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From Bridges to Practice: A Researched-based Guide for Literacy Practitioners Serving Adults with Learning Disabilities, 1999

Principles for Teaching/Tutoring Adults with Learning Disabilities

The primary reason for providing intensive one-to-one instruction is that the adult with learning disabilities cannot learn independently in ways that others can learn. However, simply receiving one-to-one attention from a practitioner will not necessarily meet the learner's needs. A practitioner who does not know how to plan and structure instruction may increase the learner's frustration.

To be effective, you must provide instruction that helps the learner acquire needed skills and content information. To do this, you must know how to:
  • select the appropriate curriculum; take into consideration the learner's background; prepare and transform the information in ways that will make it more understandable; provide the structure for lessons; and
  • incorporate specific instructional tactics into each session that compensate for learning disabilities.
All teaching/tutoring sessions for adults with learning disabilities must be built on the following important principles:
  1. At all stages of instruction and decision-making, learners should be offered instructional choices related to what, how fast, when and where he or she is learning. Instructional sessions must be structured in ways that ensure that the learner is informed about how he or she is being taught and progressing toward targeted goals. Instructional sessions must be structured to ensure mastery of targeted goals and should be characterized by instruction that is more explicit than that provided to adults who do not have learning disabilities. Each instructional session should follow a similar structure of routine so that the learner knows what to expect and becomes comfortable with the learning process. Following an established routine will enable the adult to learn how to approach learning and can become more involved in shaping future instructional sessions. Instructional session designed to promote skill or strategy mastery (e.g., word attack, mathematics, writing, social skills, comprehension strategies) should be structured differently from instructional sessions designed to promote content mastery (e.g., insurance, job knowledge, civil rights, health care, child care). The practitioner should know the skills, strategies, or content that will be taught. The practitioner should know a variety of strategies and techniques for promoting learning.

  2. An overall climate and relationship that helps the learner see the practitioner as a mentor and an ally in the struggle to gain literacy skills should be nurtured.
[Collaborative tutoring is] structured around research on effective instructional sequences and tactics for adults with learning disabilities. [The] parts of collaborative teaching/tutoring [include]:
  • continuous use of graphic organizers, frequent links with the learner's background knowledge, adaptations and devices that make the content more concrete and accessible orally and visually, and
  • collaborative decision-making about what to learn, how learning occurs, and how to accommodate for learning differences.
Constructing a Collaborative Teaching/Tutoring Routine for Skill and Strategy Acquisition

Strategic instruction helps the learner acquire skills and strategies that the learner has not acquired because of a learning disability. For example, many individuals have not learned to read because of poor instruction, poor curriculum, environment, or frequent absence from school. Although these factors may also affect individuals with learning disabilities, having a learning disability will prevent the learning of skills or strategies that other learners can acquire without additional attention during instruction.

Collaborative teaching/tutoring in a skill or strategy area centers around:
  1. the selection of skills and strategies that will help the learner meet important demands, continuous use of graphic organizers, the use of instructional levels or stages to ensure continuous progress towards mastery, very explicit or teacher-directed instruction during the initial stages of learning a skill or strategy that gradually shifts to learner control and application, and
  2. collaborative decision-making about what to learn, how learning is occurring, and how to accommodate learning differences.
Constructing a Collaborative Teaching/Tutoring Routine for Content Mastery

Strategic instruction ensures that the learner acquires critical content information not previously acquired because of the presence of a learning disability. Many individuals with marginal literacy skills may not have acquired important information required for daily living.

Collaborative teaching/tutoring in the content areas centers around:
  1. the selection of critical content that will help the learner meet important demands, the continuous use of graphic organizers, the use of instructional devices that can enhance the organization, understanding, remembering, and application of information, the explicit guidance of the practitioner in learning targeted content, and
  2. the collaborative decision-making process about what content to learn, how learning is occurring, and how to adapt instruction for learning differences and disabilities.
Some common teaching devices can enhance content learning during collaborative tutoring.

The most powerful devices combine both verbal and visual presentations. The devices are used to transform content and make it more understandable and memorable. Combining verbal and visual forms of presentation and involving the learner in constructing and using the device increases the learnability of content information. This multi-sensory approach to teaching content can improve how adults process information. The use of these devices, and the manner in which the teaching/tutoring session is actually structured, may vary based on the content of the session and the characteristics of the learner.

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