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Monday
16th November 2015
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TheBug Archie audio files are now playable again.

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Specific Learning Difficulties (SLD), defined

Specific Learning Difficulties (sometimes called a learning disorder or learning difficulty) is a broad term used to describe a group of disorders which affect language and learning.

This group of disorders is thought to affect about 10% of the population.

Such a diagnosis is sought when a noticeable discrepancy becomes apparent between an individual’s intelligence and their acquisition of reading, writing, spelling and maths skills despite support by sound teaching practice. Most commonly, the term incorporates conditions described as;

Dyslexia (developmental reading disorder)
Dyscalculia (specific calculation disorder)
Dyspraxia (speech)
Dysgraphia (specific writing disorder)

Boys are about three times more likely to attract identification than girls.

Students with Specific Learning Difficulty frequently have trouble following instructions, attending and remembering. They are likely to appear poorly coordinated and consistently present poor handwriting. Not surprisingly, their more general organisational levels are usually regarded as inadequate. They are commonly described as lazy, lacking in ability, poorly motivated, disorganised and slow learners.

Sometimes the frustration and humiliation they have endured to acquire basic reading, spelling, writing or arithmetical skills badly compromises the development of their social skills, friendships, compliance, self-confidence and optimism. Family tensions, poor teacher understanding and lack of intelligent learning support certainly help to compound matters.

There is no cure for specific learning disabilities. In fact, they are life-long. These days, in many countries, the Federal or Commonwealth law provides strong guidelines on how schools must provide special education and related services to children with such disabilities. Students with learning disabilities can be high achievers and can, over time, be taught ways to get around their learning disability. With the right help, children with learning disabilities can and do learn successfully.

Our tips to help kids with specific learning difficulties!

Offer reassurance

Students are reassured when they know their teacher understands their difficulty. So maintain an optimistic dialogue. Openly discuss the sorts of special provisions, modifications and curriculum adjustments available and quickly get the most helpful in place. Set up a practical, respectful option for the student to use when busy subject teachers or relieving teachers forget their needs. A popular idea for both primary and secondary students is the development of a student access card. The access card can be fastened into the back of the student’s diary with the special provisions highlighted so it is easy for all teachers to see;

Let kids see that you, and the school, will keep them connected to learning

Go multi-sensory

These kids, more so than most, tend to be better at receiving and processing information when it is provided in as many modalities as possible; seeing, touching, hearing and doing, rather than just listening.  Most know that when kids are engaged in hands on activities the quality of their learning increases. Gradually educators are beginning to appreciate the significance of individual learning styles and that it is legitimate to draw on a diverse range of products to support learning styles; surveys, debates, jingles, concept maps, simulations, lyrics, experiments, dances, conferences, slide shows, class meetings, newsletters, story maps, charades, collages, designs, sociograms, interviews, raps, personal journals, dvd’s, opinion polls, lists, calligraphy, recipes, audio tapes, illustrations, etc.

Rely on visual supports

Students with learning difficulty regularly struggle with the auditory processing load, and because of this develop a heightened visual awareness.  The visual detail can be processed with far greater accuracy because it is longer lasting and can be accessed for longer. Verbal instructions or information is so much more transient.

Organise together

As we develop routines and participate in a student’s organisation we place them in a position of learning readiness. The use of constructive talk, diaries, planners, schedules, rosters, routines and the colour coding of books for different subject areas can help. Work with the student to discover their preferences.

Set realistic goals

These kids always need a goal to aim for! The setting of a small, achievable goal, with or without incentives, supports them to see their improvement rather than living with an attitude that it’s all too hard and overwhelming. As they see progress towards the goal they are far more likely to feel that they want to achieve because they are achieving.

Boost confidence

A few years ago a wonderful educator, Loretta Giorcelli, raised an emotionally healthy concept termed ‘Islands of Competence’. Her idea was for teachers to design various forums for students to showcase their interests, talents, accomplishments, ideas and dreams to the class. In this way, students had the chance to present themselves so others could see and hear what they were skilled or interested in. The upshot of course is connecting deeper appreciations between students. Mediums for kids to showcase themselves abound and may include; a short film, a slide show, a photographic display, a poster, a news report, a cartoon set, art or craft, dance, a brochure or newsletter, music, song, role-play, a personal time line or the opportunity to teach a skill to a younger group of students. Without this sort recognition Giorcelli felt it was too easy for kids with learning difficulties to feel lost in continents were they felt incompetent.

