Ld students’ Perceptions of Their Academic Success Attributes: a four-Year Study Presented by

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LD Students’ Perceptions of Their Academic Success Attributes: A Four-Year Study

  • Presented by:
  • Karen L. Wold, M.S.Ed.
  • Learning Disabilities Specialist
  • Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES)
  • University of Illinois
  • kwold2@illinois.edu

Session Agenda

  • Impetus for conducting the study
  • Survey development
  • Survey results and outcomes: Workshops and other activities
  • Limitations of study
  • Practical “take-aways”
  • Relevant literature
  • Questions, comments?

Impetus for Conducting the Study

  • Students do not know or cannot articulate their strengths
  • Interested in “strengths perspective” in related field of Social Work
  • Interested in studies of successful college students and adults with LD
  • Wanted to assess my students’ perceptions of the six most commonly mentioned success attributes and how they applied to their lives.

Survey Development

  • My review of the research literature yielded the most commonly studied success attributes:
      • Knowledge and acceptance of disability
      • Learning to compensate
      • Self-Advocacy
      • Goal setting and attainment
      • Perseverance
      • Use of a support system

Knowledge and acceptance of disability

  • Getzel and Thoma, 2006
    • Students believed that knowledge of their disability “was critical to their success in college” (35) and allowed students to seek appropriate resources

Knowledge and acceptance of disability (cont.)

  • Rodis, Garrod and Boscardin, 2001
    • Thirteen adults with learning disabilities wrote about their experiences. The editors and other authors then provide a scholarly, critical review of the themes.
    • McGrady, Lerner and Boscardin (2001) comment that “Acceptance of the uniqueness of their own learning problems seems to have been an essential ingredient to their success in life.” (185)

Learning to Compensate

  • Getzel and Thoma, 2006
    • Ways to learn how to compensate for the effects of their disability:
      • Trial and error
      • Got help from parents or peers
      • Knew why they needed to use certain accommodations and study skills as well as understanding their learning style.

Learning to Compensate (cont.)

  • Reiff, Gerber & Ginsberg (1994)
    • Interviewed 71 adults with LD who had either achieved moderate or high employment success.
    • “Learned creativity” is illustrated by the adults who devised personal strategies to help them manage the effects of their disability in their academic, work or personal life.

Learning to Compensate (cont.)

  • Launey and Carter-Davis (2001)
    • Students utilized strategies that were based on their learning strengths (assets) and adapted these strategies to new challenges.
  • Witherell and Rodis (2001)
    • “compensatory strategies” are “ingenious uses of a student’s existing strengths” (172)


  • Skinner’s (1998) definition of self advocacy: “(a) understand their disability, (b) are aware of their legal rights, and (c) can competently and tactfully communicate their rights and needs.” (Skinner, 2004, 98)

Self-Advocacy (cont.)

  • Outcome of Skinner’s (2004) interviews with college graduates:
    • Took time to self-advocate with professors, but, graduates often experienced a positive result.
    • Study participants were mostly unaware of their legal rights.
  • Outcome of Getzel and Thoma’s (2006) interviews with college students:
    • Many students did not self-disclose, resulting in academic failure. This experience led students to disclose and then ask for the accommodations and support needed.

Goal Setting and Attainment

  • Getzel and Thoma (2006)
    • College students stressed the importance of having high expectations when setting goals.
    • College students felt that setting goals helped to focus on achievement.

Goal Setting and Attainment (cont.)

  • Skinner (2004)
    • “successful people with LD appear to take ‘control’ of their lives.” (101) Reiff, Gerber and Ginsberg (1994)
    • Adults in their study demonstrated the importance of setting reasonable, achievable goals to be successful.
    • Also important is knowing how to plan to achieve the goals that are set.


  • Skinner (1998)
    • Most students in his study accepted that they needed more time to do academic work than their peers, often yielding positive results.
  • Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins and Herman (1999)
    • Fifty participants in this 20-year longitudinal study of individuals who attended the Frostig Center from 1958-1965.
    • Perseverance was a consistent indicator of successful individuals with LD over time.

Perseverance (Cont.)

