Debunking Anecdotes – One Parent’s Journey Through a Maze of Misconceptions About Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, July 22, 2014 - 17:15
  • Joanne Gouaux

Debunking anecdotes about learning disabilities"If you read to them, they will read." That statement sums up what I believed when my first child began babbling and pointing to objects in his favorite board books. Blissfully optimistic, I eagerly began reading to my child as soon as he could keep his eyes open long enough to stare at the pages of a book, long before he began speaking in sentences. That was, of course, prior to kindergarten, when the reality of learning to read gallantly collided with my pie-in-the-sky perspective of what many tout as the “magic of reading.”

Kindergarten and the enchantment of learning to read passed by in a flurry. It was not so much magical, as it was dumbfounding. Yes, we were astonished and amazed, but not in the way we had originally anticipated. It seemed the joke was on us.

The summer between kindergarten and first grade was the beginning of what felt like a carnival tour through unfamiliar side shows - weird rooms with strange lighting, specialists with long professional titles, and a seemingly endless line of shenanigans. It was disorienting. Our son led us through a maze of experiences that felt strikingly similar to the hallway of mirrors, with odd distorted reflections of ourselves and confusing passages that led to people who would look at us and smile without the slightest idea how to help. Embarking on a quest to help our child discover his path to reading was mind-bending.

Our oldest child is a laid-back, happy go-lucky character, who beats to his own drum and finds tremendous humor in ambushing the "seriousness" out of the most mundane routines.  He is curious above all else, imaginative, and enjoys playing the part of family clown, in the best sense of the role.  He is a practical joker with a sensitive awareness of others’ emotions. He lives to laugh, and loves to make people smile.  His younger brother is much more serious and socially reserved at the present stage.

Along with two beautiful children, their father and I also share another unique genetic gem - each of us has a parent who is dyslexic. Born a generation apart on opposite sides of the country, both my mother and his father experienced demeaning treatment as a result of their inability to learn to read fluently in their early school years.

Their father and I are the eldest children of parents who firmly believed in the philosophy of "no pain, no gain" and the necessity of hard work without short cuts. We both excelled at individual sports such as swimming and distance running - that is to say that we knew how to buckle down and push through difficulties and discomfort, viewing struggles and setbacks as acceptable, normal parts of life.

I was a "good student" who "worked hard" while my husband was described by his mother and elementary school teachers as "never working to his full potential."  This particular statement speaks more to a guiding fiction commonly held by teachers, and compounded by parental expectations, than it does about a child's true potential. It also sets the stage for a cleansing of misguided anecdotes that fuel the misunderstanding of learning disabilities.

Behind the heavy curtains of any storied carnival there is a place where the magician's tricks and illusions are unveiled. Tricks distract the audience into believing in the illusion that everything is exactly as it appears. Popular anecdotes are like tricks as they provide the illusion of control for well-meaning adults. In truth, most anecdotes are obstacles to early intervention and parental advocacy:

  • Practice makes perfect. Trying hard and failing despite honest attempts over and over again is painful and can be fruitless without the proper interventions and support system.
  • No pain, no gain. Demanding or telling a bright child who is struggling to read to "try harder" is counter-productive and causes intense anxiety and stress which undermines their self-concept, damages trust, and leads to unnecessary suffering by all.
  • Hard work always pays off. Having to work harder and longer than anyone else in your class is exhausting and humiliating, especially when it is not the most efficient way to learn.
  • He/She just needs more time. Children with learning disabilities only become independent learners when their underlying challenges are adequately addressed. Nothing will change without proper identification and support.

Our own child heard demeaning statements from a teacher who referred to him as smart, but lazy, and took away recess and free time as punishment for not completing writing assignments. Other teachers said he just needed more time to grow and suggested another year in the same grade.  Both our son and his grandparents were identified as dyslexic, but only with the help of an advocate.  Adovocates are not limited to parents. Advocates can be teachers, family members or anyone with a meaningful connection to a child, or adult.  

Teachers and parents play a unique role in helping to identify learning disabilities. Identification requires a willingness on the part of both parties to objectively seek root causes of a child's difficulty and to work with the child to find strategies and solutions for their success. An analogy that captures the interdependence of this relationship is that of two people in a row boat: the teacher and the child, or the parent and the child. Each one has an oar and they each must row to move the boat forward. If only one person rows, the boat will go around in circles and go nowhere. Telling the child to row harder is equivalent to "try harder" and it only makes the boat go around in circles faster. We must respect the child's effort, celebrate their small successes, and encourage them to keep going while picking up our own oar and getting in a rhythm with the child's natural pace.

