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Teaching Strategies for Students with a Learning Disability


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Learning Disabilities

A learning disability is any one of a diverse group of conditions that cause significant difficulties in perceiving and/or processing auditory, visual or spatial information.

"Learning disabilities can fall within the full range of intellectual ability, including average to superior intelligence." They involve one or more of the basic processes used in understanding or using spoken or written language. Of presumed neurological origin, they cover disorders that impair such functions as reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia) and mathematical calculation (dyscalculia). They vary widely within each category in the patterns they exhibit.

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Learning Disability Assessments/ Documentation

Arrangements for support are based on documentation provided by an educational psychologist and founded on learning disability assessment tests and tools.

Regardless of any disability, all applicants must be measured against the selection criteria. However, the means of measuring the criteria may need to be adapted to truly reflect the student's ability. The selection officer is not required to make these decisions alone, and advice can be sought from the Disability Services.


Potential Impacts on Study

Participation

Many students with learning disabilities are highly articulate, but some may find it difficult talking, responding or reading in front of groups.

Specialised limitations

Some students with learning disabilities may have poor coordination or find it difficult to judge distances or differentiate between left and right.

Notetaking

Some students with learning disabilities cannot write effectively or assimilate, remember and organise material while listening to a lecture. Copies of all overheads may be given to students and/or note takers or tape recorders are often useful.

Notetakers in class can also act as readers and scribes as required. Software such as 'JAWS' and 'Dragon' can also aid students with the reading/writing components of their studies.

Organising difficulties

Concurrent study skills classes and/or tutoring assistance can assist with problems with sequencing and organising reflected in poor study habits. Student counsellors are also available to assist student with time management concerns. New equipment, exact measurement and multi-step procedures may demand precisely those skills which are hardest for them to acquire.

Behaviour

With the student's permission, teachers will be given tips on how to work best with the individual student. Because of perceptual deficiencies, some students with learning disabilities are slow to grasp social cues and respond appropriately, they may lack social skills, or they may have difficulty sustaining focused attention.


Individual Access Plans

Individual Access Plans are available for every student registered with the service. These reports explain how the disabilities impact on studies, support arrangements in place, ideal teaching strategies and recommend alternative assessment arrangements. These are distributed to Program Coordinators and Subject Convenors in each department and are also available from the Disability Services upon request.


Teaching strategies

Once a student has been identified as having a learning disability by appropriately qualified personnel, strategies can be devised to help that student, usually in consultation with the student and the Disability Liaison Officer.

  • Ensure you keep the student's attention and make the environment as distraction-free as possible.
  • Use Plain English, short sentences, clear speech.
  • Stay on the topic.
  • Be prepared to repeat and rephrase information if necessary.
  • Revise work covered previously.
  • Provide summary to put lectures in context
  • Students may need assistance with note-taking or to tape lectures.
  • Read aloud material written on the board or that is given in handouts or transparencies.
  • Copies of overheads and lecture notes might be useful.
  • Be aware that students may find it difficult to participate in small group discussions, or give presentations.
  • Label equipment, tools and materials clearly.
  • Students may need encouragement to participate in tutorials.


Alternative assessment strategies

Special arrangements for exams can be worked out with the student and the Disability Liaison Officer, including:

  • Allowing extra time
  • Providing alternative or supplementary assignments for evaluation purposes such as taped interviews, slide presentations, photographic essays or hand-made models.
  • Making allowance for poor grammar or spelling.
  • Sitting exams in a separate, quiet room with natural light.
  • Using simple language in exam questions.
  • Aids such as dictionaries, computer spell checks, a proofreader; in mathematics and science, a calculator, and access to mathematical or scientific tables.
  • Arranging to use a reader, writer (scribe), word processor, digital voice recorder or computer fitted with specialist software.
  • Consideration of alternative exam design formats.
  • Consideration of alternative or supplementary assignments, such as recorded interviews, PowerPoint presentations, photographic essays or hand-made models.
  • Students may prefer to dictate their exam answers to a scribe who has a good working knowledge of the subject.