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Identifying students with learning difficulties and finding solutionsMargaret Sutherland
Edith Cowan University
This study will investigate the reasons why children who have learning difficulties, especially dyslexia, in schools in Western Australia are not identified and are able to slip through the system in spite of all the resources, money and Acts passed to implement strategies to help them. Children at risk by rights should have an equal chance to learn alongside their peers and not get left behind because there are teachers who are not trained to identify these children. Allowing a child to proceed through the grades of a primary education without learning to read is beyond comprehension. Teachers also need to learn how to implement programs for children who learn differently. The aim of the Education Department of Western Australia is to have every student from age four to eighteen become fully literate. So why are students being allowed to advance to high school when they cannot read? (Curriculum Council of Western Australia, 1997)
Before Jeremy attended school he was able to socialise and communicate with other children in a normal way, but it was when he began school it became apparent that there were other problems. At six years old he was tested for eye problems by the school nurse, was recommended to an optometrist, and was found to have myopia in one eye and a lazy eye.
How can we train teachers to be aware of students who have learning difficulty before it goes beyond the lower school level as in this case?
In this case the teachers are trying to help by withdrawing Jeremy from classes to work with a small group of children and a teaching aide during the week. This withdrawal is mostly to help with his reading. They have not given him any special programs. The program they are using is for him to sight read columns of words while the teacher puts ticks or crosses on them, then he has to write the words down that were incorrect. After that he has to read from a book, which he says, is simple text. They have not given him any special programs to help him learn the ABC or phonics, which have been found to be totally lacking. Why is it that none of the teachers are aware of his problems? The parents have constantly approached the school to seek help for him, but so far have only managed to elicit a minimal amount of ideas. They feel very frustrated, upset and emotional about the entire public education system. Jeremy at this stage does not have any basic phonic skills and cannot write or recite the ABC. When he reads he reverses "b" and "d" and many small words. He guesses at words that he does not know, often leaves out or adds in words as he reads and skips lines. He does not know his tables and can not tell the time. Why haven't any of his teachers recognised this especially in his earlier years, and if they did why did they allow it to continue into Year 7?
Jeremy knows that he has real learning problems and is not happy with his results so far. He feels that he needs a special program but wants to stay in a normal classroom even though it bothers him to be with normal students. He can manage to sit with a group of students although he doesn't really like it, and says they do not value his opinions. His peer group does not include him in activities at recess and lunch. He seems to think that the teachers are not really aware of all of his problems although they do sometimes give him special treatment by taking him out of the classroom with a few other children to do activities with an aide. They still get angry with him when he doesn't seem to understand the concepts presented and he is unsure if they are really helping him. He said he does not like school and was only sometimes able to do the classwork. He also feels that he is disadvantaged but he remains positive about his future.
He is left-handed and has been since the very beginning having shown no signs of confusion. By observance I noticed that Jeremy uses scissors with his right hand. This seemed a strange characteristic for a dyslexic person. Jeremy lacks confidence when asked to perform in the classroom or other venues, although he has no difficulty with speech. He shows signs of frustration while learning and sometimes becomes confused with multiple instructions. His small and gross motor skills were good from the beginning. He could use a knife and fork, ride a two-wheel bike, catch a ball, and was able to participate in sports. He can move rhythmically, dance and skip but had difficulty learning to tie his shoelaces, reading, spelling, creative writing and copying from the blackboard.
Jeremy is a quiet, well-behaved child and therefore does not display attention-seeking behaviour at home or at school. He also has a lot of knowledge despite his reading difficulties thus making him appear greatly intelligent for the problems he has. His parents are hoping that with intensive private tutoring for the rest of this year and then sending him to a private school in Perth from Year 8 he will be helped to overcome some of his problems and find a way to work around the dyslexia.
Another problem is that many small rural schools in Western Australia suffer neglect in special education areas because of a lack of provision of integration aides and inclusion support assistants. They do not have special education teachers, and they have minimal therapy support services for children with special needs. Funding is at a minimum as well because it depends on a limited opportunity to pool per capita funding to provide better services (National Inquiry into Rural and Remote Education, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, 2000).
How can parents, carers or teachers recognise and help prevent difficulties from developing?
Prevention of difficulties in children's learning really lies within the real of 'who is responsible?' According to Paratore (2002), some researchers believe it is the role of the parent/s to be responsible for their children's passage to reading and learning success. Edmund Huey had proposed as early as 1908 that the use of joint reading activities while having the child sitting on the knee following a story with an eye and a finger was the secret to reading success.
Other aspects that can affect children's learning and reading success after coming to school, presenting with learning difficulties such as dyslexia are possibly because parents are
Unless students can be diagnosed with a specific disability it has been found that some children in lower school may have problems associated with developmental delay, which if recognised early could possibly be corrected by using intervention strategies. Also raising parent awareness and using them as partners in learning would help resolve mild learning problems before they develop into major concerns (Williams & Holmes, 2004, p43).
