The Tutor Portland Podcast is a show where we sit down with Portland locals to talk all things education and the arts.

In the realm of education, neurodiversity has emerged as a pivotal concept, shifting the narrative from viewing learning differences as deficits to appreciating a spectrum of cognitive abilities. In this episode of the Tutor Portland Podcast, we sat down with Scott Clyburn, founder and director of North Avenue Education, to learn more about neurodiversity and how parents, tutors, and educators can better connect with students who have atypical neurology.

His work at North Avenue Education, advocates for this inclusive perspective. He underscores the importance of recognizing that students, whether neurodivergent or neurotypical, benefit significantly from tailored educational approaches. Embracing neurodiversity not only fosters a more inclusive learning environment but also enables educators to effectively address the unique needs of every student.

Neurodiversity and Novel Tutoring with Scott Clyburn

In this episode of the Tutor Portland Podcast, Scott Clyburn delves into the concept of neurodiversity, a term that has evolved from merely denoting ‘learning disabilities’ to embodying a more inclusive understanding of diverse cognitive and learning styles.

He details how this apt definition is picking up usage, stating, “Thankfully, the term neurodiversity or neurodivergent is becoming more widely used and folks are becoming more aware of what it signifies, especially in a learning or academic context.”

Scott emphasizes that every student possesses a unique brain chemistry, leading to varied learning experiences. This perspective challenges the conventional notion of a ‘typical’ student and advocates for more individualized and differentiated instruction from the beginning. For instance, while a neurotypical student might excel in a traditional lecture-based setting, a student with ADHD might benefit more from interactive and engaging teaching methods.

By highlighting that all students exhibit some degree of neurodivergence, Scott advocates for an educational approach that accommodates this diversity as a norm, rather than adapting teaching methods only when non-neurotypical students are involved. This evolution in understanding marks a significant shift from perceiving neurodivergent traits as deficits to appreciating them as part of the natural variability of the human brain.

This paradigm shift is crucial for educators to understand and integrate into their teaching methodologies. It necessitates a diversification of teaching strategies, moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that is more inclusive and adaptive to various learning styles. Educators are thus encouraged to integrate this understanding into their teaching practices, ensuring that every student’s learning needs are met in a supportive and enriching educational environment.

Practical Strategies for Teaching Neurodivergent Students

Delving into the practicalities of teaching neurodivergent students, Scott highlights unique challenges and effective strategies. Students with ADHD, dyslexia, and autism, he notes, face distinct hurdles in conventional educational settings. To aid these students, Scott emphasizes structured learning environments, clear reward systems, and the critical need for breaking down large tasks into manageable steps. He also stresses the importance of concrete study strategies, helping students to navigate the complexities of their educational journeys with greater ease and confidence.

When discussing practical strategies for teaching neurodivergent students, a specific example of a concrete study strategy shared by Scott Clyburn is the use of visual aids for students with dyslexia. He suggests leveraging graphic organizers, such as mind maps or flowcharts, to help these students visually organize and process information. This strategy can be particularly effective in breaking down complex concepts into simpler, more manageable parts, aiding comprehension and retention for students who struggle with traditional text-based learning.

Executive Functioning and Self-Advocacy in Education

Scott Clyburn emphasizes the critical role of executive functioning in a student’s academic success. He discusses how executive skills, such as task initiation, focus, and organization, are vital for effective learning, especially for neurodivergent students. Scott highlights the importance of teaching these skills explicitly, noting that they are often overlooked in traditional education.

Additionally, Scott touches on the significance of self-advocacy, particularly for students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 plans. He advises students to understand their learning needs and communicate them effectively to educators. This approach ensures they receive the appropriate support and accommodations, fostering a more inclusive and effective learning environment.

From Tutor Portland’s perspective, the emphasis on executive functioning and self-advocacy in education is paramount. They advocate for a teaching approach that not only imparts academic knowledge but also builds essential life skills. This includes guiding students in developing organizational, time management, and task completion skills, which are particularly beneficial for those with ADHD.

