Magazine article District Administration

Understanding Learning Disabilities

Magazine article District Administration

Understanding Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

About one in 20 K-12 students is classified as having a specific learning disability. These students are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Most spend at least part of their day in a regular classroom.

Students classified as having a specific learning disability are not mentally retarded. In fact, learning disabled students can also be gifted. However, these students may have difficulties in one or more academic areas, particularly reading, written language and math. Learning disabilities (unlike developmental delays) are cognitive problems that are likely to continue throughout life. Learning disabilities can be managed but not "cured."

Students are often classified as learning disabled when they score significantly lower on academic achievement tests than they do on IQ tests. Although the federal definition of "specific learning ability" does not specify how large the gap must be in order to qualify a student for services, schools often use a local formula to determine who qualifies for IDEA services.

Students with learning disabilities present special challenges to regular classroom teachers. For one thing, under the "learning disabilities" umbrella is a broad range of learning difficulties including dyslexia, difficulty putting ideas in written form, weak abstract reasoning, a poor working memory, and deficits in metacognition (awareness of how to acquire, process, store and demonstrate understanding of information).

Also, when teachers encounter bright students who have learning disabilities, it may appear that the problem is lack of student effort. Students with learning disabilities may have average or above-average intelligence. Some may seem knowledgeable and insightful during class discussion but turn in unorganized, poorly written papers. If a learning disability is involved, often what these students need is not increased effort but more practice and know-how in how to learn.

Some instructional strategies that benefit students with learning disabilities can be incorporated into the general curriculum, benefiting other students as well. For example, the use of graphic organizers, such as concept maps, has been shown to yield achievement benefits across content areas and grade levels. Other accommodations may be specific to the student's learning disability. For example, a student who has writing difficulties might be allowed to use a word processor with speech recognition software for written assignments. …

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