Quality in foreign language teaching

Written by: Tsvetelina Harakchiyska, Iskra Georgieva and Valentina Angelova

Introduction

Quality in Foreign Language Teaching (QIFLT) is a British Council Bulgaria partnership project which was launched in October 2003. The project is conducted by a team representing a number of Bulgarian universities, language schools and regional inspectorates at the Ministry of Education and Science and aims to set up assessment criteria for classroom practice in quality foreign language teaching.
It is a follow-up of the Baseline Survey of Pre-Service English Language Teacher Education in Bulgaria 2001/2002[i], which has highlighted areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in the provision of English language teacher education in the country and has acted as a springboard for the development of the QIFLT project.

The Need for the Project

The appearance of a project like QIFLT, which accounts for a dynamic improvement of the quality of foreign language teacher education in Bulgaria and which promotes high standards in education, is a result of the current educational reform in the country which has had as an objective the introduction of a new standards based curriculum and a reform in the in-service training of teachers, school directors, inspectors and local education administrators. All those initiatives have major implications in the Ministry of Education and Science foreign language curricula and methodological requirements for the teaching of foreign languages in Bulgarian schools.
In addition, further investigation in this area has indicated that there are no unified criteria for assessing teaching performance of practising school teachers of foreign languages. Experts have talked about the wide variety of observation and evaluation instruments across regions: some using the same instruments for different school subject teachers (foreign language included) and others having adapted existing forms borrowed from other educational contexts (both published and unpublished).  As a result, the reliability of the assessment is negatively affected. Hence, many teachers do not get a consistent feedback on their performance and realistic guidelines for further professional development.
Having autonomy, higher institutions in Bulgaria are free to use their own criteria for evaluating their students. Nevertheless, initial investigation (conducted between March and June 2003) has shown that there is willingness from the majority of universities and inspectorates to work towards designing and adopting a set of unified criteria for assessing teaching performance in English (and other foreign languages as well), which would provide a common yardstick for meaningful evaluation and higher standards on a national scale.
What remains to be done, however, is the design, piloting and adopting of a set of unified criteria for assessing teaching performance in English and other foreign languages. This project, therefore, addresses the need for unified criteria (in accordance with European standards) for assessment of professional performance of foreign language teacher trainees and practising teachers (both newly-graduated and experienced) within the Bulgarian education system and an examination of their classroom practice. In this way, it is intended that a contribution will be made towards the educational reform currently taking place in Bulgaria.

Expected Results

Aiming to contribute towards sustaining the educational reform currently taking place in Bulgaria the main focus of work of the project team is the creation of an agreed set of assessment tools, specifically:

  • a set of unified assessment criteria for foreign language trainee performance in use during teaching practice – a means of describing and analysing classroom practice to be endorsed by Bulgarian universities
  • a set of unified assessment criteria for foreign language teachers in use by regional inspectorates to evaluate practising teacher performance at school level

The process of developing the sets of descriptors involves extensive piloting, which will be conducted in Bulgarian schools in 2004. This piloting exercise will include also recording of foreign language lessons in different schools around the country. Some of those lessons will supplement the project’s final document in the form of a CD.
The observation checklist grid has been designed specifically for this piloting exercise. This particular assessment format (involving both the checklist grid and detailed criteria) has been chosen for the following reasons:

  • The assessment grid is simple to use during a lesson
  • The presentation format will be familiar to some Ministry experts
  • The chosen format highlights features considered essential to every lesson, but also contains optional menus which will help to describe occasional features of lessons.
  • The list of features serves as a reference document for “basic” and “good” practice.

