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Experiencing learning differences : a sociocultural study of high school students' and parents' perspectives… Av-Gay, Hadas 2018

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        EXPERIENCING LEARNING DIFFERENCES: A SOCIOCULTURAL STUDY OF HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS’ AND PARENTS’ PERSPECTIVES ON LEARNING DISABILITIES  by Hadas Av-Gay B.A., Tel Aviv University, 1993 M.Ed., The University of British Columbia, 2003 M.A., The University of British Columbia, 2008  A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF  DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY  in THE FACULTY OF GRADUATE AND POSTDOCTORAL STUDIES (Special Education)  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA (Vancouver)  April 2018 © Hadas Av-Gay, 2018   ii Abstract  Based upon Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, which emphasizes the interdependence between individuals and their sociocultural environments (Vygotsky, 1993; Wertsch, 1985), this generic qualitative study focused on the experiences of high school students with learning disabilities, as well as their perspectives and the perspectives of their parents on their experiences. The research questions guided this study were: 1) How do students describe their experiences of and perspectives on having learning disabilities? 2) How do parents describe their experiences of and perspectives on their child’s learning disabilities? 3) How do students describe their strengths and challenges in relation to their academic experiences in school? 4) How do parents describe their child’s strengths and challenges in relation to their academic experiences in school? Semi-structured and collaborative interviews with high school students and their parents, both separately and together were employed to answer the research questions. The transcribed interviews were analyzed using reflexive and iterative thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Findings were coded and five themes were constructed: identifying difficulties in learning; “testing” to diagnose a disability; searching for alternative learning settings; learning and teaching; and students’ strengths and challenges. Five conclusions based on the lived experiences of these students emerged. First, there was no systemic early identification and pedagogy in place in their schools. Second, students reported experiencing secondary disabilities as a result of interpreting their primary learning difficulty as “being stupid.” Third, participants reported the affordances and constraints of, what they called, “testing” for diagnosis of learning disabilities. Formal diagnosis did not seem to inform teaching and learning and was limited to allowing the noticeability of students in school and entry to specialized programs or schools. Fourth, the profound sociality of learning  iii was evident as participants benefited from collaborative relationships with their peers and teachers. Fifth, malleability of learning was shown in students’ academic successes in schools with parents’ provision of support. Educational implications included the importance of educating for diversity in learning, the importance of academic assessments integrated with pedagogy, distinguishing early screening and diagnosis, and systemizing early screening of students’ strengths and challenges.      iv Lay Summary  Based upon Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, this generic qualitative study examined the experience of learning disabilities. Forty interviews with high school students and their parents, both separately and together, were used to examine their experiences of and perspectives on learning disabilities, including students’ challenges and strengths. Five themes were identified: identifying difficulties in learning; “testing” to diagnose a disability; searching for alternative learning settings; learning and teaching including accommodations, beliefs, expectations, teachers’ preparation and deficit thinking; and students’ strengths and challenges. The conclusions highlighted that without early identification of students’ strengths and challenges students felt unnoticed and embarrassed by their difficulties; the diagnosis did not seem to inform teaching and learning; students benefited from collaborative relationships with teachers and peers; and with parents’ provision of supports students experienced academic successes. Educational implications included promoting the importance of diversity in education and the early screening of students’ strengths and challenges.                   v Preface  This dissertation is an original, independent, and unpublished work by the author, Hadas Av-Gay. All projects and associated methods were approved by the University of British Columbia’s Behavioural Research Ethics Board (certificate #H15-02436 issued on February 23rd 2016, and amendment certification #H15-02436-A001 on October 5th 2016).     vi Table of Contents Abstract ............................................................................................................................. ii Lay Summary ................................................................................................................... iv Preface ............................................................................................................................... v Table of Contents ............................................................................................................. vi List of Tables .................................................................................................................... xi List of Figures ................................................................................................................. xii Acknowledgment ........................................................................................................... xiii Dedication ....................................................................................................................... xv Chapter 1: Introduction .............................................................................................. 1 1.1. Definition of Learning Disabilities in British Columbia  ............................... 2  1.2. Introduction to a Critique of Approaches to Learning Disabilities ............. 4 1.3. Introduction to Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory .......................................... 6 1.4. Statement of the Problem ............................................................................... 10 1.5. Purpose of this Study and Research Questions ............................................ 13 1.6. Introduction to the Methodology ................................................................... 13 1.7.  Organization of Dissertation .......................................................................... 14 Chapter 2:  Theoretical Framework and Literature Review  ................................ 15 2.1. A Sociocultural View on Approaches to Learning Disabilities ................... 17  2.1.1.  Within the Student Disability .................................................................. 18  2.1.2.  Attention on Deficit  ................................................................................ 19  2.1.3.  Quantitative Method for the Diagnosis of Learning Disabilities ............. 21  2.1.4.  Current Practices of Diagnosis of Learning Disabilities ......................... 24  2.1.5.  Studies Suggesting Sociocultural Processes ............................................ 26  2.1.6.  Cognitive Assessment of Current Performance ....................................... 28  2.1.7.  Requiring Average Ability for Learning Disabilities Diagnosis ............. 29  2.1.8.  Response to Intervention ......................................................................... 31  2.1.9.  Early Identification and Mediation .......................................................... 33 2.2. Vygotsky’s Approach to Learning Disabilities and Development ......... 34  2.2.1.   Primary and Secondary Disabilities ......................................................... 35  2.2.2.  Associated Stigma with the Diagnosis of Learning Disabilities ............. 38  2.2.3.  A Strengths Based Approach ................................................................... 40  vii  2.2.4.  Disabilities as a Natural and Cultural Difference in Development ......... 42  2.2.5.  Sociocultural Aspects in BC Schools ...................................................... 44 2.3. Sociocultural Assessment and Pedagogy .................................................. 45  2.3.1.  The Zone of Proximal Development ....................................................... 46  2.3.2.  Mediated Learning Experience ................................................................ 48 2.4. Teachers’ Expectations and Beliefs of Students ...................................... 50  2.4.1.   Teachers’ Beliefs ..................................................................................... 52  2.4.2.  Teachers’ Education ................................................................................ 55 2.5.  Chapter Summary  ..................................................................................... 57 Chapter 3: Methodology ........................................................................................... 58 3.1.  Researcher Positioning ............................................................................... 58 3.1.1. Reflexivity ............................................................................................... 62 3.1.2. Power ....................................................................................................... 65 3.2.      Participants ................................................................................................. 66 3.2.1. Recruitment .............................................................................................. 67 3.2.2. Introduction of Participants ..................................................................... 70 3.3.      Research Design .......................................................................................... 75 3.3.1. First Meeting: Introduction and Informed Consent ................................. 76 3.3.2. The First Interview .................................................................................. 77 3.3.3. The Second Interview .............................................................................. 78 3.3.4. The Third Interview ................................................................................. 79 3.3.5. Member Check ......................................................................................... 79 3.4.     Analysis Procedures ................................................................................... 80 3.4.1.     Transcription of Interview Data ............................................................... 80 3.4.2.     Thematic Analysis ................................................................................... 80 3.4.3.     Confidentiality and Trustworthiness ........................................................ 88 3.4.4.     Significance and Triangulation ................................................................ 90 3.5.     Chapter Summary ...................................................................................... 92 Chapter 4:     Identifying, Diagnosing, and Alternative Learning Settings ............. 93 4.1.      Identifying Difficulties in Learning .......................................................... 93 4.1.1.     What is Wrong With Me? ........................................................................ 94 4.1.2.     Emotional Impacts of Learning Difficulties ............................................ 98  viii 4.1.3.     Parents’ Requests and Expectations from Schools Before Diagnosis ... 100 4.1.4.     School Responses to Students’ and Parents’ Requests for Support ....... 105 4.1.5.     Summary ................................................................................................ 111 4.2.      Testing to Diagnose Disabilities ............................................................... 112 4.2.1.     Recognizing Learning Differences/Disabilities ..................................... 112 4.2.2.     Assessing to Inform Teaching and Learning ......................................... 118 4.2.3.     Assessing for a Learning Profile: Strengths and Challenges ................. 123 4.2.4.     Summary ................................................................................................ 127 4.3.      Searching for Alternative Learning Settings ......................................... 128 4.3.1.     Teachers’ Time (Annie and Anthony) ................................................... 128 4.3.2.     Avoiding the Stigma (Elizabeth and Alexandra) ................................... 130 4.3.3.     Tutoring, IEP, and Online Courses (Kira and Oliver) ........................... 132 4.3.4.     Specialized Private Schools (Jonathan and James) ................................ 134 4.3.5.     Summary ................................................................................................ 136 Chapter 5: Learning and Teaching  ...................................................................... 137 5.1.       Academic Learning and Teaching .......................................................... 137  5.1.1.     Considering the Purpose of Accommodations ....................................... 137  5.1.2.     Implementing the Accommodations ...................................................... 141  5.1.3.  Test Writing Measuring Learning or Written Output ............................ 143 5.1.4.     Assistive Technologies .......................................................................... 145 5.1.5.     Summary ................................................................................................ 146 5.2.       Beliefs and Expectations Shaping Learning and Teaching .................. 146  5.2.1.     Positive Effect of High Expectations of Academic Outcomes .............. 147  5.2.2.     Negative Effect of Low Expectations of Academic Outcomes ............. 148  5.2.3.     Unfair Academic Expectations .............................................................. 150  5.2.4.     Students’ Beliefs about Teachers’ Beliefs ............................................. 150  5.2.5.     Summary ................................................................................................ 151 5.3.       The Sociality of Learning and Teaching   .............................................. 151  5.3.1.     Collaborative Learning and Teaching .................................................... 152  5.3.2.     Student and Teacher Relationships ........................................................ 154  5.3.3.     Defining Respectful Support ................................................................. 157  5.3.4.     Wellbeing of Teachers ........................................................................... 160  ix  5.3.5.     Summary ................................................................................................ 162  5.4.      Expecting Teachers’ Expertise ................................................................ 162  5.4.1.     Teachers’ Understanding of Learning Disabilities ................................ 162  5.4.2.     Explicit Learning and Teaching ............................................................. 163  5.4.3.     Individualized Explicit Learning and Teaching ..................................... 167  5.4.4.     Intensive Mediated Learning ................................................................. 169  5.4.5.     Summary ................................................................................................ 170 5.5.       Beyond Half Full or Half Empty ............................................................. 170    5.5.1.     Focusing on Difficulties ........................................................................ 171 5.5.2.     Focusing on Strengths ............................................................................ 172  5.5.3.     Diverse Mediated Learning Outcomes .................................................. 174 5.5.4.     Summary ................................................................................................ 177 Chapter 6: Students’ Strengths and Challenges ................................................... 178 6.1. Social Skills ............................................................................................... 179  6.2.  Using Humour ........................................................................................... 183  6.3.      Excelling in Sports .................................................................................... 184  6.4.      Artistic Orientation .................................................................................. 186  6.5.      Work Habits, Organization, and Motivation ......................................... 188  6.6.      Academic Difficulties: Reading and Writing ......................................... 191  6.7.      Feeling Tense ............................................................................................. 196 6.8.      Attending to Work .................................................................................... 198  6.9.      The Stigma in Pull Out ............................................................................ 201  6.10.      Embarrassment, Guilt, and Shame ......................................................... 203 6.11.      Experiencing Successes Across Grades  ................................................. 209  6.12. Summary ................................................................................................... 215 Chapter 7:  Discussion ............................................................................................. 217  7.1.  Paradoxes in the Promises of Testing ..................................................... 218 7.1.1. Schools Requesting Diagnosis without Early Identification ................. 220 7.1.2. The Myth of the Benefits of Testing ...................................................... 223 7.1.3. Required and Unavailable Testing for Diagnosis .................................. 226 7.1.4. Too Young and Old Enough for Testing ............................................... 227 7.1.5. The Problem of Unnoticed Students ...................................................... 228  x 7.1.6. Summary of Paradoxes .......................................................................... 229  7.2.   Experiences of Secondary Disabilities  ................................................... 230  7.3.   The Sociality of Learning and Development .......................................... 234  7.4.   Student-Teacher Relationships ............................................................... 236  7.5.   Teachers’ Education ................................................................................. 238 7.5.1. Emotional Aspects of Teaching ............................................................. 239 7.5.2. Experts in Learning and Teaching ......................................................... 240 7.5.3. Explicit Teaching ................................................................................... 241 7.5.4. Individualized Teaching ........................................................................ 242 7.5.5. Intensive Teaching ................................................................................. 243  7.6.   Diverse Mediated Learning ..................................................................... 244 7.6.1. Unnecessary Diagnosis in an Equity Framework .................................. 244 7.6.2. Challenging Deficit Thinking  ............................................................... 246 7.6.3. Focusing on Strengths  ........................................................................... 247 7.6.4. Relative and Absolute Achievement ..................................................... 249 7.6.5. Relationships and Instruction in Learning and Development ................ 251  7.7.   Chapter Summary .................................................................................... 253 Chapter 8:  Conclusions ........................................................................................... 254  8.1.  Conclusions, Recommendations, and Implications ............................... 254   8.1.1.  Absence of Systemic Early Identification of Learning  ......................... 254   8.1.2.  Secondary Disabilities ........................................................................... 255   8.1.3.  Affordances and Constraints of Testing for Diagnosis .......................... 257   8.1.4.  Sociality of Learning ............................................................................. 258   8.1.5.  Malleability of Learning  ....................................................................... 259  8.2.   Recommendations .................................................................................... 260  8.3.   Limitations of this Study .......................................................................... 261  8.4.   Suggestions for Future Research ........................................................... 263  8.5.   Significance of this Study ......................................................................... 264 8.6.   Concluding Summary .............................................................................. 265 References .................................................................................................................... 267    xi Appendices ................................................................................................................... 280 Appendix A:   Recruitment Letter ........................................................................ 280 Appendix B:   Introduction Letter ........................................................................ 281 Appendix C:   Consent Form ............................................................................... 283 Appendix D:  First Interviews Protocols ............................................................. 285 Appendix E:  Second Interviews Protocol .......................................................... 291 Appendix F:  Third Interview Protocol .............................................................. 292 Appendix G:    Transcriber Confidentiality Agreement ....................................... 293     xii List of Tables  Table 3.1 Information on students’ and parents’ participation in interviews ..... 71 Table 3.2 Goals of meetings and interviews ....................................................... 75 Table 3.3 Transcription conventions based on Ochs (1979) ............................... 82 Table 3.4 Preliminary codes across all data corpus – example of dyad # 2 ........ 85 Table 3.5 Trustworthiness based on Guba (1981) and Shenton (2004) .............. 89 Table 3.6 Triangulation of sources of data and investigators ............................. 91     xiii List of Figures Figure 3.1 Map of preliminary grouping of codes ..................................................... 86 Figure 3.2 Map of preliminary processes of forming themes .................................... 87                            xiv Acknowledgments  I offer my enduring gratitude to the faculty, staff, and my fellow students at UBC who have inspired me to continue my work in this field. I owe particular thanks to my co-supervisors, Professor Linda Siegel and Dr. Jennifer Vadeboncoeur, and to Professor Deborah Butler, my committee member. Following my interest in students with diverse learning abilities, I gravitated toward Professor Siegel who dedicated her career to the research of learning disabilities to ease the academic journey of students with diverse learning abilities. Professor Siegel patiently guided and supervised me through the phases of the evolution of my research focus. I was fortunate to learn directly from Professor Siegel as we spent long hours of discussions in her office, on Skype, and coffee shops, negotiating our viewpoints in our own unique passionate manner. Professor Siegel always expressed her warm regard, provided supportive guidance, and excellent laser sharp feedback that allowed me clarity and growth in my own learning about learning. I am very grateful for all that you have provided for my growth as a person, student, and researcher.   In the fall of 2014, I was enchanted by Dr. Jennifer Vadeboncoeur’s empowering style of teaching in EPSE 606 class of teaching in academia––a class that was the most collaborative, inspiring, and enriching. Taking this class was a turning point in my experience of learning and teaching in a classroom environment. I recall, approaching Dr. Vadeboncoeur after one of her classes and thanking her for the stress free, intellectually stimulating, and supportive class climate I so enjoyed. I am also forever grateful to be adopted by her, as one of her students, under her Vygotskian wings. Thank you for guiding me on Vygotsky’s seminal ideas so I can make meaningful sense of data interviews of this study based on sociocultural theory.  Professor Deborah Butler, I am genuinely deeply grateful for your absolute dedication,  xv valuable time, sincere interest, and astute detailed, and prompt feedback that was critically helpful in shaping the proposal, the interview protocols, and analysis chapters. Your magical, careful, and genuine manner of caring supervision is the style I take with me as a role model to follow in all my own future professional and personal relationships. I respect, and deeply thank the three of you: Linda, Jen, and Deb.   I would like to give a special thanks to the participants in this study, for sharing your life experiences, your emotional pain, your victories, and your valuable insights. I know you will continue to be inspiring for many other individuals with or without learning difficulties. Personally, I have been deeply moved and feel enriched by all you shared. Understanding your amazing resiliency encourages me daily.   Special thanks are owed to my family whose have supported me throughout my years of education: Yossi, my rock solid and flexible backbone who has always been there reassuring and loving; my three wise teachers who I gave birth to, have been inspiring, loving, and funny – Galgool/bamboosh, Nirushkah, and Eddenenushka, you fill my heart with sustenance feelings I live for. I love you and thank you each and all.      xvi Dedication  I dedicate this work to learners of all ages who are: Striving to perceive strengths when deficits show up,  Investing resources for future growth while stumbling on present obstacles,  Imagining bridging for possibilities,    Deconstructing existing old structures of learning and teaching,  Constructing new structures of meaningful  Learning with Healthy Living and Loving relationships.            1 Chapter 1:   Introduction    This study was inspired by my appreciation for students’ subtle yet meaningful social, emotional, and cultural contexts that they and their parents shared with me during the learning disability diagnosis assessments I conducted as a school psychologist. During the assessment meetings, we discussed a whole spectrum of influences on their learning. Although these influences were included in the developmental history of the assessment, they were not considered in the final numerical decision of diagnosis. At the time, the exclusion of context in the final diagnosis decision seemed to suggest a decontextualized view of students’ assessment and an area that merited further exploration that includes students’ contexts.   The purpose of this study was to investigate the perspectives and experiences of students with a learning disability diagnosis, as well as the perspectives of their parents, through the lens of sociocultural theory. This approach emphasizes the dynamics between the individual and social processes of learning and how this relationship can lead to development (Daniels, 2001, 2014; Gindis, 1995, 1999, 2003; Vadeboncoeur, 2017; John-Steiner & Mahn, 1996; Vygotsky, 1993, 1998, 2011; Wertsch, 1985). The sociocultural view of the processes of learning may capture a richer and more accurate picture of the phenomenon of having a learning disability diagnosis compared to only interpreting tests scores of cognitive assessment in isolation of their contexts.  Interpreting lived experiences of students and parents in their sociocultural contexts may help to inform how existing educational processes in BC could be improved. Moreover, discussing aspects of lived experiences, relevant literature, and key elements of BC educational policy may help to pinpoint corroborations or contradictions in current practices and educational responses to students with a learning disability diagnosis (Daniels, 2001).   2 This introduction chapter includes seven sections. The first section reviews the British Columbia (BC) Ministry of Education definition of learning disabilities as part of the context relevant to the students who participated in this study. The second section is an introduction to critique of approaches to learning disability diagnosis practices consistent with the quantitative approaches to learning abilities. The third section is an introduction to the sociocultural theory framing this study. The fourth section describes the statement of the problem. The fifth section presents the purpose of the study and the research questions. The sixth section introduces the research methodology. The chapter ends with an overview of the dissertation.   1.1.  Definition of Learning Disabilities in British Columbia  In this section, first, I provide the specific context pertaining to participants in this study and second, I present the prevalence of learning difficulties within the larger context in Canada and then definition of learning disabilities in context of the BC policy relevant for the diagnosis of learning disabilities. Regarding the specific context, students participating in this study attended public or private high schools in Grades 8 to12, and had a diagnosis of a learning disability that was obtained through a process of a psychoeducational assessment conducted by a private or school psychologist. Participants who were diagnosed with learning disabilities were assigned the classification of the letter code Q indicating learning disabilities and eligibility for an Individual Education Plan (IEP). Their IEP included the accommodations and remedial supports they were eligible to receive in their schools. Within the larger context, there is variability in the definitions of learning disabilities and interventions for students across Canadian provinces and territories (Kozey & Siegel, 2008). According to Statistic Canada (Government of Canada, 2018, para. 2), in 2006, 2.5% of Canadians aged 15 years and older and 3.2% of all children aged 5 to 14 indicated to have  3 learning limitation that was defined as resulting from a variety of causes such as, attention, hyperactivity, or dyslexia.  Pertaining to the participants of this study, learning disabilities are a classification used to diagnose students who have difficulties in meeting standard academic expectations. The definition of learning disabilities, according to the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada is:  Learning Disabilities refer to a number of disorders which may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, and understanding or use of verbal or nonverbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency. (Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. Official Definition of Learning Disabilities, 2016, para. 1) The BC Ministry of Education adapted this definition and included it in a policy document discussing learning disabilities titled, British Columbia Ministry of Education Special Education Services: A Manual of Policies, Procedures and Guidelines, section E.3 Learning Disabilities (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2016, p. 47-52).  This general definition of learning disabilities is an umbrella term that includes a variety of learning difficulties students may experience in school. These learning disabilities encompass one or more of several specific learning difficulties in reading, writing, mathematics, memory, visual special processing, phonological awareness, processing speed, memory and attention, and possibly other related cognitive abilities (Kozey & Siegel, 2008). The qualities of each one of these difficulties are generally meant to be the foundation for diagnosis and treatment intervention related to the specific learning disability (Flanagan, Fiorello, & Ortiz, 2010).   4  Instead of a singular definition, four categories of learning disabilities have been identified and documented by the Learning Disabilities Association of Canada. The four categories of learning disabilities have been defined as: Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, and Dyspraxia (Learning Disabilities Associations of Canada, 2015). Dyslexia is characterized as a language processing disability that creates difficulties in reading, writing, and spelling. Dyscalculia has been defined as a mathematics processing disability that creates difficulties in computation, remembering math facts, concepts of time, money, and understanding other math concepts. Dysgraphia is associated with challenges in written expression. Students may have difficulties with handwriting, spelling, organizing and expressing ideas on paper. Dyspraxia has been defined as a disability in fine motor skills that creates difficulties in coordination and manual dexterity. Although the nuances and complexities of how to define, identify, and diagnose learning disabilities are outside of the purpose of this study, these are examples of profiles of “disability” that have been constructed as a way of understanding and supporting individual differences in learning.  1.2.   Introduction to a Critique of Approaches to Learning Disabilities Contemporary literature on learning disabilities includes research by scholars who focus on defining students’ specific cognitive processing to identify specific weaknesses and strengths through the use of standardized assessments of cognitive abilities (e.g., Hale et al., 2006). For example, Shaywitz, Gruen, and Shaywitz (2007) reported that their advanced research on dyslexia was approached from a traditional quantitative method. The BC approach to the diagnosis of learning disabilities tends to be also consistent with a quantitative approach to examining students’ learning abilities (e.g., Decker, Hale & Flanagan, 2013) than with sociocultural theory (Valencia, 1997, 2010; Varenne & McDermott, 1999; Vygotsky, 1993).  5  This distinction is based on several differences across practices. First, current diagnostic practices in BC appear as if they are based on the assumption that a deficit exists within the individual student alone (Baglieri, Valle, Connor, & Gallagher, 2011). Barber (2011) explained that, “the medical model of disability proposes that disability rests within the individual person and that the individual must change in order to fit into and be acceptable to society” (p. 228). Further, Dudley-Marling, and Paugh (2010) argued that associating learning failures within students and not within the school context, risks locating the responsibility for failure in the individual alone with no sufficient attention to contextual aspects. In relation to literacy, Lesaux, Vukovic, Hertzman, and Siegel (2008) argued that focusing on the child alone may lead to the neglect of positive or negative contextual influences on students with learning difficulties that have an effect on their successes in school. Critically, Vygotsky described this medical notion of diagnosis as follows:   They must take into account the compensatory processes in a child’s development and behavior, which substitute for, supersede, and overarch the defect. Just as the patient––and not the disease––is important for modern medicine, so the child burdened with the defect––not the defect in and of itself––becomes the focus of concern for defectology (Vygotsky, 1993, p. 32).  Vygotsky argued that focusing on these measured neurological cognitive differences––perceived solely as within the individual––as separate from their social and cultural contexts presents limitations on educational supports for students’ differences. Second, deficits defined as learning disabilities are identified by experts who are school psychologists using sound scientific cognitive assessments (Shaywitz et al., 2007). This notion of diagnosis is in accordance with Stanovich’s (1989) description of the intention to objectively measure cognitive abilities within the student to find the “glitch” (p. 487) that prevents students  6 from performing academically. Although Flanagan, Fiorello and Ortiz, (2010) argued that this specific identification may support the choice of instruction, accommodations, and compensation. However, according to sociocultural theory the whole person and their context need to be included. Vygotsky distinguished between the identified deficit and the whole child, suggesting that it is important to account for how the child compensates for difficulties beyond just studying the difficulties.  Third, students’ cognitive abilities are measured quantitatively and compared with normative range for age-related development that is considered to be universal and lacks the ecological accuracy reflected in academic performance on class assignments (Francis et al., 2005). Vygotsky (1993) noted, over seven decades ago, that when testing students with disabilities, “A purely arithmetical conception of a handicapped condition is characteristic of an obsolete, old-school defectology. Reaction against this quantitative approach to all theoretical and practical problems is the most important characteristic of modern defectology” (Vygotsky, 1993, p. 30).  1.3.  Introduction to Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory  The theoretical framework for this study is based on Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory on learning and development. Vygotsky’s work marked the connectedness between societal sociocultural processes and individual’s psychological functions, as articulated by Gindis, “Vygotsky considered learning as a shared/joint process in a responsive social context” (1999, p. 32). Vygotsky’s writings, based empirically in the domain of special education, were translated from Russian to English into the volume of “The Fundamentals of Defectology” (Vygotsky, 1993). Vygotsky’s translated writing includes terms that are considered to be derogatory in our day and time. Gindis (1999) noted that about 80 years ago the terms: defectology, abnormality, handicapped, and retardation, referred to the study of defects or  7 disabilities, while, contemporary definitions of learning disabilities were unknown in Russia at the time of Vygotsky. Nevertheless, Vygotsky challenged the approach of focusing on diagnosis and syndromes rather than the whole person. Although these terms are incongruent to our time, “Vygotsky’s theoretical and methodological finding is the most powerful single source of professional inspiration for current and coming generations of special education professionals” (Gindis, 1999, p. 33).   