Children who receive help with their learning disabilities learn to successfully work smarter, not harder. In the long run, they can develop the ability to advocate for themselves. These are skills that last a lifetime. As parents, we have a unique opportunity to observe our child's struggle, and validate their experience by acknowledging their efforts, allowing them to trust their own instincts as well as trusting us.

If there is one message I wish to share with fellow parents, it is this -- do not allow well-intentioned anecdotes from our past, other parents, teachers, or administrators to belittle or dismiss your child's experiences, or to plant doubt in your own parental abilities. Every child has the right to a free and appropriate public school education. Children need additional help getting access to the right resources, but help exists, even if it is difficult to find at first. Children deserve a fair start in life, and someone to hold their hand through the carnival of unexpected oddities. With any luck, you may even come out of the "fun house" laughing at the ridiculous experience, all the while realizing that neither of you were ever broken in the first place, but rather a little lost, and in need of some light and map to navigate the road less traveled.

Joanne Gouaux discovered Fast ForWord after her 7-year-old son, Carter, was diagnosed with dyslexia. We will share Carter’s academic story in an upcoming post.

Related reading:

Girl Brains and Boy Brains: What Educators and Parents Need to Know
What Every Parent Should Know About Their Baby’s Developing Brain

 

Keep Learning This Summer - Four Must-Watch Webinars for Teachers

Tuesday, June 10, 2014 (All day)
  • Alexis Hourselt

Must-Watch Webinars

School’s out for summer! While it’s a great time to relax and reset before the start of the next school year, it’s also a great time to catch up on professional development.

This summer, check out some of our most popular webinars on topics to help your students.

Comprehension: Going Beyond Fluency

Although fluency is important for reading success, it is not sufficient. Students must also actively work to make meaning out of the texts they read. In this webinar, Dr. Timothy Rasinski shares some of his favorite approaches for helping students engage in texts meaningfully and productively. Watch now.

How the ELL Brain Learns

What does the latest research reveal about the ELL brain? In this session, Dr. David Sousa provides an overview of how the young brain acquires the first language, and then looks at how trying to learn a second language affects brain development. Learn about the challenges that ELL students face when learning both conversational and academic language simultaneously and explore ways to help them. Dr. Sousa also debunks some misconceptions about ELLs and English language acquisition. There are some surprises! Watch now.

Use Brain Science to Make Dramatic Gains in Special Ed

This session features Dr. Martha Burns and special guest Kelly Winnett of Blount County, AL. Dr. Burns shares the latest research on the brain and learning (especially in students who struggle) and Mrs. Winnett shares how the Fast ForWord program has helped her students in special education make tremendous growth (AYP!) - in some cases moving learners from non-readers to readers and from non-verbal to verbal. Watch now.

New Science of Learning for Your Struggling Readers

Dr. Martha Burns discusses the ability of neuroscience to profoundly impact education. Hear how the science of learning has guided the development of breakthrough technologies to enhance underlying memory, attention, processing and sequencing abilities in struggling students. Watch now.

Related reading:

Summer Learning Programs, ELLs and the Achievement Gap

How to Create an Effective Summer Learning Program

 

The iPad® and Student Engagement: Is There a Connection?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski

iPads and student engagement

When students at ACS Cobham International School (UK) got iPads, Richard Harrold saw an opportunity. As an assistant principal at the lower (elementary) school, he had been hearing glowing reports from other educators about students seeing remarkable gains when using iPads. Were the gains real? And was the effect due to something special about the iPad, or were students just responding to the newness of the technology?

Harrold decided to find out. With the help of his school’s “Project i” team, he launched a formal study with 1 stand 2 ndgraders to see if they would experience the same increases in engagement and understanding that he had been hearing about from other educators.

Harrold's study confirmed the benefits of iPads in schools:

  • iPads benefit learners of different ages, sometimes in different ways
  • iPads have special benefits for learners in the very early grades
  • The iPad makes typing easier for 1 stand 2 ndgraders

More generally, results indicated that:

  • iPads improve student engagement
  • “iPad buddies” collaborate more
  • iPads boost perseverance

The effects discovered were more than a reaction to a fun, new “toy.” In fact, to ensure that their results were not due to a honeymoon period, the team delayed the study until learners had been using their iPads for a full eight months.

