Inside the Apple: Working with Students with LDs
Just as no student is the same, no tutor has the same journey into tutoring.
Kristen “KP” Pariseau has a very traditional background – she got her degree in education over two decades ago, and began her career teaching at all levels of K-12 education. During her years in private school, she worked in an academic resource center which mostly served students with learning disabilities (LDs), most frequently dyslexia, which is where her love of working with students with learning differences was born.
Kali Cawthon-Freels approaches her students with LDs with a trove of lived experience – both of her siblings are neurodiverse and since there weren’t a lot of resources for her family in the rural area where they grew up, Kali was her siblings’ “safe person” whom they knew they could go to to ask questions.
As an accomplished theater artist, Laurie Hochman is very experienced in encouraging students to break out of their shell, and enjoys finding ways of communicating with her students creatively, whether it’s breaking down a text or explaining a process. Like Laurie, I also come from a theater background and have found that years of observation of human body language come in handy when a student feels shy about asking questions.
We may all have arrived at this work from different paths, but we have the same thing in common – we love working with students with LDs. There’s something so satisfying about watching a student have the “lightbulb” moment when a problem or passage suddenly clicks into place! Kali especially enjoys fostering a sense of trust with students with LDs, who have often been let down or judged by the educational system in the past:
Personally, I love how students with LDs push me to be a better educator:
KP has been in the educational field for over two decades, but her students with LDs still manage to surprise her with different perspectives and viewpoints. Learning differences don’t need to be viewed as liabilities – they provide a different way of seeing the world (or a math problem) and there’s a lot of value in that:
Even before the pandemic, Applerouth served many students through online tutoring. While some students with LDs prefer face-to-face interaction, sometimes that’s not possible, whether because of immunocompromised relatives or schedules crammed with extracurriculars. We all agreed that online learning doesn’t have to be a negative experience for students with LDs! Here are some tricks of the trade. Laurie recommends transparency and aggressive patience:
Kali emphasizes the value of silence, as well as giving students control of their learning experience:
Personally, I find flexibility is key:
We all agreed that our work with students who learn differently has only enhanced our work with neurotypical students as well. KP has learned the importance of building rapport with a student outside of the subject matter, as well as how to read body language when to know when things aren’t going smoothly:
Often, neurodiverse students need to understand the “why” behind a concept before they can feel truly comfortable applying it in a different context. Laurie thinks this need to make connections also helps her with neurotypical students who might be interested in that connective tissue as well:
In a recent survey of over 300 school counselors by the New York Times, 94% said their students were showing more signs of anxiety and depression than before the pandemic. Sadly, we all agreed that we’ve seen an increase in the number of our students presenting with anxiety. We shared some of the strategies we employ to help a student with test or generalized anxiety perform their best on test day. Personally, I usually start by asking students how they feel physically when they start to feel anxiety creeping in:
Laurie likes to have her students focus on their breath as a way of calming themselves or resetting after a difficult question:
Kali shared a wonderful saying that she has found to really encapsulate how we work with students: “We teach people, not lessons.” We appreciate the trust our neurodiverse students (and their IECs!) have put in us, and I hope there are some good insights to help your students on their unique journeys.