Wertsch (1985) noted three interrelated themes in Vygotsky’s theoretical approach. The first theme is that examining processes of development needs to involve a search for explanations beyond description of behaviours in order to “understand inner workings and causal dynamics” (p. 18). Vygotsky argued that a single set of principles explaining the development of an individual, for example, biological or organic origin – ontological, is not sufficient. Looking at several different kinds of development – genetic domains – helps to account for multiple forces shaping development. Vygotsky (Wertsch, 1985) noted four genetic domains or origins of human psychological functioning required to examine learning and development: the first is an individual developmental history (ontogenesis); the second is evolutionary development (phylogenesis); the third is sociocultural history, including each culture’s use of tools and speech; and the fourth is specific developmental changes (microgenetic). A holistic understanding of human psychological functioning includes these four origins across contexts and phases of development. Relying on one domain, for example, ontogenesis, by measuring cognitive abilities as genetically inherited and, thus, possibly determinant of future learning and development, provides only a partial picture (Wertsch, 1985).   The second theme reflects Vygotsky’s argument that human beings are predominantly social and that the social sphere is primary and the individual sphere is secondary. Our sociality enables development from natural to cultural, or from elementary to higher psychological  8 functions. Vygotsky emphasized parent-child relations and teacher-student relations as central for learning and development. Social exchanges that involve communicating through speech and other forms of meaning making mediate learning and development and, thus, are central in learning contexts such as schools (Wertsch, 1985). The third theme articulated by Vygotsky is that psychological processes transform and are transformed by the cultural tools that mediate experience. Therefore, understanding students’ learning requires an examination of the cultural tools they have accessed (Wertsch, 1985). Considering the availability and use of cultural tools is one key to examining how students’ psychological functioning is tied to cultural, institutional, and historical contexts since these contexts shape and are shaped by individuals (Vadeboncoeur, 2017; Wertsch, 1985). Sociocultural theory emphasizes the interdependence between individuals (e.g., students, parents, and teachers) and their relationships with historical, social, and cultural processes of learning that lead to development (Daniels, 2001, 2014; John-Steiner & Mahn, 1996; Kozulin 2002; Vadeboncoeur, 2017; Vygotsky, 1993, 1998, 2011; Wertsch, 1985). This interdependence of the individual and social environment can be exemplified in the holistic view of the student-teacher relationship in school: a dynamic relationship in which students and teachers are both learning and teaching while showing care, responsiveness to one another’s needs and interests, and ideally, trusting in the learning and teaching process (Vadeboncoeur, 2017). As noted by Vadeboncoeur (2017) “Vygotsky’s holistic approach to this relationship is emphasized in the Russian word, obuchenie, which is translated as “learning and teaching” and joins the two processes as inseparable” (p. 15). Learning and teaching as one entity includes the exchange of social, emotional, and cognitive processes between students and teachers (Vadeboncoeur, 2017). On a side note, similarly, the root of the words learning and teaching in Hebrew is the same root, also showing a unity of learning and teaching.   9 Central concepts from sociocultural theory that were used to frame the analysis of interviews are briefly introduced here and further discussed in Chapter 2. The first is the sociocultural view on approaches to learning disabilities, including viewing deficits as residing within the child alone, focusing on deficits, and using quantitative measures as the main method to assess learning disabilities. The second is Vygotsky’s (1993) argument that the social and cultural context surrounding a student with primary organic disabilities, if reflected back to the individual as limitations, gives rise to secondary disabilities. In an effort to avoid this, Vygotsky (1993, 2011) suggested a strengths-based approach that proved to be effective in improving students’ learning outcomes by focusing on potential, ability to compensate for difficulties, and strengths, rather than on deficiencies.  The third area described in Chapter 2 is pedagogy for learning and development of students with learning difficulties. This includes Vygotsky’s concept of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD), Feuerstein’s Mediated Learning Experience (MLE), and Response To Intervention (RTI) suggested for use in schools in BC. The ZPD, a practical way to support students’ learning and development, was defined by Vygotsky (2011) as follows:  The ZPD of the child is the distance between the level of his actual development, determined with the help of independently solved tasks, and the level of possible development, defined with the help of tasks solved by the child under the guidance of adults or in cooperation with more intelligent peers. (p. 204)  The ZPD marks the difference between the child’s present actual functioning and future possible development, as well as emphasizes the dynamic learning relationship between students and teachers.   An elaborated approach to pedagogy, Mediated Learning Experience (MLE) was developed by Feuerstein who emphasized the brain’s capacity for change and development  10 given mediation by a teacher who attends to students’ learning needs through assessments that guide teaching (Feuerstein, Feuerstein, & Falik, 2010). Feuerstein suggested that students might experience a revolutionary development that includes modifiability of cognitive functions that may be unexpected based on current diagnoses (Kozulin, 2002).   The RTI approach to assessment appears to be consistent with sociocultural pedagogy (Kozulin, 2010b) and is an academic assessment method that can inform teaching early in schools for potential development rather than diagnosing students’ current difficulties (Lesaux et al., 2008). Identification is linked to providing specific support and collaborating with students when monitoring their academic progress (Fletcher-Janzen & Reynolds, 2008). Kozulin (2009b) emphasized the advantage of curriculum based assessments as it is “carried out by teachers rather than psychologist” (p. 242), as these assessments are based on classroom curriculum rather than on cognitive tests. 1.4.  Statement of the Problem The necessity of considering sociocultural aspects of learning of students with learning difficulties in addition to individual considerations in order to better understand how to support students’ learning is emphasized in this study. “Learning disability,” as a field of study, includes a vast literature on definitions, identification, diagnoses, and interventions (e.g., Alfonso, Flanagan, & Radwan, 2005; Flanagan, Ortiz, Alfonso, & Mascolo, 2006; Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2006; Siegel, 1988, 1999; 2013; Vygotsky, 1993). However, there is not one universal definition of learning disabilities in the literature or among Ministries of Education in Canada (Kozey & Siegel, 2008). This problem of variability, inconsistency, and disagreement among experts in the field of learning disabilities demonstrates the complexity of capturing the phenomena of learning disabilities in a single definition, let alone measuring it and requiring teachers to address students’ learning needs in the classroom (Fletcher et al.,  11 2006; Siegel, 1988a, 1988b, 1989, 2012, 2013).  Lloyd, Irwin, and Hertzman (2009), conducted a study in BC schools based on “the most comprehensive population-based databases on early child development in North America” (p. 559). They argued, “A necessary future direction will be to explore the impact of proximal level factors” (p. 600). Inconsistencies in their results led them to conclude the importance of studying the interplay of students’ environments in addition to results of standardized assessments. Moreover, Lesaux et al. (2008) also argued that “research base on reading development is currently limited in its ability to inform the goal of promoting high literacy rates for the population, because the great majority of studies have focused on child-level factors, including language and cognitive skills” (498).  Francis et al. (2005) noted that the problem of school support aiming for remediating deficient abilities within a student and excluding contextual sociocultural influences is “inherent in any psychometric approach to the identification of students as having learning disabilities that relies exclusively on observed test scores that represent the end points in a complex system of personal, cognitive, instructional, social, and environmental input” (p. 99).  Further, Kozulin (2009a) argued that “one may distinguish between two main approaches to the assessment of human cognitive functions: the psychometric and the sociocultural” (p. 117). Similarly, Connor, Gallagher, and Ferri, (2011) argued for the need to broaden the horizons in research on learning disabilities by expanding the research methodologies beyond the traditional quantitative method. In 2008, they reported that, “75% of all research articles are quantitative, 6% are mixed methods, and 3% are qualitative” (p. 110). Revealing the methodological gap in the research on learning disabilities suggest a higher focus on researching students’ abilities and performance than researching societal influences.   12 Vygotsky reconciled the well-known nature-nurture debate about whether development is biological or sociocultural by arguing that both influences work in tandem (Wertsch, 1985). Therefore, scholars who use sociocultural theory do not deny the biological origin of diversity in individual learning, but they also do not attribute students’ outcomes solely to the individual biology. As Wertsch (1985) argued, development cannot be reduced to either biological or cultural influences. The problem of not considering the whole child in the diagnosis of and pedagogies for students with learning difficulties was expressed by Siegel (2013) who stated, “I want us to understand individuals with learning disabilities as whole people and to see beyond the problem” (p. ix). A holistic view of the individual was also argued by Gerber (2012) and Siegel (2013) who noted that there are many different variables involved in inter-individual differences, and that it is likely that each individual with learning disabilities will experience diverse developmental outcomes.   Contemporary scholars who use sociocultural theory have argued for the need to examine other aspects affecting students with a learning disability diagnosis. For example, Shifrer (2013) argued that there is a risk in labeling students as it creates a stigma that lowers teachers’ and parents’ educational expectations of students who are labeled with learning disabilities. Smagorinsky (2012) described a possible consequence of a diagnosis of learning disabilities as a secondary disabilities emerging as a result of deficit thinking (Valencia, 1997, 2010) which defines a biological condition as a lack, or as lesser. Baglieri et al. (2011) stressed that the arbitrary nature of the learning disability diagnosis allows one to be learning disabled in one location but not in another. This judgment, based on criteria that vary by time period and location, questions the meaning of a learning disability diagnosis.   Furthermore, Baglieri et al. (2011) and Lalvani and Broderick (2013) discussed a conceptual distinction between impairment and disability that may have direct implications for  13 the education of students with a learning disability diagnosis. Impairment, they argued, refers to existing variations in human sensory experience, appearance, or cognitive processing; for example, blindness. A disability is a product of society. That is, learning disabilities are defined by society and assigned to individuals who are not able, from the perspective of those who are able. The conceptualization of impairment as a disability has implications for how resources are allocated, policies are designed, and programs developed to improve the abilities of students with learning difficulties who are assigned a socially constructed notion of disability to their organic impairment. Therefore, the problem addressed in this study is the need to include sociocultural influences to the current focus of research on quantitatively examining child’s attributes, in order to better understand the multifaceted phenomenon of learning disability.  1.5.  Purpose of this Study and Research Questions The purpose of this study was to conduct a qualitative exploration of participants’ experiences of learning disabilities for the purpose of revealing sociocultural influences on learning disabilities within participants’ lived experiences in the BC context. The four research questions driving this study were: 1. How do students describe their experiences of and perspectives on having learning disabilities? 2. How do parents describe their experiences of and perspectives on their child’s learning disabilities? 3. How do students describe their strengths and challenges in relation to their academic experiences in school? 4. How do parents describe their child’s strengths and challenges in relation to their academic experiences in school?  1.6. Introduction to the Methodology  To address the research questions, the qualitative methodology in this study included interviewing eight student-parent dyads about their experiences and perspectives of learning disabilities in the contexts of their school, family, and friends. Participants in this study were recruited based on the snowball sampling method (Cohen & Arieli, 2011). Students and parents  14 were interviewed separately twice and once together for a total of 40 interviews. Audio-recordings were transcribed and transcripts were shared with each participant prior to the next interview to allow them to review ideas and further participate in continued dialogue. Thematic analysis, based on Braun and Clarke (2006), was an iterative process that included becoming familiar with the data, creating preliminary codes, and formulating themes that reflect patterns, trends, and influences that shaped participants experiences and interpreting the meaning of their experience of their learning difficulties and learning disability diagnosis.   1.7.  Organization of the Dissertation This dissertation continues next with Chapter 2, a literature review. Chapter 3 opens with my research position and presents the methodology, participants, and the interviews accounts. Chapter 4 describes three themes: identifying difficulties in learning, testing to diagnose a disability, and searching for alternative learning settings. Chapter 5 describes the fourth theme, learning and teaching. Chapter 6 describes the fifth theme, students’ strengths and challenges. In Chapter 7 I provide an analysis. Chapter 8 presents conclusions and implications.  15 Chapter 2:  Theoretical Framework and Literature Review  There are several approaches to the study of learning disabilities (Butler, 2004). One approach is research on standardized assessments for identifying specific academic and cognitive disabilities (e.g., Decker et al., 2013; Fletcher, Reid Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2007). This research focuses on examining the validity and reliability of standardized assessments in explaining specific cognitive and academic abilities. In particular, Catell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) is a theory that promises to hold significance in the identification of specific learning disability. Application of this theory based on its expansive research base improved measurements and interpretations of students’ cognitive and academic strengths and weaknesses (Flanagan et al., 2010). Moreover, according to this research, these improved interpretations, when guided by the CHC theory may illuminate reasons for the degree of the effectiveness of instruction, what alternative instructions would be most effective, and what compensatory strategies and accommodations might also be more effective for the student who experiences learning difficulties (Flanagan et al., 2010). Related quantitative research focuses also on identifying specific abilities and how to calculate test scores in formulas to determine a learning disability diagnosis that are firmly grounded in data (e.g., Flanagan & Harrison, 2005; Flanagan, Ortiz, Alfonso, & Mascolo, 2006; McGrew & Keith, 1997; Newton & McGrew, 2010).  A second approach is longitudinal follow-up studies using standardized assessments to understand the change over time of students’ achievements related to difficulties or learning disabilities. This approach focuses on identification of and interventions on specific academic tasks, for example; reading fluency, phonological awareness, written output, or math problem solving (e.g., Chiappe, Siegel, & Woolley, 2002; Goldberg, Higgins, Raskind, & Herman, 2003; Raskind, Goldberg, Higgins, & Herman, 1999; Siegel, 1988a, 1988b, 1989, 1999, 2012, 2013; Sprenger-Charolles, Siegel, Bechennec, & Serniclaes, 2003).   16 A third approach to research uses qualitative methods to focus on perspectives of adults with learning disabilities (e.g., Gerber & Reiff, 1991; Gerber, 1992; Shessel, 1995, Shessel & Reiff, 1999). For example, Shessel (1995), who interviewed adults with learning disabilities, reported various negative impacts of learning disabilities on their lives, such as: prejudice and discrimination related to disclosure of their learning disabilities; academic problems compounded by anxiety; social isolation as a side effect of being different; being rejected by their parents and sometimes in both the home and with friends; and fear of looking stupid leading to anxiety and negative self concept. Shessel (1995) reported that individuals with learning disabilities developed positive qualities such as being creative, loving, caring, kind, and sensitive to others. These examples of different research perspectives provided different “windows” into how researchers in the world approached the experience of learning disabilities. The rest of this chapter presents a literature review of Vygotsky’s (1997, 1998, 1993, 2011) sociocultural theory extended by Wertsch (1985), Gindis (1995, 1999, 2003), Feuerstein (2010), Kozulin (2002, 2009a, 2009b, 2010a, 2010b) Daniels (2001, 2014), and Vadeboncoeur, (2017). The review begins, first, with the sociocultural view on approaches to learning disabilities that investigate individual development by itself while not inquiring sufficiently into students’ personal experiences and supports, as well as the social and cultural contributions to their learning and development. These individualistic approaches are criticized also for attempting to classify learning trends through standardized assessments despite individuals’ varied contexts and cultural backgrounds. This may lead to deficit thinking and a focus on quantitative diagnostic approaches. These critiques apply to current practices and regulations pertaining to learning disabilities in general and particularly in BC. The second section reviews Vygotsky’s theory and views on learning and disabilities. The third section reviews practical examples of learning and teachings pedagogies for students with learning  17 difficulties. 2.1. A Sociocultural View on Approaches to Learning Disabilities  In this section, I begin by briefly describing the historical origin of approaching learning difficulties through an individualistic lens. I then continue with a discussion of Vygotsky’s argument for advancing a new model. This argument includes: first, that disability is not only natural within the child, it is also social; second, there are benefits of focusing on the whole student including their strengths; and third, there are concerns about the quantitative method of diagnosing learning disabilities relevant to current practices of using measures of cognitive abilities to diagnose learning disabilities. As early as the 1800s, psychologists, physicians, and educators who explored ways to support individuals who were intellectually or emotionally different, labeled these individuals as feebleminded (Trent, Artiles, & Englert, 1998). The assumption that individuals with disabilities were not educable led to harsh treatment and even institutionalization for a life in hospitals or asylums away from mainstream society (Evans, 2008). Later studies on brain injuries led researchers to conclude that there were two different types of delays in functioning. One type was due to familial environmental conditions and, thus, it was concluded that functioning could be improved by educational interventions. The other type of delay, due to neurological conditions, was assumed to be incurable by educational interventions (Trent et al., 1998). Although the role of familial and environmental influences on development was recognized, to this day, the focus has been on examining the individual with less consideration of environmental characteristics influencing learning. Research on learning and the environment continued to advance, however, it was not applied to change the practice of focusing on measures of cognitive abilities for diagnosis of students with learning difficulties (Colker, 2012).  18  2.1.1.    Within the Student Disability  Vygotsky (1993) emphasized the limitations of examining students with learning disabilities as if the problem resided within them assuming that the responsibility for learning lies mostly on the individual’s responsiveness to standard teaching. Instead, sociocultural theory includes the role of social and cultural supports, and students’ difficulties, strengths, and abilities to compensate for differences with teacher’s support. Vygotsky’s genetic law of cultural development highlights social relations between people as the source for the development of an individual’s higher functions: Every function in the cultural development of the child appears on the stage twice, in two planes, first, the social, then the psychological, first between people as an intermental category, then within the child as a intramental category. This pertains equally to voluntary attention, to logical memory, to the formation of concepts, and to the development of will. (Vygotsky, 1997, p. 106) The argument that learning is not only within the child––that, “everything that is internal in higher mental functions was formerly external” (Vygotsky, 1997, p. 103)––is echoed in the statement that “through others we become ourselves” (1997, p. 105) reducing the focus on the child in isolation from his/her environment. Kozulin (2002) emphasized that perceiving individuals’ ability to learn as natural, has been challenged theoretically and practically.  Similarly, Torgesen (2002) argued “variety of factors other than cognitive abilities and knowledge” (p. 22) influence development of reading. Therefore, in an effort to include environmental influences on reading, screening of the various skills of reading three times a year is essential to reveal change and fluctuations in students’ development. Denton described as false the assumption that “IQ is an invariable capacity for learning related only to within-child characteristics (something unchangeable that you are born with), and that this capacity  19 can be measured by our IQ tests” (as cited in Siegel, 2012, p. 68). Denton (2012) further described the importance and advantages in implementing RTI in order to ensure that schools provide resources by responding to the various identified learning needs of students. Hence, sociocultural theory––emphasizes students’ access to educational resources in addition to their “natural” abilities––includes a critique of the individualistic assumption that learning disabilities reside inside the individual (Baglieri et al., 2011).  2.1.2.   Attention on Deficit  In addition to emphasizing the contribution of social context for learning and development, Vygotsky also argued against focusing on the deficits of students:  All psychological methods used thus far for studying the behavior of the normal and the abnormal child, regardless of the great variety and differences that exist between them, have one common characteristic that links them in a certain respect. This characteristic is the negative description of the child that results from existing methods. All the methods speak of what the child does not have, what the child lacks in comparison with the adult, and what the abnormal child lacks as compared to the normal child. We have before us always a negative picture of the child. Such a picture tells us nothing about the positive uniqueness that distinguishes the child from the adult and the abnormal child from the normal child. (Vygotsky, 1997, p. 98)  Deficit thinking, part of the foundation of individualistic educational policies and practices, then and now, aims to support students by focusing on identifying weaknesses without equally capitalizing on their strengths, ability to compensate, and future development.  While not denying that organic differences can create difficulties, Vygotsky (1993) emphasized searching for strengths in the education of all individuals and particularly those with identified organic impairments, including what was named at that time mental retardation:    20 It is impossible to explain mental retardation on the bases of purely negative definition. It is impossible to be guided only by what a given child lacks, by what he is not. On the contrary, it is necessary to have some conception, even if the most vague understanding, of what his capabilities are and what he represents. (p. 123)  Educators’ lack of self awareness of possibly being locked in perceiving deficits may set limits to students’ potential to learn. In order for educators to notice students’ strengths and learning growth teachers’ awareness of their own perceptions of deficits is key. The idea that educators and society in general perceive learning disabilities based on political, social, cultural notions of deficits was demonstrated by Dudley-Marling (2004). This study analyzed a dialogue between a teacher and special education student to demonstrate how the perpetuation of deficit thinking was evident in language used by teachers while interacting with students. Similarly, Dudley-Marling and Paugh (2010) reported on a one year-long inquiry with four teachers of special education students. Their goal was to shift teachers’ attention from talking about students’ struggles to talking about their strengths. Although this met with limited success, teachers appeared to develop an awareness of their tendency to use deficit language to describe students.  Vygotsky emphasized that in addition to recognizing students’ biological attributes, a holistic qualitative view of students’ culture, history, interests, strengths, challenges, and ability to compensate is crucial: The position of modern defectology is the following: Any defect creates stimuli for compensatory process. Therefore, defectologiests cannot limit their dynamic study of a handicapped child to determining the degree and severity of the deficiency. Without fail, they [educators] must take into account the compensatory processes in a child’s development and behavior, which substitute for, supersede, and overarch the defect. Just  21 as the patient––and not the disease––is important for modem medicine, so the child burdened with the defect––not the defect in and of itself––becomes the focus of concern for defectology. Tuberculosis, for example, is diagnosed not only by the stage and severity of the illness, but also by the physical reaction to the disease, by the degree to which the process is or not compensated for. Thus, the child’s physical and psychological reaction to the handicap is the central and basic problem––indeed, the sole reality––with which defectology deals. (Vygotsky, 1993, p. 32) Vygotsky argued that examining the difference or the impairment is not sufficient, rather, the whole person who has the difference needs to be examined in relation to how they compensate and respond to supports because development, he argued, depends on access to opportunities presented through social relationships.   2.1.3.  Quantitative Method for the Diagnosis of Learning Disabilities  Vygotsky’s critique of quantitative assessments of deficits does not imply a denial of the need to identify challenges in order to acutely support students. He described the reliance on quantitative testing of students’ cognitive abilities as an old method that was proven wrong by modern methods: “The struggle between these two attitudes toward defectology–– between two antithetical ideas, two principles––is the burning issue in that positive crisis which this area of scientific knowledge is presently undergoing” (Vygotsky, 1993, p. 30). Vygotsky (1993) referred to arithmetical conception of handicap as the scientific method of identifying abilities through standardized testing to determine the static state of students’ abilities. He further argued against symptomatic diagnoses: If we limit ourselves only to determining and measuring symptoms of development, we will never be able to go beyond the limits of a purely empirical establishment of what is obvious to persons who just observe the child. In the best case, we will be able only to  22 increase precision of the symptoms and confirm them with measurement. But we can never explain the phenomena we observe in the development of the child nor predict the further course of development, nor indicate what kind of measures of a practical nature must be applied with respect to the child. This kind of diagnosis of development, fruitless with respect to explanation, prognosis, and practical applications can be compared only to those medical diagnoses, that doctors made at the time when symptomatic medicine prevailed. (Vygotsky, 1998, p. 205) Testing may verify what is already known, but its capacity to explain the origin and nuances of the phenomenon and how best to support the learner is limited. Emphasizing the valuable information an educator may be exposed to when observing a child compared to quantitatively measuring their performances is echoed by Shaywitz et al. (2007): “listening to a struggling reader attempt to pronounce each word leaves no doubt about the child’s reading difficulty” (p. 618). Moreover, noting particular errors while teaching may inform instruction far more than a standard score on a quantitative measure.  Vygotsky (1998) described that the value of standardized testing as “essentially empty since the investigator adds nothing new to what he knew from observations of the patient himself and plays back to the patient his own complaints, supplying them with scientific labels” (p. 205). Newton and McGrew (2010) articulated a few questions regarding the usefulness of the vast research on cognitive and academic abilities to the field of learning disability:  Have we simply become more sophisticated in the range of measures and tools used to “sink shafts at more critical points” in the mind (.  .  .) which, although important for understanding and studying human individual differences, fails to improve diagnosis, classification, and instruction in education?” (p. 631)  They included results of 25 years of research of mapping cognitive and related academic  23 abilities that if used based on the CHC theory is argued to promise usefulness.  As evident in the literature, the majority of current educational school practices in Canada and United States support students with learning disabilities by predominantly examining their cognitive and academic abilities and diagnosing learning disabilities for the purpose of understanding and improving their academic performance (Flanagan et al., 2005).  Colker (2012) argued that the field of learning disabilities made “little progress since a member of the US Congress declared in 1975 that no one really knows what a learning disability is” (p. 105). Colker (2012) suggested that the way out of what she described as the learning disability mess is “not to develop better diagnostic instruments for evaluating the existence of learning disabilities,” but to “ask why we have such an overemphasis on whether students meet a definition of ‘learning disability’” (p. 105). Rather than asking how best to diagnose learning disabilities some scholars suggested examining the rationale behind the current model of diagnosis. For example, Evans (2008) suggested that a seemingly justified rationale to diagnose learning disabilities based on standardized measures of cognitive abilities is reflected in theories of disability with a focus on deficits. Similarly, Björnsdóttir and Traustadóttir (2010) challenged the focus on the individual in the identification of learning disabilities. Based on six life histories and four case studies of young adults with learning difficulties, they concluded that it is critical to investigate individual everyday experiences in context with societal macro level patterns that may lead to oppression and exclusion.  Finally, Vygotsky (1993) argued that educators need to consider the unique interweaving of various factors, and reveal the specific dynamic processes of these factors, rather than attempting to represent learning and development mostly through statistical analyses:  Theoretically, psychology has long since rejected the idea that development of the child is a purely quantitative process. All agree that here we have a process that is much more  24 complex, a process not exhausted by quantitative changes alone. But in practice, psychology is confronted with having to disclose this complex process of development in all its real completeness and to detect all those qualitative changes and transformations that refashion child development. (1997, p. 98)  Vygotsky (1993) clarified that learning and development must be examined holistically based on an individual’s developmental history and behaviour, and “not in accordance with isolated symptoms and defects” (p. 174). Similarly Kozulin (2009b) discussed the advantages of dynamic assessment notion of RTI method, that aim at individualizing pedagogy for students based on an ongoing assessment, rather than on the “one time established discrepancy between the child’s IQ and his or her classroom performance” (p. 243).   2.1.4.  Current Practices of Diagnosis of Learning Disabilities   In 1965, Barbara Bateman developed the concept of the discrepancy model, emphasizing the gap between intellectual potential, assumed to be measured through IQ tests, and the actual level of performance measured by achievement tests (Colker, 2012). This model was disputed and shown to be unnecessary for identifying students’ learning disabilities (Siegel, 1988a, 1988b, 1989, 2012), and yet it is still prevalent in BC and other locations to identify learning disabilities and to guide pedagogy. Furthermore, Flanagan et al. (2010) noted based on their 25 years of research that “the traditional ability-achievement discrepancy approach has been found to be invalid as the sole indicator of criterion for SLD identification” (p. 741).  Academic expectations and norms set out for students of a particular age are applied to all students based on a range of scores, or cut-off scores, regardless of quality of teaching, individualized response to teaching, background, and educational history. Thus, students are compared against a range for normal development that is considered to be universal (Francis et al., 2005). The linking of cognitive testing scores as latent ability related to academic  25 performance serves in generalizing interventions for students based on tests results (McDermott, 1996; Newton & McGrew, 2010). Students who cannot meet the age group norm or cut-off scores set as academic expectations are likely to be identified with learning deficits (Valencia, 1997, 2010; Varenne & McDermott, 1999). Although there is no argument that there is diversity in students’ performance in school, the age group norm, range of scores, and cut-off scores that set the specific expectations and diagnostics are argued to be arbitrary and to change over time, particularly with instruction (Francis et al., 2005; Siegel, 2012; Kozulin, 2010b).  Alongside scholars who object to the emphasis on diagnosis through standardized assessment, are scholars like, Anastasiou and Kauffman (2011) who argued that ignoring the importance of identifying and diagnosing specific academic skills will not help special education. They claimed that rethinking the model of disability may: “contribute not only to a zealous pursuit of inclusion at the expense of effective instruction but also to the demise of special education” (p. 368). In other words, their concern is that if students are not noticed for their learning needs, not only teachers will not know what specific skills to teach students, but also they may feel neglected. Furthermore, there are numerous examples of students with learning disabilities who claimed that the diagnosis of learning disability was a relief for them and for their parents. Before the diagnosis they felt confused and could not make sense of their difficulties. After receiving a diagnosis, some students felt that they had a reason for their difficulty and frustration (Siegel, 2013). The uncertainty of students about their learning difficulties was resolved with their learning disability diagnosis. However, Kozulin (2009b, 2010b) suggested curriculum based early screening done by teachers to inform their students of their learning needs as well as their potential to learn as an alternative to a one-time diagnosis.  Siegel (2012) further argued that beyond diagnosis students need pedagogy, “the LD field has failed to place any emphasis on early identification and intervention” (p. 64).  26  2.1.5.   