Domain OneBook One The Nature of Learning Difficulties
Objectives By the end of this book you will know about: The nature and extent of learning difficulties Explanations of the causation of learning difficulties Achieving positive outcomes for diverse student populations Cultural responsivity and learning difficulties
What is Learning (Cullen, 2001) Learning is strategic - to be a successful, a learner must have and use a repertoire of thinking and reasoning skills and strategies. Learning is reflective –to be successful, a learner must be able to reflect upon how they think and how they learn, set themselves appropriate goals and monitor their progress towards these goals. Learning involves content and processes- learning involves knowledge and it involves the process of constructing knowledge and meaning from information and experiences Learning involves shared interests and is socially constructed –learning is “as much a socially shared understanding as it is an individually constructed enterprise” (Cullen, 2001, p.22). Relationships are critically important to learning, as is culture. Learning is influenced by motivation and personal goals- learning involves motivation (in whatever form) and the learner setting personal and relevant goals.
Learning Difficulties For some learners difficulties may be experienced in relation to the indicators of learning. For example they may experience difficulties with: Thinking and reasoning skills and strategies Setting goals and reflecting upon them Constructing knowledge that is desired of them and linking it to their prior knowledge and experiences. They may not experience a safe learning environment where relationships are valued and nurtured
Why do students experience difficulties with learning? Many theories put forward however, most fall into two paradigms: Deficit Paradigm - Those which propose that the difficulties students experience are the result of individual deficits within the students themselves (including their background) Inclusive Paradigm - Those which propose that the difficulties students experience are the result of inappropriate teaching practices and school structures and cultures.
Deficit Paradigm The deficit paradigm has been shown to label, marginalise and exclude learners from success in education. This is not to say that there are not ‘within child’ factors where individualised intervention and attention can contribute to promoting positive learning outcomes. However, research shows that if we want to be successful in improving outcomes for students who experience difficulties with learning, an ecological approach is not only more inclusive, but more successful (Bishop et al., 2003; Kearney, 2009; Macfarlane, 2005).
Diversity The term diversity is pervasive in education discourse Diversity is much more that ethnicity, gender or class (the traditional forms of diversity) Diversity emcompases all demographics including ability, religion, sexuality and language, gender, class and ethnicity. What is the difference between diversity and difference? Difference begs the question – ‘different from what?’ Often this term is used to describe those who are different from the dominant and valued group of a society, including the society of school. This dominant group is often considered the ‘norm’ or ‘normal’
Diversity (Alton-Lee, 2003) The concept of ‘diversity’ is central to this synthesis. This frame rejects the notion of a ‘normal’ group and ‘other’ or minority groups of children...(p. v) Quality teaching can and does make a significant contribution to student outcomes. “the evidence reveals that up to 59% of variance in student performance is attributable to differences between teachers and classes” (p.v)
Research Based Characteristics of Quality Teaching (Alton-Lee, 2003) Quality teaching is focused on student achievement (including social outcomes) and facilitates high standards of student outcomes for heterogeneous groups of students. Pedagogical practices enable classes and other learning groups to work as caring inclusive and cohesive learning communities. Effective links are created between school and other cultural contexts in which students are socialised, to facilitate learning. Quality teaching is responsive to student learning processes Opportunity to learn is effective and sufficient. Multiple task contexts support learning cycles. Curriculum goals, resources including ICT usage, task design, teaching and school practices are effectively aligned. Pedagogy scaffolds and provides appropriate feedback on students’ task engagement. Pedagogy promotes learning orientations, student self-regulation, metacognitive strategies and thoughtful student discourse. Teachers and student engage constructively in goal-oriented assessment.
Educational Disparity In comparison to majority culture students the overall academic achievement levels of Maori students is low; their rate of suspension from school is three times higher; they are over-represented in special education programmes for behavioural issues; enrol in preschool programs in lower proportions than other groups; tend to be overrepresented in low stream education classes; are more likely than other students to be found in vocational curriculum streams; leave school earlier with less formal qualifications and enrol in tertiary education in lower proportions (Hood, 2007, Ministry of Education, 2006 cited in Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh and Teddy, 2009, p.1-2))
Reasons for Disparity Anyone with an interest in education, particularly education as a vehicle for social justice must ask themselves why there is this disparity. Through their work in Te Kotahitanga, Bishop, Berryman, Cavanagh and Teddy, (2009) suggest that reasons for these disparities include the deficit theorising of Maori students by teachers, and the predominance of pathologising classroom practices. This leads to detrimental relations between Maori students and their teachers where teachers hold low expectations for Maori students, have negative attitudes about students’ abilities, and blame them (and or their background) for their lack of achievement at school.
Theories for Explaining Educational Disparity (Bishop, 2008) Culturalist Perspectives – gives limited weight to the impact of power differential within the classroom Structuralist Perspectives gives limited weight to the agency of teachers and policy makers Relational discourse – allows teachers to critically reflect on their discursive positions and where necessary reposition themselves by drawing on other discourses that can promote and encourage change
Ka Hikitia Ka Hikitia means to step up or lift up or to lengthen one’s stride (Ministry of Education, 2008). The strategy outlines a number of shifts in thinking, policy and practice. These include a shift from: Remedying deficit to realising potential Focusing on dysfunction to identifying opportunity Targeting deficit to tailoring education to the learner Instructing and informing to collaborating and co-constructing Maori as minority to a focus on indigeneity and distinctiveness The Ka Hikitia policy seeks to move the focus from addressing problems and disparities to expanding upon the successes of Maori learners. This is based on three key principles All Maori learners have unlimited potential Being Maori is an asset, not a problem Maori are inherently capable of achieving success.