I’ve worked with students who struggle with learning disabilities for many years. School was always relatively easy for me. That’s why it can be hard to relate to the challenges my students face. Frustratingly, I often meet teachers, parents, and other students who seem to lack empathy and patience when working with students with disabilities. When one of my co-workers introduced me to this website, I knew it would be a valuable tool.
PBS produced a special called Misunderstood Minds, a look into the various types of learning difficulties students face. While I haven’t seen the documentary, I think the accompanying website is really helpful.
This site virtually simulates what it is like to have certain learning disabilities. It provides interactive exercises to show attention deficits, decoding difficulties, dyslexia, recall problems, math difficulties, and more. These short activities are eye-opening, and I anyone who works with students who struggle should try them.
While reading a passage that simulates dyslexia, I quickly became frustrated at how painstaking it was to read more than one sentence. The letters were so mixed up that I had to stare at each word for a second or two before realizing what it said. As a strong reader, I began to feel what it would be like to struggle. Soon, I felt like giving up would be the best option. I started to understand why my students seek distractions from their work so often.
By the time I made it through the short passage, I was exhausted. Very confused about what I had just read, I started to worry that there would be a set of questions following the passage (luckily there weren’t).
Each day, my students are expected to read multi-paragraph and multi-page passages. Now, I understood how they could be so frustrated when asked to complete what seem like basic assignments. I imagined being asked to read this passage aloud in front of my peers, and the shame I would have felt when stumbling and struggling through it.
I believe that understanding and empathy are key parts of building the right mindset to teach all students. When you get a glimpse of the reality they face, you will be able to greet them with the patience, understanding, and strategies they require.
The Misunderstood Minds website is packed with expert opinions on ways to support students with learning disabilities. I’d definitely recommend using it for your next professional development session. You could also email it to parents and even show it to students.
Do you have any great resources for understanding what it means to have a learning disability? Let me know in the comments!