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Tutoring Students with Learning Disabilities. Characteristics of LDs & Strategies to Help Students with LDs in Their Learning Presenter: Mike Walker, Learning Strategist Presented to Peer Tutor Session September 2002. General Learning Outcomes (Presentation Objectives).

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Tutoring students with learning disabilities l.jpg

Tutoring Students with Learning Disabilities

Characteristics of LDs


Strategies to Help Students with LDs in Their Learning


Mike Walker, Learning Strategist

Presented to Peer Tutor Session

September 2002

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General Learning Outcomes(Presentation Objectives)

  • Define the term learning disability.

  • Describe how a LD might affect learning.

  • Examine non-academic affects of LDs.

  • Explore what you can do as a tutor.

  • Discuss effective instructional strategies for tutoring all students, including students with LDs.


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A quick overview . . .

What is a

Learning Disability?

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What is a Learning Disability?

A new definition

from the LDAO

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In brief… Learning Disabilities

…refers to a variety of disorders that affect the acquisition, retention, understanding, organization or use of verbal and/or non-verbal information.


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These disorders

…result from impairments in one or more psychological processes related to learning in combination with otherwise average abilities essential for thinking and reasoning.


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These psychological processes are

  • phonological processing

  • memory and attention

  • processing speed

  • language processing

  • perceptual-motor processing

  • visual-spatial processing

  • executive functions (e.g., planning, monitoring and metacognitive abilities)


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Learning disabilities

…range in severity and invariably interfere with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following important skills:


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These skills are

  • oral language (e.g., listening, speaking, understanding)

  • reading (e.g., decoding, comprehension)

  • written language (e.g., spelling, written expression)

  • mathematics (e.g., computation, problem solving)

  • organizational skills

  • social perception

  • social interaction


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What a LD is Not!


  • low intelligence/an intellectual disability

  • mental illness/emotional disturbance

  • autism

  • visual or auditory acuity problems

  • laziness/lack of motivation

  • a way to avoid other issues

  • a physical handicap

  • the result of a poor academic background


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So, a Learning Disability is an Information Processing Impairment

It is like having too many bridges out as well as too many overlapping pathways along the “information highways” of the brain.

Dale R. Jordan

U. of Arkansas

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A Simple Model of Learning & Information Processing Impairment

  • Attention

  • Sensory Input

  • Decoding

  • Processing

    • May include Storage

      and/or Retrieval processes

  • Encoding

  • Physical Output


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Where can IP break down? Impairment Dr. Allyson G. Harrison, Queen’s University

1. Frontal lobe functioning deficits

- abstract and conceptual thinking

2. Memory impairment

- Short term memory

- Working memory-mental blackboard; dynamic process

- Long term memory

- Storage vs retrieval issues

3. Sequencing deficits (visual or auditory)


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Breakdown continues Impairment Dr. Allyson G. Harrison, Queen’s University

4. Speed of information processing

5. Attention

- Selective (cannot choose/focus)

- Sustained (cannot maintain)

- Divided (cannot shift/hyperfocus)

6. Narrow processing style - can’t simultaneously attend to & process multiple aspects of a stimulus field


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Still breaking down Impairment Dr. Allyson G. Harrison, Queen’s University

7. Poor scanning resolution-miss relevant data

8. Right hemisphere dysfunction: good at details but not global picture. Gets lost in details, easily overloaded. Can’t make sense of holistically presented information. Poor ability to interpret visual cues.

9. Faulty output mechanism - interferes with demonstration of adequate information processing.


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Diagnosing a Learning Disability Impairment

The Criteria

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Average Student ImpairmentAptitude vs Achievement – normal differences


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Student with a LD Impairment (Reading)Aptitude vs. Achievement – significant differences


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Visual LD Impairment(Dyslexia)Aptitude, Achievement & Info Processing


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Aptitude, Achievement, Info Processing Impairment Auditory (CAPD)


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So how might an LD affect a Learner? Impairment

A Couple of Examples . . .

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Can’t you read this? Impairment

  • Myle arn in gdisa bi LI tyma kesit dif Ficu ltform eto re Adi tslo wsm edo wnwh eniha veto re AdmYte xtbo Ok sbu twhe nius Eboo kso Nta peo rco mpu Teri zedsc ree nrea Din gsof twa Reto lis tent Om yte xtbo ok sith elp sal Ot.


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Can’t you see this? Impairment

  • Can’t you see the _________?


