A Better Path to Learning
"I spent so much time studying for that science test, but I still failed!"
"I know all about the communist revolution, but I have no idea how to start this essay."
"I am always forgetting which character is which in this book…"
"Oh no, not another math word problem, I never get them!"
These above are common lamentations by students, and are just as disheartening for their parents. They illustrate a common but profound problem for otherwise capable students who struggle to learn in one or more areas: they don't know what they need to do in order to succeed in their academics. In other words, they have the ability to learn but lack the appropriate strategies for success.
These students often end up working harder, with poorer results. This can be demoralizing and lead to feelings of helplessness: why try if the effort does not pay off?
Fortunately, there is overwhelming evidence that these students can (and indeed, should!) be taught more effective strategies that will close the gap between effort and success. However, effective strategy instruction depends on very skilled teachers who:
- know their students' strengths and challenges
- support executive function (help students plan, prioritize begin and complete tasks)
- use explicit techniques to teach, model and provide practice using appropriate strategies as an essential component of the course
- engage in frequent dialogue with students about what is and is not working
- foster metacognition (actively helping students understand their own learning)
Like tools, different strategies work for different tasks, and skilled teachers can help direct students to appropriate options. For example, using flashcards may be a useful strategy for remembering certain kinds of information, but for the learner who struggles to see the "big picture," information may need to be asked and arranged differently, visual organizers employed, and auditory rehearsing assigned as part of a study plan.
Every learner is unique, but what is common among all learners is that they require strategies to succeed. It is disheartening when capable students flounder because they lack the tools to leverage their strengths and support their difficulties. Fortunately, effective strategy instruction can empower these same students to access and achieve their academic and life goals.
Strategy Instruction Books:
- Strategy Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities, by Robert Reid, Torri Ortiz Linemann, and Jesica L. Hagaman
- Academic Success Strategies for Adolescents with Learning Disabilities and ADHD, by Esther Minskoff and David Allsopp
- Promoting Academic Success for Students with Learning Disabilities, from Landmark College (Stuart Strothman, Editor)
Strategy Instruction Online Articles:
- Strategies for Teaching Youth with ADD and ADHD , by Thomas McIntyre (online article)
- Seven Steps to Homework Success , by Dr. Sam Goldstein (online article about managing difficult or long-term assignments)
- Executive Function Skills, by Sarah Ward (article online PDF)
Useful LD Links:
- www.ncld.org : National Center for Learning Disabilities;
- Executive Function web page.
- www.ldonline.org : Online resources on learning disabilities
- www.ldanatl.org: Learning Disabilities Association of America
- https://www.researchild.org/: Dedicated to helping ALL students to become successful learners by empowering them to learn HOW to learn through effective executive function and learning strategies.
- http://learningworksforkids.com: Innovative technologies to help improve learning difficulties like ADHD, Autism, and problems with Executive Functions.
- https://cognitiveconnectionstherapy.com: Features a variety of graphic organizing tools for purchase.
- http://www.socialthinking.com/: Describes the treatment program that has helped thousands of students with autism, including high-functioning autism and Asperger's Syndrome, ADHD and similar challenges with their social learning.
- http://www.howtostudy.org/resources.php: How To Study website with resources page by topic and school subject.