Arrowsmith School

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Arrowsmith School
Arrowsmith School Toronto Logo.jpg
245 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto, Ontario, M4V 1R3
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
School type Private, Co-educational day school for children with specific learning disabilities
Founded 1980 (1980)
Principal Barbara Arrowsmith Young
Grades 1 – 12
Language English

The Arrowsmith School is a private school in Toronto, Ontario, for children in Grades 1 to 12 with learning disabilities (also referred to as "specific learning difficulties").[1] The original Arrowsmith School was founded in Toronto in 1980 by Barbara Arrowsmith Young. A second location was opened in May 2005 in Peterborough, Ontario. The Eaton Arrowsmith School, which is modelled on the Toronto school and founded by Howard Eaton, was opened in 2005 in Vancouver, British Columbia with two further branches established in Canada and one in the United States between 2009 and 2014.

The school's methodology, known as the Arrowsmith Program, was founded by Arrowsmith Young in 1978 from exercises that she had begun devising for herself in 1977 and which she has said enabled her to overcome her own severe learning difficulties. Her own struggle with learning disability and the rationale for her program are described in her 2012 book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. According to Arrowsmith Young, her methodology is based on research into the principle of neuroplasticity, which suggests that the brain is dynamic and constantly rewiring itself.[2] The program has been incorporated into other public and private schools in Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand,[3] but has drawn skepticism and criticism from several cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists.[4]


The main section of the Arrowsmith School in Toronto.

Barbara Arrowsmith Young and her then-husband, Joshua Cohen founded the original Toronto school in 1980 to teach learning disabled children using the program and exercises that Arrowsmith Young had begun devising for herself in 1978 and which she claimed enabled her to overcome her own severe learning difficulties.[5] The original school was housed in a rented building on Yorkville Ave. According to Arrowsmith Young's autobiographical account in her 2012 book, The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, she used her middle name for the school in honor of her paternal grandmother (born Louie May Arrowsmith in 1883), who as a young girl had been one of the pioneer settlers of Creston, British Columbia. The Toronto school gradually expanded, and in 1991 she and Cohen decided to open a second school in Brooklyn, New York and wind down the Toronto school. However, by 1994 the New York school had folded, and the marriage of Arrowsmith Young and Cohen had ended. She returned to Toronto and re-opened the school there, this time in a rented building on Yonge St.[2]

The school eventually moved to its present location, a converted house on St. Clair Avenue in the Forest Hill neighborhood of Toronto.[6] Barbara Arrowsmith Young remains its Director and owner as she does of a second, smaller branch in Peterborough, Ontario which opened in 2005.[3] Both branches saw increasing numbers of students from outside Canada following Arrowsmith Young's 2012 speaking tour to New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom to promote her book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. In October 2012, international students made up about a third of the student population of the Peterborough branch (seven from Australia, one student from Dubai, and one from the United States).[7]

In 2005 Howard Eaton opened the Eaton Arrowsmith School in Vancouver which is modelled on the Arrowsmith School in Toronto. The Eaton Arrowmith School subsequently established further branches in British Columbia at Victoria in 2009 and White Rock in 2012.[8] Eaton then established a branch in the United States at Redmond, Washington, the Eaton Arrowsmith Academy, which opened in September 2014.[9] Eaton is the owner and Director of all four Eaton Arrowsmith schools.

Curriculum and tuition fees[edit]

Full-time day students, who form the core of the Toronto school's student body, follow a curriculum which devotes two periods of the school day to mathematics and English, the only two academic subjects taught at the school. The remainder of their time (six periods per day) is taken up with carrying out the cognitive remediation exercises known as the Arrowsmith Program.[4][10] According to Barbara Arrowsmith Young, the goal of the curriculum is that upon completion (typically after three to four years) the students can be re-integrated into mainstream education and follow a full academic program.[11]

The school had 75 students (in Grades 1 to 12) enrolled in the full-time day program in 2009. It also runs part-time programs for both children and adults. The school's annual tuition fees for full-time day students in the 2014–2015 academic year was C$23,500.[12][13]

Arrowsmith Program[edit]

The Arrowsmith Program (a registered trademark) refers to the Arrowsmith School's methodology which is also available under license to students in some public and private schools in Canada, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.[14] Collectively more than 65 schools in these four countries use the program.[15] According to the Arrowsmith School's official website, the program can be used by children and adults with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia who have at least average intelligence, but it is not suitable for people who have an autism spectrum disorder or an acquired brain injury.[16]