  • Reiff, Gerber and Ginsberg (1994)
    • Adults in their study identified “persistence” as a reason for their success.
    • The researchers believed that because they had to work hard in school to be successful, they were more easily able to continue this behavior into their adult life.

Use of a Support System

  • Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins and Herman (1999)
    • Success attributes, such as use of a support system, were found to predict success better than other variables such as IQ or academic achievement.
  • Skinner (1998)
    • All participants stressed the importance of others in their lives to support them, both academically (professors, DSS) and psychologically/emotionally (family, friends, peers with LD).

Use of a Support System (cont.)

  • Reiff, Gerber and Ginsberg (1994)
    • Adults had developed supportive relationships with people in their lives which they term “favorable social ecologies (282)”.
    • These included family members but extended beyond family to mentors, spouses and friends.
    • The unique result of this study is that the adults did not want to become dependent on those in their support system so they were able to give something back to them. Thus, their relationship was two-way, give and take.

Survey Instrument

  • Survey was developed to assess students’ views of how they relate the six characteristics of success to themselves.
  • Series of 9 Likert-style statements and 2 open-ended essay questions (that were broken into 3 essay questions in later versions)
  • Given to students when they came to pick up their Letter of Accommodation (LOA)

Code Key for Success Characteristics Statements

  • Numbers after each statement indicate what characteristic is being measured.
  • 1= Knowledge of disability
  • 2= Knowledge of strengths
  • 3= Self-advocacy
  • 4= Does not procrastinate*
  • 5= Persistence
  • 6= Takes responsibility for actions/outcomes*
  • 7= Goal-directed (able to set reasonable goals and achieve them)
  • 8= Willingness to seek support from others
  • *Extra areas I wanted to measure that are not part of the six success attributes.

Goals Survey

  • Please read the following statements and circle the appropriate number that reflects how you feel or think about the statement.
  • The scale is:
  • 1 = very often true, 2 = mostly true, 3 = not sure, 4 = not very true, 5 = not true at all
  • 1) I am very aware of the characteristics of my disability. (1)
  • 1 2 3 4 5
  • 2) When considering a major, I think about whether that major will make use of my talents or strengths. (2)
  • 1 2 3 4 5
  • 3) I feel very comfortable talking with others about my disability and what I need. (3)

Survey Statements (cont.)

  • 4) When I know I have something I need to do for class, I get it done as soon as I can.(4)
  • 1 2 3 4 5
  • 5) When I am struggling with a problem in my academic or personal life, I usually seek help from someone. (8)
  • 1 2 3 4 5
  • 6) I don’t tend to give up easily, especially when it comes to issues related to school and/or my disability.(5)
  • 1 2 3 4 5
  • 7) When things go wrong in my life, it is at least partly due to something I could have done differently.(6)
  • 1 2 3 4 5

Survey Statements (cont.)

  • 8) I am comfortable advocating for myself and what I need with professors and others.(3)
  • 1 2 3 4 5
  • 9) I tend to set reasonable goals for myself that I am usually able to achieve. (7)
  • 1 2 3 4 5
  • 10) Briefly explain your disability. Explain how you think it affects your education and day-to-day life. Also please comment on what you think your strengths are. (*”Strengths” statement was included in a separate item in future versions of the survey)
  • 11) Briefly explain what has been the most helpful type of support to help you reach your goals and why.

Survey Statements (cont.)

  • My year in school is (please circle): FR SO JR SR
  • I was diagnosed with my LD (please circle): Elementary High School College/Adult
  • Thank you for completing this survey!

Code Key for Success Characteristics Statements

  • Numbers after each statement indicate what characteristic is being measured.
  • 1= Knowledge of disability
  • 2= Knowledge of strengths
  • 3= Self-advocacy
  • 4= Does not procrastinate*
  • 5= Persistence
  • 6= Takes responsibility for actions/outcomes
  • 7= Goal-directed (able to set reasonable goals and achieve them)
  • 8= Willingness to seek support from others

Overall Results of 4-Year Study

  • In all four years, the majority (50-75%) of the student respondents indicated either “Very Often True” or “Mostly True” to statements that indicated they acquired the attributes of success.
  • The “outliers” who indicated “not sure” or “not true at all” (often around 30%) will be highlighted in each of the four years of the study since they were the focus of workshops and follow up activities.

