Learning Strategies for Students with Disabilities

College can be challenging for all students; for students with disabilities, it can seem even more difficult.  There are strategies, however, that can help lead to scholastic success and provide opportunities for students with disabilities to reach the same overall academic goals as their non-disabled peers.

General Learning Strategies

The following general suggestions are a compilation of strategies identified by college students with disabilities as basic techniques for achieving success in college.

  1. Set personal and academic goals for yourself.
  2. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and know what you need to do in order to be successful.
  3. Choose courses carefully, seeking a balance in workload (i.e., reading requirements, writing assignments, research).
  4. Get to know your advisor and instructors.
  5. Go to every class, be on time, bring necessary materials, sit in front, pay attention, and learn actively through discussion and participation.
  6. Use a daily/monthly planner to record both short-term and long-term assignments.
  7. Keep up with homework and hand assignments in on time.  Monitor your progress in each class by knowing and recording the grades you have received for each assignment.
  8. Use campus resources if you need help: see your instructor during office hours; contact the Peer Learning Associates and Writing Centers for specific help; arrange an appointment with your advisor and/or academic counselor; set up sessions with the learning specialist.
  9. Manage your time.  Set aside specific times each day for completing assignments and for studying.  College students should expect to spend 2 hours of preparation time outside of class for every hour of class time per week.
  10. Organize and keep the syllabus, notes, and handouts for each class by developing a notebook and filing system.

Specific Learning Strategies

Many students with disabilities have individual areas of weaknesses which effect classroom success.  Listed below are specific academic activities and learning strategies that can be utilized to help make the college experience more successful.

Reading

  1. Prior to reading, survey the assigned chapter in the text by using headings, type of print, and illustrations to preview the content.  Read the chapter summary to help shape your interpretation of the information.
  2. Read in short "chunks."  Determine how much of the chapter you will read at a sitting.
  3. Take notes in topic outline form after each section you stop at, recording basic information, dates, and terms as needed.
  4. Highlight main headings in your notes in one color and subheadings in another.  Circle terms to study in a third color.
  5. Review what you have read by answering the chapter questions and checking your notes for topics and information given in the summary.
  6. If the assigned reading is organized only by chapters or main headings, stop after important events or at a logical point and record a brief summary of what you have read; use topic outline form and a simple list.
  7. Keep up with reading assignments and set aside sufficient time each day to pace yourself according to the length and difficulty of the reading.
  8. To study for tests based on reading assignments, use your reading notes.  Do not attempt to re-read the material; it is usually impossible to do so and will take away significant time from your studying.  Consult the original source only if your notes are sketchy or confusing in some sections.

Writing

  1. Follow the basic steps in writing: planning (topic selection and brainstorming); organizing (graphic or formal outlining); drafting; proofreading/editing; and revising.
  2. Use a word processor with spell-check/grammar-check for all written assignments.
  3. Find a peer proofreader or use the Writing Center to help identify writing problems.
  4. Use models from your text or from handouts to guide you in organization, content, and style requirements.
  5. Read your writing aloud.  Listening to what you have written helps you check for sense and coherence, as well as for grammatical correctness.
  6. Seek help from your instructor by asking questions during class and getting support during office hours.
  7. For research papers, use the resources available in the library and online for help with both content and format.  Be sure to find out what documentation style is expected and use help from software programs or the library to incorporate that style in your paper.

Math

  1. Attend every class and be an active participant by asking questions, taking notes, and working problems. 
  2. Go to the instructor's office hours and get help for the concepts you find difficult.  Be sure you have tried to work the problems on your own first and have specific questions about the areas that are not clear to you.
  3. Contact the Peer Tutoring Center for a list of math tutors and use the tutor weekly.
  4. Do the homework every day and practice working sample problems.  Use the models given in class or in the textbook to help you understand step-by-step procedures needed to solve the problems.
  5. Use a calculator for arithmetic computations.
  6. Visualize word problems by drawing and labeling each part as it is given to help you see the steps required to solve the problem. 
  7. Study for a test by reviewing each section in the text and in your notes and "testing" yourself to see if you can still work the problems.
  8. For studying difficult concepts, talk the steps aloud to help you learn the sequential strategies needed to solve the problems.
  9. Study with a partner to help check your understanding of key terms and concepts.

Note-Taking

  1. Keep separate notebooks for each course.  A 3-ring binder is preferable because you will be able to add/insert additional notes and handouts in the appropriate sections.
  2. Have a pocket insert in the notebook for handouts that have no holes punched in them.  After class, be sure to hole punch them and insert into the correct section of your notebook.
  3. Begin notes for each class by putting the date and topic at the top of a new page.
  4. Use headings and subheadings to record the concepts presented during lecture.  Cluster similar concepts together and provide white space as new concepts are introduced.
  5. Include key vocabulary terms and definitions given in class.
  6. If needed, use a tape recorder with a counter to replay information you may have missed in class.
  7. If your notes are sloppy or incomplete, rewrite them after each class so that you can better organize key concepts, terms, and details needed for later studying.

