The Steps of Progress (19 years and Counting)!

For those of you who are parents, you know (especially when you have children with learning disabilities) progress is sometimes a slow crawl on a long journey towards adulthood. It’s hard to know if the decisions you have made in your child’s younger years are going to become the roadblocks or bulldozers that they deal with in their adult lives.

When I first discovered that my daughter was having difficulty learning, I admit to feeling apprehensive. I went to the people that I presumed where the experts (her teachers), but I found myself facing what I considered to be a brick wall. Most people thought that I should allow her to just be “happy” and let everything else (learning and education) go.  I don’t understand why we think that a child facing an obstacle should be forced to make the choice between learning and play. However, when it comes to learning disabilities, I find that is often the first response.

I can’t explain what that feels like.  I can only tell you that it is insulting.  It was so insulting to me that I determined in my own head that I wanted my daughter to have more than an enjoyable childhood – I wanted her to enjoy her life as an adult.  For that reason, we began writing and reading at home, tutoring over the summer and practicing those skills in other non-academic situations. What I mean by this is that I found a book and I scheduled our days, we would work for an hour or so and play for an hour or so.  If we took a trip to the zoo or the museum, we broke that trip down and wrote about it (wrote while doing it). We would walk to the library and read out loud.  If we saw a movie about something, we researched it to find out more.  When she was older, we took notes, practiced responding to questions and we dove into things that were unfamiliar.  It was not easy and sometimes she fought me, but we pushed on.

I recall other parents telling me that doing this was abusive. One parent told me that my daughter would grow up and become ‘wild’ because I had her practicing her writing when she could have been outside playing and enjoying her life like all the other kids her age. I cannot tell you how often I questioned my choices, especially those years when it seemed like my daughter was not making any progress or when she would take a test at school and come home feeling defeated and sad.

The only thing that kept me motivated during those times was the idea that my daughter was going to struggle as badly as I did if I did not find a way to help her. I thought about the insecurity she could face as an adult if she could not read and write and that was all that I needed to keep pushing forward.

This week, my daughter called and announced to me that after her graduation from college in May (with a BA in Business Administration), she will be moving on to a one-year graduate program. She is also hoping to spend part of her summer over seas. I leapt for joy – physically and emotionally.  I was so excited that I announced her good news over Facebook before she had the opportunity to share it herself.

When I look at her now, I still see that little bitty kiddo, struggling to hold her pencil. I see that kid who could not stay in her seat. I see that little one crying because the words in the book were hard to read. I see the kid who called herself stupid. I see the child who was picked on for being different. BUT, I also see an amazing and beautiful woman with hope and love and joy for any and every second that life provides.

I still question my choices. Maybe that is the price we pay as parents. However, I no longer question them as bad choices. I wonder what I could have done better, what would have made things easier, what skills can I develop to help parents in the same position I found myself in those years ago.

My advice at this point is – DON’T GIVE UP! People with limited vision will tell you that what you are doing is stupid, that your child should play instead of learn, that you are being mean for working for a future for your kid. Hold on to your vision! Do NOT let it go! Don’t let it drive you crazy, but use it to fuel your child to a lifetime of victories. I have faith in you all and I hope you have faith in yourselves!

I wish you a happy and Joyful THANKSGIVING!!!

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Re-Learning Letter Sounds: The Almost Impossible Mountain Climb to American Sign Language

Over the last several months, I discovered that I do not have a letter-symbol-sound understanding. That is confusing, so allow me to try explaining another way. I do not necessarily recognize letters, which makes it difficult to teach the letter sounds. I discovered this while sitting in my literacy class. The teacher would say a sound and I would actually see an image – not a letter.

I then spent some time attempting to figure out what I was going to do to develop my special education skills. Teaching phonics is a key element of my job.

Like most days, I tried to paint. It was helpful in the fact that it allowed me to work through my feelings, but I did not miraculously find an answer – or maybe I did. Just after I painted my last piece, I remembered something that happened to me in the 4th grade. At that time, I joined City Wide Choir. I was struggling to really sing out and speak up for and myself. Mr. A., my teacher at that time, taught us how to sign our names. Mr. A. would play a note on the piano, sign it, and then have us sing it.