History and methodology[edit]

The program was founded by Barbara Arrowsmith Young while she was a graduate student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. As a child she had exceptional visual and auditory memory, but it was coupled with several severe deficits in other areas, including dyslexia, dyscalculia, and problems with spatial reasoning, logic, and kinesthetic perception. In 1977–1978 she developed a series of remedial exercises which she says helped her to overcome her own disabilities rather than merely compensate for them. According to Arrowsmith Young, she based the program on Mark Rosenzweig's work on neuroplasticity and on the work of Alexander Luria and his theories about the relationship between the neurodynamic processes in different functional systems of the brain.[2][5]

In their 2015 audit of 15 remedial programs for specific learning difficulties for the New Zealand organization SPELD,[a] George Dawson and Stephanie D'Souza gave basic descriptions of the nineteen areas of cognitive processing which the Arrowsmith Program is intended to improve as well as descriptions of some of its remediation exercises. In their introduction Dawson and D'Souza stated that the Arrowsmith Program is licensed on a for-profit payment basis with detailed descriptions of its exercises not publicly available and that their descriptions were based on Arrowsmith Young's own account in The Woman Who Changed Her Brain.[18]

The deficit areas for which Dawson and D'Souza were able to provide basic descriptions of the Arrowsmith remedial exercises included:

  • Motor symbol sequencing The remedial exercise involves tracing using pen and paper while the student's left eye is covered. According to Arrowsmith Young's description of the program, this is intended to stimulate the left hemisphere motor cortex and thus improve tracking while reading and improve the ability to use "binocular vision cues".[18]
  • Symbol relations The remedial exercise involves reading analog clocks with multiple hands displayed on a computer. The exercise has fourteen different rules. According to Arrowsmith Young, this exercise targets problems at the juncture of the occipital, parietal, and temporal lobes areas on the left side of the brain which can produce a tendency to reverse the sequence of letters in a word and make it difficult to parse syntax and read an analog clock.[18]
  • Memory for information or instructions The remedial exercise involves memorizing increasingly more complicated song lyrics by listening to them as many times as it takes to be able to repeat them accurately. According to Arrowsmith Young, this exercise targets the left hemisphere temporal lobe where a deficit manifests itself in an inability to remember accurately conversations, lectures, and instructions.[18]
  • Symbol recognition The remedial exercise involves remembering increasingly long strings of computer-presented letters from languages with a different orthography from English, e.g., Urdu, Arabic, etc.. According to Arrowsmith Young, this exercise targets deficits located in the occiptital-temporal area which cause difficulty in learning to read and spell.[18]
  • Artifactual thinking The remedial exercise involves looking a narrative picture and then forming a reasonable hypothesis of what story is being depicted. According to Arrowsmith Young, this exercise targets a deficit located in the right prefrontal cortex which cause difficulty in interpreting the emotions of others.[18]

In their report, Dawson and D'Souza describe the remediation exercises for nine out of the nineteen areas as "vague", "not clear" or unspecified in Arrowsmith Young's book.[18] These include:

  • Broca's speech pronunciation According to Arrowsmith Young, this deficit located Broca's area of the brain, causes mispronunciation, restricted vocabulary, and difficulty in simultaneously speaking and thinking.[18]
  • Auditory speech discrimination According to Arrowsmith Young, this deficit involving the superior temporal lobe, reduces the capacity to distinguish words that rhyme, e.g., fear and hear.[18]
  • Symbolic thinking According to Arrowsmith Young, this deficit involving the prefrontal cortex causes a short attention span and reduces capacity for "mental initiative".[18]
  • Kinaesthetic perception According to Arrowsmith Young, this deficit involves the somatosensory area of the parietal lobe which causes clumsiness (a tendency to bump into things) and may adversely affect handwriting.[18]

At the conclusion of the audit Dawson and D'Souza noted that evidence for the program's efficacy is documented via testimonials from some of the students and their parents and in several research reports, although none have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals. In the authors' opinion:

The Arrowsmith programme claims to be founded on neuroscience research. This is true in the sense that Arrowsmith Young continually refers back to localisation of (dys)function as described by Luria when describing the development of her cognitive exercises. However, it is not the case that (present) neuroscience research actually supports the use of Arrowsmith's particular exercises to remediate learning disabilities.[18]

