Our Responsibility to Meet the Needs of Every Student
written by Middle and Upper School Learning Specialist Mr. Robert Laffey
Learning resource teachers are committed to making sure every student succeeds regardless of how they learn or what obstacles they face. We are advocates for our students, placing their needs at the center of every decision we make, every lesson we plan and every assignment we give. As pedagogy evolves and diagnoses of anxiety and attention-related health issues increase, teachers must continually ask themselves, “Is this what is best for my students?” Or, more importantly, “Is this what is best for all of my students?”
Equitable Access to Learning
ADHD and learning disabilities are the leading causes of creating learning plans at Severn. ADHD impacts the ability to focus and sustain attention. In addition, executive function impairments often accompany ADHD. Executive functions include a student’s ability to initiate, to organize, to follow through, to self-monitor and to plan. Learning disabilities often impact a student’s capacity to process information in specific academic areas. For any of you who have a child with one of these, you know that schoolwork can be challenging (despite knowing that they are smart kids!).
Instruction and how it is delivered should never be done in one, and only one, way. When this is done — when the shampoo method is employed — only a fraction of our students have access to learning. If we ignore our students’ varied learning styles and abilities, we neglect our mission to know and value every child. Students with attention issues, auditory processing issues, and language-based learning disabilities are, very likely, missing parts of the instruction.
Lessons that include multi-sensory experiences like spending time outside, singing, drawing, acting, and more give students more than one way to access the information — they engage all of the senses rather than relying solely on reading and listening. Moreover, research indicates that multi-sensory learning is more likely to be retained and is far more engaging and fun.
Social and Emotional Impact
In addition to compromised access to instruction, students with LD and ADHD are more susceptible to other social and emotional issues. Students often report high levels of stress over homework. If a student typically spends two hours on homework, expect a student with a learning disability to spend at least three. Short deadlines can create a loop of anxiety and depression for these students. Hours of homework without appropriate time to plan, inaccessibility to instruction, and assessment that is not differentiated create an uphill battle, daily, for students with LD and ADHD.
According to the National Survey of Children’s Health, 33% of students with ADHD also have one coexisting condition — 18% being anxiety and 15% being depression. Furthermore, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 21% of children ages 13-18 experience some diagnosable form of anxiety.
Teaching for Every Student
How can we teach for every student and still reach academic goals? Teachers must provide multi-sensory experiences, think purposefully about assessment, plan homework with respect for students’ time, differentiate lessons and work with learning specialists to accommodate students who are struggling.
Student support in independent schools is a fairly new, evolving practice. With the increasing number of diagnosed learning disabilities nationwide the need for support is higher than it has ever been. At Severn, we strive to create an inclusive community where every individual is known and valued, where every person feels a sense of belonging. As educators, it’s our responsibility to fight against the stigma associated with learning disabilities and support students in the way that’s right for them. Only then can we truly meet the needs of every student.