Arrowsmith Program

OVERVIEW

What is the Arrowsmith Program?

The Arrowsmith Program is based on neuroscience research demonstrating that it is possible to address learning disabilities by identifying and strengthening weak cognitive capacities.

The goal of the program is to help students strengthen the weak cognitive capacities underlying their learning dysfunctions and to enable them to become effective, confident and self-directed learners for life.

The Arrowsmith Program deals with the root causes of the learning disability rather than managing its symptoms. Students become effective learners without having to compensate for their learning disabilities. Their ability to perform complex tasks is improved when the weak cognitive areas are strengthened.

Students return to a full academic program at their appropriate grade level without the need for further resource support or curriculum modification following the completion of a three or four year programme.

Upon completion of the programme some students may require one or two years to gain experience using their newly strengthened cognitive capacities and some students may need tutoring initially to bring academic skills to grade level.

For further information about the Arrowsmith Program and the learning dysfunctions it addresses, visit the Arrowsmith website (www.arrowsmithschool.org) and the links below.

USEFUL LINKS

  • Video Introduction to Arrowsmith 

“Stories of Children with Learning Disabilities and Attention Disorders Who Changed Their Lives by Improving Their Cognitive Functioning”

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is the Arrowsmith Programme?

The Arrowsmith Programme is a classroom-based programme that is founded on the principles of neuroplasticity and works to strengthen weak cognitive areas (learning dysfunctions) that are the underlying causes of learning disabilities and struggles in learning. The programme is composed of cognitive exercises developed by Barbara Arrowsmith Young that strengthens weak cognitive areas, ongoing teacher training and support, and remote monitoring of all students progress.

Is the programme tailored to the student? How long are the students in the programme?

The Programme is individualized for each student. Through an Arrowsmith assessment we are able to identify the student’s areas of cognitive strength and weakness, and we create a tailored programme based on these results. Typically students are in the programme between 3-4 years. More mild profiles can spend 1-2 years, more severe profiles may require 5 or more years.

When would one expect to see evidence of cognitive change? What kind of changes?

We can begin to see changes in students after 3-4 months of participation in the programme. For example, if the student has a Motor Symbol Sequencing difficulty, where he/she has trouble learning motor plans for writing, work in this area quite often begins to improve hand writing after a few months of work. Others will experience improvements in their memory, understanding and attention to task. With more time in the programme, students often begin to change behaviorally, where their new hold on their cognitive abilities can, for example, begin to increase confidence and social awareness among students.

How long are the periods?

Each cognitive period is 40 minutes long. That equates to four 40-minute periods (160 minutes or 2h and 40 min) per day from Monday to Friday. Some students may participate in additional periods.

Is there homework associated with the programme?

Two of the cognitive exercises (Word & Tracing) have a 30 minute homework component to provide further opportunity for cognitive growth.

At home students will do exactly the same thing they are doing in class, so parents do not and should not help their child with their homework.

What qualifies a teacher to be an Arrowsmith teacher?

All Arrowsmith teachers go through an intensive training course that prepares them to deliver the programme within their school as well as all assessment protocols required. With this training they become certified Arrowsmith teachers.

Is there a part time option where a student can do fewer exercises?

Once the Arrowsmith programme is established in a school for 2 years, administrators can seek approval for a part time programme at their school, where a student would have the potential to work on 1-2 cognitive exercises per school year. Most students with learning difficulties require 3-4 years of full time classes (4 periods a day) to strengthen their cognitive weaknesses.

Who does the programme benefit?

Students entering the Arrowsmith Programme have ordinarily been experiencing a range of difficulties such as problems with:

  • reading
  • writing
  • mathematics
  • comprehension
  • logical reasoning
  • visual memory
  • auditory memory
  • non-verbal learning
  • auditory processing
  • attention

We suggest that parents or students review the list of Learning Dysfunctions in the Arrowsmith literature (Chart of Learning Dysfunctions and Learning Outcomes). They will find a list of cognitive areas addressed in our programme and the common features of a deficit.

Who is not suitable for the programme? How do you determine suitability?

Individuals with the conditions listed below are beyond the scope of Arrowsmith Programme. Arrowsmith Programme would therefore not be recommended for these issues. Suitability is determined in consultation between the family and the school. Each school determines its own additional suitability and enrollment criteria. An Arrowsmith assessment does not determine suitability. Features beyond the scope of Arrowsmith Programme:

Acquired Brain Injury- we have worked with some individuals with acquired brain injury with some success. This difficulty is not unknowing the full scope of the injury- what brain tissue has been damaged and to what extent.

