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Study skills for students with a Specific Learning Disability (SpLD)

The development of independent study skills is an important aspect of educational inclusion for students with a specific Learning Disability (SpLD). Many students report that they feel more empowered and successful following establishment of a range of independent study skills. Students often develop a range of useful strategies that address barriers and build on strengths prior to even knowing that they have an SpLD. A formal SpLD diagnosis is however the most useful way to identify relevant and empowering study strategies. The assessment can identify strengths, weaknesses, processing preferences, useful adaptive or inclusive technology, and reasonable adjustments in the education context.

Once in tertiary education, many students with an SpLD connect with a learning skills service. This service can support with skill development in a range of academic skill areas. They can also provide support in reading techniques and review work to improve grammar and essay structure.

"They taught me so many skills, planning, organisation, I started with grammar, structuring paragraphs, all these little rules that make your life hell if you don't know them" (Webber, 2016)

A range of strategies are listed below that are used by students with SpLDs to address reading, writing, comprehension and organisational barriers:

Top tips for reading:

  • Access and read online reading material and lecture notes prior to each class. 
  • Use commercial adaptive technology such as Read and Write Gold or free Microsoft Narrator to have an electronic voice read text from the computer. 
  • Source audio versions of text books. Your Disability Liaison Officer can coordinate access to electronic formats of academic reading material. Also, in ACT, NSW, QLD and Victoria you can become a member of Vision Australia library if you have a reading disability. This will allow free access to 1,000’s of audio books. 
  • Ask your tutors or lecturers for a list of the most essential reading so as to minimise your weekly reading tasks. 
  • Use the Microsoft Find (CTRL F) function to locate key words within a document. With this function you will save time reading long documents when you are looking for a particular word or phrase. 
  • Change font, size, line spacing and foreground / background colours to improve readability of text in Microsoft Word. 

Top tips for writing:

"I was always frustrated that I couldn't get my ideas down, but I could verbalise" (Webber, 2016)
  • Download lecture notes such as PowerPoint slides prior to lectures to support with access to key words and concepts, and to minimise writing during lectures. 
  • Meet with tertiary learning skills advisors to support with essay writing.
  • Use commercial adaptive technology such as Dragon Naturally Speaking or free Microsoft Speech Recognition (voice to text software) as an alternative to typing. Many students with an SpLD benefit from this software as they are skilled in voicing ideas but will experience barriers when typing or writing their ideas on paper or into a computer. 
  • Maintain a list of key terms, definitions, most relevant quotes and concepts for each class. This will be useful when writing essays and in your exam preparation. 
  • Audio record lectures. Many tertiary institutions will automatically record lectures and make them available online in MP3 format immediately following each lecture. If not, source permission from your lecturer prior to the lecture. This permission can be written into your disability access plan. 
  • Summarise all lecture notes immediately following each lecture. 
  • Request additional time for tests and exams by contacting your Disability Liaison Officer. 
  • Use text prediction software to avoid writing frequently used or hard to spell words

Top comprehension tips:

  • Review key terms and their definitions for each subject
  • View DVDs or on-line clips for visual and audio descriptions of new academic topics. 
  • Work in small study groups to talk through key concepts.
  • Highlight key words in articles or handouts. 
  • Create summaries of lecture notes and readings.

Top organisational tips:

  • Maintain a yearly planner to record all due dates of assessment tasks. 
  • Use a range of apps such as electronic Sticky Notes or software such as Microsoft OneNote to capture ideas and improve organisational skills.
  • Use mind mapping software to assist with essay planning. 
  • Use colour coding to track content for each subject

Further resources: