Thursday, January 5, 2012

Learning Disabilities, Writing, and Adult Students

Teaching writing to adult students with learning disabilities (LD) and/or attention deficit disorders requires the instructor to understand and accommodate a variety of learning styles in the classroom. Below is a list of resources, articles, and tips focused on learning disabilities, writing, and adult students.

I. DePaul’s PLuS Program
DePaul University’s PLuS (Productive Learning Strategies) program offers a variety of services for LD students. In order to be eligible to receive services, students must apply online at Students need to have a recent psycho-educational evaluation on file, which should be no more than five years old for LD, or three years old for AD/HD. For students in need of testing, you can recommend the following testing centers listed here: Please note that UIC has a sliding scale and students should inquire about other potential sliding fee scales based on student hardships.

PluS services include:
• Exam proctoring (for extended time on exams);
• Priority registration;
• Course selection advising;
• Reader and/or transcriber for exams;
• Note-taking assistance;
• Assistive technology;
• Advocacy; and
• Weekly sessions with a PLuS clinician (professional Learning Specialists; please note that because availability of clinicians is limited, students may be placed on a waiting list for this specific service).

II. Writing & Learning Disabilities
Discusses making the writing process concrete by customizing a step-by-step process for writing essays; also discusses use of audio and visual aids like recorders, out-loud protocol, regular peer review, note cards, colored markers.
Review of four studies on LD/Writing: use of handwriting v. word processing v. dictation, the importance of planning, the interference of mechanics/grammar on global writing, and revision processes.
Review of literature on young (K-8) students with LD’s writing shows that these writers have a difficult time generating content and typically need more guidance in thinking through audience, purpose, organization, and context; students with LD tend to have an over-simplified view of the writing process (planning, translating thoughts into writing, improving minor errors) and need more time and guidance to develop their rhetorical skills and their concept/process of global revision. Authors also suggest “Self-Regulated Strategy Development” that involves routines, authentic writing assignments, interaction with others, writing at one’s own pace.
Writers with LD have difficulty with mechanics, content generation, perceiving essay writing as only question-answering with no conclusions or synthesis, improper pronoun use, anxiety, poor studentship skills, poor revision skills and misunderstanding of what revision is. This source references the article “Assistive Technology: An Instructional Tool to Assist College Students with Written Language Disabilities”, which talks about tools such as word processors (for mechanical corrections), outlining programs (for content and organizational coherence), brainstorming programs (with lots of visual elements), and speech recognition/speech synthesis programs. The authors also note that teachers should help writers come up with concrete strategies for every stage of the writing process so that the student can become self-regulatory. Setting up individualized routines and cues raises student confidence. One-on-one conferences and peer review groups are beneficial instructional methods.
Urges writing programs to be sure that writing instructors discuss, as early in the course as possible, the need for students to identify learning disabilities and the university/college resources available to students with potential learning disabilities. Writing instructors should not assume that lack of quality revision or poor mechanics is due to student apathy or inexperience.
Techniques for helping writers with LD include: (1) be aware of learning disabilities and difference between LD and inexperience; (2) provide list of resources for students to get tested for learning disability; (3) give students extra time and timely, detailed feedback; (4) encourage students’ use of planners, sitting close to board, communicating with you and each other; (5) help student find channels for self-sufficiency (like knowing where to go for help in the future; (6) don’t let students with LD “get by” if they don’t demonstrate the necessary skills.
Three points confirmed to help writers with LD: “Adhering to a basic framework of planning, writing, and revision; Explicitly teaching critical steps in the writing process; Providing feedback guided by the information explicitly taught” There is also a final note about need for research on students with LD and transfer of writing skills to other areas for academic success.
A dyslexic typeface.
A discussion of autism, literacy, and composition written by my colleague from WRD’s grad program. (NOTE: Autism is NOT a learning disability, though many believe it is.)

III. Adults & Learning Disabilities
Describes what learning disabilities are (according to scholarly and federal literature) and are not, how they’re diagnosed, the causes, the difference between LD and attention disorders, and national statistics. Provides a comprehensive list of general LD characteristics, dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia on pgs 5-7.
Discusses adaptations, accommodations, and assistive technology devices available to adult students with LD.
Similar to above, but also discusses three instructional strategies: “Direct - (Teacher tells and shows; learner practices.) Intensive - (Teacher asks many questions; learners respond frequently.) Structured and Systematic - (Teacher and learner go step by step.) “
A resource for adult students with learning disabilities: how to be successful, self-advocacy, resources.
The government provides an overview of resources in the U.S, including research, evaluation, and statistics regarding adult students and learning disabilities. Mentions “Illinois Center for Teaching and Learning” offerings of training programs for adult educators who want to know more about teaching students with LD.
The Learning Disabilities Association of America provides an overview of resources for adults who have a learning disability.

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