Next Steps

Six graduates determinedly looking forward.

High school graduates with learning disabilities who are contemplating the next chapter in their academic careers should start learning about and preparing for that transition as early as possible. Programs like the CUSP Program can help.

There is in many ways a “disconnect” between high school and university which can make the transition to post-secondary that much harder. The secondary and post-secondary education systems are two very different systems that have evolved in very different ways, which means that students are often surprised by and unprepared for many aspects of the brave new world they finds themselves in after they leave high school. Beyond that, students with disabilities will discover differences in how their disability needs to be documented, how their accommodations are accessed, and in the expectation that they will take on a more active role in their own accommodation.

A number of previous LDAWE blog posts have discussed some of the obvious differences between these two education systems, and their impact on the transition process. Tammy Wilcox offered a parent’s perspective on this process in her article “Transitioning to University or College”. And in “Smooth Moves: Transitioning to University” and “Transition: Smooth Moves, Part 2”, I talk about some of these differences, and offer a bit of advice about preparing for them.

The reality is that educators and advisors in each of these systems are well aware of this apparent “disconnect”, and working hard to close this gap so that transitioning from high school to university or college can be a little more seamless (and a little less daunting) for our students. An example of this can be seen in the CUSP (College and University Success Preparation) Program, which is offered at the University of Windsor every Spring.

CUSP was created in collaboration with the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) (with help from our friends at St. Clair College and from the Learning Disabilities Association), to make sure that high school students who have a learning disability and/or ADHD get information they need well in advance in order to make informed choices about the academic path that’s right for them, whether that’s university or college. Students and their parents spend the morning with us learning about some of the differences between high school and college/university, as well as about the variety of services that are potentially available, how to access those services, and how to access funding for assessments and technology. They also have the opportunity to hear first-hand from a panel of students with LD/ADHD who have managed to transition smoothly from high school and are “getting it done” at a post-secondary level with great success.

High school students in Grade 11 or 12 who have a learning disability and/or ADHD and would like to start gathering information that can empower them to have a smoother transition to college or university can learn more on the CUSP webpage. Students affiliated with the GECDSB can also learn more from their Learning Support Teachers, and are required to register online through the CUSP webpage.  Students from private or separate school board high schools are also welcome to join us, and are requested to contact us directly for registration. The link for that can also be found on the CUSP webpage.

It has been said that the future belongs to those who prepare for it today.   So students, think about the kind of future you’d like to create for yourself, and start planning for it now. If you think there might be a place in that future for university or college, then consider joining us for the CUSP Program as an initial step in gathering the information you need to start creating the future you want.

What YOUR Post-Secondary Teachers Need to Know

Guest Blog Post by: Kathy Hansen, B.Sc., M.Ed.

College just aheadSeptember has come and gone and we are starting to feel the rhythm of school days again.  It takes a month or so every year for my family to get into the routines—routines that help us feel more organized, calmer and even safer.   Every year the transition back to school comes with its ups and downs, but some transitions are bigger than others.  The transition to college is one I am most familiar with.  Every year first year college students venture into a new chapter of their lives.  For students with learning disabilities (and their parents), the transition to college can be even more significant than it is for their peers without LD.  (See the previous post Smooth Moves)

I want to share some experiences and thoughts, based on my research, about community college faculty, students with learning disabilities, and best practices for success.  Students with learning disabilities make up a larger portion of post-secondary students than ever before – in both Canadian and US universities and community colleges.  In Ontario, a growing number of young adults with LD are attending university, but an even greater portion is attending community college.  Over 8000 students with learning disabilities attended Ontario’s 24 community colleges in 2009-2010 and the number continues to grow. Community colleges pride themselves on being accessible, hands-on learning institutions with teachers and professors that provide student-centred learning environments.  Student Services Office personnel provide support for students with learning and other disabilities when it comes to transitioning to college, accessing accommodations, and ongoing counseling support.  One major difference between high school and post-secondary education is that students must seek out support, disclose their disability, and advocate for themselves.  For many students, the process begins in high school with a supported transition; high school teachers, parents, the student and the post-secondary support team work together to facilitate the transition.

