A student asked to remember a list of numbers might repeat them until he commits them to memory. This is a learning strategy, also known as cognitive therapy, cognitive behavior modification, meta cognitive skills, are mental schemes that aid memorization, problem solving, etc. (Pressley & Harris, 1990). Many students learn these strategies inherently and intuitively. Failing to use such strategies in dealing with every day school content will greatly compromise one's functioning in the classroom.
There is strong support in the literature that teaching students with autism and other related disabilities improves comprehension and retention of classroom content. Equally important for students on the spectrum is the teaching of strategies that facilitate the generalization of these learning strategies outside of school.
The teaching of learning strategies begins with the teacher modeling the strategy. Students might be assigned an essay, for example, and the teacher would being by demonstrating how to write an intuitive outline. The purpose of the intuitive outline is to get ideas out of "one's system" to facilitate concentration on then putting them in a sequential outline. Putting things in sequence is a challenge for children who are on the autism spectrum. The intuitive outline is completed by a student brainstorming by her or himself. She/he begins by placing the theme or main idea in an oval, and then writes each idea associated with the main thought on lines that branch out of the main oval placed in the center of the page. This is also called a graphic organizer.
Another learning strategy children on the spectrum do not learn on their own is the use of mnemonics, a system of memory training that helps students remember important concepts by associating ideas to visual stimuli. Mann and Sabatino (1985) recommend the following steps for incorporating a learning strategy approach in the classroom: * Describe the strategy needed to solve the classroom problem (break the solution into task analysis). * Measure a student's use or nonuse of strategy. * Help students implement selected strategies and adjust and revise as needed. * Monitor how well the strategy is working. * Motivate students to use the strategy.
Selecting the best strategy is a key element in utilizing the learning-strategy approach. Scott (1988) recommended teaching problem-solving skills demonstrated by successful students. She identified concentration, independence, reflection, self-direction,l active learning, and persistence as core learning strategies students with autism could learn to improve their classroom performance.
Story grammar marker
Story Grammar Marker (SGM) is a hands-on manipulative for teaching text structure for oral and written expression. The SGM is designed to be held by the student and teacher while telling, retelling and writing stories. It is visual, tactile, and kinesthetic, making it a three dimensional graphic organizer. Use of this tool provides students and teachers with a common language that connects language and literacy.
Narrative elements of character, setting, problems, feelings and consequences are represented by icons along a linear linguistic braid. For instance, a star represents the "setting" since sailors at night, when lost, look to the stars to see where they are and what time it is. A heart represents the "feelings' of the character relative to the problem and plan.
The teacher can use the SGM with the entire class or small group to discuss the plot of a story, an episode in a book chapter, a personal experience, or a historical event. When a teacher or student touches an icon, that element of the story is discussed. Connections are made linguistically and visually between the character/setting and the problem (initiating event); the problem, feelings, and plans (critical-thinking triangle); the plans and the actions/attempts; and the attempts and the direct consequence or end of story.
The visual tactile and kinesthetic nature of the manipulative makes it an ideal tool for a variety of learners. The SGM manual contains reproducible maps that serve as graphic organizers modeled after the SGM manipulative. Posters, magnets, and oral/writing activity book, a manual of developmental lessons, a series of card decks, and the Theme Maker for expository text round out the materials currently available for this link between language and literacy.
Leaning strategies teach students how to learn by helping them to organize their thinking in a way that they would not on their own.