Cognitive Testing Helps Company Adapt Learning to Students’ Abilities
Today’s education models tend to focus on a child’s achievement deficits — if students aren’t reading at grade level, for instance, then teachers try to get them caught up.
Mindprint Learning flips this model, using cognitive tests to identify children’s strengths and engage them in ways that compensate for their weaknesses.
The goal: Let kids enjoy learning again.
“When teachers clearly know a child’s learning strengths and weaknesses, they can put appropriate scaffolding in place for students as they need it,” said Nancy Weinstein, founder and CEO of Mindprint Learning. “The research also shows that appropriate scaffolding puts students in their unique zone of proximal development, which is a fancy way of saying that the work is challenging but achievable. In ‘the zone’ they learn the most, and not surprisingly, enjoy learning.”
Mindprint helps schools, parents and teachers work with a broad range of learners older than 7. Schools have used Mindprint’s cognitive assessments to do things like identify gifted children and pinpoint the underlying causes of a child working below grade level in math or reading. The company’s services can help teachers get to know each student better and effectively differentiate instruction.
Focus group feedback, which is promising and consistent with the academic research on effective learning strategies, helps the company fine-tune its services. Mindprint also is working with a Chicago-area school to collect data during the 2016-17 school year.
Identifying how a child learns best
Cognitive assessments have one distinct advantage over other types of tests: Identifying a child’s most effective learning methods.
“The reality is that the brightest students have relative weaknesses and struggling learners have relative strengths. When teachers understand those strengths and weaknesses, they can find the best ways to support each student,” said Weinstein. “The Holy Grail is to enable students to let their strengths shine. We think about relative weaknesses as potential obstacles that students can anticipate and overcome. We provide clear and specific strategies so relative weaknesses don’t hold a student back.”
Mindprint bases its online cognitive assessments on credible research, Weinstein explained, which sets its tests apart from many online assessments. “There’s a lot of junk out there. However, if you find a research-backed cognitive assessment, it can be just as reliable as traditional paper-and-pencil based tests,” said Weinstein.
The company normed its assessment on more than 10,000 children in a joint study out of the National Institutes of Health and the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. Most paper-and-pencil based tests are normed on fewer than 5,000 children.
Mindprint learning strategies are based on documented scientific studies of the most effective teaching and learning strategies, so most teachers will be familiar with the company’s approach.
Pinpointing the learner’s strengths and needs
What Mindprint does differently from everyone else is take reliable research and make it easily available and usable. After the company identifies a learner’s strengths and needs, it recommends effective strategies. For every strategy, Mindprint includes the science behind it and practical ways to apply it in the classroom.
Mindprint has over 400 learning strategies in its toolbox, but no teacher could possibly use them all.
“The goal is to find the best strategies for each unique learner as you need them. If you have a student that is succeeding, you might not need to change a thing,” said Weinstein. “However, when a teacher has a struggling learner or one who is not living up to potential, they can use Mindprint to find the best approaches to support that student based on that student’s unique learning profile.”
Working with parents to learn children’s abilities
Elementary school teachers need parents’ help to identify students’ specific learning strengths and needs. Weinstein offered these tips for getting parents involved:
- Parents and teachers alike should observe strengths and weaknesses because kids don’t always behave at school like they do at home. In general, if you are noticing a problem, take notes and look for patterns. Does the child refuse to do homework only on certain nights? Is the child quick with some assignments but really slow with others? If the child is misbehaving, is it always at the same time of day or in the same class?
- Similarly, parents and teachers need to be partners because they each know things about the child that the other can’t possibly know unless they discuss it.
- Always look for strengths. Does the child get engrossed in topics at home that the teacher doesn’t know about? Those interests might very well reveal cognitive strengths that the teacher can use to engage the student in school.
Shifting the focus from problems
Parents and teachers want to get to the roots of children’s learning difficulties. Having a skilled clinician conduct a psycho-educational evaluation that includes observations and cognitive assessments is the optimal approach, but it’s also time-consuming and expensive.
Weinstein says Mindprint provides a reliable alternative for getting valid data on cognitive abilities that goes beyond what a parent or teacher might observe. While some cognitive behavior is observable, many strengths and needs are just not readily apparent.
“There’s a reason that for over 100 years, cognitive assessments are universally agreed upon as the most reliable and effective way to understand how a child learns best,” said Weinstein.
A teacher once asked Weinstein what to tell a child who didn’t want to be evaluated. She said, “Tell her you are giving her a gift — the gift of understanding how she learns best, which will carry her through everything she does in life.”
Erin Flynn Jay is a writer, editor and publicist, working mainly with authors and small businesses since 2001. Erin’s interests also reach into the educational space, where her affinity for innovation spurs articles about early childhood education and learning strategies. She is based in Philadelphia.