College StudentsMy research has focused on community college faculty attitudes toward and their preparedness for teaching students with learning disabilities.  Faculty attitudes and practices contribute to the success or failure of students with learning disabilities in postsecondary settings.  In my research, I developed a valid and reliable instrument called the Faculty Preparedness Questionnaire to measure preparedness for teaching students with LD.  Preparedness was defined as knowledge plus attitude.  The questionnaire addressed themes such as knowledge of disability legislation, knowledge about LD and use of resources, attitudes towards students with LD, and their potential for success at the college level. By asking community college teachers about their knowledge, attitude and practices, I wanted to understand more about their perceptions of their preparedness for teaching the growing number of students with LD in community college.  I found that community college faculty had generally positive attitudes towards, and self-rated knowledge about learning disabilities.   However, despite their positive attitudes, college instructors expressed many myths and misconceptions about LD.  The biggest gaps were in the understanding of the definition of learning disabilities and in best practices for supporting student needs.  Instructors lacked knowledge about what a learning disability is and what it is not (i.e. It is not due to poor teaching, low IQ or cultural differences).  Instructors were more knowledgeable about the legal requirement of providing the recommended accommodations, but not about what they could do in the classroom to help students with LD to be more successful.  Instructors also expressed concern about students with LD being able to perform work in the real job market.

College StudentsTherefore the task remains—to improve knowledge about LD— understanding the definition, the learning needs of students, and how individuals with LD can succeed in college level learning and in employment situations.  If you are a student with LD attending post-secondary school (or know someone that is), self-advocacy can be a major factor for success.  Don’t assume your instructors or professors know about your learning disability.  As there are different types, and accommodations and learning needs are different, you can play a big role in informing your teachers about LD.  Meet your instructors in person during their office hours and share information about your strengths and learning needs, and your motivation for success in your chosen academic and career paths.  Ask them if they would like more information and send them some information about LD, or share a link such as LDAO.  Don’t be afraid to use your accommodations. Remember that receiving accommodations is your right and do not give you and unfair advantage, but rather level the playing field.  Sometimes students with LD attempt post-secondary education without accommodations, but so often this does not work out and the student ends up not doing well in the courses.  Better to use your accommodations, discuss with your instructors and follow-up when you get your tests or assignments back.  Share your successes so that more people come to understand that a learning disability does not limit an individual.

Accessible education depends on educators having the knowledge and attitudes needed to reduce barriers and provide an inclusive learning environment.  The good news is that college educators in my research indicated positive attitudes toward students with LD; however, knowledge is an equally important contributor to understanding best practices for teaching students with LD.  If you have other ideas on how to disseminate information about LD and the successes of post-secondary students in their academic studies and careers please share them on this blog!

 

References

Hansen, K. (2013) College instructors’ preparedness to teach students with learning disabilities. University of Western Ontario – Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository  http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/etd/1244/

Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology (SSC SAST; 2011). Opening the door: Reducing Barriers to post-secondary education in Canadahttp://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/411/soci/rep/rep06dec11-e.pdf

 

Kathy Hansen, B.Sc., M.Ed.

Professor, Educational Support Program

St. Clair College of Applied Arts & Technology

Windsor, Ontario

khansen@stclaircollege.ca

http://www.stclaircollege.ca

Labour Day Blues…

Am I the only one that feels this way?  I’m in my 30s (and no, I’m not going to get more specific than that), and I still dread Labour Day.  I’ve always felt it’s the worst holiday of the year.  To me, Labour Day always symbolizes the end of Summer and the beginning of school.  I remember listening to the radio one year on Labour Day and something must have happened at the radio station, because they just kept playing the R.E.M. song, “It’s the End of the World as We Know It” on repeat for over an hour.  I remember wondering if it was some cruel joke the radio station was playing on all of us students.  I haven’t gone to school for over a decade, and I still get that feeling of back to school dread.  Maybe if I had my own children, the feeling of dread would be replaced with the feelings of joy and happiness as I got to ship the children off to school.  I don’t know…

Regardless of my feelings of the holiday, for children with learning disabilities or ADHD, and their parents, the start of a new school year can be very anxiety provoking.  Parents worry about a wide variety of things, such as wondering if the:

  • new classroom teacher is going to “understand” the child’s disability and/or accommodation plan.
  • child is going to get the computer equipment the school promised the year before.
  • class bully is going to be in the child’s class this year.
  • etc…

During the next couple of weeks, all of these questions will be answered.  I wish the best for you and your child.  However, if difficulties arise, please don’t forget that there are lots of great organizations (such as LDAWE) around that can assist you and your family.