Studies Suggesting Sociocultural Processes  The following studies examined issues relating to learning disabilities and included in their findings recommendations to consider sociocultural processes of learning and development in order to better understand and interpret the quantitative results of their studies.  A study conducted by Lloyd et al. (2009) “utilised data contained in one of the most comprehensive population-based databases on early child development in North America” (p. 559). They examined early trajectories of students with special needs and found unpredicted variation in their progress. They indicated:    The most important overarching observation from this study is that there is tremendous variation in school readiness, school success, (.  .  .) for children with special needs. Thus, a special needs designation does not necessarily ‘fate’ a child to a developmental trajectory different from other children. (Lloyd et al., 2009, p. 559)   This insight into the early educational trajectories of children with special needs suggests that the determinants of success for children with special needs are not universal, and thus, cannot be used as categories, or be represented in range of standard scores. Furthermore, they concluded that what might have also a strong influence of trajectories of students in addition to their early assessment results, was the proximal–level factors at the child or family level. These proximal variables, they concluded, are likely to describe the more intimate environments in which children are reared and have significant impact on their learning and development. Therefore, they suggested that a necessary future direction would be to explore the impact of proximal level factors (e.g., family socio-economic status, family structure, special health services/ interventions) on the trajectories of children with special needs in addition to early instruction (Lloyd et al., 2009). This study concluded that in addition to the use of sound and scientific quantitative examination of students’ abilities within the BC province, an  27 examination of proximal factors is also needed to better explain students’ learning and development. Included within proximal factors is early instructional support in school. Another study by D’Angiulli, Siegel, and Maggi (2004), examined the socioeconomic status as a proximal influence on reading. Their study that included 30 schools in BC, provided evidence of two sociocultural relevant influences: First, that at an early age before providing literacy intensive program, students’ low performance on word-reading was associated with the proximal factor of low socioeconomic status. Second, the literacy intensive program as a proximal factor was reported to reduce the negative influence of the low socioeconomic status on word-reading development.    Shaywitz et al. (2007) reviewed quantitative research in areas, such as, epidemiology, neurobiology, genetics, and cognitive influences, on dyslexia–a reading disorder. Several sociocultural processes critical to learning and development of students were noted in this study. First, tests of intelligence are relatively poor predictors of later reading difficulties. Second, by using the academic measures (with no cognitive measures), phonologic abilities can be evaluated beginning at about age of four years. Third, “[t]he importance of such early assessments is that they can identify at-risk children early on so that these boys and girls can be provided with the highly effective, evidence-based reading interventions” (p. 617). Fourth, early remediation may even prevent reading difficulties in primary school-aged children. Fifth, effective reading intervention influences neural systems in the brain. Finally, they recognized sociocultural influences on development by describing one group as being, “doubly disadvantaged in being exposed to a less rich language environment at home and then less effective reading instruction at school” (p. 614). These findings support the need for research using theories consistent with sociocultural theory.    Finally, Lesaux et al. (2007) research findings demonstrated the interrelation of early  28 literacy with contextual influences. They recognized that students’ reading ability may be one influence among other factors and, thus, context matter to educational achievement. Therefore, they suggested that early assessments and effective pedagogy must include consideration of the proximal influences that have an influence on reading development of students in a particular community. Context relevant interventions may be potentially preventative and effective above and beyond the function of tests scores that reflects existing skills level of students.  2.1.6.  Cognitive Assessment of Current Performance  The practice in BC schools for diagnosing students’ learning disabilities is based on standardized testing of cognitive (and academic) abilities conducted by a psychologist. Vygotsky (1993, 2011) and others (Feuerstein et al., 2010; Karpov & Tzuriel, 2009; Kozulin, 2009b, 2010b; Siegel, 2012) argued that instead of using standardized cognitive testing to reveal performances reflecting a static snapshot of abilities, future potential for learning and developing should be assessed by investing more in teaching or in dynamic assessment that focuses on students’ strengths and potential. This is particularly significant because the “[a]bility to benefit from remediation is not predicted by IQ scores” (Siegel, 2012, p. 68). Similarly, Bryan (1989) argued that IQ scores are not static: “On the basis of attributional research, treating intelligence as a static characteristic may well serve our children poorly by reinforcing their maladaptive notions about themselves” (p. 481), instead of promoting positive change and teachings based on a future growth potential.  The cognitive measures, as argued by Siegel (2012), “measure, for the most part, what a child has learned, not what he or she is capable of doing in the future” (p. 67). Like Siegel, Vygotsky (1993, 2011) argued that understanding any student with a learning difference based on their performances on standardized cognitive tests reflects only their already matured functioning. According to Vygotsky (1993), what the child has learned depends on mediation of  29 contextual influences that are not incorporated in the measure that generated the scores to determine learning disabilities. Future ability of students is more accurately estimated if contexts are factored in the process of determinations of learning disabilities in a qualitative manner that aims at measuring learning potential (Vygotsky, 1993, 2011). Vygotsky (1993) and Kozulin (2010a) argued that reliance on intelligence testing risks not seeing the person’s potential that may lie in one’s future through contextual mediations, as well as not seeing one’s strengths that are not measured by standardized tests or any other test for that matter. Additionally, focusing on data collected as test scores may ignore the extent to which a student’s environment plays a role in shaping their performance prior to testing and how it can be modified in the future. In order to examine the intrapsychological level, the interpsychological functioning must also be investigated (Wertsch, 1985). Educators mediate learning, thus, they have the capacity to help students avoid the negative identification with their challenges demonstrated in cognitive assessment of current abilities (Kozulin, 2010a) by emphasizing strengths and potential to learn (Feuerstein et al., 2010).   2.1.7.  Requiring Average Ability for Learning Disabilities Diagnosis  Cognitive average ability is required for a learning disability diagnosis in BC. Siegel argued:   To differentiate people with learning problems from those with serious developmental delay, the professionals specified that someone with learning disabilities had to be of at least average intelligence. The question of what is average is not easy – everyone has a different opinion or cut-off score, below which the individual is considered too stupid to learn to read or do arithmetic. (2012, p. 67)  Siegel (2012) noted two points: first, challenging the arbitrarily use of average range, and second, challenging the requirement of students to be within a range of average in order to qualify for the diagnosis of having a learning disability. Siegel argued, “…do people who get  30 higher scores on an IQ test really have a greater right to help for their problems with reading or mathematics?” (2012, p. 69). Valencia (1997, 2010) and Varenne and McDermott (1999) also criticized educational decisions that are based on student’s cognitive test scores.  Identification of and pedagogy for students with academic difficulties that are restricted by and rely on scores of standardized cognitive assessments are criticized for several reasons. First, some believe that for academic difficulties, academic assessment is sufficient, more ecological, and accurate (Klassen, 2002; Siegel, 1989, 2012; Stanovich, 1989). Second, cognitive testing is not available to all students who experience learning difficulties, thus, the diagnosis and services that may come with it are not available as well. Third, as noted by Siegel (2012), learning difficulties may produce low scores on cognitive testing:  There is an additional problem in the use of IQ tests with children with learning disabilities. It is a logical paradox to use IQ scores with learning disabled children because most of these children are deficient in one or more of the component skills that are part of these IQ tests and, therefore, their scores on IQ tests will be an underestimate of their competence. (p. 68) In other words, if students fail to produce average cognitive scores this may be an expression of their academic difficulty, rather than the cause for the academic difficulty. Francis et al. (2005) noted identifying academic difficulties––such as reading fluency, reading comprehension, or spelling––is more useful and accurate than diagnosing students with learning disabilities in general as this is not useful for improving students’ academic performance. Moreover, Torgesen, (2002) summarized 20 years of research in the field of reading in a conclusion he described as a fact, “the early word reading difficulties of children with relatively low general intelligence and verbal ability are associated with the same factors that interfere with early reading growth in children who have general intelligence in the  31 average range” (p. 12). In other words, early teaching of the needed skill for reading may be effective for a range of students with a range of cognitive ability level (Klassen, 2002).  This requirement of average cognitive ability (BC Ministry of Education, 2016) implies associating learning potential based on current cognitive test results, and thus, offering different services to those who earned average and those who earned low average scores. This is based on the incorrect assumption that students with low average ability are classified differently as they may not benefit from intervention to support their learning, for example, to read (Siegel, 2012).   2.1.8.   Response to Intervention Among those who have argued that academic abilities are sufficient in early identification of learning disabilities are those who support the RTI method (e.g., Fletcher-Janzen & Reynolds, 2008; Kozulin, 2010b; Siegel, 2012). This method of Curriculum Based Assessment (CBA) is a three-tier method designed for screening for identification of students who are at risk of failing academically. Although the RTI is not a method of diagnosing a learning disability, it serves the purpose of early screening and identifying the specific academic strengths and challenges and, thus, needs of students whose screening results fall in the range defined as “at risk”. Catts, Nielsen, Bridges, and Liu, (2016) regarded RTI to be a dynamic assessment that can provide error free estimate of ability that is also culturally and linguistically unbiased, compared to the use of a static cognitive measures.   In the first tier of a school-wide or a class-wide level of universal screening, teachers identify the students who exhibit challenges in a specific academic skill and offer support that targets that skill. If that fails, students then move to be serviced in the second tier. There, students receive intensive and consistent intervention in small groups that is geared towards improving the specific skill. Teachers continue to monitor each student’s progress on the  32 specific identified skill periodically. In the third tier, those students who did not respond to the second tier of intensive intervention are referred to specialized intervention and/or a psychoeducational assessment is recommended for a diagnosis of learning disabilities (e.g., Fletcher-Janzen & Reynolds, 2008; Siegel, 2012).  The RTI method offers intensive, consistent, and continuous assessment that guides pedagogy for targeting students’ deficient skill prior to considering a diagnosis of learning disabilities with psychoeducational assessment (Hale et al., 2006). The RTI method of assessment is argued to be an alternative to cognitive and academic standardized assessments and its focus is more on how students respond to early and ongoing teaching-intervention and less on a diagnosis (Fletcher-Janzen & Reynolds, 2008; Lesaux et al., 2008). Nevertheless, some may argue that the focus on ‘within the individual’ academic performance is somewhat inconsistent with the sociocultural theory that promotes including social and cultural influences. However, the RTI notion of focusing on how students respond to teaching-intervention is consistent with the design of dynamic assessment in which assessment and teaching is seamless (Feuerstein et al., 2010). In addition, the RTI method includes systemic progress monitoring of students’ learning and development that resembles the ZPD. Student-teacher relationships and the ongoing feedback teachers give students for their progress may potentially influence the learning dynamics. Furthermore, Decker et al. (2013) noted: “Best practices would suggest that RTI is useful for prevention of disability and early intervention for children at risk for disability” (p. 309). Finally, they argued that if students do not respond to the curriculum based best practices then, a comprehensive cognitive testing may provide insight about individual needs and interventions to help students succeed. RTI is a systematic method of a class-wide or a school-wide screening. Teachers can implement this screening to  33 inform pedagogy of each of their students. RTI is an example of early screening of students’ academic strengths and challenges for identification of their learning needs.    2.1.9.  Early Identification and Mediation Based on two decades of research, Torgesen (2002), described methods for preventing development of reading difficulties, essentially through early identification of learning difficulties and differentiated instruction. Torgesen (2002) argued that “public education is not as effective as it should be in teaching all children to read” (p. 8). Given the literacy demands in our modern society, individuals with low levels of literacy are at a disadvantage. Bratsch-Hines, Vernon-Feagans, Varghese, and Garwood (2017) pointed out that “effective reading instruction for children who are at risk for reading problems or learning disabilities can mitigate risk, particularly when delivered early, as in kindergarten and first grade” (p. 271). In accordance with Vygotsky’s (1993) emphasis on sociability, mediation, student-teacher relationships, and principles of learning and development, as well as the emphasis by Feuerstein et al. (2010) on combining assessment and pedagogy, Torgesen (2002) argued that the only way to meet society’s literacy standards is by changing the way we teach reading. Effective teaching for producing better literacy outcomes includes the allocation of resources for early screening for identification and preventative instruction (Shaywitz et al., 2007). Torgesen (2002) argued that waiting until mid-elementary years to identify children in need of special instruction in reading has potentially negative effects on growth of vocabulary, motivation to read, and utilizing early opportunities for learning. More specifically, readers are fluent because they mastered the skills of accurate phonemic decoding. Therefore, “children who enter first grade low in knowledge about the phonological features of words or who have difficulties processing the phonological features of words are at high risk for difficulties responding to early reading instruction” (Torgesen, 2002, p. 12). Torgesen (2002) argued that  34 the automaticity of fluent readers may seem as if they are not decoding, however, fluent readers converged the natural and cultural paths of development (Vygotsky, 1993) by mastering the skill of phonological awareness. They may also be able to appropriate the practice of reading as enjoyable in order to learn more vocabulary needed for further development of their reading (Wertsch, 1998). Mastery of phonological awareness––the awareness of the sounds of components of words––is needed prior to recognizing the printed letters; “phonemic awareness is what makes phonics instruction meaningful” (Torgesen, 2002, p. 12). In addition to the low skill level of phonological awareness, another cause for delay in reading development is associated with low socioeconomic background. Nevertheless, both causes require early word reading support, and all students may benefit from class-wide early screening and preventative instruction.  2.2. Vygotsky’s Approach to Learning Disabilities and Development  In this section, I present the key points of Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory pertaining to students with learning disabilities mainly based on Vygotsky’s collected works, The Fundamentals of Defectology (Vygotsky, 1993) extended by others such as Wertsch (1985), Gindis (1995, 1999, 2003), Daniels (2001, 2014), and Vadeboncoeur (2017). I begin briefly locating learning disabilities within Vygotskian theory as a social and cultural phenomenon. Second, I describe primary and secondary disabilities. Third, I describe the notion of the importance of addressing differences with strengths, rather than solely working to remediate perceived weaknesses. Fourth, I describe the concept of disability as a difference. Fifth, I describe the natural and cultural paths of development. In the time and place of Vygotsky (1896-1934, Russia), the term defectology was used to refer to children with biological impairments, such as deafness or hardness of hearing, visual impairment and blindness, mental retardation, and speech/language impairments. Gindis  35 (2003) argued that Vygotsky’s ideas were not initially discussing the exact contemporary definitions of learning disabilities as we may define it nowadays, nevertheless, these innovative, socially just, inclusive, humanitarian, and revolutionary ideas “could serve as a powerful source of professional inspiration for current and coming generations” (p. 202). Gindis (1995, 2003) described that mainstream education has not yet applied elements from Vygotsky’s (1993) progressive blueprint of how to reconstruct the social and cultural reality for students with learning difficulties. Although the West may have been inspired by Vygotsky’s theory of disontogenesis––the theory of identifying distorted development from a point of strength.  Examining the nature of learning disabilities and how to remediate it has been the goal of most research in this field. Gindis (1995) noted that perceiving disability as a sociocultural developmental phenomenon negates the assumptions that disability is mainly biological and, therefore, remediation is accordingly to cure the deficit within the individual. One of Vygotsky’s contributions was that the social implications of the organic or neurological concern are the problem requiring attention for diagnosis and remediation. Flanagan et al. (2010) who argued for use of cognitive and academic measures to explore learning needs, also emphasized the need to take into account, prior to testing, ecological factors that may explain learning difficulties. They included a list of factors such as, school related interruption to learning, home and family related influences, health concerns, sensorimotor limitations, and cultural – language limitations, that if present, an examination of their influence is necessary.      2.2.1.  Primary and Secondary Disabilities Vygotsky (1993) distinguished between primary/organic and secondary disabilities. Secondary disability is “distortions of higher psychological functions due to social factors” (Gindis, 2003, p. 203). Differences become social when the individuals and others perceive them as stigmas indicating deficiencies. An organically originated disability may cause a student’s delay in  36 meeting the academic expectations of his/her age normative level. These delays are secondary as they are acquired through processes of social interactions. These delays may lead to other acquired negative emotional perceptions of the self, and may be more severe and debilitating than the original neurological and/or organic difference. Being noticed as less than others based on the difference that is perceived as a deficit may result in a secondary disability of being considered by others as inferior, helpless and dependent. Bryan, Burstein, and Ergul (2004) noted that given the prevalence of social and emotional difficulties experienced by students with learning disabilities it seems like a sub type of learning disabilities. In accordance, Siegel (2012) noted “a significant number of adolescent suicides can be attributed to LDs that have not been properly identified and remediated” (p. 64).   According to Vygotsky (1993), the organic primary disability, unlike socially acquired secondary disabilities, cannot be reversed or influenced by sociocultural influences. Through social interaction, however, the secondary disability may be reduced or overcome and, thus “education must cope not so much with these biological factors [primary disabilities] as with their social consequences [secondary disabilities] [emphasis added]” (Vygotsky, 1993, p. 66). Vygotsky was more interested in the secondary disability, because he argued that cultural resources could change it. This distinction between primary and secondary disabilities has practical significance because secondary social and emotional complications are more responsive to remediation and supports than primary disabilities that may not be easily modifiable. Smagorinsky (2012) argued that Vygotsky’s suggestions for addressing this problem require both: 1) providing appropriate mediation for the student within the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) learning contexts, and 2) promoting inclusive and socially just views of people with a difference, so they are not affected by the potential secondary disabilities of feeling emotional distress and negative stigma as a result of discrimination,  37 possible oppression, and disabling conditions.  This distinction between primary–organic impairment and secondary–social disabilities is also expressed by Lalvani and Broderick (2013): “Within the social model of disability, impairment refers to particular physical or sensory experience (e.g., blindness, absence of motor function), while disability or disablement refers to the political, economic, social, and cultural oppression that people with impairments experience” (p. 472). Lalvani and Broderick (2013) introduced ableism as the negative assumptions held by individuals who are able and, thus, they assume to be superior to individuals living with a disability. The ableist assumption that disability is a tragedy may be implicitly expressed through social interaction. Therefore, Lalvani and Broderick (2013) took a social justice stance and noted a conceptual distinction between impairment and disability that is critical for including the phenomenon of disabilities as diversity within the fabric of multiculturalism in a democratic society and seeing impairment as a variation of human development positioned within human diversity. In 1996, Barga’s interview study of students with learning disability presented participants’ call for teachers and peers to be educated for better awareness and acceptance of learning differences.     These issues that concerned Vygotsky should also concern contemporary educators, as argued by Smagorinsky (2012). Therefore, asking if symptoms of learning disabilities are organic or secondary in nature, may guide educators’ in designing pedagogical supports and accommodations for students. Ideally, recognizing the impairment with no additional judgment of disability and negativity associated with the impairment may allow students with learning difficulties to have access to mediation and resources and be more included within the diversity spectrum of learning differences.     38 2.2.2.   Associated Stigma with the Diagnosis of Learning Disabilities  Secondary disabilities, or as termed in contemporary literature negative stigma, have been studied, as shown in several examples in this section. Shifrer (2013) argued that a diagnosis of learning disabilities means assigning to students a label and taking the risk of creating a stigma that may lower teachers’ and parents’ educational expectations of these students. Another risk students with a learning disabilities label may face is a secondary disability based upon the social perceptions of their learning differences as deficits (Vygotsky, 1993).   Reid and Button (1995) described Anna’s story of her experiences of being labeled with a learning disabilities diagnosis. For example, Anna reported that in school she usually felt mad and sometimes frustrated, as her peers did not understand her condition and the reasons for leaving class to receive support. Her classmates told her that she was not in the main class because “you are not there because you’re retarded” (p. 606). Rosetti and Henderson (2013) interviewed adolescents about their lived experiences with learning disabilities. They reported that elementary school was more a struggle than high school; nevertheless, the stigma associated with their academic difficulties was salient. Therefore, success, or the best moments in school were identified in relation to doing well academically, possibly, to reduce the effect of the stigma in their social context. In relation to others’ perceptions of them leading to secondary disabilities. Barga’s (1996) and Rosetti and Henderson’s (2013) interview data with students with learning disabilities revealed that students received helpful parental support at home and a positive sense of validation and relatedness with peers, with and without learning disabilities.  Kenyon, Beail, and Jackson (2013) asked adult participants about the meaning of learning disabilities and their experience of diagnosis. Participants reported that they had an awareness of being different in school due to their academic difficulties and “they described  39 diagnosis and discovery of their perceived difference as a shock” (p. 259). They reported trying to hide the diagnosis as one participant said “I felt, well, miserable. I felt, well, shame in a way” (p. 259). They described their teenage years a time of stress and difficulty. One participant reflected on his past years: “We shouldn’t be labeled because we are all equal at the end. You’re a human being for God’s sake...The person is still a person so don’t label them” (p. 260).  Keyes and Brandon (2011) developed an inclusive mutual support model for individuals with learning difficulties based on their exploration of how adults with learning difficulties perceived the support that they gave and received from others with learning difficulties. This study’s interview data revealed people’s needs to participate fully, fulfill personal ambitions, and feel dignity and respect as a human being. This finding suggests that social acceptance, inclusion, and respectful support may reduce possible negative issues associated with stigma and development of secondary disabilities.     Reid and Button (1995) concluded from the interview with Anna about the irony that in the field designed to improve the life of students with disabilities: “We have constructed a system of intervention in our schools that addresses what we think are their best interests, but we have chosen not to confront the personal damage that that system can inflict on some students” (p. 612), further suggesting to ask students directly about their experiences. In contrast, Siegel (2013) and Barga (1996) reported that there are numerous examples of students with learning disabilities who claimed that the diagnosis of learning disabilities was a relief for them and for their parents. Before the formal diagnosis they felt confused and could not make sense of their difficulties. Receiving a formal diagnosis was helpful in the system that sets them up for struggle and being different as they felt that the label provided them with a reason and explanation for their difficulties and frustration.  40  2.2.3.  A Strengths Based Approach  Vygotsky’s (1993) theory of disontogenesis is a strengths based and a health focused approach to learning disabilities. Society changes the stereotypical negative notion of learning difficulties from focusing on weaknesses and disorders to focusing on strengths to empower individuals: “Special pedagogical techniques aimed at the positive uniqueness of these children, in order to create in them the necessary sociocultural superstructure which will shore up development at its point of physical or mental weakness” (1993, p. 17). Gindis (1995) reported that Vygotsky presented his strengths based approach as the “positive differential approach” (p. 79), echoed by Armstrong’s (2009, 2010, 2012) view of differences as neurodiversity or multiple intelligences. Moreover, Vygotsky further emphasized that recognizing their positive uniqueness, is unlike feeling pity or being charitable towards their weaknesses. The implication here may be alluding to teaching all students and acknowledging their relative accomplishments, rather than continually comparing them to norms and expectations (Vygotsky, 2011). Instead, offering support and access to mediation while including all diverse learners with strengths and challenges.  Gindis (2003) argued that the experience of having a disability makes one more disabled, suggesting that individuals may learn to embody their perceived deficits beyond the degree of the impairment. In social interactions, teachers, parents, and friends reflect what is perceived to be low societal expectations and attitudes towards students with learning difficulties. This notion conveyed in social interaction may influence the access of students “to sociocultural knowledge, experiences, and opportunities to participate in shared or joint activities with peers” (Gindis, 2003, p. 203). As argued by Vygotsky (1993), changing these negative societal expectations of students with learning disabilities and, instead, emphasizing their positive qualities is essential. Vygotsky suggested noticing the “wealth of each retarded [sic] child’s  41 reserves and strength that must be the determining factor in establishing a program for him or her” (Vygotsky, 1993, p. 20).   Additionally, based on Vygotsky (1993), students with learning disabilities may compensate for their organic condition through the development of higher psychological functions. Although the impairment is within the organic processes, “… the objects of rehabilitation are the cultural processes of abstract reasoning, logical memory, voluntary attention, and goal–directed behavior” (Gindis, 2003, p. 204). Compensating for the organic impairment is limited, but “compensating through the mightiness of the mind (imagination, reasoning, memorization, etc.) has virtually no limits” (Vygotsky, 1983, p. 212 as cited by Gindis 2003 p. 204). Therefore, when organic development is impossible, cultural development is possible.    Further regarding the compensation phenomenon, Vygotsky (1993) suggested, “the desire to fly will appear in children who experience great difficulty to jump” (p. 56). Vygotsky (1997) argued that education must not neglect the positive forces all students have, and argued for society’s duty in detecting “true uniqueness of child” (p. 98). Clarifying that this positive and strengths based approach may seem simple, but in fact: [A] positive picture is possible only if we radically change our representation of child development and take into account that it is a complex dialectical process that is characterized by complex periodicity, disproportion in the development of separate functions, metamorphoses or qualitative transformation of certain forms into others, a complex merging of the process of evolution and involution, a complex crossing of external and internal factors, a complex process of overcoming difficulties and adapting.  (Vygotsky, 1997, pp. 98-99) Students’ positive psychological drive to compensate for their organic impairment with  42 educators’ search for their positive uniqueness is the first step and key to allow students to access resources that support their complex dynamic processes of development. Finally, Siegel’s (2012) statement, “[W]e must pay attention to their strengths. So let us search hard for the talents within people and make sure that the school system and families and individuals have an opportunity to develop their talents” (p. 74), is consistent with Vygotsky’s call to a radical change of perception by considering a disability as strength.   2.2.4.  Disabilities as a Natural and Cultural Difference in Development  One foundation of Vygotsky’s (1993) theory of education is in his distinction between the two paths of development––natural and cultural––and acknowledging that the natural and cultural lines of development occur in both typical and atypical developing children. Children’s biological development converges with their cultural development. Not only do they adapt to and transform their culture, but also cultural innovations are shaped to support more the typically developing people than the atypical.   For example, a typically developing child would have more access to cultural tools in a form of books at a level set for their age group. Society not only defines each age level’s reading expectations and standard of performance but it also allows production of cultural tools of age level books for typically developing children. This converging of natural and cultural development works in tandem to support even further students who can use the cultural tools to read at their typical age level. At the same time, for atypically developing children, the gap between natural and cultural development grows larger as students who are not able to read at the level set as normal by society are not always provided with access to cultural tools that can help them converge their natural with their cultural development. Cultural support for the atypically developing children is key, “the line of a child’s natural development, when left to its own devices, never shifts over to the cultural line of development” (Vygotsky, 1993, p. 167).  43 Furthermore, Vygotsky (1993) noted, “the social education of the severely retarded [sic] children reveals to us possibilities which might seem outright Utopian from the view point of purely biologically based physiological education” (p. 218). Vygotsky called for a dialectical view of these two paths, arguing for no longer considering cultural development extending linearly from natural development (John-Steiner & Mahn, 1996).   Scientific educational theory entails examination of the existing relationships between the environment and the organism. Vygotsky (1993) explained that our culture is designed for typically functioning people, so it creates an illusion that the typically developing children experience an easy transition from natural to cultural paths of development. However, the typically developing child’s struggles of transition are unnoticed because the culture that is designed for their ways of functioning provides them with the essential cultural tools for the merging of their natural and cultural paths of development. The atypical developing child, on the other hand, is unable to converge their natural-organic development with that of the cultural development if society is not designed to provide them with fitting cultural tools. The atypical developing child is not able to make good use of the available cultural tools. Therefore, the cultural development of the atypical child is further diverging from her natural development. Vygotsky (1993) argued, “that a child whose development is impeded by a defect is not simply a child less developed than his peers but is a child who has developed differently” (p. 30). The difference contributes to the disontogenesis, a growing gap between their natural and cultural paths of development due to limited access to mediation through cultural tools that suits them.  The normalization of cultural tools deprives students with learning differences from the cultural resources they need. To support their different natural line of development, the cultural line of development must be enriched to help students compensate for their differences. Vygotsky (1993) argued that for these reasons researchers should “study not merely the  44 biological character but also how it develops in various conditions of the social environment in which the child must build his character” (p. 140). Defining disability as a different path of development removes the negative and hierarchical classification of an individual when compared to a norm by suggesting, instead, to view their development based on their differences in making use of cultural tools, rather than deficiencies. The case of individuals who are hard of hearing––who learn the function of speech with no typical tie to sound by using cultural tools that compensate for their limited organic hearing function––illustrates the disparity between the cultural forms of behavior designed for typically developing children and the cultural tools available for the atypically developing child. Therefore, Vygotsky (1993) stated that cultural tools and compensations support development as “the cultural forms of behavior serve as the only path of education for an abnormal [sic] child” (p. 168). Finally, both natural and sociocultural origins to development are needed to understand learning and development. It is not enough to examine cognitive deficits as if they are inside the child. The societal cultural tools that were provided, and how they were integrated with students’ natural path of development, also need to be examined.  2.2.5.  