Horacio Sanchez, one of the foremost authorities on child and adolescent behavioral disorders and resiliency practice, explains how to successfully educate and respond to “at risk” students. Sanchez explains why low academic performance, destructive behaviors, and habitual negative patterns occur, and more importantly, he explains that there is great hope for at-risk kids if schools respond to them in an appropriate way. The following is an abridged version of our interview with Horacio Sanchez.
Q: What should a teacher know about the brain and how it learns?
Horacio Sanchez: Well, the most important thing that has been established over and over again by the researchers: people learn based on what they already know, and you can learn some very complex things if someone can relate them to the information you already know.
But there are certain little things that we did not know before. For example, if I communicate with you and relate things very well to what you already know, the chemical movement in processing that information is low and enables you to perform at a very high ability. If I give you information and you struggle in connecting it, the chemical movement is enough to cause some degree of disturbance in your ability to process it. And the last thing is, if I give you information that challenges something you already believe, the chemical movement is severe and causes some degree of irritation.
So there are multiple pitfalls here. The first one is very simple: if you don’t really spend time understanding what students know the most about, there is no way you can relate to every child. What teachers have gotten used to is assuming the amount of information an individual already has, and building from there. [But] what ends up happening is, certain kids are coming to you without having the same amount of exposure, and those kids struggle because you are assuming things they don’t have. When you give them information, they don’t have things to connect [it] to.
Q: Thinking of an inner city teacher struggling to connect with her students, what can you tell her about brain-based research as it applies to her class?
Horacio Sanchez: Research has probably not changed things as much as people think it has. A lot of what we’ve learned about how people learn [are things that] good teachers already do intuitively.