Study Skills for Students with Learning Disabilities

Joan Sedita

Learning to apply study skills benefits all students. However, for individuals with learning disabilities, effective study skills training and application is crucial. Students with learning disabilities require more time to read material. They also often have deficits that make it more difficult to extract meaning and significance from their reading, and to commit information to long-term memory. They need on-going, explicit and direct instruction in study skills because they lack the learning processes needed to develop study strategies on their own. Direct study skills instruction teaches students to consciously and methodically organize, process and master information from reading or listening. It also presents strategies for organizing materials, assignments and time. Systematic procedures for approaching learning tasks emphasize the process of learning.

Most teachers agree that study skills are important, but many are not really sure what study skills are and whose responsibility it is to see that they are taught. College teacher-training and certification requirements usually do not include course work in the area of study skills. Most schools do not offer study skills instruction as part of the regular curriculum, and there is often an assumption on the part of teachers that students have been taught these skills in previous grades or developed them intuitively. Through no fault of their own, the higher the grade level, the less likely teachers are to include study skills instruction in lesson planning.

What are study skills?

Study skills instruction gives students the tools, the training, and the readiness to do a good job in school. The more adept students are with reading, writing, speaking and study skills, the more efficient and thorough they will be at getting the job of learning done.

"Metacognition" is a popular term to describe the learning process. It means transcending cognition, or more simply put, thinking about thinking. Study skills instruction develops a metacognitive approach to school; it helps them learn how to learn. Students need to go beyond simply completing an assignment. They need to be aware of the process they follow and the steps they take when pre-reading a textbook, taking notes, or answering an essay question.

When should study skills be taught?

Study skills instruction can begin as early as the elementary grades with organization skills and main idea skills. By fifth grade, students can begin to learn note taking strategies and basic textbook skills. Advanced note taking, summarizing, textbook, test preparation and report writing should be emphasized in middle school, and then practiced in high school. As students progress through the grades, they must develop a new set of skills to cope with greater demands: the higher the grade, the greater the need for study skills to cope with those demands.

Teaching study skills: key points

I have devoted a significant portion of my 30 years as an educator to developing study skills curriculums and instructional materials, and to training teachers how to teach study skills. From this experience, I have come to observe the following: •Study skills instruction must be hierarchical. Students cannot learn good note taking techniques if they do not already have good main idea skills. They cannot develop good textbook reading and highlighting skills if they do not have basic pre-reading skills. Each advanced skill has its foundation in the basic skills or organization, recognizing and formulating main ideas, summarizing, and basic note taking from written sources. If these basic skills are not practiced and mastered, the foundation will be weak and the student will not be able to master the more advanced skills of textbook use, note taking from lectures, test preparation, or report writing.

  • Some type of organized notebook system is essential. It should consist of specifics for taking down assignments, communicating with parents about homework, storing notes and handouts on a weekly and long-term basis, and time-planning strategies. The broader the notebook system can be applied, the more successful it will be (i.e., use across a whole school is better than use by just one teacher).
  • Study skills can and should be taught in regular content classrooms. Study skills that are taught in isolated, study skills classes generally do not cross over into use in classrooms. Student can practice skills using special skill workbooks, but when they move to their history or science class, they do not know how to apply those skills to their class work. With practice, teachers can incorporate study skills instruction and practice as they cover general content material.
  • Study skills should be modeled and practiced in class. For example, as teachers present oral information, they should show the students how to take notes on the chalkboard or hand out sample notes to follow. Homework assignments are perfect times for having students apply main idea, summarizing and note taking skills.


An improved educational experience

While it is not a panacea for every academic problem, study skills instruction can improve the educational experience for many students and their teachers. With study skills intact, students become more confident and organized, strengthen their memories, and have a plan of attack for getting their class assignments and homework done.

Joan Sedita, M.Ed. is the director of Sedita Learning Strategies in Boxford, Massachusetts, a private consulting and teacher training service. Joan is an experienced educator, nationally recognized speaker and teacher trainer. She has worked for over 30 years in the education field and has presented to thousands of teachers, parents, and related professionals at schools, colleges, clinics, and professional organizations throughout the United States. Joan specializes in developing curriculum, teaching materials, and professional development in the following areas: reading, language arts, writing, study skills, and learning disabilities.

This article is posted on by permission from Joan Sedita,