Teaching students with learning disabilities self advocacy skills is essential to ensuring that they reach their greatest potential and are successful in school and for the rest of their lives. It is essential for learning disabled students to become their own advocates. This paper will define what a learning disability is, provide cognitive and metacognitive strategies to teach students with learning disabilities and the importance and methods to become self advocates. It will further explain the necessity for developing study skills, social skills and transition skills to becoming a self advocate.
What is a Learning Disability?
Many students facing the challenges of being diagnosed with a learning disability will most often question others regarding the actual definition of a learning disability followed by the obvious question of how can this be remedied. The basic definition of a learning disability is this: a neurological disorder that causes issues with organizing, remembering, and expressing information that is received by the brain. This disability most often affects reading, writing, comprehension, and reasoning skills. Probably the most important concept for students and parents facing this disorder is to understand that there are many strategies that that can assist them in approaching learning difficulties in the classroom, even though there is no absolute cure. It is also important for students to understand that learning disabilities affect students in many different ways as no two learning disabilities are exactly the same. The specific learning disabilities are:
dyslexia-which refers to difficulties in reading;
dysgraphia-which refers to difficulties in writing; and
dyscalculia-which refers to difficulties in math (NICHCY, 2011).
Cognitive strategies will help us to remember to organize content information (OLRC News Winter 2004). One way of using a cognitive strategy is by looking at pictures and heading of a text as you skim over a page when reading. Taking notes is also another way to help a student to remember important parts of a text. Learning how to properly use cognitive strategies to build your reading skill will enable the student to know which parts of a text they will be able to skip over and which part of a text they will need to read. Using an outline or diagram will also help the student to remember important facts. A good starting place to start these strategies would be:
Memory - visualization, verbalization, mnemonics, associations, chunking writing, or combinations
Computation and problem solving - verbalization, visualization, chunking, associations, cues
Reading accuracy and fluency - self-questioning, chunking, context clues, repeated readings
Reading comprehension - visualization, questioning, rereading, predicting
Writing - planning, revising, questioning, verbalization, visualization, monitoring (OLRC News, Winter 2004)
The teacher will need to describe the strategy to the student. One way of doing this is by modeling the strategy. Also the teacher will need to use guided practice and allow for feedback. Using these different types of cognitive strategies will help the LD student to be successful.
A metacognitive strategy is an approach to help students recognize their own thought and reasoning in being able to problem-solve and recall information (Vaidya, 1999). One important metacognitive strategy is the use of mnemonics; using a word where the letters in the word each stand for a piece of information or a step in a process. Students are often taught mnemonics to remember the names of planets, the order of operations, names of the Great Lakes and for remembering the periodic table.
Students with learning disabilities are not easily able to recall information previously learned and therefore, have difficulty expressing it again. The benefit to using this strategy provides students a tool to help them recognize when they have difficulty remembering information and can help a student recall information and how to recall it. This provides a sense of independent accomplishment where students recognize their disability but have strategies to work with it. Teachers should ensure students learn when to use this strategy, how to use it and how to develop it. Once students learn a process or have been taught information, teachers should explicitly teach this strategy, monitor students during it and help them implement it to retain the information. Having students create their own mnemonics helps them to recognize how it can help recall information. When they encounter information they feel is difficult to remember, they teach themselves ways to remember it.
Importance of Developing Self-Advocacy Skills
Self-advocacy skills are the skills one needs or possesses to communicate one's needs and/or as well as their standing up for one's rights. It involves making decisions and taking responsibility for them. "Studies of highly successful adults with learning disabilities have identified the ability to self-advocate as an important factor contributing to success" (Albert, Alberta Learning. Learning and Teaching Resources Branch, 2002). Everyone uses self-advocacy skills to some degree or another however, students with learning disabilities, have typically had less practice developing these skills, as parents, teachers and professionals have typically done this for them. Recently, more focus has been on teaching learning disabled students how to advocate for themselves to be successful.
Every student must develop some type or form of study skills to achieve academic success. Learning disabled students must use strategies and techniques that enable them to use study skills that meet their unique needs. The skills needed vary greatly by each individual's learning style and their disability. Knowing what to study, how to study, planning to study, setting realistic goals and setting a realistic timeframe can be difficult for learning disabled students. Modifications or accommodations that help may include having a note-taker, using a tape recorder, instructor notes/outline, creating an outline of the material, use of acronyms, silly phrases or word associations, and/or the use of timers (Sudita, J, 2000).
Like all young people, students with disabilities must learn the social skills they will need as adults. Some students with disabilities will attend college, some will work and live independently in the community, and some will need more help. . Enabling and empowering students to direct their own lives is called self advocacy. As an educator we must contribute to developing social skills, to help them become a contributing member of society. Some basic social skills educators may consider because students with LD have difficulties with expressing their thoughts and views and find things like communicating, following directions, and completing a task difficult; we must provide them with a supportive environment that allows social skills to be performed and understood. Playing the part having a dinner party or going to a movie will allow the student to experience real life situations; providing experiences that allow them to master social skills will give them much needed social competency that is an important to achieving the goal of being a self advocate.
Transition planning should be an ongoing opportunity for students to learn and practice responsibility and self-knowledge. Transition is an ever-changing process, and students need to be skillful enough to adapt to the challenge of those changes. As educators we must help to develop skills needed to live life independently. Having them participate and experience real life situations like going on a job interview, washing clothes or opening a bank account. Making some situations difficult allowing them to make decisions and figure out the best way is most and important skill we can help them learn. Transition is not easy for anyone but mastering and experiencing real life situations gives the student a basic foundation on moving forward to independent living.
Students with learning ddisabilities have a neurological disorder that causes issues with organizing, remembering, and expressing information that is received by the brain. Cognitive and metacognitive strategies are imperative to their success. Self advocacy skills help students to communicate needs, wants, desires and standing up for one's self by making decisions and taking responsibility for them. To be successful in life, one must develop self advocacy skills. It is crucial for learning disabled students to begin learning these skills early in their education. Learning disabled students must rely on acquiring study skills, social skills and transitional skills to achieve success.