Achievements

The final product at this stage of the project is a result of three main activities of the QIFLT team during the period October 2003 – May 2004:

  • Collection and analysis of all existing and relevant documentation used by Bulgarian universities and Regional Inspectorates (October 2003 – February 2004)
  • Seminar meeting (14 – 17 February 2004) of the team under the consultancy of Desmond Thomas, SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London, UK during which the first draft of the assessment criteria and observation grid were created
  • Seminar meeting (25 – 26 April 2004) of the team at which the criteria were updated and reworked as a result of the first piloting phase

The draft set of tools produced so far is structured around the following categories: the Teacher, the Lesson and Classroom Management. Those categories are further broken down into subcategories (see Table 1) and include descriptors (i.e. examples of observable behaviour which would guarantee the objectivity of the observation). The set of descriptors contains both essential (i.e. a minimum requirement features that are expected to be present in a foreign language lesson) and extra features (i.e. desirable features which are also deemed to be present in foreign language lessons).
It should be noted, however, that the design and the choice of format of the standards were subject to a huge debate among team members but we unanimously agreed that the validity of the instrument would be increased if it is approved and adopted by other foreign language educationalists. Therefore, the committed team (with the strong advocacy of the British Council) worked actively towards getting other interested parties involved in the project. The first step in this direction was made during the February seminar, which was attended by the Senior German Language Expert at the Ministry of Education and Science and by the President of the Association of French Teachers in Bulgaria, who valued the designed tool and expressed readiness to distribute it among teachers of German and French.
Moreover, the outcome of the project so far, as well as the bank of recorded materials, will be presented to foreign language state experts at the Ministry of Education and Science(the Chief Expert responsible for French, Spanish and Italian, the Chief Expert for Russian and the Senior Expert for English), representatives of Goethe – Institute, the Head of the Methodology Department of Sofia University and the President of Association of French Teachers in Bulgaria during a two-day seminar (26 – 27 June 2004) at the British Council in Sofia. The event will increase the cooperation between the primary stakeholders and will provide a solid basis for their future challenging work.
This event will be followed by a conference “Quality in Foreign Language Teaching” held 5 – 6 November in Sofia, which will be organized by the project team and supported by the British Council Bulgaria, which aims to further sustain  the communication between interested institutions and stakeholders through drawing their attention to the designed set of evaluation instruments and providing an enjoyable forum for new ideas and professional  insights.

Conclusion

The project is still in its initial stage and there remains quite a lot of work to be done, however, we strongly believe that it would be a significant step in adopting a common yardstick for meaningful evaluation of foreign language teacher trainee and practising teachers’ professional performance. Moreover, the project would act as a driving force for sustaining increased and on-going communication between interested educational institutions in Bulgaria and would create a sense of a shared perspective in completing current educational reforms.

PERSONALITY | THE TEACHER:
Qualities and abilities Essential features Extra features

  • shows sensitivity to individual learning problems
  • is able to establish and maintain positive rapport with students
  • has a pleasant and lively classroom manner (e.g. smiling, friendly, calm, patient, confident, supportive)
·         demonstrates support for positive self-image in all students (e.g. shows belief in their capacity to learn and uses all opportunities to boost students’ confidence)

Table 1- Selection from the draft set of descriptors
For more information of the project:


[i] See published report: Thomas D., Dimitrova S., Geshev G. & Tashevska S. (eds.), A Baseline Survey of Pre-Service English Language Teacher Education in Bulgaria, 2001-2002, British Council Bulgaria, 2002 or visit: www.britishcouncil.org/bulgaria for an electronic copy of the report