Sociocultural Aspects in BC Schools  In accordance with notions of moving away from assuming a typical learner to whom learning and expectations are directed, in 2015, the BC Ministry of Education drafted a new curriculum statement alluding to some aspects of sociocultural processes pertaining to learning and development, as follows: Personalized learning acknowledged that not all students learn successfully at the same rate, in the same learning environment, and in the same ways. It involves the provision of high-quality and engaging learning opportunities [emphasis added] that meet the diverse  45 needs of all students. Schools may provide flexible timing [emphasis added] and pacing through a range of learning environments, with learning supports and services tailored to meet student needs [emphasis added].  (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2015, p. 2)  This statement in the new curriculum draft acknowledges diversity in learning among all students. Ideally, students with learning difficulties may be considered as having a learning difference as Vygotsky (1993) suggested. Furthermore, to avoid emphasizing an individual difference from a normal standard, all students may be considered as diverse learners within the larger spectrum of diversity. An important factor is that all students learning needs are addressed in a timely manner and based on their uniqueness. 2.3.  Sociocultural Assessment and Pedagogy  In this section I present two interventions that are based on mediated learning involving social and collaborative relationships between teachers and students. Vygotsky (Vygotsky, 2011; Wertsch, 1985) and Feuerstein (Feuerstein et al., 2010; Kozulin, 2010a, 2010b) developed their theories and practical guidelines for mediated learning based on the notable improvement of the individuals who they worked with, such as, students and adults with brain injury, individuals from culturally deprived populations, and individuals who were labeled decades ago mentally retarded.  Both Vygotsky and Feuerstein advanced a positive view of human potential with their work with individuals. They recognized weaknesses and emphasized mediated learning for that specific identified weakness arguing that it can be modified while communicating to them their strengths and potential (Feuerstein et al., 2010; Gindis, 1995, 1999, 2003). Pedagogy and assessment were combined in the process of meditation according to both Vygotsky and Feuerstein. Based on Feuerstein’s work, “including the learning phase into the assessment  46 procedure and focusing on students’ ability to grasp new principles and strategies rather than their absolute performance level” (Kozulin, 2009a, p. 120). Feuerstein’s work on structural cognitive modifiability showed that learning, assessment, and teaching are inseparable. Vygotsky also noted that given the development of psychological functions and the ability to use cognitive strategies, there is a difference between testing of already learned material or assessing the potential of a child for understanding new material.  2.3.1.  The Zone of Proximal Development  Vygotsky described learning through mediation in which elementary psychological functions are transformed to higher psychological functions with teachers’ mediating learning and being aware of the interpsychological plane that may possibly be influencing the intrapsychological plane of students (Daniels, 2001). The ZPD Vygotsky referred to is the gap between what the student can do on his/her own and what the student can do with the help of an adult or more capable peer (Vygotsky, 2011). In the zone lies the possibility of students developing their intellectual potential as higher psychological functions. He noted and demonstrated that what children learn to do in cooperation with adults is likely to lead them to be able to do it independently. Hence, development and growth happens through learning that takes place in context of social interactions with others, rather than only within the person based on their genetic abilities. Similarly, Dudley-Marling (2004) argued that being self-sufficient is our most powerful cultural myth: it assumes that individual success depends on the individual, neglecting to take into account support from interactions with the environment.  Vygotsky’s (1993) ideas, from nearly a century ago (1896-1934, Russia), emphasized that not only is assessment integral to teaching, but also, the focus of assessment must be on what is possible for students in the future, rather than based on what happened to them in the past or describing how they perform in the present. Vygotsky’s purpose for assessment and  47 teaching was to identify the zone for social and meaningful interaction of learning and teaching that will ignite the maturing higher level thinking and lead to development (Daniels, 2001).   Educators identify, through dynamic assessment, the “zone” of students’ potential to learn and develop with help while focusing on their strengths and possible ways they can compensate for the difficulty caused by an organic condition. Good instruction, Vygotsky argued, is holistic. It builds on students’ abilities with a future vision of advancing their development, and accommodating their limitations to enhance their development and also to prevent societal interpretations that impose circumstances that create secondary disabilities (Chaiklin, 2003; Daniels, 2001, 2014; Gindis, 1995, 1999, 2003; Kozulin, 2010b; Vygotsky, 1993, 1998). The purpose of interacting with students in their ZPD is to provide students with possibilities for development. Wertsch (1985), following Vygotsky, noted that instruction is not equal to development, but instruction that is ahead of the current development of the individual encourages transformation and future development. Both the teacher and student are actively participating in the process by socially negotiating their collaboration and generally sharing and transferring control for the learning progress over time to the student (Chaiklin, 2003, 2011; Daniels, 2001).  As noted earlier, Vygotsky (1993) argued that each psychological function takes place first on the interpsychological plane, before it becomes integral to the learner on the intrapsychological plane. Hence, interaction is crucial for learning and development (Gindis, 1999). Internalization from the interpsychological to the intrapsychological plane may be mistakenly interpreted as internalizing external teachings. To clarify the widely used term of internalization in the context of mediated learning, Wertsch (1998) distinguished between two processes: mastery and appropriation. Mastery is described as knowing how to use a tool to  48 accomplish a task and achieving proficiency in certain area of knowledge or skill. Appropriation is a process of “taking something that belongs to others and making it one’s own” (Wertsch, 1998, p. 53). That way, appropriation involves identifying in some sense with the learning. This distinction is relevant to students with learning difficulties because some students may identify with achieving academic outcomes and experiencing success as their peers may experience, but they have not yet mastered the skills needed. Or, alternatively, some students may master a skill of writing, but they may not identify with the process of writing and thus they may not appropriate writing as a method of communication. Educators who are aware of processes of appropriation in learning are likely to support students with relating, engaging, and making sense of a given subject or a needed skill to master or to appropriate an identity or meaningful experience. The processes of mastery and appropriation may be intertwined or correlated, but they are two distinct processes. Wertsch (1998) argued that when asking about a student’s skill level it is crucial to include an evaluation of the performance of a skill and an inquiry into how meaningfully they appropriated their learning. Wertsch (1985) also argued to examine beyond students’ academic outcomes, the cultural tools that students were able to access within their ZPD.  2.3.2.  Mediated Learning Experience  Reuven Feuerstein reported succeeding in improving the learning and development of populations that were disadvantaged, intellectually delayed, and severely deprived in many aspects (Falik, 2007; Feuerstein et al., 2010; Smagorinsky, 2012; Wertsch, 1985). Based on his experience and research, Feuerstein developed the Mediated Learning Experience (MLE) approach (Falik, 2007; Feuerstein et al., 2010; Kozulin, 2002). The premise underlying Feuerstein’s concept of the mediated learning experience was to explore the possibility for  49 mediating cognitive modifiability by helping people develop habits of mind that transform their ways of interacting with others, problem solving, learning, and being proactive about their environment and circumstances (Feuerstein et al., 2010).  The emphasis in the MLE approach is to create lasting changes in peoples’ minds: “It is our belief and experience that a human being who possesses the need, belief, intention, and proper tools can be given a way to bypass the barriers of etiology and realize the option of modifiability” (Feuerstein et al., 2010, p. 482). The assumption is that people could develop qualities and structures of thinking and skills with the help of human mediator even if they did not have them at early age. MLE takes place “when a person (mediator) who possesses knowledge, experience, and intentions mediates the world, makes it more understandable, and imparts meaning to it by adding to the direct stimuli” (Feuerstein et al., 2010, p. 799). Furthermore, Feuerstein argued that this development of thinking contributes to positive changes in their emotional wellbeing that then sets people on a trajectory of even better improvement of their cognitive abilities as they are empowered (Feuerstein et al., 2010). Human interaction that mediates includes the beliefs people hold about their own learning and the teachers’ beliefs about students’ learning (Feuerstein et al., 2010). The belief in ability creates the motivation to find the means to reach the desired and needed results. Teachers’ commitment to be involved in the interactive process of meeting the needs of students is critical for students’ learning. Mediation may not take place if it involves mere following theoretical guidelines of teaching or interacting. The place of belief in the process of mediation is reflected also in Feuerstein’s notion of intelligence as “a force that drives the organism to change itself and to change the structure of thinking and reaction in order to answer the needs that appear before it and change before its eye” (Feuerstein et al., 2010, p. 666). Feuerstein described intelligence not as a trait but as a dynamic energetic agent that is highly modifiable through  50 meaningful interactions with human mediator.  Feuerstein et al. (2010) discussed human development as a dynamic among three components: first, the biological individual who interacts with the environment; second, the sociocultural influences that shape the individual through interaction; and third, the MLE. This third component, MLE, occurs naturally to enrich sociocultural experiences within family and social contexts. MLE also can be used willingly and deliberately towards a shared end goal (Feuerstein et al., 2010). Like Vygotsky, Feuerstein was concerned with mental functions that are beyond biological conditions. He emphasized, “we do not reject the hereditary components but consider them as not having last and final word” (Feuerstein et al., 2010, p. 739). His method of cognitive modifiability is designed to alter brain functions through mediation and education that involves explicit meaningful teaching while holding a strong belief in students’ potential (Feuerstein et al., 2010).   Positive results of the method of cognitive modifiability challenges the notion that learning disabilities are fixed conditions if students have the possibility to modify, change, and develop when their weaknesses are mediated systematically by a human mediator (Feuerstein et al., 2010). The effectiveness of mediation based on the sociocultural theory maintains that educators are in a position of potentially supporting students’ development.  2.4.  Teachers’ Expectations and Beliefs of Students  The relationship between teacher and student in the ZPD and in the MLE, evolves through the process of mediation that includes among, other factors, teachers’ communication of expectations. These processes of mediation described earlier may shape development positively or negatively. For example, teachers who have low expectations of their students may unintentionally mediate, through their interactions with students, limited standards of performance (Rosenthal, 2002). Panofsky (2003) reported studies that showed that teachers’  51 expectations of students perpetuated students’ beliefs in their own abilities to the point that students’ performance was in accordance with their teacher’s high or low expectations. The interactions between teachers and students have a significant impact on students (Brooks, 1991). In a workshop for teachers, Brooks (1991) asked teachers about their past experiences as students. One teacher described how her teacher encouraged her to face her fear of public speaking: “he sensed that I was shy…. he asked more and more of me in terms of participating and projecting in discussions. He believed in me” (p. 9). This example describes how mediation as the teacher’s communication of expectations and beliefs in students’ abilities while identifying the source of the weakness is meaningful in shaping the experience of learning. Another teacher described how her junior high teacher let her remain silent in class and informed her, “I can tell by your knowing glance and your facial expressions that you are participating silently and that you know the answers” (p. 10). These words spoken by the teacher made her feel comfortable with being silent and confident with her knowledge. In contrast, some of the negative experiences teachers reported included: “a teacher sneered at me,” and “I was told by my grade-school teacher that my answer was stupid’ (p. 11). Siegel (2013) recounts the life story of Johnny who was a retired physical education teacher with dyslexia. He recalled, “Being in this class I developed an inferior complex” (p. 121), describing his feelings of shame and difficult experiences particularly around testing but also in general, being in the special needs class.  Brooks (1991) argued that these memories, positive or negative, became engraved in the lives of students into their adulthood and indicated that, “portraits and stories are guides to our inner world” (p. 19). As the above quotes illustrate, mediations through social relationships and exchange of expectations affected students and continued to shape students’ perceptions well after the event.  52  2.4.1.  Teachers’ Beliefs  The notion that mediators’ beliefs regarding students’ abilities influence students’ behaviour, learning, and self-perception, is critical for understanding the dynamics of student and mediation of teachers in education (Feuerstein et al., 2010). Some students are treated based on their deficits, or expected deficits, by adults who may not be aware, or who are aware, of the societal beliefs they hold, which guide their communication with students. In addition, some educators may also not be aware of the power of their positive or negative influence when interacting and communicating with students in the learning contexts (Panofsky, 2003). Teachers’ mediation is a crucial element in the learning environment, affecting secondary disabilities, learning and development. Chaiklin (2003) noted that the effectiveness of mediation does not depend solely on the knowledge or skills mediators have or teach. Rather the quality of mediation is in the nature of interaction between the teacher/adult/or more capable peer and student. Evidence for the powerful positive impact of teacher mediation is provided in a study by Comber and Kamler (2004), who showed how teachers who visited families’ homes and had conversations with students and their parents gained a holistic understanding of students’ family culture. Understanding the complexities of students’ home life—rather than responding to their low performance in school—allowed these teachers to be more empathic, honour their unique life at home after school, and raise their expectations. As a result, teachers mediated learning differently and more effectively after getting to know aspects of their students’ home environment and family culture.  Research concerning the Pygmalion Effect has also demonstrated the power of human mediation, and specifically, the power of teachers’ expectations of students’ achievement. In Rosenthal and Jacobson’s (1968) experiment at Oak School, they administered a fake  53 intelligence test. The “Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition,” was administered to students and fake results about students were circulated in order to examine the impact of teachers’ beliefs on students’ performance. Teachers were informed that the purpose was to screen students who have a great potential to succeed in school, but may be late bloomers. The test was administered to kindergarten to grade five students who would be enrolling in the school the following year. Names of 20 percent of students were selected randomly and presented to teachers as those ‘special students’ who were predicted to succeed academically in the near future. Teachers were asked to keep this information confidential. After eight months of classroom teaching and interaction with the teacher expecting highly of these students, the results of post-test, on the verbal section of the test were dramatically higher for first and second graders. Woodcock and Vialle (2011) explored the influence of teachers’ knowledge of the presence or absence of learning disabilities on the feedback they give a student, their felt frustration or sympathy towards a student, and their expectation of that student. Teachers responded to vignettes that included information of each student’s either low or high level of ability, effort, and academic performance. Results showed that teachers’ knowledge of students’ learning disabilities correlated with teachers’ higher levels of sympathy, positive feedback, and expectations of future failure. Teachers interpreted learning disabilities as a fixed uncontrollable cause for future failure, and thus, communicated low expectations. Woodcock and Vialle (2011) suggested that teachers did not factor hard work of students with learning disabilities that may lead to success, as they were guided by a perception of deficit. The theoretical support for investing in those that are believed to have higher potential was expressed by Vygotsky: “IQ was a symptom, or a sign” (Vygotsky, 2011. p. 210) that indicated privileged circumstances (Vadeboncoeur, 2013). As shown in Rosenthal and  54 Jacobson’s (1968) experiment, greater success came to those who were provided with the support, the human mediation, of adults who believed in their potential and likely provided the necessary missing cultural tools for optimal development. Mediation can be effective in promoting development when mediators are aware of their own beliefs that are based on societal influences about students’ potential. It can be powerful when educators understand their assumptions and biases, build on strengths, and take deliberate control over their teaching. However, there are also educators who operate with an implicit understanding that is less deliberately, but nevertheless, positive. When a lack of awareness is paired with stereotypical “deficit” thinking of students’ abilities, then negative mediations are most pronounced.   Educators may or may not be aware of how their expectations of students guide the quality of their mediation in teaching. Research on the effect of teachers’ expectations on students’ performances provides evidence for potential positive or negative implications of teachers’ beliefs on students’ abilities (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). For example, teachers’ beliefs are formed based on factors such as students’ history, culture, socio-economic status. Vygotsky (1997) argued; “education has, at all times and in all places, borne a class-based character, whether or not its adherents or apostles were aware of it” (as cited by Panofsky & Vadeboncoeur, 2012, p. 206). The influence of expectations is in line with Vygotsky’s claim that “the developmental origins of higher mental functioning must be found in social-communicative interactions” (Tappan, 1998, p. 23). Vygotsky emphasized the importance of human mediation and of social interaction for mediation in development.  The power of these human social interactions is potent, and may follow the lead of the prevailing societal expectations dominating these social interactions (Panofsky & Vadeboncoeur, 2012). Panofsky (2003) emphasized that closely examining issues of social relations by using Vygotsky’s theory is important in order to reveal the dynamics involved in  55 the failure of low-income students. Panofsky (2003) reviewed several ethnographic studies that documented semiotic interactions between teachers and students. Her conclusion was that “the process of differential expectations and differential treatment of low-income learners is both out of awareness of educational personnel in all dimensions that the researchers observed, and at the same time, integral to the cultural processes of schooling” (p. 424). Teachers were not always aware how societal views and expectations shaped teaching and learning dynamic and had an impact on educational outcomes. Varenne and McDermott (1999) claimed, “No person is self made” (p. 5), suggesting that the context in which students perform is as important as personalized characteristics of learning.  2.4.2.   Teachers’ Education   The sociocultural theory principle of sociability emphasized that cognition and emotions are linked, irreducible, and inseparable. Teachers in the classroom are faced with both addressing cognitive as well as emotional challenges students may experience. Torgesen (2002) conclusion of Meta analysis research noted two levels of supports students with difficulties need. The first is positive emotional support in a form of feedback, and encouragement. The second support is combined of both, systematic pedagogy on the skills required, and “teacher-student dialogue that directly shows the child what kind of processing or thinking needs to be done in order to complete the task successfully” (p. 17).   Regarding the emotional aspect of learning and development, Lalvani and Broderick (2013) argued that conceptualizing impairment as disability––has implications for teacher education so teachers would be cognizant of this difference and role model acceptance to diverse learning in the classroom. Some teachers may not be aware of the negative mediation communicated subtly by them, but perceived saliently by students with organic impairment. These students might also experience social and emotional secondary disabilities that might  56 further hinder their ability to access cultural tools.  Therefore, Gindis (2003) argued, “students with disabilities need specially trained teachers” (p. 212) and Smagorinsky (2012) proposed reeducating the whole society to view individuals with impairment not as disabled. Directing attention to the education of teachers is as critical as examining students’ performances as alluded by Kalyanpur and Harry (2004) who argued that systemic discrimination, embedded in the conversations about learning disabilities, adds to the notion that individuals fail while schools do not. Lalvani and Broderick (2013) argued that educating teachers and students to recognize and challenge inequalities, including ableism, is conditional for democratic participation in society. From this perspective, teachers’ respect in the classroom for human differences should come from a position of considering how social and cultural contexts may allow or prevent their participation and functioning in schools. Teachers’ exploration of differences must include the individual-context dynamics, rather than focusing on either individual or contexts (Wertsch, 1985). Vygotsky (1993) noted, “education must cope not so much with these biological factors as with their social consequences” (p. 66).  Regarding the cognitive aspect of learning and development, an educational challenge for teachers is how to identify students’ difficulties for the purpose of either teaching them the skill they do not have or accommodating their learning without harming their potential future development. Torgesen (2002) summarized three component to addressing students’ needs:  First, we must insure that classroom instruction in kindergarten through Grade 3 is skillfully delivered with a balanced emphasis on word-level and reading comprehension skills. Second, we must have procedures in place to accurately identify children who fall behind in early reading growth, even when they are provided excellent classroom instruction. Third, we must provide these at-risk children with reading instruction that is  57 more intensive, more explicit, and more supportive than can be provided in a classroom of 20 to 30 children. (p. 13) Teachers’ skills, early identification, and pedagogy are noted as essential in meeting the needs of diverse learners in accordance with the individual-context relation of individuals with learning difficulties. The sociocultural approach directs attention to the interactive dynamics in the processes of mediation for students in their contexts of learning by pointing to the possibility of preventing an individual’s development of secondary disabilities and supporting students in transforming their higher psychological functioning.  2.5.   Chapter Summary  This chapter described first practices and approaches to examining learning disabilities in general and in BC in particular. The review suggested broadening the attention from examining individual qualities of students to including examining how learning environments may be enriching, or limiting for students. The second section in this chapter described Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory including secondary disabilities and strengths based approach as holding power in directing the trajectory of students with learning disabilities. The lens of sociocultural theory reveals how contextual influences may interact with and shape students’ perspectives, experiences, and the meaning they have made of their learning challenges or diagnosed disabilities. The third section described ZPD and MLE that are pedagogies based on sociocultural framework which emphasize the sociality of learning and teaching as mediation processes that include assessing and teaching. Within ZPD or MLE, a wider educational discourse (i.e., regarding the successes and failures of students with learning disabilities) is mediated through expectations to students, teachers, parents, and others who are involved in the learning processes of students.   58 Chapter 3:   Methodology This study aimed to examine the experiences and perspectives of students and parents of learning disabilities. The sociocultural framework was used to address the research questions: 1) How do students describe their experiences of and perspectives on having learning disabilities? 2) How do parents describe their experiences of and perspectives on their child’s learning disabilities? 3) How do students describe their strengths and challenges in relation to their academic experiences in school? 4) How do parents describe their child’s strengths and challenges in relation to their academic experiences in school? This chapter is divided into five sections. In the first section, I describe my position as the researcher and the related concepts of reflexivity and power. In the second section, I describe the recruitment process and introduce the participants. In the third section, I describe the research design including the purpose of the interviews. In the fourth section, I clarify the analysis procedures including: the preparation of transcripts, theoretical thematic analysis, the confidentiality of transcripts, and how trustworthiness was addressed in this study.  3.1.   Researcher Positioning In this study, I expand on my experience of working as a school psychologist, assessing over 200 students, consulting in school-based teams on a regular biweekly basis, and consulting with teachers in a provincial early intervention class for students in Grade 1 to 3 who had reading difficulties and a diagnosis of a learning disability. As a full–time school psychologist, I was assigned 10 schools each year, and worked in over 20 elementary and high schools. Within the scope of the assessment aspect of my work, I conducted psychoeducational assessments that included administering cognitive, academic, social and emotional, and adaptive measures as well as interviewing students, parents, and teachers and consulting with teachers and parents. Interviewing students, parents, and school personnel was part of the process of assessing  59 students’ functioning and recommending how to support their progress. One possible recommendation that was frequently expected by school personnel and parents was to diagnose students with learning disabilities. My colleagues and I had ambivalent thoughts about a school’s expectation of assessing for a diagnosis. As professionals, our concern was to focus on supporting students so they may experience greater success in school. The diagnosis was not sufficient to support students, as other means were necessary for helping students. However, the assessment results had a great potential of informing parents, teachers and students by providing a snapshot of students’ strengths and weaknesses based on their performance at that time on the standardized tests.  It concerned me that the main focus in schools where I worked was the diagnosis of learning disabilities as if the means turned into an end goal or a cure. I realized that although diagnosis was not a cure, it was a key to accessing services. Although, in my view, all students, whether meeting the diagnostic criteria or not, had the right to receive services. The typical referral process was that some students out of those who experienced difficulties in the classroom were referred to the school-based team that then decided whether to add them to the assessment waiting list. Once students’ names were on the waiting list they had to wait for an average of two years to be assessed by a district school psychologist. Some parents who were alert to their child’s difficulties as early as Grade 1, paid for the assessment privately and forwarded the results to the school-based team who then designated them with a “Q,” a Ministry of Education category of learning disabilities.   In addition to tests scores, assessment processes also included interviews, familiarity with each student and their family history and conditions, and my observation notes. In these assessments I noticed, repeatedly, the value of the information from the interviews and stories shared with me by teachers, parents, and students. Each interview included complexities and  60 nuances that helped me understand each individual student’s unique strengths, aspirations, and needs within their lived contexts. Interviews were like a social gathering that allowed an authentic connection and ease of participation by sharing, listening to, clarifying, and discussing aspects of their life histories and conditions. These conversations allowed me to develop a contextual perspective on the experiences of each student’s learning difficulties and potentially learning disabilities. This narrative information, provided by students and their parents, was distinct from the quantitative and individually focused information I generated through the use of standardized testing. Throughout my experience of assessing students as a school psychologist, I became more eager to pay greater attention to each student’s history and their parents’ perspectives and past and present experiences they shared in our discussions when I tried to understand the complexity of their unique condition and what could help them be more successful within the school. By asking students questions and taking a holistic approach, individual contextual influences that were missing for me in the standardized part of the assessment and diagnosis of learning disabilities were included. I consistently experienced the benefits of considering contextual (social, cultural, and historical) influences and viewing the problem of learning disability more holistically than was allowable by the standard practice of testing. Instead of asking what are a child’s strengths and weakness based on standardized tests, I started looking beyond the scope of standardized cognitive and academic testing, and became interested in asking students different questions, for example: How do you experience your learning difficulties? What method or program was helpful and why? What was not helpful for you? How do you prefer to show your learning? What are you proud of? Or, what are your strengths?  Based on these experiences, I became interested in exploring the relation between social, historical, institutional, and cultural influences with students’ individual experiences of their  61 learning difficulties or disabilities. Social and cultural influences that interested me included those that arise from the particular contexts in which students live and learn. I became interested in exploring the dynamics of contextual influences and the successes and failures of students through their perspectives, as well as the perspectives of their parents.  I was familiar with the points of views of teachers and other school personnel. They were largely bound by school policies that are based on the approach of focusing on the deficits of the individual through testing practices. Being part of the professional community of the school system as a school psychologist, I had many opportunities to discuss and explore the phenomena of learning disabilities from within the school system with my colleagues. Given my daily and multifaceted interactions with school personnel, I became familiar with the school system and school personnel dynamics and wanted to learn more about the perspectives and experiences of students and parents from outside of the schools.   In this study, I focus on the perspectives and experiences of students and parents in a setting that would not require students and parents to censor their voices due to their personal connections with school personnel. I presented myself as a person who is not affiliated with any school to allow participants to openly share their stories. For that reason, I recruited students-participants outside of the school system and not through teachers and other school personnel. In addition to students, I included the perspectives of parents who raised their children and are familiar with their child’s developmental histories and milestones, adding to the contextual aspects of development of which I explored. My experience of interviewing students and parents revealed a complex dynamic of contextual and personal facets of learning disabilities both as a phenomenon and as a unique personal experience. This detailed portrait of each student generated unique explanations and solutions for each student that was more specific than the generalized explanations and  62 solutions I generated from standardized test results. Gerber and Reiff (1991) stated that “the moment we begin to speak together, we have the potential to create new ways of being” (p. 29). Conversing about what contributes to the experience of learning disabilities has value for further understanding how experiences shape learning.  3.1.1.   Reflexivity The essence of qualitative research is in the reliance on researcher subjectivity in interpreting interview data by being reflexive. Because my own epistemological and theoretical assumptions are infused in the assumptions I made throughout this study they shaped me as a research instrument to the point that representations of ideas are in, some sense, self-presentation. Making meaning, rather than finding meaning in the interview data, results from the reflexive approach to data analysis (Mauthner & Doucet, 2003). To maintain the required high degree of awareness of my biases that inform and constrain my qualitative reflexive analysis, I asked myself throughout the analysis of interview data three recurring questions suggested by Mauthner and Doucet (2003). One question that was addressed earlier in my research positioning was: What are the preconceived ideas and assumptions I bring to my analysis? The way I, as a researcher, organized knowledge, depends on what I claimed and asked participants. Therefore, the way I formulated my questions to participants may have shaped their answers and my meaning making and interpretations of the interview data.  A second question suggested by Mauthner and Doucet (2003) that I needed to ask myself is: What is my role in the analytical process? As a researcher of the phenomenon of learning disabilities I considered myself integral to the world of learning disabilities. I saw and filtered information through the lens of my own professional history, personal history, and various experiences in relation to learning disabilities and academic successes and failures. There is knowledge embedded in my emotional and intellectual reaction to participants’ words,  63 therefore, I paid attention to my reactions. However, keeping distance from the emotional and intellectual reaction to data also allowed me to notice new themes with a fresh view (Mauthner & Doucet, 2003). One possible way to distance oneself from data could be the practice of self-observation attained through mindfulness meditation. As a person who has been regularly meditating for over 16 years and has also been teaching meditation in small groups, I cannot exclude this practice when asked to report how I distanced myself from a situation or context. I applied principles of mindfulness to quiet my thinking mind away from my biased reactive response to interview data and took, in addition to my biased view, also an observer point of view, and an opposite point of view when creating meanings in interview data. This is one example of how I developed awareness of myself as a ‘research instrument’ so that I continued to strive to meet a level of self-awareness and self-consciousness that reflexive researchers need in order to notice our own biases.  