These findings are exciting, especially for learners requiring intervention. Struggling students can be harder to engage and may have trouble enduring learning challenges. Giving them the opportunity to use an iPad-based intervention can motivate learners to persevere and achieve.

In a time where “grit” is getting a lot of attention as a key indicator of future success, anytime that perseverance goes up – as with iPad use – educators would be wise to take notice. But don’t rule out the appeal of classic technologies. Early-grade learners would still rather read a bound book than an ebook on iPad.

References:

Harrold, R. (2012). Measuring the Effect of iPads in the Classroom. The International Educator.Retrieved from: http://connection.ebscohost.com/c/articles/74482139/measuring-effect-ipads-classroom

Harrold, R. (2012). The iPad Effect: Leveraging Engagement, Collaboration, and Perseverance. The International Educator. Retrieved from: http://www.tieonline.com/view_article.cfm?ArticleID=100

Related reading:

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools

Inspiring Students to Dream, Learn and Grow

 

Self-Regulation Strategies for Students With Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, March 18, 2014 (All day)
  • Carrie Gajowski

Self-regulation strategies

When a student with a learning disability struggles academically, it’s logical to think that the issue is related to the student’s deficit in a specific ability. And while that may be true, there might be more to it. Students with learning disabilities often encounter academic difficulties, at least in part, because they don’t have effective strategies for working through challenges.

One effective tool that students can use to improve academic performance, regardless of ability, is self-regulation. Self-regulation is the process by which students take charge of their own learning, monitoring their behavior and progress and making adjustments along the way to get from idea to execution. It’s the transformation of thought into purposeful action. Here are several strategies teachers can introduce for use in the classroom and at home:

Setting Goals

Goal setting is an important part of self-regulation and can be foundational to other self-regulation strategies. When used effectively, the process of goal setting gives students an opportunity to observe their own behavior and pinpoint areas for improvement. It helps students identify what they need to do, lets them see how they are progressing, and motivates them to act productively.

Students should set goals for themselves that are specific and challenging, but not too hard. A goal should be quickly attainable so students can experience a sense of accomplishment and move on to tackle the next one. For example, when two students are struggling with homework, each might need to set a different goal to see improvement. The first student might identify time management as a problem and decide to cut out a leisure activity in order to achieve the goal of completing homework before dinnertime each day that week. The second student might realize that he needs to bring his class notes home from school every day so he has the information he needs to achieve his goal of completing all of his homework assignments for the week.

Self-Monitoring

Students self-monitor by asking themselves whether they have engaged in a specific, desired behavior. Building on the goal-setting examples above, our students might ask themselves, Am I using my time in the right way to complete my homework by dinnertime?Or, Did I put all of my homework assignments in my backpack to take home?Students may find it helpful to self-monitor for behaviors like paying attention, staying on task, following strategy steps, and meeting performance expectations such as completing all homework problems or spelling 8 of 10 spelling words correctly.

Self-Instruction

Self-instruction is also sometimes called “self-talk” and is part of normal development for many younger children. It can also be quite powerful when used by students of any age to purposefully self-regulate and direct learning behavior. For example, a student who is struggling to comprehend a challenging text might think, I need to look up the definitions of these unfamiliar words and read this page again.

Students can use self-talk to remind themselves to focus their attention, to take positive steps when faced with difficulties, to reinforce positive behaviors, and more. Teachers can model effective self-talk, but should allow each student to create and use her own statements. A little advance planning can be helpful here. Coming up with the right phrase in the heat of the moment – when focus has been lost or frustrations are running high – is unlikely to help. But taking a little time to write out some useful statements before starting a new project or beginning a homework assignment can enable students get themselves out of a tight spot.

Self-Reinforcement

Self-reinforcement occurs when a student chooses a motivating reward and then awards it to himself when he achieves a milestone. Self-reinforcement can be used over shorter and longer timeframes and can tie into goals. Our student who has identified time-management as an issue, for example, might decide, I can go to the movies on Sunday because I finished all of my homework before dinnertime every night this week.

Self-reinforcement can also work well in the classroom. Teachers and students can select rewards together and teachers can let students know how to earn them. Once a student has met the criteria for a reward, she can award it to herself – say, by selecting a sticker for her journal after completing the day’s writing assignment and getting her teacher’s approval.

