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).

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Marginalization and Learning Disabilities

Over the past several months I have had conversations with individuals with disabilities who have been marginalized on college campuses due to the actions and attitudes of their non-disabled peers regarding disabilities that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  Living with a disability, especially a disability that is considered “invisible”, is difficult for many people to navigate.  After all, we don’t LOOK like there is something wrong with us. This often leaves the door open to those who think that these conditions are either made up by therapists in order to give those therapists something to do, or “faked” by us to gain attention.

The hard issue is that many individual’s who do not have LD, do not appreciate how difficult it is to navigate the world when you have disabilities. I my own life, I am often told that I must not be disabled if I obtained a college degree.  This is the type of statement that would not normally be said to an individual who had a prosthetic limb.  One might presume that life with the prosthetic would be easier to navigate, but we would never presume that the limb had grown back or that the individual was better because they had a prosthetic (if you did make that leap – it would be because you had not experienced the issues that come with having to use a medical device such as a prosthetic).

I have to make a side note here.  When I use the word “disability”, I use it universally to describe a condition or set of conditions that interferes with or prevents one’s ability to participate in the world without accommodation.  This is a simple definition, because it incorporates all forms of disability, not specifically learning disabilities. Many people would say that a disability does not make one “disabled” – which is true.  Lots of people live life with disabilities and they are not limited in what they can achieve or do.  Others will try, but will be stopped by the disability itself. And others will be unable.  No one person copes with a disability in the same way and no one way is better.

But I have noticed a backlash from groups who are frustrated that so many new conditions are being identified – in their opinion.  I continually hear statements such as, “When I was a kid, there was no such thing as dyslexia/AHDH/”insert learning disability here”. It is as if the very idea is preposterous because someone had not seen it or had not recognized it in the past.

The fact is that unless you have it or your related to someone who has it, it’s hard to understand the impact.  In our society, people desire to live a life that is complaint free.  We pat those on the back who have pushed their conditions aside and beaten the odds – so to speak.  Unfortunately, in the disability community, when one does a great job of moving on with their lives, the rest are often seen as victims, bringing down the system or sucking it dry – which is not the case.

The people I spoke to over these last few weeks did not see themselves as victims, they only knew that to be successful they needed accommodation.

Accommodation is such a tricky word.  People think it means taking from what others need to give something to someone else. I venture to say that in some ways every person on the planet uses some type of accommodation.  The mother trying to feed her young combative toddler uses a restraining devise (commonly called a high chair) to help her to feed the child without incident.  A young boy painting the house for the first time uses a ladder to reach the higher parts of the house.  Neither of these individuals is disabled. They use these devices because they are acceptable forms of accommodation.  They might have found a way to cope without it, but it would have been much harder. This is no less true for individuals with disabilities.

This appears to be the sticking point. or requested accommodation for the disability, they received public backlash – backlash that lasted for weeks and ended with the person feeling broken for asking for something that was necessary, just like the ladder and the highchair (yes – these are very simplistic examples).

Before you speak about a condition or a situation you are not living with or in – THINK. The heart you break with you choice words could take a lifetime to heal.

H.Res. 456: “Calling on schools and State and local educational agencies to recognize that dyslexia has significant educational implications”

This weekend I took the time to begin discussing disability advocacy.  What does it mean? Why is it important? How do we address it?

It was my pleasure to discover that Congressman Bill Cassidy and Congresswoman Julia Brownley have written a resolution calling for the House to acknowledge that impact of dyslexia on students. Decoding Dyslexia- Co said that Congressman Cassidy said that

“the resolution is designed to urge schools and educational institutions to address the impact of (dyslexia) on students”  

In another quote posted by Decoding Dyslexia – CO, Congressman Cassidy says:

“Dyslexia affects millions of Americans, including many students. We know that many with dyslexia are among our brightest and most successful. If dyslexia is identified in elementary school and the appropriate resources are given to these children, America can produce more teachers, more scientists and more entrepreneurs. This resolution pushes schools and educational agencies to address this challenge and provide evidence-based solutions for dyslexic students.”

This bill currently only has a 2% chance of passing, but this is low because people do not know about it.  It is up to us as citizens and especially those of us who deal with the impact of dyslexia to encourage our Congressmen and Congresswomen to join the Bipartisan Congressional Dyslexia Caucasus.

