Skills Deficits or Areas for Growth?

Training And Development

Why, when looking at helping children, do we focus on calling areas that they have yet to master as deficits and disorders, rather than areas for further growth with directed instruction?  Why do we take a deficits-based approach rather than a strengths-based approach?

Whether a child would benefit from more reading instruction using a multisensory, structured, language-based approach to master reading and spelling, more instruction and support in the development of social emotional skills, or instruction to expand his vocabulary and language skills through verbal and nonverbal means, we need to frame these are areas for further growth to add to his list of strengths. We would increase the child’s self-image and confidence by focusing with the child on where his current strengths are and where are areas of future strengths, which can be developed through individual, focused instruction.

This would require us to  not talk about having the student stop doing activities that showcase his strengths, such as art, music, or sports, which is a problem that many students have to live with. Instead, we need to focus on using the times already set in  the curriculum for the skills training needed for future endeavors by providing smaller group and individual skill-building instruction.  I know, we call this special education. But special  education focuses on deficits. Special education has also lost its focus on remediation as policies have changed to look at most-inclusive classrooms, which for students in need of skill building, become more restrictive environments.

In the world of sports, and in many  businesses, as this point, the emphasis has changed to coaching to focus on areas where strength building and skill development are the targets for advancement. A good coach doesn’t talk about where failures are. The focus is on what is the goal of the player or student.  Then the objectives and resources are looked at to help the student reach his goal. Some goals are many years away, such as a 3rd grader who wants to be a firefighter some day. But the objectives can be very similar academically for many long-term goals. The resources may include one-on-one assistance/instruction to build a firm foundation for further growth. It may entail providing technology for accessing knowledge beyond where his current academic skill-set it. It may require providing more instruction on the hows and whys of social emotional interactions, along with support and feedback as he practices these skills.

Let’s develop a growth mindset when looking at providing support to children. Let’s stop focusing on defeats but on future endeavors with the supports for success.

5 thoughts on “Skills Deficits or Areas for Growth?

  1. Language is indeed important, especially when presenting information to parents. A related language issue is how we refer to our students. Words like “kids” when referring to adolescents often tends to lower expectations. “Oh, they are just kids” is one such example.


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