With the memory fresh in my head I signed, “My name is Rhonda.” Not fast – I am sure I made some big errors, but it was easier for me to use my hands then it was for me to use my voice.

I set out to try it in my class. I decided to use a sign, speak the sound, say the picture on the card, and finally speak the sound to my students. My first day was not miraculous by any means, but it worked. I was able to slow down, match the symbol to the sound and match the sign to the symbol.

Since, I have been taking a little time each week to dedicate to watching sign language (ASL specifically). I can state here and now that I have so much respect for the deaf/hearing impaired community. I do NOT say that as hero worship. I say that with the understanding that I wish I had been taught to sign earlier in my life. The body is so interesting. I used to move my hands without mission or purpose. Signing makes me feel like my hands have a purpose. And I appreciate the fact that there are not so many words. Most of my life English has been a challenge. I stumble over words, phrases, rules, sounds, and letters. I could cry right now – I just feel like I missed out on so much.

I have no idea if there is any research into teaching individuals with autism sign language in addition to their own native language. I would love to find out.

In the middle of full time work and full time school, I have realized that I do not have enough hours in my day to devote to learning sign the right way, but I at least plan to try. Now, I plan to put out a challenge to any reader that I may have, IF you have any resources that you would like to share – PLEASE DO! I am open.

Looking back at the title of this article, I would like to explain why I call this the almost impossible climb to American Sign Language. I only say this because it is a great challenge for me to force myself to move beyond finger signing. To date, I have never been able to learn another language other than English. My fear with sign language is that I might mess up and say the wrong thing and completely offend another person. I have some interesting hand to eye coordination issues that sometimes impacts me when I do things like walk (this might look like me trying to put the same foot forward twice – forcing me to trip – it also impacts me in other ways as well) and point or do anything at the same time. I could do each lesson and finger sign, but then what am I teaching myself??? How am I growing my students??? I want to show my children that having ASD and learning disabilities may present challenges, but with the right supports they can build new skills and become stronger people.

It is my hope to become the best special education teacher I can be. I hope that ASL might help me. I thank you all so much for your endearing support. May we all continue

Speaking Up, Speaking Out, and Near Misses

Last night I had the opportunity to speak at a charity event for an inner city youth program here in my local area. It was an honor to be invited. I shared the stage with some truly beautiful individuals.

I began the evening with a slight bit of angst. Just after getting ready for the dinner, I received a call that my son was “missing”. Those are words no parent wants to hear, right?

Right!

So, let me take you back a few steps and explain. My son is about to hit 14 years old. He has a high IQ and Autism Spectrum Disorder. For this reason, we have chosen NOT to have him ride on the bus alone. Not because he is incapable, but, because sometimes he makes choices that sometimes difficult for me to understand.

That said, yesterday, I was getting ready. I had my simple black dress, pearls, and high heels on when my husband called to ask me if I knew where my son was. My husband was picking him up that day and I had requested that my son wait for him just in front of the school. Regardless, my heart hit the ground that very moment.

Trying not to panic, I asked my husband to check each of the three buildings that sit on the property where my son goes to school. In all there is a middle school, a technology building, and a high school. This is not a small area. He now has the school searching and the worry is moving from my heart to my head. I knew we needed a plan and we needed one quickly.

My husband begins searching again and I proceed out the door – ready to call the police. Foot on the gas – tears in my eyes – I asked my husband for two things:

  1. Check the park next to the school.
  2. Stop telling me all the possible things that could go wrong.

Just as I turned the car down a major intersection near my son’s school, I heard my husband say, “He is standing on the bleachers looking at me.”

I can honestly say that I felt both anger and relief. As soon as my son was near the phone I demanded to speak to him and I yelled, cried, and apologized all at the same time – thanking God the entire way.

I went to my event – without my speech (I left it in the house when I went screeching towards the school). It was so difficult to formulate great thoughts knowing what happened just before. As I took the stage I realized that this was exactly where I needed to be. Because of circumstances, some poor child did not have the support of parents or loved ones (like my son did).