2009-2010 Survey Participants Demographics

  • 38 students completed the survey
  • Demographic breakdown:
  • 10 freshman, 9 sophomores, 11 juniors and 8 seniors
  • Time of diagnosis
    • 17 in elementary school (incl. “junior high”)
    • 12 in high school
    • 9 in college or as an adult

2009-2010 (Year One) Survey Results Highlights and Outcomes

Statement One: Awareness of Disability

  • 29% responded “not sure” (5%), “not very true” (11%) or “not true at all” (13%)

Statement Three: Comfortable Telling Others About Disability Statement Eight: Comfortable Advocating with Professors About Disability Needs


  • I made a more intentional effort with all of my students to educate them about their disabilities in the context of why accommodations and strategies work for them.
  • A colleague and I held a workshop that discussed how to approach their professors with their Letter of Accommodation (LOA).

2010-2011 (Year Two)

  • Survey Results Highlights
  • and Outcomes

2010-2011 Survey Participants Demographics

  • 38 students completed the survey
  • Demographic breakdown:
  • 6 freshman, 8 sophomores, 12 juniors and 12 seniors
  • Time of diagnosis
    • 23 in elementary school (incl. “junior high”)
    • 9 in high school
    • 6 in college or as an adult

Statement Nine: Setting Reasonable Goals

  • 36% responded: “not sure” (13%), “not very true” (15%), “not true at all” (8%). Significant for how important this attribute is to success.


  • Goal Setting and Achieving were included topics in Study Skills Workshops
  • Information about Goal Setting and Achieving were put on our web site under our Strategies tab

2011-2012 (Year Three)

  • Survey Results and Outcomes

2011-2012 Survey Participants Demographics

  • 21 students completed the survey
  • Demographic breakdown:
  • 6 freshman, 6 sophomores, 4 juniors and 5 seniors
  • Time of diagnosis
    • 14 in elementary school (incl. “junior high”)
    • 5 in high school
    • 2 in college or as an adult

Statement Seven


  • If I reassess students using this survey again, will consider rewording this survey statement.

2012-2013 Survey Participants Demographics

  • 36 students completed the survey
  • Demographic breakdown:
  • 8 freshman, 10 sophomores, 9 juniors and 9 seniors
  • Time of diagnosis
    • 25 in elementary school (incl. “junior high”)
    • 9 in high school
    • 2 in college or as an adult

Statement Six


  • Orientation handout after first intake meeting to remind students of services available to them through DRES.
  • Availability without judgement when student is “ready” to ask for help.

Statements 10 and 11

  • Throughout all of the years of the study, there were trends in these open-ended statements where students were asked to explain their disability, their strengths and the most helpful type of support the received to reach their goals and why.
  • Most students were able to explain their disability and its effects on their lives.
  • In the first year of the survey, many did not give their strengths so it was made into its own statement in later versions with an improved response rate.
  • While sources of support varied, the most commonly mentioned were accommodations and people (parents, family, friends, DSS staff).


  • Gave survey to students when they picked up their accommodation letters; many did not return.
  • Since I collected survey data in the fall semester, it became hard to analyze the data and follow up on problem areas with workshops or other information consistently due to fall being the busiest semester.
  • The scale on the survey from 1 – very often true to 5- not true at all was somewhat confusing.

Practical “Take Aways”:

  • Practical Strategies to Develop These Attributes in Our Students

Helping Students Understand Their Disability (and Strengths!)

  • Understanding disability
    • As DSS professionals, we can use “teachable moments” to help students understand their disability and have an accepting attitude that encourages students to accept themselves.
    • Practical application: with this knowledge, student can take balanced course load of courses in areas of strength and minimize the courses taken in areas of weakness. (Reiff, Gerber and Ginsberg,1994)

Helping students understand their disability (cont.)

