A Mind at a Time by Mel Levine

Feb 22, 2014

As I contemplated this review, I realized it could either be very long or very short.

If I went the long route, I would outline the structure of the book (Levine devotes a chapter to each of the mind's systems: attention control, memory, language, spatial and sequential ordering, motor, higher thinking, and social thinking), share some of my favorite quotes, and discuss the surprising discoveries of strengths/weaknesses in myself and my children.

If I took the short route, then I would briefly write about what I liked/didn't like about the book and call it good.

Honestly, I invested so much time and mental energy in reading and trying to apply this book that I think my original enthusiasm slowly drained, and I don't have much left in me to write a thorough review.

So the short route it is.

I know I'm making it sound like I didn't like the book. In fact, I liked it very much. But I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that it's a dense, technical book. Levine shares many personal examples from his practice, but he also uses a lot of classifications and scientific terms (many of them made up by himself for his own use) that really made this feel like an academic read. When I finally finished it, I felt some of the elation, but also some of the exhaustion, I used to feel after finishing a college course.

There was so much information to consume and digest and process and apply. In many ways, it was too much information. My brain couldn't retain it all. (I'm really grateful we read it for my education group so that I could at least discuss it with someone else.) After watching a 20-minute TED talk this afternoon, I sadly realized that I probably will remember more from that one talk than my 4+ months of reading this book.

That said, I thought Levine was a good teacher. He explained every concept thoroughly and with tangible examples. I admired his dedication to the needs of all children and appreciated the way he acknowledged that every child has weaknesses and strengths. I think this will be a great resource as my children grow up and their learning styles evolve (which, Levine points out, often happens--a child might originally show strength in a certain area, but then when he gets into the upper grades and has to apply more higher thinking, he might unexpectedly begin to flounder).

Obviously, you can tell from this short review that this is not going to be a book I recommend to everyone. However, I really am glad I persevered and finished it, and I wish it was required reading for every teacher . . . I think we teach too much to a pre-designed, unwavering formula, and it just doesn't work for the wide variety of children's personalities, temperaments, and learning styles.

Okay, I can't resist. I'll leave you with just one quote: "...I deal with this issue of fairness all the time, but I believe fervently that to treat all children the same way is to treat them unequally. Different kids have different learning needs; they have a right to have their needs met."

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