Encouraging students with learning disabilities to talk
Thursday, December 03, 2015
Talking is the most natural skill for almost every person. Talking begins early in development and needs little coaxing.
Some students with learning disabilities are gifted at talking. By that, I refer to their natural desire to talk to anyone and about almost anything. Children have free rein to talk as long as they want and about any topic they are interested in — until they begin school.
Once school starts, they are taught to be quiet, wait their turn to talk, and to be sure to always talk on topic. Their talk is restrained by educational expectations.
Are students with learning disabilities actually being hampered by school routines and expectations?
One of the sets of Common Core Sate Standards (CCSS) that has caused teachers to rethink their instruction is "Speaking and Listening." In this set of standards — a part of the English Language Arts standards — students are expected to talk and listen. Their talking and listening is measured and instructed.
Students with learning disabilities rarely will receive IEP goals to improve speaking and listening from their special educator. However, in their general education classrooms this is an expectation. Are the students with learning disabilities participating in this skill in a way that develops them as learners?
By definition, learning disabilities are language-based, which means learning differences will always be affected by understanding and using words, and symbols that represent words. Providing opportunities for students with learning disabilities to have increased, rich talk time will make available greater opportunities to learn. Their dialogue can indicate for their teachers what is known and what needs further instruction.
Open-ended discussion time — where students can discuss any topic of their choosing — is a great opportunity for teachers to instruct students about supporting their own ideas and consider opposing ideas from peers or teachers. Teachers may need to teach basic social rules of discussion and turn taking, as talking is a sociocultural experience.
This might be an opportunity for students who do not typically enjoying talking to express themselves. Teachers could consider placing a blank anchor chart on the classroom wall and encourage students to fill it with topics they would use to discuss in an open discussion format.
In typical teacher-student discussions, the teacher has an agenda, or a topic that needs to be explored. This is usually a teacher- or curriculum-driven topic.
When this occurs, there are frequently "right answers." When specific answers are being sought, this is often a time that students with learning disabilities may choose to wait to see if their ideas are correct by listening to teacher responses to other students' answers. In this type of discussion, once the correct answers are given, the instruction moves to another place.
Students with learning disabilities talk less in this situation, because they may not know the "right answer." However, teachers who plan questions with many "right answers" for a discussion topic will encourage all students, including those with learning disabilities, to increase their talking.
Exploring the idea of developing more talk time in the classroom as a part of a universal design is one way all students can be included in instruction. Talk is important for developing and understanding new concepts. Students all have their own thoughts that should be validated by listening.
Including the CCSS standards for speaking and listening in the educational plan of a student with learning disabilities is an important support of learning that occurs in the classroom. The student with learning disabilities can successfully use the mode of speech to state what he knows, what interests him, and what he still needs to learn.
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