I also want you all to know that LDAO (our provincial organization) is hosting a webinar, “Starting the school year off on the right foot – how to help children with LDs transition back into school.”  The webinar takes place on Wednesday, September 24, 2014.  Please click on the flyer for more details.

Webinar

Don’t stop building your smarts (some summer advice for students)

Stylized image of a human brain lit up with blue light indicating activity and growth.

“If you believe you can accomplish everything by “cramming” at the eleventh hour, by all means, don’t lift a finger now. But you may think twice about beginning to build your ark once it has already started raining” Max Brooks

School’s out (almost)! And if you’re a student getting ready to graduate from high school, you’re probably ready for some well earned down time, right? And if you’re headed off to college or university in September, you probably want to make this summer count. Spend time with your friends. Party a bit. Maybe spend time at a cottage, or just chill somewhere. Honing you academic skills is likely the last thing on your mind. But…if you truly want to meet your potential in college or university, there are some things you should do this summer that can’t wait until the last minute, which will keep you sharp and on your game, will prevent your skills from getting rusty, and will allow you to start this next chapter of your academic career with some momentum. It is absolutely true that “if you don’t use it, you lose it”, so here are some things you can do over the summer to maintain your edge:

Keep reading! It doesn’t have to feel like homework. Read anything that interests or inspires you, or sparks your interest. Read at a level that’s fun for you. Read magazines, or newspapers, or trashy novels if that’s fun for you, but read! And if you want to challenge yourself a bit, try listening to audio books, or try a novel using that text-to-speech software (Kurzweil, perhaps?) that’s been gathering dust on your laptop. The whole point is to keep your mind active and stimulated by giving it new information to process.

Keep writing! Nobody’s asking you to produce 10-page papers every week, but you can keep your writing skills sharps by doing something as simple as maintaining a daily journal.  And no…texting does not qualify as the kind of writing you need to be good at.  In college/university you can’t write using acronyms or emoticons (LOL), so keep your skills up by practicing the kind of writing that you’ll be required to do when you get here. Go old school and write a letter to your Aunt Daisy in Newfoundland, or a thank you note to Uncle John in Red Deer.   Journaling, letter writing, whatever you do, find a reason to write frequently throughout the summer. You may even want to do this by experimenting with the Dragon software that is sitting alone and lonely on your laptop.

Learn your technology! Many high school students with learning disabilities have access to technology and assistive software that they never use.  Take some time this summer to learn it.  Post-secondary students routinely use programs like Kurzweil, Dragon Naturally Speaking, and Inspiration to level the playing field and to achieve at their academic potential.  And with very few exceptions, every student at this level is using some form of technology. Get comfortable with your technology and be ready to put it to use when you get here.  You’ll be glad you did.

Learn your self!  Part of that self is the small but important part that is your learning disability. This part should never define who you are, but ignoring it won’t do you any good either. So, start by reading and understanding your IEP and assessment (if you have one). Understand your diagnosis and what it means. Understand and be able to explain why you get the accommodations that you get. Take responsibility for developing an understanding of how you learn, and what the learning strategies are that empower you to reach for your potential. The more you are able to do that, the more independent you become, and the more effective you will be in advocating for yourself after high school.

Maintain a schedule! One of the biggest potential stumbling blocks high school students encounter in transitioning to university is with time management. In high school, your schedule was largely determined for you, but in university…not so much.   In most cases you will determine the number of courses you will take, when they will be, whether or not you will attend, or whether a social event with new friends will take priority over your academic responsibilities. This kind of independence and responsibility can seem like freedom, but it can become a curse if you let it. So get a handle on your time management now. Plan and stick to a routine over the summer. Set an alarm and get up on your own. Figure out when you will work out, when you will spend time reading and relaxing, when you’ll hang out with friends, when you’ll take time for college /university prep, and how you’ll do all of that around the summer job you may have found. Put all of this on a schedule and stick with it, in preparation for the new time management demands you will find after high school.

