Once adults understand possible breakdown points in the learning process, they are better prepared to assist the student by helping him or her develop the necessary skills to increase positive social interactions.
While A Mind at a Time is practical and informative, the last chapter, “The Right to Differ: Schools for All Kinds of Minds” calls for changes in the school system, some of which are unrealistic, and may potentially put off educators even if they are dedicated to meeting the needs of all kinds of minds. However, the chapter is worth reading, if only to extract that which may be applied to a school setting.
Interestingly, Dr. Levine states that adults do not need to worry about fixing every challenge a student encounters. Utilizing a strengths-based perspective, parents and teachers are encouraged to identify what the child does well and where his or her interests lie then use this information to help the student develop weaker areas and enhance areas of strength. In fact, Dr. Levine goes as far to say that if a child’s strengths are suppressed – regardless of what these strengths are – “he becomes a virtual time bomb primed for detonation” (p. 47). Additionally, if a student’s profile (one’s unique set of strengths and weaknesses) does not fit with the demands of school or social situations, he believes it is likely that this certain profile will have its chance in the limelight eventually. He asks for adults to not give up and to not allow their children to give up.
This book is highly recommended for parents and educators because of the clarity with which Dr. Levine shares this information, the applicability to the classroom and home, and his strengths-based perspective.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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