Maureen Riley, M.Ed.
Excerpted from Transitional Skills for Post Secondary Success: Reflections for Students with Learning Disabilities.
During a discussion about succeeding, a student asked, "What's it all about Professor?" Nobel Prize Laureate, Seamus Heaney answered in his spare, direct way: "It's all about—getting started, keeping going, and getting started again."
The advice of Seamus Heaney helps put into plain language some of the most complicated ideas in the field of education and, in particular, in special education. All of
these apparently simple behaviors—getting started, keeping going, and getting started again—have deep and important underpinnings that need to be understood
for the success of students with learning disabilities.
Many students with learning disabilities have trouble doing their work:
Getting started: focusing/analyzing the task/initiating
figuring out and comprehending what is involved in the task deciding what the first move will be
Keeping going: self-monitoring/reflecting/recalling/sustaining attention/persisting
holding onto the parts of the problem
calling up from memory what is needed to solve the problem
juggling all of the pieces needed to complete the work
Getting started again: shifting attention/ analyzing/ changing course
moving to the next step or stage
deciding whether to switch an approach
judging when to stop and how begin again
Underlying these seemingly uncomplicated behaviors are multifaceted concepts: attention, memory, task analysis, self-regulation, executive function. These are highly complex ideas requiring continued study and still considered by researchers to be "...unwieldy with fuzzy conceptual boundaries" (Lyon & Krasnegor, 1996, p. xv).
The existing research has, however, identified and demonstrated that there are particular coping mechanisms central to these concepts which can be critically important to the academic achievement of students with learning disabilities. They have also been shown to be well within reach of students with learning disabilities to develop (Boudah, Schumaker, & Deshler, 1997). These coping mechanisms include metacognition, reflection, self-monitoring, strategizing and planning (Montague, 1998; Swanson, Carson, & Saches-Lee, 1996; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1993; Wong, 1999).
The goal of this chapter is to unpack and share some of those concepts and coping mechanisms, which the research has demonstrated to be most beneficial to students with learning disabilities.
Quick tips versus reliable resources
Why is it so important to know what the research says? Quick tips and advice are readily available as solutions for the complex difficulties facing students with learning disabilities (LD). Tips or suggestions may, or may not be, appropriate for an individual student, and loss of time and increased frustration are risks. Interpreting lack of student accomplishment as laziness, procrastination, stubbornness and applying pressure to solve the problem also are not very productive and can be harmful.
When seeking advice it is wise to turn to persons who have devoted lifetimes to the study of how students with learning disabilities learn most effectively. There is a body of knowledge developed by groups of experts in the field of special education based upon research studies—rigorous thinking, planning and intervention—going into the classroom and testing out —what works. The studies extend for several years or longer on a particular topic, for example, to learn about a type of memory process problematic to many students with learning disabilities or about the effectiveness of a specific approach to improve reading comprehension.
Joining the professional dialogue
Parents and students need to be "let in on" professional dialogue about the advances in the field of special education. Parents so commonly express their frustration with the professional information and terminology used in their children's diagnostic testing reports:
"At the end of the report, metacognitive strategies are recommended. After only a half-hour explanation of all of the different testing, I definitely left not knowing what 'metacognitive' means. I'm not even sure about how the term 'strategy' works. The recommendations listed books full of strategies, and I'm not sure where to begin to help my son."
This man and his son could benefit greatly from understanding these terms, metacognition and strategic problem solving, which have been demonstrated to relate to increased achievement for students with learning disabilities (Swanson et al., 1996). Some authorities in the field of special education go so far as to say that the skills involved in metacognition and strategic problem solving—that is, "...the student's degree of 'know how' including how to study and analyze academic subjects, self-knowledge, confidence and awareness"—are more reliable predictors for college success than even reading or language skills (Greenwood, 1983, p. 241).
Unpacking some of the complicated ideas
In my experience working with students with learning disabilities and their families, I have found that both parents and students express that they feel empowered and relieved to find that they are clearly able to comprehend and make use of the important concepts, terminology, issues and problems in the field of special education—in particular, the best practices supported by research. The goal here is to share the findings from research in order to combat the disheartening maxim, "...twenty years from research to the real world."
This chapter develops the components of a strategic mindset, which the research has identified to be associated with increased achievement for students with learning disabilities.
To develop a strategic mindset, the students need to work on:
becoming more self-aware: thinking about their own thinking, knowing about knowing and knowing about memory
understanding the school environment in which they have to cope
strategizing and implementing: learning about strategies; trying out, comprehending, and revising strategies to make them work personally for them; experiencing that persistence pays off
self-monitoring: self-alerting to make use of the strategies when needed; to initiate, to reflect and be selective about which strategy to apply
reflecting and planning: checking how they are doing, when to keep going and sustain their efforts, and when to stop and see that they need to shift direction
knowing how and when to ask for help and realizing that appropriate help increases independence
The need for strategic mindset
Too many students with learning disabilities unnecessarily lack a clear and functional understanding of their learning disabilities (Silver, 2000; Riley, 1999b). Compared to their peers without learning disabilities, they also tend to have a less certain understanding of academic strategies (McPhail & Stone, 1995; Swanson, 1990). They tend to overestimate their own strategic functioning; teachers and other evaluators rate them at a lower level than they rate themselves in this area (Graham, Schwartz, & MacArthur, 1993; Meltzer et al., 1998). To develop the knowledge and skills for a strategic mindset requires serious effort, but putting in the work has high payoff (Boudah et al., 1997).
This chapter is best read by parents and students together. It is not a quick, one-time read. Each citation makes available to the student and parents data-supported information from the years of work by authorities in the field mentioned above. The concepts need to be revisited over time as students work on developing the components encompassed in the term, strategic mindset. Taking into consideration the student's age and developmental level in the conversation, even students as young as middle school can begin to become knowledgeable about themselves and the factors affecting their learning, and certainly, high school students have the capacity to become highly informed.
Included in the appendices and in the text is practical information, such as required college preparatory course sequences; standardized testing requirements for college admissions; SAT, ACT, AP; book list to prepare for standardized tests; questions to ask guidance counselors; student self-evaluations for self-advocacy and self-awareness; listings of potential academic accommodations and technological aids.