There is a degree of being reflexive rather than an absolute dichotomy of being reflexive or not being reflexive (Mauthner & Doucet, 2003). Patton’s (2002) suggestion to triangulate reflexive inquiry may enhance the degree of this awareness by including three aspects of reflexivity: self-reflexivity, reflexivity about those studied, and reflexivity about the audience who will read the research. Questions a researcher asks self-reflexively are about what do I know, how do I know what I know, and how have my past experiences shaped my collection and analysis of the data. What is the voice with which I identify and how I see my interviewees? I have been asking these questions from a point of view of a learner while reflecting on personal epistemologies and I considered my participants as experts. In being reflexive about my interviewees, I asked: How do they know what they know and what has shaped their perspectives? I also was reflexive about how they see me as the researcher. And how do I know that? Reflexivity about the audience refers to how those who  64 read my findings may make sense of what I wrote. How do we perceive one another? How do these perceptions affect what and how I report my findings?  The third question Mauthner and Doucet (2003) suggested that a reflexive researcher asks is: How to be reflexive? How can I incorporate my reflexive observations into analysis of data? Mauthner and Doucet (2003) offered journaling in a research diary as one way to engage reflexively. I designated time after interviews to be reflexive and journal in a research diary my feelings, thoughts, biases, and positions, while I paid attention and listened to how I responded emotionally and intellectually to the words in the interview data. This allowed me to examine how my assumptions may have affected my interpretations of participants’ words. Patton (2002) suggested that journaling could be used as data. He argued that the interviewer needs to debrief and be reflexive with oneself by journaling and “their observations and feelings can become part of the data” (p. 406). In this study, the main source of data was participants’ stories, while my reflexive journal was incorporated in preparing for the next interview by reviewing not only the interview transcript, but also my reflexivity journal notes.  Throughout the research process, after each interview, I wrote in my reflective journal my reflections, conclusions, questions, key concepts, and drew diagrams to help me reflect about my thoughts. This journaling process helped me in probing participants to discuss nuances in our dialogues. I did not use notes from journaling as data because the three interviews with each participant included ample explicit discussions relating to my journaling notes. However, in constructing the thematic analysis, my journal notes helped me be reflexive. For example, my bias was that I am opposed to the current standard practice in schools of using the term “learning disabilities” to label students who have a learning difference while at the same time students’ strengths are not clearly acknowledged with the same formality. I handled this bias by being reflexive and recognizing that for some students labeling or testing,  65 or diagnosis, was a very positive experience, given their circumstances. Participants associated the diagnosis and testing with the help they desired to receive and with their need to be recognized. I was aware that it was my bias that allowed me to hear in participants’ words that if they got recognition or support without the testing or diagnosis they may have not regarded the label and testing as necessary. Looking deeper into my bias, I was conscious that I hold the view that the reason that some students may have taken comfort in the label of learning disabilities was that it helped them to justify their difficult condition of not meeting standardized academic expectations. This awareness of my bias guided my clarifications in interview probing and discussions as well as in thematic analysis while being transparent about these conceptual dynamics.  As the interviewer, being reflective helped me become aware of how I wove my own biases, motivations, and agenda into the unfolding of the interviews, as well as the analysis of the interview data (Talmy, 2010). My motivation to listen to participants’ stories resulted from my desire to better understand participants’ experiences of being a student or a parent of a student with a learning disabilities diagnosis.   3.1.2.   Power    Talmy (2010) emphasized the importance of recognizing the power associated with the interviewer’s role. For example, I articulated the research questions that designed the research, I created the interview protocol, and I decided in the interviews how to ask additional questions to clarify the meaning intended by the participant. This power was also exerted in the process of analyzing the interview data, including the decisions I made in creating the transcripts of the interviews, conducting the systematic and comprehensive analysis of the entire data set, noticing codes, compiling codes into themes, and interpreting the themes. The notion of power here recognizes that as a researcher––although I opened the first interview by saying: “I would  66 like to learn from you about learning disabilities”––I was in a leading position despite my intention to collaborate with the participants and present myself in the interviews as a learner.  In this study, as the researcher, I recognized that I was holding this position of power while, at the same time, being reflexive enabled me to alleviate some of the effects of this power. For example, I was careful not to impose my meanings in the dialogue, asking them to clarify instead, and was thoughtful as I analyzed the data, regularly reminding myself to consider alternative interpretations and raised my level of awareness of my biases and the power in them. Keeping a curious mindset and asking further questions to clarify, helped me to avoid leading the interviews based only on my ideas and/or assumptions and allowed me to present myself as being in a learner position.  3.2.   Participants  There were eight student-parent dyads, identified with a pseudonym, who participated in this study. Six of the students were in Grade 10, one was in Grade 11, and one was in Grade 12 at the time of the interviews. An additional dyad participated only in the first interviews before they decided to leave the study. The inclusion criteria in this study were the following: 1) student participants had a formal BC Ministry of Education designation of learning disabilities diagnosed by a psychologist based on a psychoeducational assessment; 2) participants and their parents were able to speak English so that language differences would not be a barrier to self-expression in the interviews, and; 3) the students were attending public or private high schools in Grades 8-12.  Initially, I intended to interview only students from public schools. However, a potential participant who was interested in participating attended a private school. In order to also include students from private schools, I applied to the Ethics Review Board to modify this detail and in October 2016, it was approved. The revisions were threefold: 1) including students  67 in the study from private schools in addition to public school; 2) offering participants an honorarium of a $50 gift card for Cineplex as an alternative to money, 3) and also including Grade 12 students.    It is important to note that the parents who participated in this study were highly involved in their children’s schooling and, given what was shared in the interviews, they were able to access both financial and knowledge based resources to devote to their children’s learning in schools. For example, parents reported identifying, accessing, and providing resources to support the emotional well-being and academic success of their children in schools. Further, the parents devoted their time by helping their child with homework daily, driving their child to distant schools, and investing money in private tutors and private schools, as well as private assessments. With these resources, the parents in this study appeared to have been highly resourced and their knowledge and ability to access these resources contributed to the creation of resource conditions that were likely optimal for the students in this study. In this sense, although there was no formal measurement of these sociocultural conditions, the experiences reported here may well have reflected “a best case scenario” for these students.  3.2.1.    Recruitment   The snowball sampling method (SSM) was used in this study for participants’ recruitment (Cohen & Arieli, 2011). Initially a Recruitment Letter (see Appendix A) and Introduction Letter (see Appendix B) were distributed by hand and via email to potential participants and or colleagues and friends who mentioned, or I thought might know, a potential student who may be interested in participating in the study. I distributed these two letters to approximately 50 persons asking them to refer the information to potential participants. The SSM works when one participant gives the researcher the name of another who provides the name of a third and so on. The snowball sampling method, or chain referral sampling, is a particular method useful  68 in conducting research with marginalized groups. In order to locate and access participants from a specific population that may be hard to reach, this referral method might engage more participants than a direct recruitment approach.  The following is a description of how the participants, who attended seven different schools across four municipalities within the Lower Mainland of BC, were recruited. The first dyad, Elizabeth and Miriam, responded to an email I sent to Miriam. Although I am acquainted with Miriam, I did not know that her Grade 12 daughter, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with dyslexia in Grade 3. Following my informal presentation of the study to personnel in The Learning Disability Association of Vancouver, they referred to me the second dyad, Annie and Gayle. My daughter’s friend referred to me the third dyad, Anthony and Maria. Although Maria and I were acquaintances 10 years ago I did not know that her son had learning disabilities. My daughter shared information about my study with her friends and Kira asked to participate in the study. She indicated to my daughter: “I would love to participate, I don’t mind her testing me, I’m used to it” (personal conversation; April, 2016). Cora, Kira’s mother was also passionate about participating. Professor Linda Siegel referred the fifth dyad, Alexandra and Kate, who shared information about the study with several families. Two of these families, the sixth and the seventh dyads, joined the study. The eighth dyad was referred to me through Kira, a participant in this study, who was taking private lessons from Mark, Oliver’s father.  There were a few other people who contacted me showing interest in participating: one of them did not have the formal learning disability designation while another parent expressed interest, but her daughter was “too shy” to talk about her learning disabilities. Two other people did not call back after they initiated the first phone conversation. One dyad participated in the first interviews and after that decided to stop as they explained that the Grade 12 student was busy with sport competitions and was experiencing stress in school at that time. I gave  69 them the honorarium with a thank you card. These two interviews were transcribed but were excluded from the analysis of the data, as the information shared was not at the level achieved with the other eight dyads that further conversed about their experiences and perspectives. An advantage in employing the snowball sampling method was that, as a researcher outside this marginalized population, I could begin the study with few contacts and gradually expand my contacts by using the social network of the participants. One potential limitation of snowball sampling was that participants were not identified randomly and, therefore, may not represent the population of students with learning disabilities in BC schools. Participants who participated in this study were not representative of all parents particularly because their high level of involvement and devotion to their child’s schooling appeared extraordinary. However, regardless of the snowball sampling method, and as is typical with the generic qualitative research design, the generalizability of findings to other dyads and conditions was not intended.  The snowball sampling method lies in its reliance on the “gatekeeper,” or principal referrer, who begins the referral chain; the social networks within which this person participates are largely what will be accessed using this method (Cohen & Arieli, 2011). To overcome this limitation, I distributed initial cover letters to several key people in a variety of locations in order to invite participants from different communities. In this study, the first and second participants were independent and not related to the others. The third and fourth participants attended the same high school, but they may not have known of each other’s participation in the study. The sixth, and seventh, participants contacted me through Kate, the fifth participant, who was referred by Professor Linda Siegel. Kira, who was studying math privately with Mark, suggested to him to participate in this study. Oliver, Mark’s son, was not connected to any of the other participants.  Regardless of how participants learned about the study, they were all enthusiastic to  70 participate and share their experiences. Being highly invested in overcoming their obstacles and striving for successes in school may have also contributed to their interest to participate in this study. More specifically, getting to know my participants, I learned that the students who participated were outspoken and confident and the parents were strong advocates of their child. In this sense, participants in this study may not represent other students and parents who might not be able to afford devoting the time, money, and other resources for their student’s schooling to that degree.  3.2.2.   Introduction of Participants  In Table 3.1, I introduce the participants using pseudonyms, each dyad’s parent, place of interview, their grade at the time of the interviews, each student’s diagnosis including grade and year of testing, and length of interviews. In addition, I included students’ and/or parents’ quotes that struck me as significant in describing their learning experience. This technical and qualitative information is presented to familiarize the reader briefly with participants.  In Table 3.1, each interview with a student is marked with S and each interview with a parent is marked with P. The labels S1 and P1 indicate the student and parent’s first interview, while the labels S2 and P2 indicate the student and parent’s second interview, and, the label SP3 indicates the third student-parent joint interview. These markings, S1, P1, S2, P2, SP3, and the numbers of lines of a data item, are used in citing participants’ excerpts, included in the subsequent chapters. 71 Table 3.1 Information on students’ and parents’ participation in interviews   Interview Information  Dyad #1  Student: Elizabeth, G-12 Mother: Miriam First  Interviews Date   Place/ Length April 17, 2016 S1 April 17, 2016 P1 Participant’s home/ 68 min. Participant’s home/ 74 min. Second Interviews  Date May 8, 2016 S2 May 8, 2016 P2 Place/ Length Participant’s home/ 73 min. Participant’s home/ 60 min. Third Interview  Date  June 28, 2016 SP3  Place/Length Participants’ home/ 70 min.  Elizabeth was tested and diagnosed with dyslexia when in Grade 3 (2006) by the school psychologist in her private Jewish school. Elizabeth said: “In elementary school it was a lot more predominant (.  .  .) I was taken out of class to get help (.  .  .) so everyone kind of knew which like made me become like an OTHER  (.  .  .) but in high school it’s kind of just been normal because I kind of just kept it more under the radar” (Elizabeth, S1, 17-21).  Interview Information  Dyad #2  Student: Annie, G-10 Mother: Gayle First  Interviews Date  May 29, 2016 S1 May 29, 2016 P1 Place/ Length Participant’s home/ 50 min. Participant’s home/ 59 min. Second Interviews  Date  June 29, 2016 S2 June 23, 2016 P2 Place/ Length Restaurant/ 49 min. Participant’s work/ 40 min. Third Interview   Date  August 15, 2016 SP3  Place/Length Participants’ home/ 76 min.  Annie was tested and diagnosed with Auditory Processing difficulties when in Grade 8 (2014) by a private psychologist.     Annie said: “They didn’t actually fully comprehend (.  .  .). I never really got that, ‘She has a learning disability. Help her out.’ To this day, I still don’t. (.  .  .) I just feel like they don’t … If you don’t have it, you don’t understand and that’s everything” (Annie, S1, 148-154).   72   Interview Information  Dyad #3!Student: Anthony, G-10! Mother: Maria!First !Interviews!Date ! Place/!Length!June 24, 2016! S1! June 24, 2016! P1!Researcher’s home/!58 min.!Researcher’s home/!70 min.!Second!Interviews !Date ! July 22, 2016! S2! July 22, 2016! P2!Place/!Length!Researcher’s home/!63 min.!Researcher’s home/!62 min.!Third!Interview  !Date  October 10, 2016! SP3 !Place/Length! Researcher’s home/65 min. Anthony was diagnosed with dyslexia when in Grade 8 (2014), in a mini public school by a district school psychologist. His Grade 8 English teacher noticed his difficulties and referred him for assessment.  !Anthony said that in elementary school: “At one point my like confidence in learning wasn’t very big, because like I let the negativity of some of those negative teachers get to me” (Anthony, S1, 171-172). !In high school, he said: “Yeah, I feel like my teachers always have my back” (Anthony, S1, 140). ! Interview Information  Dyad #4 !Student: Kira, G-10! Mother: Cora!First !Interviews!Date ! Place/!Length!June 28, 2016! S1! June 28, 2016! P1!Participant’s home/!82 min.!Participant’s home/!69 min.!Second!Interviews !Date ! August 28, 2016! S2! August 28, 2016! P2!Place/!Length!Participant’s home/!64 min.!Participant’s home/!76 min.!Third!Interview  !Date ! October 4, 2016! SP3 !Place/Length! Participants’ home/ 58 min.! Kira was tested and diagnosed with dyslexia in Grade 2 (2009) and was tested again in Grade 7 (2014) She was tested twice by a private psychologist.! !Kira said: “they teach really only one way so it is hard because I’m spending like 6 hours at school (.  .  .) Sometimes it doesn’t even click in my head” (Kira, S1, 29-30).!Hadas: “What’s important to you… to learn? Kira: “Emm… Other kids’ feelings… and I know it’s really hard to teach that, but just like manners and… confidence and… being giving and forgiving. So, I think that’s probably the most important things and to be happy with yourself” (Kira, S2, 493-497).! 73  Interview Information  Dyad #5  Student: Alexandra, G-10 Mother: Kate First  Interviews Date  October 20, 2016 S1 October 20, 2016 P1 Place/ Length Researcher’s home/ 55 min. Researcher’s home/ 92 min. Second Interviews  Date  November 5, 2016 S2 November 5, 2016 P2 Place/ Length Researcher’s home/ 38 min. Researcher’s home/ 62 min. Third Interview   Date  November 10, 2016 SP3  Place/Length Researcher’s home/72 min.  Alexandra was tested in Grade 2 (2009) with no diagnosis. In Grade 3 (2010) she was tested again and was diagnosed with dyslexia. In Grade 10 (2016), she was tested for the third time. All three assessments were done by a private psychologist.   Alexandra said: “Just knowing the person first, [crying] I guess, so they know that I’m not retarded or something [crying], (.  .  .) So I can show them [crying], there is nothing wrong with me, it’s just reading and stuff [crying]” (Alexandra, SP3, 548-553).    Interview Information  Dyad #6 Student: Jonathan, G-10 Father: Dewayne First  Interviews Date   Place/ Length October 21, 2016 S1 October 21, 2016 P1 Participant’s home/ 73 min. Participant’s home/ 97 min. Second Interviews  Date  October 29, 2016 S2 October 29, 2016 P2 Place/ Length Participant’s home/ 51 min. Participant’s home/ 51 min. Third Interview   Date  November 12, 2016 SP3  Place/Length Participants’ home/66 min.  Jonathan was tested by a district school psychologist and was diagnosed with learning disabilities in Grade 3 (2010). He was tested again by a district school psychologist in Grade 10 (2016).  Jonathan said: “I try really hard, but if I’m not learning the way that I learn it’s not really going to help me overall, and it’s not going to stick as much. It’s the way that, I guess, I learn  information” (Jonathan, S1, 531-533).  74   Interview Information  Dyad #7  Student: James, G-10 Mother: Barbara First  Interviews Date   Place/ Length October 23, 2016 S1 October 23, 2016 P1 Participant’s home/ 59 min. Participant’s home/ 97 min. Second Interviews  Date  November 20, & December 22, 2016 S2 November 20, 2016 P2 Place/ Length Participant’s home/ 24 min. Participant’s home/ 55 min. Third Interview   Date December 22, 2016 SP3  Place/Length Participants’ home/ 32 min.  James was tested privately in Grade 2 (2009) and was diagnosed with sever dyslexia. He was tested again in Grade 6 (2013), by a private psychologist.    Barbara [speaking to James]: “Yeah. Well, I can’t really speak for you. I would be interested to know what you think. What was the best thing?” James: “It was all pretty terrible, until the end.” Barbara: “[laughing] That’s pretty honest.” James: “Like I got good grades in a couple classes, but like the whole time to get those good grades were completely terrible” (James and Barbara, SP3, 190-195).     Interview Information  Dyad #8  Student: Oliver, G-11 Father: Mark First  Interviews Date   Place/ Length January 11, 2017  Researcher’s home/ 64 min. S1 January 13, 2017 P1 Participant’s work/ 68 min. Second Interviews  Date  January 25, 2017 S2 January 20, 2017 P2 Place/ Length Researcher’s home/ 49 min. Participant’s work/ 50 min. Third Interview   Date  February 26, 2017 SP3  Place/Length Participants’ home/ 43 min.  Oliver was diagnosed with learning disabilities in math and writing based on a district school psychologist testing in Grade 5 (2011). He was tested again by a school psychologist in Grade 9 (2015).   Oliver said: “Being diagnosed doesn’t really do anything for me… I mean… The IEP does something for me, the benefits that I get from it help me, but like, diagnosis doesn’t change anything” (Oliver, S1, 282-284).    75 3.3.   Research Design  This generic qualitative study used interviewing to elicit experiences as constituted by the relationship between individuals and their social environments and how they made meaning of these interactions (Patton, 2002). The interview process included an introductory meeting followed by a series of three interviews and an optional member-check meeting if needed (see Table 3.2).  The purpose of the introductory meeting was to discuss the purpose of the study, to clarify the nature of participation in the interviews, to begin developing rapport, to answer preliminary questions potential participants may have, and to discuss the process of the informed consent. The series of three interviews included, in this order: 1) an individual semi-structured interview with each participant separately, 2) a collaborative interview that included themes from the first interview with each participant separately, and 3) a collaborative joint interview with the student and one parent on themes from the first two interviews and their questions (Arvay, 2003; Patton, 2002).  Table 3.2  Goals of meetings and interviews  Student  Parent  Student and parent Introductory meeting   Present the study    Explain consent First  Interview  Confirm consent and semi structure interview  Confirm consent and semi structure interview   Second Interview  Confirm consent and collaborative dialogue on previous interview data Confirm consent and collaborative dialogue on previous interview data  Third  Interview   Confirm consent Allow integration of experiences. Answer questions & closure  Member  Check     Sharing of transcripts and draft of thematic analysis    76 3.3.1.     First Meeting: Introduction and Informed Consent  The first meeting with participants took place either on the phone or face-to-face. Five out the eight dyads met with me in person and with three dyads we had a phone conversation. These introductory meetings lasted between 20 to 30 minutes and included the following topics: 1) introducing the purpose of the study which is to understand the sociocultural aspects of learning disabilities from students’ and parents’ perspectives and experiences; 2) introducing the time commitment of 60-90 minutes participation in each of the three interviews, detailing the locations of interviews, incentives, and scheduling the first interview; and 3) describing the process of informed consent (Anderson et al., 2012; Chabot, Shoveller, Spencer & Johnson, 2012; Renold, Holland, Ross, & Hillman, 2008).   Chabot et al. (2012) discussed three principles of the informed consent: autonomy, beneficence, and justice. Autonomy, the first principle, refers to the right of individuals to determine whether they are interested in participating in the research. Given the series of meetings and interviews, the process of informed consent was ongoing, rather than a single event (Renold et al., 2008). Once participants consented to participate during the introductory meeting, the first interview was scheduled. At the beginning of each interview, participants were asked if they are interested in continuing their participation and reminded that they could withdraw from the study any time should they change their mind. Beneficence, the second principle, was achieved by offering an honorarium. As was approved by the Ethics Review Board, the first two dyads received a $10 honorarium per session for their participation. The next six dyads received a $50 Cineplex gift card for their participation in three interviews. The last dyad asked for and received $50 instead of a gift card. The reason I decided to change from cash money to a gift card was that it felt a little awkward for me to pay participants with money at the end of each interview session. I preferred to ask  77 participants their preference. The beneficence principle respects the potential harm and benefits the research involved and focused on how to reduce possible harm and maximize potential benefit to participants. Interviewees shared information that may have been hurtful or reminded them of painful memories. However, at the same time, sharing past experiences in non-critical and supportive conditions can be healing, as some of the interviewees reported (Patton, 2002).  At all times, interviewees were reminded that they could choose to answer or not answer interview questions.   The third principle of justice refers to fair and equitable treatment of participants in the research. Chabot et al. (2012) argued that requiring parental consent in addition to the consent of the student might reduce their participation. This creates a selection bias of participants and can cause harm, as these students’ perspectives may be excluded. In my study, I asked both parents and students for their consent because I was also interested in parents’ participation. However, interviewing students and their parents separately, in addition to asking both for consent, acknowledged to students and parents that both their voices are equally valued. Details and rationale for each of the three interviews are presented in the next sections.   3.3.2.    The First Interview    In the first semi-structured interviews, I gathered interview data separately from each student and parent. I used open-ended questions, probing and eliciting questions to encourage detailed elaboration as needed (see Appendix D for First Interview Protocols). For this study, students were offered the option to bring a copy of their psychoeducational report if they wished to share it in the interview. All participants shared their reports during the interviews and six dyads provided me with a copy. The purpose of looking at the report together was to dig deeper into how they perceived their strengths and challenges in relation to their learning disabilities as was presented in the report. Looking at the report elicited discussion on what  78 they thought about their abilities in relation to how they were described in the report. In addition, participants were asked to share their perceptions on the content and the process of diagnosis. The discussion around the report was not intended to verify or disprove diagnosis, but to answer their questions and highlight their strengths as shown in the report.  In formulating questions for the interview, I was aware that I was guided by curiosity.  Riessman (2008) argued that interviewers need to ask themselves, what information they value and what questions they have. I had initially crafted questions based on my interest. More specifically, in accordance with sociocultural theory, I was interested to hear about contextual influences and relevant relationships that contributed to their experience of learning disabilities. These questions elicited interview data that was transcribed, coded, and then, thematically analyzed guided by aspects of sociocultural theory. These first interviews with students and parents started to answer the four corresponding research questions of this study.   3.3.3.    The Second Interview    Prior to each of the second interviews, I transcribed the first interview and completed an initial search for thematic codes to prepare for the analysis. The transcripts were sent to participants before the second interview to allow them time to review it if they so chose. The second interview was inspired by notions of Arvay’s (2003) collaborative dialogue, in which we both constructed meaning while engaging in a dialogue. This dialogue enabled further clarifications of ideas that surfaced in the first interview. If participants, especially students, did not initiate a conversation, I asked guiding questions to help them construct and reconstruct the meaning of themes found in their interview data (see Appendix E for Second Interviews Protocol).  In accordance with sociocultural theory, conversations raised awareness for historical, contextual, and practical perspectives on how meanings and experiences of learning disabilities were constructed by individuals in relation to their social environments (e.g., Allahyar &  79 Nazari, 2012). Nuances unique to each participant’s experience informed the bigger picture of the phenomena of learning disabilities and addressed more in depth the four research questions of this study.   3.3.4.    The Third Interview  Prior to the third interview, the transcripts of the second interview were sent to each participant to allow them time to review it before the third interview. Each student and parent dyad participated together in the third interview for the purpose of integrating and discussing themes they wished to share. Transcripts of the third interview were emailed to participants after the interview. During the interview, as a researcher, I followed the initiatives of students and parents in sharing themes. I responded and reflected back based on themes they raised. I guided the dialogue based on what they chose to share. (see Appendix F for Third Interview Protocol).  3.3.5.   Member Check  The purpose of the last member check, also called a member validation, was to solicit feedback from participants on the initial thematic analysis of the interview data in the previous interview (Schwandt, 2007). Schwandt (2007) argued that there is a risk in assuming that participants can be part of the process of analysis. Participants may have multiple reasons and their own personal motivation for why they agree or disagree with the proposed analysis. However, in this study, transcripts were presented to participants after each interview and we had two interviews to clarify and discussed themes from their previous two interviews.  Across all participants, these third interviews also functioned as a review and closure meeting. Participants conveyed a sense of clarity about ideas discussed thereby leaving no need for a fourth meeting as planned. Out of respect and sensitivity for students’ preference, I did not schedule a face-to-face last member check meeting. I emailed parents and students their transcripts of the third interview and reminded them again of my availability. Some parents  80 texted, emailed, or called, to briefly say thank you, or send me a copy of their child psychoeducational assessment, or to wish me Merry Christmas. However, no one requested to meet again. Upon completion of a preliminary version of the thematic analysis I emailed it to all participants for further member check.  Some participants confirmed receiving the draft and explained that they hope to find time to read some parts of it soon. One participant reviewed the complete document and we clarified nuances and continued the conversation over email.  3.4.   Analysis Procedures       3.4.1. Transcription of Interview Data  Audio recordings were transcribed as the first level of analysis guided by sociocultural theory for theoretical thematic analysis. A first level of transcription, as shown in Table 3.3, was guided by Ochs (1979) and consistent with thematic analysis of Braun and Clarke (2006).  Initial transcription began with the aid of a transcriptionist. I corrected the transcripts while listening repeatedly to the recordings and applied the conventions presented in Table 3.3 systematically.  3.4.2.    Thematic Analysis  Thematic analysis is used in this qualitative study as a method to identify, code, and analyze specific and latent themes within the interview data guided by sociocultural theory. Based on Braun and Clarke’s (2006) thematic analysis is considered as “a method in its own right” (p. 78). Clarifications of terminology used in describing the thematic analysis are necessary. The data corpus included all interview transcripts generated in this study, while data set may include data of a certain interview or data selected from across the whole corpus about a specific theme, or both. Data item is each individual data that was collected and data excerpt is each individual data that was coded to be in the pool of possible data extracts to be used in the final analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006).   81 I approached the data for themes in two ways. One was inductive, finding themes in interview data, and the other was deductive by searching for themes drawn from sociocultural theory, as well as the literature about learning disabilities. In this study, I used both inductive and deductive approaches for identifying specific and latent themes in the interview data.  Thematic analysis at the latent level interprets the underlying ideas and assumptions beyond the semantic content of the interview data. When using inductive analysis, I created themes from the data, thus, they sometimes were different than the questions participants were asked in the interviews, and also different than the theoretical interest and research questions of the study. For example, the theme of early identification and the need for recognition of students’ needs were present in the data although I did not ask directly about these themes. When using deductive analysis, for example, I applied the theoretical concept of mediation of teacher- student dynamics. The following is a description of the six steps of thematic analysis I followed in this study, based on the approach of Braun and Clarke (2006).    The first step was to become familiar with the data by repeated readings of the transcribed interview data while listening to the recordings. This step was ongoing throughout all phases of the study from interviewing to final analysis in order to avoid the risk of weakening thematic analysis by focusing mostly on repetitive themes (Pavlenko, 2002). Listening to audio files while reading transcripts was critically important in noticing repetitive, as well as latent themes that were mentioned only once but were worth a discussion (Pavlenko, 2002). While listening, editing, and correcting the transcripts based on the transcription conventions at the preliminary phases between interviews, I listed ideas, thoughts, key words, metaphors, or phases of students’ development, in my research journal.  The second step was coding data by organizing data into meaningful groups by reading systematically through the entire corpus and highlighting data items to mark codes. As the  82 analysis progressed, themes of aspects of social and cultural influences on how students perceived and experienced their learning disability were identified. Based on my familiarity with the data I refined the codes and grouped them into the following ideas: “other” in friends context, challenges, strengths, success and un-success and grades, teachers’ expectations and support, how was I taught and how do I learn, self worth, public and private schools / elementary and high school, parents support, learning disability label and stigma, diagnosis, psychoeducational testing, a disability or a difference, and experiences of participating in interviews. I collated all data items that were relevant to each group of codes by indicating the  Table 3.3 Transcription conventions based on Ochs (1979)  line numbers in the interview transcript. This process assisted me in further familiarizing myself with constructing themes, as well as allowing me ongoing easy access to the data items relevant to each group of codes and developing themes.  The third step was further collating codes into themes by creating a visual thematic map What to mark How Why Intonation, Prosodic quality At the end of utterance  To mark new information, hearer selection, communicative act, utterance boundary    Marks low rise , Pause   Marks high rise ? Question   Marks low fall . Statement   Marks exclamation  ! Exclamation    Emphasis by loud voice  CAPITAL LETTERS  To show increased volume and to mark stress or emphasis    Emphasis by quiet voice  Italic   To show decreased volume and to mark stress or emphasis Metatranscription Marks      (  )   Inaudible    {  } {00:00:00} Timestamp approximately every 10 - 15 minutes    [  ] Square brackets Additional information from interviewer including laughing, crying, and other specific clarifications on contextual meaning of text   … Three Dots  Short pause of a few seconds between words    ____________ A line  Silence due to need to process intense feelings or taking the time to think  83 of the main themes and sub themes. The themes created in the visual map (see Figure 3.1) were: Learning disabilities, school personnel, success, challenges, strengths, parents, how students learn, how teachers teach, and school type. The visual in Figure 3.1 reflects my intention to organize the groups of codes in a relational fashion and find connections in order to further refine the themes in a meaningful way. The fourth step was a review of the meaning of themes for coherence of data within themes and distinction of data between themes. In order to examine internal and external validity of data within themes, I created a table (see Table 3.4) of the codes on the horizontal column, and the 40 interviews in the vertical lines. For each interview, I indicated the line numbers of each of the coded data items that were highlighted. This systematic process helped me notice overlapping of data items across themes, significant differences in meanings, and deeper implications for interpretation of the interviews’ data.   