One of my favorite scriptures is Ether 12:27 in the Book of Mormon. Here the Lord makes a promise to those who are humble and have faith in Him that He will “make weak things become strong unto them.” Have you ever felt weak and inadequate? Have you ever faced a challenge that seemed insurmountable? How have you overcome weaknesses in order to accomplish your goals? I certainly have my fair share of weaknesses. It’s taken me a lifetime to overcome some, and I continue to struggle with others. Though it’s easy to become discouraged at times, we can all take comfort in the Lord’s promise that we can be made strong in areas where once we were weak.
As teachers, we can provide similar assurance to our students, particularly those with learning disabilities. Our classrooms will be filled with children who struggle with unique learning challenges, and they will often become discouraged as their weaknesses hinder their growth and progress in school. However, we can help those who are willing to learn, work hard, and trust their teachers to “make weak things become strong unto them.”
Phillipe Ernewein, a renowned teacher at Denver Academy in Colorado, is a huge advocate of finding creative ways to teach students with learning disabilities (or learning differences as he likes to call them), helping them see and reach towards their potential as learners. One method he has found to be very effective is “understanding and rewriting student traits.” Every diagnosed disability comes with identifiable traits or symptoms, and students with these disabilities bring these traits with them into the classroom. Take for example a kid who struggles to focus in class, who panics at test-time, and who is obviously very intelligent but refuses to complete the required assignments. These behaviors are often very symptomatic of learning differences. Teachers cannot control these traits, but they can influence and rewrite them. For example, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, ADHD symptoms include difficulty focusing and hyperactivity. Too many teachers would see these traits as weaknesses. On the other hand, a rewritten version of this diagnosis would show that a student with ADHD is adept at multi-tasking and has abundant energy that can be channeled into learning. By “understanding a student’s diagnosis and rewriting it,” Mr. Ernewein believes that “we’re really almost rewriting a curse in a way and turning it into a blessing.” This is such an easy and yet profound way to make what is often treated as a weakness a strength instead!
This practice is also applicable to learning. Think of how much more confident we could be if we approached learning this way! We all have weaknesses that interfere with our learning. Rather than allow them to work against us, we can use them to boost our productivity. After pondering how I could apply this principle to my own learning, I came up with a couple weaknesses I struggle with and a way to use them to learn more effectively. I’ll share one of them.
Weakness: I have a short attention span. This weakness turns studying into the ultimate chore. I often become frustrated because I never get much done before my eyes begin to explore my surroundings and my mind wanders to other topics.
Strength: I am able to get more done in less time. Having a short attention span can become a great strength if I simply channel my energy and attention into studying a specific assignment for brief periods of time. The spurts of time spent engaged in learning will be very productive, and I’ll then have more time to devote to more interesting and entertaining activities later.
Learning disabilities do not have to be weaknesses that impede educational success. Everyone has the potential to learn and can overcome their weaknesses! With patience, hard work, and a willingness to learn we can look at weaknesses differently and redefine them so that they become great strengths. This is how we and each of our students should approach learning! As diligent teachers we can provide for our students the assurance that with our help they can “make weak things become strong unto them.”