Sunday, 29 January 2012

Some Insight into Learning Disabilities

This week, in Special Education class we were introduced to learning disabilities (LD). I didn’t know much about LD initially, but I did manage to read the assigned reading before class. After reading the chapter, I thought I knew what LDs were. However, it was after this week’s class that I realized that I had only understood the technical definitions of LD, not what an LD student actually experiences. This was courtesy of our incredible instructor and Richard Lavoie’s F.A.T. City Workshop video. Its incredible that this video, although almost 30 years old, is still relevant and accurate today!

Through this week’s class I experienced LD firsthand. I watched in shock as Richard Lavoie started his workshop class with fast-paced, rapid-fire questioning of his students, expecting an answer to his question while students barely had time to process the question. I witnessed him “move on” to the next person after obtaining a correct answer and ridicule the incorrect answers. Overall, this was bad teaching practice, however, it was the rapid-fire pace of his questioning that disturbed me. I could barely keep up with his questions and then realized – this is what LD students experience every day! What seems to be a “regular” pace to everyone else is too fast for LD students due to issues with processing auditory information! WOW!

Lavoie then proceeded to demonstrate the difference between vision and perception, that is, seeing something versus actually perceiving it. I could try to explain the activity in detail, but my explanation would not do it justice. I must say that this was very enlightening for me and it really demonstrates the different ways people perceive things. You can check out that part of the workshop here:

Another activity that was eye-opening was participating in a round-robin story. We were asked to each say a sentence in order to form an interesting story…easy enough, and actually kind-of fun! We were then asked to repeat this, but our instructor started us off with “I am going to the bank to get some money”. Oh, and one more key point – we were told that we were not allowed to use any word with the letter “N”. May I suggest that you try this exact exercise with a few friends? It’s hard!! Each person participating in the game had to think carefully about every word they said, and they hesitated after every word. As I sat and listened, I truly had a “light bulb” moment. Some students with LD, must think about every word in a sentence and this results in hesitation and staccato-type sentences. Again, WOW!

I looked up Richard Lavoie on YouTube and found another class of his in which he explains reading issues that LD students, especially dyslexic ones, have. Once again, it was mind-blowing to see/hear his activities & explanations. You can view this class here:

Overall, Richard Lavoie’s techniques in teaching us what its like to have a learning disability are eye-opening. I highly recommend that you look up his videos on YouTube for an amazing insight into learning disabilities. My challenge now will be to learn how to effectively teach these students in a way that they understand and are engaged. Our textbook, “Special Education in Ontario Schools” (Bennet, Dworet & Weber) suggests a variety of in-class strategies including differentiated instruction, empathy and understanding and giving positive, frequent feedback. As well, a consistent systematic approach is important along with graphic/visual support, help in sequencing, help in dealing with print, and awareness of time constraints. Lastly, they suggest helping LD students with time management, making allowances for them and simplifying their environment. Overall, optimism, encouragement and trust are imperative.

I have yet to work with LD students and will most likely get this chance in a few weeks when I start my second teaching placement. I need to figure out how to put this newfound knowledge into actual effective teaching practices during my lessons. Should you have any tips or suggestions, please share! Thank you!!


  1. Shailja, I've really been enjoying reading your blog. When I was in TC we too watched F.A.T. City and it was eye opening. The class I'm teaching right now has several students with LDs. It can be quite difficult to find the time to accommodate them. Essentially, When I lesson plan I have four different activities I ask the students in my class to do, and one student is on a completely different program. What I keep in my mind when planning is "What can my students do?" Not, "What can't they do?" and this has really made a difference. And remembering that there are many ways to show success, not just pencil to paper.

  2. Thanks Jen! Appreciate the feedback & tips!