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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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

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.

Perceptions of Learning-Difference (LD) Students on How their Specific LD Characteristics Impact the Post-secondary Education Experience

ABSTRACT

Current American post-secondary education policy involves the uniform education practices that are marginalizing students with learning-differences (LD) (Lind, 2008). Although LD students are considered in specific ways in American post-secondary curricula, many LD students do not make sufficient progress to be prepared for post-secondary education. Undergirding this study are cognitive and educational theories, because research has shown that both have an impact on an individual’s ability to parse language and navigate the rigors of the traditional classroom. By identifying LD characteristics, this research study seeks to examine self-identified LD students’ perceptions of barriers that impact their ability to process information, achieve learning outcomes, and manage their degree to completion.

Introduction

          Sometimes a problem within a culture is difficult to describe. However, describing such a problem has the potential to break down barriers that were once thought necessary. Those descriptions have the potential to create additional “tears” in an already broken community (Foucault, 1984). One “breaking point” is the inability of some to stay on course to become college-ready. It is reported that learning differences LDs affect one out of every five people in the United States, and that as many as one million children between the ages of six and 21 (U.S. Department of Education, 2010) have LDs. Unfortunately, expressing each set of differences creates boxes and labels that typically only fit a few individuals (Council on Postsecondary Education, 2012; Crokett, Parrila, & Hein, 2006; Lyon, 1996).

Consider describing an LD through an analogy called the Alphabet Soup Party. At the Alphabet Soup Party, the host of the party is providing the soup, but everyone needs to bring a bowl and a spoon. Most people come equipped with a bowl and a spoon, eat with those, and partake as they wish. For the LD student, one or more of the following will likely occur:

a)     They do not bring a bowl.

b)    They forget the spoon.

c)     They come with a fork or knife or ladle.

d)    They have a bowl and a spoon but pour the soup on their head.

e)     They have a bowl with a hole in it.

f)     They come with just their hands.

g)     They bring a plate.

From personal experience, having an LD can be easily misinterpreted by an educator. One result of this misinterpretation may result in making an example of a student or, in one memorable (personal) case, of shaming a student into compliance, or noting to an entire class that, “She is trying to be a comedian by making such a mistake on a spelling test!” Being shamed in such a way can be traumatic for a person on the receiving end, making it all the more difficult for a student. Having an adequate response to such shaming is not something that can be provided in these kinds of circumstances for various reasons. One such reason is that emotional and mental pressure can force a person to forget everything they have attempted to learn that week, and possibly the things they learned that year (even many of the years before). In some ways, this dissertation was birthed in that shame.

A clinical perspective can provide insight into specific LD issues; however, the purpose of this dissertation is to provide the personal and educational perspective of the student with learning-differences (LD). To assist with that understanding, the fictional character Kelly has been created to provide a personal account of experiences a person might have who is coping with an LD.

          Kelly’s story. It had been one long and tedious week. Kelly was not sure how much strength she had left after her trip to Margo’s Market to pick up some Henry Bakers Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream. Now back in her private room, Kelly held the pint of ice cream in her hand, her teacher’s words echoing over and over again in her head “Try reading it out loud or just give yourself more time. You will get it eventually.”  Every teacher she had had since grade school seemed to think that she was not taking enough time, and that she was not using every single brain cell she had.

Tears cascaded down her face as Kelly tapped the cool container to her head. She thought of all the time she had spent in the writing center. All that energy, and still the red marks in the margins of every writing assignment seemed to blur from one comment to the next, “This does not fit here. What did you mean when you wrote this sentence? It is disorganized. You need to go to the tutor for assistance.”

Rising to peer out the window, Kelly wheezed a heavy sign of exhaustion and placed the ice cream on the windowsill beside her. She knew that it was not just her English class that was distressing her. She thought about the late hours she had spent copying her science and social studies textbooks from cover to cover, the re-copying of her notes and her friend’s notes before that last nearly-failed test, and the late hours she had spent with the study group.