Part I: Self-Knowledge: Appreciating and Trusting Intellectual Strengths
Getting rid of the misunderstandings
In order to develop the "self-knowledge" and the "know-how" which influence academic success, it is necessary for students with learning disabilities (LD) to realize that it is not a lack of intellectual ability that makes schoolwork more time-consuming and frustrating for them than for their peers. Students need to be reminded that, to be tested and categorized as "LD," they have already demonstrated through diagnostic testing that they are of average or above average intelligence. "The term does not include children who have learning problems which are primarily the result of...mental retardation, or emotional disturbance." (USOE, 1977, p. 65083). The intellectual strength is there for students with LD to be academically successful, to know themselves as learners, to develop the "know how," and importantly, to reduce the frustration.
The typical battery of tests given to diagnose learning disabilities is a valuable resource to establish this understanding. Too often, however, the disability areas, the weaknesses, become the focus of attention. Because the definition of learning disabilities is so individual and varied, it is not surprising that students with LD do not easily gain a clear grasp of their learning abilities or disabilities (Field, 1996; Lichtenstein, 1993).
Presently, there are intense professional arguments about the definition of LD, but the category of learning disabilities was established for very important reasons which students with LD need to appreciate. One reason was to clarify serious misunderstandings which students in the past experienced and which led to inappropriate lowering of academic expectations, and/or behavior management interventions, rather than a focus on challenging academics. In the fifties and early sixties, students who were not learning effectively were thought to be unable to learn because they were too limited in their general cognitive ability or because they were behaviorally or emotionally disturbed.
Leaders in the field of special education were perplexed about a group of students who had difficulty learning to read, write or do math; these students were failing to learn, but did not fit these two special education categories used at the time. They came to see that many of these students could understand complex, higher order ideas and were not necessarily behavior problems. Their problem was that they were hampered by disabilities in lower order information processing required to learn their basic skills. For example, many of these students had specific perceptual problems, such as difficulty distinguishing and manipulating sounds in spoken language, and with sounds and letters in reading and spelling. Some had lower memory difficulties, such as memory for factual information not integrated into meaningful concepts, e.g., the fifty states and capitals or the multiplication facts (Kauffman & Hallahan, 1981).
The overemphasis on weaknesses
In the early grades, the basic skills are heavily dependent on the very areas that are problematic for many students with LD, and this results in an overemphasis on students' weaknesses (Gregg & Ferri, 1998). Notably, the much-celebrated milestone of childhood—learning to read—is typically hindered, as is spelling and often writing. To feel unnerved or discouraged about not being able to meet parents and teachers' expectations, and not being like one's peers, is a developmentally appropriate response. It is difficult to avoid the normal reaction of children to lose confidence in themselves as learners as they watch other children accomplishing these highly valued skills with relative ease.
Hence, it evolved that students with good academic potential who processed particular kinds of information differently for learning were categorized as students with learning disabilities. This clarified perspective and the term learning disabilities prevented misunderstanding and unnecessary hurt. As she reviewed her cases with this new perspective, one psychiatrist with whom I worked in these early years commented that she felt that she should write letters of apology to a number of these children she treated for years for "refusal to learn."
Self-knowledge from diagnostic testing
Too often, due to the heavy case load, too much of the school psychologist's time is spent on evaluations to determine diagnostic labels rather than working with teachers and students on ways to improve student achievement. As a result, the reports have "little instructional relevance" (OSEP, 1995, p. 10). It is important to have follow-up meetings with the psychologist for the explicit goal of gaining an in-depth, personal understanding of how the test performance informs the student's learning. The key is to make the evaluations "instructionally relevant."
If the psychologist is not available for meetings, it would be important to find another psychologist or an educational advocate to assist with interpretation of the diagnostic report. Educational advocates may be independent agents or volunteer advocates from agencies, such the state departments of education or teacher federations for students with special needs. For a percentage of their cases where needed, professional advocates specializing in learning disabilities may provide services without charge or on a sliding scale.
Gaining an In-depth Understanding
If it is possible to choose the tester, it is of value to have a licensed psychologist with a broad testing perspective do the diagnostic testing. To be useful, the psychologist's report should include, as well as grade or percentile levels in subject areas, the student's specific skill strengths and skill needs in relation to reading, writing and math. Additionally, a psychologist with an information processing or neuropsychological perspective can also provide relationships between the student's processing abilities—memory, attention, perception, conceptualization, etc.—and the student's academic skills.
S/he can provide insights and explain the ways in which these abilities interact with the student's ability to form concepts and solve problems. Parents and students can ask the tester (and continue to ask themselves over time) such questions as: what are the student's difficulties with language, memory, attention, perception, spatial relations etc.; how do they interact with specific academic struggles; what are the student's strengths in comprehension, visual spatial, language, conceptual abilities etc.; how can the student strategize to use strengths to bypass academic difficulties and accomplish tasks through alternative routes?
Applying the Understanding Over Time
Relating the information to the various subject matter learning is not simple and is not accomplished in a few meetings; it is an on-going, long-term process. It is necessary, therefore, that a tutor, mentor or parent—some support person—participate in the follow-up meetings and acquire a solid grasp of the student's learning in order to assist the student over time in building the necessary body of strategies. Adolescents naturally are concerned about the issue of independence and the suggestions for involving so many adults in their lives. However, for students with LD, seeking out mentors and reaching out to family are behaviors associated with academic success and ultimately with independence (Hamilton & Hamilton, 1992; Hoy & Manglitz, 1996).
Diagnostic information for documentation and accommodations
It is also of value to know that this type of specific diagnostic information is required as documentation for accommodation requests. The identified ways in which the student's disabilities hinder test performance is required, for example, for extended time on standardized college entrance exams, SAT or ACT (See Appendix A for SAT and ACT accommodations). Importantly, such diagnostic information continues to be needed for self-identification for eligibility of services and for academic accommodation requests in college (See Appendix B for General Accommodations).
Accentuating strengths: meeting college admissions requirements
College Course Requirements
After gaining greater self-understanding, the next stage for students is to accentuate their intellectual strengths. As they move up through the grades, students with LD express satisfaction that they find they are better able to experience and use their intellectual strengths. Their understanding of challenging ideas in the content becomes more of an advantage than with the curriculum in earlier grades (Riley, 1998). Students with LD who want to go to college should maintain high expectations and keep themselves in the college preparatory courses (See Appendix A for college course requirements, timing, sequence and questions to ask your college counselor).
Balancing the Course Load
It is of great value to take care to balance the course load carried each year—a balance between the courses the student finds most difficult with courses in the student's areas of strength. If this isn't workable, to relieve pressure during the school year, it may even be wise to take some of the most challenging courses in the summer, one at a time at a nearby accredited preparatory school or community college. The intense, singular focus can facilitate the grasp of the material. Permission to get credit for summer school courses usually requires approval by the high school administration.
