Learning Strategies for Students

person holding pencil near laptop computer

All students come to us with a certain set of study skills but most don’t realize that there are a variety of ways to approach and interact with materials and learning experiences in an educational environment. When students have struggles with their learning, often they do more of the same rather than trying something new; usually because they don’t know that there is something new to try. For students with learning disabilities, Learning Strategists are the best source of new ideas.

Students with learning disabilities, in particular, benefit from explicit instruction in strategies that mitigate the challenges in the education environment that their learning disability presents. But like many enhancements in our environment that we have made for persons with disabilities like automatic doors which help persons without disabilities as well, learning strategies can help all students. Here’s a couple of examples:

Two Finger Reading: If you are reading a textbook and come across a figure or chart, use two finger reading. Before reading the full text in the chapter about the figure, read the text beneath the figure. This often is a brief summary of the material presented and can provide a quick overview of the big picture. Place one finger of one hand on the figure. Place one finger of the other hand on the text in the chapter. This will help you keep your place in the text and on the figure as you move your attention between the two. Read a chunk of the full text that describes or explains the figure. Then shift your attention to the figure and trace the area of the figure that the text described. When you have reviewed that section of the figure, return to read another chuck of the full text. For more on reading see my previous post.

3 + 3 + 3 In Class: This strategy is to help shift your focus to the class that is beginning and prepare for new information as well as close a class before you leave. It involves taking three minutes before the class begins and 3 minutes at the end of class before you leave. Before start of class, take three minutes and quickly review the material presented in the last class. Scan your notes or other materials to remind yourself of what has come before. This can help you build connections between information presented from one class to the next and it wakes up your brain so that it is ready to receive new information. At the end of class, before you pack up and leave, take three minutes to quickly review the notes you have just taken and make a list of three concepts or ideas that were most important TO YOU. A quick review, coupled with decision making and writing down your list can help make the information more meaningful to you and increase the movement of information between short-term and long term memory.

While learning strategies and study skill instruction can help all students, for students with disabilities, working with a Learning Strategist allows for the exploration of strategies tailored to their particular learning needs. It can take some trial and error to find the method that matches the student, but the effort can mean the difference between struggling needlessly and making the most of a student’s finite study time.

Featured Image: Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

9X9X25 Quotes on Fancy Photos Guide

It’s up to all of us, in each of our unique corners and niches to be talking about citizenship topics, especially about digital citizenship topics. ~ Helen DeWaard Photo: timelasped photo of traffic across a grey bridge

This is a bonus 9x9x25 post in a guide to making a Faux Inspirational Quotes.

Step 1. Go to the syndicated post feed and read a bunch of entries. When you read one that resonates with you, scan it again for a quote that is enticing; it doesn’t have to be the conclusion or the main point. I look for something that meaningful that can both stand alone and invite a viewer to seek out more. This is one part of how your perspective adds value, out of all the possible quotes, you get to choose the one to highlight.

Step 2. Assemble the basics, copy the quote, find the author(s) names and Twitter tag, make an icon or brand for OntarioExtend 9x9x25. I use MSPublisher to create mine. I use a rectangle box in black as my frame and assemble the pieces using the same font (Century in bold). The quote is in 24 – 28 pt font size.

Step 3. Hang out at Unsplash (or another creative commons friendly photo sharing site) and look for a pretty photo. Here is where your imagination adds value, what photo in your mind adds to the quote? Select something that has some usable space on the edges for the quote to be added that is of the same color with little detail so the words can be read.

large moon in the sky above a hill
Photo by Andrea Reiman on Unsplash

Or Format Text Box to add a Fill with a similar color as the background and set to a high rate (70% or more) of transparency to improve text readability.

Fall leafs in the sunlight
Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash

Step 4: Mess around with the placement of the quote and the brand and try different justifications of the text until it looks pretty and balanced. I am not sure how to describe balanced, but at some point, it just looks right. Don’t forget to add an attribution to the photographer. I add the Unsplash attribution in white 10pt font, usually in one of the bottom corners.

