“Why isn’t the school helping my child to learn?”: What every parent can do to help a struggling learner.

I often hear from parents about the frustrations they have regarding the amount of learning their children get when they go to school during the day, but I hear more of these concerns from parents of students who have some type of learning issue.  I use the word issue, because not all parents that approach me have a child with a learning disability, and some parents that approach me have children with physical or developmental disabilities.

Regardless of who these parents are or what issues their children face, the question is still the same, “Why isn’t the school helping my child to learn?” The problem is that there could be a lot of reasons why a child is not learning. It is possible that it is the teacher, it could be the curriculum, it could be the student, and it could be a host of other things (combination of things).

I am not taking up for all schools and all teachers. This is not a “they are right/ you are wrong” situation. We have an educational problem in America. WE do! We can all see it; we are all effected by it.  We all want better for our children.

Since we know this is going to take time, we know our children cannot wait and we know that schools need our help, let’s figure out what we can do as parents to make this work for now.

Parents, you have the ability to help your child grow.  You are one of the best resources your child has. Here are a few things you can try:

(1)    For whatever reason, your child is struggling to learn, accept it. It is ok to feel what you feel.  But get those emotions to work for you.  Let them fuel you when you are tired at the end of the day and want to rest, or when you would rather flip on the TV instead of read a book with your child.  Find that anger and use it to your child’s benefit.

(2)    Sit down with your child and talk about what it means to be a good student. I’m not saying your child is a bad student. I’m saying to help your child to realize that their job is to go to school and give it their best. I’m not asking you to talk about grades. I’m asking you to teach your child how to ask questions, to seek more information, and how to participate. If your child is participating, giving it their best, and still hitting brick walls, remind them that this is not their fault and let them know you are going to help them as best as you can.

(3)    Get a notebook and start documenting.  What happens when your child sits down to read? Observe what happens when they write – get samples and save them.  Take time to look at what they are producing. What happens when your child does math or social studies? Gather as much information as you can, so you can become an expert on what your child does when your child is learning.  The fact is this, your child’s teacher may have 20 or 30 or even 40 children in the classroom – they may see a picture forming – but they are seeing only part of it – fill in the blanks for them so that they have a solid idea of who your child is or is not doing. Doing this might help you to figure out that one thing that will connect your child to what they learn in school.

(4)    Find out what your child is supposed to know for class and reinforce it.

  1. Help them to write about it, read about it, and find fun facts about it.  You can make up trivia and play games with it, with your children.
  2. Get exemplars (examples) of what the teacher needs to see your child do in order for your child to show they have the skill. Use those to guide your child to where they need to be.
  3. Have them make books with their own understanding of he information.
  4. Set reasonable expectations about what you can do and then do it.

My goal this weekend will be to have my sons create their own trivial pursuit game based on what they are learning in 7th and 9th grade. I promise to take a few snap shots and tell you how it’s going. 

(5)    Develop a relationship with your child’s school. Let them see your face and know your voice. You may not be able to participate in PTO, but that does not mean you can’t participate in other ways. If you only have time to drop in and provide an encouraging word to the teachers and staff – that is a much needed contribution that will go a long way to helping you have a solid relationship with the people who spend 8 hours a day with your child.  Your communication with the school will help you to find out about other resources that might help your child.

(6)    Celebrate the small things. Every time your child makes progress – GET LOUD! Show them some love.  Learning is hard work when you have to hurdle over barriers. Show your child you appreciate what they have achieved. Be careful not to bribe them – that could be disastrous.  Cheer like you are watching the big game or like you just saw a miracle right before your eyes. Just them see that it mattered to you.

(7)    Write your stories down. Our government needs to see what you see. They need to know what it is like for your children. They need you to share. They see numbers on lines and graphs and charts. Those numbers do not tell them anything about what you deal with every single day nor do they tell them what your child faces.  When you document your child learning, make copies and send it to the people who make the policy changes that impact your child and the people who support them.

(8)    Get to know your community of educators. Your school is not the only group you need to have a working relationship with. Learn about your local department of education, most have additional resources online or listed in the office. Make a phone call, ask questions, learn about events and attend them.

(9)    Network with other parents. Learn from one another.  You will be surprised the amazing things you can learn from people who are in your shoes.

I realize that this is not easy, but since we can’t change the system over night, it’s up to us to figure out how to help our children regardless.  If you have resources that you would like to share, please forward them and links to the pages if possible.