Using our textbooks interculturally? Moving on possible

Written by: Valentina I. Georgieva, “N.Y.Vaptsarov” Naval Academy – Varna
This paper is aimed at presenting the goals, ideas, structure and the processing of the workshop run during the Bulgarian English Teachers Association (BETA) conference in Varna on 15-16 May 2004. Some comments and responses from and about the participants in the workshop are also included.
The overall aim of the workshop was to raise awareness of the issues of intercultural education as addressed in Bulgarian textbooks in general and in the “Moving On In a World of English” textbook for the 9th grade students of English Language Schools in particular.
The expected result of the activities during the workshop was to start building a shared awareness of intercultural education (ICE) by getting the participants involved in the process of looking for, discovering, and exploring the intercultural potential of a given textbook by applying the Evaluation Model of the Helpdesk for Intercultural Learning Materials. In addition, it was hoped that some initial skills for recognizing the potential for reaching ICE objectives could be trained. This workshop was one in the series of seminars, presentations and workshops from the Helpdesk members aimed at publicizing the Helpdesk work and accomplishments so far in the Bulgarian educational context.
At the very beginning it was necessary to relate the topic of the workshop as presented in the conference Programme and the accompanying abstract to the context that had evoked the workshop itself. That is why there was a brief explanation about the Helpdesk’s goals and work, i.e. that the Helpdesk is an NGO, founded a year ago, which deals with various aspects of ICE, but its mains goals are evaluating learning materials from an intercultural point of view, identifying problematic areas in which instances of discriminatory attitudes and practices can be detected and training educational practitioners on how they can effectively build upon the intercultural potential of the existing resources. (see www.helpdeskbg.org/mission for detailed information about the Helpdesk)
The topic of the workshop was Using our textbooks interculturally? Moving on possible and theBETA participants were invited to participate in the workshop in case they can answer positively to the following questions: “Are you interested in the problems of intercultural education? Have you tried to diversify your textbook using its potential to explore intercultural issues? Then this workshop is for you, as it will give you some ideas and practical suggestions on how to spot and use the textbook potential interculturally. We will look closer at Moving on textbook together and will apply the Helpdesk MODEL for evaluating teaching materials – a Model, which can help you evaluate professionally any textbook you teach with.”
The 60-minute workshop was planned to unfold and develop in a few stages, structured logically on the principle to learn by doing and sharing. The participants were not passive listeners, just the opposite: though planned beforehand, the workshop was actually ‘in the hands’ of the participants as they set up the course of the ‘moves’.
The warm-up activity succeeded in gradually breaking the ice. The participant were shown four pictures from the Moving on textbook (pp. 34, 37, 171, 246) and asked to relate the associations, provoked by them, to their understanding of intercultural education. After brainstorming their own personal and/or professional understandings of intercultural education and the first spontaneous responses they were asked in groups to write their associations – key words – on paper and to share them to the rest. Some key intercultural concepts came to light: “otherness”, “diversity”, “different but similar”, “understanding”, ”sharing”, “bright ideas”, “ups and downs”, “spirit”, “behaviour”, “respect”, “wider perspective”, “appreciation”, “trust”, “consideration”, “tolerance”, “equality”, “awareness”, “openness and curiosity”.
Next, having discussed them for some time, the participants were distributed copies from 9th grade Geography and Psychology textbooks Introductions, so that they could see another perspective on the ICE problems: that of the textbook authors. The aim of this part of the workshop was to compare the author’s understanding of intercultural education to the participant’s own insights. Searching for some more key words helped them formulate more coherently ideas concerned with the aims of ICE. Some instances that contain potential for achieving the goals of ICE were spotted. Moreover, it became clear that the problems of ICE can be approached from various angles and view points, all of which have their reason, value and importance for achieving the aims of the educational process as a whole.
Nevertheless, as the participants were English, and not subject teachers, the main part of the workshop was focused on discussing the intercultural potential of some example pages from the Moving on textbook. I justified the choice of this particular textbook for the workshop by pointing out to the following reasons:
1) my guess was that most of the participants had worked or at least seen this textbook, as it had been taught for quite some years at English Language schools;
2) as a member of the Helpdesk I am interested in discussing and revealing the potential for ICE of Bulgarian textbooks, not English or American ones;