Identifying Content Area Strengths
For the student's self-esteem and academic record, focusing on a strength area and achieving in a challenging academic subject area clearly demonstrates the students' intellectual capability, to themselves and others. Students work out which subject areas fit their strong points and build those areas to the level where they excel -- and can enjoy the academic accomplishment. Selecting a subject area takes careful consideration because, surprisingly, different cognitive strengths are called upon even in closely related academic areas. In science, for example, if chemistry proves to be very difficult for a student, biology very well could turn out to be a strength area. Even those students with LD who have difficulties with expository writing—where they strain to convey factual knowledge in an organized fashion in reports—may find that they have talents for creative writing, fiction or poetry (Riley, 1999a).
Standardized test requirements and strengths
As well as the regularly required SAT I Math and English tests, many colleges additionally require three, subject-specific SAT II Achievement Tests. Students should plan to make the content areas in which they are building depth be the ones they will eventually take in the SAT II Achievement Tests or for the (voluntary) Advanced Placement Tests AP (See Appendix A). Students benefit from taking the SAT II tests close in time to taking the content area courses related to that achievement test. Local colleges offer summer school courses, which students could take—not necessarily for grades or credit—but rather to deepen their knowledge further in the specific content area, perhaps the summer before they plan to take a particular SAT II test. Some students choose to take the summer course before they take the high school course.
Students may repeat the SAT I content areas of Math and English as one or two of the subjects for their SAT II subject-specific Achievement tests. If they do not want to do their achievement tests in either Math or English, they need to plan to gain depth in three other content areas for the SAT II Achievement tests. It is also worth checking whether the colleges where one is thinking of applying require that students take SAT IIs in particular content areas. Locale of the college relates to whether the SAT or ACT is required (See Appendix A). Many students find it advantageous to take the SATs more than once to improve scores.
Part II: "Know How" for Coping in the General Education Classroom
Understanding the environmental realities to understand oneself
To develop a well-grounded self-knowledge a student needs to be able to distinguish when the factors creating challenges are internal to oneself or external, environmental factors—or both. To resolve the issue, one has to know what needs to be modified and where and how to place precious time and energy. It is a healthy stance for the student to ask, first, "What do I need to do? What have I not done? How could I find a way to compensate and fit into the general education system?" It is, of course, important not to place the responsibility on external causes without thinking the situation through. However, one of the issues, which students need to understand, is that sometimes there are factors in their academic setting that reasonably need to be altered (See Appendix B Accommodations).
The "Try Harder" Mandate
Due to hard, even painful struggles with learning, students with LD have a particular need to experience the relationship between effort and achievement (Vaidya, 1999). In order to develop trust in their own abilities, students need to know when it is their efforts or capabilities that are the issue and when it is not. Students with LD often express that they have had doubts about their abilities from having been told so often, "If you would just 'try harder.'" As one student said in a very difficult context, "I'm trying harder, and I'm doing worse. And then I wonder if it's worth it to keep trying." It is crucial for academic achievement for students to understand what went right as well as what went wrong—and why—in order to gain control over the academic outcomes of their efforts (Hagborg, 1999). The relationship between experiencing control over one's environment and enhanced motivation has long been established (Dweck, & Leggett,
1988; Zimmerman, 2000).
Full-time Inclusion Still Needs Improvement
Students need to know, therefore, that leaders in the field of special education have stated—and have demonstrated by research in the classroom—that the necessary changes in general education required to support the academic needs of students with learning disabilities in full-time inclusion have not yet been accomplished (Baker & Zigmond, 1995; Lenz, et aL, 1995; Zigmond, Jenkins, Fuchs, et al., 1995). Students planning to go to college must be in the general education inclusionary or mainstream classes, and it is particularly challenging for professionals to design inclusionary curriculum to support both students who are college bound, as well as those who are not (Edgar & Polloway, 1994).
This is not a criticism of the teachers; teachers themselves express that they feel frustrated that, under the present conditions, they cannot do what they know needs to be done, such as make instructional adaptations or find time to collaborate with special educators (Morocco, Riley, & Gordon, 1995; Riley & Morocco, 1999). At the secondary level, the collaboration model among professionals is especially challenging; the greater numbers of students, staff and departments in high schools result in a complex interaction of people and programs (Ellett, 1993).
Seeking Reasonable Accommodations and Support
The United States is one of the few nations in the world attempting the idealistic goal of mass education. We are still in the process of learning how to educate all of our students, especially those who learn differently. To cope with some conditions, therefore, it is an intelligent and appropriate strategy for students to seek additional support or to request a reasonable accommodation—and not to interpret all obstacles as possible to overcome on their own (See Appendix B & Appendix C).
What the students have to say about high school
Surveys of Student Opinions
In studies surveying the opinions of high school students with learning disabilities, the students express that, layered on top of the usual high school pressures that exist for all college bound students, they do experience additional academic frustration (Guterman, 1995; Kotering & Braziel, 1999b; Seidal & Vaughn, 1991). Their feelings of frustration increase as they move from elementary to junior high or middle school, and frustration escalates markedly with the programming models at the high school level (Eccles & Midgley, 1990; Ellett, 1993). Students with LD from high-income backgrounds have been found to be somewhat more positive about their educational opportunities than others (Vaughn & Klinger, 1998). This may relate to more extensive individualized support available in advantaged families, availability of adult time for mentoring and the financial means to provide out-of-school academic supports and enrichment.
Drop-out Rates and Grades
Generally, however, student expression of stress is consistent with the studies that show that drop-out rates for high school students with LD is double the rate of students in the general population (Capital Publications, 1997; Kortering & Braziel, 1999b; Whinnery, 1993). Consistent also is that national surveys report that high school students with LD mainstreamed in the general education programs, in spite of average or above intelligence, have lower grade point averages than their non-LD peers (Bursuck, Munk & Olson, 1999; Bursuck, Polloway, Plante, et al., 1996). A consistent finding is that students hold their special education teachers personally in high regard, but strongly voice the need for more individualized instructional time and mentoring by all of their teachers and by administrators (Hamilton & Hamilton, 1992; Vaughn & Klinger, 1998). Students with learning disabilities doing well need to appreciate themselves for their hard earned success.
The realities and hurdles from the teachers' perspective
Coordinating General and Special Education Systems
Knowing the realities and limitations of the environment saves a student wasted time and energy over presently unalterable conditions. One of the major differences in special education programming at the high school level is that there is not a parallel curriculum between general and special education (Ellett, 1993). In earlier grades, the basic skills are addressed in the curriculum of both systems, reading skills, writing book reports, math fundamentals, etc. In high school, the interface for curriculum is more problematic.