She had to just be feeling sorry for herself, she thought. Was she not? But that ice cream was the final straw. Smirking at it, Kelly thought aloud, “You were supposed to make me feel better. If that stupid store had not been changed around; if that stupid company had not changed its packaging, I might be eating something great right now.” Frustrated, Kelly pitched Mindy Magnus’ Non-Dairy Chocolate Tofu ice cream into the trash.

A History of LD Education in the United States

Samuel Kirk, a professor at the University of Illinois, created and defined the term “learning disability” as a disorder(s) in a person’s ability to progress developmentally with language, speech, reading and other communication pathways. Kirk is credited for developing the foundation for the way the LD phenomenon would be described in the United States (Danforth, Slocum, & Dunkle, 2010). However, learning disabilities go as far back as 1867, when German schoolteacher Heinrich Stötzner created a school for children who learned slowly (Opp, 1994). In his work with learning disabilities, Opp (1994) lists a series of German and French scientists known for their research on various types of neurological dysfunction. Neurologists work resulted in a presumption that a person with a learning disability had some difficulty within the brain (including damage or physical illness) or as a result of some type of brain and body disconnection (Opp).

It was this cognitive foundational research that led American scholars to classify individuals fitting certain behavioral patterns as “disabled” (Opp, 1994). The terminology “disabled” helped lead to legislation that provided protection and support to those suffering with an LD under The American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), reauthorized in 1997 and 2004 (Cortilla, 2011). The reauthorized ADA broadened the definition of the term “disability” set in section 504, and it developed new regulations in Title II, The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) (Cortilla, 2011).

In the past 40 years, LD students’ post-secondary access has increased for many students, but the ratio of degree completion has not improved (Brock, 2010; Equal Access Education v. Alan Merten, 2004). Brock (2010) states that one area where national higher education systems need to look is remedial education. Students typically placed in remedial education programs are students who are non-traditional, those in underrepresented populations and, students attending less selective universities and students in community colleges (Brock, 2010). Underrepresented and non-traditional populations include categories of persons based on their gender, race and ethnicity, age and disability (Brock, 2010; Cortilla, 2011). It is reported that 42 percent of students in underrepresented groups at community colleges, and 12 to 24 percent of students at four-year universities, are in at least one remedial course (Brock, 2010; Cortilla, 2011). Unfortunately, few of these programs have been assessed in a way that creates a connection between reform and academic attainment (Brock, 2010). This is especially true for students with LD (Cortilla, 2011).

Levine (2002) noted that the memory required to complete schoolwork was more strenuous than virtually any other career a person will have during their lifetime. He also stated that the extensive use of the memory during the schooling years is imposing a considerable burden on today’s youth (p. 91). Additionally, Nelson, Palonsky, and McCarthy (2007) discuss the hidden elements in the curriculum, calling them the “silent values that rule the entire curriculum structure” (p. 234). That is, curricula for the traditional learner include certain elements that are not translatable to the LD learner (Pace & Schwartz, 2008). Those implicit, or hidden elements are: mastery, connectedness, sustainability, engagement, and culture (Jensen, 2005; Levine, 2002; Pace & Schwartz, 2008). The terms are defined as follows:

Mastery: ability of the learner to grasp  and establish command of the curriculum.

Connectedness: a linking of the to the learner either through sequence, coherance, idea, or through complementary learning style.

Sustainability: the ability of the learner to keep the information after it has been learned.

Engagement: ability of the learner to bring themselves emotionally and mentally into the process of learning.

Culture: the ability of the learner to apply reflective thinking based on cultural or learned experience.

While reviewing issues surrounding the development of a curriculum for LD students in post-secondary institutions (PSI), it is clear that a key issue facing the development of new ideas was centered in politics. Whose interests were being met (Nelson, Palonsky, & McCarthy, 2007)? For example, what interests needed to be met (Oliva, 2006)? What interests will have to be maintained for the continued success of any curriculum (Tanner & Tanner, 2007)?