3) Moving on is for the 9th grade students and the students at this age have already developed the skills to analyze and compare, to discuss and comprehend, as well are interested in exploring different aspects of socio-cultural situations.
The participants were given a couple of pages from different units of the textbook: pp. 35, 36, 199, 200, 261, 262. At first glance it seemed that these were pages supposed to practice the four language skills. Actually the reason for choosing them was different: I believed they were indicative and could successfully exemplify the ways of 1) looking for the ICE potential of any learning material, including the material that has not been specifically developed for the purposes of ICE; 2) adapting the material when aware of the way of doing that, so that the teacher can work on achieving the purposes of ICE with any learning material.
The participants were asked to express their feelings about what they saw on the pages, i.e. what was their opinion about the potential of those pages for ICE, and to share from their personal teaching experience whether they had done any changes when teaching the material. At this point the discussion became livelier and the predominant note was critical. But after the remark of one of the participants that she would not choose this textbook, the discussion turned into expressing opinions about the factors that influence the teacher’s choice of a textbook. I used this discussion to relate the answer about the criteria for choosing a textbook to focus the participants’ attention to the Helpdesk’s Evaluation Model (see the Appendix), which can help teachers evaluate the IC potential of any textbook.
As seen from the Model, the evaluation of a learning material is placed within the Bulgarian social and educational context. The first box includes the objectives of ICE, which are of special interest and importance when evaluating the potential of teaching and learning experience. Some of the objectives discussed during the workshop were: challenging stereotyping, providing multiple perspectives on the subject matter and promoting respect for otherness. The arrows between the grouped objectives show the interrelatedness between all the ten general objectives of ICE.
The box below represents the students’ total experience in class and the four zones of focus regarding the evaluated resources: content, activities, language and visuals. When evaluating the potential of a given learning material (educational document, textbook, reader, workbook, teacher’s book, etc) a teacher can help him/herself evaluate the material by answering the questions in the inner boxes and relating them to the objectives, e.g. Does the content of the textbook support the objective of challenging stereotyping? Do the visual and other non-linguistic aspects of the teaching material support promoting respect for otherness? Do the activities suggested in the teaching material encourage the learners to think, feel and behave interculturally? etc.
The right-hand box in the Model represents the template for preparing the written review of an evaluation, a template, which is followed by the Helpdesk evaluators when suggesting some recommendations for enhancing interculturally the learning process on the basis of the evaluated material’s potential for ICE.
After familiarizing the participants with the Model, we started discussing some of the activities, questions and visuals on the chosen pages from Moving on. The participants formulated easily the aspect of ICE these pages dealt with, i.e. the problem of stereotyping, both national and gender stereotypic presentations. Guided by questions, they suggested some additional tasks. I asked them to refer to the questions in the Model when discussing the activities and visuals. For example, the participants made their suggestions for reformulation and extension of some of the tasks in the textbook by referring to the question from the Model “Do the activities suggested challenge national stereotyping?”
When discussing visuals on the pages, we were again consulting the Model for guiding our discussion in the stream of the intercultural problems. There was a funny moment, though: when discussing the pictures on p.35, which are supposed to depict a typical American, German, English and French, I asked an American guy, a Peace Corps teacher, to identify himself with one on the pictures. He admitted he did his choice after eliminating one by one the impossible choices, though he wasn’t sure to what extent the visual representation of a suppositious “typical” American fitted with him…
The important part of the workshop during this stage was referring all the time to the Model while discussing the content, activities, visuals and language of the sample pages and suggesting ideas for more interculturally-oriented tasks. This gave an idea to the participants how they can apply the Helpdesk Evaluation Model in their everyday practice.
At the end the participants were asked to fill in a feedback form. Eleven participants did that and their answers can be summarized as follows:
There were five representatives of Language Centers (presumably teachers), two Americans from the Peace Corps, two teachers from a private school, and two teachers from state high schools.
Some of the answers to the first question: “Did the workshop meet your expectations? Which of them?” are the following:

  • Yes, to share experience in teaching topics to do with cross-cultural peculiarities.
  • Yes. A different approach to textbooks. Becoming aware of the need to teach English interculturally.
  • I liked the Evaluation Model which can be used as a checklist when choosing a SB
  • Yes. It gave some more ideas which are not quite clear or implicit in the textbook.
  • To some extent. I think the Evaluation Model is something one can put into practice.
  • To a certain extent. It is quite modern to think and talk about cultural diversity, mutual respect in Europe striving for unity.
  • Yes. The workshop was informative and beneficial on how to approach textbooks which don’t provide proper structure about IC learning and this is an obstacle that I’ve encountered.
  • Yes, it gave a framework for which we can as teachers judge the “culturness” of a textbook. As well, we had an opportunity for discussion.
  • It really provokes some useful ideas of how to use different kinds of textbooks interculturally in an interesting discussion.

The second question was: What else did you expect to do during this workshop?

  • It met my expectations is all respect.
  • More on discussing different activities.
  • Discussion is OK to start with. I expected to hear more practical advice as to how to deal with students’ unawareness of the need to learn about other cultures.
  • Maybe share ideas for varying the lesson in the student’s book, but the discussion switched us away.
  • I expected to see and hear some additional and supplementary materials or information which is not sufficient in the textbook concerning the topic.
  • Activities or approaches to cross-cultural issues in the classroom.
  • More opinions. More about different colleagues’ experience.
  • More ideas about adapting cross-cultural ideas into curriculum would have been helpful.
  • Talk about specific IC teaching theories/models that can be used in the classroom.
  • To comment on some IC problems, to comment on globalization problems.

The third question was: What else would you like to know about the Helpdesk and ICE?

  • Know more about other projects.
  • I believe that the right way to teach anything is through raising Ss’ awareness about IC similarities, diversities, etc.
  • More examples of differences, habits, customs.
  • More info about the following events connected to the topic.
  • “I know that I know nothing”, said the philosopher. So anything will be of interest
  • First of all, where I can read about your work, which is totally new to me.
  • Is there a website? How does your organization deliver its findings? Are they public?
  • How to find more info concerning ICE materials?

And the last question was: How do you see your future contribution to the IC orientation of teaching materials and the teaching/learning process?

  • By trying to adapt the information students can find in the TB to their particular needs.
  • The pity is I know so little I can’t think of any contribution for the present moment. I could devote more time and effort on including more info about cultural differences between us and the British, about the customs, traditions, etc in my lessons
  • I could devote more time and effort on including more info about cultural differences between us and the British, about the customs, traditions, etc In my lessons
  • I’m going to keep in touch. Internet is a good opportunity
  • I can’t judge yet
  • More on a personal basis – more comfortable, aware in looking at culture as a judge for a possible textbook choice
  • I’m interested in it.

As seen from the answers, the workshop achieved its aims: all of the participants learnt more about the intercultural education and its application in Bulgarian context, opened their eyes to new perspectives, got some initial skills for recognizing and using the intercultural potential of textbooks in the classroom. The answers were especially helpful for the future activities of the Helpdesk because we as a team of practitioners would like to address intercultural problems to as many of our colleagues as possible and to organize some more seminars and teacher trainings about IC issues and evaluating learning materials.
The participants in the workshop followed the main steps that the Helpdesk Evaluators’ team had gone through for a year. The focus of the workshop was not to discuss academically theoretical and methodological problems but to apply the theoretical knowledge to the teachers’ everyday practice. And since the focus was on evaluating teaching materials, hopefully the teachers enriched their understanding of how they could conduct such an evaluation themselves, how to look for the intercultural potential of a given textbook and how to apply the Helpdesk Model in order to update and make a textbook more interculturally oriented.
In addition, at the end of the workshop the participants got a copy of the Helpdesk Portfolio. It contains some of the Helpdesk materials and documents, which present our views and objectives, as well as reviews of different 9th grade textbooks, Moving on Review included. I asked them to share this Portfolio with their colleagues – subject specialists, as the Model they had been acquainted with could be applied when evaluating the intercultural potential of any subject textbook.
To sum up: the workshop succeeded not only in publicizing some of the accomplishments of the Helpdesk for Intercultural Learning Materials and presenting its Model, but also helped to find new supporters and allies with shared awareness of intercultural education.
References:
www.helpdeskbg.org
Grozdanova L., Georgieva M, Nedkova M. (1998) Moving On In a World of English (1&2), Lettera, Plovdiv
APPENDIX

Learning disabilities

Written by: Laura Kenda Attachment: Information from the F-A-T (Frustration, Anxiety, and Tension) City Learning Disability Workshop hosted by Richard D. Lavoie
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1. What you should know about learning disabilities (LD)

  • Learning disabilities are real. A person can be of average or above-average intelligence, not have any major sensory problems (like blindness or hearing impairment), and yet struggle to keep up with people of the same age in learning and regular functioning.
  • LDs are not the same as mental retardation, autism, deafness, blindness, behavioral disorders or laziness. LDs are not the result of economic disadvantage, environmental factors or cultural differences.
  • Not all learning problems are necessarily learning disabilities. Many children are simply slower in developing certain skills. Because children show natural differences in their rate of development, sometimes what seems to be a learning disability may simply be a delay in maturation.
  • LDs can affect different aspects of learning and functioning. LDs can occur with other disorders (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – AD/HD, Information Processing Disorders).
  • Currently, almost 2.9 million school-aged children in the US are classified as having learning disabilities (LD) and receive some kind of special education support. They are approximately 5% of all school-aged children in public schools.
  • No one knows of a pill or remedy that will cure LDs. But they can be compensated for and even overcome through alternate ways of learning, accommodations and modifications.