Use a recognised reading program

Kids with reading difficulties require a reading approach that is explicitly designed to meet their learning needs and the earlier the intervention takes place the better.

Any reading program will not do.

Edward Kame’enui, Professor of Education at the University of Oregon and the first Commissioner of the National Centre for Special Education Research, promotes 5 Big Ideas in Beginning Reading as guiding principles;

  1. Phonemic Awareness. The ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words.
  2. Alphabetic Principle. The ability to associate sounds with letters and use these sounds to form words.
  3. Fluency with Text. The effortless, automatic ability to read words in connected text.
  4. Vocabulary. The ability to understand and use words to acquire and convey meaning.
  5. Comprehension. The complex cognitive process involving the intentional interaction between reader and text to convey meaning.

Research indicates that proficiency in each of the 5 Big Ideas in Beginning Reading are good predictors of success in learning to read. As well, never overlook the advice and support available from passionate and experienced personnel within your system who work in the reading difficulties area. In many cases they are a source of knowledge, resources and inspiration.

Take advantage of assistive technology

One of the most important measures of success for students at school is to maintain pace with their peers in the mastery of literacy and numeracy skills. However, the kids who make up the learning difficulty group demonstrate persistent delay in their skill acquisition. Some will, in due course, achieve functional skills and others will experience unrelenting difficulties evermore.

Avoid the pitfall of thinking assistive technology should be postponed until the student learns the basic skills of handwriting, spelling, grammar or reading first. These kids learn differently, and no matter how competently you teach many will never cope with these rudimentary skills. They need legitimate opportunities to take short cuts to reduce the frustrations of intermittent memory weaknesses for spelling rules, grammatical conventions and basic number facts. Why make a student agonise over their memory difficulty when they could use an inexpensive device to take the pressure off recalling a spelling or number pattern? Not only does this practical approach allow kids to access their higher level thinking skills more easily, but helps to buoy their motivation as successful learners.

Mobile phones

More and more students carry mobile phones. This technology is here to stay. Its sophistication continues to expand. Teach kids how to take advantage of the organising systems built into their phone. These include calculators, reminder notes that appear when the alarm sounds, a built in alarm clock, a stopwatch, a camera, a video and a count-down timer. It is a bonus for all students to know how to use these systems because their mobiles rarely leave their sides.

Organisers

Small hand-held organisers are fabulous for everyone, with or without, organisational issues. There is now an expansive range. At the top end are the pocket PC’s and Personal Desktop Assistants. These offer amazing functions. However, those at the less expensive end are easy to use and worthwhile. They can be set to ‘beep’ as reminders flash on screen and display what needs to be done. Homework can be typed in, notes, reminders, tasks and phone numbers. If you run Macintosh computers teach students how to make ‘stickies’. These are easily made messages that appear on the screen once the computer boots up. ‘Stickies’ can be used to remind, to explain, to give instructions, or record phone numbers or web sites that have to be remembered. Similarly, Microsoft Office Outlook can be used as a wonderful little memory jogger having the capacity to set up lists, schedules, time lines for assignments and reminders.

The computer

For some students the mastering of basic word-processing skills provides the edge to maintain order and find a little more success. Presentation looks so much better, and word processors help to check spelling, grammar, save work and store it in neatly arranged folders. This is so much better than physically handling and risking losing pieces of paper. Most children are ready to start on this in the early primary school years.

Computer competency checklist (suitable for most middle primary students):            

Most schools are usually well stocked with a selection of touch typing programs to support the development of keyboarding skills. As well there is an ever increasing number of quality websites offering free on-line touch typing tuition. Children are almost never too young to begin to explore the keyboard and learn to type, but there does come a time when they become too old and too resistant to learn. So, seize the moment!