Why is this important?

According to Dyslexia World:

A person suffering from dyslexia disorder experiences difficulty reading, writing, with letters, words, and numbers, as well as reversing letters and words. It is estimated that 10 to 15% of the children suffer from Dyslexia.”

But from personal experience, I understand that dyslexia is a life-long condition. It has taken me years to learn to learn and to teach my children to learn.  My hope, my call to my elected officials and to the rest of the United States is that you do not allow another student to struggle as hard as I did – as my children have/are.

If I could sit down with these men and women today – I would walk them through what it felt like to copy a text book cover to cover, to read – reread and reread information hoping to make it stick, to feel what it is like to confuse what is written and what is said – to have the thoughts get stuck, to feel stupid when you know your not and to wonder where on earth the information went that you spent so much time trying to remember.

If I could share a lunch with them, I would ask, if they understood that I have no desire to take something from another student in my quest to give students the same opportunity to learn.

I ask you now to reach out and write letters and ask your Congressmen and Congresswomen to stand up for these children and adults.

I will be posting this letter on all of my social media outlets and I ask you to consider posting it too.  Better yet, write your own and share it.  My voice is not the only voice that needs to be heard.

Special Thanks to:

Decoding Dyslexia – CO (https://www.facebook.com/DecodingDyslexiaCo)

Congressman Bill Cassidy (https://www.facebook.com/billcassidy)

Congresswoman Julia Brownley (https://www.facebook.com/RepJuliaBrownley)

May we continue the effort to build awareness!

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

Visual Perception

In today’s post I decided to cover visual perception. For the past month or two I have been working with my sons on a project. The Dark Woods book project. We love the books we have written, but we would like to see them as a graphic novel. The idea came from the fact that my son thought it would be easier for other children to read his books if they were graphic novels. This was also important to him because the first book he read independently was a graphic novel.

Unfortunately, I am an abstract artist not a graphic artist/novelist. The writing of the books was difficult to say the least, now this. But, out of love for my son, and some strange desire to give something of myself back to him, I made the choice to try. It has not been easy. Transitioning from one art form to another is foreign; at least it is to me.

However, there is something that typically happens when you venture out of your comfort zone and learn something new. What happens is that you end up discovering something of value. For me, this something of value was that it helped me to take a really good look at my own visual perception and its given me some insights into my learning disabilities.

I have tried to explain before that I see things differently then others. But since a picture is worth a thousand words, lets look at a photo. This is my daughter (Say hello!):

Original Photo

Original Photo

My apologies the photo is grainy.

I did a free hand drawing of the photo without using lines or boxes (this is a tool used by artist to help with drawing faces). I wanted the photo to be the same size as the other one. But I had trouble  – see the photo:

My drawing without the use of the tools.

My drawing without the use of the tools.

Looking at the photo you can see the distortion immediately. To really evaluate it, I will apply lines and highlight a few of those lines.

Adding the lines with a ruler.

Adding the lines with a ruler.

Looking at the photo and the drawing close up.

Looking at the photo and the drawing close up.

Starting with line 1 you can see problems. However, look at likes 4 through 8. The eyes are too large, the nose is too long, and the mouth doesn’t seem to be where it should be. If you look closely you will also see that the shading is awkward (if you can use that word to describe art).  The shading of the lower eye in my drawing makes it look like I was giving my drawing a black eye. That is because I have difficulty understanding the color tones in the black and white photo that I used to create this drawing.

If I placed more lines on the paper, even more details and anomalies would show up. One might ask, how does this relate to reading and writing?

When I fail to see what is before me, I not only have difficulty modeling that thing, I also have difficulty describing what I do see. Anyone who has had difficulty with drawing would say that my art looks horrible not because I do not see well, but because I am not a good artist. And they would be correct; I am not a good portrait artist. Just like in school there are students who are not good in school because they are either not good students or they are not good in a particular subject.

What I am talking about are the students who actually see things in a distorted way. These types of distortions compound my difficulty with reading and writing. Are there other ways that things are distorted? Yes, there are. This was one way to actually show it. To highlight what things can look like when they are on paper.