2.What is a learning disability?

A learning disability (LD) is a neurological disorder that affects the brain’s ability to receive, process, store and respond to information. LD is not a single disorder. It is a term that refers to a group of disorders.
By law, learning disability is defined as a significant gap between a person’s intelligence and the skills the person has achieved at each age.

3. What Causes Learning Disabilities

Experts aren’t exactly sure what causes learning disabilities. LD may be due to:

  • Heredity – often learning disabilities run in the family, so it’s not uncommon to find that people with LD have parents or other relatives with similar difficulties.
  • Problems during pregnancy and birth – LD may be caused by illness or injury during or before birth. It may also be caused by drug and alcohol use during pregnancy, low birth weight, lack of oxygen and premature or prolonged labor.
  • Incidents after birth – Head injuries, nutritional deprivation and exposure to toxic substances (i.e. lead) can contribute to LD.

4. How Are Learning Disabilities First Identified?

Children reach certain “milestones” of development: the first word, the first step, and so forth. Both doctors and parents are watching for these developmental milestones. Learning disorders may be informally flagged by observing significant delays in the child’s skill development. A 2-year delay in the primary grades is usually considered significant.
While children can be informally flagged by using observation techniques, actual diagnosis of learning disabilities is made using standardized tests that compare the child’s level of ability to what is considered normal development for a person of that age and intelligence.
Among the symptoms commonly related to learning disabilities are:

  • Academic Symptoms – poor performance on group tests; reversals in reading and writing; difficulty in copying accurately from a model; slowness in completing work; easily confused by instructions; difficulty with tasks requiring sequencing.
  • Cognitive Symptoms – difficulty discriminating size, shape, color; difficulty with temporal (time) concepts; distorted concept of body image; poor organizational skills; difficulty with abstract reasoning and/or problem-solving; disorganized thinking; often obsesses on one topic or idea; poor short-term or long-term memory; lags in development milestones (e.g. motor, language).
  • Physical Symptoms – general awkwardness; poor visual-motor coordination; hyperactivity; overly distractible; difficulty concentrating; lack of hand preference or mixed dominance
  • Behavioral/Social Symptoms – impulsive behavior; lack of reflective thought prior to action; low tolerance for frustration; excessive movement during sleep; poor peer relationships; overly excitable during group play; poor social judgment; inappropriate, unselective, and often excessive display of affection; behavior often inappropriate for situation; failure to see consequences for his actions; overly gullible; easily led by peers; excessive variation in mood and responsiveness; poor adjustment to environmental changes; difficulty making decisions.

When considering these symptoms, it is important to remain mindful of the following: l) No one will have all these symptoms.   2) Among LD populations, some symptoms are more common than others.  3) All people have at least two or three of these problems to some degree.  4) The number of symptoms seen in a particular child does not give an indication as to whether the disability is mild or severe. It is important to consider if the behaviors are chronic and appear in clusters.

5. What Are the Types of Learning Disabilities?

Learning disabilities can be divided into three broad categories: developmental speech and language disorders; academic skills disorders; “other,” a catch-all that includes certain coordination disorders and learning handicaps not covered by the other terms. Each of these categories includes a number of more specific disorders.

Learning Disability: Area of difficulty: Symptoms include trouble with: Example:
Dyslexia Processing language Reading, writing & spelling Letters and words may be written or pronounced backwards
Dyscalculia Math skills Computation, remembering math facts, concepts of time & money Difficulty learning to count by 2s, 3s, 4s
Dysgraphia Written expression Handwriting, spelling, composition Illegible handwriting, difficulty organizing ideas
Dyspraxia Fine motor skills Coordination, manual dexterity Trouble with scissors, buttons, drawing

LDs can occur with other disorders – Information Processing Disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD).