Severe Intellectual or Cognitive Disorders- These individuals have difficulty accessing the programme because they have decreased foundational neural connections within the grey matter, and therefore have limitations to the neoplastic capabilities of their brains.

Autism Spectrum Disorders- We have worked with students with autism that are high functioning (e.g Asperger’s) with some success as we can address the non-verbal piece and any underlying cognitive deficits. We cannot address the Autism or Asperger’s as it is not a cognitive weakness.

Emotional or Behavioral Disorders- Some common examples include Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Aggression, Psychiatric disorders. These affect the student’s ability to actively engage in the exercises and will have a direct impact on their progress through the exercises. We suggest individuals with these types of disorders seek treatment for these issues before considering participation in the programme.

Does the programme address attention issues like ADD/ADHD?

Arrowsmith recognizes that ADD/ADHD can be the result of:

1- A cognitive pile up, where there are several weak cognitive areas that often include weakness in executive functioning areas. And since ADD/ ADHD diagnoses are based on observable behaviors, if a child cannot hold attention, carry out a task, is easily distracted, or has difficulty regulating their behaviors they are often labeled as having ADD/ADHD when in fact it is a result of weaknesses in a combination of cognitive areas. As students work through the Arrowsmith Programmes they begin to strengthen these weak cognitive areas and  the need for medication is often reduced or eliminated completely.

2- A neurochemical imbalance at the subcortical level. Because this form of ADD/ADHD is at the neurotransmitter level it is independent of cognitive deficits and therefore cannot be addressed through the Arrowsmith Programme.

What is the youngest/oldest student that has been in the programme?

The youngest student we have in the programme is 6. The oldest to date is 82.

Students younger than 6 will have no or very little experience with desk work, and may find it difficult to sustain engagement and work independently for 40 minutes.

Does my child need a formal identification to participate in the Arrowsmith Programme?

Arrowsmith does not require students participating in the programme to be formally identified as being learning disabled.

**Some schools may require this as part of the student’s enrollment in the program. This is at the discretion of the school.

What is the age range of students in the classroom?

An Arrowsmith classroom is a multi-age classroom, where students of varying ages can work side-by-side doing Arrowsmith exercises.

Since the programme is individualized where each student works on their own cognitive programme, having a range of student ages is not an issue and can even be beneficial, as the older students tend to take on a mentorship role in the classroom with the younger students.

What are the benefits to having younger students in the programme?

By targeting and strengthening learning dysfunctions at a younger age, we remove or lessen the possibility that a learning disability can have damaging effects to a student’s life in the future. They will have the same opportunities as other students without learning difficulties.

If we have any further questions, are we able to contact the Arrowsmith Programme Staff?

All questions regarding Arrowsmith should be answered at the school/ site level. If anyone contacts Arrowsmith Toronto regarding a particular student, your questions will be redirected to the school/site associated with the particular student.

What happens if a high school- aged student wants to do Arrowsmith? What happens to his/her credits?

If students are in Arrowsmith during their high school years they are focusing on developing cognitive strengths and not curriculum content. They will therefore need to earn credits outside of their Arrowsmith Programme. Some students take night, summer or online courses. Some schools offering Arrowsmith schedule students’ days to they are participating in Arrowsmith and also earning high school credits.

What about students with behavioral difficulties ?

Most students who struggle with learning academic skills because of cognitive difficulties also struggle to learn behavioral and social skills. Some have specific difficulties in understanding and nonverbal communication and interpreting the world around them. This confusion that often leads to misbehavior or perceived misbehavior. It is also common for students to develop coping strategies to avoid failure in school, including some antisocial tendencies. These types of behavioral issues are addressed through particular exercises, or by being in an environment where only achievable concrete tasks are placed in front of them.

For those individuals whose resistance, anger, verbal or aggressive behavior is more chronic and/or untreated, the Arrowsmith Programme is unlikely to be suitable for them. The Programme’s structure and required engagement is too challenging for them to manage. It is Arrowmsith’s recommendation that treatment be sought to address serious emotional or behavioral issues before Arrowsmith participation is considered.

What sort of testing/ assessment would my child have to undergo to participate in the programme?