Get ready for your courses! Look for course information online, and get the lay of the land as early as you can. It’s much better to start the first day of class having already established an overview of what will be required. You may even be able to buy your books ahead of time, and if you can do that, there’s no reason not to scan some of that material as part of your summer reading program. And to the extent that it’s possible, learn your new campus. Explore it if you have the opportunity to do that. Figure out how to find the offices and services you may need, and get comfortable with navigating your new campus well before class begins.  One less thing to worry about once class actually starts.

Make early contact with the Office for Student’s with Disabilities! As we discussed in a previous blog post (Smooth Moves: Transitioning to University), the process for being accommodated at a post-secondary level is very different from what you may have become used to in high school. So…it is never too early to start the process. Meet with a Disability Advisor at your new school, who will spend time with you reviewing your current accommodations and documentation. Many high school students require an updated assessment when they move on to college/university, and an advisor can facilitate and guide you through a process to ensure that you are appropriately accommodated when class begins.

So enjoy your summer, by all means, but don’t neglect important aspects of yourself in the process, and don’t stop building on the solid academic foundation you established in high school. Use some of your “down time” this summer to build yourself up, preparing your body and mind for the new journey that lies just ahead. Have fun, but make sure you don’t arrive at the first day of class with an empty tank. Get proper rest, and exercise, and nutrition, and nourish your mind in some of the ways that we’ve talked about. Nourish your spirit too, by spending time with people you love, and who love you, and who inspire you somehow to be your best self.  Have a fun, safe and productive summer, and plan to arrive at your new school with a full tank of gas, fully prepared to head out on the road to success.

 

If you have any thoughts on what you’ve read,  please feel free to comment,  ‘Like’ it,  ‘Share’  it,  or otherwise spread the word via social media.

Summer Time Math Fun

I enjoy using games in my ABC123 Tutoring program that help students reinforce things that they have been learning and practicing.  Since many students are visual and kinesthetic learners I have a set of go-to activities that I incorporate in their program.  With summer approaching, I’ve decided to include a list of games that can be used at home over the break to keep math interesting and to keep kid’s engaged.  This list is great for parents who are looking for ideas to enrich their child’s summer and for teacher’s getting ready to teach summer enrichment camps.

Math Jenga

In this activitjengay, students play with a partner(s) and answer math questions.  Once they have checked their answer they can add their game piece to the tower.  I have one side labelled with addition questions and the opposite side with multiplication so there are two levels of play.  Once the tower has been constructed students can play Jenga.

 

 

Yahtzee

I have a cup, 5 dice and a Yahtzee gamyahtzeee sheet downloaded from the internet.  Students play take turns rolling dice and playing Yahtzee.  This game is great because students get to practice their time tables and their addition facts.  They also need to use strategy to come out on top.

 

 

Battleship

This game is the best game for teaching coordinates.  Student’s take turns trying to sink each other’s ships by calling out coordinates.  I’ve had a few student’s tell me after “Wow – now I understand coordinates!”  It’s a fun game and no one realizes that they are practicing their math!

Electronic Battleship (4)

Card Games – Greater/Less Than/Addition War/Multiplication War

I havewar playing this one with my own son since he was 4 years old.  We started off as playing greater than-less than war and progressed to addition war.  You split a deck, decide what your Jack, Queen, King and Ace will be worth and each player then places a card on the table. If playing greater–than war; the person with higher card wins.  If playing addition war  I have students take turns answering the math problem in order to remove the competitiveness and allow for extra time to process the answer. I always have counting cubes on hand close by to help as well.  This game can be played as a multiplication game as well for more advanced students.  If both players draw the same card it’s time for war!

 

 

Dice Games

Dice games are versatile.  You can play war much like with cards or you can play multiplication or addition games.  Vary the amount of dice to change the degree of difficulty.  My student’s love dice play – it’s a great way to practice their math.

 

Dominoes

Dominoes are great for teaching math.  You can use them for war like cards and dice or you can play “What’s Missing”.  I take two dominoes and place one right side up and one side down.  I give the student the total and they need to solve how many dots are on the domino.  This makes for a fun subtraction game.

download

Monopoly

We all played Monomonopolypoly as kids and you’d be surprised how much kid’s today enjoy playing this game too.  A lot of strategy is used as well as number sense to play the game.  Activities like rolling a die and moving the game piece on the board as well as counting out money help with addition practice.  I play this game with my son and my nieces on rainy summer days.  It keeps them interested and I love that they are practicing their math.