I found myself imagining what could have happened if my son was alone and left to fend for himself – what if there was no one there to realize he was missing? I think it was that thought alone that pushed me to continue to speak when all I really wanted to do was to come home and hold him in my arms (which I did – as soon as I walked in the door).

My son truly thought that he was going to a place where we could see him better – some place high where we could spot him. He acknowledged passing adults who could help him. He viewed them as busy and did not want to interrupt (we have been teaching him interruption is rude). He chose not to use the phone because he had not been given permission. I think the odd thing about these types of disabilities is that I can fully understand the logic behind his responses as I realize how much work I have to do to help him navigate the world. My son was trying to comply with social norms that are confusing. Just as the students I was speaking for are trying to cope with situations that are confusing, potentially debilitating, and completely out of their own control (just like my sons ASD is out of his control).

I write this today to tell you to speak of for, support, and be an advocate for children who cannot help themselves – even those with families that love them. Don’t just sit on the sidelines. In a blink a life can change – be the change agent.

Everything I know about the subject of learning disabilities will ONLY ever be a drop in the bucket of what I have yet to discover

I write this blog post today as a mother, a special educator and as a student with exceptional needs.

The key to really helping students in exceptional educational programs, whether they are in gifted and talented (GT), on an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), a learning plan (LP), or even mildly struggling in a general education program, is a three way partnership between parents, teachers and students.

I know this sounds like something that always happens, but the truth is that it does not always happen (for various reasons on all sides). I have noticed that parents do not always realize how much they can do at home, teachers don’t desire to burden parents and children who already face challenges, and students are sometimes unprepared to fully and actively participate in their own learning. Full and active participation has nothing to do with excitement. Any SPED teacher can tell you stories of how excited their students are.

However…. There is one problem that I have as a parent…

As a parent, I find that I tend to OVER HELP my children. What I mean is that, through no fault of my own, I give assistance (or scaffolding) where it can cause more harm then good. Let me give you an example:

My daughter was highly verbal when she was born. At some point, she stopped speaking. I knew that we had some stress in the house, so I began to cater to her signals. I got things down from the cabinet when she pointed to it and I just allowed her to have her own space and communicate in her own time.

One day I had a friend babysit. Before leaving, I explained to him that she was non-verbal (for now) and to just let her point, she was a really good child – just quiet.

When I returned home I could hear him outside the door say, “No. Nope. I am not going to get it until you speak to me.” She was crying at this point and the mother in me wanted to swoop in and save the day. I found some way to control my person and I walked in and just waited. My daughter looked to me to save her and I didn’t – I wanted to see what would happen. When crying stopped working and saving was no longer an option my daughter spoke her first real sentence in over six months.

“May I please have a peanut butter sandwich?

It was music to my ears. It was also a good reason for me to stop the internal hate that was growing for the person who stood there and pushed my daughter to speak.

My daughter has not been quiet since and if she is quiet –something is going on…lol.

That was nearly 17 years ago.

The point is still the same. I was scaffolding my daughter because I noticed that she had a deficit in an area. My scaffolding would have been helpful had my daughter become completely non-verbal. Unfortunately, I had never fully tested the situation out in order to determine if this was a permanent change or a temporary change. It felt permanent because of the amount of time this had been going on. I had begun to give up on hearing her speak again and I had been researching how to teach sign language. What this taught me was that all I actually needed was to stand and wait and use two of the most powerful letters in the English language, “N” and “O”. NO!

Disclaimer:

Now: before anyone begins to post about the word NO being negative… I state here and now that NO is POSITIVE. It is the best way to defend oneself. Children need to know how to voice it and how to show it in body language (as do adults – for me this is an important skill for all people). A child who cannot say, “NO”, is at risk. There, I said it. I hope we all feel better and can move on.

I need to be clear about something else – had my friends test proved unsuccessful – I might have been really angry with him. But, it is important for me to understand that just doing the test (whether she spoke or not) was the only true way to discover what my next steps should have been. My friend showed me that I was OVER HELPING and that was causing a lot more damage then facing the situation head on and dealing with my daughter directly.

This post is my way of asking parents and educators to step into one another’s shoes. I believe that most of us want what is best for our students with exceptional needs – it’s my hope that those who do not want that will look for wonderful careers outside of education – I did say hope – so please no hate mail.