Until Next Time,

Dr. Richmond

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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

A Pause to Discuss Disability Advocacy

You would think that as a woman and as an “African-American” (we are all Americans so I hate the additional identifiers – I simply find it is necessary to discuss this point), I would understand more about the idea of Civil Rights. After all, these two groups alone have faced the sting of discrimination and injustice since the birth of America. But I, like many Americans grew complacent about Civil Rights. We had some laws passed, a few people got some jobs, there were options out there that we did not have before.  And to be quite honest, I sometimes found myself very frustrated by those people who seemed “bitter/angry” all the time. You know that person who could not have a single lunch without bringing up this cause or that cause. It was overwhelming for me.

I could never quite understand why that was. Why would someone speaking out etch through me like glass?  This week (I’m now 42 years old), and only this week did it dawn on me!  My entire life I was told to stop complaining. To learn to accept “something”, to be happy with what I had. We were poor, after all. We had to learn to be grateful. We had shoes and some kids did not. We had food some kids did not. We had a home and other children lived on the streets or in shelters. I might have still felt hungry, but I had something – so stop complaining.

Were those things valid concerns, yes, but since my grandmother had no power to make any changes to our lives, she had to teach us to deal with it, to find happiness and to not focus solely on what was not there. There is value in that philosophy and I don’t want anyone reading this post to think that I find shame in that. The shame is not being poor and not having something. The shame is being made to believe that you do not deserve better. It was not my grandmother who taught me that – it was society, teachers, people who said things like “You can’t learn”, “You are stupid”, “You should not try for better because you are not going to get it.” That shaped me in such a deep way that  I presumed that saying it, claiming it and asking for help was complaining.

I remember always making excuses for others, when I would say something, write something, or have difficulty getting the words out. Often those excuses where demeaning to me. I could not articulate what I felt and so I found that the easiest way to cope was to do my best to blend in and pretend like nothing was wrong.

I chuckled when people I loved called me “weird” even though it hurt me inside to hear it. I tried to let it go when I heard words like, “off in her own world” or when people would whistle and spin their fingers in a circle around their temples. Everyone has to learn to laugh at themselves (I would justify) – I should have a bit a of humor about myself, so that I can learn how to blend in with the world around me.

But there were some underlying differences that no one was really looking at. I WAS NOT just like every body else. Everyone else was walking into a public school and making the choice to learn or not learn. I was walking in knowing that nothing I did that day was going to stick. Everyone else had the option to go to the library and grab information and use it to better themselves. I walked into that same library knowing that I was going to loose much of what I read.  When our student body graduated from high school most of the students (even if they were scared) had memory of the information they had learned in school – had recall of the faces of people they had met. I left school with no recall of anything that took place in the classroom and limited to no memory of the faces of the students or teachers I had met there. There was a difference – there was a problem – there was something missing.

No one was going to be able to speak that space but me. Everyone else around me thought (because I had pretended) that we had the same access to the same things because it was a free American right. They had no idea that due to my learning issues I was not able to access that free “Right”.

I also remember the attitude people got when at the mere mentioned the term “accommodation”. It would cause an immediate anger. So many people felt like something was being taken away from them because another person dared to say something as simple as, “I need assistance with this/that.”  The problem is that it is very difficult to understand when you have never lived it. To live a life free of the need of accommodation is something I will never experience. That does not mean that all people who do are bad or unfeeling, it only means they are different. I just don’t know anyone totally free of some type of accommodations. Every short person needs a stool. Most tall people need special clothing. Children need special caps placed on medication. I see accommodation everywhere I turn – why do we make it into a four letter word?

The need for accommodation is further complicated by something else. The misunderstanding that disabilities are something new that people are coming up with so they don’t have to work or so that they can get something from the government for free or so that they can get special treatment.

I try to address those things systematically. Disabilities have always been apart of the living experience. Unfortunately, for those with physical disabilities the consequence of having the disability was often a death sentence, this was no different then what happened to the elderly who by nature of becoming older became disabled. For those with intellectual or cognitive disabilities this meant being shut in institutions or “sheltered” by families who were embarrassed. Or it meant that you would have needed to be exceptional or ridiculed your entire life by society – a hero or a misfit.  But no matter what, this left a great deal of “healthy” non-disabled individuals to build an entire society without your input and for your “benefit”, unaware of your needs because you were too “crippled” or too “ignorant” to contribute.