Nelson, et al. (2007) explained that, at times, administrators in school systems try to serve too many interests at once. In doing so, they serve no one at all, which is especially problematic for the student with LD (President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). How do PSIs sort through the interests of so many groups and at the same time meeet the need of LD students to become strong academic learners? The effective planning and implementation required to design educational programs and curricula that target students suffering with LD, without interrupting the learning of non-LD students, starts with understanding where the problem is and where it is not.

          Learning-Differences. Nationally, a Learning-Difference (LD) is currently identified in the Individual with Disabilities Act (IDEA) under the term Specific Learning Disability (SLD) (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1991). This term, based on Title 20 of the United State Federal Law (U.S.C. § 1401 (30)), is defined as “a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations” (National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1991, p. 3).

Individuals with LD are also defined as having some problem that interferes with their ability to process information (Thomas, Louis, & Sehnert, 1994). Levine (2002) outlines ten steps that individuals will face when they need to solve a problem. One of Levine’s steps was the realization that there was a problem (p. 198). Pace & Schwartz (2008) note that it took the US educational agencies roughly one hundred years to establish LD programs at the post-secondary educational level, and that the emphasis of those programs was on “fixing learners” as opposed to fixing a curriculum. There is sufficient evidence that students with LD are facing barriers that keep them from becoming college-ready and self-directed (Cortilla, 2011; President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). Unfortunately, the perception of how LD students feel about the way their LDs impact their ability to perform at the college level has not been systematically evaluated.

Although PSIs are reevaluating how they view a student’s overall work (Daiker, Jeffrey, Stygall, & Black, 1996), measuring such knowledge is limited in post-secondary institutions (PSI) for a variety of reasons (Cortilla, 2011; Levine, 2002; President’s Commission on Excellence in Special Education, 2002). An individual suffering from an LD must show that the impairment meets two specific definitions: 1) they must have “a major activity hindered” by the disability, and 2) they must be “substantially limited” in their ability to complete that activity (Rothstien, 1998).

What does it really mean to have a “major activity hindered” or “substantially limited”?  In the context of Kelly’s story, manifestations of her LD are apparent. She is forgetful; she struggles with environmental changes, such as new decorations or new arrangements in a favorite grocery store. She is not keeping up in class, and she is spending a great amount of energy, in her study time, trying to keep up with her peers. However, does Kelly have the ability to adequately show that her condition is significantly hindering and limiting in her relationship to her peers? Providing evidence is problematic for her.

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

The Hidden Disability?

A common set of phrases/questions I hear my non-LD peers say, “You don’t look like you have a learning disability. Is that a real thing or are you just looking for special treatment? You don’t look disabled.”

What I have learned from this is that people don’t understand things that they cannot see with their own eyes. When a person has a physical disability it is most likely visible. This is not always true – as some physical disabilities are not visible to the naked eye.

However, it is this lack of understanding that can make it very difficult for people in the LD Community. It makes us feel like we have to defend ourselves as a disabled people.

I can give you an example. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to go back to school to try to obtain a college degree. At the time, I was a single mother of one. I was in an IT job during a time when our company was merging into another company. We knew that lay-offs were pending, so I went back to college to get skills in another vocation.

I had been in class with a certain individual for a few years and this year we were going to have to take a foreign language and a math class. I have never been good at math and I have NEVER been able to learn another language. I knew I was in trouble. Every day I sat in the front of class, taking my notes. I copied both textbooks from cover to cover, and I was hoping that “something” the teachers said would rub off on me.

The 1st day of this incident the other student was sitting next to me in math class and I had taken a huge breath and sighed. I had been up all night trying to study for two (supposedly) simple exams. My confidence was in the gutter because I could not remember the formulas and I was mixing up the vocabulary for Spanish.

I remembering the other student turning to me and saying, “What are you so frustrated about?”

“I’m nervous about this test.” I replied.

“Why?” She asked. She had a very bright smile on her face. Her eyes were shinny and blue. I remember them because they were so vibrant.

“Because I have a learning disability.” I remarked.

“Oh, is that all?” She said waving my comment off with the flick of her hand, “You’ll grow out of it. Besides, it’s not a spelling test.”

I thought about explaining to her in more detail, but she had already turned her head and started talking to another student.