Look again at the 3rd photo. If I was writing letters on a page, a teacher might notice something like very large letters that do not stay on the line (like the way my eyes and nose are falling into the next space). The teacher might notice that I may be missing details like a word or a letter (like how I miss the details in the shading). They might notice that I turn things backwards. This one is harder to spot in the drawing, but check out the bottom half of each earring, neither of them is facing the right direction. The earing on the left side of the face in my drawing is facing the neck. This earing should be facing away from the neck. The earing in the drawing on the right is turned towards the shoulder. This earing should be facing the viewer.

Now, how do I resolve these issues when I see things the way that I do? In regards to art, I have to start to use the tools that make artists better, like lines and rulers and shapes. These things are difficult for me to use because I am unfamiliar with them. I know a circle from a square, but I struggle with using the circle to create a face – so I have to practice this over and over until I can use it easier.  I have practiced at least one drawing per day for weeks now, and I am still struggling to remember tools I learned in the beginning. This is something we in the research community are working on – why do students like myself forget instructions, even though we might master them during the time we are being instructed?

When writing and reading, I have to practice reading and writing. I have to try various techniques and I have to keep using them until I learn to do them on my own.  Will I ever be a great portrait artist, I do not believe that I will, but the tools have helped me to create some art that I can be proud of.  Just like practicing reading and writing has helped me to be proud that I can communicate.

Attached, take a look at some of what I have been able to do when I have the right tools and some support from teachers and family.

You can still see visual issues appear and you still have distortions in things like the nose.

You can still see visual issues appear and you still have distortions in things like the nose.

But there is more of a natural look starting to show.

But there is more of a natural look starting to show.

It alters the graphic work too. Not perfect, but not where I began.

It alters the graphic work too. Not perfect, but not where I began.

When you are working with a student who has reading and or writing problems, try figuring out how they see and if they can describe it. Then try to figure out tools to assist them in practicing. I believe that the more you use your tools, the better you become with those tools.

Until Next Time.

Dr. Richmond

The LD Experience Continues

This week I had the pleasure of conversing with a great group of people online about how it feels to be dyslexic. This is such a great thing to talk about because we often hear clinical definitions about terms like dyslexia, but rarely do we experience the individual perspective.

When I first read the title of this discussion thread, I was nervous to express my opinion because I have more than one LD. Still, the only way for any of us to really dive into such an issue is for someone with the issue to share – eventually the bits and pieces will create some kind of picture.

In thinking about my experiences with my children and throughout my life, I began diving into this question.  I explained to the group how individuals in my home had issues with the following (these are not all of the issues – its a baseline to help continue the conversation):

  1. Word recognition – We would practice a word all week, pass the test on Friday and though we knew what the word meant, we were unable to spell it by Monday.
  2. Word and letter reversals – Though there is discussion in the field as to weather this is a left-right issue or dyslexia or whatever.  What this means to members in our house hold is that we typically start from the wrong end.  Which means if I need to use a letter like b, d, q, or p, I might not know which one is B.  It means we might start from the wrong end of the word when trying to sound it out or we might start from the wrong end of the sentence.  For my son however, this meant he wrote backwards entirely for many years.  One could hold his papers up to a mirror and read them.  He is now in his teens and finds that this still happens from time to time.
  3. Direction – Only one of us can go to a location one time and find our way back. The rest of us must use directions, landmarks, and or symbols to get back to that location.
  4. Wrong Word Usage – It is common to hear the wrong word used for any particular item.
  5. Hand Signals – There is a lot of finger snapping, pointing, hand movements (jazz hands), and jabbing because the words will not come out and this forces us to improvise. It’s like a huge game of Pictionary – the image of what you desire to say is at the tip of your tongue and you just can’t get past it. It is not that we do not know the information, it is there and that is one of the most frustrating parts.
  6. Lists  – Forgetting is common, so we attempt lists, but we often forget those lists if we sit them down.
  7. Vocabulary – We all have limited verbal vocabulary and often write using simple vocabulary, but we have a vast vocabulary in our heads that we struggle to utilize.
  8. Recall – We struggle to verbally recall – though we can often write what is missing since we developed the writing skills.
  9. Vocal Sounds – Grunting is also common in our house when we struggle to use our words.
  10. Clumsiness – At any given time one of us will hit a wall, fall down stairs, trip on nothing, fall out of a chair, or collide into one another.
  11. Headaches – Those of us with LD struggle with learning headaches, as I like to call them. This occurs from the strain that happens when you are trying to make sense of what you see.
  12. Difficulty reading the words on the page – there are many things associated with this one items, for now I will just say that it’s like the page and the words play tricks on you even though there is nothing wrong with your vision.
  13. Forgetfulness – We continually forget important details or how to follow through when writing things out. We may begin on a thought and never branch out to the other details. We might forget why those details are important or that we forgot those details at all.
  14. Mistaking – This is harder for me to describe today, but say I write a paper and I read it over in an attempt to edit. Because I know what I wanted to be there, I have actually read the paper via what is in my head and missed mistakes that were actually in the test.

What this tells you is the experience to some degree, but not specifically how we have felt. We have swung the pendulum from feeling “stupid” because we are dyslexics, to feeling “acceptance” because we cannot change this condition, to feeling “joy” because we have found something special about our selves as a result of dyslexia.  There are days when I am proud to say I have dyslexia and days where I long to read/write/think without problems.

With these types of issues, how then did we learn to read and write?

We began slowly. Taking things one-step at a time, often to the point of exhaustion.

Attached I am providing the layout for the  5-paragraph essay. I created this and have used it to teach my children to write. I use this layout during the school year, in the summer and on breaks to re-enforce what my children learn in school. This is not a stand-alone tool; there are other tools you need when working with your children on how to write, read, understand, and express.

I began using this tool when my children where in the 3rd grade. It took a very long time for it to sink in, but we continued to work on this until they got it right.  I hope it is as beneficial to you all as it has been for us.

I will try to post more of these tools as I work through this blog.

If you have tools that have worked for you, please share them or send them to me so I can share them with a link to your website or whatever profile you choose. The more we share our stories, the more we learn.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

Organizing Your Essay

Also, if you notice errors, please contact me. I am happy to fix them. I knew going into this experience that my LD might show and while it might be embarrassing sometimes, the only way you are going to understand what I am saying is to see those mistakes in my writing. I maintain this set of facts: (1) Writing is not my first language, (2) I write this blog to share information and to practice the skill. I hope each day to grow this part of my life. I will gladly make changes because it makes this a more efficient page. And I thank you in advance for your assistance.

Significant Barriers to Self-Direction and Readiness

If Rebello (2007), Thorndike (1901) and Lave are correct in the notion that learning was taking what was learned from one situation to another, that it was the culmination of the similarity of situations, and that it would not transfer from one culture to another (Schwartz, Bransford, & Sears, 2005), then it is important to understand the linguistics and the behavior of the LD community. By understanding, proper theory can then be created to improve learning environments for LD students. As our messages help people to understand us (Derrida, 1997), our behavior and actions define us (Bruner, 1996), and our ability to be successful in our educations are based on how our lingistics are mapped to our behavior then, language as an independent object of study – vis-à-vis the LD student –must be evaluated (Chomsky, 1988).

Hitchings, et al. (2001) asks the question, “Can students describe their disability and identify possible accommodations that might be needed in the career path?” (p. 9). They state that students with LD have unique needs that have likely gone unmet while they were in high school. Let us return to Kelly again. Kelly can see her disability; she is obviously impacted by it, but describing it appears to be extremely difficult for Kelly.  Consider Kelly in two different scenarios:

Scenario 1: While in class with her non-disabled peers, Kelly often heard others discussing how easy it was for them to participate in class, how simple the exams were, and how little time they needed to study prior to a test. After the hours she had spent, attempting to understand, she could not imagine that learning was effortless. As an adult student, Kelly eventually confessed to a friend that she had finally gone to see someone regarding her learning issues, and the friend replied, “Well, if you get help, how is that fair to everyone else? You look smart. You are getting a college degree. Why would someone like you need help?  I do not understand what you are complaining about.”  Kelly could not forget that statement. What it implied to her was that her struggle, was less important than others, that somehow because she did not physically show her disability, that because she had not publically discussed her learning issues and because she was trying to get an advanced degree, that she was undeserving of any form of assistance.