"Expecting secondary special education teachers to teach all basic and content area courses, even in areas where they are unendorsed, was the supervisors' of high school special education second most often expressed practice that should be discontinued (Houck, Engelhard, & Geller, 1990, p. 322)."
Secondary LD teachers express the concern about their ability to provide sufficient instructional time for their students scheduled for special services (Houck et al., 1990). As well as the breadth of the content in the varied subjects that students bring to LD specialists for content clarification and test preparation, the specialists are also responsible for determining how much remediation of weak basic skills should continue to be the focus of high school special education support. Time is spent on basic skills, but with some students reporting that the instruction is on lower level skills that are simply repetitive for them (Houck, et al., 1990; Guterman, 1995). The issue of where to focus available instruction time is debated: do minimal changes in basic skills at this stage justify the time and energy spent (Whinnery, 1992)? Since time is so limited, one argument is that time needs to be selectively used only for basic skills that are clearly receptive to change (Houck, 1990).
Amount of Content and Numbers of Students
General education teachers in high school inclusionary classes report that they are increasingly under pressure to "cover the content." Their teaching is affected by the demands for increased curriculum content prescribed by the local school system, state standards, and the college entrance achievement examinations; this results in a hurried pace in their instruction (Lenz, et al., 1995). As well, it is not unusual for high school teachers to be responsible for five periods per day of classes, with twenty to twenty-five students per class—one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five students per day. Additionally, classes include a wide range of instructional needs due to the increasingly diverse population of students with English as a second language, as well as the inclusion of students with special learning needs (Boudah, Deshler & Schumaker, 1997).
Whole Class Instruction
These factors force a whole-class instructional model with little or no time to stop for individualized teacher-student interactions (Hagborg, 1999; Lenz et al., 1995;
Schumm et al., 1995). Direct observation of classes finds few examples of instructional modification for clarification or explanation (Baker & Zigmond, 1995; Mclntosh, Vaughn, Schumm, Haager & Lee, 1994). Yet, the importance of individual student feedback has been identified as one of the critical elements in instruction for effective inclusion (Lenz, et al., 1995; Morocco, Riley, & Gordon, 1995; Schumaker & Deshler, 1988).
The conclusion reached by some high school teachers is that high school must be a place where students learn to make it on their own or to seek out ways to get the help they need (Schumm et al., 1995). It appears paradoxical to talk about independence and seeking support as companions, but they are two sides of the same coin. It is by making use of the necessary additional instructional support services—mentors, tutors, parents—that students with LD learn to develop the strategies, adaptations and accommodations they need to reach the independence they want and require for college.
Part III: Becoming Strategic: Building the Repertoire of Personal Strategies
Stated most simply, a strategy is finding "a way to go" to solve a problem or to reach a goal. It is a procedure or a method with an orderly set of steps or it can be likened to a "mini system." Becoming strategic requires—knowing that there are different kinds of knowing. A strategy involves knowing how to go about accomplishing a task or solving a problem. It also presupposes that one will be calling up from memory basic information. That is, knowing that; students need to know that the steps in the procedure include the particular set of actions. They also may know that, for example, a problem is a time-distance problem. They then need to know how to go about solving it—search out, figure out—what is the appropriate strategy to apply. Increasing awareness of these subtle distinctions in thinking and knowing requires deliberate instruction.
"A legitimate and preeminent principle of educating a student with a learning disability is based on the assumption that 'teaching that' and 'teaching how' must precede 'knowing that' and 'knowing how' (Simmons & Kameenui, 1988, p. 394)."
The need for strategy instruction
Without the benefit of instruction and guidance, it has been found that many students with LD tend not to, spontaneously, employ this search for the needed strategy in an ambiguous situation (Swanson, 1990). Students with LD have the ability to strategize, but it is as if their computer doesn't default into a strategizing mode to get started.
Another tendency is that the students with LD are inclined to stick with familiar strategies, even when they are not particularly effective (Torgensen, 1980). Yet, importantly, research has demonstrated that, with instruction, students with LD have learned and generalized strategies in ways that have enabled them to master complex academic work (Boudah et al., 1997).
Another common reaction, however, for many students with LD to strategy instruction is to be anxious to "get the work done" and not to take the time to stop to reflect on the process of building strategies. They need to be made aware of the worth of the strategies as they are learning them. If students evaluate, select, and adjust the strategies, the numbers of strategies get narrowed down, become habituated, and the effortfulness is markedly reduced. Initially, in order to gain the motivation to persist, students need mentoring or tutorial support to help them reflect upon their own processing. That is, to experience and note the efficiency of the strategy and to see the connection between the successful outcomes and the strategy (Hoffman & Field, 1995).
Metacognition: paying attention to one's own thinking
The term "cognition" refers to thinking and knowing. "Meta" here means "above" or "transcending." Metacognition can be thought of as rising above—climbing up above oneself—and looking down upon one's own thoughts. Metacognition is the technical term for thinking about one's own thinking and knowing about one's own knowing. It also includes knowing when one knows and knowing when does not know. For students with LD, metacognition has been found to be one of the most powerful tools to gain control over their problem areas in processing information and to increase achievement (Pressley, Harris & Guthrie, 1992).
The combination of self-knowledge and metacognition can help to demystify the sources of confusion and frustration which have been a part of many students' learning throughout their schooling.
Talking to yourself
Talking to oneself may be commonly associated with behavior that is sometimes thought of as strange. For those who don't tend to talk to themselves very much,
however, it is actually an important skill they need to develop. Effective problem solvers talk to themselves. It provides the opportunity to reflect—to stop and take the time for a second look at what is being asked—and provides the chance to clarify the situation. It allows for a better response, especially for a complicated task. Students may feel pressure from others to give a response before they are ready. Many students also experience their own urge to respond too quickly—perhaps to "get it over with." One cognitive intervention program provides the students with a phrase to say to themselves (or to others) when they feel that pressure to respond too quickly, "Just a minute let me think ' (Elliott, 1993).
Talking aloud is a form of "thinking aloud." Voicing one's own thinking and hearing that thinking can strengthen metacognition.
The self-questioning is another form of the students' talking to themselves, being reflective and metacognitive.