Step 5: Save as a Portable Network Graphic (PNG) or your choice of a graphic file format and open the graphic with another photo editing program such as Windows Paint to crop the white edges and scale the photo. I use Snagit Editor by Techsmith and do a quick crop and scale to 1160 pixels width and let the height calculate. 1160 pixels is a good size for the full picture to show when you share it to twitter.

Step 6: Tweet the photo to @OntarioExtend and include the hashtag #9x9x25 and tag the author of the post you took the quote from. Attach the picture and copy the quote and photo description to the description box for the alt tag. If you do not have a description box at the bottom of the photo, you will need to turn on this option through Settings on your Twitter account. A considerate alt tag includes both the words shown on the graphic and a description of the photo.

Final notes: I have weird personal reasons for the pictures I choose. For Helen DeWaard’s quote on digital citizenship, I choose a time lapsed photo of a bridge where the car tail lights were streaks because the internet is often called an information highway and data streaks past and teaching digital citizenship is like building a bridge for students. For Peg French’s warning on not becoming bedazzled by technology, I chose a photo of a single eye in glitter make up.

I hope the authors of the quote enjoy seeing my final mash-up of a photo and their quote. I think it is fascinating to see someone else’s perspective of the words I have written. Alan Levine did this for me once in a DailyExtend and I thought – Wow, I sound really smart! I hope the authors see how smart they sound to me and that others, seeing the mash-up on Twitter, will be enticed to check out some of the blog posts for themselves.

 

SAD and my yearly descent in to madness

woman looking down reflected in a windo

I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It begins, for me, in September and I crash hard by November.  “Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year” (CAMH, 2018, para. 1). When I was pursuing post-secondary education, I had SAD but had not been diagnosed. That came after. My family doctor recognized this after reviewing my medical file and noticed that I had come to see him the first week of November for seven years in a row with the same complaint of feeling desperate and out of control.

I am starting ten days of vacation. I take the first week of November off every year as part of my SAD coping plan. Let me tell you what happens to me.

I call it a descent into madness purposefully. I have a physiological reaction to the lack of sunlight and the chemical processes that happen impact my physical and emotional state. SAD tells me lies. SAD tells me that I am worthless, useless and hopeless. SAD makes me want to sleep between 3 pm and 9 pm and won’t let me sleep at night. SAD gives me panic attacks that start once or twice a day and builds so that by the first week of November, I wake with a panic attack that sits in the core of my being and continues all day. SAD causes tears to run down my face for no logical reason, tears that I have no control over. SAD causes me to withdraw from family and friends. SAD makes me feel heartbroken and devastated. SAD tells me that I am a horrible person and a terrible mother. SAD tells me that nothing I do is good.

SAD tells me lies. So I use a set of coping skills to battle SAD. I use logic – intellectually, I know that I awesome and I have a good life. I don’t feel that way, but I can remind myself that this will end. This is probably the best thing about SAD, I know it will end. I know that at some point, usually in January, I will begin to have “happy to be me” thoughts again. But in the meantime, any compliment or any good thing that I do will be rejected.

I tell everyone that I have SAD and remind them that SAD season is coming. I tell my students, tutors, colleagues, and my boss. I tell my family and friends. I illicit their support and understanding. I do logic checks of my reactions, especially emotional ones to gauge if SAD is impacting me. I check with family and colleagues in case I need to reframe my overreactions. My friends forgive me when I disappear for a few weeks. My children strap on their SAD warrior gear and talk to me and hug me when I need it most. I have a SAD support group I can turn to with other SAD warriors who understand.

I use light therapy and supplements. I use antidepressants when I need to. I use my week off to be kind to myself, to embrace my SAD and work on resetting my internal clock. On my week off, I eat what I want to, I sleep when I want to, I cry when I want to, I feel all the things I feel fully. SAD is part of me and because of SAD I am more compassionate because I know what it feels like to be desperate, devastated, and heartbroken. I know what it feels like to need help and to get it and also to be judged for it. Trust me, it is better to get help when you need it.