Skepticism, evaluation and criticism[edit]

Norman Doidge, a Canadian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst devoted one of the chapters in his 2008 book The Brain That Changes Itself to Barbara Arrowsmith Young and the Arrowsmith Program. In it he recounts Arrowsmith Young's own struggle to overcome her learning disabilities and how she developed the program. The chapter also includes several brief case histories of children and adults who Doidge says were significantly helped by the program, although no quantifiable data is presented.[19] He described her approach as "an important discovery" and one that had "major implications for education".[5] However, as Doidge also acknowledged in the chapter, the Arrowsmith Program has been controversial. Widespread doubt and criticism has emerged from several psychologists, neuroscientists and learning experts. This has centered on the lack of scientific evidence used by the program to demonstrate its efficacy and on its underlying rationale which its critics say represents an oversimplification and misapplication of neuroscientific concepts.[4]

Coinciding with Barbara Arrowsmith Young's speaking tour of Australia in 2012, the Catholic Education Office in Sydney announced that it would begin a pilot study involving 20 learning disabled students in their last two years of high school who would be offered the Arrowsmith Program for two years beginning in 2013. If it proved successful, the program would be extended to thousands of children in Catholic schools, including those in younger grades. The cost to parents whose children had been selected for the pilot study would be A$8000 for two years, over and above the normal school fees.[20] Several Australian academics were critical of the move. Dr Emma Burrows, a neuroscientist at the Florey Institute in Melbourne, and cognitive scientists Anne Castles and Max Coltheart at Macquarie University pointed out that the "evidence" supporting the program's claims of success was anecdotal rather than based on studies using randomized control trials and published in peer-reviewed academic journals.[20][21][22] Both Castles and Coltheart have also criticised the Arrowsmith Program and other "brain training" programs such the Dore Programme and Brain Gym as based on an oversimplification of neuroplasticity and other neuroscientific concepts.[23][24][25]

According to a January 2015 announcement from the Archdiocese of Sydney, the two-year school trial in Sydney had "outstanding results". The Arrowsmith Program was incorporated into the Sydney Catholic School system in 2015 and expanded to include both primary and secondary school students. The data on which the evaluation was based were not provided in the announcement.[26] The trial itself was strongly criticized by neuroscientists as misguiding. They contend the Arrowsmith school's claims of being research based are unfounded. Dr Burrows was further reported to have expressed concern after directly confronting Barbara Arrowsmith for evidence and learning that neuroscientists were not involved with the Arrowsmith Program.[27]

In Canada, neuroscientist Adele Diamond and cognitive psychologist Linda Siegel—both based at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver—have expressed concerns similar to those of Castles and Coltheart.[4][28] Both appeared in the 2008 a CBC documentary about the Arrowsmith program. Fixing My Brain which was filmed at the Arrowsmith School in Toronto. A portion of Siegel's highly critical commentary was removed by the documentary's producers prior to broadcast after Arrowsmith Young's lawyers threatened the CBC with a lawsuit for libel.[29][b] Siegel was also the author of a 2003 report to the Vancouver School Board (VSB) on the efficacy of The Arrowsmith program. At the time, VSB was running a three-year trial of the program, funded in part by the Vancouver Foundation. According to Howard Eaton, the owner and Director of the Eaton Arrowsmith schools, Siegel's report had been influential in the VSB's decision to discontinue the pilot program.[30]

Siegel's study compared the outcomes after eight months for children with learning disabilities at two Vancouver elementary schools. In one school the children received the Arrowsmith Program. In the other, the children were enrolled in an Extended Learning Assistance Class (ELAC) which focused on reading and writing. Siegel found that the superior performance of the Arrowsmith children on the comprehension and spelling measures was statistically significant. However, she found no statistically significant differences on the other measures, although she stated that on those measures "ELAC performed at higher levels than Arrowsmith, often by a relatively large amount".[c] Howard Eaton has stated that there were multiple problems with the design, sampling, and statistical analysis in Siegel's study, something which Siegel has also conceded.[31] In 2013 Eaton co-authored a re-analysis of Siegel's data with professors William Lancee and Darren Irwin.[d] Their conclusion was that the higher performance of the ELAC students in Siegel's study was not statistically significant.[30]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ SPELD is a private non-profit organisation supporting children with specific learning disabilities in New Zealand.[17] Dawson and D'Souza's audit was supervised by David Moreau (Research Fellow) and Karen Waldie (Associate Professor) at the Centre for Brain Research and School of Psychology, University of Auckland.[18]
  2. ^ According to the film's producer, two sentences from Siegel were removed: "I think the Arrowsmith Program is a fraud. I think they're taking money from people and not showing any improvement in any kind of any objective way." The reminder of her commentary was left intact.[29]
  3. ^ Quoted in Eaton, Howard (2013). "Siegel's Study: Points For Comment".[30]
  4. ^ William Lancee is head of psychiatry research at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital and has also authored evaluations of the Arrowsmith Program for the Toronto Catholic District School.[12] Darren Irwin is a professor in the Department of Zoology at the University of British Columbia.[32]


