10 Keys to Unlock a World of Learning
- Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Danny reads a paragraph for the fifth time. He begins to write, but gets stuck. "Is it spelled ‘hous' or ‘hows'?" he wonders. After several attempts, he guesses. Two words later he is stuck again. Exhausted, he shoves the paper aside and puts his head down.
Students like this are likely to be identified as "learning disabled." The National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) reports that "5% of public school students are learning disabled."1 It is likely that there is a similar population of learning disabled students who are being homeschooled. The NCLD defines a learning disability as "a neurological disorder that affects the brain's ability to receive, process, store and respond to information." It impacts one's ability to listen, speak, read, write, and perform math.2
Each learning disabled student is different, but there is a common need for unique instruction. Homeschooling parents are in the best position to provide the flexible, creative, and compassionate instruction these students need. Many homeschooling parents of learning disabled students may feel pressure from family or friends to let the "specialists" teach them. In reality, you are the specialist. You know your student best. This intimate knowledge combined with Godly leadership and good instructional practice is essential to help your learning disabled student achieve his or her potential.
I will share ten valuable instructional strategies that can help learning disabled students of any age. The term "learning disabled" is used to describe students who can benefit most from these strategies, but these strategies are useful for any students who are experiencing learning difficulties.
1. Differentiating Instruction
Differentiating is a term that refers to tailoring instruction to meet learning needs while satisfying age-appropriate objectives. It involves forging different routes to the same learning destinations. When studying Shakespeare, students with writing difficulties may need the option of illustrating a scene in seventeenth-century England or reenacting a portion of a play to demonstrate learning. During time designated for research, let students with reading difficulties take notes or summarize as someone reads aloud.
Students with organizational problems may need a clearly posted weekly schedule. If students have trouble completing tasks, use a timer to challenge them to "beat the timer." Differentiating can be as simple as giving students five division problems instead of ten or having students answer questions orally rather than through writing. Flexibility is the trademark of differentiating instruction. Pursue grade-level objectives, but pursue them with methods that set students up for success.
2. Teaching Mnemonics
Did you ever hear your teacher say "Never Eat Soggy Waffles"? Your teacher wasn't forbidding you to retrieve breakfast from the water, but rather he was teaching you a way to remember the four directions (north, south, east, west) by using an easy-to-remember acronym.
Memory is the bedrock of learning. In my experience, students with learning disabilities usually have difficulty with visual and/or auditory memory. Mnemonic devices help students like this recall important information. Students who have difficulty spelling may use the vivid acronym "Dynamite Opens Every Safe" to remember the spelling of does. "Roy G. Biv" (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet) is an acronym that is commonly used for learning the colors of the rainbow. Our oldest son learned his multiplication tables by skip counting to a melody. A teacher I know recites with students, "Eight times eight fell on the floor. When I picked it up, it was sixty-four."3
When we want something to stick well, we use super glue, not paste. A mnemonic device is a kind of super glue; it bonds learning experiences to memory.
3. Multisensory Instruction
God, the Master Designer, wove a variety of wonderful senses into our bodies to help us discover and investigate new things. Students who have limited auditory or visual processing skills need to be able to move and even to taste things as they learn. Reading about an avocado is one thing, but drawing, touching, and tasting an avocado builds a lasting mental imprint about what it actually is. How vastly different the sensation of counting real money is compared to counting from a book, or finger spelling in shaving cream compared to writing words on paper.
Nature is an indispensible and inexpensive resource for multisensory instruction. We live right across from a nature preserve. Few things captivate our children like the gall fly nests, salamanders, bugs, and countless specimens we collect. These creatures form the heart of our summer curriculum. Nature is an immense and ever-changing laboratory for sensory exploration. Use it often.
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