I live with a language processing disorder. I didn’t know that as a student and for years I had to learn things the hard way- including how to learn. I found that I couldn’t pull all-nighters the way other students did because words started to loose their meaning for me as I got tired. I found I sometimes needed to go to my professors’ office hours for more explanation of complex ideas, and I needed tutors for classes that required large amounts of memorization, like biology and math.
Knowing that a student has a language processing disorder provides some basic insight for teachers and disability service providers, mainly that the student may struggle to integrate written/spoken/visual language – to put it all together and make sense out of it – which impacts how the student will learn. Fortunately, there are a few aids now available that can assist students with finding additional ways to access information.
Electronic text can be useful for students who do better processing information they hear vs. trying to read large sections of text. I therefore suggest that students consider sources of textbooks which give them access to both the visual text and an e-text, which they can listen to but also manipulate for visual effect on their computer. Two sources of e-text are Bookshare (www.bookshare.org) and CourseSmart (www.coursesmart.com). As long as Bookshare’s funding lasts they will be able to provide free membership to those with qualifying disabilities.
Another technology that can be useful are the Livescribe Pens (www.livecribe.com); this is still proprietary technology (no one else can currently manufacture these – although they are sold in some national chain stores.) These pens need to be used with the notebooks also manufactured by the company. The result, however, are notes that can be downloaded to a computer. Additionally, the pens record audio; these audio notes are synced with the written notes so that the pen can be touched to any point in the notes and the audio will playback what was being said at that point. This can be particularly useful for students who need to hear what a teacher says several times, while reviewing the notes they took.
For students who do not take much in the way of notes but who benefit from hearing lecture points several times, there are a number of reasonably priced, small digital recorders currently available. If a student is working with a disability service provider on campus, it is also possible to arrange for a note-taker if a student has a qualifying disability – someone else will write notes for the student.
Professors are also increasingly making use of online platforms like Blackboard and Canvas to post notes, slides, and other information online for students to download and review. It can be very helpful for a student to download these notes, outlines, or slides before class, and then take class-notes directly onto these aids.
Learning centers are also very useful for students with language processing disorders. The tutors who work in these centers can assist a student with homework, and review class lectures, readings, and ideas to make sure the student is learning the main concepts during the semester. It also helps a person process knowledge when they discuss key points and ideas with another person. Trying to explain class concepts to another person will also give a student a better idea of what they currently understand and what they still need to review and clarify.
I’m always looking for ideas and examples of what others find useful and welcome people to share their thoughts and experiences in the comment section for this blog. I have had one student, for example, who told me she actually finds making and using her own flashcards (writing key concepts on note-cards with the answers on back) a very effective way to prepare for exams. First she’s writing the flashcards out, then she is reviewing them to see what she knows and what she’s still struggling with. The more ways we find to engage our brain, the more likely we are to remember what we’re trying to learn.
Perhaps the most important thing for any disabled student to realize is how their disability impacts their personal learning when combined with their individual learning strengths. For example, a dyslexic student who is a visual learner is going to have to find ways to ‘see’ what a teacher is explaining – examples can be very important and it may be necessary to attend a professor’s office hours and ask the professor if there is another way to explain an idea – a way that is more visual.
Again, learning centers can be useful because there is another person (the tutor) who will have different ideas from the professor about how to explain key ideas. Sometimes it takes trial and error to find a person who can explain challenging concepts in a way that works best with one’s own learning strengths.
Communicating with the school disability service provider can also be a useful strategy, particularly if the student is struggling and needs additional ideas for how to tackle the situation they are in. No student does better by quietly suffering. Schools want students to learn and there are a range of supports that can assist a student with learning. The responsibility to seek out these supports though, rests with the student once they are in college. There are an increasing number of resources available and disability service providers and students can work together to find new ways of accessing information.