Purposeful Learning

Becoming a better self-regulator isn’t a panacea for academic difficulties, but students with learning disabilities who learn effective self-regulation strategies will have some advantages. They will have tools in their toolbox that they can try out in a variety of situations before seeking outside help, or when help is not immediately available. They will understand how their behavior influences their results. And they will understand that their learning is a purposeful, active process in which they play the leading role.

Best of all, these self-regulation strategies can benefit all learners, not just those who are struggling. Why not give them a try?

References:

Reid, R., Lienemann, T.O., & Hagaman, J.L. (2013). Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities,(2nd ed.) .New York: Guilford Press.

Self-Regulation. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://cehs.unl.edu/csi/self.shtml

Related reading:

Teaching Persistence: How to Build Student Stamina

5 Reasons Why Every Parent Should Be Familiar with Executive Function

Teach More Vocabulary, Faster, Using the Power of Morphology

Tuesday, March 4, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

morphology

You can teach your students 10 vocabulary words the usual way – one at a time – or you can teach them 100 vocabulary words with little extra effort. The second approach seems like the obvious choice, and in Dr. Tim Rasinski’s recent webinar, Comprehension – Going Beyond Fluency, he makes the case for greater adoption of the accelerated approach.

Going Beyond Fluency

Rasinski is known as a passionate advocate for teaching fluencyas a bridge to reading comprehension. But there’s more to comprehension than just fluency. Vocabulary plays a big part as well, and Rasinski talks about how to teach students “the meaning of words,” knowledge that is not only practical for everyday and academic life, but is also required by the Common Core.

Teaching Morphology

Morphology is a technical term that refers to the part of a word that carries meaning. It’s the Latin root “spect,” for example, in words like “introspection” or “spectacle,” that signals not only a commonality in spelling but also a kinship in meaning.

Knowing that “spec” means “look” makes it relatively easy for a student to understand (or figure out) that “introspection” means “to look inward” and “spectacle” means “an eye-catching occurrence.” The list of words built on the root “spec” is long, and by learning just one root, a student knows or can more easily interpret the meanings of many new words.

Rasinski calls this the “generative” or “multiplier” effect of morphological vocabulary study: the fact that Latin and Greek roots, prefixes, and suffixes have a one-to-many correspondence that dramatically increases access to vocabulary. And it’s not just Rasinski’s opinion that this approach gets results. Research has shown that during the early grades, morphological knowledge is a better predictor of reading comprehension than vocabulary levels.

Faster Learning

The more you do something the better you get at it. It’s how the brain works – practicing a skill rewires the brain to perform that skill more efficiently and effectively the next time. The online Fast ForWord®intervention program has the capacity to give students much more intensive, targeted practice in most aspects of reading – including morphology – than other programs or methods. That’s because Fast ForWord delivers nearly 35,000 learning “trials” in the same amount of time that other software programs deliver just over 5,000 trials. The result is often significant learning gains for even the most struggling students.

Rasinski hands the webinar over to Cory Armes, who demonstrates Hoof Beat, an exercise in Fast ForWord Reading 4 that develops morphological skills such as recognizing and understanding Greek and Latin roots, suffixes, and prefixes. It also works on word analysis, synonyms, antonyms, analogies, and more. With a fun video game style format that keeps students engaged while challenging them with in-depth practice.

Armes goes on to present statistically significant results from several studies of students using the Fast ForWord program, including increased reading achievement for elementary learners, improved comprehension for secondary learners, and over 2 years of improvement in reading grade level for ELLs.

The Nitty Gritty

Check out the full webinar and get all the rich details:

  • How many words students can learn weekly by traditional direct instruction;
  • How many words students can learn over the course of their K-12 education by traditional direct instruction;
  • How many words are in the English language (HINT: it’s probably more than you think);
  • How Fast ForWord develops vocabulary through morphology (see the product in action);
  • How – and in what grade – teachers can start teaching morphology to accelerate vocabulary learning; and
  • The details of Rasinski’s 5-day plan for using morphology to teach vocabulary.

If you’re not yet using roots, prefixes, and suffixes as a mainstay of vocabulary instruction – or if you’d like to explore how technology can help – don’t hesitate to watch the webinar. Your students will thank you…someday.