For our students who have a mental health challenge, compassion and understanding is the best reaction you can give. These students are stronger than you can imagine and they deserve our help to learn and to succeed in their academic pursuits. As educators, let’s start with educating ourselves on mental illness and advocating for an end to stigma so that students can come freely to talk about what reasonable accommodations they need.

I’ve known for over 20 years that I have SAD. I have gotten good at coping with it and for asking for the help I need. But, here I am fighting with the SAD trying to decide whether to hit publish on this post. SAD is saying  I will be judged and fellow educators will reject me. I wonder who will win?

CAMH. (2018). Seasonal affective disorder. Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/health-info/mental-illness-and-addiction-index/seasonal-affective-disorder

Photo by Tiago Bandeira on Unsplash

 

SAD lies to me.
I know it will end.
SAD is a part of me.
I wonder who will win.
A poem by Irene Stewart

Joy in Junk Mail

six black mail boxes on a wall

Lucas burst into my office and excitedly proclaimed “I read the junk mail! All of it!” Now you would think a 24-year-old young man would have better things to be excited about, but it was the first time he had ever done so.

When Lucas first started at St. Clair College, his Individual Education Plan (IEP) from highschool called for a reader and a scribe because of his learning disability. At the college level, we were striving for greater independence and had introduced him to speech-to-text and text-to-speech software. Text-to-speech software such as Kurzweil and Texthelp allow one to scan in printed material and the software will capture the text and read it out loud while highlighting the text on the original image. Textbooks can be converted to PDF files so that the student can see the page as it exists in the book and hear the text spoken in close to real life voices. For student with disabilities that interfere with reading skills, this makes text material more accessible and in a more timely fashion.

Listen to this post in a mp3 file produced with Text 2 Speech, a free online service that converts text using a basic quality computerized voice. This will give a flavour of what text sounds like for a student with disabilities although most commercial software has better voices.

While these tools have an impact on academics, it also has on impact on a student’s everyday life and provides opportunities for self advocacy and self actualization. For Lucas, it meant that for the first time, he was able to decide what was junk mail and not worth reading and what was of interest to him. Until the day he set up the scanner at home and was able to scan all the mail he received to read with Kurweil, he had relied on family members to sort through his mail and decide what was worth reading. Often, and understandably, the family members would read his mail and summarize what was in it because reading the whole document took a lot of time. All Lucas’ correspondence was filtered through what someone else determined as important. With Kurzweil, Lucas could decide for himself.

This filtering or bias happened for Lucas with a reader during tests as well. When Lucas would ask for a question to be read again (and again), there was a chance that the inflection, emphasis and body language of the reader would change and sometimes even show frustration, boredom or disbelief. Sometimes, Lucas got the impression that the reader though he was really stupid and would read the question slower and louder. With Kurzweil, Lucas could hear the question as many times as he chose and it would sound the same each time.

Kurzweil has other active learning tools that encourage students to use highlighters for important (to them) information, definitions, key terms and more. The software can extract the highlights to a separate document for study notes or to an mp3 portable audio document to listen to away from the computer. Here too, Lucas could listen to his text as often as he needed to without having to worry about someone becoming bored or frustrated and he could make decisions about which of the information presented was necessary for his study notes.

I have heard some faculty express frustration because testing centres at their institution require tests to be provided in advance, sometimes 48 hour before the test is to be written. Often, these tests need to be converted into a text-to-speech format and that does take staff time to prepare. It does mean that faculty have to prepare their tests in advance to meet those deadline but to me, use of text-to-speech software for students with disabilities who need it represents a better way of ensuring academic integrity where students can independently demonstrate their knowledge with no outside filters or bias.

Featured Image: Photo by Chris Kristiansen on Unsplash

Blogging with speech-to-text software

person using a computer to play a game

Assistive technology is one way that students with disabilities can mitigate their challenges in an education system. Often what is used as assistive technology was not created specifically for students with disabilities. Speech-to-text technology was originally created as a productivity tool commonly used by executives, lawyers, doctors, etc. The most common commercial product is Dragon Naturally Speaking. Dragon can also be used by people who have low vision or who are blind.