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IP impairments may cause academic difficulty with… Impairment *

  • Alphabet/Penmanship

  • Copying/Note-Making

  • Reading, Writing, Spelling & Math

  • Listening & Speaking

  • Expressing what is Known & Understood

  • Attention & Memory

  • Personal Organization

  • Time and Sequence

  • Slow Work Speed

    (*See Appendix A)


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Social & Emotional Aspects* of a Learning Disability Impairment

*From Introducing Learning Disabilities to Postsecondary Educators

The Meighen Centre for Learning Assistance and Research, Mount Allison University

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A Tough Fact Impairment

  • 50% of adolescent suicides had previously been diagnosed as having learning problems. The single most commonly cited factor for this desperate act was low self-esteem arising from school failure.


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Possible Academic Problems Impairment

  • silent reading/reading aloud

  • writing/spelling

  • learning languages/math

  • expressing what is known and understood

  • having to re-do school work at home

  • having no time off since everything takes longer

  • dropping out


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Possible Social/Emotional Problems Impairment

  • feeling dumb, stupid, embarrassed, frustrated, anxious, lonely, isolated

  • being called stupid, lazy; being put down by teachers, friends, and even parents

  • feeling nobody understands

  • feeling need of help

  • fearing rejection & failure

  • always having to cover up, act a role


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Possible Career/Vocational Problems Impairment

  • lack of basic skills

  • lack of social skills

  • “It’s never cured”, “It never goes away”

  • having to cover up

  • never feeling adequate

  • low expectations

  • jobs don’t last


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Meeting Their Needs . . . Impairment

Typical accommodations available to students with learning disabilities at the post-secondary level

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Common Impairment

extra time

spell checker

use of a computer

distraction-free environment

leniency towards spelling & grammar

Less Common




voice dictation

Test/Exam Accommodation


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Common Impairment

tape recorder


use of overheads/ visual organizer

Alpha-Smart/lap-top computer/Pocket PC

Less Common

FM system

wait time when called upon

lecture notes on reserve/on web

lecture outline in advance

Classroom/Lecture Accommodation


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master notebook Impairment


talking spell checker

texts on tape

tape/digital recorder




voice dictation

reduced course load

study buddy


academic skills

peer tutor

professional tutor

technology training

targeted learning strategy training based on LD assessment

Personal Study Accommodation


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Despite accommodation… Impairment

  • Direct instruction in the area of weakness is extremely valuable; hence, the value of the tutor in the learning process.


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What you can do . . . Impairment

How can you support a student with a learning disability?*

*sources online:

Tutoring Strategies for LD Students. http://depts.gallaudet.edu/englishworks/tutoring/tutortechLD.html

Tutoring Student with Learning Disabilities. http://lynchburg.edu/public/writcntr/guide/tutoring/ld.htm

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General principles . . . Impairment

  • Learning disabilities are permanent

  • ∴ you aren’t going to “fix” the disability

  • You have to use strategies to “work around” or compensate for the disability

  • Learning disabilities are heterogeneous; each learner has a unique profile

  • ∴ you must be flexible in your approach

  • Remember, you are tutoring in your area of strength, and as such the content may seem intuitive to you – this is not so with the student!


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General Strategies Impairment

  • Give student time (practice patience)

  • Tutor in a quite environment (visual noise, too)

  • Present info in small, manageable steps

  • Restate/present info in a variety of ways (text, graphs, charts, drawings – multi-sensory)

  • Write out instructions – or tape instructions

  • Give examples, lots of practice, test knowledge

  • Allow frequent breaks (cognitive load)

  • Teach strategies for reading, note taking, study, etc.


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Math & Science Impairment

  • Use colour coding

  • Memorize/drill (rote learning) while walking or exercising

  • Use flowcharts, diagrams

  • Use flashcards

  • Use graph paper instead of lined

  • Create simulations

  • Provide hands-on materials and hands-on activities when possible


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Reading Impairment

  • Discuss key terms & unfamiliar vocab/jargon

  • Use colour/highlighting

  • Read aloud

  • Help student outline lessons, new material

  • Teach a reading strategy (SQ3R, SQRW)

  • Discuss the material

  • Probe for information; get the student to clearly define and elaborate (avoid yes/no questions)

  • Use sketches, mind maps, flowcharts…


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General tips when tutoring students with LDs Impairment

  • Be patient (disability slows certain processes)

  • Do not rely solely on language to explain

  • Teach the process – don’t skip steps

  • Encourage independence

  • Respect student’s confidentiality

  • Get help from professor, Georgia, learning strategist

  • Ask the student what he/she needs


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Be a GREAT teacher Impairment

Use multi-modal teaching techniques, and

remember . . .

