Layered Skills & Compound Interest

January 10, 2020

Since the Shut-Down Learner came out some time ago, I have tried to write a blog once a week and have largely stayed in that rhythm.  At this point, I believe there are some 400 blog posts on

Even though it is self-imposed, by Wednesday of each week stress emerges with the dread of not knowing what I am going to write for the new week’s blog post.

So, for inspiration, this Wednesday I dipped back in the well and skimmed among the 400 posts previously written.

One that caught my eye encouraged parents to have a “compound interest mentality” when it comes to children and their “stuff.”

What does that mean?

With a compound interest mentality there are two keys.

The first key is to identify the specific skill that needs to be taught, practiced, mastered and internalized.

The second key is to have lots of patience.  Even when the skill is being well taught, it takes a lot of time to become mastered and internalized.

Let’s take Frederick, age 9, who has been diagnosed with mild autism.  Wanting to get a different perspective on Frederick, his parents bring him in to me for an assessment.

Walking right by me when I meet him, there was no  hand shake, no “fist-bump” or other such social greeting.

Following the assessment among other things, we discussed the “skill of social greeting.”

“We could make February, ‘Say Hello February,’” I said to the parents.  “We could  focus in on the skill of greeting.  For a while, let’s practice saying hello and shaking hands.  Once that skill is internalized, we can target another skill to layer on top of that one. In other words, it’s like compound interest – improvement on top of improvement.”

The same mindset can apply to reading or writing.  For example most of the kids that I assess have significant issues with writing.  Part of the problem is that the kids are not taught one discrete skill at a time.   There is no mastery of skill leading to the mastery of another  skill.  It’s almost all “open-ended” writing. (“Write about your holiday.”)

I explained this to the parents of Maria, age 10, who had severe writing issues.

“For a while, Maria needs to focus on the skill of writing a simple sentence.   At this time she has no idea about the concept of a sentence.  We need to break it down for her, even starting with the idea that a  sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a period.   Once she has mastered the simple sentence, then the next step would be to target more complex sentences.”

The key to the Fredericks and Marias of the world is to have a lot of patience and to practice the skill toward mastery.

Once a particular skill is mastered and internalized and becomes a part of the child’s make up, then  new skills are layered on top, improvement on top of improvement.

Copyright, 2020
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All comments (4)
  • Jo
    January 10, 2020 at 6:53 pm

    Love the idea of hello February’! My son has the same issue as the kid in the example. He’s just silent […] Read MoreLove the idea of hello February’! My son has the same issue as the kid in the example. He’s just silent when people greet him and it’s very annoying because he is sweet and kind and generous in other circumstances. I like the idea of layering skills and will have to think about how to implement this in our family! Read Less

    • Richard Selznick, Ph.D.
      January 11, 2020 at 6:29 pm

      Thanks, Joann. Thrilled you liked it. I agree with what you are saying, as kids (and people) are often judged by those small […] Read MoreThanks, Joann. Thrilled you liked it. I agree with what you are saying, as kids (and people) are often judged by those small interactions. Read Less

  • Joanna
    January 11, 2020 at 7:48 pm

    Once again, Dr. Selznick is right on target: teach skills in small increments and HAVE PATIENCE...!!!


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