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Neil Sturomski - Mentor Teacher

By: LD OnLine Exclusive (2003)

Neil Sturomski

When adult educators provide instruction, what is a critical aspect of learning they need to impart to adult learners with learning disabilities in adult education programs?

Adult learners with learning disabilities are more likely to invest personal energy in learning when they have some control over the direction of that learning. When instructors provide informed instruction they acknowledge the need for learner control. Instructors must explain to students how they’re going to teach so: (1) learners can help adjust instruction to meet their needs, and (2) learners can improve their understanding of how they learn. Informed instruction is based on the following teaching activities:

  • Instructors develop separate lessons or parts of lessons to teach learners how instruction will occur;
  • As the lesson proceeds, instructors continue to provide learners with information about the task of teaching;
  • Each time an instructor starts a lesson or uses a teaching activity he or she reviews teaching plans, reviews the teaching activity process, and reminds the learner of how to take advantage of the lesson or teaching activity;
  • During instruction, instructors use organizers to provide learners with information on what will be taught, what is being taught, and what was taught;
  • Instructors, throughout the teaching process, frequently ask learners for feedback on how the lesson or teaching activity is working for them; and
  • Instructors adjust the pace of a lesson or lesson activity by observing learner performance and requesting feedback regarding the lesson’s pace.

Once a student with a learning disability knows how an instructor is going to teach, what else do they need to understand?

Students need to understand how to analyze tasks. Explicit instruction provides the learner with a way to analyze a task. Explicit instruction is characterized by:

  • Teaching what is involved in performing a skill or task prior to student practice. For example, asking a learner to summarize a passage is only practice. Instruction can be made more explicit, however, by providing several lessons that include: analyzing what it means to summarize; understanding the steps involved in summarizing; learning how to summarize by observing others, through guided practice, and independently; and knowing when to summarize information.
  • Teaching through stages that ensure that the learning disability is minimized. For example, using the strategy instruction model has been highly successful with most individuals with learning disabilities.
  • Frequently modeling, showing the learner how to do a task step-by-step, throughout all stages of instruction.
  • Teaching students to think through decisions that need to be made at each step to ensure success.
  • Evaluating student progress and instruction to determine if the student is ready to move on to the next stage of instruction.

When learning about how to provide instruction, one often hears about advanced organizers. What are they?

The more clearly organized information is, the easier it is to learn and remember. For example, if information that one reads is clearly organized, or the way in which it is organized is described in advance, there is a greater likelihood that comprehension will be improved. By providing organizers as part of instruction, adult educators can enhance comprehension of units of information and their relationship to each other.

Outlining information is one way to organize information. Instructors often use mapping, webbing, or creating flowcharts as organizers when teaching. Maps, webs, or flowcharts are visual outlines. In visual outlining, students use various shapes, such as boxes or a circles, in which to write information and organize it in order of importance

For example: If a student needs to understand how to follow a recipe, he or she might draw a map including the things needed and how to follow the recipe. The largest box at the top of a sheet of paper might contain the words “making a pie.” Under the large box students might draw smaller boxes, each connected with a line to the larger box. The boxes are listed with the words “ingredients,” “kitchen utensils,” and “steps” from left to right. In this example, as in most tasks, individuals would need to understand that they start at the left and got to the right when following the map. Each line has a connecting word: for example, the line to ingredients would say “get the.” Under each small box are even smaller boxes, again connected with lines. These boxes contain the needed ingredients, kitchen utensils, and steps used in order to make the pie. This helps to organize what needs to be done. It reminds individuals of each step so that none is left out.

In teaching situations, organizers can be used to begin lessons and let students know what information is to be learned. For many adults with learning disabilities (LD) who often do not have executive processing skills, do not have the background knowledge to perform a skill, do not make connections between knowledge previously learned, or do not understand informational relationships, organizers can be extremely useful. Lesson, unit, and post-lesson organizers are also useful in making learning connections. However, for individuals with LD, mere exposure to organizers is not enough. They must be prompted to use them actively. Once advanced organizers are in place, they can be used during and after lessons as reviews.

Instructors must prepare the organizers. Organizers go beyond teachers’ manuals, textbooks, or typical worksheets. They promote organization and integration of lesson content and an instructor’s plan for teaching the that content. Yet an organizer does not have to take a lot of time. An organizer can be introduced quickly, discussion can move along, and each point can easily lead into the next.

Organizers must not only include the whole-part relationships of units to lessons or main idea to details, but, they must also include a discussion about the importance of learning the specific material, the methods and materials that will be used, and how to evaluate one’s success. Student’s must also understand how to generalize information learned and be able to use that knowledge in other everyday life situations.