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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

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

general learning outcomes presentation objectives
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.


a quick overview

A quick overview . . .

What is a

Learning Disability?

what is a learning disability

What is a Learning Disability?

A new definition

from the LDAO

in brief learning disabilities
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.


these disorders
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.


these psychological processes are
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)


learning disabilities
Learning disabilities

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


these skills are
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


what a ld is not
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


so a learning disability is an information processing impairment

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

a simple model of learning information processing
A Simple Model of Learning & Information Processing
  • Attention
  • Sensory Input
  • Decoding
  • Processing
    • May include Storage

and/or Retrieval processes

  • Encoding
  • Physical Output


where can ip break down dr allyson g harrison queen s university
Where can IP break down? 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)


breakdown continues dr allyson g harrison queen s university
Breakdown continues 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


still breaking down dr allyson g harrison queen s university
Still breaking down 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.


so how might an ld affect a learner

So how might an LD affect a Learner?

A Couple of Examples . . .

can t you read this
Can’t you read this?
  • 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.


can t you see this
Can’t you see this?
  • Can’t you see the _________?


ip impairments may cause academic difficulty with
IP impairments may cause academic difficulty with… *
  • 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)


social emotional aspects of a learning disability

Social & Emotional Aspects* of a Learning Disability

*From Introducing Learning Disabilities to Postsecondary Educators

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

a tough fact
A Tough Fact
  • 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.


possible academic problems
Possible Academic Problems
  • 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


possible social emotional problems
Possible Social/Emotional Problems
  • 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


possible career vocational problems
Possible Career/Vocational Problems
  • 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


meeting their needs

Meeting Their Needs . . .

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

test exam accommodation

extra time

spell checker

use of a computer

distraction-free environment

leniency towards spelling & grammar

Less Common




voice dictation

Test/Exam Accommodation


classroom lecture accommodation

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


personal study accommodation
master notebook


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


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


what you can do

What you can do . . .

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

general principles
General principles . . .
  • 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!


general strategies
General Strategies
  • 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.


math science
Math & Science
  • 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


  • 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…


general tips when tutoring students with lds
General tips when tutoring students with LDs
  • 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


be a great teacher

Be a GREAT teacher

Use multi-modal teaching techniques, and

remember . . .

we learn william glasser
We Learn...William 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


or simply
Or Simply

Tell me and I will forget

Show me and I may remember

Involve me and I will understand

Ancient Chinese proverb


so remember
So remember . . .
  • See
  • Listen
  • Say
  • Model
  • Do
  • Do again
  • The list goes on . . .


and . . .
  • 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 


to review
To review . . .
  • 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


what did we learn
What did we learn?
  • 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


more info
More Info . . .
  • 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




. . . our thanks for this opportunity!

appendix lds academic performance

Appendix: LDs & 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

  • 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


  • 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


listening speaking
Listening & Speaking
  • 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


  • 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


general knowledge
General Knowledge
  • 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


  • 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


  • 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


organization time management
Organization/Time Management
  • 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