Tips for St. Mary's Students with Learning Disabilities
Most of the tips that follow are useful for the average college student - not just students with learning disabilities. While the tips appear to be common-sense, many have been key to the success of former students.
- Inform your adviser that you have a learning problem and therefore, special needs. Ask for help in choosing small structured classes with professors who use multi-sensory methods of instruction, provide a detailed syllabus, and present information clearly and in an organized fashion.
- Don't overload your schedule with courses that require a great deal of reading, large quantities of memorization and extensive writing. At St. Mary's, three courses is a full course load although the majority of students have schedules with four courses. It is better to take fewer courses and do well, especially in your first semester.
- Choose instructors who provide multiple forms of input during lectures. Visual as well as auditory input is important for students with learning disabilities. The use of the chalkboard, overheads, handouts and Blackboard will assist you in your learning.
- Go to the Office of Academic Services (Glendening 230) and introduce yourself. They are responsible for providing special services for documented disabilities.
- If you have not already done so, complete the documentation process for accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) so you are eligible for services if you need them. Information about documentation is available as a link off of the Academic Services Website. Some accommodations through ADA, like extended time on tests or taking tests in quiet locations require pre-planning. You will be required to work with your professor and/or Academic Services two weeks in advance of exams in order to assure the accommodations.
- Inform each of your professors of your needs the first week of the semester. Most professors will be receptive to your needs if you make them known early.
- Ask for assistance in finding a volunteer student note-taker to review lecture material with you.
- Sit in the center front of the classroom. This will assist in eliminating much of the auditory and visual distraction and make it easier to focus on the instructor.
- Do not hesitate to question your professors if you do not understand. Faculty members have office hours. If you can not meet after the class, ask for an appointment during office hours. It is important to understand all the course material since one lecture usually builds upon another. Get to know your professors! You might also ask your professors if they are receptive to e-mailed questions or if they are willing to give you feedback on first-drafts of papers.
- Ask for rephrasing rather than to have information repeated; and request examples or applications. These tactics may help to clarify and solidify the information for you.
- Participate in class discussions. At St. Mary's College, class participation is a percentage of the final grade for many classes. This can improve your grade if you have problems with tests.
- Attend all classes (unless you are sick.) The attendance policy at St. Mary's permits two missed class sessions. Many faculty members will begin taking points from your grade if you miss more than this.
- Attend all quiz and review sessions. If possible, join or create a study group to discuss and review material for each course.
- Make use of the Writing Center and tutorial services immediately. If you have problems with the content of a course or in structuring assignments, there is help available. Some tutors in the Writing Center are prepared to work with students who have dyslexia so do not be shy about being specific in your request for help
- Taping lectures can be beneficial. Be certain to request permission from the professor prior to taping. The professor may request that you sign a form agreeing that you will not share the tapes. If you tape lectures, use a recorder with a counter so you can note places on the tape with important information. Always continue to take notes both to maintain your attention and facilitate development of your skills.
- Index cards are excellent aids for the memorization of facts. Use one card per fact like flashcards but be certain to include examples and/or applications to assist you in critical thinking. At St. Mary's, you will need to know and understand more than textbook definitions.
- Index cards are also a helpful tool in organizing notes for a paper. By placing one thought or fact on each card and organizing the cards, a paper can be easily written.
- Think of your day like a work day. A typical office work day is 8 AM to 5 PM with an hour for lunch. Your work day may be 10 AM to 8 PM with 45 minutes for lunch and 45 minutes for dinner built into it. One rule thumb is that your study time should equal or be greater than the time you spend in class. (You may still need to use time on the weekends for major projects and papers.)
- Establish a set time and place to study. Often a residence hall room is not the best place for studying. The ideal place is one that is relatively quiet and free from distractions. This may be the library, a residential study area, or an empty classroom.
- Use a large calendar to plot due dates from your syllabi and maintain a weekly/daily schedule to break time down in to increments for assignments. If you believe an assignment will take you a specific amount of time, permit up to double the time initially. Once you have an idea of the time assignments will take, you can be more realistic with your time blocks. Add social and fun activities to the calendar as rewards for work you have accomplished. Color coding can be used to help you organize your days. (Make an appointment to see Nancy Danganan in Academic Services if you need help getting organized or if you become overwhelmed when you look at your three or four course syllabi.)
The staff of the Office of Academic Services wants your St. Mary's experience to be personally fulfilling and academically successful! Permit us to help you accomplish your goals.