The Building Blocks of Learning is a framework for explaining why children experience different learning and/or behavioral difficulties associated with the classroom. Developed by Nancy Mather, Ph.D. and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D., this concept provides a bridge between research and educational practices to help students in a practical way. The Building Blocks of Learning provide a structure for looking at a student’s areas of strengths and weaknesses so that information can be effectively organized to make decisions about interventions, modifications, and accommodations.

Vital information is gathered from observations of your student and their test results during our evaluation process. We then assess this information  through the “Blocks” framework. The “Blocks” are arranged in a triangular fashion with foundational skills forming the base, symbolic skills forming the second layer, and conceptual skills forming the top. This learning chart can be used as a resource for further understanding of a student’s learning patterns. Educational therapists and/or other educational professionals can also use the chart to identify and target functional skills (foundational, memory, symbolic, and conceptual) in order to best address your student’s needs.


Attention & Self-Regulation

The ability to pay attention, self-regulate behavior, control impulses, complete tasks


Temperament and moods, motivation, attitude, internalizing/externalizing


Actions, social skills, compliance


Awareness of both strengths and abilities along with weaknesses


Working Memory

May involve more than one block. The ability to apprehend information and rearrange it in a specified way

Processing Speed

The ability to perform automatic cognitive tasks, particularly when measured under pressure to maintain focus



Phonemic awareness (discriminate sounds), phonologic awareness (manipulate sounds), verbal short-term memory (remember what is heard), retrieval of names (e.g., difficulty remembering names/words/names of letters, etc.)


Concerning the writing systems of language, punctuation marks, capitalization, spelling patterns, recall of letter strings and word forms, mental representation of the image of a letter (imaging), automatic retrieval (quickly recalling) of letters/words


Gross motor skills, fine motor skills, symbol production through writing, artistic expression through drawing

* Note – a student’s ability to have the motor skills to draw may or may not be consistent with the ability to write letters and numbers (symbols)



Understanding what is heard, comprehending written text, expressing ideas through speaking and writing, learning new vocabulary, use of grammar/syntax


Reproducing complex visual patterns and designs, understanding and judging spatial relationships, understanding affect (i.e., gestures and facial expressions), difficulty with math concepts (non-verbal LD)


Metacognition (thinking about thinking), executive functions (planning, organizing, monitoring, evaluating, reflecting), goal-directed behavior, the ability to effectively compensate/adjust for weaknesses

Information on the Building of Learning based on:

Mather, Nancy, Ph.D., Goldstein, Sam, Ph.D., (2008). Learning Disabilities and Challenging Behaviors:  A Guide to Intervention and Classroom Management, (2nd Edition). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.