I have the same capacity to OVER HELP and Under Stimulate the learning of my students, if I am not careful. As an educator, I must always remember the lesson this situation has taught me. I must be willing to research, to test, to try harder, to try new things, to step away, to let another try, to seek additional answers even when I am sure I understand the problem.

As I said before, everything I know about the subject of learning disabilities will ONLY ever be a drop in the bucket of what I have yet to discover.

Diffusion of Information and LD Students

{excerpt: Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) students on How their specific LD characteristics impact the post-secondary education experience: Tables removed but are embedded within the full text version}

Two questions that are often asked in school systems around the country are; “What are students learning?” and “How do we create an atmosphere that supports learning? (Brookhart, 2011, p. 4)”. These questions are asked at all levels of education, in relationship to all curriculum and teaching practices, and in the heat of political debates (Altbach, Berdahl, & Gumport, 2005). Rogers (1976) defines the diffusion process as the extension of a new ideas, thoughts, or innovations from its establishment to its adopters. Rogers (1976) differentiates the adoption process from the diffusion process in that the diffusion process occurs within society, as a group process; whereas, the adoption process pertains to an individual mental progression where a person moves from merely hearing the information to understanding it and being able to fully apply it in some way.

This is something with which Kelly struggles. Rogers (1976) is primarily speaking about new technology; however, his thoughts are applicable to education especially when he focuses in on the concept of innovation within an organization (p. 417). In this scenario, the students are in the school to learn new information and or ideas so that they can use it to gain new understanding and build better lives for themselves and their families (Honig M. I., 2006). Rogers (1976) highlights how organizations measure adoption of an innovation within an organization over a period of time like email systems and computer technology.

However, an LD student entering an undergraduate program is there to learn new tools and skills (Marzano & Kendall, 2007). These tools can be nursing technology, business technology, leadership skills, etc., but it is all new to the student and it is information that must be adopted or the student will not be able to advance in the program or have a career in that field after the program is completed (Cortilla, 2011; Rogers, 2003). Students with LD come to the learning environment with processing issues that put gaps in their ability to learn/adopt the new information (Opp, 1994). As noted earlier this gap in understanding has been equated to the appearance of Swiss cheese: the knowledge is there, residing in the spaces and pockets, but for whatever reason, the student is unable to access that information, rendering it useless to the student (Cooper, 2007; Cooper, 2005).

When the student enters the classroom, many times, they are entering “fresh”, new, ready to learn, because what was learned the day prior (a month prior, a year prior, years prior), has slipped away (Cooper, 2007). For this reason, the teacher, as the innovator or presenter of the innovation, is again needing to diffuse this new (or renewed) information to the LD student (Rogers, 2003). It’s a recursive process where the LD student learns and relearns until the innovation or new idea is fully adopted, though this is not copiously occuring for the LD student (Viel-Ruma et al., 2007). Cortiella (2011) noted that improved instruction, enhancement to disability planning, better application of programs, and greater skills assessments and training are needed to help students with disabilities understand themselves and grasp their educational process.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 has the potential to assist with disability planning efforts, because it allows individuals with disabilities to show their difficulties by documenting the disability and citing their problems (The United States Access Board, 2008). Regarding any future employer or post-secondary institution (PSI), it requires that “reasonable” modification be applied, without forcing changes or alterations that might be too difficult for the entity to implement (The United States Access Board, 2008). “Reasonable” is a problematic term, becausestudents with disabilities have had a great amount of difficulty in expressing, documenting, and receiving assistance for their disabilities as a direct result of their problems with communication (Cortilla, 2011). This makes it difficult for any employer or PSI to adequately identify what “reasonable accommodations” are, which is creating further gaps (in education and in employment) for the individual with LD (President’s Commission on Excellence in Education, 2002).

In their review of the history of change literature, Higgs and Wren (2009) discuss the complexities and failures of change models over time. They evaluate models that move from simple to sophisticated, and those that move from do-it-yourself models to emergent models (Higgs & Wren, 2005). Among the listed change literature historians is a theorist named John Kotter. Kotter (1996) believed that change required participation from the leader and that leaders needed a true sense of urgency in regard to the change. Others suggest that organizational capabilities and the cultures they impact are so disconnected, and that change cannot occur without structure and repetition (Beer & Nohria, 2000).