Listening/Attention

  1. Approach the class with a positive attitude.  Become interested and motivated by focusing on your overall goals and the positive elements of the class and the instructor.
  2. Sit near the front of the classroom to help you focus and eliminate distractions.
  3. Be prepared and organized for the class so that you can relate the present lesson to material previously presented, which, in turn, helps you maintain attention.
  4. Keep active in class: take notes, ask questions, and participate in discussions.
  5. Use a tape recorder with a counter so you can focus on and understand the concepts being given in class without worrying about missing information in your notes.
  6. Meet with the instructor during office hours to clarify concepts that may not be clear to you and to ask questions about assignments you are unsure of.

Information Processing (Auditory, Visual, Cognitive)

  1. Sit near the front of the class to be able to hear important cues/directions and to see any notes/terms your instructor writes on the board or overhead.
  2. Develop efficient note-taking skills; use a tape recorder with a counter to fill in areas you miss in your class notes.
  3. Find a note-taking "buddy" so you can compare content and add/correct your notes.
  4. Arrange to meet with your instructor during office hours to clarify concepts and answer questions you have about the class.
  5. Review concepts and terms from the previous class before the next class so that you are better able to understand new information.
  6. Expand newly presented concepts by using graphic displays such as diagrams, symbols, and drawings in your notes.
  7. Develop learning strategies and study habits that provide multi-sensory input of new material (i.e., read aloud; highlight important concepts in text or notes; take notes when reading).
  8. Check your understanding of how previously learned concepts relate to new ones by using a reasoning process that tests the "sense" of your ideas.
  9. Monitor your learning.  Ask yourself questions about concepts presented in class and answer them aloud.  Identify problem areas and seek help to correct and fill in important facts, key vocabulary, and other course content.

Memory/Studying

  1. Find study settings that maximize your ability to focus your attention on the material to be learned.
  2. Develop a workable plan of action by budgeting your study time and reviewing frequently.
  3. Repetition improves recall.  Repeat information ("overlearn") by reading your notes, reciting them aloud, "testing" yourself, summarizing, and putting in your own words.  The greater number of repetitions, the greater the likelihood of remembering the material.
  4. Use index cards and maps for studying key words and concepts.
  5. Visualize the material.  Make diagrams and draw pictures to help organize the information.  Develop images of ideas, terms, objects, people, and/or places described in lectures to facilitate recall.
  6. Use mnemonics to help you memorize important information.  Create acronyms, acrostics, rhymes, image connection, and chaining to provide cues for what you need to recall.
  7. Use motor techniques such as tapping or walking through steps in a process to help remember sequences and information.
  8. Participate in review sessions and study groups to help expand your understanding of lecture notes, to share strategies, and to reorganize information.

Organization

  1. Create an efficient workspace with the materials and supplies you need to complete your assignments: reference books, paper, pens/pencils, highlighters, paper clips, stapler, index cards, etc.
  2. Maintain a workable notebook/filing system.  Use a different color 3 ring binder for each course and insert dividers to separate into individual sections for notes, handouts, homework, and returned tests and quizzes.  Buy a hole punch so you can add papers as needed.
  3. Write short-term assignments in your daily/monthly planner and buy a large desk calendar to write in long-term assignments.  As changes/additions are made, correct the dates in your planner to reflect the new information.
  4. Consult each course's syllabus frequently to keep up with assignments and their due dates.
  5. Write a "to-do" list for the next day's schedule and consult it the next morning to remind yourself what needs to be done that day.
  6. Break lengthy assignments such as research papers into workable chunks and record the individual assignments on your desk calendar.  Transfer the work dates to your daily/weekly planner as the designated time for each chunk approaches.

Time Management

  1. Keep your academic goals in mind and set priorities; commit yourself to meeting them.
  2. Use a daily/weekly planner to record regular activities such as classes, labs, tutoring, review sessions and less regular ones such as study groups, appointments, and meetings.
  3. Designate daily study/homework times according to each day's schedule.
  4. Make a checklist of things to do each day and prioritize assignments.
  5. For long-term assignments, list the steps needed to complete the work by the due date.  Plan enough time to finish each step and then record each work step on your desk calendar and your monthly planner.
  6. Provide "rewards" for yourself after you have completed parts of the designated work schedule but be sure to go back to your studies until each of the day's assignments is finished.