Within the first week or two of classes, a student with learning disabilities may come to you with an accommodations letter like the one pictured below. I’ve typed up a few guidelines on how to interpret the accommodations letter.
The student’s specific learning disability is confidential, as is the fact that the student has accommodations at all. (More on that below.) However, not every student with a disability will have a letter. Many recent high school graduates will already be diagnosed, but you may also identify students with learning disabilities in your classes. Older students, in particular, may have graduated school before disabilities accommodations were fully enacted.
You should let students know that if they have a verified disability, they can just bring documentation to the DSPS office to get started. Disabled Students Program and Services (DSPS) offers a variety of services to facilitate the success of students with disabilities, including: Learning disability, mobility impairment, stroke or head trauma, visual impairment, hearing impairment, psychological disorders, Attention Deficit Disorder, or other physical disabilities. Main office: Building E, Room 251 Phone: 510-464-3428 Hours: Monday through Thursday 9AM to 4PM; Friday 9AM to 12PM
Students without any prior documentation can also arrange for a student learning disability assessment. To do so, contact Karen Talbot, the Learning Disability Specialist. Phone: (510) 464-3563 Location: E-251A
Considering that there are so many students in your classes with undiagnosed learning disabilities, I encourage you to open up the accommodations to the entire class. Many of the same techniques and considerations you might use with a student with learning disabilities will be helpful for ESL students and developmental reading and writing students.
That said, students with learning disabilities do exhibit some important differences from our usual developmental students. Developmental students lack exposure to and practice with reading and writing skills, and when they start learning in your class, they will pick up new skills quickly. On the other hand, students with learning disabilities may lack reading and writing skills despite exposure throughout their education, and they might make minimal progress compared with your other students. Without accommodations, they might fall behind in class or drop out. I’ve worked in tutoring centers where I saw students with learning disabilities retake a class again and again for years before they finally made it through. These students can do it, but it takes a lot longer and they need a lot more help and support.
The most common accommodation I see is extended time on in-class timed writing. The student should either take this extra time before class or after class—not during the class.
The way I deal with this is to allow all students to take all in-class essays or short writing assignments into my office with me before or after class if they would like to work on them further. This is useful for many students who feel stressed out and rushed during timed writing situations, such as ESL students or students with negative experiences.
If you cannot make your office available, you should check with the department chairs to see if theirs is available. If the chairs are not available, you next contact is the dean, and after that the Vice President of Instruction. It can be very helpful to use a word processor or dictation software for in-class writing assignments, so some students have a further accommodation to take tests in the DSPS office
Tips for meeting the distraction-reduced setting accommodation: Present assignments, directions, and new vocabulary both verbally and on the board or on a handout. Make directions brief and simple, giving only one step at a time. Ask the student to repeat, making sure he/she understands.
Rarely will a student be given extended deadlines or extra time on out-of-class assignments, and it’s usually only one extra day. This accommodation might be used for a physical disability like migraines.
As for the volunteer note-taker accommodation, I make an announcement near the beginning of the semester that one or more students has an accommodation, and I can give extra credit for a student who is willing to take notes for this student. The notetaker then gives these notes to the instructor, so it remains anonymous. They can also make copies of notes at DSPS if you have multiple students with accommodations letters. NCR (carbon paper) is also available so that you don’t have to make copies of the notes.
I prefer to limit these notes to classes actually attended, and if a student misses a class, he or she should come to my office hours to go over the notes, rather than just using the notes as a replacement for attendance.
DSPS can also provide your student with a smartpen that records lectures as they take notes. The student can then go back over their notes and hear the part of the lecture that corresponds to their note about it. Training is available from Kim Cael. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at 209-737-3446
Another approach to the note-taking accommodation, if you use powerpoints every class, is to post the slides to a course website, or email the slides after class to every student who wants them.
A few general tips:
• Abstract concepts are often the hardest for students to understand. A printed summary of key concepts is useful. You can send this list with the student to the tutoring center to or use it in your office hours and one-on-one discussions with the student, allowing them to understand and apply concepts with concrete examples.
• Many students with disabilities will struggle with long readings, but you don’t want them to fall too far behind. Encourage them to come to the writing center for help with reading strategies and to talk the reading through with a tutor.
• Students with learning disabilities can work one-on-one with a tutor who specializes in disabilities at DSPS. Students who are eligible for specialized tutoring services at DSPS can contact Joe Cha at (510) 986-6975. Email: email@example.com.
• If allowed by the accommodation, students can make use of the High Tech Center offers instruction in the use of adaptive software and equipment, including: Dragon Naturally Speaking (dictation) Kurzweil 1000 & 3000 (scan and read software to assist persons with reading difficulties) ZoomText (screen enlargement program)
• If allowed by the accommodation, DSPS can also provide students with audio versions of textbooks so they can listen along as they read. Announce texts and reading materials in advance so DSPS has time to scan in and find audio versions of the texts.