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Learning disabilities is a condition that interferes with student learning in varying degrees. Learning disabilities (LD) affect each student differently in school success and failure. Each learning disabled student (LDS) is affected differently depending on the severity of the individual student's condition and it's affect on school expectation. Although they have normal intelligence, they perform academically at least 2 years behind the grade level expectancy of achievement as their same aged peers in general education. Learning Disabled Students (LDSs) account for more than half the students with disabilities that require an Individualized Education Program (IEP). An IEP specifies and describes the services that are needed for each individual student with disabilities to help him/her meet the educational goals in school. A learning disabled student has an IEP detailing how the student is currently performing academically, measurable goals to help the student participate to meet his/her own educational needs, related services and accommodations to support each student, participation in state-wide testing, placement of the disabled student in an appropriate class, date services should begin, transition services, age that student can be informed of his/her own rights, progress measurement and graduation requirements.(Teaching Students with Special Needs, pp.186-187.) The IEP is used as a communication tool to guide the educational instruction for the learning disabled student and must be adhered to by all school personnel.
Learning disabled students have very distinct cognitive, behavioral, and social development characteristics that affect their ability to learn and interact with others in the school setting. Although each LDS is different from the other in their own level of severity, they all share the same characteristics that define them as LD.
Cognitively, LDSs struggle to keep up with the rigorous demands expected from school and as each year passes, students are expected to not only learn new information but to add on to the information learned in previous years. LDSs have difficulty processing new information and also transferring it to new skills and situations, inability to solve problems, poor language skills, poor reading and decoding skills, difficult to teach, and differing academic abilities. LDSs have problems with reading comprehension, phonetics, phonological awareness, calculations, problem solving, etc (Bryant, p53). Reading is fundamental to all the other subjects, writing, math, science and social science. LDSs will have difficulty reading stories, finding vocabulary meanings, pronouncing new words, understanding words previously learned in reading and transferring meaning in a science textbook, decoding words, remembering mathematical facts and rules, writing narratives, computing multiplication facts and other related skills and strategies needed to be successful in school. Their teachers and peers will expect them to achieve higher than they are showing and find them more difficult to work collaboratively.
Socially in a school setting, children are expected to say, do and perform in a way that is considered the normalcy. Social skills are very important because they allow us to relate and get along well with each other in a group. Typically, schoolchildren in a school setting are expected to arrive to school on time, greet others using manners, follow rules, always make good decisions and do their very best to succeed. LDSs do not conform to the social rules and have difficulty knowing what is socially expected as a student. They will make poor decisions, are shy or withdrawn, immature, misinterpret verbal and nonverbal cues, feel victimized, unable to follow manners and are dependent on others.(Bryant, p.53) LDSs will curse loudly when authority figures are present, continue to talk when asked to be quiet or when given the socially accepted finger over your mouth sign, not consider consequences of decisions, will not take the initiative to always complete assignments needing constant reminders, wait for teacher assistance and/or need guidance throughout learning assignment.
Students are expected to exhibit behaviors that are typical of a learner. These behaviors help students to perform well at school and prepare them to practice behaviors that are expected in the workforce as adults. Typical learning behaviors are being attentive in class, listening to the speaker, sitting quietly when asked, organizational skills, motivated to learn, and can work independently on a task. LDSs may be inattentive, easily distracted, impulsive, disorganized, unmotivated and hyperactive (Bryant, p 53). These atypical learning behaviors will impede LDSs from beginning and completing a task, thinking logically to solve problems, and desire to succeed at school as well as prepare for jobs in the workforce.
Being cognizant of learning characteristics of LD will better prepare the teachers and professionals to plan, implement and execute a more individualized program to target specific skills that are lacking in a LDS. About 80% of LDSs show great deficits in the acquisition of reading, specifically reading comprehension material. (Antoniou and Souvignier, 2007) Reading comprehension is very important to school success. Reading comprehension is used in all subject areas of the school's curriculum and students must be proficient in reading comprehension to gain success in school. In order to be successful in reading comprehension, students must be able to decode words and read the text fluently while using strategies to help them understand what the words mean. While comprehending reading text, students are constantly using several skills to find meaning. (Antoniou and Souvignier, 2007) LDSs face many challenges with reading comprehension. They have difficulty monitoring the many learning strategies taught to understand text, don't exhibit behaviors that show success in reading, then in turn have less desires to want to read which discourages them from improving their reading comprehension. Reading comprehension must be practiced over and over using strategies in that practice. The more reading comprehension is successfully practiced, the better the reader becomes and want to read and understand meaning.
One study was conducted in 2007 to research the effects of cognitive and metacognitive strategies on reading comprehension.(Antoniou and Souvignier, 2007) This study sought to improve reading comprehension, reading strategy-knowledge and reading motivation of LDSs over a period of 29 school hours. Students were given an intelligence test and asked to solve problems differing in complex levels, a vocabulary test to determine student's vocabulary abilities, a timed decoding word test to determine student's decoding ability, a reading comprehension test to determine a student's ability to find concrete details as well as content(higher order thinking) meaning, reading strategy knowledge test asking student's to choose best strategy to solve problems, and a reading self-efficacy test to determine the student's ability to make good choices about reading. This study was measured over a short and long period of time. Based on the results, the study concluded that LDSs had greater gains in th reading strategy program over a long period of time. Some limitations could be the gains were not very significant in a short period of time and this could be accounted for in the fact that LDSs need longer processing time to implement new skills taught. This could be a hinderance to school professionals that are seeking quick gains and the urgency of LDSs in high school to see quicker results.