Some teachers feel that inclusivity is the answer for students with learning difficulties. In some cases this is not true because the goal of inclusivity is to enable all students to belong within and educational community, which validates and values each individual student and helps them to achieve (Stainback, Stainback, East & Sapon-Shevin, 1994). The advantages of inclusion are that these students may have a relationship with others who have similar problems and it may help them to learn. The disadvantages are that inclusion could cause students with learning difficulties to become passive learners with no challenge to learn and make progress because they are not comfortable in the classroom or with the teacher. Teachers may find them impossible to teach and may not take them into account when preparing classroom programs (Westwood, 1997).
Adams, Foorman, Lundberg and Beeler (1998) say that children need to know the alphabetical principle and that letters are paired to make sounds as well as standing alone and being the sound of speech. The researchers also say that the awareness of phonemes can be difficult and processing phonemes helps children to realise that they are both separate and blended. Using rhyming, rhythm and listening activities, which are designed for pre-primary age groups can be an effective teaching technique. It also helps if parents and teachers have the knowledge about language structure such as phonology. There are unconscious rules that govern the study of phonology, whereas phonetics is the system of symbols, which represent sounds in an alphabetical writing system. The units we call phonemes have constraints as far as the sounds humans are able to produce and this is connected to how our brain classifies and perceives the way the sounds make a difference to the meaning (Widjaja & Winskel, 2004).
The activities I am doing with Jeremy are those that the teachers could have been doing with him at school to alleviate a lot of his difficulties. I feel that he has not been receiving the help because the teachers are either not trained to deal with a student with dyslexia, or the school cannot access resources or aides because it is so small. The school may not have enough students with learning problems to allow them to have grants or money to carry out the programs that Jeremy needs.
Adams, J.M., Foorman, B. R. Lundberg, I. & Beeler, T. (1998). Phonemic awareness in young children: A classroom curriculum. Paul H. Brookes Publishing, Illinois. pp.1-8.
Curriculum Council of Western Australia (1997). Curriculum framework consultation draft for Kindergarten to Year 12 in Western Australia. Education Department of Western Australia. Perth. pp 1-328.
Drame, E. R. (2002). Socio-cultural context effects on teachers' readiness to refer for learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 69(1), 41-53.
Hannaford, C. (2004). The Dominance Factor: How knowing your dominant eye, ear, brain, hand and foot can improve your learning. http://www.braingym.org/BG_Research.pdf
Kaye, G. (1999). Development Optometrist. The Oxford Child Development Group. EyeCare Centre, West Perth,Western Australia. Cited in M. Sutherland (2001), Children with special needs in reading and learning: A sight vocabulary project. Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2001/sutherland.html
Miles,T. R., Wheeler, T. J. & Haslum, M. N. (2003). The existence of dyslexia without severe literacy problems. Annals of Dyslexia, 53, 340-354.
Minister for Education (1998). Making a difference strategy. Education Department of Western Australia, Perth.
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (2000). National Inquiry into Rural and Remote Education. http://www.humanrights.gov.au/word/human_rights/Recommendations.doc
Stainback, S. Stainback, W. & East, K. (1994). A commentary on inclusion and the development of a positive self-identity by people with disabilities. Exceptional Children, 60(6), 486-490.
Steele, M. M. (2005). Teaching students with learning disabilities: Constructivism or behaviorism? Current Issues in Education, 8(10). http://cie.ed.asu.edu/volume8/number10/
Subban, P. & Sharma, U. (2006). Primary school teachers' perceptions of inclusive education in Victoria, Australia. International Journal of Special Education, 21(1), 44-54.
Sutherland, M. (2000). Why are students failing: Is mainstreaming the cause? A case study. Issues in Educational Research, 11(1), 41-61. http://www.iier.org.au/iier11/sutherland.html
Widjaja, V. & Winskel, H. (2004). Phonological awareness and word reading in a transparent orthography: Preliminary findings on Indonesian. Proceedings of the 10th Australian Conference on Speech Science & Technology. Macquarie University, Sydney. 8-10 December. Australian Speech Science and Technology Association Inc.
Williams, J. & Holmes, C. A. (2004). Improving the early detection of children with subtle developmental problems. Journal of Child Health Care, 8(1), 34-46.
We have known for years that children who miss the vitally important crawling stage may exhibit learning difficulties. Crawling, a cross-lateral movement activates development of the corpus callosum (the nerve pathways between the two hemispheres of the cerebrum). 31 October 2004, The Dominance Factor by Carla Hannaford.
In The Dominance Factor: How Knowing Your Dominant Eye, Ear, Brain, Hand and Foot Can Improve Your Learning, Dr Carla Hannford puts forward her own research and findings in how the different combinations of dominant eye / ear / brain / hand / foot effects how we learn. The book covers tests to discover someone's dominant hand / foot / eye, etc and profiles for each combination. Each profiles describe how they learn, communicate and what weaknesses they may experience under stress as well as recommendations on how to help them. http://www.braingym.org/BG_Research.pdf
Penny Report sheet two
Penny Report sheet three
Jeremy Report sheet one
Jeremy Report sheet two
Jeremy Report sheet three
EyeCare Centre Report - Jeremy
EyeCare Centre Report - Penny
|Author: Margaret Sutherland, c/- Post Office, Bencubbin WA 6477. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please cite as: Sutherland, M. (2006). Identifying students with learning difficulties and finding solutions. Proceedings Western Australian Institute for Educational Research Forum 2006. http://www.waier.org.au/forums/2006/sutherland.html