Enrollment in the Arrowsmith Programme is determined in consultation with the family and the participating school. A screening can involve conversations, review of previous school or psychological reports, or a student interview. Once a student is enrolled, they will complete an Arrowsmith assessment. This assessment is administered by the Arrowsmith teacher and involves tests specifically designed for Arrowsmith participation purposes. A psychiatric assessment cannot replace the Arrowsmith assessment process. The Arrowsmith Programme assessment is not designed to diagnose learning disabilities, but to form a student’s unique cognitive profile and create an individualized programme of Arrowsmith cognitive exercises.

How long does it take?

Assessing one student takes approximately 1 full day. The assessment process can also be divided across multiple days to lessen student fatigue or if the participating school schedules it this way.

How is the Arrowsmith assessment different than traditional psycho-educational testing?

Different in both objective and design. Psycho-educational assessments are intended to identify learning disabilities in order to recommend accommodations, modifications, or family resources that might lessen the impact of learning disabilities. Its design varies by administration but typically it will involve observational and standardized measures of cognition and academic performance. Conversely, the Arrowsmith assessment is made of carefully designed tests that isolate cognitive areas and precisely measures their function. The objective of such an assessment is not to create recommendations for classroom accommodations but rather to create the unique profile of the individuals and a programme of exercises that will fundamentally change their learning ability.

How do you determine which exercises a student will work on once they are assessed? As a parent, can I decide which cognitive exercises my child will work on?

Once a student is assessed, an Individual Learning Profile is created which outlines a student’s strengths and weaknesses in each area of cognitive function. Then the appropriate exercises are programmed for the student in order to address their areas of weakness.

There are several factors that involve determining the cognitive exercises that a student will work on; the number of critical learning dysfunctions; the severity and the specific combination of dysfunctions; which areas are most critical to address as improvement in these areas will have the most significant impact in a student’s life (academic and social success); and the time period that a student can commit to the programme. Parents are encouraged to provide insight about their child’s experience, but programming decision are made by Arrowsmith Programme staff.

Is there any research? Is the Arrowsmith Programme effective?

There have been multiple studies performed that demonstrate positive outcomes of Arrowsmith Programme. These studies can be located on the Arrowsmith Programme website.

There are also a number of neuro-imaging and outcome studies that are currently being conducted. For more information about these current research studies, please refer to www.arrrowsmithschool.org to access the Research Initiatives Report.

Do students maintain their improvements? Is there any follow up on how kids are doing after Arrowsmith?

Students do maintain the cognitive gains that they make in the programme. The programme has tracked students 30 years out of the programme and they have not experienced cognitive decline. Also, there is a study on our website that explains how 69% of a 42 student study pool (students with learning disabilities) no longer required any resource support after completing their Arrowsmith Programmes.

Please see the report on the Arrowsmith Programme in the Toronto Catholic District School Board for details. This report can be found at www.arrowsmith.org.

How does this programme compare to other brain training programs like FastForWord?

With the growing awareness of Neuroplasticity around the world, has come the development of many types of brain training programmes. FastForWord, for example, is a programme also rooted in Neuroplasticity that focuses on a combination of cognitive areas that are related to reading skills.

Arrowsmith recognizes that learning disabilities are the result of multiple under-functioning cognitive areas (Learning Dysfunctions). The Arrowsmith Programme is made up of a series of cognitive exercises that target and strengthen the specific under-functioning cognitive areas that could be inhibiting a student from learning to their potential.

Why would a child not succeed in the programme? In what circumstances would the programme not work?

If a student is deemed suitable for the programme by Arrowsmith trained representatives, and this student is not able to actively engage in the cognitive exercises, there is no reason why a student would not benefit from participating in the programme. If a student was removed from their programme prematurely, did not have the family support, or if a student did not properly engage in the exercises, it is possible that success would be limited. If a student with a typical profile is enrolled in the programme, there must be an understanding that cognitive gains cannot easily be predicted and may be limited.

Are all students able to keep up with the work?

The Arrowsmith exercises are designed in a way that students come into class each day and they have an understanding of exactly what they need to do. They have achievable personalized goals that are set by their teacher and homework is assigned for only one area of cognitive function. Some students can experience cognitive fatigue when beginning the programme for up to approximately 6 weeks as they adjust to their new setting and challenges associated with the exercise. Students are working on one cognitive area at a time, and they are working on levels in which they can be successful.