Related reading:

5 Fluency and Comprehension Strategies That Every Reader Can Use

Squelching Curiosity: How Pre-Teaching Vocabulary Stifles Learning

Four Myths About Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, February 18, 2014 (All day)
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

myths about learning disabilities

Learning disabilities can be tough to talk about and even tougher to understand. Some parents and educators prefer to call them learning differences in order to avoid negative labeling that can affect self-esteem, but the term disability is tied to special education funding by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and is a requirement for identifying and qualifying learners to receive special education services.

Regardless of what we choose to call them, learning differences or disabilities are frequently misunderstood. Pinpointing a student’s precise learning challenges can be difficult, and individual outcomes can be hard to predict. What’s more, symptoms of specific learning disabilities can be complex and confusing, and may look more like behavioral problems than learning problems to some. But some of the most common myths about learning disabilities are easy to dispel with a look at the facts.

Myth #1:  Learning disabilities are intellectual disabilities.

First and perhaps most important to understand is that learning disabilities are communication differences that are completely separate from physical, developmental, and intellectual disabilities. In the same way that a hearing impaired student might need assistance in the form of a hearing aid, students with learning disabilities need assistance in the form of alternative learning methods.

When learning disabilities are identified early and dealt with effectively, students can function more or less on par with their peers in school and grow up to be self-reliant adults. Students with intellectual disabilities, on the other hand, have significantly reduced cognitive ability and usually need lifelong support from others.

Myth #2:  ADHD is a learning disability.

Perhaps surprisingly, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is notconsidered a learning disability, although it is estimated that 20-30% of people with ADHD have a learning disability as well. Learning disabilities include learning differences such as:

  • Dyslexia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)
  • Language Processing Disorder
  • Non-Verbal Learning Disability
  • Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit

It is possible to designate ADHD as a disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), making a student eligible to receive special education services. However, ADHD is categorized as “Other Health Impaired” and not as a “Specific Learning Disability.”

Myth #3:  Dyslexia is a visual problem.

Dyslexia is one of the more commonly misunderstood learning disabilities. Many people think of it as a vision-related disorder, but it is actually rooted in differences in how the brain hears and processes spoken language. The ability to read is dependent upon the reader making accurate letter-sound correspondences, so when the brain processes spoken language atypically, it can be hard for readers to make sense of the connections between printed words and the sounds they make. The good news is that some studies have shown dyslexia to be effectively remediatedby training the brain to process language more effectively.

Myth #4:  The incidence of students with learning disabilities in US schools is on the rise.

The incidence of students with learning disabilities has actually declined over the past 20 years. However, other learning differences that may qualify a student for special education - such as autism and ADHD - have risen during the same time period, for reasons that are not well understood.

Food for Thought

Students with learning disabilities make up a large portion of students receiving special education services in schools - education outcomes and employment prospects for many of these students are disappointing, to say the least. Twice as many students with learning disabilities drop out as compared with their peers, and only half as many go to college. They are also twice as likely to be unemployed as adults.

With statistics like these, it’s clear that more needs to be done. Students with learning challenges need to be identified early, diagnosed accurately, provided appropriate assistive technologies, and given the right targeted interventions to help them become the best learners they can be, ready to take on new challenges with the confidence that they can succeed.

References:

Williams, D., Kingston This Week, [Letter to the editor]. Retrieved from: http://www.kingstonthisweek.com/2011/01/20/differences-between-learning-and-intellectual-disabilities

Learning disabilities and ADHD.  Retrieved from: http://www.girlshealth.gov/disability/types/learning.html

ADHD. Retrieved from: http://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/adhd/

Dissecting Dyslexia: Linking Reading to Voice Recognition. Retrieved from: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=121226

Smith, H., Auditory Processing Skills & Reading Disorders in Children. Retrieved from:  http://www.scilearn.com/blog/auditory-processing-skills-reading-disorders-in-children.php

NCLD Editorial Team, Learning Disability Fast Facts.  Retrieved from:  http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities/what-is-ld/learning-disability-fast-facts

For Further Reading:

Misunderstood Minds

Related reading:

Separating Brain Fact from Brain Fiction: Debunking a Few Neuroscience Myths

Remediation vs. Accommodation: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed

Flipping the Classroom for Students With Learning Disabilities

Tuesday, February 11, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

flipped classroom special education

For many teachers, the words “flipped classroom” are nothing more than a synonym for having students watch pre-recorded lesson videos at home and then do related assignments – formerly homework – during class time. There’s no doubt that that is exactly what the flipped classroom typically looks like on the surface. But when flip teaching is done right, what matters is that it uses time differently and more effectively, in ways that can profoundly benefit all learners, including students with learning disabilities.

