April Luehmann, who teaches science education at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester, has her students maintain blogs to record their experiences during their preparation to teach. One of those students, Greg Hart, wrote about his experiences when scribing for a student with Learning Disabilities. Greg found the experience distressing.
This is one of the hardest tasks I have done. Don’t get me wrong, writing down what someone says is not grueling nor mentally challenging. But, listening to a student think through problems and arrive at completely wrong answers over and over is painful.
From this description, it sounds to me as though no one has taught the learner how to think through problems. It’s a great illustration of the need to teach students strategies, teach them how to proceed through a task systematically and strategically. What are the cognitive steps for solving problems such as these? Let’s make those mental steps into demonstrable actions, teach learners to perform them, show them the nuances of performing them, and provide copious practice in using them to solve problems. But, teaching wasn’t Greg’s responsibility in the situation he described; his description of the situation simply gave me an opporutnity to reiterate the importance of teaching cognitive operations explicity.
Greg goes on to comment about discrepancies between what he considers the learner’s capabilities and those he saw represented in the learner’s Individual Education Plan (IEP). He added some comments on special education.
I will admit, this student probably does have some learning disability, but it is not what the IEP says. How many other students struggle in school and are simply classified as students with a disability? How many of these students have wrong information and diagnoses? This is a shame. If this problem is at all wide spread, it is a disgrace to special needs education, the people who work there, the administration for not hiring enough trained support, and maybe even the education system in general.
Greg’s observations are telling. If there are such problems with the IEPs, if they do not clearly and accurately reflect learners’ unique educational needs, then there is a need to teach teachers how to prepare appropriate IEPs. This task also requires cognitive strategies! We should be ensuring that teachers, administrators, psychologists, and parents know what it takes to write legally correct and worthwhile IEPs, such as described by Barb Bateman and colleagues.