  1. ^ "What are Specific Learning Difficulties: About Dyslexia". British Dyslexia Association. 
  2. ^ a b c Arrowsmith Young, Barbara (2012). The Woman Who Changed Her Brain. pp. 7, 16, 139, 161–162, 187–188. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781451607932
  3. ^ a b Participating Schools: Arrowsmith School Peterborough. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d Barmak, Sarah (25 January 2013). "Can a controversial learning program transform brains?". Globe and Mail. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  5. ^ a b c Doidge, Norman (2008). Chapter 2: "Building Herself a Better Brain", The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. Penguin. ISBN 9780141038872
  6. ^ George, Lianne (7 November 2008). "Dumbed down", Maclean's. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  7. ^ McCormick, Rob (9 October 2012). "Global reach at school for learning disabled". Peterborough Examiner. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  8. ^ About us. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  9. ^ Shen, Molly (25 November 2014). "New take on learning disabilities: change the brain". KOMO News. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  10. ^ The Arrowsmith School Full Time Day Program . Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  11. ^ Miller, Lianne (September 2008). "Raising Cognitive Capacity" Archived September 5, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.. Professionally Speaking: The Magazine of the Ontario College of Teachers. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  12. ^ a b Gordon, Andrea (25 February 2009). "One school's belief in a fixable brain". Toronto Star. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  13. ^ Admissions. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  14. ^ Trademarks. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  15. ^ Arrowsmith Program: Participating schools. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  16. ^ Background: Suitable students. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  17. ^ Brooking, Keren (March 2010). "Outside the mainstream". Education Review. Retrieved 8 June 2015.
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Dawson, George and D'Souza, Stephanie (23 March 2015). "Behavioural Interventions to Remediate Learning Disorders: A Technical Report".
  19. ^ Clark, Elaine and Pompa, Janiece L. (2011). "Advances in Neuroscience and Reading Disabilities". The Oxford Handbook of School Psychology, pp. 183–184. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195369807
  20. ^ a b Han, Esther (15 May 2012). "Proof hurdle for 'brain training'". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  21. ^ Sydney Morning Herald (11 May 2012). "Experts question effectiveness of program". Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  22. ^ Tarica, Elisabeth (18 June 2012). "Brain program heads this way". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  23. ^ "Can Barbara Arrowsmith-Young's cognitive exercises change your brain?". Amanda Hooton. Good Weekend. 
  24. ^ Castles, Anne and McArthur, Genevieve (April 2013). "'Brain-training'...or learning as we like to call it". Learning Difficulties Australia Bulletin, Vol. 45, No 1. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  25. ^ Coltheart, Max (March 2014). "Neuromyths". SPELD NSW Newsletter. Retrieved 4 June 2015.
  26. ^ Archdiocese of Sydney (12 Jan 2015). "Brain "Workout" Program Scores Dramatic Results in Sydney CEO Trials". Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  27. ^ "Proof hurdle for 'brain training'". Esther Han. The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  28. ^ Wickelgren, Ingrid (May/June 2013). "Calisthenics for a Child's Mind" Archived June 14, 2015, at the Wayback Machine.. Scientific American Mind, pp. 39–45
  29. ^ a b Hill, M. F. (29 December 2008). "Education expert calling her lawyer". Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 31 May 2015.
  30. ^ a b c Eaton, Howard (2013). "Siegel's Study: Points For Comment". Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  31. ^ Manning, Rob (15 January 2014). "Oregon Charter School Considers 'Arrowsmith Program'. Oregon Public Broadcasting. Retrieved 9 June 2015.
  32. ^ University of British Columbia, Zoology Department. Darren Irwin. Retrieved 9 June 2015.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]