Making it Work: Tailoring your approach for your learner

I am afraid that some readers may take a look at my blog posts and think that all my clients skip eagerly into a RPM session, fingers poised to spell pithy, insightful narratives on the letter board in the midst of rainbows and sunshine! Isn’t that the way it looks when you do RPM?!! Nope, it doesn’t work that way for me either! Let me help tune that image into a more accurate picture with the help of my friend Jarrett.

Jarrett is a super smart, adorable (obviously!), twelve year old. He has been a bit beaten up by what I call, “ground hog day education” – being taught the same things over and over and over. He is a perfectionist and a little weary from a demand to show what he knows in order to be taught anything new. Showing what you know can be tough to do when you have a body that does not cooperate! As you know, my mantra and war cry is PRESUME COMPETENCE….Jarrett and many others kids I work with have been the on receiving end of the opposite tenant – assume incompetence until proven otherwise. Jarrett’s typical response to frustration is to go on strike – full on refusal to participate. So, my very first step with Jarrett was to build a relationship of trust and respect. I do this by presenting Jarrett with age appropriate, interesting, and challenging cognitive lessons.

Jarrett likes options! I pull out every board that I have and let him choose.

I present NEW information in every lesson!  We do not “recycle” information in RPM. I may talk about the same topic in multiple sessions but the content is always new and fresh! For instance, here Jarrett and I are doing part 1 of a 2 part lesson on robotics. There is way too much great information on robotics for me to cover in just one lesson!

I give Jarrett a choice of boards. He is able spell on all the options (the 3 stencil set, the large 26 letter stencil board, the smaller 26 letter stencil board or the laminated board) but sometimes he prefers one board over another. Choosing a board for each response is not my standard operating procedure for my RPM clients but it motivates Jarrett and involves him in the lesson so it has become JOP – Jarrett Operating Procedure!

Jarrett is also a tactile learner - so he enjoys writing the words we have spelled on the letter board.

Jarrett is also a kinesthetic learner – so he enjoys writing the words we have spelled on the letter board. I add my notes along with Jarrett’s!

Jarrett is a great auditory learner. He is absorbing everything he hears. He is also a kinesthetic learner. When I would write down the responses Jarrett pointed to on the letter board, he would also reach for the pencil. I quickly learned that he was letting me know that he wanted to write as well. No problem! At first, Jarrett could not form any letters so we worked hand over hand to form the letters. This significantly improved his pencil grip. As we write the letters, I state the letter strokes required to form the letters (e.g., “A goes down, down and cross”). Guess what has happened? Jarrett is no longer tactilely defensive with the pencil, his pencil grip has improved and he is forming letters independently AND he is not on strike! Now Jarrett is actively engaged in the lesson! It is easy to get caught up in the communicative aspect of RPM and forget that RPM is a “method to integrate all parts of the brain to empower the learner” (Soma Mukhopadhyay). RPM provides a means of expressing what the learner understands via open learning channels – visual, auditory, tactile and kinesthetic. For Jarrett, writing the words he spelled with me engages ALL of his learning channels. For other kids, this same procedure might be torture. The trick is to stay true to the methodology of RPM but actively engage your learner in the ways that he or she learns best! (Not sure what kind of learner your child is? This book is the best guide to figuring that out!).

Of course we have not reached perfection yet (in fact, I have yet to EVER reach perfection in anything!!!). Sometimes parts of our sessions still look like this!



That’s ok! We are in no rush. Jarrett is learning in every session, participating and expressing himself through RPM. Even when Jarrett is on strike, he is still listening and learning. Every lesson builds his confidence and adds to his success. In the meantime, I have plenty of patience and plenty of this…..

As long as I have my coffee, it's all good!

As long as I have coffee, it’s all good!

I think of teaching and therapy as implementation of the scientific method. Form a hypothesis about what may work for your learner. Try it out. Gather your data (is it working/not working; too easy/too hard) and adjust! Be patient with yourself and your learner and enjoy the process! ~Elizabeth




11 thoughts on “Making it Work: Tailoring your approach for your learner

  1. Great blog Elizabeth! Of course I may be a little biased given Jarrett is mine but RPM is changing his life and even through his protests, he is owning this process and making real progress. It is so EXCITING!

  2. Amazing – great pictures and great way to share information about the learning channels! This was a great read and contrasts to Jarrett and his family – he works hard and deserves a “Coffee break too” kudos to Eliz for seeing our children for all their potential…

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