The fifth step involved naming and defining the themes by identifying the core idea of each theme and writing a detailed analysis for each main theme that includes the related sub themes. This was a recursive process that involved repetition of previous steps as needed. The rationale for the organization of the first three themes was to follow a chronological sequence of the unfolding events in participants’ life stories that included issues around early identification, followed by testing that was critically pivotal and, then, searching for alternative learning settings (see Figure 3.2). The next themes do not have a chronological order, as they are ongoing across time and describe the complexities of the processes involved in learning and teaching as well as students’ strengths and challenges.  The sixth step of producing the report of the analysis involved combining compelling excerpts and relating themes to research questions and literature and was combined with the previous steps and involved much fine tuning, editing, and rethinking while writing the  84 analysis chapters (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Finally, Braun and Clarke (2006) emphasized “thematic analysis has limited interpretive power beyond mere description if it is not used within existing theoretical framework that anchors the analytic claims that are made” (p. 97). Therefore, the role of sociocultural theory was to provide a framework and sensitizing concepts that contributed to the process of coding, construction of themes, and interpretation.  85 Table 3.4 Preliminary codes across all data corpus – example of dyad # 2   Note. Numbers indicate line numbers in the transcript. S1= student first interview; S2= student second interview; P1= parent first interview;  P2= parent second interview; SP3= student-parent third interview.    Codes / Dyad # 2 Annie & Gayle (Auditory processing) ‘Other’,  Teasing & LD in friends context  Challenges Strengths     Success  Un success Marks Teachers and school personnel, Expectation Support  How S was taught and how S learn Teaching /Learning  Self worth Self Esteem Schools: private, public, elementary, secondary  Parents’ support, trust, believe in, family context  LD Label / diagnosis / recognition / psych-ed / stigma   S1, 495-499 S1, 544-545 S1, 561-563 S1, 614 S1, 24-27 S1, 279-281 S1, 330-331 S1, 520-521 S1, 291-297 S1, 304-305 S1, 446-447 S1, 333-334 S1, 361-364 S1, 373-375 S1, 379-382 S1, 593-595 S1, 37-45 S1, 51-54 S1, 68 S1, 130-132 S1, 168-173 S1, 182-184 S1, 200-201 S1, 209-211 S1, 7-10 S1, 103-105 S1, 189-193 S1, 243-244 S1, 342-344 S1, 352-356 S1, 438-442 S1, 409-412 S1, 501-509 (listen to kids) S1, 569-574 S1, 134-136 S1, 271-276 S1, 338-340 S1, 349-350 S1, 515-519 S1, 420-422 S1, 434-435 S1, 438-442 S1, 477-480 S1, 144-151 S1, 222-227 S1, 233-235 S1, 250-254 S1, 389-394  P1, 228-231 P1, 247-249 P1, 401-404 P1, 413-419 P1, 763-766 P1, 16-22 P1, 30-33 P1, 284-288 P1, 301-304 P1, 319-322 P1, 198-200 P1, 194-198 P1, 557-558 P1, 566-569 P1, 710-713 Personality  P1, 251-253 P1, 360-363 P1, 375-376 P1, 598-602 P1, 604-608 P1, 612-616 P1, 44-51 P1, 77-81 P1, 106-107 P1, 111-113 P1, 178-184 P1, 265-267 P1, 378-382 P1, 60-65 P1, 257-260 P1, 271-272 P1, 532-534 P1, 396-399 P1, 13-17 P1, 328-332 Alternate P1, 342-346 P1, 23-28 P1, 128-134 P1, 155-164 P1, 364-370 P1, 444-446 P1, 474-477 P1, 485-487 P1, 501-506 P1, 654-661 P1, 7-9 P1, 87-89 P1, 167-169 P1, 220-223 P1, 240-244 P1, 447-452 P1, 623-625 Interview Experience S2, 16-17 S2, 95-99 S2, 536-537   S2, 462-465 S2, 470-471 S2, 132-136 S2, 156-165 S2, 316-320 S2, 223-227 S2, 237-241 S2, 197-201 S2, 249-253 S2, 508-512  S2, 34-36 S2, 39-41 S2, 271-277 S2, 538-542 S2, 427-428 S2, 432-435 S2, 439-441  P2, 43-46   P2, 314-315  Teachers schools  P2, 365-373 P2, 381-383 P2, 476-483 P2, 49-54 P2, 63-68 P2, 77-84 P2, 288-296 P2, 342-345 P2, 246-248 P2, 347-350 P2, 259-261 P2, 31-32 P2, 114-120 P2, 305-309 P2, 332-334 P2, 421-425 P2, 45-46 P2, 468-469  SP3, 741  SP3,    SP3,  369-372 815-818  SP3 702-706      SP3, 827-828  702-706, 727-729, 930,    86   Figure 3.1   Map of preliminary grouping of codes   Perspectives and experiences of students and parentschallengeslanguage basedtimemathstrengthshard workingpositive / easy goingsocially comeptentsuccessmarkseffortinterestschool personnelTeachersunderstanding of  LD and knowing how to teach students with LDsupport / too much support    how support is deliveredexpectationsschool psychologistSelf Worth/EsteemstupidshameHow students learn How teachers teachschool typeElementarySecondaryMiniAlternateprivate or LD specializedparentstoo much supporttrust in child’s abilities family contextLDlabeldiagnosispsych-edIEPstigmainterview experiencepersonal characteristicsfuture plansAHA realizationdifficult life eventempathy and sensitivityreinventLD in global or historical context  87 Figure 3.2   Map of preliminary processes of forming themes        1. Early academic challengesparents seeking help in school and outside of schoolstudent feeling stupidteachers’ supportteachers’ training in LD     2. TestingLD diagnosis - spectrum of LD (dyslexia, delayed oral expression, math)Recognition of condition - I’m not stupid and I need supportLD -  a ticket to supportusefulness of psych-ed report to the school beyond the diagnosis (program referrals, legal recognition, key to receiving support)costusefulness of psych-ed report for students’ learning and well being     3. Alternative schooling: private school for specialized teaching, alternative high school, mimi high school, online coursescost of private school or tutoringlimited social life or extra curricular in alternative settingsbelongingOrton Gillingham or phonological awarenessteachers’ support     5. Mediation: Learning teaching processesteachers’ expectationsaccommodations or teaching the way I learnteachers’ timeteachers/ personality socializing, humouristic, laid back,parents’ support believe in child     4. Integrating into mainstream high schoolmeaning of successgood gradeseffortchallengesstrengthsparents’ support IEP     6. Meaning makingaha realizationsthe experience of sharing in the interivew meaning of LDstigmaaccommodations or teaching the way I learn  88   3.4.3. Confidentiality and Trustworthiness  Audio files were saved as MP3 files and kept confidential in my computer, which was password-protected and encrypted. When recordings were not in use I stored the MP3 files in a secured locked cabinet at UBC in the office of the supervisor of this study. I, as researcher, with assistance of another reliable confidential professional transcribed the audio files. At least five years after the completion of this study, audio recordings and electronic documents of transcripts stored at a UBC facility will be deleted to ensure that confidentiality will not be breached. Participants are identified using pseudonyms throughout this study. Four criteria were addressed to evaluate the trustworthiness or soundness of a research study: credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability (Guba, 1981; Shenton, 2004) (see Table 3.5). Patton (2002) argued that because in interviews we cannot observe feelings, thoughts, and intentions, the interviewer needs “disciplined and rigorous inquiry based on skill and technique” (p. 341) to establish trustworthiness. In addition, when developing codes and classifying data the researcher must look at recurring regularities in data that reveal patterns that can be grouped into categories that need to be defined by internal homogeneity to show convergence of data that hold together in a meaningful way, and external heterogeneity to show divergence by clearly differentiating categories (Patton, 2002). Patton’s (2002) guidelines to judge internal homogeneity and external heterogeneity are: 1) internal and external plausibility means that each category has internal consistency, and all categories comprised a cohesive combination of concepts within the bigger topic of learning disabilities; 2) the set of categories is sufficient including data that cover the facets underlying the purpose of the study to examine learning disabilities through aspects of sociocultural theory; 3) a second observer of the available data will validate the logic of the categories and the fitting of data into the categories; and 4) categories should make sense to interviewees.   89 Table 3.5   Trustworthiness based on Guba (1981) and Shenton (2004) Criteria    How each criteria was met in this study  Credibility: the confidence in the certainty of the findings of the study, known in scientific terms as internal validity • Research design is based on relevant literature  • As a researcher I am familiar with the learning disability phenomena through my work as a school psychologist • Snowball sampling model to mitigate my bias in participant selection  • Triangulation of data and investigator is used  • Insuring honesty of interviewees’ data by establishing rapport and emphasizing that participants can refuse participation  • Use of iterative questioning to probe and elicit detailed data, clarify previously raised issues, and draw attention to the inconsistencies and gaps in data––was achieved in second and third interviews   • Include in analysis negative cases that do not support themes in order to account for all aspects of learning disabilities as expressed in the data by participants • Debrief frequently with my supervisory committee to widen my perspective and notice my own biases and strengthen my arguments • Evaluate the unfolding of the study by documenting my impressions of each session in my research journal • Verify with participants the content of transcripts and their understanding of the initial themes in a member check meeting Transferability: applicability of findings in other contexts, known in scientific terms as external validity or generalizability • Acknowledge that all social phenomena is context-relevant  • Provide thick description of details of all procedures, interview context, steps and processes of analysis, and all contextual factors • This thick detailed description of context may allow future researchers to judge if findings of this study may be of use for studying other contexts  Dependability: consistency of findings,  known in scientific terms as reliability  • Reporting in detail the process of the study so future researchers can repeat the study, although it is not guaranteed that results will be the same  • Document processes of data collection and analysis so that other researchers can examine the processes used in this study • Triangulation of investigators by sharing transcripts with the supervisor of this study and with participants Confirmability: Findings are shaped by interview data  • Finding are shaped from data generated in interviews, rather than representing my bias, motivation, or interest as a researcher  • Investigator triangulation: researcher, supervisor, and participants  • Data triangulation: transcripts of interviews with parents and students   • Reflexivity as a research practice      90 However, Schwandt (2007) argued that the analysis of data should not be based on participants whose motives are not clear. As the researcher who is responsible for reflexivity and awareness of biases, I co-constructed meaning with participants. Therefore, preliminary drafts of ideas and themes were presented to participants during the interviews.  3.4.4.  Significance and Triangulation The significance of findings and conclusions in qualitative research is judged by the participants’ input, the researcher, and by the reader of the analysis (Flick, 2006; Patton, 2002). Questions that need to be asked about the analysis are: How solid and consistent is the evidence in support of the findings? In what way do the findings deepen our understanding of learning disabilities? How consistent are the findings with other knowledge, as a form of confirmatory significance, or a discovery of innovative significance if findings are not consistent? How useful are the findings for informing the study of learning disabilities? Potential mistakes in establishing the substantive significance can be a result of not attributing significance and excluding significant data or, including insignificant data. Braun and Clarke (2006) argued that it is important that the analysis write-up include sufficient evidence of the themes and that data extracts demonstrate the themes and be concise and an interesting account of the story the data tell. Significance is established by researcher’s intelligence, experience, and judgment, taking seriously the interview data; and taking into account the potential reaction of those who will read the results. Consensus validation of the substantive significance is achieved when all three––the researcher, the participants, and the potential readers (e.g., parents, educators, or researchers) of the analysis––agree on the findings and conclusions. If there are disagreements about conclusions, Patton (2002) said, “you get a more interesting life and the joys of debate” (p. 467). Triangulation is a method used in qualitative studies to establish validity through different   91 sources of data, investigators, theories, methodologies, and environments of research (Guion, 2002; Flick, 2009). All five approaches or one of them can be used for triangulation. In my study, I used investigator triangulation and different sources of data to establish validity (see Table 3.6). Investigator triangulation involved input from potentially three evaluators–– students and parents, the supervisor, and myself as the researcher––who examined the transcripts and reflected on some aspects of the analysis of themes. Data triangulation involved gathering data from two different stakeholders––students and parents––that may have different positions. I reflected by journaling after each interview on my perceptions and biases so I could be aware of my own lens while analyzing interview data (Flick, 2009). Table 3.6   Triangulation of sources of data and investigators Research Questions Method Data Generated  1) How do students describe their experiences of and perspectives on having learning disabilities?   2) How do parents describe their experiences of and perspectives on their child’s learning disabilities?   3) How do students describe their strengths and challenges in relation to their academic experiences in school?  4) How do parents describe their child’s strengths and challenges in relation to their academic experiences in school? Two Sources of Data Interviews with students and parents   Transcripts of interviews with students & parents   Three Investigators  Sharing transcripts with students, parents, and the supervisor of this study  Participants: feedback from students and parents while discussing themes of transcripts of each of the first two interviews provided trustworthiness  Sharing with and receiving from my supervisor feedback on thematic analysis contributed to consistency       92 3.5.  Chapter Summary Five themes were generated in the process of thematic analysis in order to answer the four research questions of this study. Chapter 4 includes the first three themes that described the early stages of students experiencing difficulties and what action was taken to address their difficulties. The three themes included in chapter 4 are: identifying difficulties in learning, testing to diagnose a disability, and, searching for alternative learning settings. Chapter 5 includes one theme, learning and teaching. This theme includes several patterns noticed in relation to this topic. These four first themes answered the first two questions regarding perspectives and experiences of learning disabilities as reported by students and parents participated in this study. Chapter 6 includes the last theme, strengths and challenges. This theme answered the third and fourth research question asking about experiences of strengths and challenges of students with learning disabilities as reported by students and parents.  The next three chapters include a presentation of the interview data organized according to subthemes within each of the five themes. Following the presentation of the interview data, Chapter 7 includes a discussion of these five themes and related issues. Finally, Chapter 8 articulates conclusions and educational implications based on this study, as well as limitations, suggestions for future research, and suggested significance of this study.    93 Chapter 4:  Identifying, Diagnosing, and Alternative Learning Settings Three themes are described in this chapter: identifying difficulties in learning, testing to diagnose a disability, and searching for alternative learning settings. These themes correspond with chronological phases I identified in the experiences lived and shared by the eight student-parent, dyads who participated in this study. The first theme, and the first experience students and parents reported in relation to their learning, was that students identified their own learning difficulties while struggling academically prior to teachers’ noticing their difficulties or formal diagnosis through testing. The second theme describes the next phase they experienced and reflects parents’ pursuit of psychoeducational testing in order to ensure that students are being noticed and to gain recognition through a diagnosis of learning disability. Students and parents used the term “testing” to describe this process. The third theme describes the next phase in students and parents’ lived experiences. Following the diagnosis of learning disabilities students and parents were searching for alternative learning settings that would promise to provide students with the pedagogy they needed in order to learn. These three themes serve to partially answer the first two research questions: 1) How do students describe their experiences of and perspectives on having learning disabilities? 2) How do parents describe their experiences of and perspectives on their child’s learning disabilities?   4.1.  Identifying Difficulties in Learning     All of the eight students became aware of their academic difficulties during their early years of schooling. Their parents also realized that their child’s academic and emotional struggles in school indicated that these difficulties in learning needed more understanding and attention. Four sub-themes were constructed across the interview data to reflect these early school years before formal identification. In the first sub-theme, “What is wrong with me?” students described their inability to complete class work compared to their peers and were frustrated as they did not   94 understand the reasons for their difficulty. In the second sub-theme, “Emotional impacts of learning difficulties,” students and parents described other people in addition to students who were negatively impacted by students’ academic difficulties. In the third sub-theme, “Parents’ requests and expectations from schools before diagnosis,” students and parents described their requests of the school to support their child. In the fourth sub-theme, “Schools’ responses to students and parents’ requests for support,” students and parents described the support or response of school personnel to students’ needs.   4.1.1.  What is Wrong with Me?   As early as Kindergarten or Grade 1, students and parents noticed that students were experiencing difficulties to meet academic expectations. Not understanding the reasons for that difficulty, students stated that they were frustrated, embarrassed, and felt stupid. Students reported that they were aware of the gap between their own academic performance and that of their peers. James was a Grade 10 student who was privately diagnosed with severe dyslexia in Grade 2. His mother, Barbara, described James’ awareness and harsh judgment of his own abilities:  He is acutely aware of what he can and can’t do and how he compares to other kids (.  .  .) in Grade 1 or 2 he basically said to me, ‘I’m the stupidest kid in this whole school. I should die.’ That’s what his words were. (Barbara, P2, 56-59) Similarly, Elizabeth, a Grade 12 student, who was diagnosed with dyslexia in her private school in Grade 3 said, “I think, I just, in my memory I felt very stupid in elementary school” (Elizabeth, S1, 578-579). She further explained, “I guess, when I was younger (.  .  .) I was hearing from other people I’m not smart” (Elizabeth, S2, 197-199). Both James and Elizabeth were aware of their abilities in comparison to their peers and were critical of themselves in interpreting this difficulty.   95 Kira and Jonathan described the frustration of not knowing why they fell behind academically. Kira, a Grade 10 student who was privately diagnosed with dyslexia in Grade 2 said:  Even in Grade 1 when I hadn’t been tested I always thought I was stupid (.  .  .). That carries with you and you just feel like embarrassed (.  .  .) I could get so embarrassed and really upset. I would just feel like really I didn’t know what was going on that I didn’t get it. And that frustrated me so badly. (Kira, S2, 435-441)  Kira described her frustration, being embarrassed and regarding herself as stupid. Cora, Kira’s mother, shared that, “We knew pretty early because she didn’t want to go to school, and she couldn’t read” (Cora, P1, 333-334).  Similarly, Jonathan was a Grade 10 student who was diagnosed with dyslexia in his public school in Grade 3. He described that he was falling behind in his reading in spite of his hard work: In elementary school, I guess, Grade 1 and 2 I didn’t have a test yet, so I didn’t know I had a learning disability. And, it really bugged me because I’d always be staying in for like lunch and recess doing work that I was supposed to be doing in class, but hadn’t finished yet. (Jonathan, S1, 43-46)  Not only did Jonathan not know about the reason for his difficulties, but also his teacher who had instructed him to stay in class during lunch and recess to hone his skills, did not know, as it appeared, that working harder and longer would not help.  Jonathan further elaborated, “In Grade 1 we did this where you start at a reading level, and then you’re supposed to progress throughout the year, but I’d always stay in the same spot” (Jonathan, S1, 50-52). Jonathan compared his performance to his peers: “Yeah, I remember it. It was annoying, because everyone is like all the way up here, and I’m still at the beginning trying” (Jonathan, S1, 54-55). Jonathan expressed his   96 doubt in the effectiveness of his strenuous efforts early in Grade 2. He said, “being frustrated with myself, and getting MAD at myself because I can’t do it, and not knowing why not, and thinking that I’m trying my best, but not knowing if I actually am” (Jonathan, S1, 431-433). Jonathan’s motivation to try hard and read more only increased his frustration regarding why his reading was not improving and resulted in a self-identification of being stupid.   Alexandra, a Grade 10 student, who was privately diagnosed with dyslexia in Grade 2, gave an example of identifying her spelling difficulty: “I remember I had a spelling test, and I was really young, and it was ten words that I had to spell, and I stopped there. I did nothing [laughing]” (Alexandra, SP3, 253-254). Her mother, Kate, refined her experience, “You did do some stuff. By the time she came home, [Alexandra said] ‘I worked so hard, why can’t I do this, Mom? I don’t understand [crying voice]’” (Kate, SP3, 254-256). Kate shared that when Alexandra was young and saying, “I’m stupid, I’m stupid” (Kate, P1, 66), Kate encouraged Alexandra by reminding her of her strengths as a soccer player.  Annie described feeling unguided and uninformed. She was a Grade 10 student who was privately diagnosed in Grade 8 with auditory processing disability. She attended an alternative high school in Grade 9 due to frequent absences and emotional difficulties during Grade 8. She described her elementary school years: “It was just like I didn’t know what to do. I just felt like I didn’t have anything in my favour and things were always like more difficult than they had to be” (Annie, S1, 24-25). Gayle, Annie’s mother, indicated that, “She couldn’t fulfill those expectations” (Gayle, P2, 77). Gayle referred to school’s academic standard expectations of Annie. Annie could not meet these expectations due to her learning difficulties and minimal understanding of her own abilities and difficulties.    Anthony was a Grade 10 student who was diagnosed with dyslexia when he moved to high school in Grade 8. While he described his high school experience within a drama specialization   97 program as positive, he also spoke about his academic difficulties during his early years in public French Immersion School:  It was pretty difficult I didn’t fully learn material that well because the teachers in our elementary school passed through it quite quickly. And … Sometimes I didn’t finish my tasks because I didn’t have enough time and then got very poor scores. (Anthony, S1, 32-34)  Anthony, who struggled academically all his elementary years with no identification of his difficulties, rationalized the problem and solution for his difficulties as needing more time and a slower pace of learning and teaching.  Oliver was a Grade 11 student who was diagnosed in Grade 5 with learning disabilities in math and writing in his school. His father, Mark, mentioned that Oliver’s difficulties were noticed as early as Grade 2. Mark said: “We [parents and teachers] were just beginning to talk about it [learning disabilities] in Grade 2” (Mark, P1, 35). However, he clarified that “To get psych-ed in the public school system can take three or four years” (Mark, P1, 37-38). For Mark, understanding Oliver’s learning difficulties meant waiting for a psychoeducational assessment from Grade 2 to Grade 5. For Oliver, it meant developing anxiety and being frustrated.  In these excerpts, students and parents described that they identified their learning difference early when they experienced academic difficulties that resulted in emotional challenges. Anthony attempted to rationalize difficulties as needing more time, and Mark patiently was waiting for psychoeducational assessment to understand Oliver’s difficulties. Kate, Alexandra’s mother, summarized the need to identify early: “If we didn’t tell her she had a learning disability or dyslexia, she’s ... she knows there’s something wrong with her, than you just, ‘Oh I’m stupid. I can’t do this’” (Kate, P1, 527-528). Kate discussed the risk of students experiencing anxiety and low self worth when they do not understand the reasons for their   98 difficulties and assign self-identification to explain their delay in learning and meeting academic expectations in early grades.   4.1.2.  Emotional Impacts of Learning Difficulties  Parents shared how their child’s difficulties meeting academic expectations in early grades in school caused the family, and the child, to feel a range of negative emotions: frustrated, stressed, anxious, and overwhelmed, and even suicidal, as was the case with James. Students’ experiences of learning difficulties and the lack of the school’s recognition or assessment of the nature of these difficulties impacted parents’ wellbeing. Gayle, Annie’s mother, said, “I feel … I’m frustrated because I feel that it wasn’t recognized in elementary school. The teachers were labeling her with certain labels that were incorrect like maybe difficult, or not participating or not listening, or so that kind of thing” (Gayle, P1, 13-16). Maria, Anthony’s mother, described feeling anxious: At the beginning, I felt anxious, stressed and even if I work as a resource teacher, I felt like what can I do to help. Also to me it was, is it something that he’s going to have for the rest of his life and it will always be difficult? (Maria, P1, 14-16)  Maria explained why she was anxious: “Anthony, he didn’t learn how to read before Grade 3” (Maria, P1, 37-38). Kate, Alexandra’s mother, described feeling upset:      When I first found out about the younger one, I was very emotional and upset a lot. Like I would just cry [laughing] because I wasn’t sure how I was going to deal with it because the school wasn’t recognizing it at all. I … I … knew there were issues. (Kate, P1, 20-22)  Mark described his own worse experience around Oliver’s schooling: “Well, I think the worse was when Oliver would come home from school and he’d just melt down” (Mark, SP3, 430-431). Barbara, James’ mother, shared, “My son’s talking about suicide, and all these things were coming along. I was completely overwhelmed” (Barbara, P1, 139-140). Gayle, Maria, Kate,   99 Barbara, and Mark described experiencing emotional hardship when their child’s learning needs had not been noticed, assessed, and addressed in school.  Dewayne, Jonathan’s father, was grateful for the support he was able to provide for his son. He said, “We were lucky we did have resources financially to help Jonathan” (Dewayne, S1, 1006). However, his deep concern was extended to another student noticed by his wife, who worked in the school, and witnessed a Grade 12 student who struggled with exam writing. He described the situation:  The assistant (.  .  .) sat down and said, “Just answer it the best way you can.” The student looked at her and said, “You don’t understand I can’t read the question.” She’s in Grade 12, Dina said, “I see her all the time, she’s very bright. Outgoing and here she’s trying to do an exam on the computer and she couldn’t read the question in Grade 12.” [crying]  _______________________________  [crying]. (Dewayne, P1, 1011-1015) Being pleased with the support he made available for his son, Dewayne expressed his deep concern for the Grade 12 student, who although had an IEP, was required to read, but could not.  Participants noted that students’ learning difficulties had a negative impact on the whole family as Gayle said, “I always say to people, ‘Unless you have a child who has a learning disability, you have no idea how challenging that becomes and how it carries over within the family as well’” (Gayle, P1, 445-447). Gayle continued to describe how it affected her family: “It also affects the relationships within the family because, I didn’t know what was going on, she didn’t know what was going on. (.  .  .) it definitely increases the stress in the household” (Gayle, P1, 23-29). Miriam, Elizabeth’s mother, also indicated that difficult experiences in school mattered to everyone in her family: “For the whole family, and especially for Elizabeth, and especially for Elizabeth’s dad. Oh my gosh, even today he gets upset [laughing]” (Miriam, P2, 323-324). Elizabeth shared that she preferred to stay home and was avoiding school, “it was the   100 first year that I told my parents I don’t want to go to school today” (Elizabeth, S1, 100). These excerpts show that students’ learning difficulties in school negatively affected their families. Students and parents described how students were emotionally affected by their own learning difficulties. Mark shared how frustrated and unengaged Oliver was in class: He would sit in front of a piece of paper and look like he was doing something. In all likelihood, he was drawing little characters around the page. Lots of intricate little characters, but characters nonetheless. It looked like he was busy and there nothing was being done. Then, when he would be asked about it, he would dissolve in to tears. That has changed now. (Mark, P1, 301-305)   Oliver continued to remain unnoticed as he escaped to his drawings during class time. His frustration lasted throughout elementary school. Mark said, “His earlier tests, and throughout his elementary school years, even into early secondary school, he would dissolve into tears when he was frustrated or completely didn’t understand” (Mark, P1, 191-197). In the last interview that included both Oliver and Mark, they mentioned that Oliver experienced stress in elementary school. I asked Oliver if he remembered those days. He replied: “Don’t really want to” (Oliver, SP3, 447), indicating his despair. Barbara, James’ mother, shared, “it was Grade 1. I came to pick him up and he just sat and cried. I said, ‘What’s going on, buddy? What happened?’ (.  .  .) He’s just like, ‘I’m stupid. I can’t do this’” (Barbara, P1, 122-124). James, like other participants, was sad and labeled himself stupid, as there was no other explanation presented to explain the experience of learning difficulties. Parents and students shared the emotional distress that was associated with and resulted from their experiences of academic learning difficulties.   4.1.3.  Parents’ Requests and Expectations from Schools Before Diagnosis    In light of the uncertainty students and parents felt about students’ academic difficulties and developing emotional difficulties, they approached school personnel asking for help. In the early   101 years of school, parents asked teachers to recognize that their child experienced difficulties meeting academic expectations and to identify or assess the nature of their difficulty. First, they asked school personnel to validate their concern that there was an issue with their child’s learning abilities. Second, they expected school personnel to have a professional understanding of learning and teaching. Third, they expected teachers to use methods of teaching targeting their child’s difficulties. The following excerpts show what parents requested and expected from school personnel. Parents approached teachers to validate their concerns regarding their child’s learning difficulties. Maria, Anthony’s mother, shared her concern about Anthony’s reading ability with his teacher: “In elementary school, em … I always ... Grade 1 it was fine but Grade 2, I started telling the teacher, ‘Anthony is not reading.’ The teacher said: ‘No, no, no, he’s reading’ because he was memorizing everything” (Maria, P1, 77-79). She further described that she requested the school personnel to examine Anthony’s reading:  Grade 2, Grade 3, every time, I was like, “Are you sure like, Anthony, he’s not reading.” “No. He’s fine. He’s fine. It’s okay.” He’s very smart. He was able to cope. And ahh… Grade 4, then the teacher said to me, “Anthony is not very strong in reading.” I said, “Thank you. I know” [laughing]. (Maria, P1, 83-86) Maria referred to the lack of systemic academic assessment of Anthony that could have indicated her son’s learning needs as early as he experienced them. Kate, Alexandra’s mother, also described what teachers told her when she consulted with them about Alexandra’s reading in Kindergarten and Grade 1: “they said, ‘oh don’t worry, don’t worry. She’ll catch up’” (Kate, P1, 25). Kate continued describing that at the beginning of Grade 2, the teacher identified Alexandra’s difficulties and told her: “‘she can’t really write things and then she can’t read what she’s written.’ I looked at her and I said, you know what, I’ve been saying this for two years”   102 (Kate, P1, 26-29). Dewayne, Jonathan’s father, said that they noticed learning difficulties in kindergarten through Grade 3 but teachers’ responses were, “He’ll grow out of it. (.  .  .) Don’t worry, he’ll grow out of it” (Dewayne, P1, 130-131). Barbara, James’ mother, talked about requesting validation for James’ learning abilities: I talked to the teacher and they were kind of like, “Yeah, kids learn at different rates.” They gave me all the platitudes [laughing & crying]. But I was pretty clear, (.  .  .) that there was something pretty serious wrong. I kept asking them, like, “What can I do? What’s happening? What’s happening? What’s happening?” They’re like, “Really, we can’t do anything because he’s too young.” (Barbara, P1, 125-129) Barbara continued to describe her requests to get professional validation for her concerns:  And so I started saying to my husband, “We got to get him tested.” The school system here will not test a kid unless they’re two full years behind. (.  .  .) That puts him in Grade 3, I’m not sure he’ll survive [crying & laughing]… psychologically. (.  .  .) So [crying] … so I started phoning people [crying] to talk to and doing research and I asked the school system and they’re like [crying], “No, we can’t really do anything.” I’m like, “Look, there’s clearly a problem” [crying]. And the teachers were, [crying] they were nice to me [crying], but they can’t really say anything right? They can’t say, “Yeah, there’s a huge problem.” (Barbara, P1, 135-149) Barbara noted teachers’ inability to recognize through assessment and, thus, validate James’ learning difficulties.  Parents described contacting teachers as soon as they noticed that their child had learning difficulties and then not receiving a response. Mark, Oliver’s father, emphasized that only through testing Oliver’s difficulties would their concerns be validated, “Teachers began to recognize it in the Grade 2-ish area (.  .  .) I knew that there was value in having a psych-ed, only   103 to have that recognized” (Mark, P1, 103-106). Mark explained that as a parent he needed the psych-ed as a professional language to argue for his child’s needs: “be able to, as a parent, follow up where I needed to … Unfortunately, without that, there’s not a lot of weight that a parent’s word has” (Mark, P1, 108-109). Mark alluded to the need of a systemic early assessment procedure to help teachers and parents recognize and identify specific learning difficulties.  The second request parents had for teachers was that they have and apply professional understanding of their child’s learning abilities. Annie’s mother described:   Teachers could have done a lot of things different, before she was diagnosed, between Grade 4 and Grade 7. There seems to be a lack of understanding of the teacher at the time, why she was doing the things that she was doing. That kind of surprised me, because I thought they were the experts on kids that learn differently, but they really did not support her very much. (Gayle, P2, 49-54)  Gayle expected Annie’s teacher to be the expert in learning difficulties. She further said in the following excerpt that Annie felt that teachers did not understand her needs: She was only little, eight actually. I think it has affected her in elementary school with learning and it just, generally got her further and further behind … at the time, it really was difficult for her because she felt like the teachers didn’t get her, understand her. I think this has been a vicious cycle of not wanting to go to school, “it’s too difficult, people don’t understand me.” To me, that was the most frustrating part to see that that it wasn’t recognized. (Gayle, P1, 16-22)   Annie and her mother argued that teachers did not have the professional understanding to support Annie’s learning difficulties.  