"What is causing me the most difficulty with this assignment? What is it that I do—or don't do—in my reading that makes it difficult? What is it about writing papers that don't get them done on time? On what parts do I get stuck? Which kinds of papers are the hardest for me? In what kinds of work do I feel the most frustration? What subjects are the easiest for me? The most difficult? Where do I do best in math? Algebra? Geometry? Where do I get confused in math? With which kinds of problems… with basic facts... with recognizing what kind of problem it is? Is it a problem with finding the right procedures to solve the problem or remembering the steps of the procedure? What gets in the way of my realizing when assignments are due?"
The important next set of questions, which can lead directly to active strategizing:
"What could I do about...(any and all of the above)?"
Strengthening strategies through dialogue
Some students are able to talk about strategies but, even then, do not apply them (O'Neill and Douglas, 1991). Working on assignments with a mentor one-on-one, or in a small group, provides the time and opportunity for dialogue, for exchange of ideas.
Engaging in dialogue provides a structure for students to practice the strategy of going back over their thinking and expressing aloud the reasoning that led them to the place where they were stopped. Even simple verification from another that the student thinking is "on mark" is important for the consolidation and progress of the student's learning. Students with LD tend not to go back over and recheck their work on their own (Meltzer, Roditi, Houser & Perlman, 1998). There is something about having to explain to another person that presents a demand and keeps one on target. The mentor can mediate their learning, that is, not "tell" but—assess the student's cognitive efforts where steps are missing or misapplied; pose probing questions to stimulate student insight around those places; if needed, model partial approaches (Riley & Morocco, 1999).
Students rethink and fill in on their own or can explain back what has been modeled. They reason through the set of facts—looking for and pointing up the relationship across the information, expressing the connections between steps—not just repeating or verbalizing. Explaining aloud provides the opportunity to see the sources of their confusion or to reflect upon the connections to gain insight into how their thinking moved forward. It is not uncommon for students to begin quickly to clarify their own thinking.
"Oh, I see, this is where I went off...this is what I need to do." They are enabled to construct their own meaning because they are not simply "told." They are enabled to climb up and reach the goal on their own because they have been provided the necessary scaffolding in the mentoring process (Wood, Bruner & Ross, 1976).
What is known is that strategies need to be personalized; students need to find the strategies that fit them individually and that work with their strengths and compensate their personal need areas (Borkowski & Muthukrishna, 1992). Individualization is necessary because the category, learning disabilities, encompasses such a heterogeneous group of students that, therefore, there are not generic strategies that will work for all students (Swanson et al., 1996). Students frequently say, "That just doesn't work for me." For example, one student may need to "ball park" very quickly, what the answer to a problem may be in order to get started. That strategy is anathema to some students; to get a sense of what is needed, they need to clarify the parts of the problem, piece by piece, and only then stand back and look at it as a whole.
Different strategies need to be tried out and then continued to be honed to fit the individual student and to become increasingly efficient. After ball-parking, some students need to find a "next" strategy to be able to begin to work the problem. They may have to be encouraged to use the strategy of talking through with a partner what cues or reasons were used as a basis for the estimate or "guess." Strategies are best developed during the process of students doing their real class assignments and with students reflecting on what personally makes sense to them. They discuss which strategies, and how the strategies, have made a difference for them in that context. They also benefit from thinking about how the strategies could be useful with other settings and tasks (Montague, 1993; Swanson et al., 1996).
Part IV: Applying the Strategizing to the Schoolwork
Self-monitoring and planning: overseeing and managing strategies
Effective strategizing is guided by continual self-monitoring and planning. Both self-monitoring and planning have been identified as particular areas of need for students with LD (Wong, Wong, Blenkinsop, 1989). The term executive functioning is one of the significant but still fuzzy concepts. However, it is very helpful as an image. It helps to sum up the need for this issue of the overall managing of one's thinking. Like the chief executive officer of a business, students need to be in control of the various departments of their thinking and working: recalling what they know about a problem; holding onto to that information while deciding what is new; predicting what else will be needed; splicing the new ideas with what they already know; selecting and recalling the procedures needed; applying the procedures; testing out the solution, etc. They need to be overseeing, planning, and juggling these different kinds of ideas and actions that are happening to "get the job done" and come up with the product or the solution.
Another term that helps to illustrate these behaviors is called self-regulation. Students who are self-regulated are self-aware learners, setting goals or plans; evaluating how well or poorly they are performing; understanding that success is related to effort and persistence; and knowing when to seek help (Zimmerman, 2000).
Adolescent thinking and the ability to oversee strategies
As they reach adolescence, it is important for students with LD to know that they are at a significantly higher cognitive level developmentally. Their cognitive abilities have developed to a new, adult stage of thinking referred to as the capacity for "formal thought." It is a time to try new ways of approaching learning, gaining control, and experiencing the efficacy of and satisfaction from learning. Students with LD, especially, need to learn to make use of these higher order capabilities in their academic work (Guterman, 1995). Years of remedial sub-skill instruction can be so dominant for students with LD that a great deal of time and energy has been drained away from experiencing the satisfaction of their higher order abilities.
Adolescents have cognitive capabilities well beyond those of younger children. They now have greater control over earlier pitfalls, such as getting stuck on singular factors that can be compelling and dominating, or being generally overwhelmed by complexity. They have gained the ability to manipulate broad concepts and to think about them in a systematic way. As adolescents, they are now able to see the large picture; juggle the factors; rule out the extraneous and the trivial; consider other possible additions or hypotheses to work toward the solution of a problem.
It is true that some of the very difficulties associated with LD can get in the way of higher order thinking. However, adolescents now can begin to identify the specific sources of their quandary, and this is their opening to gain greater control. For example, if their diagnostic testing shows that the students' tendency is to become over-focused and miss the big picture, they are able to guide themselves to step back and to self-question. In reading comprehension, they can self-question, "what is this all about; what does the author think is so important that he is bothering to tell about this; what would I argue for; what do all these pieces add up to; what big point is being made?" Some students become under-focused and get the gist of things, but miss the important details. They can self-monitor and direct themselves to go back through and ask themselves which specifics inform, shape, make a difference to the big ideas, and then select and circle those specifics.
Task analysis and getting started with assignments
Formal thought allows students to take a task apart, to use an important and useful coping mechanism. That is, task analysis. Task analysis involves taking a "meta" view of a job to be done -- looking down on it as an entity to see what it entails. A task, of course, can be any piece of work, any class assignment —an essay to write, a math problem to solve, a report or project to complete. So that they don't have to hold it all in their heads, some students take out the "pieces" or sections of the problem and draw a kind of a flow chart or map; some prefer to write out a list of the parts or subsets.