Some change literature theorists contend that institutional changes are difficult to conceptualize, because they ultimately have to apply in real world situations (UNPD, 2006). However, others state that the only way change can be effective is if one is willing to continually reshape one’s capacity to enhance one’s organization (Higgs & Wren, 2005; Jaworski & Scharmer, 2000). Altering a system and applying new standards is easy to theorize about, but research shows that changes, especially in educational systems are rarely executed as they are designed (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000). Thus, such changes do not spread throughout the entire organization and they are not sustainable in their ability to hold stakeholder or community interests long-term (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000).

Rogers (2003) noted that for an innovation to be effective it needs to have certain attributes: (1) it must be better then the innovation it follows, (2) it must be compatible with the current values, (3) it must not be preceived as being too difficult to use, (4) it must allow for experimentation, and (5) it must be transparent and observable so that results are clearly laid out. In the redesign of a new educational system, a stakeholder analysis (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000) and strategic plan that incorporate feasible living strategies (this is a method for making sure that a plan that is placed on paper can be effective in a real world situation) are key to a new innovation being successful (Marx, 2006, pp. 15-16).

It is important to determine who the stakeholders are and what role they will play in decision-making, organization policy, literature development and assimilation, and continuation of innovation practices (Rogers, 2003). While there is still some debate about who the stakeholders are (i.e are students stakeholders or are they customers), the majority of researchers find that educational stakeholders include a combination of stduents, parents, staff, community organizations, local governemtns, local businesses, retired citizens, citizens who no longer have students in school, institutions of higher education, media and educational agencies (Spector, Greely , & Kingsley, 2004; BFHE, 2009).

The question then becomes, Where do these stakeholders have buy-in and how does that buy-in impact the assimilation of information (Business Higher Education Foum BHEF, 2009). It might be easier to outline these stakeholders in a figure, by those who are outside of the organization versus those that are inside the organization and how their position in the structure determines their influence on decisions and information diffusion (Brugha & Varvasovszky, 2000). Understanding this relationship allows leaders to develop a proper analysis of whose interests are being considered and who is most impacted by any choice that is made when an educational system needs to be altered (Honig & Rainey, 2011).

Putting these stakeholders in a figure its clear to see that there are stakeholders that are influencers (Policy-makers, Administrators, Social groups, Professional Organizations) and stake holders are the influencees (Students and Instructors). Damanpour & Schneider (2008) might say influencers have “primary” adopter characteristics (those having intrinsic influence, dealing with value and policy) and they might note that influencees have “secondary” adopter characteristics (those having an internal value from the adoption process or that are requires to utilize the actual innovation).

Primary adopters focus on how innovation will be used by the organization from group to group. Secondary adopters focus on how the innovation will be put into practice (Damanpour & Schneider, 2008). Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin, & Hall (1987) stated that the most important element in creating positive and successful change was a leader’s willingness to work, push, support and participate in the process (p. 10). A leaders role is important because it does take a quality leader to get an entire stakeholder community to implement new change (Hord et al., 1987). LD students do not have the power to speak for themselves, so they are dependent on their leaders (Cortilla, 2011).

Dalitz, Toner, & Turpin (2011) state that innovation formulas incorporate a variety of different tactics and procedures, but most formulas include life cycle changes, training changes, and skill needs that are either the major primary consideration or they are a close second in the consideration process (p. 11). It is possible that this is why school systems struggle to make some changes to the PSI environment. The change is possibly seen as too expensive or too difficult to implement. In consideration of changing the PSI environment for the LD student, The Cervero Model was chosen because of its incorporation of all elements on a somewhat equal setting, see Figure 2.4. The Cervero Model (Hubbard & Sandmann, 2007). This is relevant because PSI need to understand that, even though modifications at all levels are ultimately desired, change methods do not require PSI to alter every aspect of the educational process to be successful.