In contrast to the examples describing teachers who were not experts in learning   104 differences or difficulties, Dewayne argued that a trained teacher created a positive change for Jonathan in Grade 3. He described, “She had just taken a course in learning disabilities and learning challenges and she was noticing Jonathan took a test and just BOMBED it. You know! And she kind’a thought, ‘Geeze he’s brighter than that’” (Dewayne, P1, 132-134). Dewayne excitedly reported that Jonathan could not show his knowledge in writing, but he could show it well verbally. He said, “he almost verbatim gave her the answers back in detail!” (Dewayne, P1, 138). This teacher used Jonathan’s strengths of speaking to show his learning despite of his difficulties in writing.  The third request of parents was that teachers use effective pedagogy that will result in students’ progress in showing their academic outcomes. Miriam, Elizabeth mother, indicated that she expected teachers to help Elizabeth like her older daughter received help in the province they lived in prior to moving to BC. She said: We knew that she had a difficult time to read. (.  .  .). the teacher realized, “Oh my gosh, your daughter doesn’t know how to read.” I tried to explain to her, if she was living in the other province she would have gotten some additional help. (Miriam, P1, 62-66) Based on her positive experience with her older daughter, in Manitoba where she received specialized support at early grades with no attempt to diagnose her, Miriam expected that teachers intervene at early grades to insure better academic outcomes. Relatedly, Annie explained what she expected from her teachers: “If they actually sit down and help you and make sure you’re on the same page, that’s when it’s like a positive way. It makes you like want to do work” (Annie, S1, 209-211). Anthony recalled his own request for accommodations from teachers: “I’m pretty sure I asked my mom if I could get more time on test and stuff, and then she asked the teachers and they were like “oh no, it’s fine”” (Anthony, S1, 64-65), indicating that he should be fine without extra time.     105 Based on interview data presented above, parents expected teachers as early as in Grade 1, first, to validate the learning delay, second, to professionally understand their child’s learning needs, and third, to apply a specialized pedagogy that is shown to result in improving academic outcomes. These requests were a necessity for students and parents who were not able to make sense of students’ learning abilities and to plan for appropriate support. It appeared, from interview data, that parents had hopes that testing would provide the validation of difficulties, understanding of learning differences, and informing teachers in how to teach their child, and thus requested the psychoeducational assessment that would result in a diagnosis of learning disabilities. It is unclear from interview data whether parents would have requested testing as if it was the single professional form of validation, understanding, and potentially basis for teaching, if their children had received help, like Elizabeth’s sister in Manitoba received.   4.1.4.  School Responses to Students’ and Parents’ Requests for Support  Parents shared the various responses of school personnel to their requests that teachers validate, understand learning differences, and apply specialized teaching as reported in the previous section. Four patterns of school response were reported in the interviews. The first type of response was not offering any support prior to diagnosis. The second type of response was not addressing students’ needs although they were diagnosed with learning disabilities. The third type of response was blaming and negatively labeling students with learning difficulties before and after a diagnosis. The fourth response was empathetically addressing the needs for academic learning and emotional wellbeing of the student before or after a diagnosis. The student and parent perceived the manner of this response as effective and positive for them.    The first pattern of school personnel response was not responding while students experienced difficulties prior to diagnosis. Gayle explained that Annie’s issues were not recognized and understood: “That was never picked up on (.  .  .) I was somewhat disappointed   106 that they wouldn’t have just picked it up, because you would think they would” (Gayle, P2, 80-84). Gayle summarized her experience with Annie’s teachers:  The teachers that she had did not pay much attention to her difficulty. If that’s not caring, or no time, or no resources, or no support of the teachers, I don’t know what the cause of that is. I just felt that she was definitely let down between Grade 4 and Grade 7. (Gayle, P2, 342-345)  Gayle indicated that during four grades teachers were not responding to their requests perhaps because they were not equipped to address Annie’s learning needs. Mark, Oliver’s father, who was a teacher in an alternative high school, also described the pattern of parents’ requests for assessment and school not responding, “parents fighting and fighting to get that assessment done. ‘I need that assessment done!’ Teachers are noticing there’s a problem or someone’s noticed. ‘I’m noticing there a difficulty, can I please have the testing done?’” (Mark, P2, 540-543). Mark reported waiting from Grade 2 to Grade 5 for testing Oliver, while he was frequently melting into tears in class and at home due to his academic frustrations and not being recognized.  Kate, Alexandra’s, mother, described the negative impact of school taking no action in responding to her requests to assess Alexandra’s learning abilities:  She could’ve been identified, I think, in Kindergarten, because I knew. I think if we’d started in Kindergarten trying to help her ... I’m not saying that she wouldn’t still be ...[laughing] She’d still be dyslexic. But she was broken by the time we got her out in Grade 3. That only took three years to make her feel really bad about herself. (Kate, P2, 173-176)  Kate noted that waiting three years before Alexandra was tested privately resulted in uncertainties and emotional damage for Alexandra. Kate shared that school personnel said they were not able to assess or diagnose Alexandra at an early age in a timely manner:   107 I had already hired a private Phonics Tutor for all of Grade 1 for my daughter. Emm… and I brought up the fact that this private Phonics Tutor was telling me to get her tested for learning disabilities. The teachers looked at me and said, “That would be wonderful, please do that.” When I told the principal that, she said, “Oh no, we don’t test until Grade 3 or Grade 4. Even at that, we don’t really do anything. There is not much in the district and your daughter’s strengths are so great that she won’t get any help here.” I was discouraged to try to figure out what was going on, but I did it anyway [laughing]. (Kate, P1, 31-39)  No response from school meant for Alexandra more anxiety in school and that Kate had no choice but to approach private services for both assessment and intervention. Barbara decided to test James privately to find out more about his difficulties, she described her surprise at why the school was not testing James:  Well, I don’t know, they just won’t! They won’t! Like I flat-out asked them, like, “This is not right.” I think it’s just ... I don’t know if it’s legally, if they can’t do it, whatever, anyways. I found a psychologist who tested him. We paid for it privately. (Barbara, P1, 151-154)  I further asked if there was academic assessment provided for James and Barbara indicated: “No, they didn’t do anything. They didn’t do anything” (Barbara, P1, 157). Barbara, like other parents in this study, described that school personnel did not administer any type of academic assessment in order to understand James’ learning needs. She chose to seek a private psychologist to test James and then enrolled him in a private specialized school. Annie also described her perspective on her teachers support:  They honestly, I feel like they just didn’t really. I don’t want to say they didn’t know, but they kind of (.  .  .) it wasn’t their top priority (.  .  .) They didn’t actually fully comprehend. (.  .  .) I never really got that, “She has a learning disability. Help her out.” To this day, I   108 still don’t. (Annie, S1, 144-151) These excerpts show that prior to diagnosis, requests to for assessment of students’ learning differences, at early grades, were not met.  The second pattern was that although students were tested and diagnosed with learning disabilities, they did not receive specialized support in accordance with their diagnosis. Miriam indicated that as soon as they moved from Manitoba to British Columbia, “In this new school, she was assessed. That’s when they diagnosed her with dyslexia. At least we knew what it was” (Miriam, P1, 75-76). Miriam appreciated Elizabeth’s diagnosis in Grade Three but noted that although she was diagnosed her teacher did not provide support in accordance with the diagnosis. Elizabeth described:  I had my Grade 3 teacher was ahh terrible! She was just she wasn’t a good teacher (.  .  .) she would be very good if a student at normal average learner (.  .  .). But emm anyone who was like under the standards and or like exceeded she just could not handle them. So she would just like tear me down and then like you know? Like, would like yell at me get mad it was very aggressive. (Elizabeth, S1, 84-90)  As Miriam noted, formal diagnosis served in validating the reason for the difficulties, but did not lead to teaching that would help her learn. Dewayne reported, “Going through Grade 4 and realizing that there was no resources given to students who had a disability” (Dewayne, P1, 250-251). Dewayne emphasized that the positive support he experienced with the trained Grade 3 teacher who noticed Jonathan’s strengths and difficulties did not continue with another teacher in Grade 4 although Jonathan was diagnosed with a learning disability.   The third pattern of school response was blaming and negatively labeling students who were not meeting academic expectations. Gayle, Annie’s mother, noted the negative ways teachers responded to Annie’s lack of academic progress. She said:     109 From Grade 4 to Grade 8 pretty much, I think there was more finger pointing by the teachers rather than embracing of her issues. I think over time that really caused some damage in regards to her motivation to learn. (.  .  .). Teachers, they said all kinds of things to her…it was very accusatory and very, very negative. Very negative. I can only imagine what that would have been like for a child who’s eight, nine, 10 years old. You know? (Gayle, P1, 179-185)  Like Gayle, who described teachers’ accusations, Maria described that Anthony’s teacher in elementary school used labels to describe Anthony. Maria reported teachers’ comment:  “Look Maria, he never stops moving. He can’t stop moving.” I felt because I’m a teacher and I knew what she wanted to tell me that might be ADHD. And yeah! She wanted to help but maybe not in the right way [laughing]. (Maria, P1, 215-217)  Maria further explained what she did not appreciate in teachers’ communication: “There was judgment; Grade 2, Grade 3, even Grade 4. Yeah!” (Maria, P1, 224-225). Maria shared that teacher’s judgment affected Anthony’s motivation: “Then it became, ‘I don’t like reading. I don’t like it’” (Maria, P1, 242). She further shared that in Grade 4 Anthony was reading comics “I was happy. Great, but there was a comment being said, ‘he reads only comics’ but great, it’s the beginning” (Maria, P1, 244-246).  Maria shared her perspective that some teachers unintentionally blamed instead of identifying learning difficulties, “I think it happens, you know, sometimes that not that teachers want to but they start labeling the child” (Maria, P1, 229-230). She gave examples of what teachers said about Anthony: “‘he cannot read, cannot move all the time’. It’s all linked together too because if you cannot read at the same pace as others and you compensate then you will get nervous, stressed and you move away [laughing]” (Maria, P1, 229-234). Maria also indicated a contrast between two teachers’ perceptions of Anthony, “In Grade 7, I saw he was getting   110 labeled, the ‘Trouble kid’” (Maria, P2, 292), while another teacher in Grade 5, “She was very creative, thinking of outside the box and also no judgment. Really, she saw his gift. Instead of seeing what he could not do, she saw what he could do” (Maria, P1, 138-140). Mark, Oliver’s father who is a teacher, described how some teachers responded to students’ difficulties, “Yeah, there is a tendency to blame disability on laziness. We see that in teachers’ report card comments all the time” (Mark, P1, 390-391). As reflected in excerpts, teachers’ negative judgments and focus on students’ deficits, with no reference to their strengths, were not helping students improve their learning or teachers improve their teaching. The fourth pattern shows how teachers responded empathetically in the case of one dyad. Cora described receiving positive one–on–one support for Kira and other students who needed support at a private Catholic elementary school:  We’ve had a lot of people from other communities that have come to that school because that principal’s really open to that. She’s, “I do not turn people away.” I think that initially started because there was a mother whose son was autistic and she started bringing in somebody. As time went on he was helping other people. She saw so much improvement and realized that that’s what some of these kids need. It’s the thing to do. A lot of the kids at that school get a lot of support. (Cora, P1, 145-151)  Cora continued to describe how Kira’s private elementary school supported students:  Before the anxiety came up, they allowed them to walk outside and take a walk and talk about it, or calm them down because there’s a lot of anxiety that comes with “I don’t get this,” and then you can’t even go beyond that. (Cora, P1, 174-176)  Kira also described her positive experience of receiving support in elementary school, “Everyone was really supportive. I think that they only wanted you to do well. That’s kind of like where I got my work ethic” (Kira, S1, 287-288). Kira and Cora appreciated teachers’ support and   111 awareness of students needs. They shared that this positive support, unfortunately, was not available for Kira when she moved to public high school.  Participants shared that teachers’ abilities to respond to the needs of students with learning difficulties were limited. Miriam and Dewayne described that although their children were tested in Grade 3 by the school and were diagnosed, teachers did not address their child’s diagnosed learning needs. All parents noted that teachers did not respond to their requests for help in early grades prior to diagnosis. Maria, Gayle, and Mark indicated that their children experienced being blamed and negatively labeled. Cora reported fondly about the support Kira received in her private elementary school that left a long-term positive impact on both Kira and Cora.   4.1.5.  Summary  During the first years of elementary school, students described that they noticed their difficulties performing in class at the level of their peers. Parents also noticed emotional distress that was associated with their child’s academic struggles. Feeling different, stupid, or just wondering what was wrong, at the very beginning of their school experience, was reported by all participants. Parents’ requests for validation of difficulties, teachers’ understanding of learning differences, and effective teachings, concluded with pursuing a psychoeducational assessment. Parents described psychoeducational assessment as the necessary step that must be taken, yet, it was not available at an early age. They also did not have an alternative available diagnosis method to precisely diagnose specific academic difficulties and offer pedagogical interventions that addressed the specific identified and clearly defined students’ academic abilities.  Regardless of testing or diagnosis, Kate summarized how she believed schools ought to respond, “everybody needs to get what they deserve to be successful” (Kate, P1, 50). Rather than, saying: “‘she’s going to be okay’. What does ‘okay’ mean? You know? She is coming home crying every day because she can’t spell and read like her friends can” (Kate, P1, 51-53). In sum,   112 students and parents requested that their difference in learning would be recognized early and addressed effectively in a professional fashion that includes emphasizing students’ strengths and dignity and avoiding negative labeling. In the next section, students and parents’ experiences and perspectives reveal the anticipated value associated with the psychoeducational testing.  4.2.   Testing to Diagnose Disabilities  The second theme, testing to diagnose a disability, corresponds to the next phase in students’ stories. “Testing” was the term used by students and parents to refer to the process of diagnosis through psychoeducational assessment. Within the theme of testing for diagnosis, I identified three sub-themes. The first sub-theme, “Recognizing learning difference or disability,” reflects the function of testing for recognizing students’ learning difficulties, or perhaps disabilities. The second, “Assessment to inform learning and teaching,” highlights parents’ expectations that test results would inform effective instruction for their child. The third, “Assessment of learning profile: strengths and challenges,” emphasized the use of a student’s learning profile included in the psychoeducational assessment results. Ideally, all these three functions of testing are for the purpose of promoting successful academic outcomes for students in school.      4.2.1.  Recognizing Learning Differences/Disabilities  The period between self-identifying students’ learning difficulties and attaining formal recognition for these difficulties was a time of struggle for all involved. Students reported feeling sadness, anxiety, or being negatively labeled prior to the diagnosis that served to recognize their learning needs. Testing and diagnosis resolved this one aspect of their struggles — not being recognized for their learning difference or difficulties. As, a Grade 10 student, James said, “… if this was 50 years ago they wouldn’t say, ‘That kid’s is dyslexic.’ They’d just say, ‘That kid’s dumb’” (James, S2, 353-354). According to students and parents, recognizing students’ learning difference helped in ruling out negative labels and legitimized students’ requesting help. James   113 talked about ruling out the label ‘stupid.’ He said: At least I knew what the problem was. Because like I couldn’t read as good as all the other kids in my class and I didn’t know why. Now I did, so that kinda helped in a way because if someone asked, “Oh why can’t you read as good as me,” or whatever, I wouldn’t have an answer. Then I’d just be like, “Oh I guess I’m stupid or something.” Now I know, oh yeah, I’m dyslexic, that’s why. That helped I guess in a way. (James, S1, 317-321)  Cora, Kira’s mother, described her historical view on the development of recognition: “Now people are better educated, and understand that, ‘Oh, this is actually the way someone’s brain works.’ I think there is two sides to it. I would never take it away. I think it’s important to have that title” (Cora, P1, 503-505). Miriam, Elizabeth’s mother, explained why diagnosis is necessary, “to say: ‘I have a learning disability so now I know why I can’t do certain things,’ rather than, ‘I just can’t do it. I don’t know why I can’t do it’” (Miriam, P1, 526-528). Diagnosis explained their difficulty as Kate said that recognition was important for herself as a mother and for Alexandra, her daughter:  Back then in Grade 2. Like I said, I would cry. I was depressed. I would cry at the drop of a hat. (.  .  .) How do I do this, the school doesn’t even really recognize it? (.  .  .) overwhelms because nobody was telling me, this is what you need to do with her, nobody. Nobody sat me down. I pretty much had to figure out what to do on my own, (.  .  .) for someone like Alexandra, she’d become even more invisible in the system if you take her label away. (Kate, P1, 762-772) Recognition of their learning needs through testing meant noticing and not ignoring them.    The second aspect of their early struggles that testing and diagnosis resolved was students’ and parents’ confidence to ask for help and request an IEP and ongoing application of the IEP. Acknowledging students’ difficulties through diagnosis gave parents hope to begin working   114 towards finding ways to teach their child the way they learn so they experience successful academic outcomes. Gayle, replied to my question of how the diagnosis was helpful:  I think it was helpful because she realized, you could finally work with something. Or that maybe there was some support available or a better understanding of what was going on rather than the labeling and finger pointing as to the “bad behaviour” that the teacher saw. (Gayle, P1, 221-224)  Ruling out accusatory negative labels, better understanding, and support for Annie were the benefits Gayle associated with diagnosis. I asked Gayle if she felt relief when finally Annie was diagnosed in Grade 8. She replied: I don’t feel like it’s a relief. It’s a relief that there is something there, that it’s just not her attitude. In that way, it’s a relief that now we can talk to the school and there should be certain steps in place but when it comes to a more general thing, it makes me frustrated and it makes me worried! (Gayle, P1, 430-433) The diagnosis was not a relief in a way that the learning difficulties were addressed, however, it gave Gayle the justification to ask for help. We further discussed the labeling aspects of diagnosis beyond recognition that allowed her to request help: Hadas:  Do you think if there was no label, it would have been different? Gayle:  No it would have been harder. Hadas:  The label is serving a purpose. Gayle:  It’s serving a purpose to get some understanding from a school system level. There are some extra things that are done for her and increase in understanding. (Gayle, P1, 436-441) Regarding her label, Annie said: “I think it made me realize that, ‘Okay, I actually need help.’ And I’m not going to be able to get through all this on my own. I need to actually have someone   115 to work together with” (Annie, S1, 233-235). Gayle emphasized that the reason for needing a diagnosis is to get support: “if you’re slightly behind, you fall behind, unless you’re designated with a learning disability or whatever else. But if you’re not, you just fall behind and there’s no support at all. It’s all on the parent’s shoulders” (Gayle, P1, 87-89). For Gayle and Annie who waited to Grade 8 to privately assess Annie, testing, diagnosis, and labeling with learning disabilities, marked a positive improvement in Annie’s confidence in requesting and receiving help. Anthony emphasized that the diagnosis afforded him opportunities to receive accommodations: “I know it benefits me that makes me happy because I know that I’m getting better, so that’s a positive” (Anthony, S1, 392-393). His mother Maria said: “… he knows that he’s entitled of asking for help or more time or (.  .  .), ‘I’ve got challenges in spelling’” (Maria, P1, 263-264). Maria alluded that the gain lies in the accommodations and perhaps not in the assessment alone: “I don’t, if it’s the assessment but it’s just like I think now, he’s more confident to go to the teacher and ask for help or support or more time, adaptations” (Maria, P1, 285-287). Similarly, Alexandra talked about how recognizing her learning difficulty allowed her to ask and receive accommodations: I guess in a positive way it kind of makes me think like you know I do have this disability, and I have people who are trying to help me out. Getting it tested to see what I can do more in school to get more support and stuff like that. It’s good to just know that like I’m not just left there to be there. I have people that are going to help me and stuff like that. (Alexandra, S1, 187-191) Jonathan also appreciated being diagnosed. He said:  So being diagnosed allowed me to have the adaptations that I do now, and the assistance that I’m getting in my classes with my teachers. It’s just all around everyone’s kind of been   116 like, okay, you have like a learning difference disability. This is how we can help you. (Jonathan, S1, 521-524) Jonathan particularly indicated that the accommodations that resulted from the testing helped him. Kate, Alexandra’s mother, also clearly linked the diagnosis with academic help: “I don’t mind having the label… I came to the realization a long time ago that she wouldn’t get the help that she needed if it [the LD label] weren’t there” (Kate, P1, 755-756). Kira also appreciated the accommodations documented in the IEP and also understanding the reasons for her difficulty. She said: Emmm, well. It helped because now I can ... I have my IEP, but also it made me less frustrated I think, a bit, like at myself, because I would always get really upset if I couldn’t get things as fast as other people, or if I worked really hard and didn’t do well. (Kira, S1, 361-363) Kira and Kate emphasized that documenting students’ learning abilities and accommodations helped reduce their frustration.   James, Grade 10 student, and Kate, Alexandra’s mother, expressed opposing opinions about the benefits of testing. James was grateful for the recognition and diagnosis as mentioned earlier, but he also questioned the necessity of the testing:  Emmm ... They kind of just make you do a bunch of stuff that I don’t find that helpful. You have to do a bunch of things with different coloured blocks. They’re like, “Okay look at this pattern. Now I’m going to take it away and remake it.” You have to do that for 30 minutes. I don’t really see a point in that. Don’t know how much that really helps. I don’t really know, yeah. (James, S1, 308-312)  Kate, unlike James, linked the testing, diagnosis, and support, as one package:  I do hear all kinds of talk that psych-eds are expensive and that kind of thing. But from a   117 parent perspective (.  .  .) I have proof that there’s a problem, so for me taking away this psych-ed, although it would save a lot of money, it would have made my life difficult and Alexandra’s as well. (Kate, P1, 482-488) Like Kate, Mark also talked about the use of testing: “Unfortunately, without that, there’s not a lot of weight that a parent’s word has” (Mark, P1, 109). Kate and Mark valued diagnosis as a proof for the difficulties or a ‘weight’ for parents request for help. Finally, Kira thought about other students who have learning difficulties but were not diagnosed in school or privately, “That will be really hard and sad for a lot of people and especially if you can’t get tested. If I didn’t know I had dyslexia I would probably be so sad” (Kira, S2, 430-431). Kira equated testing with the knowing that she had dyslexia. Assuming that one would know they have dyslexia only through the exclusive and expensive testing, she pointed out the unfortunate potential neglect of those who did not have the privilege of being diagnosed through testing in school or privately.  Recognition of students’ learning difficulties and parents’ requests for support, by professionals who can make sense of their abilities and difficulties, was critical.  Students explained that if their difficulties were not recognized as a learning disability, they were likely to believe that they were stupid, but also, they were not feeling confident asking and receiving support or accommodations. Through recognizing their difficulties they were hoping to get their dignity intact and to be taught the way they learn and produce better academic outcomes. They considered testing as their ticket of recognition their difficulties or disabilities, dignity, and future successes. The exclusiveness in obtaining testing means that only the privileged are recognized and the unprivileged––those who were never tested––remained unnoticed and unrecognized with a learning difference.     118  4.2.2.  Assessing to Inform Teaching and Learning The second potential benefit of understanding a person’s cognitive, academic, social emotional, and background history included in the testing results is to use that vast information to support students’ academic experience in school. Testing results cannot be used merely to diagnose, but also to plan pedagogy. In the school context supports for diagnosis of learning disability would be an individualized plan of teaching. Mark, Oliver’s father, a teacher in an alternative high school, argued for the potential benefits of testing: “I think the report ... Emmm ____________ It doesn’t really validate ... It reaffirms what we already know about him (.  .  .) Everything, that as a parent, I already knew” (Mark, P1, 273-276). He further said: The testing itself, or the information that was given to him [to Oliver in Grade 5], probably wasn’t very useful (.  .  .) Now, having said that, at the secondary school age, the psychologist that did the testing was able to explain to him, very clearly, what he was able. That’s a level of maturity. (Mark, P1, 357-362) I asked his son Oliver how the testing was helpful for him. He replied: “Emmm … I mean … it was definitely a test of my abilities and I was trying my very best. Emmhmm … I can’t say it really helped me, in many ways really” (Oliver, S1, 272-273). I distinguished testing from diagnosis and further asked Oliver how the diagnosis was helpful for him. He replied: “Being diagnosed doesn’t really do anything for me… I mean… The IEP does something for me, the benefits that I get from it help me, but like, diagnosis doesn’t change anything” (Oliver, S1, 282-284). Oliver claimed that testing and diagnosis have no direct beneficial value for him, the accommodations that he receives are valuable. I explained to Oliver that sometimes the IEP is conditional to the diagnosis that is conditional to the testing. He said in response: “Oh, okay so if I didn’t have a diagnosis I wouldn’t have an IEP. So …Yeah, I guess it did help me in that way [laughing]” (Oliver, S1, 289-290). He then clarified his need of the IEP: “I think it was definitely   119 helpful. I think if I didn’t have a diagnosis or IEP it would be a lot worse and a lot harder for school so I think it was good” (Oliver, S1, 301-302). For Oliver, the extent that testing informed teaching was the accommodations included in the IEP.  In Elizabeth’s case, the psychologist used testing results to report on her potential.  My husband and I were a little upset after the report of what the conclusion with the way this psychologist told us, “Oh she could be a teacher.” If you talk to my husband, he’d be furious right now, because he just … he didn’t want to talk to her anymore after that, because it was like, I think pinpointing someone and saying, “You can only do this.” (.  .  .) a lot of people with learning disabilities can do much more if they’re given the right tools. (Miriam, P1, 589-595) Miriam’s belief was that if given the right tools Elizabeth’s future was not limited to her present abilities of low reading test scores, particularly given her average and above average scores we noticed in her testing results.   Maria described a positive experience with the psychologist reporting test results:  It was the psychologist and the resource teacher at [name] school with Anthony and myself. They had meeting and they were not only talking to me but to Anthony as well. It was presented very positively and that not like it’s a learning disability but it’s just something that, “Okay, like this is what we can do to help you and what can you do to help yourself.” (Maria, P1, 176-180) For Anthony, testing informed his accommodations in the IEP and the positive presentation of testing results created supportive settings that benefited Anthony. In contrast, Dewayne argued that the focus in reporting test results was on the diagnosis: When we went through the psych-ed test the first time, all it did is say that he did have a learning disability. That was really the extent of it. You know, not the fact that he would   120 have a reading challenge and a writing output challenge. That was it. (Dewayne, P2, 371-374) Dewayne was disappointed when he expected to learn about his son’s learning abilities, but heard only about his diagnosis. In contrast, Kate was interested in the diagnosis and was disappointed that Alexandra’s first testing results did not yield a diagnosis:     The first tester didn’t want to label her. But said she needed an IEP, said she had difficulty reading. She said to the school what they needed to do, but because she wasn’t given the diagnosis completely … It really didn’t lend itself to getting Alexandra help early. (Kate, P1, 496-501)  The private psychologist recommended providing support through IEP documentations. However, the school considered the diagnosis as prerequisite to the IEP.  Gayle indicated that an IEP was done for Annie in Grade 8 only after she was tested privately. She said: “Nothing before that, but she wasn’t diagnosed before that” (Gayle, P1, 30). After testing, Gayle indicated that her expectations of the testing were: “some support available or a better understanding of what was going” (Gayle, P1, 222-223). Kira also noted the link of testing to her IEP. She said: “It was a private thing, yeah. It was good. It helped, because my IEP was … I got more on it, so I could like … use it for more classes. That was good” (Kira, S1, 166-167). Kira linked testing to accommodations she could have based on her IEP.   Although for Kira accommodations were beneficial, Dewayne, Jonathan’s father, explained what he thought was missing in the use of testing results: “There’s the problem: It’s not designed to figure out how to teach him. It’s designed to figure out how to ACCOMODATE his disability. And … that right there is the whole crux of the problem” (Dewayne, P1, 178-180). For Dewayne, accommodations do not suffice. Dewayne was interested in using test results to inform how to teach Jonathan.   121 In a similar fashion of distinguishing early support for learning from early diagnosis, Miriam shared her experience with her older daughter in the province of Manitoba who got help early in Grade 1 and 2 but was not tested or diagnosed. Miriam said: I don’t know if we stayed in the other province if it would have been the same results, and she would have just gotten that same training that her older sister got, and we would have never known that she was dyslexic. I have no idea, but we did have all these tests done and they did say she was dyslexic. (Miriam, P1, 160-163) Dewayne, further emphasized the difference he suggested between support to meet academic expectations and support for learning how to learn. He said: “He does have a block where he can go in to do homework. But, it’s really to help him get his homework done. They really don’t do anything to help further his ability to read or write” (Dewayne, P1, 328-330). In contrast, he described the improvement Jonathan had in the private school: “He’s got a very good foundation now. And when he left [name] school [private specialized school] his reading ability was above his grade average which was ... [crying]… ___________” (Dewayne, P1, 330-333). He continued describing that following Jonathan’s diagnosis in the public school in Grade 4, “We’ve gone through it [the IEP] every single year that it’s put together” (Dewayne, P1, 333).  Dewayne reported clarifying a nuance with teachers regarding whose responsibility was it that Jonathan’s academic outcomes improve. He said: “we had to rewrite some of it [the IEP] because it said, “Jonathan will do this.” It’s like, “NO, NO what are WE going the do for Jonathan?’” (Dewayne, P1, 335-337). Moreover, Jonathan’s parents provided his teachers at the beginning of each year with a package of information about dyslexia, “he would give them the package of his IEP the first day of class. Because it usually takes till October, November before they finally realize, “Oh he’s got an IEP” (Dewayne, P1, 349-350). Dewayne emphasized the   122 need to ask what teachings would be provided for Jonathan so he would learn. He also clarified how Jonathan’s diagnosis informed his teaching at home but not at school: “We now knew what we needed to do to help him. As far as the school, public school it was not helpful at all. It didn’t make a difference to them” (Dewayne, P1, 523-525). He further elaborated that the diagnosis made him and his wife, “research, and we looked, and googled, and called, and watched videos and did everything we could to figure out what it was all about” (Dewayne, P1, 526-529). However, he noted, that the school was not as informed and proactive as they were, “the school system implode and … and end up in the most disappointing outcome” (Dewayne, P1, 530).  Dewayne explained that Jonathan’s school did not use testing results to plan teaching: They didn’t do anything different to help him learn to read. It just … You can actually get to Grade 12 and be illiterate in BC. And we’ve seen it. Because they accommodate they don’t TEACH and that’s … criminal! (.  .  .) It’s criminal! Yeah! ____________Yeah! So it had two outcomes a very positive outcome because we were able to help him. But, it had no impact as far as the public school goes, because nothing really changed as far as teaching him. (Dewayne, P1, 536-541) Dewayne shared that diagnosis did not inform teaching for other students, “I’ve seen it time and time again. In talking to others when we would have meetings with the parents when Jonathan was going to a private school” (Dewayne, P2, 80-81). He described the cost parents had to pay to send their child to a private school so that their child’s learning needs would be met, “Some of them had actually mortgaged their house or sold their houses to send their kids there because they KNEW that nothing’s happening in schools” (Dewayne, P2, 83-84). He further justified the cost for private school: “They do that because the system’s failing them. ( .  .  .) it’s because if they don’t, they’re never going to learn to read _______ That’s a… that’s a systemic issue” (Dewayne, P2, 87-90).   