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We Learn... ImpairmentWilliam Glasser

  • 10 % of what we read

  • 20 % of what we hear

  • 30 % of what we see

  • 50 % of what we both see and hear

  • 70 % of what is discussed with others

  • 80 % of what we experience personally

  • 95 % of what we teach someone else


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Or Simply Impairment

Tell me and I will forget

Show me and I may remember

Involve me and I will understand

Ancient Chinese proverb


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So remember . . . Impairment

  • See

  • Listen

  • Say

  • Model

  • Do

  • Do again

  • The list goes on . . .


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and . . . Impairment

  • These strategies should work for all students.

  • With non-LD students, you are still teaching to an area of weakness.

  • Using these strategies will make you an awesome teacher.

  • And, unfortunately, even awesome teachers may not reach all students 


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To review . . . Impairment

  • Raise self-esteem by staying positive – you may be the person who makes a difference

  • Include the student in the process – ask “How can I help you?”

  • Focus on strengths, accommodate for weaknesses (sensory, cognitive, MI)

  • Teach learning strategies (or refer for direct instruction)

  • Use the resources of the learning strategist

  • Encourage/teach social skills

  • Offer positive, realistic feedback


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What did we learn? Impairment

  • Learning disabilities are caused by information processing deficits

  • Students with LDs are heterogeneous with unique profiles

  • LDs are lifelong and can affect a person socially, emotionally, vocationally as well as academically

  • Direct instruction (tutoring) can be a valuable learning tool

  • Know your student; ask for help; use multi-modal instructional strategies


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More Info . . . Impairment

  • On learning disabilities

    • www.schwablearning.org

    • www.ldonline.org

    • www.ldpride.net

    • www.ldao.on.ca

    • www.ldrc.ca

    • http://specialed.about.com/cs/learningdisabled

  • Mike’s Learning Resources site

    • www.nipissingu.ca/faculty/mikew/resource


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Questions? Impairment

. . . our thanks for this opportunity!

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Appendix: ImpairmentLDs & Academic Performance

*Specific Deficits which may occur in Adolescents and Young Adults with Learning Disabilities

*From Introducing Learning Disabilities to Postsecondary Educators

The Meighen Centre for Learning Assistance and Research, Mount Allison University

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Reading Impairment

  • word reversals, confusion of similar words,

  • difficulty applying phonics

  • problems reading multi syllable words

  • slow or uneven reading, difficulty adjusting speed

  • poor comprehension and retention of material


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Writing Impairment

  • problems with forming letters, spacing, capitals, and punctuation

  • spelling errors, inconsistent spelling, letter reversals, word reversals

  • difficulty with sequencing

  • difficulty with sentence structure, poor grammar, omitted words

  • difficulty copying from board, overhead, or textbook


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Listening & Speaking Impairment

  • difficulty extracting meaning from oral language

  • difficulty "reading" subtle messages in body language, facial expressions, tones of voice, sarcasm, irony, understatement or overstatement

  • difficulty expressing orally ideas which the student seems to understand

  • problems describing events or stories in proper sequence

  • problems with grammar and inflectional or derivational endings


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Math Impairment

  • difficulty memorizing basic facts

  • confusion or reversal of numbers, sequences, or operational symbols

  • difficulty copying problems, aligning columns

  • difficulty reading or comprehending word problems

  • problems with reasoning and abstract concepts


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General Knowledge Impairment

  • lack of basic foundations in any discipline

  • lack of the background to understand common cultural references

  • unawareness of these gaps in general knowledge, or reluctance to acknowledge them

  • ** as a teacher, please carefully assess the value/timing of withdrawal


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Attention Impairment

  • difficulty in turning attention to a task

  • difficulty in maintaining attention

  • difficulty attending to spoken language, inconsistent concentration

  • difficulty in switching from one task to another


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Memory Impairment

  • difficulty remembering material presented through only one channel (visual or auditory)

  • need for far more work and time than usual to store material in long-term memory

  • short term memory may be limited and subject to overload


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Organization/Time Management Impairment

  • frequent lateness and disorganization

  • apparent inattention, asking the question that was just answered

  • slowness in getting things down, difficulty following instructions

  • need for more time to complete assignments

  • confusion in spatial orientation, getting lost easily, difficulty following directions