Scenario 2: During winter break, Kelly returned home doubtful that she was going to go back to college. Her grades were average; her spirits were in the dumps. Her sister Melody, a beautiful eleventh grader with an easy 4.0 grade point average, and her mother, Barbara (an Human Resource manager), huddled in the kitchen snacking on ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches and drinking tea. Taking a deep breath and Kelly decided to tackle the situation head on.

“Mom, do you mind if we sit down and talk, alone?”

“Sure honey.” Barbara said, leading Kelly out to the front porch.

Melody, unperturbed, threw sandwiches on a plate and plopped down in front of the television.

Outside, Kelly sat with her face to the sun in an attempt to warm her body. Ready, she hoped, to explain what she was dealing with. Worried, her mother took the bench next to her and waited.

With an unsteady heart, Kelly began, “Mom, I am failing. I am not ready for college.”

“Failing? You make average grades. What are you talking about?”

“Mom, I do not understand. I do not understand anything.”

“You make average grades, that is normal to feel like you do not understand. What is it that you do not understand?”

“Class, Mom. I do not understand class.”

“You are just tired. College makes us all tired. You make average grades.”

“No, Mom. I mean I do not understand. I study forever and I still do not understand. I feel like a piece of Swiss cheese. I pack in all of this information, but still there are holes.”

Interrupting, Barbara took Kelly’s hands, “Kelly, no one gets everything. But you are ‘understanding’. Who made you feel this way?”

Reluctantly, Kelly decided to calm her mother’s frustrations. No. She was not ‘understanding’. But if she could not explain to her own mother, how was she ever going to make anyone else understand?

At some point, Kelly likened her experience with learning to Swiss cheese. She did, as Derrida (1990) and DeLanda (2000) have stated, learn language through the vehicle of: (1) the alphabet, then (2) parts of a sentences, then (3) a full sentence, then (4) paragraph construction and so forth. Kelly will test on information and, based on her grades, she does show average academic performance. Unfortunately, what Kelly is left to wonder is where in the Swiss cheese did this information go and why is she unable to find it on her own, express it to others, and use it the same way other students do?

Her communication issues are not only school-based; they impact her in all social settings. When speaking to her mother, the person who provided the most knowledge about terms and concepts to Kelly during her lifespan, she is unable to bridge the communication gap and express her struggles. Her mother saw her grades as evidence that Kelly was learning, but Kelly is focused on the word ‘understanding’ as evidence that she is not learning. In Kelly’s eyes, she not only has a language problem, she has a knowledge problem (Chomsky 1988).

Like Kelly, educators are having similar complications, and these issues are documented in reseach on curriculum development (Oliva, 2006). One example is with the use of the term “curriculum”. Educators are discovering that there is no agreed understanding/definition of the term (Oliva, 2006). The instability with the use of this term keeps educational groups from developing tangible, stable programs, because one academic program views and practices the term in one way and another program uses it another way (Oliva, 2006). What this highlights is that educators are training students to learn language based on non-ontogenetic theory (language as sign and symbol), while they are utilizing or being confounded by ontogenic principles (language as a specific and unique organism that is worthy of study) (Oliva, 2006). With educators struggling to use or adequately promote one concept over the other, how do they expect students, like Kelly, to be able to communicate where and how they struggle, and become self-directed learners (Lind, 2008)?

What is language? Willard van Orman Quine (1908-2000), renowned philosopher, from Harvard University surmised that language was nothing more than a social art in which meaning is attributed to individual objects, nothing more than a series of symbols, only useful for the purpose of communication (Quine, 1960). This is a very simplistic and rather uncomplicated paraphrasing of his work, but what the philosopher candidly espouses is the ideology that language as a biological norm is a fallacy because it is merely a rigid object in motion (Quine, 1960).

Enfield (2010) argued that the non-existence of language assumption is based on insufficient investigation that relies on the ideology that accepts that the biological function of language is not realistic because it has not been proven false and that the philosophy of language as a social art is merely a generally accepted principle. What Enfield is saying is that theorists, like Quine and Derrida, are arguing that the biological function of language is not realistic. Their argument this based on two principles:

(1) that the biological function of language is philosophical or inside a persons head, and therefore cannot been proven false, and

(2) that the philosophy that language is a tool used by a group of people that allows them to communicate, it is accepted, but in a broad way and therefore cannot be defined or proven wrong.

