Arrowsmith History

Arrowsmith History

Arrowsmith Program

Founded by Barbara Arrowsmith Young in 1978, the Arrowsmith Program is based on two lines of research.  The first body of work, research by neuropsychologist Dr. A.R. Luria, established that different areas of the brain, working together, are responsible for complex mental activities, such as reading or writing.  It also demonstrated that a weakness in one area can affect a number of different learning processes.  The second line of research, that of Dr. M.R. Rosenzweig, investigated the principle of neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to physically change in response to stimulus and activity, to develop new neuronal/synaptic interconnections and thereby develop and adapt new functions and roles believed to be the physical mechanism of learning. Neuroplasticity refers to structural and functional changes in the brain that are brought about by training and experience. Research in neuroscience is leading to new insights into the ways in which the brain changes in response to experience and points to the conclusion that the brain is not static but rather is dynamically changing and undergoes such changes throughout one’s entire life.  These two lines of research led Arrowsmith Young to reason that, if particular areas of the brain are responsible for certain cognitive functions, a task which stimulates that area should enable it to become stronger and have greater capacity for learning.

Traditionally, students with learning disabilities have been treated with programs designed to compensatefor their difficulties – students who have difficulty with handwriting, for example, would be taught to use a keyboard or accommodated with more time to write exams.  The goal of the Arrowsmith Program, by contrast, is to help students strengthen the weak cognitive capacities underlying their learning dysfunctions. The Arrowsmith Program deals with the root causes of the learning disability rather than managing its symptoms. The Arrowsmith Program is capacity based, in that it changes the capacity of the individual to learn, rather than compensate, which tries to work around the problem. Strengthening these weaker capacities increases the overall functioning of these specific cognitive areas allowing them to be used effectively for learning.  The goal of the Arrowsmith Program is for individuals to become effective, confident and self-directed learners for life and to enable them to achieve their goals of academic and career success. It has proven successful with students in elementary and secondary school through to post-secondary school and with adults. Most students return to a full academic curriculum at their appropriate grade level following completion of a three or four year program.

History of Arrowsmith Schools

The Arrowsmith Program of cognitive exercises was first offered to students with learning disabilities in 1978 and Arrowsmith School (in Toronto) was established in 1980. Arrowsmith School has operated continuously in Toronto since then and now occupies the two buildings in mid-town Toronto. Arrowsmith School Peterborough located about 2 hours east of Toronto was established as a wholly owned affiliate in 2005.

In 1997, the Toronto Catholic District School Board began to offer the Arrowsmith Program. Several independent schools in Ontario and British Columbia also began to offer the Arrowsmith Program beginning in 2002. In 2005, the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach became the first school in the United States to offer the Arrowsmith Program. In 2005, Howard Eaton established Eaton Arrowsmith Learning Centre in Vancouver which has expanded to over 100 students with a new school in Victoria opening in September, 2009. In 2008, the Eaton Cognitive Improvement Centre became the first site to offer the Arrowsmith Program exclusively to adults and young adults. Three more U.S. schools began to offer the Arrowsmith Program starting in September, 2007 and another four U.S. schools started in September, 2008. The Learning Disabilities Association of Saskatchewan became the first learning disabilities association to offer the Arrowsmith Program at a centre in Saskatoon in September, 2008.

(A list of all the schools that offer the Arrowsmith Program may be found by clicking here.)

An Evolving Program

Since its inception, the Arrowsmith Program has undergone changes.  For example, CDs and MP3 players have replaced audiotapes, and computerized exercises, developed and programmed at Arrowsmith School, have replaced some pencil and paper exercises. Additional exercises have been developed and the methodology has been constantly refined; however, the underlying philosophy has remained the same. The Arrowsmith Program identifies areas of learning strength and weakness through careful assessment and then designs a program of individualized exercises for each student to target their precise areas of weakness.

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