One of my core units this semester is Teaching in Diverse Australian Schools, which I thought sounded absolutely fantastic – but then again, I’m into that sort of thing! We have only had two lectures so far, but today’s was really incredible. Dr Lorraine Hammond came in and gave a really fantastic lecture on students with learning difficulties and those with disabilities, and gave us some core definitions to help us try and distinguish between the two.
Learning difficulties: refers to students who experience significant difficulties in learning and making progress in school, but who do not have a documented disability such as an intellectual disability. Graham, L., & Bailey, J. (2007). Learning disabilities and difficulties: an Australian conspectus ‐ introduction to the special series. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 40 (5), 386‐391.
Learning disabilities: a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.
Have you ever had a lecture where you are just completely fascinated by what they have to say? Where they know their content and their presentation so well that everything just flows? It was like that. I was absolutely captivated by the topic – one which I have to say has really scared me in the past. I always imagined swindling my teaching load somehow so that I would only ever have to teach extremely talented, high achieving kids with a passion for drama.
Don’t laugh – I was imagining best case scenario! The further I come along with studying education the more I begin to realise how silly that fantasy was. Not just how separate it was from reality, but I have come to realise that I am actually looking forward to teaching disengaged kids, or students who have a hard time learning.
Something Dr Hammond said really struck a chord with me – in a classroom, the squeaky wheel needs the oil. But they don’t always get it. A significant amount of misbehaviour will occur because the students aren’t coping with the work or have some difficulty paying attention. To paraphrase the lecture, in a typical primary school classroom, 20 – 30% of students will need systematic, explicit and supportive instruction with intensive opportunities to learn. 30 percent! That’s huge. There is no way I currently have the skills to address those needs. I am just beginning to realise how vital it is that I get them!
I’ve said this before, but I truly believe that I am lucky to have drama as my content area – it’s a chance for kids to get up out of their seats and do some kinaesthetic learning, to muck around (a bit) and to approach learning in non-traditional ways. Our curriculum encourages it! That is absolutely wonderful in my book. While I’m upskilling in that area, it’s also key to remember how many other skills I will need to develop over time to be a truly creative (and effective!) teacher.
Some resources care of Dr Hammond which you may find useful if you’re interested in further research of learning difficulties and disabilities:
The Dyslexia Speld Foundation – WA based
AUSPELD – Australia wide foundation
Have a good one