Think of any task—a carnival ring-toss, speaking Greek, barrel racing—and imagine your reaction when asked to do it. If you’re a 25-year-old local bronc rider, then you’re probably not interested in the ring-toss, you’re confident about trying the barrels—and pretty sure that you can’t speak Greek. On the other hand, a visiting five-year-old Greek child might be excited about the ring toss, afraid of horses, and talking up a storm in his native language. In these examples, our interests, perceived abilities, and the context of the situation blend together to create a feeling—Excited? Bored? Determined? Afraid? Then we react.
“People turn off if a task is too easy or too hard,” says Dr. Robert Arnio, founder of Learning Solutions in Rapid City. “When something is beyond a person’s ability, and seemingly unattainable, eventually he’ll say, ‘I’m not good at that.’ If we are truly not good at something and not going to get better, then it’s healthy to veer away. But when children believe they can’t learn something that they really are able to learn, that’s called learned helplessness. Learned helplessness is not our friend.”
One of Dr. Arnio’s specialty areas is reading. “Reading is often associated with intelligence,” he says, “and many people think they’re ‘not good at it.’ This causes all kinds of insecurities.” There are many reasons unrelated to a child’s innate abilities that might cause her to “veer away” from reading. Maybe her eyes aren’t tracking together, or her vocabulary or comprehension isn’t as strong as her classmates’.
Now, just imagine having 25 students in one room, all with their particular reading interests, levels, abilities, weaknesses, and assumptions. Imagine trying to create lesson plans that work for all 25—especially considering that reading is key to how we learn most content in most subjects. Teachers are given an impossible task.
“It’s literally impossible—when working in groups, even small groups—to reach all students at their learning levels, to help them reach their maximum potential,” Dr. Arnio says. “For example, any fifth-grade teacher can have students reading at the first-grade level through the tenth-grade level. That teacher will work desperately to provide instruction at each level, but the range is just too diverse to teach thoroughly.” This scenario is one of many reasons that Dr. Arnio has spent the last 25 years in researching tools to assist families to address deficits or challenges in several subjects. It’s also why he recommended Reading Plus to the Rapid City school system. After testing in a pilot program, Reading Plus was implemented beginning with the 2016–2017 school year.