All of these classes have helped me understand these different student groups and how to treat them in the general education classroom. However, I have yet to discover the best ways to detect students that may suffer from a learning difficulty or disability when it is not specified by a student's IEP plan. What do I look for? What do I do if I suspect a student may have a learning disability?
Weinstein and Novodvorsky (2011) compiled a table for indicators taken from the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities and mention, amongst others, the following: may make many mistakes when reading aloud, and repeat and pause often, may have real trouble with spelling, may have difficulty with fine motor activities, may have trouble understanding and following directions, may not know where to begin a task or how to go on from there.
These are all difficulties that most of my students have encountered in my class at some point this semester, but I do not believe that a majority of these students have learning disabilities. Several students in my class have an IEP, which explains and provides for these difficulties, but there is nothing to explain why my other students do these things. So, how do I filter which students legitimately need assistance or not?
I think the best way to do this is to pay careful attention to the tendencies of these students and take note of changes in performance or ability, if any. I would plan on talking with my students away from the rest of the class to investigate why the student is having problems with a certain skill or task. If, after said talk, the student cannot correct the behavior on his or her own, then it may be time to look into resources outside of the classroom to help or explain these difficulties. I have yet to tap into the counseling or advising resources at my school, but then again, I haven't really needed to, because whenever I talk to my students outside of the rest of the class, they are able to correct the difficulties they are having.
It is important to create a caring and accepting environment so that students are not afraid to make mistakes and productively learn from them. In addition, it is important to collaborate with special education teachers and examine your classroom for possible mismatches to ensure that the environment is not directly affecting their ability to be successful in the classroom. The authors also caution teachers not to lower your expectations for certain students and to use peer tutoring to encourage students more.
Let me share an experience that might help elaborate on this notion of diversity in the classroom. There is a student at my school that earlier this semester struggled showing up to school on time. Sometimes he would not arrive until second period or even lunch. When asked why he was never on time, he simply replied, "It's hard for me to wake up on time." Clearly, the administration was not buying this answer, and after some research, it was made clear that the student did not have adequate resources to get to school on time, and even worse, he was unable to eat adequately at home.
This student is not challenged by a learning disability. He does not struggle with his social skills. He is simply hindered in school by his background life at home. So, my master teacher decided that if he could show up to school on time for a week, we would throw a pizza party for him. That enticement proved to be just enough, and he started showing up to school on time. We did end up throwing him a pizza party, and ever since he has been making concerted efforts to show up to school on time.
Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and my teachers and support staff at my placement school have made it clear to me that there are a number of creative ways to help students overcome difficulties.