Students with learning difficulties often have trouble at school because they don’t have effective strategies for working through challenges.
These students can benefit from help to take charge of their own learning, monitor their behaviour and progress and make adjustments along the way.
1. Setting Goals
When done in the right way, goal setting gives students power over their own learning and opportunities to look at their own behaviour and identify ways they can improve. Setting goals helps students identify what they need to do, lets them see how they are progressing, and motivates them to act productively.
The goals students set for themselves should be specific and challenging, but not too hard. The student should be able to reach their goal quickly so they can feel good and move on to the next goal. As every student is different, every students goals will be different. One student might identify that they don’t get their homework done because they aren’t managing their time, so might decide to cut out a recreational activity to achieve the goal of getting their homework done before dinnertime. Another student might identify that he struggles with homework because he forgets to bring the homework instructions home, so he might realise he needs to bring his notes home so he can reach his goal of completing his homework each day.
Self-monitoring involves a student asking himself whether he has engaged in a specific, desired behaviour. A student might ask himself, Am I using my time in the right way to complete my homework by dinnertime? Or, Did I put all of my assignments in my backpack to take home? Students may also self-monitor for behaviours like paying attention, staying on task, and meeting performance expectations such as completing all homework problems or spelling 8 of 10 spelling words correctly.
This is part of normal development for many younger children and can be effective at any age when used to self-monitor and direct learning behaviour. For example, a student who is having trouble understanding a challenging text might think, I need to look up the definitions of these unfamiliar words and read this page again.
Students can use self-talk to remind themselves to focus their attention, to take positive steps when faced with difficulties, and to reinforce positive behaviours. Teachers and parents can model effective self-talk, but should allow each student to create and use her own statements. Taking some time to write out some useful statements before starting a new project or beginning a homework assignment can enable students get themselves out of a tight spot.
Self-reinforcement occurs when a student chooses a motivating reward and then awards it to himself when he achieves a milestone. Self-reinforcement can be short or long term and can relate back to goals that have been set. The student who has identified time-management as an issue, for example, might decide, I can go to the movies on Sunday because I finished all of my homework before dinnertime every night this week.
Self-reinforcement can also work well in the classroom. Teachers and students can select rewards together and teachers can let students know how to earn them. Once a student has met the criteria for a reward, she can award it to herself – say, by selecting a sticker for her journal after completing the day’s writing assignment and getting her teacher’s approval.
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