Posts Tagged ‘learning disabilities’

“Hay dare eh, is dare sumthin wrong witchuu, eh?” or, “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince: I don’t quite understand what that means, could you draw me a quick sketch?”

By Monica Platten - Thursday, December 1, 2011, 7:47pm

I quite enjoyed Julie Neff’s “Learning Disabilities and the Writing Center,” one of the articles we read for class on Wednesday. I noticed that my notes from reading the article emerged mainly as questions. While we did discuss the article a bit in class, but we didn’t spend as much time on it as I would have liked. So this blog post will basically be a reiteration of my notes and questions [which are pretty brief, don't laugh], with the addition of my thoughts after class.

* different approaches to learning are important and valuable
—> yep yep yep! personally, I feel like I am quite a visual learner. I simply cannot picture words as well as I can picture… well, pictures! Diagrams, sketches, watercolor paintings — whatever it is, it’s sure to help me understand a description or command. As I said in class during our brief discussion, I have actually asked two students this week to help me quickly sketch out an idea in their papers (one was a description of a damn on a river; the other was something math-related). Like Kari says in her post “Students with Learning Disabilities,” I do think that more training on different methods would be exceedingly helpful for all of us as tutors. This would be good for helping all students, not just students with learning disabilities. We all have our personal methods that we prefer, but imagine if we were trained in more methods, methods that we might never think on our own to try! Visual methods, vocal methods, direct methods, indirect methods, leading methods, questioning methods, methods, methods, in the air, methods, methods, everywhere! I want to make it rain methods in the Writing Center. Chicken noodle soup with a soda on the side. The end.

*how do we dissolve a dependent atmosphere nicely?
—> “Paradoxically, and at the same time, the writing adviser must help the students be independent through self-cuing; creating a dependent atmosphere does not foster the student’s ability to cope, does not develop the student’ self-esteem, and does not help the students become better writers” (Neff 255). Okay. I agree. Can anybody elaborate on this? If the student just doesn’t seem to get it… what can we do? How can we make them get it without leading them? I’m afraid of being viewed as mean. Hey kid. Do it yourself. It’ll help you in life. I’ll just sit here and watch until you figure it out. Good luck!

*freewriting does not work well for students with disabilities
—> “Freewriting is almost impossible for most [students with disabilities] because they do not know, anc can’t imagine, what to write. Students with language retrieval problems may not be able to call up any words at all to put on the paper. This holds true for students with either spatial impairments or language difficulties” (Neff 256). Okay. Neff makes a good point here and provides valid examples. I just want to say that I have this problem too, but without any excuse. So. Just saying.

*how did the tutor know what to do/how to help?
—> This is just in regard to the example of the Writing Advisor and David. The WA seemed to do a great job of helping David think through his ideas. Here is an example of how we need more methods to choose from in our bag of tricks. It is obvious from the example that the WA knew David pretty well. But who taught the WA the techniques (s)he used? Were they self-learned/taught or did the Writing Center Director teach the WA what (s)he needed to know to be successful?

*visuals are important
–> Writing down a word seems to help trigger stored knowledge or understanding.

*questioning helps to access information
–> I’m getting lazy. I feel like this is self-explanatory. There was a great example in the article with David again. The WA simply asked David to recall the plot of The Great Gatsby and they found their idea from David’s opinion on the book.

*explicit is better; be positive and encouraging.
–> Duh. I must admit though, the example in the article really drove the explicit thing home for me: “Glad to see you, Sara. I’ll sit here; you sit across from me; that will be a comfortable distance. I’ll be ready to talk to you in a minute” (Neff 261). The story Ryan told in class about giving commands also really illuminated this point. Even though sometimes I prefer to hedge or use nonverbal communication, that obviously is not always the best option.