He went on to further note that it is impractical to study the arithmetic capacity of an individual by looking at a massive statistical analysis of what happens on the inside of someone’s head (Enfield, 2010, p. 24). Barbara was looking at Kelly’s academic performance as evidence of her internal perceptions, while Kelly was looking at her ability to obtain and maintain information, thus a language problem between Barbara and Kelly.

Language is a function of the entire body and worthy of its own study. Language is a series of cognitive functions, that – when taken separately – has other functions connected to it (Enfield, 2010). Like Enfield, Chomsky (1988) believes in the ontogenesis of language and with such asks the questions, “What are the properties of any specific language?” How are those properties acquired? and Why do those languages have those properties and not others?” Students with learning-differences (LD) access some properties of language but not others. Why is that (President’s Commission on Excellence in Education, 2002)? Educators need to investigate this in order to determine if this complication is a barrier to the LD student’s ability to become self-directed.

Full Text Citation:

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.

Problems for the LD Student Continued…

Problems in secondary educational settings

Regardless of the approach, educators need to begin asking if students are mastering, connecting, sustaining, engaging, and feeling culturally connected to the material (Jensen, 2005; Levine, 2002; Pace & Schwartz, 2008). Unfortunately, since learning disabilities were discovered, the focus on fixing issues within a secondary setting has been on behavior modification either through assimilation (refusing to remove the child from the classroom or their peers) (Hogan, 2005) or through segregation techniques (Adelman, 1978), removing the child for a period of time to learn skills separately from their peers.

Studies have concentrated on specific problems that impact the LD community (Hogan, 2005). These studies include writing and self-regulation (Sadler, 2006), parent- tutoring interventions (Gortmaker, Daly III, McCurdy, Persampieri, & Hergenrader, 2007), inclusion methodologies (Hogan, 2005), self-determination interventions (Konrad, Fowler, Walker, Test, & Wood, 2007) and even career development (Hitchings, et al., 2010). Individuals with LD are defined as having some problem that interferes with their ability to process information (Thomas, Louis, & Sehnert, 1994), which forces researchers to ponder how those students approach knowledge (Onachukwu, Boon, Fore III, & Bender, 2007).

Regrettably, while studies have confirmed that interventions can work temporarily, there have been no interventions that have been proven to work long-term (Onachukwu et al., 2007; Vaughn & Bryant, 2002; Viel-Ruma et al., 2007; Willem, 1999). Willem (1999) documented the progress of students who had:

(a) significant learning difficulties in acquisition, organization and expression, (b) poor performance in reading, writing and spelling, (c) significant discrepancy between their potential to achieve and their actual achievement, and (d) learning disabilities that were not visual, auditory or motor (p. 25).

LD students appeared to make progress in the beginning but could not sustain that success after the intervention was concluded.

Vaughn and Bryant (2002) determined, after a three-year comprehension intervention to increase the skills set of English language learners with LD, that the intervention could increase the rate of reading but not the level of accuracy or comprehension. Viel-Rama et al. (2007) followed the progress of three students who participated in a study that was designed to determine if self-correction could help disabled students struggling with written expression. He, too, discovered that students were unable to continue to progress, once the intervention was finished (Viel-Ruma et al., 2007).

To understand LD individuals, researchers must look more at the population outside of the traditional student. Educators must consider the vast number of factors that could potentially impact all individuals with LD (Levine, 2002). Interventions must also be designed to meet the goals of the curriculum and flexible enough to get the LD student to participate and continue to utilize the intervention independently long after it concludes (Levine, 2002).

Research has also shown that individuals with disabilities have high periods of exclusion, both social and physical (McDonald, Balcazar, & Keys, 2005). These high periods of exclusion are theorized to be a result of the disabled person being discouraged from independent actions or thoughts based on a desire of “well meaning” family members to keep them “safe” from a perceived negative attitude of the public and other peers (McDonald et al., p. 493). As a result, according to McDonald et al., (2005), youth with disabilities have limited prospects. They lack the desire to pursue higher forms of education, they often struggle through underemployment, and they show low levels of engagement in their surroundings (McDonald et al., 2005). With so many variables (from educational theory to approaches to knowledge, and varied LD intervention) impacting the secondary education, educators cannot be precise about what each student, specifically each LD student, knows when he or she leaves the secondary environment (Sadler, 2006).