Information Processing Disorders Area of difficulty: Symptoms include trouble with: Example:
Auditory Processing Disorder Interpreting auditory information Language development, reading Difficulty anticipating how a speaker will end a sentence
Visual Processing Disorder Interpreting visual information Reading, writing & math Difficulty distinguishing letters like “h” and “n”
Other Related Disorders Area of difficulty: Symptoms include trouble with: Example:
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) Concentration & focus Over-activity, distractibility & impulsivity Can’t sit still, loses interest quickly

6. Can Learning Disabilities Be Outgrown or Cured?

Even though a learning disability doesn’t disappear, given the right types of educational experiences, people have a remarkable ability to learn. The brain’s flexibility to learn new skills is probably greatest in young children and may diminish somewhat after puberty. This is why early intervention is so important. Nevertheless, we retain the ability to learn throughout our lives.

7. How Do Families Learn To Cope?

Every child needs to grow up feeling competent and loved. When children have learning disabilities, parents may need to work harder at developing their children’s self-esteem and relationship-building skills. But self-esteem and good relationships are as worth developing as any academic skill.

8. What Aid Does the Government Offer?

As of 1981, people with learning disabilities came under the protection of laws originally designed to protect the rights of people with mobility handicaps. More recent Federal laws specifically guarantee equal opportunity and raise the level of services to people with disabilities. Once a learning disability is identified, children are guaranteed a free public education specifically designed around their individual needs. Adolescents with disabilities can receive practical assistance and extra training to help make the transition to jobs and independent living. Adults have access to job training and technology that open new doors of opportunity.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 assures a public education to school-aged children with diagnosed learning disabilities. Under this act, public schools are required to design and implement an Individualized Educational Program tailored to each child’s specific needs. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is a written agreement between the parents and the school about what the child needs and what will be done to address those needs. Schools typically provide special education programs either in a separate all-day classroom or as a special education class that the student attends for several hours each week. Some parents hire trained tutors to work with their child after school. If the problems are severe, some parents choose to place their child in a special school for the learning disabled.

9. Making Modifications in the Classroom.

A) MODIFYING THE PRESENTATION OF MATERIAL

  • Break assignment into segments of shorter tasks.
  • Use concrete examples of concepts before teaching the abstract.
  • Relate information to the student’s experiential base.
  • Reduce the number of concepts presented at one time.
  • Provide an overview of the lesson before beginning.
  • Monitor the student’s comprehension of language used during instruction.
  • Schedule frequent, short conferences with the student to check forcomprehension.
  • Provide consistent review of any lesson before introducing new information.
  • Allow student to obtain and report information utilizing: cassette recorders,dictation, typewriters/computers, interviews, calculators, fact sheets.
  • Highlight important concepts to be learned in text of material.
  • Monitor the rate at which material is presented.
  • Give additional presentations by varying the methods using repetition, simplerexplanations, more examples and modeling.
  • Require verbal responses to indicate comprehension.
  • Give frequent reminders of homework assignments.
  • Provide clear, concise directions and concrete examples for homeworkassignments.
  • Assign tasks at an appropriate reading level.
  • Allow for the oral administration of tests.
  • Check assignment sheet for accuracy.

B) MODIFYING THE ENVIRONMENT

  • Use study carrels.
  • Seat student in an area free of distractions.
  • Use preferential seating.
  • Allow the student to select his/her seating.
  • Help keep student’s work area free of unnecessary materials.
  • Use checklists to help the student get organized.
  • Frequently check the organization of the student’s notebook.
  • Monitor the student’s use of his/her assignment sheet.
  • Check the assignment sheet for accuracy.
  • Provide opportunities for movement.

