Undertanding Learning Disabilities

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Learning Disabilities By Moral Shock 2014

 

Education exists because as a society we have decided that this is something necessary for functionality within our community. Its purpose is to carry on our present living standards with the hope of improving them. Without properly educated people capable of functioning in different roles within our society we would not be able to retain the status quo that most are accustomed. Therefore, schools are an integral part of society’s ability to function. The idea of Elementary, Middle, and High Schools is to provide basic education so that once school is finished the individual can either continue to college, choose a trade and be educated at a trade school, or go into a field that requires a more specific “on the job” training. Conceptually it is a good system, but in reality it is flawed.

The first flaw is that structure is not being thoroughly taught by all, leaving those not taught structure without a solid understanding of how to solve problems (mathematical and social) outside of school. This is disturbing because if a large majority are not being taught structure within a school, that translates to a burden on those who are capable of solving life’s “problems” outside of school. This is a case of “You are only as strong as your weakest link.” The weak links in our society drag the strong links down (through no fault of their own). Unfortunately, for those individuals who are weak links they will struggle. They may possibly seek answers on their own, but most likely they will fall through the cracks of our educational system. Eventually, when they are out in the “real world” they will not have very bright prospects of success because they were not trained to think in relative terms.

Jerome Bruner believes that, “[t]here are two ways in which learning serves the future.” (Bruner 1996, p.17) The first is “specific transfer of training” (p. 17) which is skills that a person has that enables him/her to contribute to society through work or other means. The second is “the transfer of principles and attitudes.” (p.17) This is described as a foundation from which many thoughts and ideas can be based on and/or compared to. The individual capable of using principles can relate many situations in terms that may be different, but in ways they can be similar.

Many teachers are able to see the school environment from the own perspective. Like Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” seeing the feet of the people walking by does not entitle a person to really know the identity of that person. Likewise, the experts see numbers and facts on paper and they make assumptions as to why a child succeeds or fails by grouping them into categories. What they don’t know is the person behind the statistic. Students with learning disabilities learn differently than other students. Students with learning disabilities are defined as having “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which…may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.” (IDEA, Amendments of 1997, Sec. 602(26), p. 13) Students with learning disabilities are diagnosed by a discrepancy between their IQ scores (measured by a standardized IQ test such as the WISC-IV) and the academic achievement (measured by a standardized achievement test such as the BASC-II).

These students have specific ways of learning that are different from the student without a learning disability. Some of the ways students with learning disabilities should be taught differently include:

  • Instructional Strategies
  • Create lessons that engage all aspects of potential learning styles
  • When students break for independent work use that time to guide the student with the independent work
  • Shorten assignments to evaluate mastery
  • Alternate assessments (performance assessment instead of written assessment)
  • Use of calculator on math (when not learning math calculation)
  • Use of book on tests
  • Break large assignments into several smaller assignments with progressive due dates
  • Provide copies of notes (PowerPoint or overheads); assign a note-taker
  • Provide alternative sources of text information (e.g., e-texts, trade books, alternative text)
  • Create daily summaries of class content, written or oral
  • Provide written daily objectives
  • Provide extended time to read and/or complete assignments
  • Require the use of an assignment notebook for tracking assignments and progress
  • Vary instructional methods to include direct instruction with frequent student interactions
  • Use a variety of information processing strategies such as graphic organizers, mnemonics, provide visuals for directions and processes, ample practice opportunities
  • Organize content, “chunk” information by providing frequent reviews within the lesson
  • Create study guides

A lot of these strategies are also good for general education students, so it makes sense for teachers to adopt these strategies for all of their students in some circumstances and other students that don’t necessarily have a learning disability, but struggle academically.

The problem to society as a whole is that the ability of a significant portion of society is not being reached. Therefore, too much human capital is being left unfulfilled and draining society’s potential. That is why it is important that teachers are able to reach these students. Of all students with disabilities these students show the most possibility for unfulfilled potential.

The language development portion of the brain such as the Broca and Wernicke’s area is most likely the cause of complications for students with learning disabilities since these areas govern language processing (Kean) and language processing is the root of the problem that many students with learning disabilities suffer from. Academically students with learning disabilities tend to suffer from Difficulty with reading (learning to read and/or comprehension). They tend to read based on shape of word, have a lack of phonemic awareness, difficulty with developing vocabulary, slow reading fluency rate, poor comprehension and/or retention of material, difficulty retelling a story, difficulty with writing, poor penmanship; Poor pencil grip, difficulty with mathematics computation and problem solving, difficulty learning basic facts to rote memory, difficulty comprehending word problems, and difficulty remembering multi-step computational processes. These academic difficulties of course cause them stress in a general education environment. Without (and sometimes with) identification students with learning disabilities also have social-emotional issues including:

  • Difficulty with pragmatics (understanding the nuances of language in a social context), which leads to difficulty understanding jokes, sarcasm, or comics
  • Difficulty understanding another’s point of view
  • Difficulty reading other peoples non-verbal communication

These pragmatic issues can sometimes leave students with a feeling of isolation from their peers. This isolation can lead to other behavioral and social problems such as looking like a tattler because the student doesn’t always want to feel like the only one that didn’t follow directions or doesn’t understand something the teacher said. Bullying is often associated either from the child with the learning disability or directed toward the child with the learning disability. Either way these students and all students need to be taught that bullying is not acceptable and that all people are unique and have strengths and weaknesses.

In order for all students with or without disabilities to achieve their own personal excellence schools and teachers need resources and tools to help the students get there. In addition, teachers themselves need to be shown that they are valuable and recognized for their training and effort that they have invested in order to work with children with special needs. While most teachers are notorious for being paid low wages it’s important to pay them fairly so that it allows them to focus on the most important task; teaching the children (Eggers, D., Calegari, N.) (Pink, D).

 

“It always seems impossible until it is done.” Nelson Mandela

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