Mike L. Miller
Developmental Learning Specialist

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What is a Developmental Learning Specialist?

Simply put, a tutor is usually an expert in subject matter; a Learning Specialist is an expert in learning itself. And while a Learning Specialist traditionally carries a degree in Special Education, my degree comes from the Developmental Teacher Education program at UC Berkeley. The Developmental approach to teaching refers to an emphasis on meeting each student exactly where she is on her developmental path—that is, the focus is on the student first rather than the subject matter being taught. Studying all varieties of pedagogy, remediation and enrichment for all kinds of learners, I came to find my niche in looking for creative ways to solve individual learning struggles for all kinds of students. In fact, my experience has shown me that the labels gifted, mainstream and special needs sell all three categories grievously short.

Each child carries a remarkable, unique and very personal spectrum of strengths and struggles; a child placed in any category can benefit from the multi-sensory approaches developed for the "special needs" population and surely every child deserves the kind of "enrichment" activities developed for the "gifted" population.

Herein lies the joy of one-on-one work: for a child who is wilting under the sense that he is somehow defective or even utterly incapable, we can throw the labels out the window, continually reinforce the notion that everyone has both strengths and struggles, and celebrate that child's strengths while he learns to use them to overcome learning challenges.

Though similar, a Developmental Learning Specialist differs from an Educational Therapist in two important ways: An Educational Therapist is trained in formal assessment and a variety of LD-specific remediation exercises and processes to focus therapeutic efforts upon improving particular diagnosed struggles. Mike relies upon informal assessment and exercises he has either created in response to past students' needs or adapted from colleagues' shared approaches. He streamlines his work via the recommendations of Educational Psychologists, Speech and Language Pathologists, and Educational Therapists, but his initial approach is primarily guided not by these diagnoses, but rather by the desire, first, to reduce emotional suffering, and, a close second, to improve independent learning skills and academic success. An Educational Therapist has completed rigorous coursework as well as at least 1,500 supervised hours of individual therapy practice. Mike's Master of Arts in Elementary Education and Multiple Subject Credential has a much broader focus, and though he has accrued over 5,000 hours of one-on-one work with students, he did not benefit from the formal reflection and feedback that comes with academic supervision during this work.

Simply put, for acutely honed, formal remediation aimed exclusively at a particular learning difference, an Educational Therapist may be more appropriate. For a similarly holistic yet novel approach to integrating student-skills, self-advocacy, and content-knowledge--especially for 5th-9th grade students who have received intensive remediation in earlier grades but still struggle to "put it all together"--Mike may be a perfect fit.

For a more in-depth description of the core principles of Mike's practice, click here.

For the mikecanhelp.net video channel, click here.

If you're feeling more DIY, but want some pointers, look through the archive of Mike's blog, here.

© Mike L. Miller 2008
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