Written by Jackie Ufer, advisor for the home based education program of Clonlara School. While this article was written for the homeschooling parent, we believe it is also true of families who are seeking educational choices for their children is campus based programs as well.
Many parents are home educating children who have a disability. Children with learning disabilities and ADHD are the two largest subgroups who receive accommodations through disability legislation (Parker et al, 2011). At times these parents may feel their children’s needs are not being met in the public school system, but also feel anxious or unsure how to effectively address their children’s learning needs on their own at home. Parents often ask their Clonlara Advisor for a product or curriculum that is designed for a child with a special learning need. Although there are several wonderful products and curricula for sale, effective learning best occurs with the use of curriculum material combined with effective strategies. This article is meant to provide and describe research-based strategies that can be incorporated with any learning activity at any age level. The strategies described below have been proven to increase the transfer of information from short-term to long-term memory as well as increase retrieval of previously learned information from long term memory.
Build Self-Efficacy: Self- efficacy is the ability level or confidence a person feels they have in a particular skill area. When a student has a high level of self-efficacy in a particular area they tend to employ higher-order thinking and persevere longer in challenging activities. A sense of self-efficacy is very important for any student, but especially for students who have been told they have a “disability” and may feel inadequate because they cannot learn in the same ways as their peers. It is important to teach these students that they CAN learn and are just as smart and talented as their peers. They just learn in a different way. Help them discover what their talents are and the best ways for them to be successful learning new information.
Goal Setting: Make goals clear at the beginning of a learning activity. Let the student set personal and academic goals. Two useful activities for this are “3-2-1.” The student describes 3 things they already know or think they know- 2 things they would like to learn more about- and 1 thing they find interesting about the topic. And “K-W-L” – what do you Know – what do you Want to learn – and what did you Learn?
Plans for Achieving Goals: Depending on the age level, make a plan for how the goal will be accomplished. Brainstorm activities that sound interesting and productive with the student. With older students, this will give them a sense of control over their own education. Younger students often enjoy monitoring their progress towards a goal. Discuss progress toward the goal and make a visual.
Build background knowledge: Be aware of previous knowledge a student needs to know in order to learn a new skill. Also, be aware of whether the student possesses this knowledge and teach it if necessary.
Short instruction time: Keep instruction time short and engaging. The average attention span is about 7 minutes and the brain usually decides whether the information is pertinent within the first 1 – 3 seconds. If the brain decides the information being presented is important, it will continue to take in the rest of the information and hold in short-term memory for 20- 30 seconds. After that, it will transfer to long-term memory based on follow-up activities using new information. Give short breaks during longer activities and then review when the break is over to get the brain “back on track.”
Chunking: Breaking information into small, manageable parts. When covering a large amount of information, it is best to break it into chunks containing about 7 (+ or -) pieces. Also, try to group information with other related information. If the learner can make a connection to new information, he or she is more likely to retain it.
Scaffolding: When a new concept is introduced, it’s ok to guide learning and “jog” a student’s memory. Giving hints that assist in information processing or retrieval is part of a process called scaffolding. When we scaffold, we give hints and slowly take the hints away as a student becomes more confident with new information or skills.
Multiple modalities: Use multiple modalities for learning so different parts of the brain are activated. Different learners have different processing strengths neurologically. Modalities include visual, auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic (movement).
Errorless Learning: Monitor the learning of new information closely. Once a pathway in the brain of a child with a learning disability has been formed, it is much harder to form a new correct pathway as compared to the brain of a student without a processing disorder.
Modeling: Have a peer or mentor the student respects model a new skill. Often when we see someone we view as similar to ourselves accomplish a task, we will then feel as if we can do it too. When people feel confidence entering into a challenge (self-efficacy as described above), they tend to have higher perseverance, use problem-solving skills, and employ more higher-order thinking to learning activities.
Real life application and Problem Solving: Present students with problems to solve independently that will require them to apply new and old knowledge. Allow students multiple ways to solve a problem.
Constant review: Students with processing disorders need more repetition and structure.
Jackie Ufer is an advisor for the home based education program at Clonlara School. She wrote this article for The Learning Edge newsletter and kindly let us re-use it.