Teacher Role: Reporting a Learning Disability
Learning is a change in behavior. Teachers understand the operation of the learning process. Senses expose the pupil to a world around them. These sensory stimuli are relayed to the brain for processing which causes altered behavior patterns. It is not just an accumulation of facts. It is an aggregation of knowledge and understanding that causes these changes in behavior. Pupils learn by doing and using as many senses as possible. A teacher stimulates a pupil’s senses to accomplish learning. Teachers are on constant alert for failure to meet the desired objectives. Failure to accomplish these goals of learning can be attributed to the teacher or pupil. In this article, a possible procedure for identifying a pupil with a learning problem is offered.
Teachers create environments. So do zoologists at the zoo and botanists at the arboretum. Learning is a common factor in all the artificial environments. Zoologists and botanists have a purpose to maintain the life of the creatures with which they work. The learning is incidental to maintaining healthy live organisms. Teachers maintain the life of their pupils but that is incidental to the main goal of learning. Healthy environments, zoological, botanical or pedagogical, have certain factors in common.
- All organisms are alive at the beginning of the establishment of the environment.
- There is a mutual reciprocity that creates the harmony of the environment.
- The organisms respond to the nurturing nature of the environment.
- Outsiders can identify the progress over time within the environment.
The classroom is the environment that the teacher creates to facilitate learning. The pupils, like the flowers or animals, fill the environment when they walk in each day alive. The interactions of the pupils orchestrated by the teacher creates the harmony of the classroom. With the activities of learning, pupils are expected to become engaged. Over a period of time, the pupils within the environment grow and mature. A beautiful botanical display or real life animal enclosure capture the visitors attention. These environments are pleasing to the senses. The classroom environment is an interactive world that stimulates senses and creates changes in behavior. The classroom environment is where learning is occurring.
Teachers observe children in their role as a pupil. Within the environment of the classroom, teachers watch for pupils who are unable to work with other pupils or fail to change in behavior or takes away from the beauty of the environment. Brains operate differently. Learning occurs in different manners. The teacher must be able to determine if a pupil is exhibiting an alternate learning pattern or if the pupil has a learning problem. If the teacher suspects there is a learning problem then it is necessary to seek assistance from the experts.
What should a teacher do when a pupil seems to be acting out or failing to learn or seems socially maladjusted? First, observe the pupil. Begin a temporary log (permanent logs are a legal term that carries legal guidelines). Date and time the behavior observed. Try to identify behaviors under different circumstances. Teachers are neither psychologist nor psychiatrist. Teachers are teachers. They are experts at learning. A log entry should note a specific description of the behavior. Logs should include observations regarding speech patterns, test/quiz scores, actions directed at other children, dress, marks, etc. The comments should be as objective and clinical as possible. “Johnny is a sexual pervert.” “Mary is a typical blond.” These are comments that should be avoided let alone be included in a log. Logging a pupil’s behavior for two weeks should be sufficient. Include the intervention that the teacher used to modify the pupil’s behavior. The log can be an added burden on a teacher’s time but it is a strongly recommended procedure to follow if the teacher suspects a pupil has a learning problem
Conferring with the Special Education consultant is the next step. Regular classroom teachers are experts at teaching approaches for the vast majority of pupils. Special Education teachers are experts at learning styles and alternate approaches to pupils who have a learning disability. Where the classroom teacher tends to focus on learning-at-a-classroom-of-pupils level, the special education teacher focuses on the individual student. They will offer advice and consul to the classroom teacher. Most school districts have an established protocol to follow in identifying pupils with learning difficulties. Special education teachers provide an important resource for the classroom teacher. Special education teachers have a magic bag of alternate interventions that they might share. Every little bit will help with the BD, LD, ADD, or whatever other monogram tag wish to be applied.
The first thing most protocols require is paperwork. The paperwork expected will include one or more of the following:
- Basic record: birthdate, address, phone number, grade level, recent test scores, etc.
- Reasons for referral: specific behaviors, test scores or other relevant facts should be identified.
- Interventions strategies: date used, description, result.
- Attendance record: types of absences, tardies, parent notes
- Teachers log: Dates: observed behavior, etc.
- Contact with parents: dates and results.
The following usually ensues after the teacher files the report. It could take a long time in a large school system.
- Social worker investigation: statement on family background and situation.
- School nurse investigation: statement regarding health condition and health history.
- School psychologist report: test conducted, observations noted.
When everything is together, the staffing occurs. The Special Education consultant or teacher, regular education teacher, parent, school nurse, social worker, school psychologist, and school administrator gather to discuss the child. Sometimes the parents request their lawyer or some other representative to be present. This meeting should result in an Individual Education Plan (IEP). (Technically, every parent is entitled to have their child given an IEP but most schools do not inform their parents of such things.) The IEP requires both the special education teacher and the regular classroom teacher to follow the IEP. Quarterly, biannually or annually a staffing should occur to revise the IEP. The staffing also determines the least restrictive environment within which the child should be included. This could be the classroom, a special education classroom, an alternate school or a hospital.
The least restrictive environment is the regular classroom. One of the factors that teachers must consider is the amount of time that is available to each pupil in the course of a day. In a typical day of 360 minutes of instructional time and a class of 25 pupils, the average time per pupil is about 14 minutes. This includes shared time as well as individual contact time. The more the teacher is offering class instruction,e.g., explaining the procedure for division, the less individual time available. Individual time includes such things as:
- eye-to-eye contact when having a class discussion
- Reinforcing directions given to entire class
- Corrective behavior modification
- Friendly chit-chat
- Directing enrichment activity
The special education pupil tends to demand more time from the teacher. As a result, less time is available to other pupils. All pupils crave attention. The teacher must be able to provide that attention or the pupil learns how to get the teachers attention.
The teacher plays many roles in the classroom. An important role is the recognition of pupils with learning difficulties. The teacher must be able to appraise the situation and decide on a course of action. One course of action may result in identifying a child with a possible learning disability. Understanding the process and protocol of identifying a learning disabled child may help the teacher in understanding this important role.