The flip teaching model:

Extends the learning day.

The ability to extend instructional time is a huge benefit for learners who grasp new concepts more slowly, or who aren’t able to process information as quickly as it’s presented. With flipped learning, they can rewind and re-watch a video as many times as needed until they understand the material – or perhaps until they understand what they don’t understand so they can get help in that area the next day.

Makes precious teacher time more available to students.

With instruction now happening at home on students’ time, teachers have more time to observe students as they apply what they have learned. As a result, teachers have more opportunities to watch students at work, so they can better identify student learning challenges and support struggling students with differentiated activities or targeted intervention.

Levels the playing field.

Flipped instruction puts students with learning disabilities on more equal footing for effective classroom participation. Learners who formerly may not have immediately grasped their teacher’s in-class instruction may now feel empowered to contribute to classroom discussions and ask informed questions instead of worrying about “looking dumb.”

The Naysayers and Their Challengers

Critics of the flipped classroom approach to blended learning say that access to videos can be a problem, especially in communities with a large number of learners from low-income households. Students may not have a computer or internet connection at home, may have to share already-limited computer time with other family members, or simply may not have time at home to watch lessons for the next day. The concerns are valid, but one visionary school is demonstrating that they can be overcome.

Clintondale High School, just outside of Detroit, is the first U.S. high school to move to a flipped model of learning school-wide. With a large population of economically disadvantaged learners, the school dealt with access concerns head-on by making extra time available in computer labs during the school day for learners who need it. One student who has limited time at home because of a long bus commute watches most of his lesson videos on a smartphone as he rides home from school. In just a few years, standardized test scores have gone up and the school’s failure rate has dropped dramatically from 52% to 19%.

Clintondale’s teachers note that the process is not as simple as just rearranging where and when direct instruction takes place; it’s essential that teachers get on board with mastering the technology and creating great lessons and learning activities. That way, students can get the most from every moment they spend learning and teachers can get maximum results for the time they spend creating content and supporting learners in the classroom. 

Where Gen Ed & Special Ed Meet

A big boon for schools that move to flip teaching is that general ed technology can do double time as assistive technology for special ed. It’s a benefit for everyone, helping to reduce technology expenditures, the cost of managing technology, and the time that teachers spend adapting to learners’ assistive devices.

Still, flipped classroom veterans warn that setting high behavior standards for students is a must. Students need to know how they are expected to use their time at home and at school, and what specific behaviors will enable them to achieve their learning goals. Some students with learning disabilities may need additional help allocating their time and using it effectively. But when teachers, students, and parents are all on board, flipping has the potential not only to move more students to proficiency, but also to take more students beyond proficiency to the desired goal of mastery.

References:

Can Special Education Students Benefit From Flipped Classrooms?

Pros and Cons of The Flipped Classroom

For Further Reading:

How to create a ‘flipped’ video lecture for at-home study

Related reading:

The Flipped Classroom: A Pedagogy for Differentiating Instruction and Teaching Essential Skills

What New Brain Wave Research Tells Us About Language-Based Learning Disabilities

Remediation vs. Accommodation: Helping Students with Learning Disabilities Succeed

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 (All day)
  • Norene Wiesen

helping students with learning disabilities

Meeting the needs of students with learning disabilities can be a challenge. Students newly identified with a learning disability are likely to need immediate help to fully benefit from the curriculum, and this help often takes the form of accommodation. But for maximum long-term benefit, educators need to address the learning difficulty at its core, remediating it with a carefully targeted, intensive, individualized intervention.

Weighing the Options

In the real world, remediation is typically a time- and personnel-intensive undertaking, and without simultaneous accommodation, students with learning disabilities may continue to experience an ongoing cycle of failure. However, an over-reliance on accommodation can sap a student’s motivation to learn how to perform without accommodation.

Typically, then, educators find themselves balancing intensive intervention with accommodation and fitting the combination to the individual learner. Finding the point of equilibrium is a process that involves both informed decision-making and trial and error.

