Learning Disability Simulation

In our second class, Dr. Gerber provided us the opportunity to participate in a learning disability simulation. The opportunity was designed to help the class see the issue from the inside out.  We defined learning disabilities in our first class, but the opportunity to experience it firsthand greatly contributed to my knowledge and understanding of individuals with a learning disability.  In To Kill A Mockingbird (1960), Atticus Finch tells Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb into his skin and walk around in it..” (Lee, pg. 85-87).  The learning disability simulation allowed me to better understand the emotional insecurity and self-doubt that often accompanies adults with LD.  The first activity involved us looking at an image and raising our hands when we’ve figured out what it says. When I saw hands fly up in class, I panicked because I didn’t want to be the last one to raise my hand. I didn’t want to be called out in public. I didn’t want to feel different. Feelings of uncertainty instantly crept into my head. The second activity involved us reading a paragraph that was written backwards. The entire time Dr. Gerber kept pressuring us to let him know when we’ve finished. Again, I stressed about the time it took me to grasp each word. The simulation allowed me to empathize with the 5-20% of the country’s population who are affected by learning disabilities and heightened my awareness of the emotional toll it can have on an adult (LD Online, 2005).

Afterwards, when Dr. Gerber asked us questions about the passage we read, the comprehension piece was difficult because I spent so much time deciphering each word. The simulation reinforced the notion that comprehension and analysis are only possible after each word is decoded and understood. However, I consider myself to have average intelligence, which is similar to those who are learning disabled. I realized that I had the ability to comprehend the passage, but I simply needed more time. Sometimes, that can be all that’s needed for an adult with a specific type of learning disability. Other accommodations exist depending upon the type of disability. The most important way to strengthen self-esteem for adults with LD is to understand the disability and advocate legal rights and services that may apply under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (LD Online, 2005).

We live in a highly competitive society where our success is marked by achievements (i.e. degrees, certifications, academic awards). What kind of a world does this present to someone with a learning disability, especially in the employment sector? I especially enjoyed the reading on successful adjustment for adults with LD. Success means “reframing” the disability in a productive and positive way by “confronting one’s strengths and weakenesses and making adjustments” (LD Online, 2005). Shouldn’t everyone be doing this during each phase of their life? It sounds more like a universal principle instead of one restricted to adults with LD. Nevertheless, the researchers make an excellent point that it’s a continuous process and managing a disability means appropriate assessment and strategy (LD Online, 2005).

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Learning Disabilities Reconsidered

Having grown up the daughter of a Special Education teacher, I thought I acquired the appropriate knowledge and sensitivity about those with learning disabilities (LD). After Dr. Gerber’s first class, I now realize I had very little knowledge about the heterogeneity of learning disabilities and the differences among adults with LD depending upon their phase of life (Gerber, 1998).  My mother taught elementary and middle school children with learning disabilities in Reading and English. My mom would invite her students to our house for an “end of the year” party.  As a kid, I remember playing with her students with disabilities in our backyard.  I never knew what their disability was because I couldn’t see any physical signs. I remember thinking they are just like me. The only way I knew they had a disability was because they were in my mom’s class.  After I graduated from college, I did some substitute teaching at my mom’s middle school in Henrico County. I subbed for her and got to know her students well. Some of her students were in collaborative classrooms and others were in self-contained classes (depending upon the severity of the disability). I recall observing my mom’s students in P.E. playing basketball one day and thought that the non-disabled students have no idea my mom’s students could only read and/or write at a 3rd grade level. These students should have graduated from high school by now and I wonder what their experience has been into adulthood. I now know that a learning disability in adulthood presents different challenges and issues because “the experience of being learning disabled varies as an individual progresses through various levels of development” (Gerber, 1998). I wonder if some went on to post-secondary education or found employment. I wonder if they suffer from low self-esteem like many adults with LD or if they are the exception.

In my current job as a college academic advisor, I meet individually with over 200 students twice each semester in order to help them achieve academic and career goals. I can count on one hand how many of my students self-disclosed their learning disability (mainly ADD or ADHD). If they did self-disclose, they often treated it as though it was not a big deal. When I suggested they go by Disability Support Services (DSS) to receive appropriate accommodations, those students felt as though accommodations were not necessary. Out of the handful that self-disclosed to me in a meeting, none went to DSS to receive official university accommodations. One student told me they met individually with the instructor to receive extra time on a test and preferred to treat his LD on a class by class basis (in other words, he wanted to take a first test in the course to determine if he could be successful without accommodations). ADLT 688’s class discussions and readings support my experience with students with LD who often don’t know how to constructively disclose their disability, especially after their K-12 years.  Adults with LD view their disability as a negative experience rather than a positive motivator for success (Gerber, 1998).

The first class heightened my awareness and increased my knowledge about adults with learning disabilities and behavior disorders. I’m anxious to learn more about older adults adaptive techniques used in employment, family life, social situations, and even into retirement years.

