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How to Support a Child with Learning Differences
By Monica A. Consalvo

"Each step we take leads us one step closer to the achieving of our OWN educational ladders. Some go one step at a time, others skip a step, some pause after each step, some race to the top, but we all get there! We are all-unique and must celebrate our differences."
-Resource Room Philosophy, Monica A. Consalvo

As a special educator, I do not view my students as having learning disabilities but rather learning differences. All students have differences. All students learn in a variety of ways. Some students are visual, and love color and diagrams, while others learn best by listening. Each student has a set of goals that they would like to achieve. How they go about achieving these goals is the key.

When a child is struggling, academically, it can be frustrating for both the parent and child. The child may begin to "shut down" because the task is too hard, the parent may struggle with how to help their child, offering too much support at one moment and too little at others. Parents and teachers need to be the "cheerleaders". They need to encourage their child. Parents, teachers and the child need to be part of the team. It is a united effort. Just like the touchdown in football, the goal could never have been reached with only one player.

Educators need to view their students from the perspective of a total picture. It is not simply one image or frame; it is not one test or one assignment but how the child performs as a whole. This may be a hard philosophy to own at first, especially when your child comes home with a low test grade but your child's academic success is based on more than this one test. The child, parent and teacher need to look at the result and determine where to go from there.

Is pre-assessment required to ascertain what skills and knowledge the child already has and what needs to still be acquired?

Does the child need more strategies and techniques to acquire the information to be able to internalize the knowledge?

Can the students apply their knowledge? This is a higher-level critical thinking step and may require more support, especially for students with learning challenges. As education moves into a more standards based approach we need to being to shift student thinking and learning beyond the concrete, rote and memorization phases to one of synthesizing and evaluating.

Does the child need a different method to express their awareness of the subject material; i.e.: verbally responses or starting off with a brainstorming web of pictures and small words to be used later to build the essay?

How can the classroom of today adapt to be one of inclusion rather than exclusion when it comes to special education students?

Diversity can be handled in a classroom when teachers utilize performance-based assessment. Students can be provided with a menu board or the requirements for a given portfolio project and work at their own pace. Students who require modifications to material can have the work adjusted. Students who would benefit from enrichment could also have their assignments adapted. These teaching methodologies cannot be used for all lessons but can be used to handle diversity in the classroom.

The role of the teacher in this type of classroom is one of a facilitator who assists and guides instruction. The process is engaging for both the student and teacher and encourages active learning.

The outcomes far exceed the extra preparation time.

A differentiated classroom environment might have students participating in a lesson over a period of time. Block scheduling can accommodate more learner diversity because the teacher has the opportunity to meet with more students. Students also have the opportunity to move at their own individual pace.

Education is cyclic. The focus shall be on embracing all the diversity and differences in our classrooms.

Each day the future walks into my classroom……………

Monica A. Consalvo is a special educator in the Port Jefferson School District in New York. She can be reached at: mconsalv@portjeff.k12.ny.us

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