Dr. Dave Edyburn, a leading expert in assistive technology for students with learning disabilities, recommends that reliance on accommodation should be based in part on a student’s age. Younger learners, for example, whose job is focused on learning to decode and building reading fluency, might need less accommodation for reading. A 4th grader who still struggles with decoding, on the other hand, urgently requires greater accommodation to be able to comprehend and benefit from the curriculum.

Regardless of the degree of accommodation a student receives, effective and intensive intervention should remain a priority. One option for addressing a learning challenge at its core is  Fast ForWord software. At a biological level, Fast ForWord actually helps learners build new neural connections to support more efficient information processing and learning. It’s also been proven to help learners with  dyslexia and  auditory processing disorder, improving their ability to pay attention, process information, and remember what they have learned. 

In some cases, completing one or two Fast ForWord products is all it takes for a learner to test out of special education. For other learners, the Fast ForWord program can be the difference maker in staying out of special education altogether. In many districts, any students referred for a learning disability in language or math are required to use Fast ForWord before undergoing further testing. One district saw a 30% drop in special education referrals.

Solid Gold

When it comes to student learning, any tool or technique that helps has a potential role to play. Many students need accommodation and should rightfully receive that help as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). But the gold standard for students with learning disabilities will always be effective remediation. Learning disabilities may not be “fixable,” but they can often be overcome.

References:

Edyburn, D.L. Assistive Technology:  Getting the Right Supports for Your Student.  Retrieved from:   http://www.ncld.org/students-disabilities/assistive-technology-education/assistive-technology-getting-right-supports-for-your-student

Related reading:

What New Brain Wave Research Tells Us About Language-Based Learning Disabilities

Improved Auditory Processing With Targeted Intervention

What the Common Core Standards Mean for Special Education Students

Tuesday, January 21, 2014 (All day)
  • Hallie Smith, MA CCC-SLP

common core and special education

The Common Core standards are considered challenging for general education learners - and they’re meant to be. But given that challenge, many educators wonder what it means to hold special education students to the same standards. These are students, after all, who have already been performing well below grade level on standards that in many cases are weaker than the Common Core standards that replace them.

Meeting High Expectations Under the Common Core

How are educators expected to get these underperforming students to proficiency with the Common Core standards? A document on the Common Core State Standards Initiative website, “Application to Students with Disabilities,” outlines the supports and accommodations required for special educations students, including:

Standards-Based IEP

The Standards-Based IEP guides instructional planning for students with learning disabilities. It outlines an individualized learning experience matched to student needs and appropriate accommodations, and sets annual goals aligned with grade-level academic standards.

Instructional Supports & Accommodations

Instructional supports and accommodations that must be provided students include:

  • Additional support in the classroom (e.g., students have access to a special education teacher in the mainstream classroom)
  • Varied instructional approach (e.g., incorporating technology into math instruction, or using writing as a mode of inquiry and learning)
  • Access to assistive technology (e.g., text readers or sign language) 

Qualified Teaching & Support Personnel

Students must receive high-quality, evidence-based instruction and support, delivered by qualified teachers and specialized instructional support staff. Some experts predict that the role of special education teachers will grow under the Common Core as they support general education teachers in understanding how to scaffold their teaching to fit the needs of different learners.

Controversy

There are parents and educators who argue that holding students with learning disabilities to the same academic standards as general education students is unrealistic and unfair – for reasons of ability or practicality. Some parents of students with severe cognitive disabilities, for example, prefer that their children focus on life skills over academic skills, reasoning that life skills are more valuable for their children in the long run. 

Others are more concerned about accurately measuring the performance of students with learning disabilities than they are about the standards themselves. For one thing, special education students may require 30 to 40 more days of instructionthan general education students to learn the same material. If all students have the same number of instructional days, special education students would likely find themselves being tested on material they had never been taught. 

Then there’s the added challenge of agreeing on a common set of accommodations, such as assistive technologies that could be built right into the tests. Some experts argue that students need to able to use the equipment they're accustomed to using every day in the classroom rather than encountering unfamiliar technology at test time when the stakes are high. 

Computer-adaptive tests are also a concern because they adjust the difficulty of questions based on how a student performs on previous questions. The feature is intended to accommodate the full range of learners taking the test, but special education advocates worry that students with learning disabilities may end up being served questions below their grade level if they have a string of a few incorrect answers. 

So, while the new PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments are being designed up front to accommodate special education students – rather than having accommodations tacked on as an afterthought - many educators remain skeptical.

