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Learning Disability is not a specific term; it is a category containing many specific disabilities, all of which cause learning to be difficult. The following is a definition of learning disability. The term Learning Disability means a disorder in one or more of the basic processes involved in understanding spoken or written language. It may show up as a problem in listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing or spelling or in a person's ability to do math, despite at least average intelligence.
Dyslexia is a neurological disorder that affects language processing functions. It manifests itself in a learning disability in handling written text. It also results in problems with letter-sound associations leading to difficulties in reading, writing and spelling. Students with dyslexia are typically of average or high intelligence, appear bright but have great difficulties reading, writing or spelling on grade level. They may be slower to acquire and process language due to poor short-term memory capacities. They may also have difficulties remembering isolated sounds in words when attempting to write and spell.
The student I selected to observe is a twelve year old girl currently attending St. Joseph School Blata l- Bajda. I shall call her Sarah due to privacy reasons. She is in Form 1, though repeated a year when she was in primary school. She has a psychological report which states that Sarah has been diagnosed with Dyslexia. The class is made up of 31 students, four of whom have shared LSAs. Sarah seems to have a good relationship with the LSAs as she's often seen talking to them.
Her parents agreed to let me do my observations, however I could only do them at school. Thus I couldn't get the complete picture of her functioning and integration outside of school.
As Sarah is a repeater, she doesn't have that many friends in class. This is not because her class mates don't want to be her friend, but because she keeps her distance. I think this is because Sarah see's her peers to be babyish. Sarah likes to stay with students who are older than her, although this isn't allowed by the school. She is also very picky about who sits next to her in class. She tends to make fun of the girls who take an interest in the lesson, and who are labelled as top of class.
Sarah's level of functioning is adequate to her age. She understands instructions given to her and acts adequately. Sarah also maintains good eye contact. A difference in behaviour can be seen between her and her class peers as she is older.
Sarah also communicates well. However, when spoken to by teachers, she tends to just look at them and not answer. This could be because she is quite a timid person. However, she is completely different with the LSAs present in class. She is receptive to instructions, but these need to be tackled one at a time. Sarah prefers Maltese as a spoken language. In fact, when spoken to in English, she will answer in Maltese.
When referring to self-help skills checklists, Sarah has attained all the skills listed. She doesn't present any motor difficulties.
During my observations of Sarah, I could pinpoint which subjects she liked and which she doesn't. Unfortunately, Sarah seems to work hard and strive in those subjects she likes. Sarah has difficulties with spelling, grammar, sentence structure and creative writing in both languages. Difficulties in understanding written instructions were also present. Sarah also struggles with understanding Mathematical concepts, especially if they are new concepts. With regards to reading, Sarah seems to fare better in Maltese. I think the fact that it is her preferred spoken language makes her feel more at ease to read Maltese. When reading words she's not familiar with, she breaks the words down into syllables, reads it softly, and then reads it out loud. She has another two languages which were chosen at the beginning of the year. These are Italian and French. She seems to enjoy Italian and strives hard to excel in the subject. This can be seen from her home works. They are generally always correct including spelling and sentence structure. She also understands instructions given in Italian. However, the same can't be said for French. She doesn't like the subject. She doesn't always do her home work as she doesn't understand the instructions. She also expects the LSA to help her constantly and interpret the words.
Maths is also a difficult subject. Sarah needs more than one explanation and a lot of extra work. Drilling of the concept helps her memorise it.
I believe Sarah has a lot of learning potential. I think that if she took things more seriously she'd fare better at school. This is because she tends to fool around during lessons she doesn't like. Her learning potential may also be boosted with the right support. As she only has a report, no LSA has been assigned to her. The level of support present for Sarah is minimal. Both LSAs in class are shared between 4 students, so Sarah doesn't always get the second explanation she would need. However, the LSAs do give her extra work to work out as well as simplified notes of the lessons. I also realised she brings the extra work back to be corrected, thus showing an interest in the subject. Teachers are also aware about her difficulties. They work together with the LSAs in class as a team to try aid learning for Sarah.
As I couldn't observe Sarah outside of school, I tried to gather some information from her about her social life. She enjoys meeting up with her friends who are older than her. They also go out on the weekend. Her group of friends is in the same school as her. She is also conscious about her self-image. So from what I was told by her, she is well adjusted and included in society. Sarah does not attend any out of school activities.
After observing Sarah in class and seeing some of her work, one could identify the symptoms of dyslexia through her reading, spelling and copying. Effective teaching strategies and adaptations can help dyslexic students be more successful. Such guidlines to these symptoms help and support the student with a learning disability. When the student needs to copy from the board, different coloured markers should be used for each line if there is a lot of written information, or underline every second line with a different coloured marker. Teachers must also leave the writing on the board long enough to ensure the student doesn't rush, or that the work is not erased from the board before the student has finished copying. A structured reading scheme that involves repetition and introduces new words slowly is extremely important. This allows the student to develop confidence and self esteem when reading. Saving the dyslexic student the ordeal of having to read aloud in class, this should be reserved for a quiet time with the teacher or LSA. Alternatively, the student may be given pre-selected reading material in advance. This will help ensure that the student is seen to be able to read out loud, along with his or her peers. Spelling rules can be given to the whole class. Words for spelling tests are often topic based rather than grouped for structure. If there are one or two dyslexic students in the class, a short list of structure-based words for weekly spelling tests, will be far more helpful than random words. Three or four irregular words can be included each week, eventually this should be seen to improve their free-writing skills. All students should be encouraged to proof read which could be useful for initial correction of spellings. Dyslexics seem to be unable to correct their spelling spontaneously as they write, but they can be trained to look for errors that are particular to them. With regards to Mathematical concepts, one can use flashcards. These are visual which can help the student remember better. A few lessons a week for a literacy program may also be beneficial, as spelling and grammar may be tackled on an individual basis. The use of flashcards for spelling and correct sentence structure may be used.
Learning Disability is a general term that describes specific kinds of learning problems. A learning disability can cause a person to have trouble learning and using certain skills. The skills mostly affected are reading, writing, listening, speaking, reasoning and doing math. Learning disabilities vary from person to person. Researchers think that learning disabilities are caused by differences in how a person's brain works and how it processes information. Students with learning disabilities are not 'stupid' or 'lazy'. In fact, they usually have average or above average intelligence. Their brain just processes information differently.