I was on a discussion board this week.  We were discussing what people in the “disability community” needed to do in order to start truly advocating for themselves. In the discussion some brought up that people who have disability need to do many things, like speak up for themselves, participate in boards, write letters, inform/educate our greater community, talk to legislators, etc. I then remember this gentleman saying that we did not need to be on boards, not even the boards of programs that were designed to help our community.  He could not understand why this would be of any value to help with any form of change.

This person was not being mean, but this person did not understand  a very basic concept. That concept is that sometimes the thing done to help can cause the most hurt. For that reason I shared a story that was far more intimate. It was my hope that this story would help shed a little light on why people with disabilities are hurt when we are not apart of our own solutions. The example is not disability related, but it is just as valid, which is why I share it now.

A few years back I had an emergency hysterectomy. I checked in on the ground floor and woke up in maternity. I can’t tell you how hard it was to wake up to hear children crying knowing about my own loss. When I asked why they keep women in my situation on this floor, I was told it was easier on the doctors. It had been determined by a vote of a hospital board. If just one of those board members had understood the patient’s side they might have realized the trauma of this choice. Sadly the board that made the choice that impacted me had no idea of the ramifications this choice would have on me psychologically speaking. They only knew that they had done what they could to help me. I will never be angry that they helped me. That does not change what happened to me after. Had one person been there to explain that placing women on this floor was a horrible idea – maybe that would have had an impact – I will never know – but it will never change if women remain silent about that kind of issue.

Many people do not realize how the things they think of as normal are damaging to someone with a disability.  Take for instance, the buses in my state are now equipped with a wheelchair lift so people in wheelchairs can get on the bus. I was at a meeting with a group of people who are in wheelchairs. On this day it was snowing. I was upset because I had difficulty with my directions, but the snow on the street had been shoveled. I had to drive up one street and down another and when I finally parked I had a puddle in front of me and I could easily jump over it to get to a dryer piece of land. One of the lady’s in a chair then explained that due to the snow the bus driver put her out closer to the highway, so she had to navigate in her chair in the street because the snow had been shoveled so high to one side that her access to the sidewalk had been cut off.  This forced her to go way out of her way to get to the building we were meeting at.

Had I not heard her side, I would not have been able to understand how difficult it was for her. We should have both had access to the street and the sidewalk – we both pay the taxes that make the side walk available for all people, but the city was considering the non-disabled walkers and drivers on that day – they had forgotten about everyone else. I am not just talking about people in chairs, I am also thinking about children, the elderly, and those who have some kind of ailment. All of these people who had to get off a bus and find a new path through the streets, and had to be placed in a dangerous situation. That is unacceptable.

The same way we pay taxes for public transportation and clean sidewalks near bus stops and city buildings, is the same way we all pay taxes to be educated, but most people with learning and other disabilities pay far more because the educational system is created based on building success in students who do not have learning/cognitive disabilities. These additional costs come in the form of extra tutoring, additional supplies, special equipment, etc. Things I have often heard people without out disabilities refer to as “options”.  Not a bad word, but it can be so degrading when used by some. If I cannot be educated without it – it is not an option. If I took all the pencils and paper out of the school and refused to allow students to have the lights on – I would be denying them access – that is no different then the accommodations needed for someone with a disability. I cannot learn if I cannot see, I cannot learn if I cannot get my wheelchair into the room, I cannot learn if I cannot hear, and I cannot learn if the curriculum has shut me out.

A Civil Right is a right we as a people have determined that all of us can have. It is a set of agreements that we hold to that state that we all deserve to have the same things, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. What we forget is that there are some who are unable to participate. We don’t understand that, based on how we have designed our America, we have shut them out.

There are a plethora of issues that the disability community will have to face. We will have to tackle accessibility on all levels, education, homelessness, age issues, housing, insurance, poverty (we are the poorest minority group in America: http://www.census.gov/prod/2011pubs/p60-239.pdf) and the stigma that society holds of us as a disabled community.

The fight for disability rights is not a fight to take something from other Americans, but a demand to have exactly what you already have. We don’t hate people without disabilities, we don’t want to see them suffer and we don’t blame them for the limitations that we deal with every day. We want the same things you want. We want to learn, to have jobs, to ride buses, to enjoy the parks. We want to get work, support our families, help our government, and live the best life we can.  We press because we have been excluded, we press because things are not equal.

One day this will not be necessary – until then we will continue to fight. This is no different then the challenge I take on as an African-American or as a Woman – we have come so far, but we are still so far away.

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.