  • Refer to diagnostic evaluation to explain disability as student struggles in classes
  • Include disability as accommodation letter is put together with the student
  • Include disability as learning/study strategies are discussed

Teaching Compensatory Strategies

  • Sources: trial and error (primary method), knowing how disability affects their learning, getting info from others: parents, Disability Support Services, other students (Getzel and Thoma, 2006)
  • Important for student to know accommodations, learning style and academic/study skills (Getzel and Thoma, 2006)

Teaching Compensatory Strategies

  • Utilize strengths to devise compensatory strategies (e.g., if student is a visual learner, turn notes into diagrams, pictures, etc.)
  • Utilize techniques that will minimize the weaker areas, when possible (e.g., use lecture notes, meetings with the professor or peers to gain information rather than focusing solely on the text book or other readings for the class).

Teaching Self-Advocacy

  • Ask the student to explain their disability-related needs for accommodation (Dukes, Shaw, 2008)
  • Involve the student in accommodation planning and other decision-making (getting rid of “you should”)
  • Model problem-solving/decision making techniques without making the decision for the student
  • Role play or discuss with students how to make their needs known to others, esp. faculty

Teaching Goal Setting

  • Setting and achieving goals
    • Influenced by parental help and expectation
    • Want to be independent
    • Engaged in activities that taught them how to set goals
    • (Getzel and Thoma, 2006)

Teaching Goal Setting

  • Work with students to set reasonable goals that they can achieve.
  • Work on breaking down the steps needed to achieve the goal (having a specific plan to reach the goal).
  • Academic coaching programs – accountability factor.

Encouraging Perseverance

  • Setting reasonable, achievable goals can encourage students to persevere toward their achievement.
  • Acknowledging students’ effort and progress toward achieving a goal is important. Reinforcing “how far” a student has come (esp. for those of us who work with students over a number of years).

How to Develop the Student’s Use of a Support System

  • Developing rapport with students is essential to helping them to develop success attributes, including their willingness to use a support system.
  • Particularly due to the stigmatizing effects of being labeled with a disability and segregated into “resource rooms” in elementary and/or high school, students need to be approached with “respect and nonpaternalism.” (Rodis, Garrod and Boscardin, 2001)

How to Develop the Student’s Use of a Support System (cont.)

  • Discuss how to communicate needs to professors
  • Discuss how to interact with peers in order to utilize them as a support system or resource


  • Dukes, L. & Shaw, S. (2008). Using AHEAD Program Standards and Performance Indicators to Promote Self-Determination in the Daily Practice of Office of Disability Services. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, v. 21, n. 2, 105-108.
  • Getzel, E. & Thoma, C. (2006). Voice of Experience: What College Students with Learning Disabilities and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders Tell Us Are Important Self-Determination Skills for Success. Journal of Learning Disabilities, v. 14, n. 1, 33-39.
  • Launey, K. & Carter-Davis, M. (2001). An Alternative College Service Model: From Learning Disability to Learning Potential. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association of School Psychologists (Washington, DC., April 17-21, 2001), ED 453 470.


  • McGrady, H., Lerner, J. & Boscardin, M. (2001). The Educational Lives of Students with Learning Disabilties. In Rodis, P., Garrod, A. and Boscardin, M., eds. (2001). Learning Disabilities and Life Stories. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • Raskind, M., Goldberg, R., Higgins, E. and Herman, K. (1999). Patterns of Change and Predictors of Success in Individuals With Learning Disabilities: Results From a Twenty-Year Longitudinal Study. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, v. 14, n. 1, 35-49.
  • Reiff, H., Gerber, P., Ginsberg, R. (1994). Instructional Strategies for Long-term Success. Annals of Dyslexia, v. 44, 270-288.
  • Rodis, P., Garrod, A. and Boscardin, M., eds. (2001). Learning Disabilities and Life Stories. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.
  • *Reiff, Henry B., Gerber, Paul J., & Ginsberg, Rick. (1997). Exceeding Expectations: Successful Adults with Learning Disabilities Austin, TX: Pro-Ed. (Not included in today’s presentation but highly recommended!)


  • Thank you to Carmen Sutherland, former Graduate Rehabilitation Intern, for her assistance in formulating the Goals Survey statements.
  • Thank you to all of the undergraduate Community Health interns over the past four years for their help in tabulating the data and putting the data into pie charts.
  • Thank you to all of the students who completed the survey for the invaluable information they have provided which continues to inform my professional practice daily.

Questions, Comments?

  • Thank you for coming to this session!

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