There are a number of definitions of a learning disability. We use the definition that is given in Title V of the California Code of Regulations. All of the 106 California Community Colleges utilize this same definition. We follow the guidelines set forth by the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office.
A more accurate term is learning difference. The brain has many functions, including processing information that comes to it through the senses, focusing on it, working with it, memorizing and recalling it. Everyone’s brain develops differently, giving us unique strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes there are very significant differences in a person’s abilities, so that the brain works very well at some tasks, but others cause great difficulties. When these difficulties are so great that they have a negative impact on academic achievement, we call this a learning disability.
To qualify as having a learning disability, a student must display the following attributes:
- Average or above intelligence
- Educational background necessary for college level work
- A significant discrepancy in the ways information is processed
- A significant difference between cognitive ability and academic achievement in at least one area.
For more information on learning disabilities, click here.
Working with Students with Learning Disabilities
- Provide a detailed course syllabus. Make it available before the beginning of the semester.
- Go over your syllabus at the first class meeting. Clearly spell out expectations: grading, attendance, materials to be covered, due dates, and participation. Stick to your syllabus.
- Include a statement in your syllabus such as the following: All students with disabilities requiring accommodations are responsible for making arrangements in a timely manner through the Center for Students with Disabilities.
- Respect the students' rights to confidentiality and fair treatment. Do not discuss their disability in front of other students, nor take any action that could single them out or embarrass them.
- Many students with learning disabilities dislike reading out loud in class. If this is a standard practice, let the student know ahead of time what you will be asking them to read, giving them a chance to practice.
- If students are afraid of being called on in class, they will miss much of what is being said. In private, arrange to use a cue such as standing directly in front of students right before you are about to call on them. This will allow them to relax the rest of the time and pay attention.
- Only call on students when you are relatively sure they know the answer. This gives them the chance to experience success and be a part of the class.
- Give students ample time to answer the question. Remember, they need time to process the question first, before they begin to formulate an answer.
- Do not expect that, because you said something once, the student caught, or understands what you said. Be redundant about important information, and provide plenty of opportunities for questions. Give clear assignments and directions both orally and in written form.
- Try to avoid expressing annoyance when a student asks a question that you just answered.
- Be aware of the classroom environment. Ask the student to sit close to you, and away from windows and doors. Keep the doors closed if possible. Be sure there is adequate ventilation and lighting. Allow the student to wear earplugs during tests.
- Speak in a clear voice, and don't go too quickly. If you have an accent, make sure your students can understand you. Avoid talking while writing on the board. Provide enough time for students to take notes. Give several examples of key points.
- Provide information through a multisensory approach. Provide handouts of key information that are typed in black ink, with plenty of space for writing notes.
- Make your organization overt. Start each class with a review of previous material. Outline on the board what you will be covering. End with a summary of important points.
- If a student has difficulty taking notes, allow them to use a tape recorder.
- Distribute samples of finished papers or well-written essay exams as examples, or post a model at the front of the class.
- Provide study questions for exams that demonstrate the format as well as the content of the test. Explain what constitutes a good answer and why.
- Provide opportunities for peer study or exam review groups.
- Provide opportunities for review sessions before each exam.
- Allow a student to preview or review material presented on overhead transparencies/slides/PowerPoint either before or after class.
- Provide frequent feedback opportunities. Make sure students know how they are doing in your class.
- Encourage students to use campus support services.