Arrowsmith School

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Arrowsmith School
The main section of the Arrowsmith school, Toronto.
245 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto, Ontario, M4V 1R3, Canada
Coordinates 43°41′08″N 79°24′20″W / 43.6856°N 79.4056°W / 43.6856; -79.4056Coordinates: 43°41′08″N 79°24′20″W / 43.6856°N 79.4056°W / 43.6856; -79.4056
Religious affiliation None
Principal Barbara Arrowsmith Young
School type Private Co-educational Brain training day school
Language English
Founded 1980 (1980)

The Arrowsmith School is a school in Toronto that focuses on children with learning disabilities (also referred to as specific learning difficulties[1]). Founded in 1980, the original Arrowsmith School is in Toronto, Ontario and a second location was opened in May 2005 in Peterborough, Ontario. Another branch known as the Eaton Arrowsmith School was opened also in 2005 in Victoria, British Columbia.

The school's philosophy and methods, called the Arrowsmith Program, have been incorporated in other public and private schools in Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.[2]

Founded by Barbara Arrowsmith Young in 1978, the Arrowsmith Program helps students with learning disabilities by claims of using research in the principle of neuroplasticity, which suggests that the brain is dynamic and constantly rewiring itself. It is also founded on Ms. Arrowsmith Young’s personal experience of living with learning disabilities. In her late 20s, she had logical and verbal impairments that were so severe she couldn’t tell time by reading a clock – a struggle detailed in her recent book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain'.[3]

To help herself, Ms. Arrowsmith Young developed cognitive exercises that she claims help in stimulating the growth of neural pathways. She now has her students – who are not only children, but include adults into their 80s – follow a similar approach.[4]

Barbara Arrowsmith Young[edit]

Barbara Arrowsmith Young is the Founder and Director of the Arrowsmith Program, and author of The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.[5]

Diagnosed in grade one as having a mental block, which today would have been identified as multiple learning disabilities, she read and wrote everything backwards, had trouble processing concepts in language, continuously got lost and was physically uncoordinated. Barbara eventually learned to read and write from left to right and claims to have masked a number of the symptoms of her learning disabilities through heroic effort; however she continued throughout her educational career to have difficulty with specific aspects of learning.[6]

Barbara Arrowsmith Young holds both a B.A.Sc. in Child Studies from the University of Guelph, and a Master’s degree in School Psychology from the University of Toronto O.I.S.E. (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education).

In graduate school she came across two lines of research that intrigued her. Alexander Luria’s description of specific brain function lead her to a clearer understanding of her own learning problems and the work of Mark Rosenzweig suggested the possibility of improving brain function through specific stimulation, at least in animals. This lead to the creation of her first cognitive exercise designed to improve the learning capacity involved in logical reasoning. The results were positive according to Arrowsmith with gains in verbal reasoning, mathematical reasoning and conceptual understanding. This lead to a further exploration of the nature of specific learning capacities and to creating exercises to strengthen them.

The Arrowsmith Program[edit]

Arrowsmith Program refers to the Arrowsmith school's methodology that is made available to students in public and private schools in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.[7]

Founded by Barbara Arrowsmith Young in 1978, the Arrowsmith Program helps students with learning disabilities by using the research in neuroplasticity theories, which suggest the brain is dynamic, and constantly rewiring itself. It is also founded on Ms. Arrowsmith Young’s personal experience in living with learning disabilities.

The Arrowsmith Program is founded on two lines of research, one of which established that different areas of the brain working together are responsible for complex mental activities, such as reading or writing, and that a weakness in one area can affect a number of different learning processes.

The other line of research 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.

Schools that use the Arrowsmith Program include:

Schools owned and operated by Howard Eaton's Eaton Educational Group Ltd, such as the Eaton Arrowsmith School in Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia, the Eaton Arrowsmith School White Rock in White Rock and the Magnussen School in Vancouver, use the Arrowsmith Program.

The Arrowsmith Program can be used by children and adults with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia who have at least average intelligence.[14] The program is not suitable for people who have an autism spectrum disorder.[15]

Collectively in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand, more than 65 schools use the Arrowsmith Program.[16]

The Brehm Preparatory School in Carbondale, Illinois, the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, the Alliance Charter Academy in Oregon City, Oregon, Westminster Schools of Augusta in Augusta, Georgia, and the Dallas Christian School in Mesquite, Texas use the Arrowsmith Program.[17][18][19][20][21]

Skepticism and criticism[edit]

A lot of doubt and criticism has emerged, including from psychologists, neurologists and learning experts, on the credibility of the Arrowsmith program due to the lack of evidence of change in learning skills as well as the high costs.

Professor Anne Castles is deputy director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders at Macquarie University, Australia.[22] Castles has stated in an article in the Learning Difficulties Australia Bulletin, an organization she is a council member of, that there is "a clear lack of independent research to support the program's claims", and no study has been published in a peer-reviewed journal on the Arrowsmith program.[23]

In a separate commentary co-written with Genevieve McArthur, Associate Professor at the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University, Castles gives her analysis of why she is not in favor of the Arrowsmith program.[24]

Neuroscientists in Australia have criticized the Arrowsmith program where trials were being conducted to incorporate the program into local Catholic schools. They contend the Arrowsmith school's claims of being research based are unfounded. It was further reported that Dr Emma Burrows, a neuroscientist from the Florey Institute in Melbourne, directly confronted Barbara Arrowsmith on whether neuroscientists were involved in testing her program and its methods and the answer she got was that they were not involved.[25]

Emeritus Professor Max Coltheart from the department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University explains that there is no neuoroscientific evidence to support the program's credibility.[26] Professor Coltheart advises against such programs and stresses the need for scientific evidence to support their beneficial claims.[27]

Dr Linda Siegel, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Educational and Counseling Psychology as well as special education, has repeatedly criticized studies supportive of the Arrowsmith School. Siegel argues that none of these studies, including the two published on the Arrowsmith school's website, provide any scientific evidence in favor of their program, nor do all the testimonials live up to its claims.[28]

In 2003 the Vancouver School Board (VSB) received an 8 month Arrowsmith Program Evaluation Report from Linda Siegel.[29] Two programs for elementary students with learning disabilities were to be compared over a three year period.