Final Blog Post: HRD Reconsidered

Anytime a colleague, friend, or neighbor asked what class I was taking this semester, I eagerly answered “Human Resource Development” followed by “and I love it!” Never before have I taken a course that was so relevant to what I do – from performance management to learning and development models,  I have taken away so much that will positively change the way I perform, learn, and analyze myself as a worker, team member, and leader. Each reading and class discussion made me want to be in the field and actively engaged in development at both a micro and macro level. As a result of this course, I narrowed down my professional goals and applied to the graduate program in Adult Education. The course also helped me see a greater connection between HRD and academic advising in higher ed. The class supported the School of Ed’s learning-center model. Dr. Hurst facilitated discussion and it was those class discussions – hearing from those in other industries or from other countries – that widened my scope of knowledge and allowed me to learn.

When I felt most engaged in the learning experience and why.

I felt most engaged in the course when we were discussing Theory X and Y. Maybe it was because of the paper assignment, but I found myself continually referring back to McGregor and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For example, our discussion on rethinking organizational development and involving Weisbord’s whole systems theory spoke to McGregor’s Theory X and Y. Likewise, Swanson’s chapters on learning versus performance paradigms in HRD made me think of Theory X and Y in 21st century workplaces.

I also enjoyed learning from those in the HRD field, especially Kevin Bruny’s presentation on corporate universities in Chesterfield County. I’m still amazed at the university model in local government. I never knew what a learning management system was until I took this class. The course gave me the opportunity to understand perspectives from both scholars and practitioners.  As a result of this course, I try to see areas for learning and organizational development at VCU and specifically within my own department. I recognize development efforts in my department, such as emails about a “Climate Survey” or 360 performance reviews of our directors. I never connected those efforts to HRD and am now a willing participator in engagement initiatives. I agree with Weisbord that the whole system needs to be at the table in order for effective change to take place.

When I felt most distanced from the learning experience and why.

I never felt distanced from the learning experience to be perfectly honest. Every aspect of this course material was relevant to what I do and what I hope to do professionally.  There were times that the Swanson readings were hard to digest because of all the theories and broad definitions, but the second we applied it to a situation in class or “broke down” the charts in class, I was engaged and eager to learn more.

What I learned about myself that can be applied to my life and why.

I learned that I actually am an HRD professional (not in official title, but in informal, practical ways). If you agree with Swanson and Holton’s (2009) broad definition of HRD, “unleashing and developing human potential,” then I practice HRD every day at VCU with my advisees (pg. 3). My department uses a performance management model to retain top talent at VCU. I learned that I identify, measure, and develop the performance of individual students in order to align them with the School of Business and VCU’s organizational mission and goals. I do this through individual meetings, formal classroom training, and web-based instruction. We use one learning management system for students called Blackboard, Inc. where students can find my organizational page with links to campus resources, academic policy information, and helpful study guides/test taking strategies. This is very similar to a unified learning management system in place at Capital One called Pulse, Inc. I learned about the similarity through my HRD interview with Sarah Wilkinson, Learning Manager at Capital One University. I learned that I assist students in developing an individual development plan (IDP) in our meetings that document the students’ goals and promote self-development.

Conversely, I learned that employees do not operate under a performance management model in my department. I realized that our leadership put more energy into advising and retaining our students than they do into developing and retaining their employees. I see a developmental gap in my department where the student/customer/stakeholder’s needs are more important than the employees’ needs. I feel as though my department could implement some HRD strategies to help address our professional growth and development. For instance, I just finished participating in a textbook review committee. At the end of our meeting, we all felt as though some formal or informal training on learning-centered or student-centered teaching and instruction would help us as advisors be better prepared in the classroom and engage our students. I serve a unique role in that I’m both a teacher and advisor to my students. I would never have had this type of clarity or initiative if I had not taken this course.

How I judge my best work (criteria) and why.

I judge my best work if I answered all the questions thoughtfully and thoroughly – drawing upon my own thoughts and scholarly research. I am an analytical person (which could be the historian in me) so I truly try and analyze a question from all angles. If I’ve done that, I feel as though I’ve done my best. In this class, I also try to show up prepared to class having done the readings and made notes. I feel as though I perform at my best when I can openly contribute to the class discussion and apply it to my own work and life.

If I were to select the one single thing that represents my best work in the course at this moment, it would be Theory X and Y paper because I spent the most time on it.  Based on my criteria previously discussed, I feel as though I approached that paper from every angle and answered each question as thoroughly as possible – even bringing in other literature that I read on the side for fun.  A close second would be my part of the group project on understanding and managing generational diversity in the 21st century workplace because I updated my skills and techniques in the process. As I continue to work with others from different generations, I ask myself what behaviors, attitudes, and expectations does he or she bring to the workplace and how can that influence the way I communicate (Raines, 2013).

Additional personal learning needs that I have identified as a result of the learning experience and how I will go about meeting them (personal learning strategies.)  

I enrolled in this course as a way to learn more about HRD as a possible career path, and I end the semester feeling re-energized in my current role. I’m more excited than I’ve ever been to plan my syllabus for the 1-credit courses I teach in the fall. I want to practice some of the training and development techniques and the ADDIE model in my classes this fall. I also want to incorporate experiential learning models that were used in this class. I eventually want to work with an older adult population and turn my attention toward employee development as a long term career goal, but I view my current experience in student engagement initiatives, curriculum design, and cross-collaboration as a way to begin implementing HRD principles now and into the future.