Where to Begin
An issue for many students with LD is that the parts of the assignment do not appear obvious—do not "stand out" for them. If the structure or framework isn't evident, deciding how to begin—where to pick up a piece to begin to work—becomes a problem. Unfortunately, this situation can be interpreted as procrastination, avoidance due to laziness, stubbornness, etc. Students' confidence in themselves can be diminished. One student commented:
"I began to ask myself if maybe I am just lazy—cause I just find lots of ways to get up and get away from it—or maybe I'm stupid cause I know I really do want to do it—but I just sit there so long and don't really do anything."
Finding the Blueprint
Students need to see the construction of assignments; they need to be able to become aware that they there is a kind of "blueprint" of the job. This is another area where many students legitimately require support in order to become independent. They often don't have awareness of what it is that is stopping them. A person who is an expert on problem solving today reflects on his experience with this type of frustration as a student and encourages the intervention of mentors:
"I was enormously irritated by the hundreds of hours that I wasted staring at problems without any good idea about what approach to try next in attempting to solve them. I thought at the time that there was no educational value in those 'blank' minutes, and I see no value in them today (Wickelgren, 1974, p. ix)."
Work Smarter, Not Harder: Develop a Strategic Mindset in High School for College
The adults supporting the students may not be able to see the source of students' difficulty with task analysis because the structure and parts (or steps) are so obvious to them. Adults can have a tacit knowledge of activities, particularly with tasks they do very automatically. Tacit is a subtle concept; it refers to "things unspoken" or unexplained. It can be that adults themselves know how to do, but they don't necessarily have an explicit, organized formulation of the steps of the task in their own thinking which they can easily share. Parents or tutors can work on task analysis with students by asking together: Just what is involved here; what are the steps needed to get this done? Adults need to be sure to include all of the steps, even those that may appear, to them, too obvious or minor to list.
Task analysis with writing and reading tasks
To complete classroom assignments, research has shown that students' difficulties can be heightened by the problem of tacit knowledge. For example, in a federal reading-writing research study on inclusion working with effective, experienced teachers, it was found that even these capable teachers took for granted that all of their students understood what the writing of a personal narrative involved. It became obvious that the diverse needs in their inclusionary classroom required more explicit instruction for particular students, and particularly for the students with LD (Riley, Morocco & Gordon, 1993). Some students had equated the writing task with a description of a personal event, but one that did not fulfill the genre of personal narrative. The goal was to improve the written products by defining specifically what was lacking in the writing to empower the students to improve and to learn for the future—not simply to place a low grade on those papers. It turned out to be a challenging task to provide the specific guidance the students needed.
The Personal Narrative
Both teachers and researchers enjoyed having the luxury of time that the research study provided to reflect and to develop a clear, explicit understanding of all of the components of personal narrative. For example, they determined that the personal event selected also needed to involve...a restricted time frame...a brief, "bracketed" episode or experience with a tension and resolution, a beginning, middle and end...nonfiction...of high value to the author that evokes mood...with vivid details which elicit feeling in the reader... (Riley et al., 1993, p. 195).
Taking this perspective was working at the "meta" level—that is, a meta-awareness—looking down upon the task from "above"—as something to be observed and analyzed to gain a better understanding of what it is all about.
This process clarified instruction and provided specific and individual guidance for students. Some students had chosen stories too long to tell, and after pages had not come near completing the narrative; it was not "bracketed." Others had chosen events that were not story-like, that is, descriptions of events without any problems or tension, without a beginning, middle and end. Some needed to create mood by providing specific images or by describing their own intense reactions. The framework elicited lively and substantive class discussion about tension, mood, examples of "imageable" details. Teachers judged that all of the students' final products benefited. More importantly, students increased their meta-awareness of the components of a personal narrative and were able to produce a better product with the next assignment.
Analyzing the Structure of Story
Other metacognitive frameworks address the problem of tacit knowledge and contribute to skill building in both reading and writing. For example, story schema can enhance reading comprehension of narratives or creating a narrative. If students can be brought to a heightened awareness there are predictable parts or components of most stories, their reading comprehension can be enhanced (Cain, 1996). Stories most often are made up of elements: the setting; a hero or main characters; a problem to be solved; attempts at solving that problem; failures or successful solution; and how the characters) feels about the outcome (Rumelhart, 1980). Terms, such as 'setting' need to be discussed to include time (era), as well as place. Until familiarity of the story structure becomes automatic, students can be supported by use of a question/answer form, which alerts them to the schema as they read. The questions name the elements and asks them to identify and make notes about the elements as they arise in the story (Riley, 1983).
Transferring strategies across subject areas
In-depth understanding includes genuine transfer. In other words, the students independently demonstrate the ability to apply their learned strategies and knowledge in a new context. The students approach with ways of figuring out the new problem. The most common strategy is to search out what is alike or different from what one already knows. A student who sees every new chemistry formula as a totally different entity—rather than seeking out the ways in which the formula is made up of familiar chunks or subsets—would be forced to brute memorize endlessly and would soon be overwhelmed.
Activating prior knowledge: bridging and linking
It is helpful for students to know that some strategies have been studied and found to be highly useful and transferable. There are sets of strategies applied before, during and after reading challenging text, which can be applied to varied subject matter areas. Applied to text, as well as science formulas, the strategy that encourages students to "stir up," recall, (and with reading, often share in a group), whatever they might know about a topic before beginning to read is labeled activating prior knowledge. The process is also referred to as bridging or linking what one already knows to what is new. Alerting oneself to "tie in" with new material what one already knows is a strategy for learning across the board.
Prior knowledge and self-questioning and predicting
Before beginning to read, the student takes note of the title and the bolded terms that introduce paragraphs (or within paragraphs), and seeks out definitions of unfamiliar terms. Less skilled comprehenders show less awareness of how helpful the title can be to provide information about the main themes. Pre-reading also includes skimming charts or pictures and possibly the first sentences of paragraphs. The students ask themselves: "What do these terms, pictures and charts remind me of; what else do I already know about that?" Talking with others at this stage is helpful. In a group or with a partner, sharing each other's thoughts can stimulate more associations or clarify ones that may be incompatible. "Waking up" what is already in a student's mind on the topic, allows the reader to take the next pre-reading steps: to make guesses or predictions about what the text may be about. Students then create a few questions that the text might answer. If it is the kind of material that allows for visualizing, imaging also can aid with comprehension.