The Arrowsmith Program and an Extended Learning Assistance Class (ELAC) which focused on reading and writing were to be compared on measures of students’ cognitive ability and academic achievement. The Arrowsmith Program was to be piloted for three years (the average length of time it takes to complete the program) and the VSB received funding through the Vancouver Foundation.

After the first eight months of the pilot, tests of cognitive ability and academic achievement were given to all students involved in the study and an evaluation was written by Siegel (only achievement measures were reported). Siegel stated in her conclusion of her 8 month evaluation that, “On all but the comprehension and spelling measures, ELAC performed at higher levels than Arrowsmith, often by a relatively large amount.” However, results from a review of Siegel’s data by Howard Eaton, founder of the Eaton Arrowsmith School, indicate her statements regarding the ELAC group are incorrect and do a disservice to those who could benefit from the Arrowsmith Program.

In his paper, Siegel’s Study: Points For Comment, Howard Eaton argues that there are a variety of serious methodological, calculation, and statistical problems associated with the Siegel evaluation, and even with those problems there was no statistical support for the above conclusion. Analysis by two independent statisticians, one at the University of Toronto and one at the University of British Columbia, shows that the only statistically significant findings supported by the test scores presented in Siegel’s evaluation are that the Arrowsmith students showed greater gains in Comprehension and Spelling subtest measures as compared to the ELAC group. No subtests showed statistical significance in favor of the ELAC group.

The Arrowsmith Program was discontinued at the VSB and Siegel’s eight month evaluation was noted as being influential in this decision. Additionally, Eaton claims that Siegel’s study has been cited by Siegel herself, media and professionals involved in education as evidence against the effectiveness of the Arrowsmith Program.[30]

In 2008 a CBC documentary about the Arrowsmith program included interviews from various people including Dr Linda Siegel, whose criticisms were later edited out of the documentary after Arrowsmith's lawyers issued a libel notice to the CBC. This nearly led to a legal stand off between Arrowsmith and Seigel.[31][32]

According to the Department of Special Needs Education at the University of Oslo in Norway, research and studies reveal that 'brain training' programs do not show any serious effectiveness in memory and other cognitive difficulties.[33][34]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What are Specific Learning Difficulties - About Dyslexia - The British Dyslexia Association". 
  2. ^ "Schools That Offer the Arrowsmith Program". Arrowsmith School. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 2011-09-01. 
  3. ^ "The Woman Who Changed Her Brain". 
  4. ^ "Can a controversial learning program transform brains?". The Globe and Mail. 
  5. ^ "The Woman Who Changed Her Brain". 
  6. ^ "Profile". 
  7. ^ "Arrowsmith Program". 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Eaton Arrowsmith School®. "Q&A with Howard Eaton". Retrieved November 28, 2014. 9. Why doesn’t Eaton Arrowsmith School also teach Science and Social Studies? Why just Math and English? 
  10. ^ Molly Shen (November 25, 2014). "New take on learning disabilities: change the brain". KOMO-TV. Retrieved November 27, 2014. 
  11. ^ "Arrowsmith Program". Retrieved November 27, 2014. Eaton Arrowsmith Academy and Eaton Cognitive Improvement Centre, Redmond offers the Arrowsmith Program to adults as well. 
  12. ^ "Eaton Arrowsmith Academy, Redmond, Washington". Retrieved November 27, 2014. This program is designed for K-12 students and offers 6 cognitive exercises with one period of Math and one period of English. Mindfulness training and brain fitness classes will be included on a daily basis. 
  13. ^ Samantha Pak (July 25, 2014). "Arrowsmith program focuses on strengthening students’ cognitive abilities". Redmond Reporter. Retrieved November 27, 2014. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ Arrowsmith Program. "Suitable Students". Retrieved November 27, 2014. ...does not have acquired brain injury or an autism spectrum disorder 
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ Learning Difficulties Australia. "LDA Council 2013-2014 - LDA - Learning Difficulties Australia". 
  23. ^ "Experts question Arrowsmith learning program". The Age. 
  24. ^ Anne Castles (5 October 2012). "'Brain-Training' … or learning, as we like to call it". The Conversation. 
  25. ^ Esther Han. "Proof hurdle for 'brain training'". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  26. ^ Max Coltheart (10 December 2012). "Weird neuroscience: how education hijacked brain research". The Conversation. 
  27. ^ "Brain program heads this way". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  28. ^ "Financial Review - News Store". 
  29. ^ "Linda Siegel - Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology, and Special Education". 
  30. ^
  31. ^ "Legal clash over Arrowsmith documentary - Vancouver Sun". Vancouver Sun. 
  32. ^ "Education expert calling her lawyer". 
  33. ^ pubmeddev. "Is working memory training effective? A meta-ana... [Dev Psychol. 2013] - PubMed - NCBI". 
  34. ^ "Is Working Memory Training Effective? A Meta-Analytic Review". 2012 American Psychological Association. 

External links[edit]