Studies have found that there is interconnectedness between change success rates, change context, leadership and methodologies to change (Higgs & Wren, 2005). If stakeholders are not committed, they will not follow the new process and it will fail (Higgs & Wren, 2005). This evidence is reported in The President’s Commission on Excellence in Education (2002) when the reporting staff discovered that LD students were not effectively learning and educational institutions were not able to produce quality, stable learning environments for students with LD. When considering how to assist students with LD, especially when policy has been mandated by legislation that governs how much change can happen at the PSI level, and when considering that many stakeholders have had no choice in the learning formats that are chosen (Dunn & Mulvenon, 2009), LD students must be included in the implementation of any changes that may need to occur in the future as a result of the lived experiences of the mandated educational changes (Hord et al., 1987).

The President’s Council on Excellence in Education (2002) states that the innovation that will help LD students to become solid academic learners will be found by and through engaging with and researching LD students outside of the parameters of the traditional student. If language is not stationary, and if it is not relegated to the sign or symbol as Derrida (1997) supposes, and if it is ontogenetic as Chomsky (1998) believes, and as educators have indirectly implied (Bloom, 1956; Bruner, 1966; Eisner, 2000; Enfield, 2010; Gardener, 2006; Vygotsky, 1978), then researchers must ask how students use language. They must consider how the use of language interferes with learning, and what can be done at the post-secondary institution (PSI) level to help the LD student to better cope in educational settings without removing the “reasonable accommodations” requirement (GOA, 2009).

New News is Good News

It has been a long and interesting week here in my house.  My sons both underwent testing with a specialist in the field of cognitive disabilities.  There are varying reasons why, but the important part was that they both needed answers and this testing was going to provide that.  My oldest was diagnosed ADHD with sensory issues and my youngest was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. The oldest has additional testing he needs to complete.

I was not sure that I was ready to receive the news myself.  Yes, I have LD, ASD with SPD and I have a daughter with ADHD, SPD, and LD. I even knew my oldest son had LD’s.  Yet, the information impacted my sons and I in a strange way. Allow me to take a step back and tell you all about that day.

Knowing we were going to have the results meeting on this day, I took the liberty of taking the boys out of school. I had no idea that doctor would find anything. I felt that the testing had been stressful and even if nothing was wrong, the boys needed a day off.

We slept in that morning and took our dogs on a long walk. The mood was light. We were laughing and joking.   We mutually decided that we would have breakfast together.

As we loaded into the car, the mood began to change. It was silent. Then out of the blue we found our selves behind an advertisement that read “Stump Removal and Daughter”. We could not figure the sign out – even the picture on the advertisement was odd. And it quickly got us laughing.

I cannot explain how hard it was to point out the ordinary things in life, just as you are driving down to the unknown.  We had breakfast and watched President Obama address the Nation on the monitor in the dinning room. My sons had all these questions about Russia and the Ukraine. It was surreal – watching the news and watching the clock – hearing about this conflict as we had our own internal struggle about our own day.

Finally, it was time. We got to the elevators – walked to the office and I was eventually asked back to hear the results. The doctor and I then broke the news to the boys. My oldest had a few questions. My youngest quietly took it all in.

After we sat in the car for a little while. The boys both felt heavy and finally asked if we could do something fun.  I then drove them to the store, purchased real record players, bought albums, and took each son on a private walk to figure out if they could say the things that they were having trouble saying.

There were the obvious questions. What is this illness? Am I sick? Do I have to take medication? Then there were the other questions. Why me? Did I do something wrong?

Each new day brings more questions, as one might expect. Knowing though has had a great many benefits. It has helped my son to answer questions about themselves that had been unanswered for years. It has allowed my husband and I to take a second look at our children and focus on them over their grades. It has opened conversations at school that are helping our sons to navigate school better because they know what is happening and they are trying to avoid the pitfalls.

Parents as you consider testing, especially if you are worried about the labels that you child could potentially have, my advice to you is to take a deep breath and accept what comes. I only regret waiting this long to do this.  As we step out into the future, I plan to keep you all posted on our progress.