Raising the Bar for Special Education

Many educators see the implementation of the Common Core standards as a historic opportunity – at last – to give students with learning disabilities access to the same academic rigor and high expectations as mainstream students, as mandated by IDEA. 

Only time can tell how special educations students will fare under the Common Core. As with any large-scale shift in K-12 education practices, there are loud and persuasive voices on both sides of the issue and a lot of folks in the middle who are simply moving forward with the adopted standards and aren’t sure how things are going to turn out.

But at Scientific Learning, we know – because we’ve seen it again and again with our own eyes – that the majority of students with learning disabilities are capable of much more than they and others realize. Committed educators, a correct diagnosis, and an appropriately targeted intervention can be all that’s needed for dramatic learning gains.

References:

Application to Students with Disabilities,Retrieved from: http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/cc/

For further reading:

Common-Core Tests Pose Challenges in Special Ed.

Tech Assistance in Testing Poses Practical Issues

Common-Core Tests in Works for Students With Severe Disabilities

Parents question Common Core curriculum changes

Related reading:

"What’s in the Common Core, but Missing in Your Curriculum” Webinar by Dr. Martha Burns

Teaching Reading in Science Class: A Common Core Trend?

Monitoring Progress in RTI: The Importance of Targeted Intervention

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 (All day)
  • Chris Weber, Ed.D

Monitoring progress in RtI I am often asked about how to appropriately monitor student progress in relation to interventions. Progress monitoring is a key feature of Response to Intervention (RTI), and in fact, there can be no RTI unless we are monitoring the extent to which students are responding to our intervention.

How do we monitor the progress of school’s overall RTI efforts? How can we be sure that our coordinated, systematic supports on behalf of students are resulting in positive outcomes? What would the indicators be? Many schools express confusion about the best measure to use.  I feel that the confusion relates not to progress monitoring but to how targeted the intervention is.

The Right Intervention

The best intervention is a targeted intervention. Yet we find that interventions are too frequently broad in nature and that they often address symptoms instead of causes. When the specific cause of reading difficulties is a challenge with multi-syllabic phonics, for example, providing general reading support is too broad an intervention. Similarly, providing support for adding fractions with unlike denominators is not an appropriately targeted intervention when the cause is difficulty related to finding equivalent fractions.  I encourage teams to target interventions as specifically as possible on the causes of difficulties.

When interventions are appropriately targeted, the type of progress monitoring process to employ will be clear. If multi-syllabic phonics interventions are provided, monitor student improvement in decoding multi-syllabic words. When interventions are provided for multiplication or finding equivalent fractions, monitor student improvement in these areas.

Creating a Plan

When monitoring the progress of RTI efforts, start by revisiting the specific areas of student need that were targeted.

  • Was the school focused on improving student mastery at Tier 1?  
    Monitor student improvement on common assessments, year-to-year and month-to-month.
  • Was the school focused in improving staff success at targeting Tier 2 supports—that is, more  time and alternative approaches to master the prioritized content of the grade or course? 
    Monitor the percentage of students demonstrating mastery on common assessments after receiving Tier 1 instruction as compared to the percentage of students demonstrating mastery on these common assessments after receiving Tier 2 interventions.
  • Was the school focused on improving student engagement? 
    Collaboratively develop efficient classroom-visit surveys that note the percentages of students richly engaged in learning. Visit classrooms at agreed-upon frequencies and share results over time.
  • Was the school focused on longer-term goals, such as decreasing the number of students  referred for formal evaluations to determine eligibility for special education services (because these students are adequately responding to instruction and intervention)? 
    Monitor the change in these numbers.
  • Was the school focused on increasing the percentage of students who are exited from special education into less restrictive general education environments (because gaps have been ameliorated and sustainable alternative strategies have been developed)? 
    Monitor the change in these percentages.

We know that RTI and the practices associated with it are among the most research-proven strategies a school can engage (Hattie, 2011). But just implementing RTI-based practices is not enough. We must ensure that RTI is resulting in improved student outcomes.

Just as with any school initiative, monitoring the progress and success of RTI is essential. Schools should identify what will be measured, how it will be measured, and when it will be measured before getting started. Once these measures are defined, questions about progress monitoring can be more easily resolved, and the real work of RTI can begin with confidence for success.

Related reading:

RTI is a Verb

Corey’s Story: My Son No Longer Needs Intervention After Using Fast ForWord

 

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