Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A bit about learning disabilities

I am so happy that I am a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) volunteer because I have truly fallen in love with teaching. It just feels so important and it challenges me in many ways. Every day I gain and learn something in the classroom where I am co-teaching. Something I would like to discuss, however, is learning disabilities. In the states, learning disabilities seem to be identified at a pretty young age. They are not considered to be too shameful or problematic, and the US works extremely hard to accommodate those with learning disabilities. Here in Albania, there seems to be zero diagnoses of these disorders, and therefore there are no accommodations.

I first began thinking about learning disabilities during one of our TEFL trainings when another volunteer gave us a presentation on them. She reminded us that we are not doctors, and therefore cannot diagnose any disorders, but instead can help our school communities to become aware that such things exist and to help them create a better learning environment for those with symptoms of various learning disabilities.

After class today, I could not agree any more with that volunteer, and I find it extremely important to educate my colleagues about the existence of learning disorders and various classroom coping strategies. Things kind of clicked in my head today as I sat watching one of my students unable to sit in his chair. He has almost been expelled multiple times for disruptive behavior and can't ever seem to get through a class without pissing the teacher off. We had no idea what his actual skill level in any subjects was because it was always just assumed he was a "difficult student" and would never try anyway. Today was different though. I've always liked this kid's smile. He has such a truly happy looking smile, and he smiles so often it really makes it hard for me to believe that he is an evil kid. On a side note I don't think any of my students are evil. Anyway, today he bothered my counterpart (as usual) enough to the point where she was about to kick him out of class when I decided to have him come up to the blackboard to work one-on-one with me. We were looking at when to use "do" vs. "does." Because he has never paid attention in class or done his homework before I knew he had no idea how to do the exercise in the book so I changed it up for him and gave him space to move around and write on the board. I wrote "Do" in a box leading to a trail of the words: I, you, we, they, and anything plural ex// "students" or "Jack and Jill". Then under that I wrote the word "Does" in a box leading to a trail of  words: He, she, it, and names of things that are singular ex// "a student", "Jack", "Jill". We then looked at the book together, identified what the subject in the sentence was and matched it with one of the trails on the board. After finding the subject on the board, he could trace his hand back to either the word "do" or "does." In this way, he finished the whole exercise by himself. Every time he got a correct answer his face lit up, and the entire time he did not pay attention to anything but the problems at hand. The bell even rang and he kept going until he finished the problem he was working on.

Today really inspired me to learn more about learning disorders and creative classroom techniques. As a teacher, it is not my responsibility to diagnose or find cures for these students, but instead to figure out the best ways to work with and educate them. As a Peace Corps volunteer, my job is to transfer this knowledge to others so that Albania can continue to improve its overall level of education (specifically regarding English) and have a better understanding of why some students are the way they are. I get really overwhelmed with all the projects I want to do/have coming up, but I feel that it is imperative to work with my colleagues on adjusting classroom techniques for those who may have learning disabilities. Once I figure it out, I'll let you know. In the meantime, stay tuned for the awesome things to come this month-- It's a surprise!!! ;)