Kind Regards,

Dr. Richmond

Self-Direction and LD Students

Leading up to Self-Direction and Readiness in the Lower Level of Education

Hersey and Blanchard (1988) say that learners cannot be ready to learn if they are not motivated or willing to perform the tasks needed in a self-directing manner. Self-Directed Learners SDL must be self-managing (understanding of the significance of tasks and the intended outcomes), self-monitoring (understanding what is effective and having sufficient knowledge about established conscious strategies needed to make-appropriate decisions), and self-modifying (able to evaluate and adjust to constant meaning and changes) (Costa & Kallick, 2004). A self-directed learner who is empowered is more likely to participate in a two-year or four-year college (Berry, Ward, & Caplan, 2012).

According to Grow (1991), there are several presumptions made with regard to understanding a self-directed learner. Some of those assumptions are that self-direction is the primary goal of a secondary educational environment, that self-direction can be learned, and that self-direction is situational to learners and teachers. The problem with assumptions is that educators have not been able to specifically and adequately define what the self-directed learner looks like (Costa & Kallick, 2004). However, they do agree that a quality of a self-directed learner is a learner who is able to orient her/himself to the educational process at all levels, and that the inability of a learner to develop self-direction can be a serious limitation at the post-secondary level (Costa & Kallick, 2004; Grow, 1991).

Some good self-directed learning models exist. For example, Grow (1991) uses a Staged Self-Directed Learning (SSDL) Model to show how teachers actively work with students to help them to become more self-directed. The stages of that model are:

Stage 1: Dependent Learner: A learner is solely dependent on an educator to provide immediate feedback on what, when and how to complete a task.

Stage 2: Interested Learner: A learner is motivated by the educator to begin goal-setting and developing learning strategies.

Stage 3: Involved Learner: A teacher facilitates the learning but in partnership with the student.

Stage 4: Self-directed Learner: The learners can work and function independently and is meeting expected outcomes.

In a traditional educational model, after students enter the classroom ready to acquire new knowledge, they progress through the classroom by moving from being scaffolded to making educational transitions, to meeting transformed outcomes (Tanner & Tanner, 2007; Baleghizadeh et al., 2010; Field, et al., 1998; Verenikina, 2008; Vygotsky, 1978). Shifting to the Lower Level of the framework, Grow’s (2001) Stages of Self-Direction are skills a student would develop in high school to be ready to begin a post-secondary education (Berry et al., 2012). See Figure 2.1, The Teaching and Learning Level.

 

Figure 2.1. The Teaching and Learning Level (from Chapter 1)

  • Stage 1 and Stage 2: Educator uses coaching and motivation methods to assist a student through the scaffolding process.
  • Stage 3: Learner moves forward and can transition from one learning goal to the next with limited assistance from the educator.
  • Stage 4: Learner becomes self-directed and can be successful in a post-secondary setting on her/ his own.

Beal (2005) places the burden of understanding one’s disability, their legal rights, and the securuing of the appropriate academic adjustments at the feet of the LD student. He lists five specific rights and seven responsibilities that students with LD have (Beal, 2005). The five rights are:

  1. To receive modifications on college entrance exams.
  2. To receive academic adjustments.
  3. To refuse to inform any PSI of any learning disability.
  4. To not have other’s ask for the disability to be identified.
  5. The right to be heard if it is believed any disability rights have been violated.

The seven responsibilities are:

  1. To become familiar with federal regulations that impact LD at PSI
  2. To understand what assistance is necessary to assist with specific LD
  3. To learn to effectively self-advocate
  4. To obtain documentation of LD
  5. To determine the availablity of support services
  6. To notify PSI of any LD
  7. To work with educators to address LD and unique accommodations

These rights and responsibilities presume that students have learned to be self-directing prior to enrolling in PSI (Beal, 2005). Grow (1991) calls self-direction the higher mental function that matures over time by and through a particular history and social interaction (p. 128). Unfortunately, most LD students are so busy learning the skills needed to move from tast to task (Stages 1 – 3 of Self-Direction) in the classroom, that they are rarely, if ever, trained to be self-directed learners, nor are they trained to advocate for themselves as described by Beale (2005) (Hitchings, et al., 2010; Hitchings, et al., 2001). Such a situation creates a “catch-22” for the LD learner.

Full text: Richmond, R. C.L. (2013). Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience. Argosy University.