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

 

Textbook Reading: You’re doing it wrong!

Stack of books

Reading to Learn

Active reading is a planned, deliberate set of strategies to engage with text-based materials with the purpose of increasing your understanding. This is a key skill you need to master for college. Along with listening, it is the primary method for absorbing new ideas and information in college. But active reading also applies to and facilitates the other steps of the learning cycle; it is critical for preparing, capturing, and reviewing, too.

In college, most professors do not spend much time reviewing the reading assignment in class. Rather, they expect that you have done the assignment before coming to class and understand the material. The class lecture or discussion is often based on that expectation. Tests, too, are based on that expectation. This is why active reading is so important, it’s up to you to do the reading and comprehend what you read.

Note: It may not always be clear on an professor’s syllabus, but the corresponding textbook chapter for the topics listed for that week should be read before coming to class.

Person sitting at table with book and notebook open
Photo by David Iskander on Unsplash

How Do You Read to Learn?

The four steps of active reading are almost identical to the four phases of the learning cycle—and that is no coincidence! Active reading is learning through reading the written word, so the learning cycle naturally applies.

Active reading involves these steps:

  1. Preparing
  2. Reading
  3. Capturing the key ideas
  4. Reviewing

Let’s take a look at how to use each step when reading.

Preparing to Read

Your textbook as a whole – Start by thinking about why your professor has chosen this text. Look at the table of contents; how does it compare with the course syllabus?

Your chapter as a whole – Explore the chapter by scanning the pages of the chapter to get a sense of what the chapter is about. Look at the headings, illustrations and tables. Read the introduction and summary. Understanding the big picture of the chapter will help you add the details when doing close reading.

Give yourself direction by creating a purpose or quest for your reading. This will help you become more actively engaged in your reading. Create questions to find the answers to in your reading using the headings of each section. You may also have learning objectives listed at the front of each chapter which could be turned into questions or you may have chapter review questions prepared for you at the end of the chapter.

Reading

Take the first question you have prepared and think about what you already know about this question. Jot the question down on paper. Begin to read the chapter and stop when you have found the answer.

Write down the answer in short form. Leave some space for additional notes you may want to add later and add the next questions. Continue reading this way until you are done the chapter or are done studying for this session.

Capture the key ideas

Before you put away your textbook and notes at the end of a reading session, go back through the questions you answered and pull out key ideas and words. You can highlight these, jot them in the space you left below your first answer or note them in the margins.

Reviewing what you read

For each question, cover up the answer and key ideas you have written. Can you still answer the question? Check your mental review against what you have written.

An open notebook on a wooden surface in front of a laptop
Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Additional Reading Tips:

The four steps to active reading provide a proven approach to effective learning from texts. Following are some tips you can use to enhance your reading even further:

  • Pace yourself. Figure out how much time you have to complete the assignment. Divide the assignment into smaller blocks rather than trying to read the entire assignment in one sitting.
  • Schedule your reading. Set aside blocks of time, preferably at the time of the day when you are most alert, to do your reading assignments.
  • Read your most difficult assignments early in your reading time, when you are freshest.
  • Get yourself in the right space. Choose to read in a quiet, well-lit space. Your chair should be comfortable but provide good support.
  • Avoid distractions. Active reading takes place in your short-term memory. Every time you move from task to task, you have to “reboot” your short-term memory and you lose the continuity of active reading.
  • Avoid reading fatigue. Work for about fifty minutes, and then give yourself a break for five to ten minutes. Put down the book, walk around, get a snack, stretch, or do some deep knee bends. Short physical activity will do wonders to help you feel refreshed.
  • Make your reading interesting. Try connecting the material you are reading with your class lectures or with other chapters. Ask yourself where you disagree with the author. Approach finding answers to your questions like an investigative reporter. Carry on a mental conversation with the author.

Adapted from College Success, University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, 2015. Original licensed as Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike.

Featured Image: Adapted from Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

Note: This post was prepared in part for OntarioExtend Daily Extend #oext264 Crank out a Viral Edubait Robot Image.

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WIIFM – Apprentice Exam Prep Workshop

As I mentioned in an early post, I don’t teach – at least not in the way you may think. I do not have a course that I teach to one group of students over a semester. In some ways, what I do is much harder in that I have workshops that I present to classes. I have to quickly establish both my authority to be at the front of the room and the benefit to the students of giving me their time and attention. One of these workshops is a Study Skills presentation given to Apprenticeships students who have completed all three levels of in-class training and have returned for their 30 hours of Exam Prep before they write their Certificate of Qualification Examination to be licensed in their trade.

In the past few weeks, I have given this workshop to Automotive Technician and Hairstyling apprentices and this week, I will be meeting with General Machinist and Tool and Die apprentices. While these workshops have some handouts and presentation slides that are common, some materials, activities, and handouts are tailored to the specific trade. For example, the workshop includes a practice exam with questions relevant to their trade.

I used this workshop to generate a What Is In It For Me list in response to the Teacher for Learning Extend Activity:

  • call to change focus from absorbing information to thinking strategically
  • confirm study approach/plan is appropriate
  • find out new or be reminded of studying, test taking and test anxiety techniques
  • receive Red Seal approved documents regarding exam prep as well as RC created handouts
  • practice test taking strategies with questions related to trade including opportunity to examine past test method and multiple choice questions strategies
  • opportunity to practice relaxation techniques
  • invitation to meet for individual test related concerns/access to specific contact person
  • Research confirmed benefit – in the first two years after we started presenting this workshop in exam prep week – more apprentices passed the QofC and more received higher marks.

Cornell Notes with TEDTalk

Scan of handwritten notes in cornell style. Content of notes not import

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As I move through the Teacher for Learning Module. I find things I know but have not thought about. Cornell Notetaking is a good example of that. For the Extend Activity, I choose a TEDTalk by Simon Sinek (@simonsinek) who speaks on leadership.

One of the thoughts I encountered during this activity is that my notes will and should look different from anyone else’s. Notetaking should be a unique and personal activity as you process the information and write down what is important to you, what builds on your existing knowledge. In my own notetaking, I am focused on what I don’t know, what can add to my body of knowledge and what is meaningful to me. That said, the final block that requires a short summary is the opportunity to connect the new to the old by developing a coherent explanation. As an often over wordy person, this is a skill I can work on.

Misunderstood – Scanning your text before reading

Workshops and discussions of study skills and learning strategies is one area of my practice as a Retention Coordinator. Reading at the college level, particularly reading textbooks comes up in discussions with students often. Many students do not understand how to read a textbook effectively. I like to introduce a simple three-step strategy of scan, read with a purpose and review.

textbookscanScanning your textbook refers to swiftly reviewing the chapter by skimming the introduction, flipping through the pages to see the headings and layout of the chapter, paying attention to the main ideas and key terms, and skimming the conclusion or chapter summary. The goal is to gain a better idea of the purpose of the chapter and highlights of the material contained therein.

I compare this to a mystery novel. Reading your textbook is NOT like reading a mystery novel. You really do want to know who the murder is before you begin reading the book. So you scan the chapter and the chapter summary to know what is coming.

This post is in response to the Misunderstood Extend Activity in the Teacher for Learning Module of OntarioExtend.

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