Annnnd, just another thought:

I don’t agree with Neff’s statement that “by changing the picture of the writing conference, the writing center director can ensure that learning-disabled students, no matter what the disability, are being appropriately accommodated” (255). I think this is partially true, that we can begin to accommodate all students by having a variety  of techniques and methods in our bag of tricks. However, I don’t believe that any kind of perfection, nor necessarily the “appropriate” accommodate, can be reached if we are not informed of the students’ disabilities. We can play a guessing game, but we have no guarantee to win. And as Ryan said in class (Dr. Cordell? How do I address him [or you, if you're reading this] on a public forum? Oh well, it’s Ryan for now. Or RCCola!), we cannot just ask the student if they have a learning disability. Rude (lawl). That is information that the student must provide us with voluntarily. Unless we have that information, allll will be lost. Not really. But our help will be far from perfect, and most likely not the appropriate accommodation. So, Mr. Neff. We can’t very well live up the expectation that you have expressed so confidently unless someone takes that step for us.

Okay bye. Let it rain, and clear it out. If you watched the youtube clip I posted above, you will understand. If not; shame on you. Go watch it and be ready for your life to change forever.

Neff, Julie. “Learning Disabilities and the Writing Center”, The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 2011

Kari’s blog post “Students with Learning Disabilities.” I’m not going to properly cite this because I’m lazy; It’s 6 blog posts before this one, so if you don’t go find it for yourself you’re just as lazy as me and can’t judge me at all. Ha.

Tutors as Tailors: Determining and Meeting Individual Needs in the Writing Center

By Gretchen Panzer - Tuesday, November 29, 2011, 6:06pm

As I was reading Julie Neff’s article on tutoring students with learning disabilities, I couldn’t help but ask the same question that I had after our discussions about ESL students: how can we quickly determine whether a student needs a style of tutoring that differs from our standard approach?

In my experience, it’s fairly easy to tell whether or not English is a student’s second language. However, I find it difficult to get a sense of what level of proficiency an ESL student has attained during some sessions. When explaining a grammatical error, I’m sometimes unsure if the student understands every word I’m saying, if she gets the general idea, or if she is struggling to understand because I’m not using the kind of vocabulary that she’s familiar with. I still wish someone would give me a flowchart that I could follow during sessions to quickly figure out how proficient the student is in English—and, therefore, how I should adapt my tutoring style to best meet her needs. Of course, it may be the case that no magic flowchart exists, and I simply have to face the fact that determining a student’s level of language proficiency is a messy process.

I think this judgment is even more difficult to make in the case of students with learning disabilities or other conditions that complicate the learning process. One of my closest friends is dyslexic, and I didn’t even realize this until he told me directly. I had noticed that he doesn’t read as quickly as I do, but I didn’t think anything of it because everyone reads at a different pace. Even when reading his papers, I didn’t notice any indication that writing might be difficult for him; he made no more sentence-level errors and had no more higher-order concerns in his writing than the average student.

While it’s possible that I’m an exceptionally oblivious person when it comes to things like this, I suspect that determining whether a student has a learning disability—and if so, what type—might be difficult for other tutors as well. After all, as Neff explains, these students are often extremely intelligent and have become skilled at “compensating for and adapting to their particular disabilit[ies]” (251). My friend uses different strategies than most students to learn the course content and demonstrate his knowledge of the material: he listens to audio versions of his textbooks and is allowed extra time to take his exams. While the extended test time in particular makes it obvious to his professors that he’s dyslexic, I wonder if a writing tutor would be able to pick up on this fact simply by having a session with him.

Unless a student is very open about his or her particular challenges—whether these include a learning disability, limited familiarity with the English language, or another factor that we have yet to discuss—how can we as tutors determine the best approach to use? Is trial and error the only means by which we can tailor our style to meet students’ individual needs? Do you have any strategies that help you hone in on a student’s needs, especially strategies that might speed up the process? What has helped you in the past, and what ideas do you have for future sessions?

Work Cited

Neff, Julie. “Learning Disabilities and the Writing Center.” The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors. 4th ed. Eds. Christina Murphy and Steve Sherwood. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2011. 249-62. Print.