LD students in post-secondary institutions (PSIs). When learning about colors, most people learn the differences by comparing one color to another. They place a blue next to red or yellow and ascertain which is the color they need, based on the other colors that they have before them. However, when a person wants a specific type of “red”, or “blue”, they must evaluate that color to colors in the same hue. Research on LD is very similar. In an effort to identify students with LD, these students are compared to their non-LD peers (Danforth et al., 2010). This is helpful in establishing a beginning model of what the LD student looks like, but LDs need a continuum for reference by scholars and educators that is purposely centered on LDs, not to simply be compared with non-LDs (Danforth et al., 2010).

The term “essence” is a word that is important to the discussion of LD students, because these students are geographically, culturally, racially, economically, socially, educationally and developmentally separated from one another, but are struggling to learn in a post-secondary educational setting (Cortilla, 2011). This “essence,” or shared experience, is by some definitions philosophical, as in there is no solid evidence pointing to why/how this ”shared experience” occurring, nor is there any evidence that there is a “shared” cognitive/biological function that links LD students to each other (Hock, 2012). Individuals are only placed into the culture based on their difficulties, and even though this experience is definable, defendable and has with it a specific set of characteristics, the culture that is being evaluated is a culture of “what is not”. This means that what is not considered “traditional” is nontraditional or what is not “able” is disabled (LDA, 2008).

With regard to current curriculum development and educational practice, one could almost view the adult student with LD as twice marginalized. Research has shown that some LD students are able to develop coping mechanisms that keep them on par with other students in post-secondary environments, but little is understood about how these students have been able to succeed (Crokett, Parrila, & Hein, 2006). LD students begin and end their secondary educations with skill sets lacking in the type of critical thinking that is required to show and prove knowledge and learning (Cortilla, 2011; Kenner & Weinerman, 2011).

In a search of US colleges, it was discovered that most colleges promote the fact that they address all learner types in their efforts to promote their colleges (Pimlott, 1951). These schools promoted multiculturalism and equal education for individuals with disabilities, but unfortunately all were subjective to the individual schools and there were no solid standards, norms or rules (Weerts, 2011). These issues were further complicated, because many colleges failed to develop an understanding between what they wanted their students to learn and the proper atmosphere needed to promote that level of understanding in a diverse way (Brookhart, 2011).

In consideration of new legal, social justice and ethical challenges that will impact post-secondary educational environments in the coming years, a key issue that will impact PSI directly is whether or not the education that is being provided is equally accessible (US Supreme Court, 2004). “Accessible” is a term that is interchangeable with the term “open” (Honig, 2006). For colleges, this is a way of stating that their post-secondary setting has an open admissions policy, which means that it will accept a variety of students regardless of race, social economic standing, disability status, or gender (Honig, 2006). But the terms “open” and “accessible” are not synonymous with the term “equal” (Pinhel, 2008).

Banks (1998) noted that developing a proper multicultural/multifunctional education needed to be a top down process, and Brugha and Varvasovsky (2000) stated that without that type of approach, systems were not sustainable. A multicultural education is important, because it has been proven to boost the academic performance of all learner types, including learning-differences (LD) (Banks, 1993). If the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 is going to be successful as a policy, there need to be stipulations regarding how to create a multicultural environment for PSI on the national level that is explicitly designed to educate diverse learning populations (110th Congress, 2008; Chung, 2007/8; GOA, 2009; Honig M. I., 2006).

Honig and Rainey (2011) have determined that school improvement begins with understanding cultures with regard to what they do and then developing educational programs that provide those cultures with familiarity of their own culture. This is how educational systems have been developed throughout time: a set of researchers watches a culture, evaluates what they appear to do to learn, and then encorporates that system of understanding into the practice of education (Banks, 1993). LD issues have been outlined and noted. Unfortunately, legislation, regulation and policy efforts have merely outlined problems; they have yet to fix them (Brookhart, 2011).

Full Text Citation:

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.