 

These are a few of my favourite activities that my student’s enjoy – there are so many more out there.  Math practice doesn’t have to be about math worksheets or computer games.  Children love playing games and I cannot think of a better way to have them practice their math skills this summer!  What are some of your favourite math games?

The iPad Question

At LDA Windsor – Essex County we are very lucky to have a contract with the Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) and the Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) to provide training to students who receive adaptive technology equipment through a Special Equipment Amount (SEA) Claim.

In one of my past blog posts, Goose Bumps, I discussed how much I love introducing people with learning disabilities to adaptive technology (A/T).

However, the A/T field, just like technology in general, is quickly changing and evolving.  Instead of using the typical laptops with a variety of A/T software installed, School Boards across the province of Ontario are trying alternatives, such as iPads and Chromebooks.
Students using computersIt is a very sad truth that many students were refusing to use their laptops.  Many of them sat in closets, collecting dust.  There are many reasons why…

  1. Many students are embarrassed to use their laptop because they do not want to appear different then their peers.
  2. Many of the laptops are very slow, especially when starting up.
  3. Some of the A/T software can be difficult to learn how to use.  Students may stop using the laptop because they forget how to use software.

Here in Windsor-Essex, one of our school boards has switched to using iPads with students approved for SEA Claim equipment instead of laptops.  I must admit, at first I was very hesitant.  Could the iPad compare to what the existing A/T field offered?  However, after several months of seeing the students use iPads instead of laptops, I’ve been convinced.

To answer my first question, “Could the iPad compare to what the existing A/T field offered?”  The answer at this point is – No, but it is getting better every day.  The apps that are available are great, and very beneficial for students with learning disabilities and ADHD.

The big downside to using iPads is that you cannot use more than one app at a time.  With the current laptop technology, you could use multiple A/T software programs at one time.  On the iPads, the students have to be able to transfer their work from one app to the next.  Being able to print completed work is also another area of difficulty.

Students using iPadsOn the other hand, students LOVE their iPads.  They want to use them, they are excited to use them, and their classmates want to partner with them, because they want to have the opportunity to use the iPad too.  As we saw with the laptops, this is half the battle.  The students we are training are using their iPads, and as a result the level of their work is increasing.  At the end of the day, this is exactly what we want to see.

Have you tried using the iPad with students with learning disabilities and ADHD?  What do you think?  Do you prefer traditional A/T on the laptop or the iPad better?

LD@School

Last week, all of the LDA Chapters across the province of Ontario had the opportunity to get together for a couple of days to network, share ideas, learn about new LDAO initiatives, and work on developing a consistent brand for LDAs across the province.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend, along with Shelley, who is one of our Board Members (Shelley is also one of our guest bloggers, check out her most recent post, Issues Facing Adult Literacy Learners).

It was great to hear about some of the innovative initiatives that other LDA Chapters across the province have been providing.  Between mentoring programs, entrepreneurial programs, having ambassadors and champions, publishing research in peer-reviewed journals, LDAs across the province are helping people with LD/ADHD achieve success.  Shelley and I came back from the meeting with lots of ideas of things we can try here in Windsor – Essex.

LD@School and TA@l’école

LD@SchoolIn my opinion, one of the most exciting things to hear about was LDAO’s new initiative, called LD@School (or TA@l’école in French).  This project is funded by the Ministry of Education, and is a website that offers free resources for educators who work with students with learning disabilities.  There is an English version of the website (www.LDatSchool.ca) and a French version of the website (www.TAaLecole.ca).  The websites are a work-in-progress, so new resources are being added all of the time.  There is currently:

  • various articles (written by LDAO staff and school board contributors);
  • English and French videos created in collaboration with Ontario educators;
  • practical summaries of strategies, practices, and approaches that educators can put directly to work in their classrooms;
  • sign-up page for upcoming webinars;
  • links to relevant websites with additional resources;
  • links to documents prepared specifically for educators from a variety of educational organizations; and
  • information relating to LDAO’s one-day Educators’ Institute being held on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 (there will be English and French workshops).

LD@School

LDAO is currently looking for inspirational youth with learning disabilities who would be interested in submitting a Success Story for the website.  If you are someone you know would like to share their story, please contact LDAO at info@LDatSchool.ca or info@TAaLecole.ca.