Marking the text to self-monitor and activate thinking
During reading, one of the most critical factors is to be monitoring whether one is relating to the text and comprehending. Self-monitoring is a skill that needs to be strengthened for many students with LD. It is not unusual to hear the comments, such as, "When I've read through the whole thing, I don't know what I read, and I have to read it all over again;" or "I understood it as I read it, but can't remember what I read afterwards." Marking the text every few lines in various ways can ensure engagement with the text:
stars beside a line that seems important
question marks where the text is confusing or just not understood
a word or two—yes! for something of interest or agreement, no! for disagreement with the idea of the author
a couple of words for a related idea that comes to mind
a happy face (or mad) face where one can get a strong emotional response
minimally represent a visual image in some way, if possible.
The varied purposes of the marks encourage different types of active learning. Requiring oneself to make marks on a regular basis can serve to habituate engagement with the text. When a question mark comes up, it can be used as a signal to reread just those couple of lines. If the confusion is clarified, an "OK" can go next to the question mark. If rereading a sentence or two doesn't help, seek out definitions of terms or add another question mark as a reminder to seek out further information or clarification from another.
The kinds of marks made can indicate how much is being gained from the text. Too many question marks may mean more intensive pre-reading is needed, or it may even indicate that more background knowledge is required before that text can be read and comprehended. Ideal is that the students own a copy of their textbooks so they are free to write in them. If not possible, pages can be xeroxed to practice the marking process.
Summarizing in phrases
Another highly valuable, but challenging strategy is to force oneself to summarize a paragraph by writing only a couple of phrases in the margin using one's own words. Self-questioning comes in: What if I were limited to only a couple of three-word phrases, what could I write? Initially, many students find this a difficult process, but they become appreciative of the results. At first, it is helpful to have a partner scribe the phrases, and then the two work together to shorten the language by deleting any non-essential words. Using one's own words is a key factor, not words from the text. The process of sifting back through the paragraph—judging what is more or less essential—what could be left out, of course, is the difficult part. It takes time and practice and, for many students, initially requires guidance and discussion. However, while one is making these judgments about the material, learning of the content is taking place; the time spent poring over the material actually becomes useful study time.
If the selection is not too long, to apply the process for each paragraph, or two at a time, is much easier than for several paragraphs or for the entire selection. The phrases provide efficient review because they are brief and personal, and therefore meaningful. They also provide the students with ready language to answer questions about the text. Note taking, in general, also needs to follow these guidelines to be effective. It must be highly selective and thoughtfully paraphrased, not simply a literal "lifting out" of the author's words.
Dialoguing with a reading partner
After reading, satisfying and effective is to explain what one has read to another, to discuss the ideas and together to formulate a summary. Some students find sharing and summarizing by mapping out the ideas in some graphic form helpful. There are variations on a reading strategy referred to as partner reading or pair reading. One reads a paragraph aloud, then both discuss; then the roles switch. To comprehend while reading aloud is difficult for some students as is listening to oral reading. If that is the case, one or both can read the same paragraph silently and then discuss. Sharing the meaning of the paragraph can be particularly effective in a tutorial when one partner has broader knowledge on the topic and/or has strong reading skills to model. To observe how another person associates to the text to make meaning can be very valuable for some students with comprehension difficulties.
Meta-view of the purpose for reading
Taking a meta-view of the purpose for which one is reading can also serve to focus the reader's thinking in different ways and can guide the student in how to vary strategies. Reading a chapter for homework as preparation for class in contrast to reading to prepare for a test the next day, calls for a different level of demand for memory of detail. Tests vary, preparing for a history test with fill-in-the-blanks requires recall of the information whereas multiple-choice items call for recognition memory. Reading for an English essay test which will ask for a personal response to a piece of literature differs again. It is a fair question to ask the teacher what kind of response mode will be required, as well as when the tests will be. Anticipating the timing and the kinds of tests and keeping up with homework assignments are two basics, which reduce failure and prevent students from experiencing a lack of control. Initially, students with LD genuinely need parental or tutorial support to learn to handle this type of communication with teachers about types of tests, as well as generally with due dates and overall management of time.
Meta-memory and strategizing
Being aware of the different kinds of memory required for tests leads into the category of meta-memory—again, the process is a subset of metacognition –looking down upon the category of memory and becoming more aware of different kinds of memory. Students need to become strategic and be aware of the choices of ways to memorize for different tasks. Many students with LD also need to be particularly cognizant of the memory issue mentioned above: that students with LD typically have difficulty holding onto material that is not meaningful to them. Without meaning, they are then left in the position to learn by rote. This is one of the main reasons why it is critical for students to take the initiative and seek out clarification of work they have not fully grasped; the meaningfulness and understanding strengthen memory. Yet, it has been found that students with LD rarely ask for help from teachers or peers (Mclntosh et al., 1994).
This is where students with LD can intentionally make use of their good conceptual abilities. When there is a solid, meaningful grasp of a concept or an idea, the related information gets "tied in." Meaningfulness is when the student persists to the place that s/he personally sees how the parts make sense—how and why they fit together. In turn, this is what holds the information together and stores it as an integrated concept in memory. When it is tied-in within an organized whole, it can be retrieved more easily. Seeking out assistance for understanding is worth the effort also because rote memory of material is typically boring, difficult—and is not lasting.
The environmental realities enter again and do have to be considered. It has been found that in high school a high percentage of quizzes and exams are made up of questions requiring a heavy load of factual information which is not easily meaningfully integrated. Also, these tests determine a significant proportion of report card grades (Putnam, 1992a). Students, therefore, need instruction in memory techniques to deal with factual recall, with items, such as Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin. In such cases, mnemonics can be applied.
Mnemonics are memory aids, techniques used to associate factual information—but in ways that are rather artificial. That is, the facts are interrelated, but usually in farfetched, maybe even peculiar or humorous ways. The students find a relationship between the facts to be linked and associate them with something else that is well established in their own memories. For example, it may be a very familiar word, such as HOMES, which can serve as an acronym, that is, a word where each letter of the word is the first letter of the set of facts to remember. HOMES is a common mnemonic acronym for recalling the first letters of the names of the five Great Lakes: Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior. Making memories concrete is another mnemonic technique. Students might add a visual component, such as picturing homes at the edge of a lake to lock in the word to be remembered. With detailed verbal information, letter patterns can be used. To remember whether to use "there" or "their" in a sentence, students might remember that the word "here" is inside the word "there" and both can refer to a place. Some students develop long and cumbersome connections, e.g., "their" is the possessive and "hers" and "his" are possessive and have "e" and "i" in the middle—and girls before boys, so "ei." As strange and cumbersome one's own associations appear to others, they can function well for that person because they are personal.
