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.

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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.

Art by Rhonda Richmond

Art by Rhonda Richmond

Dr. Richmond, is a native of Denver, CO. She studied Communications, Women’s studies and Liberal Studies. To enhance her academic skills and to cope with her learning issues, she used experiential and creative writing. These tools allowed her to successfully obtain her B.A (2003) and M.A. (2007) from University of Denver.

By 2007, Rhonda enrolled in a doctoral program at Argosy University. When using writing was no longer an option, she began using art to express her thoughts and work through her academic difficulties. She finds inspiration for her work in her studies and from her family. Dr. Richmond successfully defended her dissertation on August 14, 2013 and she proudly advocates for  students with cognitive and learning disabilities, women, and multicultural learners. ​

​A Little More About the Artwork

​​​The artwork on this website would be described by Rhonda not as art but as a conversation. As an individual with  Learning Disabilities/ Differences (LD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and Sensory Issues, she faced many difficulties when trying to use her native language (English) to communicate with the outside world. She spent a great many years of her life pretending to understand what others meant, how others felt, and why others did the things they did. Now, Rhonda describes herself a second language learner who just happened to be taught the second language first.

Rhonda’s work IS about telling the story, reaching out, learning to learn and using her voice.

The large canvases are not stretched. They are imperfectly folded to represent how Rhonda often found herself placing important assignments in her pockets and forgetting them. This is a tribute to her LD, in a way.  Rhonda will never be able to hide her LD, so she proudly lets it show itself in her work.

Many paintings are basic, almost elementary in form. This represents how many students with LD work as hard, and in most cases harder than other students, but still find that they lag behind their peers academically. Rhonda does not see this is an admittance of a failure. In her eyes the things she cannot express in writing or through speaking, will inevitably reveal themselves in her paintings.

Dr. Richmond believes all people have the ability to learn, but to be able to access it every student with an LD must find their first language and use it.  She states, “It will never be easy, but it must be done. Student’s with LD must be multilingual to be successful in a modern society.”

Her piece “3rd Planet from the Sun” illustrates her life story and her struggles with learning and identity.

**For More Information on Learning Disabilities, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Sensory Issues please go to the website and chick on the resources page #ArtbyRhondaRichmond