Dyslexia in Learning The Damaging Effects of Concentration

There is a dirty word in the field of education which masks as a virtue. The word is "concentrate!" The assumption is, if a learner is failing, they just need to try harder. Yet generally speaking, nothing could be further from the truth.

I once gave a teacher training workshop which had 34 participants. To illustrate the damaging effect of concentration on learning, I invited the whole group to use maximum concentration to levitate their drinking glass off the table in front of them by sheer power of thought. The concentration was so thick, you could have cut it with a knife. While the exercise was going on, I took off my jacket in full view of the whole group, turned it inside out and put it on again, lining side out. I then told everyone to end the exercise and relax. Immediate mirth followed.

Only 3 out of 34 participants had noticed what I had done to my jacket during the concentration exercise. The rest only noticed when they relaxed. Concentration is the application of excessive mental effort to a learning process. It is as if we are mining our minds, narrowing our attention down to a small point, to the exclusion of everything else. When concentrating, we become stupid, overlooking obvious connections between things, and finding we cannot access our creativity when we need it.

Dyslexic thinkers are creative, imaginative thinkers who learn by exploring and by doing. Once out of school, they often excel in areas of life requiring lateral, visual-spatial ability such as architecture, engineering, practical professions and entrepreneurism. Dyslexic learners are often told to "concentrate" because of their lack of success in reading and writing. When reading, they will sometimes stumble on seemingly easy little words such as "if", "was", "the" and "to" because their abstract nature doesn't engage the dyslexic imagination. Concentration often results in a dyslexic reader who by straining and tensing up can get to the end of a sentence.

It frequently results in a dyslexic reader who will not have understood the sentence they have just read, necessitating multiple re-reads. Seldom does it result in someone who enjoys reading and picks books up unbidden. Dyslexic thinkers need their imagination and creativity engaged in order to learn. Yet imagination and creativity are precisely what is shut down when we ask a person to concentrate.

When we set up a culture of concentration in our classrooms, we are teaching our children a very damaging set of principles: - It is important you get everything right, or else I will be displeased; - It is more important to do as I say than to understand why you are doing it; - Learning is about working hard, not about enjoyment. The effect of such a culture on a young dyslexic learner can be devastating. At worst, it can turn an imaginative young mind into a "learning automaton", fulfilling one task after another with huge expenditure of effort, robbed of the ability to stop and think: Why am I doing this? What is its value to me? Actually, what do I want from a learning experience? Concentration weakens intention. Many of us emerge into adulthood knowing how to work hard, without knowing what we really, truly want. Some of us get stuck in dead-end jobs, with little time to enjoy our families, look after our health, keep our figures or pursue hobbies.

As a dyslexia practitioner, I find that the hardest students to work with are those who have learnt to concentrate. It is as if their natural imagination, intelligence and intention have been shut down. Unless and until these crucial dyslexic learning tools have been rekindled, real learning will not take place.

So here are my "dyslexic principles" of real learning. Though particularly powerful for the dyslexic thinker, they are of value to all of us: - Mistakes are an essential part of real learning. Make as wide a variety of mistakes as possible, never repeating the same one twice but always looking for opportunities to make new ones.

- Real learning is always an exploration. If you don't know why something is true, it is of no value to you. - Learning is your personal property. It is the way you get the tools to achieve what you want to in life. You have the right to find it exciting ' always.

The Learning People specialises in the Davis approach to dyslexia and sees dyslexia as a gift. UK residents can sign The Learning People's Downing Street petition to reclassify dyslexia as a thinking style, not a disability. Further detail at

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