C) MODIFYING TIME DEMANDS

  • Increase time allowed for completion of tests or assignments.
  • Reduce the amount of work or length of tests.
  • Prioritize assignments and/or step to completing assignments for the student.
  • Space short work periods with breaks or change of tasks.
  • Consistently follow a specific routine.
  • Alternate quiet and active tasks.
  • Set time limits for specific task completion

D) MODIFYING THE MATERIALS
i. Visual Motor Integration and Written Expression Problems

  • Allow for spelling errors.
  • Allow student to use either cursive or manuscript.
  • Set realistic and mutually agreed upon expectations for neatness.
  • Let student type, record, or give answers orally instead of writing.
  • Avoid pressures of speed and accuracy.
  • Provide copies of notes.
  • Reduce the amount of copying from text and board.
  • Accept key word responses instead of complete sentences.

ii. Visual Processing Problems

  • Highlight information to be learned.
  • Keep written assignments and work space free from extraneous and/orirrelevant distractors.
  • Avoid purple dittos.
  • Provide clear and well-defined worksheets.
  • Go over visual task with student and make sure student has a clearunderstanding of all parts of the assignment from the beginning.
  • Avoid having student copy from the board.
  • Have student verbalize instructions before beginning task.
  • Avoid crowded, cluttered worksheets by utilizing techniques such asblocking (blocking assignments into smaller segments), cutting (cutworksheets into sections, folding (fold worksheets into sections), andhighlighting, color coding or underlining.


iii. Language Processing Problems

  • Give written directions to supplement verbal directions.
  • Slow the rate of presentations.
  • Paraphrase information.
  • Keep statements short and to the point.
  • Avoid use of abstract language such as metaphors, idioms, and puns.
  • Keep sentence structures simple.
  • Encourage feedback from student to check for understanding.
  • Familiarize student with any new vocabulary before beginning the lesson.
  • Reduce the amount of extraneous noise such as conversation, radio, TV, outside noises, etc.
  • Alert student’s attention before expressing key points.
  • Ensure the readability levels of the textbooks are commensurate with the student’s language level.
  • Utilize visual aids such as charts and graphs.
  • Utilize manipulative, hands-on activities whenever possible.
  • Always demonstrate how new material relates to previously learned information.
  • Cue student by calling his/her name before asking questions.

iv. Organizational Problems

  • Provide an established daily routine.
  • Provide clear rules and consistently enforce them.
  • Contract with student and use rewards for completion of contract.
  • Check the student’s notebook to insure the use of dividers, assignment sheet, and calendar.
  • Provide due date on written assignments.
  • Provide a specific place for turning in completed assignments.

E) USE OF GROUPS AND PEERS

  • Utilize cooperative learning strategies when appropriate.
  • Assign a peer helper to check understanding of directions.
  • Assign a peer helper to read important directions and essential information.
  • Assign a peer tutor to record material dictated by the student.

F) HELPING FOCUS ATTENTION

  • Establish relevancy and purpose for learning by relating to previous experiences.
  • Shape approximations of desired behavior by providing direct reinforcement such as praise or immediate feedback of correct answers.
  • Seat student close to teacher.
  • Make a positive, personal comment every time the student shows any evidence of interest.
  • Make frequent checks for assignment progress/completion.
  • Give advance warning of when a transition is going to take place.
  • Use physical proximity and touch to help student refocus.

G) ASSISTING THE RELUCTANT STARTER

  • Give a personal cue to begin work.
  • Give work in smaller units.
  • Provide immediate reinforcers and feedback.
  • Make sure the appropriate books and materials are open to the correct pages.
  • Introduce the assignment in sequential steps.
  • Check for student understanding of instructions.
  • Check on progress often in the first few minutes of work.
  • Provide time suggestions for each task.
  • Provide a checklist for long, detailed tasks.

H) DEALING WITH INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR

  • Provide clear and concise classroom expectations and consequences.
  • Consistently enforce rules.
  • Avoid the use of confrontational techniques.
  • Provide student with alternatives.
  • Designate a “cooling off” location within the classroom.
  • Assign activities which require some movement.
  • Use praise generously.
  • Avoid power struggles.
  • Ignore attention getting behavior for a short time.
  • Avoid criticizing the student.
  • Communicate frequently with parents.
  • Monitor levels of tolerance and be mindful of signs of frustration.
  • Speak privately, without the audience of peers, to student about inappropriate behavior.

Web sites for Learning Disabilities

www.ldonline.org www.ldanatl.org www.ncld.org www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/learndis.htm www.ldresources.com
www.focusonlearning.org