Psychoeducational Assessment – The Learner’s GPS

By September 21, 2011 November 24th, 2014 Children, Education, General

Psychoeducational assessment is a term with which many parents are familiar once their children have entered the education system. Some parents may have even advocated for their child to receive such an assessment through their child’s school. At the school level, due to limited resources, psychoeducational assessment is often provided to those children with the most significant learning or behavioural challenges. Due to this reality, some may inadvertently receive the message that these assessments are only accessed when a learner has completely lost his or her way.

While it is true that psychoeducational assessment is essential for learners who have wandered far from the beaten path of academic success, these assessments can and do provide so much more than a roadmap back for lost learners. These assessments provide a GPS of sorts to any learner, in the sense that results illuminate each person’s personal pathway to maximizing success. A number of domains are investigated, including cognitive functioning, academic achievement, and social/ emotional/behavioural health.

A pivotal part of these assessments is the examination of the student’s cognitive profile, which provides a large component of the driving instructions for those steering this student’s learning journey. Cognition refers to thinking, and so looking at one’s cognitive profile involves examining how one “thinks”. Thinking involves both comprehension and problemsolving, and efficient information processing. Each of us has a unique cognitive profile, with our own personal strengths and challenges. Knowing how to rely on our learning strengths is like taking the road that is free from traffic; the driving is quick, easy, and enjoyable. Understanding how to “get around” our learning challenges is like having a warning that there is major congestion on the main highway, and turning down a side road to get to the same destination with less delay and stress.\

Assessing a student’s cognitive profile will first illuminate how that learner best understands new and complex concepts. The question that is answered is does this student best learn through language (and therefore rely on a “telling” approach to teaching), or does s/he prefer a visual, demonstration-based approach (i.e. and therefore rely on a “showing” approach to teaching). Having these directions allows the student, parents and teachers to default to the student’s personal learning style when the road gets bumpy and the student is having trouble comprehending a particular curriculum concept.

For example, the learner who best understands language may have some degree of challenge in an experiential math lesson, where students are working with manipulatives to discover the operation of a geometrical concept. The language-based learner will benefit from that highly hands-on, visual-based lesson along with the rest of the class, but may need to be supplemented with a step-by-step explanation of what s/he needs to know to solve this type of problem. Alternatively, the learner who learns best when concepts are made visual may have some degree of challenge studying for a history test on Confederation in Canada. Although s/he will benefit from reading chapters and studying notes, s/he may not really take command of the information well until s/he can “see” how the concepts operate together (e.g. using diagrams, timelines, etc.).

Secondly, information-processing styles are also examined in detail. The list of information processing functions and their implications is long, and cannot be discussed fully here. What is important to point out is that processing challenges can cause a bright student to run into difficulties consistently displaying his/her intellect. For example, if speed of processing is an issue, tasks will take longer than necessary, and tests may go unfinished. If memory is a concern, the student may understand a concept well, but struggle to recall it later. Often, discrepancies can exist between verbal memory and visual memory (i.e. one is much stronger than the other), meaning that there are some roads those learners should take to study (e.g. drawing diagrams, making flow charts) and some they should clearly avoid (e.g. reading notes, talking about the information aloud), and vice versa. As adults, some of us have learned through a lifetime of experience where our processing strengths and challenges lie, and how to navigate tasks accordingly. Some of us have not, and as a result, experience ongoing frustration with certain types of tasks. Younger students do not have the benefit of this experience, but can be shown a shortcut by understanding how they process and how to work effectively with their personal profile.

“Reach my potential” is the destination every learner would program into their GPS. Having detailed information about the cognitive profile provides the turn-by-turn directions for maximizing learning success. This information is valuable at any age, when aspects of learning are frustrating, inconsistent, or difficult.

Author Angela MacPhee

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