Reading

New technologies have revolutionised how information can be gathered from print. Text displayed on the screen can now be read out loud so that instead of a student constantly tripping over their reading problem, they can access their higher level thinking skills. Try a Google search for Microsoft Reader (freeware) and 'e books' and you will find many free electronic books to download ready to be listened to. In addition, Microsoft Reader offers a digital voice recorder so students can record their thoughts and responses as an alternative to having to respond in text.

The ClassMate Reader is an audio book player. It is about the size of a Playstation controller and reads text from its screen out loud with a naturally sounding voice. As it reads it highlights the text. It also has a number of other useful options; ClassMate Reader.com Alternatively, Natural Voice Reader http://www.naturalreaders.com can read text on the internet, in emails, in MS word and in many other applications, and it is free.  The website http://www.nextup.com offers the product TextAloud at a small cost. It reads out loud any PDF or MS word file in rich male or female voices. With the computer reading to the student, electronic literacy has the capacity to turn a non-reader into an eager learner.

Help with written work

Software called textHELP Read and Write Gold http//:www.texthelp.com is a word-processing program intended to be used alongside Microsoft Word. This program can read out words as they are typed, read back text, check spelling and can automatically correct frequently made errors. Its capacity to read back the text on screen enables the user to listen to what they have written making it invaluable for editing and proofreading work. Similar word processing and prediction programs are: Text Ease 2000, Text Help, Clicker 4, Penfriend, ClickNType, Co:Writer 4000 and Kurzwell. It is also worth exploring the innovative literacy software tool called WYNN http://www.quantumtechnology.com.au. Available in two versions, WYNN Wizard will scan printed pages, word processing documents, PDF files, text files and the internet and convert them into electronic text to be read aloud. The text is highlighted as it is spoken.

Let the computer write it

That’s right! New generation software, Dragon NaturallySpeaking can convert what is being said into print that instantly appears on to the screen http://www.nuance.com/naturallyspeaking The future is here and the price is now very affordable. Dragon NaturallySpeaking for Windows is valuable for students who have handwriting problems, spelling difficulties, cannot type or just don’t like typing. It allows them to say exactly what they are thinking and get an immediate written result. Recently it has also become available as a lab pack with a site license available to schools. Training the program doesn’t take long, although younger students (middle primary age) require a planned training program. Usually, students see an improvement in the speed and accuracy of voice recognition within a few days, and find it inspiring.

Social skills

It is a good idea to closely monitor how these kids are developing and maintaining friendships. The nature of learning difficulty does not confine itself to reading, writing spelling and grammar alone. Its complex impact can influence how an individual perceives the world and interacts with peers. Social difficulties may be the result of expressive or receptive language problems which cause kids and teens to misread and misunderstand social interactions. In addition, years of humiliation about learning does not set the perfect footing for reciprocal friendships. There are ways to support quality social interactions, give consideration to ways to enrich social and emotional connections.

Help them love their disability

Perhaps this sounds fanciful, but it’s a much better option than leaving students wishing they were dead because the emotional burden of their disability is too much to carry. If they cannot love their disability or difficulty, then at least ease them towards accepting it. After all, it will always exist.

A simple thing to do is to investigate a few of the amazing individuals from the past and present identified with learning difficulty. Kids need heroes! Guide them to discover their rich, wonderful lives and the contributions they have made. Many of their autobiographies and biographies are inspirational. Look at the problems they faced, how they got around them and why they became successful. Explore, for example, how dyslexia affects people. Explain that the organisation of the brain which produces the dyslexic difficulty is also thought to account for unique artistic, personal, musical, dramatic, athletic abilities and mechanical gifts. Highlight that most individuals identified with a learning difficulty (and many other issues) say they would never trade away their difficulty because they would be incomplete without it. Raise the idea that their different way of thinking and processing the world may be the very thing to create their own rich niche to succeed in life.

Helpful links

http://www.speld-sa.org.au

http://www.decs.sa.gov.au/speced/pages/specialneeds/learningdifficulties/?reFlag=1

http://www.learningdifficulties.com.au/articles/what-are-learning-difficulties.html

http://www.ldaustralia.org/

http://www.ldc.org.au/