As voice recognition software improves, new applications are released. I am using a free online application that uses Google voice recognition technology to write this blog post for the nine by nine by twenty-five challenge. You can try it out for yourself as long as you have a microphone. I would recommend using a headset with a microphone for better accuracy.

Having used Dragon Naturally Speaking for several years and completed various training sessions to help Dragon understand my speech I am surprised that no training was required with this software. So far, it has missed only one word and my only other complaint is the extra space before the period and the lack of capitals on the first word of sentences that I will need to fix. I am an excellent typist. I can type over 80 words per minute but with Dragon or other speech-to-text technology I can produce content as fast as I can speak, and I can speak very fast.

Some students with learning disabilities will use speech-to-text technology to produce all their written work including papers and assignments. Other students will have the speech-to-text software running in the background but will only use it for words that they can pronounce but not spell. When a student with a learning disability has difficulty with spelling they’re often not able to express their thoughts and ideas fully and will rely on simpler language that they are confident they can spell. With technology like speech-to-text. they can more fully demonstrate their knowledge and understanding using more complex language and sentence structure. From the point of view of learning outcomes, if the goal is to produce a well-written document, it should not matter to the professor if this was created by typing or using software.

There’s some other interesting ways you can use speech-to-text technology in terms of productivity. For example, I can record my voice on a tape recorder or using the computer to create an MP3 file and later run that file through Dragon to create the text. I have also used this technology after creating videos for online learning. I take the video, strip out just the audio, and run that through Dragon. It creates a text document that I can then use as a transcript and convert into closed captioning to make my video more accessible.

When using text-to-speech technology, you do have to learn some techniques order to control the formatting. And you do need to be able to speak your ideas in full thoughts and sentences which can be a little awkward at first. I take on the persona of a newscaster and try to articulate my words well so that the technology will be more accurate. I also find using this technology has helped me with removing some of the speech fillers that often come up when articulating ideas outload. Because the technology will attempt to add any Umms or Hmmms that I may have in my speech, using this technology has been a good way to remove those. I also find that rather than speaking one word at a time if I can use more natural phrases, the technology more accurate in its transcription.

Assistive technology is not something to be afraid of. It can be an awesome support for students with disabilities, professionals in the workplace, and even time limited professors and educators. as the technology continues to improve, I believe we will find it integrated into more software and more applications and that learning to use the software will be an advantage students in their education and later, in the workplace.

Featured photo:Photo by Sean Do on Unsplash

When you can’t hear the phonemes

black swirl of letters

There is a part of me that has always hated the term learning disabilities. It is a weird label to hang on a child because they don’t perform as expected in our education system as their intelligence level would indicate in the areas of verbal and non-verbal information. We emphasis reading, writing and arithmetic. We don’t emphasis art or music. We don’t tell a student who is tone-deaf or sings off-key that they have a learning disability. We don’t tell a student who is color blind or unable to draw that they have a learning disability.

I don’t like it but I know that it is real and that there are learning strategies, technology and teaching techniques that make a difference. I know because both of my children have a diagnosed learning disability and I have the same, but undiagnosed, learning disability.

The Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario’s (LDAO) websites are excellent resources to learn more about learning disabilities and the kinds of supports that can help students with learning disabilities succeed in their education, their careers and their life. I say websites because in addition to the LDAO’s main site, they have developed website for students, parents and educators.

The LDAO’s official definition of learning disabilities is quite extensive.  Learning disabilities is not an easy concept to define. It begins with this statement:

“Learning Disabilities” refers to a variety of disorders that affect the acquisition, retention, understanding, organisation or use of verbal and/or non-verbal information. These disorders result from impairments in one or more psychological processes related to learning (a), in combination with otherwise average abilities essential for thinking and reasoning. Learning disabilities are specific not global impairments and as such are distinct from intellectual disabilities (LDAO, 2015).

There is a lot to unpack in this introduction. Learning disabilities are not one thing and not every student with a learning disability is impacted in the same way. The focus is on verbal and non-verbal information and all the things you can do with this information. It is the next part, I think, that sometimes gets lost – the idea that there is an impairment in combination with average, above average and genius level abilities for thinking and reasoning. The impairment, for lack of a better word, is specific, not global. Because of this, learning and teaching strategies and technology can mitigate the impairment and allow student to learn, to create and yes, even to teach equal to students without learning disabilities.

My impairment is phonological processing. I don’t hear the small units of sounds that letters make when you say them, the phonemes. Because I can’t hear them, it is really hard to reproduce them. This hits me two ways – I can’t sound out words in text that I don’t recognize and I can’t spell by sounding out words. I have many strategies that I use so that this does not, now, slow me down.

But there is one area that this continues to hamper me. I can’t pronounce most of my tutors’ names. My poor tutors repeat their names, and it doesn’t help because if I can’t hear the sounds and I can’t reproduce them. We go through this elaborate dance where we figure out smaller words that I already know that make up how to say their name and I write this down and practice. I wonder if they think I am crazy; I don’t ask. It is embarrassing and frustrating but I do it because I believe that figuring out how to say their names is important and because I want them to understand that when I get it wrong, it is not because I don’t respect them or that I don’t care.

I can’t do anything about the term learning disability or my dislike of it; thankfully, there are a lot of things I can about the one I have.

References

LDAO. (2015). Official definition of learning disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.ldao.ca/introduction-to-ldsadhd/what-are-lds/official-definition-of-lds/

Photo credits: Photo by Nathaniel Shuman on Unsplash

 

The right to education for student with disabilities

macro shot of stainless steel padlock

macro shot of stainless steel padlock

The accommodations given to students with disabilities are sometimes questioned by faculty who are concerned that these are not fair.  Some will go as far as challenge students about their disability and their need to tape record lectures or writing in the testing centre, for example. I believe this does our students a disservice and that faculty should fully support accommodations as approved through our student service departments.

Maya Venters (2017), in her OUSA blog, said it well:

The purpose of accommodation is not to give them an edge over other students, but to bring them forward to the starting line with everyone else.

Canadians with disabilities continue to face discrimination. Is this an urgent issue? I believe so given that over 50% of human right complaints in Canada, including those investigated by provincial commissions, are disability related  according to the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC, 2015). Consider that 13% of all Canadians have a disability that impacts their daily life and 20% of Canadians will have a challenge with mental illness this year (CHRC, n.d.). We can expect students in our classrooms who are experiencing disability and mental illness and it is our responsibility as educators to create an environment where they can learn to their full potential.

In Canadian schools, 25% of students with disabilities faced bullying and 35% reported exclusion;  37% of students with disabilities took fewer courses and 11% left their studies early because of their disability (CHRC, 2012). It is vital that we be a part of the solution for students with disabilities. Education is the way to opportunities for a better life through employment as well as development of citizens that improve our society. We need to recognize the educational barriers that exist for our students with disabilities in Canada and do our part to advocate for access for all. 

The CHRC (2017) identified four significant barriers for students with disabilities in our education system:

  1. lack of disability accommodation and support;
  2. lack of services and funding;
  3. ineffective dispute resolution;
  4. lack of special education and disability supports on First Nations reserves.

The first issue, lack of disability accommodation and support is something we as educators can improve. Here are few suggestions on what educators can do this school year:

  1. Learn more about human rights. Did you know there are 30? And the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to earn them, we were born with them. You can check out the illustrated guide from the United Nations (2015).
  2. Learn more about the Canadian Code of Human Rights, which along with the applicable provincial Human Rights Codes, governs the accommodation services provided to post secondary students. The CHRC’s (2010) guide is an excellent place to start.
  3. Learn more about the accommodation processes at your institution by meeting with disability service providers, attending workshops by your student services departments and reviewing your institution’s policies.
  4. Accept your students’ accommodation plans graciously and express your support for their use of the accommodations. Protect their confidentiality by meeting privately with them to discuss any questions you may have. Trust your accommodations protocol and if you have concerns, address them to the disability service providers first, rather than your student.

The accommodations often represent additional work for educators, but I hope you will see this as equity work, human rights advocacy work. The extra time you are spending is time you invest to support a student reaching their full potential and it is worth it!

