E-Community Activity: Jessie and Learning Strategies

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Subject: Jessie and learning strategies

If your computer has the capability, view the video Taking Charge 1: Three Stories of Success and Self-Determination. You can also read the following story about Jessie, who is featured in the video. Then tell our group something about Jessie's story that is similar to your life experiences. You can also read the following story about Jessie, who is featured in the video. Then tell our group something about Jessie's story that is similar to your life experiences.

Jessie first became aware of her learning disability in the second grade. She said: "Everyone in my class was reading and I wasn't. When my mom approached the teacher, the teacher minimized the problem, saying I was just a 'late bloomer.' Even in third grade I still couldn't read. They kept telling my mom, 'Don't worry, don't worry.'"

Jessie struggled in every grade as she progressed through school. "When I was in the fourth grade, I was in a first grade reading level. And my writing skills were just nonexistent... Science reading is really dense and so I get completely and totally lost in it. Even in math classes I do dyslexic-like errors like dropping negative signs. It gets me all mixed up. There's no area in which I am free of it. It's a part of me."

But Jessie was determined to be "academically independent." With support from her mother and a tutor, Jessie figured out how to tap into her own resourcefulness to reach self-defined goals. "Ever since I was in third grade, whatever they were doing, I didn't get it. I got really frustrated. I was always behind. So my mom would help me by finding different ways to do the work. Now that I'm in high school, I'm finding my own way, developing my own methods. I learned how to study. Like, for example I would create whole tests of the subject material and just quiz myself, and quiz myself and quiz myself. And, you know, it works. I've gotten A's from doing that."

Jessie also listens to taped versions of her textbooks. She has a speech output system on her computer to read to her all text that appears on the screen. Another computer program allows her to talk into the computer rather than type on the keyboard. She dictates her work to the computer and then uses a standard word processor to edit it into final form. Having note takers in class to alleviate her difficulties with both handwriting and processing teacher lecture material is another strategy that helps Jessie focus on her strengths instead of her deficits. Every day she better understands her learning style and as a result is able to figure out alternative strategies to tackle her assignments. Jessie also seeks out activities that don't require accommodations for her learning disability. These include ballet and running.

Jessie confesses that she fears failure. But she also admits, "I've learned that I'll fail if I don't even try." Jessie's tutor describes a learning disability as a "hill." It's as though Jessie is an avid skier but, instead of using a chairlift like everyone else, she must continually climb the hill in order to ski back down with her peers. Jessie reports, "She and my mom always reminded me of this example and told me, 'You're smart, Jessie, smarter than a lot of these kids. You just have to struggle and work hard sometimes, but you're finding a different way.' They would tell me about people who overcame their disabilities and were successful, so I never felt like I was dumb.... Finding new methods was part of the climb up the mountain. My mom would turn out the lights and quiz me orally on my spelling. It was weird. Sometimes I could do it and sometimes not—it was a mystery."

Jessie describes her relationship with her tutor as special. Unlike her friends, the tutor understands the immense effort it takes Jessie to achieve what seems to come easily to others. According to Jessie, "When I was younger, I didn't mention my disability, because I was ashamed of it. My mom and sister are exactly opposite from me. They never have to study; everything comes easy to them. I have friends like that too. They don't seem to have to work at all, so they can't understand what I have to go through."

On the other hand, Jessie acknowledges that because of her disability she has learned to be resourceful and adaptable. "I see things in a different way. I know how to work hard. I'm determined.... not being able to attack a problem one way has forced me to learn new skills.... If you do work hard, you will get a payoff. It will be worth it.

What about Jessie's experience can apply in your life?