Training Skills or Changing Minds?

warning: Variable passed to each() is not an array or object in /home/ on line 1125.

by Michaela Dedek & Frances Di Cocco

A presentation on active learning made at the 2005 National Conference for Conductive Education

Our philosophy of learning and how it occurs underpins what we do and the opportunities we provide classroom and at home. Our beliefs about children and their capabilities impacts upon the extent of their learning. We therefore need to address and sometimes challenge other's beliefs about the capabilities of students and children.

We seek to maximise the opportunities for learning and participation amongst the individuals we work with. We are aware that the attitudes of learners shapes the learning process and plays a crucial role in the outcomes achieved. We also believe it is important to reflect on our attitudes and practices, to reflect on our interactions with the children we work with and on how these factors support or inhibit the learning process.

In Australia and overseas, we have worked with many people who do not share the philosophy of active learning, who come from a background where they are used to doing things for the child and may not be accustomed to seeing the opportunities for development and learning in everyday activities. We want to describe our experiences as trainers or consultants who are attempting to foster changes of attitudes and viewpoints.
Our training sessions overseas have focused on and discussed active learning as an important aspect of education. In the conferences in Romania we decided to focus on ‘active learning’ as a philosophy and approach which is essential to the learning process. We highlighted the importance of providing opportunities for participation in everyday activities, and discussed the philosophy and some of the principles which underpin conductive education.


  1. The child is encouraged to be an active participant in the learning process and is not viewed as a passive participant.

  2. The past experiences and knowledge that the child or individual brings to the earning process are valued.

  3. The individual is encouraged to build and construct upon this knowledge through active involvement in activities.

Conductive Education is based on a premise of active learning. It promotes the development of the child’s personality, the adoption of an active way of life and a problem-solving mentality (Kozma, 1995). Peto used the term ‘orthofunctional’ to describe such personality development. Conductive Education supports the development of the orthofunctional personality in a variety of ways, particularly in 'open expectations' (meaning that we consider the role that our level of expectation plays in learning, because it colours everything we do).


  • facilitation

  • viewing the child as a whole entity

  • viewing skills within the context in which they are used, relating movements and integrating movement into the whole day: this recognises the holistic nature of human development, that the interplay and interdependency of aspects of development and learning need to be reflected in structure and daily activities (Withall, 1999)

  • focusing on the intention behind skills: the importance of providing motivation, ensuring the successful experience of students, and developing confidence, self personality and independence

  • understanding the underlying purposes of the tasks: skills learnt can be applied to other, everyday, functional settings; this entails developing the child’s self-esteem (that they can learn), and encouraging “I can do” thinking

In all our training (of ourselves and others) we must remember that we are all shaped by our backgrounds: the way we’ve been brought up and our belief systems about children. Look at the differences of opinions we see regarding child rearing among our own age group let alone across generations, personalities and cultures! Also, we are all affected by how we were treated as children, how much we think children can understand and how much we think they can be responsible for themselves.

Some of the beliefs, attitudes and mindsets we have encountered to various degrees in the cultural settings in which we have worked are that:

  • behaviour is not learned; instead, children are born good or bad (and are labelled as such)

  • independence is not a priority

  • academic knowledge is more important than figuring things out: because they have always been told what to do, adults are not taught to problem-solve; they can either do a task or they can’t

  • creativity is not valued: when lots of therapy is creativity based this is seen as a waste of time

  • the product is more important than the process: people want answers

  • present thinking dominates: there is a tendency not to think or plan ahead

Because of all these beliefs, children are often not expected to do things for themselves or take responsibility for themselves until they reach ‘adulthood’ (teens), eg dressing oneself, or boys packing up or cleaning up. This belief is magnified with children with disabilities. Because of the difficulties that children with disabilities encounter, people want to care for them, and it is harder and takes more time to do things with them. We all need to be challenged as to our view of these children and their capabilities and potential. In Conductive Education we challenge all of these views.

We would say instead that:

  • behaviour is learned

  • independence is important for self-esteem and development

  • problem-solving is also important for development as well as encouraging the child to take responsibility for themselves

  • creativity is an important expression of self as well as a fun way of developing important skills; and fun is important for learning!

  • process is more important than the product: one can’t get to the product without the process

  • that it is important to look ahead, to look beyond the present, beyond what is easier or what children cannot do; and to think in a long-term sense when thinking of the child’s future development, potential needs and future needs, instead of focusing on their immediate care

Our experience is that these points are in stark contrast to the views of many. It is important for us to acknowledge how big a jump it is for many of the people we train and to be empathetic.

Hurdles that reduce opportunities for active learning:

  • a different view of learning: academic focus, discouragement of questioning, rote learning, emphasis on end result (ie passing), focus on the testing of knowledge (so if a child can’t talk or point, knowledge is untestable and is therefore assumed to be absent, which leads to reduced expectations)

  • viewing of skills in isolation: working on splinter skills rather than integrating skills into functional contexts

  • ownership of certain disciplines: children being seen in isolation, therefore not in a holistic, integrated or transdisciplinary way; and fear of losing respect if information is shared

  • a lack of resources: toys locked away, and no exposure to ‘new’ ideas

  • not enough time or staff: this brings a temptation to do for the child what they can do for themselves

  • shame and embarrassment: religious, cultural, social and personal views of disability

  • attitudes: children with disabilities cannot learn; pity and caring (doing things for the child); so that child sees self as passive and helpless

  • product vs process: concern with appearance rather than opportunity to explore and express; not understanding the value of activities to learning

What we’ve found important in facilitating change is:

  1. Understanding the thinking (philosophy) behind our actions. This comes through in everything we do and effects everything we do. This is more important than specific skills, information or techniques.

  2. Not focusing on teaching specific skills or specific information so much as the thinking or attitudes behind this. If people don’t understand then things won’t be done well or at all.

  3. Always explaining why we do the things we do, and talking about why this will help in future.

  4. Modeling in a way that demonstrates the philosophy; for example, rather than talking about how to help children, show how you would help children to help themselves. “You are not looking at the food. You need to look at the food before you can pick it up with the fork.” Help open people's eyes to the opportunities for learning.

  5. Talking about disability and learning: all learn in steps and stages, not leaps. Talk about normal development and how we learn tasks: children with disabilities are people and learn as people. Teach problem solving and task analysis, ie breaking down the task; small steps lead to bigger steps. Also explain that splinter skilling makes children dependent on outside input. If we apply some Conductive Education principles in our training of staff, we must teach them to talk through problems; to problem solve so that they can be more effective without us.

  6. Understanding and communicating: don’t assume that definitions are understood; instead paint a picture as you talk. As in conductive education use repetitive ideas and simple words to prompt when people are watching.

  7. Building relationship (this is vital): particularly in non-western cultures but also here in Australia. People need to know that you are there to help, not to order them around or be condescending.

  8. Developing people: let them have a go. Don’t forget that they also need help. It’s so easy for us to get frustrated because we expect people to learn quickly and help rather than to take time. Like anyone else teachers need to understand and take time to learn. The interaction and rapport between the teacher and the learner are equally (if not more) important than the curriculum or the skills we are teaching. A lot of what we do in our training is trying to encourage people in their interaction with the children, which interlinks strongly with the philosophy of seeing everyone as a learner. This is not taught directly, but instead complements the challenging of philosophies and attitudes.

Michaela Dedek is an occupational therapist at the Yooralla Society of Victoria, and Frances Di Cocco is a teacher and speech pathologist at Belmore Special School.

Powered by Drupal - Modified by Danger4k