References

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Disability rights. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/persons-disabilities

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2017). Left out: Challenges faced by persons with disabilities in Canada’s schools. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/left-out-challenges-faced-persons-disabilities-canadas-schools

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2012). Report on equality rights of
people with disabilities. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/rerpd_rdepad-eng.pdf

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2015). The rights of persons with disabilities to equality and non-discrimination. Retrieved from https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/eng/content/rights-persons-disabilities-equality-and-non-discrimination

Canadian Human Rights Commission. (2010). Your guide to understanding Human Rights.  Retrieved from  https://www.chrc-ccdp.gc.ca/sites/default/files/chra_guide_lcdp-eng.pdf

United Nations. (2015). Universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved from  http://www.un.org/en/udhrbook/pdf/udhr_booklet_en_web.pdf

Venters, M. (2017, August 30). Equality Is not equity: The argument for academic accommodations. Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) Blog. Retrieved from https://www.ousa.ca/blog_equality_is_not_equity

Photo credit: Photo by Jose Fontano on Unsplash

Taking on a new OntarioExtend Challenge

woman holding two gray handheld tools

9x9x25 Week Zero

Oh OntarioExtend, you keep coming up with new possibilities for growth and openness! The 9x9x25 Challenge is 9 posts in 9 weeks with at least 25 lines of musings about teaching and learning. I did like to center my post on the topic of Accessibility and Accommodations for students with disabilities.

There are a lot of options in this area. I can write about the Canadian Human Rights Code, the differences between academic accommodations between highschool and college, Assistive Technology, Learning Strategies, what we mean by mitigation, why we don’t modify outcomes in college, perceived privacy issues with audio taping lectures, why having a note taker has the risk of bias, and why you should hug your Student Services staff once in a while or at least share a coffee break with them.

I am excited to get started! About eleven years ago, I had the best job of my life. I was the Learning Strategist/Assistive Technologist for Thames Campus of St. Clair College. I loved that job. Working directly with students with disabilities, particularly with students with learning disabilities, was a privilege.

We have an education system that does not fit every student and students with the potential to learn should not be shut out because they don’t fit some weird definition of the average student. As much as we are working to change the education system, we still rely on teaching through lectures, textbooks and tests – and if you are good at those things, you will do well. But if there is something that stands in the way, you can be limited in what you can pursue and I think that is wrong.

Let’s take apprenticeships, just for a minute. You can be the greatest mechanic but if you have an Auditory Learning Disability and have difficulty with spelling and sounding out words you don’t immediately recognize, you may learn to cope by reading for meaning when you encounter one of these unknown words or if you could hear the word, you would know what it means. We require you to take and pass many multiple choice tests where the number of words is too low to really make use of reading for meaning and rarely can you get the accommodation of using a text to speech reader. Does that make sense? I am not going to ask you to complete a 20 multiple choice test before I let you fix my car! But the education system we have may block excellent mechanics from pursuing their dreams!

I have lots to say about Accessibility and Accommodations for students with disabilities. I hope you will come back over the nine weeks of the challenge and see what I come up with!

Featured image: Photo by Jia Ye on Unsplash

WordPress Permalink: Domain Camp Week 6

Dog sitting in front of a camp fire on a beach

I am wandering back to the camp fire to check out the last two weeks of Domain Camp. I had originally set my permalink to be just the name of the post but I thought I would try adding the year and the month as well. My concern is that I already have a really long URL with the subdomain of largecoffeefourcreams and my domain of procaffination.ca. So adding the dates may be too much.

I don’t know what the conventional wisdom is about the length of your domain name, and I don’t care. This is my domain. And I will have a long name if I want to! So there! Ah, one of the joys of a domain of one’s own is that you get to make choices like that.

Just a note, in an earlier Domain Camp Activity, we learned to add a URL shortener names YOURLS to our domain that would create a smaller URL for any address and it would have our own domain name as part of the new URL. I can always use that if one of my post URL becomes too long to share on social media

Featured image: Photo by christoph wesi on Unsplash