Some find that humor helps. An Algebra teacher created a mnemonic for a strategy with the acronym SSAD: Same sign, Subtract, Add for Different signs.
"Remembering that simultaneous equations are 'SSAD' at least gives students the chance to laugh at one of the very taxing aspects of math with which they have to cope (MacDonald, 1999, p. 13)."
There are many other techniques that combine phonetic, sound-alike cues and visual cues related to the factual information. A college student had difficulty remembering what the word "ramifications" meant in an exam question asking about the ramifications of certain environmental hazards. So for the future, he thought of the animal, ram, and then pictured the ram battering a wall and the wall breaking up to associate the definition, "consequences." These and other strategies have been demonstrated to be helpful to students with LD for the critical goal of survival in the commonly used, fact-based tests (Bulgren, Schumaker, & Deshler, 1994; Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1998; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1993).
Limits of Mnemonics
Mnemonics can be valuable also to store procedural information needed frequently in problem solving, such as with SSAD, and the frequent use can help to maintain the cue. However, there are clear limits to mnemonic techniques, and they are not presented here as a preferred way of learning. Piling up large numbers of mnemonics can become confusing. For material that is very heavily loaded with factual information, mnemonics have been shown to be less successful (Stephens & Dwyer, 1997). Much of the information stored with mnemonics is not well maintained over time (Thomas & Wang, 1996). Mnemonics, then, should be used wisely, only when there is not a meaningful alternative. Students report also that, though rote memory and mnemonics were helpful in high school, they were less useful in college. Exams in college more frequently involve problem solving which requires conceptual understanding and integration of information (Riley, 1998).
Students benefit from understanding the distinction between superficial strategies for short-term value versus strategies that lead to integrated conceptual learning that facilitate storage in long-term memory. For example, verbal rehearsal, repeating information over and over, may serve to hold onto a phone number for a short time, but has been shown to be ineffective for maintaining information long term (Thomas & Wang, 1996). Simply highlighting most of what is on a page of text as a strategy indicates that the student isn't calling attention to what is most important to foster comprehension or to heighten what is to be remembered. Staying on the surface of the text, using reading and rereading as a strategy—waiting for the eventual "sink in" to take place—is time consuming and discouraging. To foster comprehension and enhance memory students need to "actively engage" with the material, such as in the varied ways modeled above in "marking the text."
Strategy program recognizing student needs
The laws direct that students with disabilities be planful and proactive, be involved in their transition planning and in the long term planning of their future. Concretely, it is stated that students have the opportunity to be involved in the development of their IEPs and, importantly, in the evaluation of the outcomes of their IEPs (IDEA, 1990).
IEPs are mandated to identify the needs of the student and what the services will be to support those needs; to anticipate what the outcomes of this planning should be; and then to evaluate the outcomes (Federal Register, 1981). Many secondary school students, however, do not participate in creating or evaluating the effectiveness of their programs (Durlak, 1994; Houck, 1990).
For students with LD to participate meaningfully and follow this mandate, they need the in-depth understanding of their learning strengths and needs described above to be able to select and develop appropriate adaptations and accommodations. Students do need mentoring—that is guidance, coaching, tutoring—to learn how to participate effectively in these meetings (See Appendix D).
There are programs designed to address these needs. For example, IPLAN is an acronym to address the necessary elements for student participation in long term planning and for communication; the skills needed at IEP meetings. The acronym stands for: Inventorying of self-knowledge; Providing the information from the self-inventory; Listening; Asking questions; and Naming goals (Van Reusen & Bos, 1990).
The IPLAN program acknowledges that for students to accomplish these skills requires intensive support. The program includes training with professionals in small student groups, daily, for forty-five minutes, for one to two weeks. The first, highly complex step, Inventorying, involves adult support for the students to reflect upon, identify and record their strengths and needs. The adults ask guiding questions—as broad as topics of career goals, social and academic strengths and needs. They also ask the student questions as specific as the kinds of materials, activities, and group size that are personally beneficial for that student's learning, and the kinds of test questions with which the student is most successful.
The last four steps deal with the communication skills. The adults model the skills and support the students as they practice the skills. As follow-up the students continue with the tasks. Over time, the students monitor, update, and report their progress in these areas and present the update to the professionals involved. Of course, the ability to answer these topics doesn't happen overnight. It is a long-term process continuing into college, but it does become easier over time. The elements of the IPLAN program reflect many of the elements of the strategic mindset and the program states clearly the need for professional support.
Part V: Looking Forward to College
Progress in the development of support systems and accommodations
In spite of the challenges along the way, students with learning disabilities can now realistically look forward to attending and enjoying college. Tens of thousands of students with learning disabilities have been attending college since the 1980s (Shapiro & Rich, 1999). These students have established a groundwork that makes life better for students with LD arriving on college campuses today. The principles of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have been applied and tested at the college level (Gordon, & Keiser, 1998). Critically supportive accommodations, such as extended time for examinations, tape recorded textbooks, etc. have been judged to be necessary and reasonable for students with documented learning disabilities, and importantly, have been judged to be the responsibility of the colleges to grant them to students whose documentation supports the need (Guckenberger v. Boston University). (See Appendix B).
Factors associated with success in college
Many college students with learning disabilities report that, the reality is, that they do have to work very hard, but that they are succeeding and enjoying their college experience (Riley, 1998; Vogel & Adelman, 1993). Successful students with LD report that one of the important ways they have coped is by taking great care to select a college with strong support services. Making use of those support services then has allowed them to continue to grow in understanding themselves in the college context. This understanding increases their ability to self-advocate with faculty and administration for reasonable accommodations. The academic support helps both the rate and quality of the production of the schoolwork—getting it done—getting it done well—and getting it done within the time limits. These factors mirror the components of the strategic mindset and are the very factors that have been substantiated as pathways to success in college: self-knowledge, self-advocacy, and initiative in use of support services (Patton & Polloway, 1996; Riley, 1999a; Vogel & Adelman, 1992). (See Appendix D for Checklists of Skills of Self-Advocacy and Self-Awareness).
Conclusion: Getting Started
Best is that students begin to build these areas of the strategic mindset early, and middle school is not too soon to begin the process. Neither is it ever too late to begin. As one college student commented:
"I wish I knew so much about myself in high school. I could have done so much better, but at least I'm learning now...and it doesn't just help with school...it comes up all through my life (Riley, 1998, p. 114)."
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Maureen K. Riley, M.Ed. is Associate Professor in the School of Education and Director of LD/ADHD Academic Support Services, Lesley College, Cambridge, Massachusetts.