Another study in 2009 on 7th grade students, sought to determine if differing accommodations on High Stakes tests would benefit poor readers and to what effect.(Fletcher, et al., 2009) Researchers defined poor readers based on testing students using the Letter-Word and Word Attack subtests of the Woodstock-Johnson III Tests of Achievement. If the students scored below the 26th percentile, they were defined as poor readers and if readers scored above the 34th percentiles, they were defined as average readers. The study had three differing accommodations which included two successive days of testing in a structured format, reading aloud the proper nouns and reading out loud passages and answers after students have read them. Proper nouns can often be difficult for poor readers to understand and giving students unlimited time may counteract and discourage them from doing their best on the test (they may become bored). Poor and average readers were administered the High Stakes in the standard format, accommodations with 1 day testing and accommodations with 2 day testing. After administration of the High Stakes test using the three accommodations, these are the researchers' findings. As expected, poor readers made gains on the 2 day accommodations testing but not statistically significant.
RAP is an explicit reading comprehension strategy that teaches students to improve their reading comprehension skills (Hagaman, et al., 2010). The Rap strategy is teacher friendly and easy to incorporate in the curriculum already in place in the classroom. The RAP strategy asks students to Read a paragraph, Ask yourself, "What was the main idea and two details?", and Put information into your own words.(Hagaman,et al., 2010) Each first letter of the short strategy, encourages the children to do something to understand meaning of reading. Hagaman used the Self Regulated Strategy Developmental (SRSD) model to teach RAP to students. There are six stages, (1) developing background knowledge (2) discussing strategy steps with students (3) modeling the strategy (4) Memorizing the strategy (5) assisting the strategy and (6) Mastering the strategy. Teachers explicitly teach the SSRD stages of Rap to students, model and use the strategy and scaffold instruction progressively allowing for mastery. Students must be encouraged to accept and independently utilize strategy for its effectiveness to be great. This strategy can be used for elementary, middle as well as high school across many subject areas.
Teachers of LDSs should research a variety of strategies and proven studies to help facilitate learning. This information should be shared with parents, gauging parent's perceptions and abilities. Parents are the child's first teacher and should be knowledgeable of skills, strategies, techniques, information available to promote school success and help with homework. But even when the parent's don't have abilities to support the student in the school or home setting, they should always be comfortable enough to approach a child's teacher seeking answers. Teacher's should always be available that's convenient for both parties and should have answers or know where to get the answers. Communication between teacher and parent is essential to true success for the LDSs because everyone feels valued and respected.
According Wong (2008), parent involvement consist of two types: home-based and school-based. Home-based activities are making sure students complete their homework, signing school notes and letters, reading to children, and other educational activities, such as going to the zoo. School-based activities are parent-conferences, assemblies, community events and field trips. Parents play a very important role at home as well as school promoting opportunities of teaching, communicating, volunteering, decision-making and interacting with the community. Parent involvement has been proven to promote better student achievement on test scores and more important than parent education and income. Also, research shows that parent involvement initiated by the teacher, child or school is the most positive and lasting.
According to Staples and Diliberto (2010), there are three fundamentals of parent involvement: building rapport, developing communication systems with maintenances and creating event opportunities to promote parent involvement. Building rapport for parents' of LDSs could mean welcoming students before the new school year, having an open door policy to welcome parents and offering help when needed for related services of LDSs. Developing communication for parents could mean having a newsletter with school as well as outside community related information and sources, posting a behavior and homework chart discussing ways of improvement, sharing new skills on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. Creating event opportunities could mean parent readings in class, home visits, photo shares, field trips, cultural activities, etc. There are many opportunities to ensure that parents feel welcome and valued as an active participant in the education of LDSs.
Research based instruction is a good tool to help teachers find answers to questions they seek on a daily basis to better improve and guide instructions. Teachers are in positions to solve ways to teach multiple children with many different personalities and learning styles in a regular education classroom. A special needs teacher has to consider all the above as well as ponder and generate solutions to problems that are individualized and specific to each child in the classroom. The task can be overwhelming but having resources help teachers become more willing to solve problems themselves. These are proven studies that help teachers of LDSs find ways that actually work or don't work. Less classroom time is spent "trying" this strategy or that strategy. More time is used to build upon skills of a LDS.
The implications and impact of the information indicates there is hope and opportunities for improvement for LDSs. Some research focused on testing, specific strategies and ways to affect LDSs at home with parent involvement. As the professional, teachers have to seek nonconventional as well as conventional ways to reach LDSs and help the build upon lacking skills, such as reading comprehension. As teachers, we have to learn to delegate responsibilities to students and parents to take responsibility of learning. Also, as teachers we have to learn to seek answers without always using a textbook, pencil and paper. It is our responsibility to teach and use all available resources to accomplish the task of LDSs.
In conclusion, I have learned a plethora of information about reading comprehension, LDSs, parent/teacher collaboration, and the ways research in which research has driven LD classroom instruction. I have gained knowledge, learned new strategies and thought about methods to involve parents, and understand the LDSs. I was surprised at some of the research and thought LDSs would have made more improvements and what other studies are available showing more gains. The good news is there is so much more available to read to help LDSs. As a teacher, I am now more sensitive to the needs of LDSs and feel a passion to want to help. As a general education teacher, I was quick to form opinions about why a student is not performing academically, acting out socially and/or exhibiting behaviors that are not "typical" to a regular education student. My former thoughts were they look the same, so why are they so different. This assignment has allowed me to begin a journey on finding answers for my growth and development as a special needs teacher and the academic, behavioral, and social development of a LDS in my future.