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ParentEd.: The 3-D’s of Learning Differences

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

–Psalm 139: 13-14


Just as Christ met people in their area of need, Christian educators meet students in their greatest areas of academic need as well. One of the needs that may surface for students is the differences in which they learn. 

It is important to recognize these differences at the earliest stage possible in order to create an action plan for learning and provide students with the necessary support for learning in an academically rigorous institution. Research is clear that if parents and educators discover how a student learns best and provide remediation, these learning differences often may no longer impede a student’s academic success.



The 3-D’s 

Dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia are often called the “3-D’s.” Together, they comprise a population of students that adds to the diversity of our community. Thinking and reasoning are not impacted by these specific learning disabilities. Gifts and talents in other areas such as the arts, music, and athletics are also not impacted as students with dyslexia often have strengths in spatial reasoning, drawing connections, and communicating. 


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When a student reads, he/she has three jobs: to scan, to connect sound, and to make meaning.

When scanning, students identify the grapheme: what the word looks like. 
When connecting sounds, students identify the phoneme: what the word sounds like. 
When making meaning, students identify the morpheme: what the word means. 

Children with dyslexia can experience a breakdown in any of these three areas. 

Students with dyslexia are often characterized by difficulty in learning to fluently read and to accurately comprehend what they are reading. In lower school, dyslexia may present as difficulties with learning long and short vowel sounds, difficulty with basic reading, and difficulty with rhyming. In middle school, dyslexia may present as omissions, substitutions, and additions while reading, disastrous spelling, and poor writing. 

Reading is associated with five areas associated with intelligence: verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, visual discrimination, working memory, and processing speed. Thus, if students experience difficulties in any of these five areas, the impact of their dyslexia may be magnified. 




While some students struggle in the area of reading, others struggle in the area of math. Dyscalculia is characterized by difficulties in the areas of magnitude representation, symbol magnitude connectivity, serial counting, and fact fluency. Students with dyscalculia may appear to not have a working number line in their minds. For example, they may not understand which “direction” to move on the number line when adding or subtracting. 

To be proficient in math, students also need to have strong memory, visual-spatial skills, working memory, attention, and self-monitoring skills, among others. Thus, like dyslexia, other areas of neurodiversity can impact a student’s math ability. 



Finally, students with dysgraphia experience difficulty with orthographic coding. Orthographic coding is the ability to think about how a letter is supposed to be formed, and then to recreate the letter while holding the rest of the word in your memory. For most purposes, there are three types of dysgraphia: motor, dyslexic, and spatial

Children with motor dysgraphia tend to have poor fine motor skills and an awkward pencil grip, However, spelling is not impacted. For students with dyslexic dysgraphia, spelling is affected as well as coming up with letter formation. Students with spatial dysgraphia have difficulty with baseline placement; their handwriting often slopes “uphill” or “downhill.” 


An Individualized Approach

In school, educators have two ways to address students with these three particular learning differences: remediation and accommodation. In the early grades, teachers remediate, which is intended to meet students in their area of difficulty and give them more tools to access the on-level material. Accommodation is different because it is a way to make a school equitable for students with learning disabilities. A commonly used metaphor is one of a stool. Shorter people need a stool, as their height is not a factor that they can remediate. Other people do not need the stool, so giving them a stool would provide them with an advantage. Accommodations are not intended to provide a “leg up.” They are intended to make schools equitable for students with learning disabilities so that the academic playing field is leveled.

Remediating students with dyslexia includes a systematic, multi-sensory, sequential approach to phonics instruction. This approach is considered best practice among reading specialists and is the method used in the lower school as it is beneficial for all students. Accommodating students in the upper grades looks like not implementing a spelling penalty, reading tests aloud, or using an audiobook. For students with dyscalculia, students are remediated with a systematic approach to acquiring number sense and an increased focus on math fact fluency. A common accommodation is a printed number line, a multiplication table, or a calculator. Finally, for students with dysgraphia, a common accommodation is for students to use voice-to-text software or other assistive technology to lessen the impact of often illegible handwriting. 


Remediation and accommodation, accompanied by low student-teacher ratios, are all practical ways for teachers to empower a student in their own learning. When taught how to use strategies and tools in their learning, the student can overcome challenges that often feel overwhelming to parents when the child is young. These students often go on to achieve great success because they have the tools in their “toolbox” to make them stronger learners. At Mount Paran Christian School, students will often identify their Directed Studies teachers as their safe haven on campus. Not only do these learning specialists teach specific strategies to enable students to be successful, but they also function as the students’ cheerleaders and advocates. The ultimate goal is to see these students advocate for their personal learning journey on their own, and in turn thrive in the classroom now, and through their collegiate and professional careers. 

Mrs. Jubilee Rowland is a teacher in the MPCS high school directed studies program. She taught in two independent schools in the northeast before joining the MPCS family as a member of the directed studies department. Mrs. Rowland earned a Bachelor of Arts in education from Wheaton College and a Master of Arts in education from Villanova University.
To learn more about exceptional learning at Mount Paran Christian School  click here.


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