For College Students With Learning Disabilities - Strategies That Bode For Success

Author : Davidhinds
Publish Date : 2020-10-12


For College Students With Learning Disabilities - Strategies That Bode For Success

As you begin your college career, think of it as starting off with a clean slate because, literally, you are beginning anew. No one has preconceived notions about your abilities or your work habits. If you haven't done so already, now is the time to begin academic habits that lead to good grades -- the habits "smart" students use. Why is "smart" in quotes? "Smart" is in quotes because we are not sure if these students are inherently smarter, or we just perceive them as smarter because their strategies earn them good grades. Do you see the difference? In other words students who earn "A"s are not necessarily the smartest IQ-wise, but they likely use the best strategies.

So, what are these so-called "smart" strategies?

o Having an organizational system in place A student without a proven system is like a one-armed wallpaper hanger. While I recommend students have an "Academic- Weekly/Monthly" planner, one size does not fit all. Some students find their PDAs do the trick for them. Others have invented imaginative systems of their own. The bottom line is whatever works is fine. Cardinal rule: In college, relying on your memory is the fastest way to fail.

o Sitting in the front row of the classroom The front row is labeled the "A" row by instructors because it has been proven that students who sit in this row are likelier to earn "A"s. Why? We are not quite sure if it is because the "brainy" students sit there, so they can have close contact with the instructor, or because students who sit there have fewer distractions and end up interacting with the instructor more frequently. For our purposes, the cause does not matter. The effect, getting higher grades, is what matters for us.

o Attending every class In high school, you were likely to stay home from school if you woke up with a headache or a cold. Doing that in college is perilous! Most college semesters are 15 weeks, and in that time, you learn what you would cover in an entire year of high school. Content is taught quickly. You may be responsible to learn a chapter of 50+ pages in a week. In most cases, the purpose of class is to clarify the readings and reinforce meaning. Those who miss classes, even just once in a while, begin a slow sinking process. Being absent should reserved for emergencies or when you are too ill to get out of bed.

o Doing the reading prior to the lecture You will probably have a reading assignment after each class. Why is it important that you read it? Doing the reading "warms you up" for the upcoming lecture. You walk into class with some familiarity of what's going to be discussed. Those who think it's fine to skip the reading don't glean as much from the lecture. They walk into class "cold" and then have to dive into sub-zero waters! HINT: Every now and then, you will be under pressure because of an upcoming test or project in another course, and you will be tempted to skip a reading assignment. When this happens, take a short cut: just read the chapter summary.

o Reading and studying actively How can reading be passive, you may ask. I'll prove it. How many times have you read something, gotten to the end, and you have no clue what you read? It happens to all of us. Our eyes are moving over the words, but our mind is disengaged -a million miles away. But if we read and study actively, daydreaming is impossible. How do we engage our mind to prevent it from wandering? We do one of two things: take notes on the reading or highlight and mark (annotate) the text. Yes, it will take longer to read the chapter, BUT you won't have to ever re-read it. Why? You have already extracted the important material, and that is what you will study. Reading chapters over and over is one of the costliest mistakes students make because it wastes so many hours that could be put to better use.

o Doing all the homework. I'll bet you think that's a no-brainer. It's not. College freshmen, often try skipping assignments when they discover that their instructors rarely collect homework. Wait a minute! Are you attending college for the professors or for yourself? Is the purpose of homework to keep you busy, or is to provide practice in order to master a concept? Even though instructors rarely collect homework, it soon becomes obvious which students are taking shortcuts. Are professors psychic? Hardly. When exams are graded, it becomes painfully apparent which students passed over the repetition that puts information into their long-term memories.

o Reviewing your notes within 24 hours Research on memory indicates that forgetting does not occur at a constant rate. Most forgetting happens shortly after we learn something, say within a day. After that, the forgetting rate tapers off. After 2 days, we may forget about 2/3 of what we learned, but after a month, it's not much worse. Let's apply this to school. Most students take notes during class. When do they next look at them? Oh, maybe as long as four weeks later, when they are studying for an exam. By then, so much time has elapsed that 2/3 of what they wrote in their notebook looks brand new again! They must spend extra time re-learning the information before they can even begin to study it. There is a way to prevent this from happening. If you simply read over your notes within 24 hours (at the breakfast table before school works well), you can forestall the forgetting process. Now, when you study 4 weeks later, the material is not nearly as foreign. You see, you have had 3 exposures to it: (1) in the reading (2) in the lecture, and (3) when reviewing your notes. The material has already started its journey into your long-term memory, so it doesn't have as far to go when exam time arrives. Educational theory tells us that we learn new material more easily with short, frequent exposures. That is exactly what the 3-step system above provides!

As you begin a new chapter in your life, resolve to leave self-defeating behaviors behind and become strategy-smart!

Joan M. Azarva, Ms.ED, an expert College Learning Specialist, parent of a successful adult son with LD/ADD, and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education has experience that spans three+ decades with students of all ages. In 1993, however, due to the well-documented low postsecondary success rate of students with learning disabilities, Joan decided to focus exclusively on the critical period of high school-to-college transition.

From her professional and personal experiences, Joan learned that not only can proactive measures often fend off failure, they can also produce extremely desirable outcomes. If you are the parent of a high school student with learning differences, sign up for Joan's listserv and receive a valuable FREE 55-page E-Book, Interactive Academic Websites, by going to  

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