Faculty can enhance the learning of students with learning disabilities, as well as that of other students in their classes, without fundamentally altering critical course content. Instruction plays a key role in student learning. Enhancement can be accomplished when faculty analyze the methods they use to transmit information in the classroom.
Faculty may give little thought to the learning styles of the students in their classrooms, however a variety of learning styles will be present. Some students have preferences for visual input to accompany standard lectures. Others will prefer merely to listen and record important information for later study. Finally, some students will prefer learning through more kinesthetic approaches. Using a multi-modality approach will assist all students in deriving meaning from the course.
Many students have a preference for a specific learning style, but are able to utilize visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities to learn material. Students with learning disabilities differ from the typical student in that they often have a significant deficit in one or more of these modalities. A learning disability might be thought of when the preference for a learning modality is actually the result of a significant information processing deficit.
Learning disabilities are described as hidden disabilities. Initially, college professors may not recognize a student with a learning disability enrolled in their classes unless self-disclosure has occurred. The learning disability may become apparent to the professor at certain times. For example, the student may be able to discuss the subject intelligently, but will produce an in-class short answer quiz that is riddled with spelling and grammar errors. The inconsistency in demonstrating knowledge is apparent and the hidden disability is evidenced. Students with learning disabilities experience barriers in learning and in demonstration of knowledge.
Faculty attitudes are important in the success of students with learning disabilities. Students who have learning disabilities may experience problems learning, but faculty should keep in mind these students are capable of learning. Faculty can facilitate the academic and degree goals of all students by giving some thought to their teaching styles, content delivery, the sequence of their assignments and the measurement of content knowledge.
Starting with the planning for the course and the syllabus, many techniques can be used to help students with learning disabilities. The first involves the timeliness of preparing the syllabus: the earlier the better. If the syllabus is available at the time of registration, the students with learning disabilities can peruse it, order taped textbooks (if necessary) and balance their course load based on their personal strengths and weaknesses. Second, preparing a complete syllabus, with office hours and location, goals and objectives, detailed assignments with due dates, text readings and evaluation methods is important. Third, planning and organization of the course assignments is important. It is necessary to allow enough time for students with learning disabilities to learn material before and between tests and to research and write papers. Students with learning disabilities may not be able to accomplish the work in short periods of time and certainly not by the next class.
- Prepare early
- Include complete textbook list
- Include additional readings and their locations
- State course goals and objectives
- Specify exam and assignment dates
- Detail assignments and papers for easy reference
- Detail grading and evaluation methods
- List course policies
- Provide as much information about each lecture topic as possible
- Adhere to the syllabus as much as possible; revise and provide a new copy if necessary
Faculty can analyze their teaching styles in terms of being concrete versus abstract and being sequential versus random. Remembering that students have various learning style preferences or deficits, faculty could use a combination of presentation methods to enhance learning for all students within the class-room. Students will often characterize their professors’ lectures by being “all over the place.” Professors often do not consider how students perceive their lectures. Students must be able to understand the lectures and take notes. Providing an outline on an overhead or chalkboard of the important points of a lecture will provide students the foundation for learning. Random or abstract information can then be associated with key points already presented. In lectures, faculty can also facilitate learning by writing key terms and technical vocabulary on the board. If the student has an auditory processing weakness, hearing the term may be insufficient, particularly if the term is not in the text or other assigned reading material. Oral and written materials presented simultaneously facilitate learning for students with learning disabilities.
Faculty can also identify the patterns of organization necessary for learning material in their classes. Sometimes a subject will rely on cause and effect relationships, such as science, history, etc. Other times a course is a foundation course, requiring memorization of definitions, lists and facts. At times the material is sequential or follows a specific time-order. At other times comparing and contrasting information is essential to learning and evaluating knowledge. Identifying these learning relationships in lectures and then recommending that students to use these as a guide in organizing information will be invaluable in facilitating learning.
- Link previous lecture to current lecture
- Outline main points on overhead
- State class objective
- Write key terms on overhead
- Leave overheads up longer than you think necessary for you to copy
- Identify patterns of organization
- Make lectures interactive
- Link concrete with abstract
- Link sequential to random
- Facilitate use of tape recording
- Make notes available on the internet
- Maintain student attention by varying delivery approach
- Move around the room
- Summarize or draw conclusions at the end of the lecture
Faculty impart knowledge to students and evaluate whether students have learned the material. Creating assignments and exams that allow the student to demonstrate mastery based on course goals, objectives and the nature of the curriculum is essential in academics. Modeling the kinds of exam questions beforehand, writing clear and direct questions, avoiding double negative test questions, and allowing for a variety of knowledge demonstration styles will accurately measure the student’s knowledge.
Faculty are a prime resource within the university. With some consideration of teaching and learning styles, all students, including those with learning disabilities, will have the tools to learn.