Students with severe learning disabilities still perplex me. Even though I know quite a bit of the theory behind various learning disabilities… I still don’t understand it. I don’t understand because I just can’t relate. I’ve tried putting myself in their place, but no matter how much I try to find something in my own experience that mirrors theirs, I just can’t.

I know how to modify curriculum. I know how to break down tasks into small, exact steps. I know about color coding, multiple modalities, and a plethora of other things to help a student with LD to be “successful”. What I don’t know is if these adaptations/modifications actually help the student learn (and retain what they’ve learned). How do these help with problem solving and integration of concepts? These are questions I asked when I was getting my sped endorsement. I never received a satisfactory answer — instead all of the answers pertained to passing classes.

I’m not talking about “mild” LD here. I’m talking about the kids who have significant working memory impairments and/or processing deficits and/or language disorders.

My kids with emotional disturbances (no such thing as a behavior disorder anymore) I can relate to (not sure what that says about me).

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6 Responses to Disconnect

  1. Jackie,
    What exactly don’t you understand? Have you asked your students what helps them? This is so important as students without LDs, our best students are strategic thinkers. Kids with LDs don’t typically have strategies so teaching them strategies and helping them identify which ones work is essential.
    Mel Levine always talks about demystifying disabilities. Part of the demystification is helping to identify what does promote learning and success. And of course, what works is unique to the individual.
    Engage in conversation with your students on IEPs. It may be the first time they have ever had to think about what enhances their learning. And that’s a great beginning!

  2. Jackie says:

    Oh, I’ve spoken with them. I’ve had them write what helps them. I’ve read their IEP’s, read the ed psych testing results, and spoken to their parents. For the most part, they say having step by step instructions on what to do for each problem is what helps them. We do this. Then they lose the steps, or can’t read what they wrote, or don’t write down all of the steps, or don’t want to take the time to look in their notes (that “takes too much time”).

    Another problem occurs when we have a test that cover multiple concepts (such as standardized tests) or problems that integrate multiple concepts. These problems are often in word problem format. They say it’s just “too much reading”. When I read the problem, they say, “just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

    This is my second year in math with these students (I was the I.A. last year). We’ve been making diagrams, underlining key words, making lists of key words…. they are getting better: they are now willing to tackle the problem instead of just giving up, they are trying multiple strategies (just often not very effective). I’m just not sure that they remember anything from last year. It seems like we keep starting over again every Monday.

    Just to clarify – I’m talking about my kids who are functioning in the less than 5th percentile in comprehension, decoding, and processing (10 students in the class). They are sooo far behind and we’re moving so slowly, I just don’t know how I’m supposed to help them catch up.

  3. Jackie,
    I have some ideas but first tell me what you are working on with them, what math skills are you teaching your students.

  4. Jackie says:

    Skills thus far (all initially presented in open-ended problem solving format, to prepare them for integration into reform math curriculum next year): mean, median, mode, range, histograms, dot plots & box-and-whisker plots, expected value, probability, percents, re-review coordinate plane info, setting up & solving 1 variable equations.

    Next up: slope as a rate of change, linear equations, 2×2 systems of equations (again all word problem format)

    I’ve given up on them bringing materials (i.e. binders/handouts/notes), so Monday I’ll just be giving them each a binder. We’ll make color coded pages (calc. steps on yellow pages, definitions w/ examples on green, keyword list on blue…).

    Any ideas/suggestions would be appreciated. FYI – when I had them write about what they wanted to learn and how did they want to learn it – responses varied from I want to learn to multiply, to I don’t want to learn anything, I just want to pass the class.

  5. Jackie,
    One thing that may help is repetition, reinforcement, repetition. And obviously you can’t be there when they need it. So, how can this be achieved?
    Are you using video with your students? Do you record how you teach them at the board? (this assumes you have an interactive whiteboard that allows you to screen capture with audio). If not, can you have a student use a digital video recorder to record your times of instruction for later viewing online? Upload to teachertube or youtube?
    Another option is to use the mathplayground website which includes some excellent videos – not sure if the topics are appropriate but show it to your students and let them watch the videos at home that will help them be successful. Colleen’s emphasis seems to be up through middle school but it sounds like some of your students are still working on lower grade level skills so this may help them.
    Do you use the library of virtual manipulatives website? What websites are you currently using?
    Another thought – you mentioned that these are your most severely learning disabled group. You asked them to write what they want to learn and how to learn it – writing is a torturous task for kids with LDs. Can you have them record it in a voicethread or something else similar (recording audio into a Word document)? These kids are not typically strategic thinkers so asking them how they want to learn math will be a challenging question for them.
    I applaud your efforts! You are clearly willing to try anything with them.
    I have other thoughts so maybe we can have a skype call – skype name is karenjanowski. I would love to help you with this class of students.

  6. Jackie says:


    Thanks. It may be a few days before I’m able to skype you. Homecoming is this week and things are kind of crazy (frosh class sponsor). I’ll post an update about the color coded sheets we’ll be starting tomorrow. Also, Andy has some tech support ideas in response to implementing your ideas. He just hooked me up with a mimeo (alas, no smart board).

    I haven’t yet used the mimeo – I switch rooms and another teacher is in the room prior to my using it. I still have to figure out how to seamlessly set it up every day. Downtime is not a good thing with this class. Also, some of my students don’t have computers at home – I’m not sure how many would stay after school, to view anything – but we’ll see.

    I can’t upload to teachertube – would be against district policy. I need to find a way to increase my memory allotment- I’ve pretty much maxed it out with posting .pdf’s of the assignments online.

    Thanks for the great ideas. Again, I’ll be skyping you soon.

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