Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities in the Information Literacy Classroom

Ted Chodock and Elizabeth Dolinger's article "Applying Universal Design to Information Literacy: Teaching Students Who Learn Differently at Landmark College" discusses some ideas for helping students with AD/HD, dyslexia, and other learning disabilities. The define their terms upfront and explain how Universal Design (UD) can apply both to architecture and the classroom. To them active-learning strategies facilitate UD in the classroom: "Instead of simply engaging students and breaking up lectures, active learning methods become a way to reach the variety of learners in the classroom" (30). This makes sense.

Of worthy mention, they explain and provide examples of nine Universal Design principles in their article. Let me highlight just a few. First, "equitable use" in the classroom could mean that a course guide be provided in an online format as well as in print. "The Web-based version allows students with dyslexia and others who learn better aurally to use a test-to-speech screen reader to access the content." It also allows visually impaired students to increase the font size (28).

"Principle 2: Flexibility in Use" encourages active-learning methods, which can help those with attention difficulties. Mix things up with group, demonstration, lecture, and independent activities. To get their attention, also try previewing and viewing an agenda periodically throughout the class, noting when certain objectives have been accomplished. Goals that correlate directly to an assignment give students more reason to engage (28-29).

Spelling search terms can also even things up for those with dyslexia, not to mention a large number of students who have always had a spell-checking function available to correct their mistakes. Along these lines, the authors suggest that handouts, printed or otherwise, be written in a sans serif font, such as Arial or Trebuchet, and that any writing on a blackboard or whiteboard be done with print letters. Cursive or fancy writing may be particularly difficult for those with dyslexia. Besides, the large majority of students will be able to interpret print letters more readily (28).

Finally, "Principle 4: Perceptible Information" deals with clear communication. They make some good points:
Two other applications of principle 4 are using few words in giving directions and presenting information in multiple formats. Just as including too many databases and search strategies can be counterproductive to memory, so can giving detailed instructions that assume a shared knowledge base. Instead, succinct instructions using fewer words provided in sequential order are more effective. Finally, examples of presenting material in multiple formats include using online video clips to illustrate concepts, emphasizing the increasing availability of audio and video content in databases and other electronic resources, and linking multimedia screencasts to Web-based course guides. (29)

It seems that academic librarians spend a lot of time adopting or looking into new technology. Understanding the why's and wherefore's can be useful, and this article begins to address some of these reasons. They also talk about why half to a third of an instruction session should be given for students to practice searching the resources just demonstrated. Students benefit from this opportunity to search, make mistakes, and ask for help from an expert (29).

Consider reading this article and coming back to discuss it here:

Chodock, Ted, and Elizabeth Dolinger. "Applying Universal Design to Information Literacy: Teaching Students Who Learn Differently at Landmark College." Reference & User Services Quarterly 49.1 (Fall 2009): 24-32. Print.

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