Our tutors stress the importance of self-advocacy, encouraging students to understand and articulate their learning needs. This approach aligns with our broader mission to empower students, equipping them with the tools they need for academic and personal success.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Education and Test Prep

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the landscape of education and test preparation, as highlighted by Scott Clyburn in the Tutor Portland Podcast. One of the critical challenges has been the shift to remote learning, especially in math education. Students have faced difficulties in mastering fundamental concepts in courses like algebra and pre-calculus remotely, leading to gaps in their understanding. These gaps have become evident in standardized test preparation, where tutors at North Avenue Education frequently encounter these deficiencies.

Furthermore, the pandemic has influenced the world of standardized testing and college admissions. With the advent of remote learning and the challenges of organizing large testing centers, there has been a movement towards making standardized tests like the SAT and ACT optional. This shift acknowledges that these tests may not effectively benchmark all students’ abilities, particularly those who are neurodiverse. Clyburn notes that while some students might choose not to submit their scores, others could benefit significantly from standardized testing as part of their college applications.

In summary, the pandemic has not only challenged traditional learning methods but also catalyzed a reevaluation of standardized testing’s role in education. This period of change provides an opportunity to develop more inclusive and effective strategies for student assessment and education.

The Future of Education and Neurodiversity

The future of education, as highlighted by Scott Clyburn in the Tutor Portland Podcast, is pivoting towards a deeper understanding and integration of neurodiversity. This shift isn’t merely about acknowledging varied learning styles, but is an essential embrace of these differences as integral to individual identity and diversity. Clyburn touches on several critical areas:

Recognition of Neurodiversity: Neurodiversity is becoming increasingly recognized as a vital part of the broader cultural conversation about diversity and identity. This recognition is about appreciating the unique perspectives and problem-solving abilities that neurodivergent individuals bring.

Rethinking Educational Approaches: There’s a growing realization that traditional educational methods, often designed with the ‘neurotypical’ student in mind, may not be the most effective for all. The future likely holds more personalized and inclusive strategies that cater to a spectrum of learning styles and needs.

Changing Views on Standardized Testing: The discussion delves into the changing landscape of standardized testing, partly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The move towards test-optional college admissions signifies a growing understanding that standardized tests may not be the best benchmark for all students, especially those who are neurodiverse.

Empowering Neurodivergent Students: A significant part of empowering neurodivergent students involves teaching them self-advocacy skills, especially important for those with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 Plans. These skills are crucial for their success in higher education and beyond, where they must advocate for themselves due to privacy laws like HIPAA.

Re-contextualizing Education Post-Pandemic: The pandemic has forced a reevaluation of educational practices, highlighting the need for more individualized and flexible approaches. This re-contextualization may lead to a more equitable and effective educational system, catering to a wider range of student needs and circumstances.

In summary, Scott Clyburn’s insights paint a picture of an educational future where neurodiversity is not just acknowledged but is central to teaching methodologies. This future envisions an education system that is adaptable, inclusive, and recognizes the unique strengths and challenges of each learner, paving the way for a more holistic and effective approach to education.

Takeaways and Resources

The conversation with Scott Clyburn on the Tutor Portland Podcast brings forth several critical insights into neurodiversity and education. A major takeaway is the need to recognize and embrace neurodiversity not just as a learning style but as an integral part of a person’s identity. This approach calls for individualized learning methods tailored to each student’s unique needs, especially for those who are neurodivergent.

Another key point is the importance of fostering self-advocacy in students, particularly those with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) or 504 plans. This skill is vital in ensuring that their educational needs are adequately met.

For more information on these topics or to explore further resources, listeners are encouraged to reach out to North Avenue Education, where Clyburn’s expertise in this field continues to make a significant impact.

The full podcast episode sheds greater light on the importance of understanding and embracing diverse cognitive and learning styles in our educational systems. You can listen to the interview here at the top of the webpage, or you can check us out over on Spotify using this link.