The 2nd incident happened about a week later. I was talking to another student when that same woman approached us. She was happy that she received an “A” on both the Spanish and the math exam. She inquired about how we (the other student and I) had done on the tests. I explained that I had failed them both. The other student said she had done “ok” and left.

She replied…(AND I quote), “You have to learn to be more positive and stop letting this whole ‘learning disability’ thing be a crutch. I’m sure most of it is just in your head.”

That was the very last time I spoke to that woman. She may not have meant any harm, but she was causing me a great deal of it with her lack of understanding – her lack of empathy. I am sure she thought what she said to me was enlightening. I believe she may have believed every word she spoke. I regret not speaking up at that time. I am not sure what I could have said – what I should have said – but I should have spoken up. Truth be told, my frustration with her did not actually come from her. It came from the fact that I run into people like this all of the time.

This post is my way of taking a step in that direction.

There are multiple characteristics that could identify someone as having an LD. I am not going to be able to list them all. I have included a few questions with each category to help to show some ways an individual might be impacted.

(This is a sample. I am not a therapist. This information is presented to help to aid in understanding – NOT to diagnose.)

Visual Perception Issues:

Do you have difficulty distinguishing between color or remaining focused on one object when there is a lot of color?

Do you have difficulty with optical illusions in pictures and photographs or in real life?

Do you have difficulty remembering the things you have seen?

Do you have difficulty expressing to others things you have seen?

Auditory Perception Issues:

Do you have trouble understanding what others say?

Is your vocabulary limited as compared to your peers?

Are you able to sound out words, but still have difficulty with spelling and /or do you rely on others to spell words for you?

Do you have a difficult time understanding what you read?

Do you have difficulty with abstract ideas?

Do you have difficulty filtering out or distinguishing between sounds?

Do you have difficulty remembering the things you hear or need others to constantly repeat their statements?

Do you need to use your hands to gesture when you are speaking?

Olfactory Issues:

Do you have difficulty knowing when something smells bad?

Do you have difficulty because you are smelling too many things?

Do you have difficulty describing the way things taste and smell?

Right/Left Discrimination Problems:

Do you have difficulty distinguishing between letters like « b » and « d »?

Do the words ever flicker on the page as you read?

Do you have difficulty remembering what symbols connect with what letters?

Do you struggle to remember directions such as left and right?

Do you struggle with transposing numbers, such as using 38 for 83?

Do you have difficulty distinguishing between similar concepts?

Do you use the wrong words to describe things, mistaking up from down or in from out?

Tactile, Memory and Mind:

Are you over sensitive to touch and feel?  (Do you feel like you can feel one object through another, or like you can feel things you should not be able to feel)?

Do you have difficulty paying attention to things around you?

Do you need to rely on touch to be able to remember how to complete every day tasks?

Are you athletic (Are you good at sports, do you run often, etc.)?

Do you have difficulty with tasks that require you to have good hand-eye coordination?

Do you need to move your body  when you speak (gesture with your hands, tape your feet, rock your torso, etc.)?

Do you often need more time than others to process your thoughts?

Do you often think faster than you can speak (example : you write a sentence but miss a few words because you are going to fast)?

Do you have difficulty controlling your thoughts?

Do you have trouble remembering your thoughts long or short term?

Organization and Sequencing:

Do you struggle to see patterns or trends (Example : if an author is telling a story, do you struggle to see the clues that explain the direction of the story)?

Do you struggle to recall or distinguish between categories (Example : distinguishing between comparing and contrasting a plot or synopsis)?

Do you struggle to form logical patters with what looks like random information (Example: when reading do you tend to miss clues in the writing that point to the ending of the story)?

Do you have difficulty staying on topic when you are talking or writing?

Do you struggle to put things in sequential (abc or 1-2-3) order?

Do you struggle NOT to put things in sequences or in steps in order to process them?

Please take some time to get the facts. If you believe you are coping with an LD, seek help. Here are some websites that might be beneficial:

http://www.learningdifferences.com/main_page.htm

http://www.ncld.org/types-learning-disabilities

http://www.ldonline.org