123 Barbara, James’ mother, reported a similar experience to Dewayne, indicating that the school was not able to change the way they taught James after he was tested. She noted that, “We have an IEP meeting, usually, my only experience with them is that they’re of limited value [laughing]” (Barbara, P1, 433-434). Barbara noted the legality of the IEP: I understand that it’s about resources and time and money, and all of that. I get it. So I want him to have an IEP so that if something goes really sideways I, at least, have something to stand on and say, “Look, you were supposed to do this and this didn’t happen, and now, this is what we’re dealing with.” My reality is, I don’t have a huge expectation that they’re actually going to do it, to be honest [laughing]. (Barbara, P1, 454-458) The IEP functioned as a legal generic, rather than individual document that resulted from individual testing. Parents expected that testing would generate individualized plan––informed by results of the expansive and exclusive testing––for how to teach based on students’ particular profile. In public schools, the function of the testing was mostly as a foundation for diagnosing learning disability rather than a foundation for teaching students how to learn better so they may improve their academic outcomes. Private specialized schools were designed for providing the teaching students needed to learn how to read, based on a general diagnosis, regardless of particulars of testing results. 4.2.3.  Assessing for a Learning Profile: Strengths and Challenges The third potential function of the results of the psychoeducational assessment that was expected by parents was to have a better understanding of students’ learning profile, including their strengths and challenges. In practice, out of the 16 participants, only Kate and James remembered information from the report about their strengths. It was inevitable that all participants were aware of their academic challenges, as they have experienced them daily, regardless of the testing results. The following are excerpts describing beliefs of students and   124 parents regarding great value to knowing and using the information generated from the psychoeducational testing about their strengths and challenges. However, in practice, 14 out of the 16 participants did not recall their strengths as documented in the report of their test results. While looking at Elizabeth’s psychoeducational report with her I showed her that her cognitive abilities were in the average and above average range. She said: I don’t remember them ever telling me that. They probably did, but I just like, it never stuck with me … It was never told to me that I, “Oh, you actually scored above average in this. You’re actually pretty smart but you just have some difficulties.” But like everyone has difficulties too. (Elizabeth, S2, 240-245)  Throughout her school years, Elizabeth has not been benefiting from the information indicating that she performed within average and above average in most test scores. I asked Annie, who was tested two years prior to the interview, if she remembered what were her strengths. She replied: “No, I don’t remember” (Annie, S1, 224). Following that realization she reflected on the potential use of test results: “… if you have like this whole booklet [psychoeducational report] then you should take like the opportunity and, yeah, you should go in” (Annie, S1, 172-173). To the same question, her mother replied, “Her strengths. She’s a visual learner so that’s where her strength is. Emmm … Let me think______ She did really well on some memorization of something and I can’t remember what it was” (Gayle, P1, 199-201). Both Gayle and Annie were not clear about tests results indicating cognitive strengths. Cora, Kira’s mother, emphasized the potential benefit of testing: “I think testing is good for breaking it down, and pinpointing what certain things and you need to work on those things” (Cora, P1, 299-301). I asked her about the results of the two private psychoeducational testing: Hadas:  What do you think it [psych-ed report] tells you about her strengths? Cora:    I got to look at that again. (Cora, P1, 187-188)    125 Cora and I looked at the report together and noticed Kira’s strengths. Cora responded, “It’s [the results on the report] better than I actually thought. You’ve revealed to me it was better than I even thought” (Cora, P1, 312-313). Regarding her strengths, Kira said: “Emmm … There’s some things that I was better at than other things. I didn’t really know what it meant, but I guess it just showed that you learn differently” (Kira, S1, 367-368). While academic deficits were clear to Kira and Cora the specific strengths were unclear.  I asked Anthony about the strengths reported in his testing results from two years prior to the interview. Anthony replied, “They told me, but I forgot [laughing]” (Anthony, 197-199). Anthony had a positive experience receiving the test results, however, the focus in reporting was on the accommodations and the IEP. Mark argued that the exclusive and expensive testing was not a ticket to success, but it has a potential to inform learners about their profile of strengths and challenges. He said: The difficulty of course, in the public system, the funding is not there. There should be testing centers for hundreds of kids going in and out. Not because I think the testing is some kind of ticket to success, but it allows educators, parents and the students themselves to see what they can and what they will always face difficulty with. (Mark, P1, 338-341) Although Mark argued for early testing for identification he also clarified that, “I don’t know if there are other parents that are surprised by testing. There were no surprises” (Mark, P1, 282-283). Meaning, that students’ academic performance already provided valuable and accurate information to work with for both diagnosis and intervention. Like Mark, Dewayne argued that test results did not reveal new details about Jonathan.  It was eye-opening and it wasn’t a surprise for us. (.  .  .) there was no surprises! It (.  .  .) What it did is it reaffirmed what we knew was going on, which was his reading and writing side of stuff. (Dewayne, P1, 491-497)   126 Testing had the potential of informing individuals about their learning profiles, but practically, tests results remembered vaguely if at all. On the other hand, academic abilities had practical daily utility that related to school tasks in the classroom, thus, students easily remembered their spelling, or reading difficulties.  On the other hand, Alexandra’s mother, Kate, expressed the importance of testing in revealing strengths, “The biggest thing is it shows her strengths and how smart she is” (Kate, P1, 481). Unlike other parents, she reported in detail what were Alexandra’s strengths and challenges:  She was 80th percentile for perception reasoning and second percentile for reading comprehension, third percentile for reading ability, fourth percentile, all those reading stuff just low, low like less than five percent. But you know her math reasoning was high. Her new psych-ed test said she has a math disability. Her earlier one said that her math reasoning was fine. (Kate, P2, 434-438) Kate remembered a single high cognitive ability score along with the other academic low scores that could have been obtained through academic testing in class by the teacher, as early as kindergarten and as often as three times a year if needed.  Interesting to note also the inconsistency in Alexandra’s math performances in the various tests.  I asked Alexandra the same question that I asked her mother, she replied: “Emmm … I haven’t seen the report I don’t think, sorry [laughing]” (Alexandra, S1, 174).  James also remembered his strength. He said: “… It was kind of good that I knew what my strengths were, because they told you that too (.  .  .). They said that I had a really good memory for what people say. So that was like good to know” (James, S1, 296-301). James, who demonstrated his high ability by remembering reported results, was proud of that significant high score. This ability could have been translated to his teaching through social learning of group   127 discussions and peer tutoring, or story telling.   As can be seen in interviews, the potential value of applying cognitive testing results of students’ strengths and challenges in learning and teaching was emphasized to justify their commitment for the process of testing. In fact, 14 out of the 16 participants did not remember information about students’ cognitive strengths as indicated in the psychoeducational report or as was likely reported to them verbally. The two participants who remembered tests results of students’ cognitive strengths were not able to make use of this information to inform learning and teaching.  4.2.4.  Summary  Participants described similarly their reasoning around obtaining psychoeducational assessment in school or privately. The assessment and formal diagnosis, according to all participants, was needed for establishing recognition in the difficulties students experienced. Recognition served the purpose of ruling out negative labels and justifying their requests for help. Testing also was believed to inform teaching, so to have a better understanding of how to mediate learning for each student based on the way they learn. Testing was believed to potentially inform learning with better understanding of students’ profiles of strengths and challenges. It was evident that in fact recognition through diagnosis of learning disabilities effectively replaced the ‘stupid’ label, yet, was not sufficient. After the diagnosis that freed them of the negative self-labeling, participants were back to square one with no specialized teaching, but with a little more dignity. Students who were privileged to attend private specialized schools at a great cost for their families were more likely to receive the educational support they needed. Because testing did not inform learning or teaching for those who stayed in the public schools, they were again wondering; how and where to learn and who can mediate their learning the way they learn so they can experience academic success.    128 4.3.   Searching for Alternative Learning Settings The absence of individualized and specialized teaching to support students with learning difficulties, before and after their diagnosis with learning disabilities, stirred parents to explore learning settings alternative to the mainstream classroom in public schools. Alternative learning settings included supports within their schools, private tutors, after school programs, online courses, or schools that are specialized in teaching their child the way they learn. The search was complex and dynamic as some learning settings demanded sacrifices of financial cost, departing from friends, feeling different, or compromising limited social life or sports programs in the specialized schools. The parent’s and student’s paths of searching for a fitting learning setting were unique and some paths overlapped. However four unique critical factors that appeared to generate growth and support for students were identified. Annie and Anthony stayed in the public school system but enrolled into a small class program in which teachers’ attention was accessible to them. Elizabeth and Alexandra chose a high school in which the stigma they felt in elementary school was neutralized and they could thrive by expressing their strengths. Jonathan and James chose to attend a learning disability specialized private school during their elementary years focusing on honing their academic skills. Kira and Oliver remained in their local public high school enjoying their network of friends and relying on private tutoring, online courses, and IEP’s accommodations.     4.3.1.  Teachers’ Time (Annie and Anthony) Both Annie and Anthony had a significant positive turn in their new public high school that was a relatively small class setting with more access to teachers support. This setting helped them engage more actively in academic learning and benefit from teaching that together created successes for them. Annie appreciated her teachers in a small class context as she described her learning environment after being diagnosed in Grade 8:    129 Now, that I’m in an alternative program. I can just get through what I know and what I need help with, I’ll be like, “Hey, can you help me with this?” And I can just get help for as long as I want. (Annie, S1, 134-136)  Annie described her success in one learning setting compared to another: “I failed Grade 9 Math three times and now in like a year, I’ve finished like my Grade 9 courses and I’m almost in Grade 11” (Annie, S1, 333-334). She specified her preferred setting:   Alternate … I feel like alternate program you can work at your own pace. If you want to go quick you can go quick. If you want to go slow you can be in there for five years. It’s just what you want to do. (Annie, S1, 338-340)    Following her improved learning in the alternate program, Annie decided to move back to a mainstream high school of her choice for Grade 11 as she was missing social life in a large high school context. Her mother reported in a follow up phone conversation that Annie was doing well in her new high school.  Anthony described a negative learning setting in his elementary school: “At one point [Grade 7] my like confidence in learning wasn’t very big, because like I let the negativity of some of those negative teachers get to me” (Anthony, S1, 171-172). Anthony gave an example: “Like, let’s say a student needs more time or help on a question, they would be like “oh, well you should know this” and stuff like that. Instead of just trying to help you to figure it out” (Anthony, S1, 164-166). When Anthony moved in Grade 8 to the mini program in a public high school his learning experience changed drastically. He described his relationship with teachers in the mini program: “I feel like my teachers always have my back” (Anthony, S1, 140-149). As apposed to his elementary school experience where: “I didn’t feel like I was getting enough help, and I was feeling down because I was getting bad marks at school and all my friends were doing quite well. And I was kind of embarrassed too” (Anthony, S1, 180-182). Maria described how he   130 experienced the mini program in high school: “When he went to [name] school, he was so happy (.  .  .) that’s what he told me, ‘At lunchtime, I can go play basketball. I can do anything I want!’” (Maria, P2, 260-263). She further explained that lunch time was strictly for eating in his previous school: “No, no … no … because lunchtime, you sit down, you eat your lunch, you know, it’s the French way [laughing]. You’re expected to … for 30 minutes, you sit down and you eat your lunch” (Maria, P2, 264-266). For Anthony positive relationships with teachers and participating in sports in high school was critically positive for his wellbeing.   4.3.2.  Avoiding the Stigma (Elizabeth and Alexandra)  Elizabeth and Alexandra described the feeling associated with the learning disability diagnosis as a source for shame and embarrassment. For them, deemphasizing the condition of learning difficulties and the diagnosis allowed them to show their strengths and excel academically with the help of their choice. Miriam, Elizabeth’s mother, noted that at a nearly age she received private Orton Gillingham tutoring: “That was a big thing they wanted her to [do] (.  .  .). She did it for a little bit (.  .  .). We had extra help for her” (Miriam: P2, 585-589). Elizabeth continued attending that same school and received remedial support from a resource teacher that although was helpful academically was also embarrassing as she described: “In elementary school it was a lot more predominant (.  .  .) I was taken out of class to get help and stuff like that, so everyone kind of knew which like made me become like an OTHER” (Elizabeth, S1, 17-19). When Elizabeth moved to high school, Miriam indicated that: “when she went to high school and she really didn’t want them to know that she was diagnosed with dyslexia” (Miriam, P1, 263-264). Elizabeth also noted: “in high school it’s kind of just been normal because I kind of just kept it more under the radar so it’s only like this year [Grade 12] people had found out that I have a learning disability” (Elizabeth, S1, 20-22). Elizabeth graduated a mainstream high school with honour roll and she began studying environmental studies at a university. Removing the stigma   131 afforded her development. Like Elizabeth, Alexandra did not want to be noticed as different or to be excluded from her peers. She described her feelings when she got extra support after the diagnosis:  When I was at [name] the public school and stuff, it was just weird that like I would have to leave the school to go get tutoring in the middle of the day and all the kids would be like, “Where’s Alexandra?” I was the only one too and so it was just weird I guess. (Alexandra, S2, 74-77)  Alexandra’s moved to an elementary private school specializing in learning disabilities. She described that the special need student population was not a good fit for her: One day I went to the bathroom and I came back, and the kid was sitting on my chair. (.  .  .) and I was like, ‘Can I have my chair back?’ When she got up, there was a pool of pee. She peed on my chair. (Alexandra, SP3, 270-273)   Kate described how unhappy Alexandra was: “when you didn’t want to go to [name] school. We couldn’t even get her out of bed” (Kate, SP3, 237). Kate described what were the reasons that Alexandra was not happy in the specialize private school.  She teared up and she said, “The number one reason is because it makes me feel like a baby. Nobody can read but it’s all these other issues, and I just want to learn, and I can’t learn.” (.  .  .) “we don’t even play sports anymore, because the kids aren’t capable of playing sports. (.  .  .) For Alexandra, there was nothing about her six or eight-hour day at school that was…was… normal. (Kate, SP3, 280-286) Kate emphasized Alexandra’s need to “have fun with her peers” (Kate, SP3, 291). She said: “Part of her life, her social life, up until Grade 3 was going out at recess and lunch and playing soccer. [In the specialized school] She wouldn’t even talk to anybody” (Kate, SP3, 292-293). Kate further explained that: “For her to have all that [sports] cut out because all of a sudden the   132 kids weren’t interacting that way, even in specified gym class, it made her day really long” (Kate, SP3, 295-296). Upon Alexandra’s move to a mainstream private school that addresses learning needs by grouping all students by abilities in different subjects, she flourished. Grouping to KEY classes may have blurred the stigma and made her feel less different as everyone was grouped. Alexandra said: All the classes were all KEY. There was seven of us and it was very good and I got all the support I needed. (.  .  .) so any question I had the teacher was right there and could answer it right away because she’s not helping someone else. (Alexandra, S2, 35-39) Alexandra described her parents’ devotion regarding commuting to [name] school: My mom has always pushed for the right emm … support, support, for me, and made sure that I have it. I’ve moved schools to get more support and you know they support me a lot … They drive two hours everyday (.  .  .) … It makes me feel super supported and that [crying] I know they’re there [crying] Sorry [crying]. (Alexandra, S1, 378-383) Alexandra excels as a lead player in the school’s highly competitive soccer team and meets her academic expectation while receiving support from her teachers and parents. Both Alexandra and Elizabeth referred to notions of exclusion and stigma and limiting and notions of inclusion and being normal while emphasizing their strengths as helpful. They both excelled academically in their new high school in spite of their reading difficulties.  4.3.3.  Tutoring, IEP, and Online Courses (Kira and Oliver) Cora and Oliver preferred to attend their neighborhood public high school and manage their academic learning through negotiating their IEP’s, receiving tutoring support and taking online courses to avoid negotiating expectations in the classroom. Cora appreciated the support Kira received in her private elementary school: “was fantastic for it. (.  .  .) … whatever we needed they supported at her old school” (Cora, P1, 135-138). Nevertheless, in Grade 2 Kira needed to   133 move to a specialized school to receive support. Kira described that the specialized private school helped her beyond academics:  I called it a disability. I thought when I was younger that that word didn’t really fit right for me. I went to [private school specialized in dyslexia] for Grade 2, and that was good. That’s what I think helped me like realize that it’s not bad to have dyslexia. I thought it was something like a disease [laughing] that makes you sick or something [laughing]. (Kira, S1, 392-396)    Further to conceptualizing her reading difficulties as a dyslexia rather than a disease, the benefits of the private school for Kira: “make her feel good. [name of school]. Took the load off” (Cora, P2, 306-308). However, Kira could not stay in that school. She explained why she left: ”I missed my friends and the classes were too small for me [laughing]” (Kira, S1, 398). She elaborated: “My Grade 2 class had I think five, (.  .  .) I went halfway through Grade 2, and then my Grade 3 class had I think like seven. It was really small” (Kira, S1, 402-403). Upon leaving the specialized school Kira received daily private tutoring: “She’s always had support. Always had support! I think as much as all the tutoring’s been good, because it’s helped her always” (Cora, P2, 309-310). In Grade 8, Kira moved to the neighborhood public high school, as being with her friend was important for her wellbeing however, the academic aspect suffered.  Her mother Cora said: “once they get into high school, it’s just like, you’re on your own program. You’re on your own!” (Cora, P2, 84-85). To support Kira they hired a math tutor four times a week. She said: “Luckily, we’ve got a great math tutor, so Kira’s getting pulled out from math and she’s going to do online math” (Cora, P2, 364-365). Currently, Kira is attending mainstream high school and taking math, science, and English online. She has been negotiating her accommodations at school, based on her IEP, as they were denied by some of her teachers.  Oliver was diagnosed in Grade 5 with learning disabilities in math and in writing. He   134 stayed in the same French Immersion elementary school and moved on to his neighborhood high school. Mark, his father, described Oliver’s relief of math: “when I removed him from doing math at school, the level of anxiety around school changed so dramatically. It was almost like a different student (.  .  .). The stress just wasn’t there” (Mark, P1, 512-520). The class context and the need to negotiate IEP terms and conditions added stress to Oliver, so he enrolled to online English and Math. Oliver explained why he enrolled to online English: “it’s wasn’t really the subject English that I have a problem with, it was more the teacher (.  .  .) basically he was … ahhh … I don’t know, he’s really not good with different learning styles and stuff like that” (Oliver, S2, 28-31). Throughout the year Oliver also received ongoing academic support from him father. For Oliver’s artistic talent, he received an award from his school recognizing the excellence of his art. Oliver and Kira managed to experience successes in public high school by enrolling in online courses, receiving tutoring support, and enjoying their social life in school.   4.3.4.  Specialized Private Schools (Jonathan and James) For both Jonathan and James the specialized school in elementary years helped them in mastering the foundation of reading and developing work habits and learning to accept their different condition of learning difference. After diagnosing Jonathan in public school in Grade 3, Dewayne said that he thought that: “going through the psych-ed (.  .  .) that the lights would come on, the resources would come in, our son would finally get the teaching he needs. Ahh that was the beginning of the frustration” (Dewayne, P1, 208-210). He explained that: “Going through Grade 4 and realizing that there was no resources given to students who had a disability like that, or had an IEP. That all they were doing was accommodating and not teaching” (Dewayne, P1, 250 -252). Although Dewayne reported, “Jonathan was, I’m going to put this in quotes, ‘lucky enough’ to get chosen to go to this program in the [name] school district for kids with learning disabilities” (Dewayne, P1, 173-174). Jonathan did not improve his reading in that   135 program. Dewayne’s priority was to insure that Jonathan learns effectively the foundation skills of reading and writing. He realized that he was “not going to get what he needs out of the school” (Dewayne, P1, 260) and he also realized the magnitude of improvement Jonathan had as a result of private tutoring in phonological awareness from a trained specialized tutor during the summer. Therefore, he decided to explore private specialized schools: “[private specialized] school seemed to be the one that would work for us. (.  .  .) we’ll put our pennies together and see what we can come up with and pool our money” (Dewayne, P1, 263 -265). Jonathan attended the [private] school for three years from Grade 5 to Grade 7. Dewayne described Jonathan’s learning progress: “when he left [name] school his reading ability was above his grade average … [crying]” (Dewayne, P1, 330-331). He further said: “If we hadn’t done that, he would have a Grade 3 reading level. (.  .  .) … I’m not going to say we could afford because we went in debt to do it” (Dewayne, P1, 95- 99). Dewayne reported about Jonathan’s public high school setting: “He’s in the mainstream program right now. Last year he was in an adaptive program” (Dewayne, P1, 313-314). He described that they managed the content and application of the IEP by providing teachers with information about Jonathan’s learning needs and about dyslexia in general.  James’ difficulties in school in Grade 1 urged Barbara to find alternative settings. She said: “That motivated me to try many different things for him and to find a place that was safe for him to be in [crying]. It’s a really hard thing to have a kid like this [crying]” (Barbara, P1, 49-51). Barbara further said: ”So I pushed really hard and figured out how to get him into the private school. I put him in [name] school for two years” (Barbara, P1, 221-222). She also indicated that: “he attended million different schools [laughing]” (Barbara, P1, 239-240). James attended Grades 1 and 2 in a public school, Grade 3 and 4 in a private specialized school, Grade 5 and 6 in another private specialized school, Grade 7 in a mainstream middle school, and Grade 8 in   136 another mainstream middle school, and Grade 9 in his current high school. Barbara described his first year back in public high school after all his years in private specialized elementary schools: “Grade 9 was a tough year, we had lots and lots of support with tutors, which we pay” (Barbara, P1, 277-278). Barbara noted the cost of his schooling: The first year was $15,000 for the year, the second year was close to $19,000, (.  .  .) Then, we couldn’t afford it after that, so we moved him to the [name of school] which was closer to 15, and we did that for two years. (.  .  .) He made good friends and felt confident and it was good. We don’t have a lot of money, so we had to move him out of that school, eventually [laughing], and back to public school. (.  .  .) [crying]. (Barbara, P1, 224- 233)    In his public high school, James is in the mainstream classes in most subjects and in an adaptive class for math. In our last interview I asked James what was his best memory from his school experiences. He replied: “It was all pretty terrible, until the end” (James, SP3, 192). Although James attended the best available private specialized schools his experience was harsh. James reported to find pleasure after school in creative and innovative building of a motor cart/bike, electric guitar from a cigar box and other used materials, and a welding table for his future machine building work. In Grade 11, James was an honour roll student.  4.3.5.  Summary  This third theme, searching for alternative settings, illustrates the various educational settings participants chose so they could meet their personal learning needs. The various characteristics of learning settings included; access to teachers support, eliminating stigma and feeling normal, enjoying their social networks, and mastering the academic skills in specialized school. These journeys shows the importance in meeting the various needs of each student such as, social, emotional, personal passions, sports, expressing their strengths, and honing their academic skills, to allow a healthy equilibrium in their life so they can flourish as a whole individual.     137 Chapter 5:   Learning and Teaching  This chapter includes the fourth theme that introduces perspectives and experiences of students and parents about various aspects of students’ learning and teaching in schools. Five sub-themes were identified in the interview data. The first sub-theme, “Academic learning and teaching,” includes the purpose and implementation of accommodations and other assisting technologies. The second sub-theme, “Emerging beliefs and expectations,” discusses the impact of low and high expectations on learning and teaching. The third sub-theme, “Social aspects of learning and teaching,” discusses collaboration, relationships, and the wellbeing of students and teachers. The fourth sub-theme, “Expecting teachers’ professionalism and training,” discusses parents’ and students’ expectations of teachers. The fifth sub-theme, “Beyond half full or half empty,” presents strengths, deficits, and diverse outcomes approach to learning and teaching. These themes serve to answer the first two research questions: 1) How do students describe their experiences of and perspectives on having learning disabilities? 2) How do parents describe their experiences of and perspectives on their child’s learning disabilities?   5.1.   Academic Learning and Teaching  This sub-theme includes four parts as reported by participants. The first part is a discussion on the purpose of accommodations. The second part includes the implementations of accommodations. The third part relates to the measurement of learning through a written output task. The fourth part is about assistive technologies for students.   5.1.1.   Considering the Purpose of Accommodations  Students with a learning disability diagnosis are eligible in school for accommodations as documented in their IEP to help them meet academic expectations. Following this notion, Kate said, “everybody should get accommodations so that they reach their potential” (Kate, P2, 121). She further elaborated on what kind of accommodations, “A reader, a writer, assistive   138 technologies, Yeah! Basically so the child can do almost everything that everyone else is doing, just with a little bit of help” (Kate, P2, 62-63). Cora described that generic rather than individualized accommodations were available to Kira, “put your kid at the front. (.  .  .) or do retakes, give them more time. (.  .  .) There’s not much teachers can do” (Cora, P1, 83-85). Barbara shared the kinds of accommodations that James needed, “writing an exam, he can go to the resource room (.  .  .) he needs help with reading a big passage (.  .  .) needs to scribe, sometimes he needs to be able to do it on a computer” (Barbara, P1, 366-369).  Dewayne, Jonathan’s father, pointed to an underlying nuance regarding the accommodations, “There’s the problem! It’s not designed to figure out how to teach him. It’s designed to figure out how to ACCOMODATE his disability. And … that right there is the whole crux of the problem” (Dewayne, P1, 78-80). Dewayne contested providing students tools for meeting certain academic requirements of, for example, writing and exams. He advocated for providing tools for supporting learning and development of students. He further questioned the reliance on giving more time, a reader, and a scribe as the ultimate assistance for students so they are more able to meet standard expectation of exam writing. He said, “You can give twice as much time. (.  .  .) a recorder and he reads the questions and reads the answer that comes to his mind. (.  .  .) Why does it always have to be a written output?” (Dewayne, SP3, 285-287). Regarding alternatives to writing and exams, Cora said that allowing Kira to present her learning in a project format rather than in a test would be helpful, however, she explained, “that would entail so much too for a teacher. It really would. If they had another teacher in the classroom, maybe they could take on her project. These teachers are really very busy. Some of them are checked out” (Cora, P1, 88-90). Kira shared her perspective on how she can better show her learning through projects, “[referring to projects] I know that I can do well that it makes me want to do well. I know I can prove to the teacher [laughing] … that I’m not just like, that I don’t   139 slack off. That I actually try” (Kira, SP3, 310-313). Kira, like Dewayne, argued that accommodations should help students express their learning in diverse ways and not only accommodate students within standard methods of exams writing.  Time was one of the most common types of accommodation reported by students. Oliver shared, “I get as much time as I want to do tests and assignments. (.  .  .) Not projects” (Oliver, S1, 107). Having more time was helpful for Oliver as he said, “that’s probably the biggest help … for me. That’s definitely the main one right there, just having more time” (Oliver, S1, 108-109). Anthony described his difficulty before he received extra time, “It was pretty difficult I didn’t fully learn material that well because the teachers in our elementary school passed through it quite quickly. And … Sometimes I didn’t finish my tasks because I didn’t have enough time” (Anthony, S1, 32-34). However, with accommodations, he said, “I have more time on tests” (Anthony, S2, 89). He emphasized that, “That helps. It gives me more time to plan out what I’m going to write down then write if I’m writing an essay” (Anthony, S1, 96-97). Anthony described more specifically how extra time helped him: Because when I didn’t have more time towards the end of the test, (.  .  .) I get stressed and then panic. Then with more time, I feel a sense of relief and I can relax a bit more and then finish it more thoroughly. (Anthony, S2, 115-119) Anthony described that his academic difficulties caused him emotional difficulties merely due to not having enough time. Maria, Antony’s mother, who is a resource teacher, expressed her concern that students were not reaching mastery in learning, “Some kids in the class may not have time to finish their work and they’re moving on, (.  .  .) and it’s exhausting” (Maria, SP3, 326-327). Maria, as a teacher, wished that her students would have more time to master a concept before moving on to the next topic or skill.   140 The length of time that teachers spent with students in teaching was another aspect of time participants discussed. Annie described teachers in the alternative program, “They take their time. They’re not in a rush. If I want to sit there for an hour and I can’t understand something, they’re going to sit with me for an hour until I understand that” (Annie, S1, 352- 354). On the other hand in elementary school she reported that, “I don’t know I just kind of felt like they just didn’t want to put their time into me” (Annie, S1, 68). Anthony described the amount of time offered by teachers in his mini high school:  The teachers in mini school, (.  .  .) they spend a lot more time with the kids and do it more like hands on instead of just the teachers giving you a lecture and you just take notes and then do a test, big test. (Anthony, S2, 229-235)  He argued that hands on activities are better use of a teacher’s time than lectures and big tests. In sum, according to both parents and students, accommodations were also crucial in the life of students with learning disabilities in schools: a reader, a scribe, use of computer for a spell check, and other assistive technologies intended to help students meet the expected academic standards by compensating for their difficulties. Anthony noted, “I can use a computer if I’m writing an essay. I can use a calculator in math” (Anthony, S2, 92-93). Parents differentiated between accommodations to teach students so they learn and accommodating to create shortcuts for students to meet the expected academic standard. For example, a scribe accommodated students by compensating for their difficulty to master the skill of writing, so they could show their learned material in a written exam according to expected standards. The tool of a scribe, thus, was serving students in meeting the expected standards, but not serving them in mastering the skill of writing or in allowing them to show their learning independently. Some parents argued for the strengths-based approach to bypass a writing difficulty by allowing students to communicate their appropriation of and engagement with the material they learned verbally   141 through presentations or artistically through projects. Others argued that accommodations to bypass deficient skills to help students meet academic standards should not replace mediating mastery of the skills that are difficult for them while also allowing students’ engagement.  5.1.2.   Implementing the Accommodations Participants expected teachers to implement the accommodations documented in the Individual Educational Plan (IEP) legal document formulated by the school-based team and sometimes based on psychoeducational assessment results. Discussing the implementation, Oliver described teachers’ familiarity with his IEP: A teacher never really came up to me and has been like, “Oh, yeah. Your IEP says this and this and this.” It’s always me or my parents emailing them and be like, “Oh, this, this, this.” Sometimes they’ll almost ignore it. One time my teacher came to me and was like, “Your IEP says you have extra time for tests so like you should go outside the class and finish your test.” And all that so I was really happy to hear that … so … and that was only one teacher. (Oliver, S1, 165-171) In addition to teachers’ low awareness of the IEP, it was also the case that some teachers were opposed to it. Oliver reported that his science teacher told him, “You shouldn’t have an IEP in Grade 10” (Oliver, S1, 190).  Kira also reported that, “a lot of teachers have no idea what an IEP even is” (Kira, S1, 69). One of her Grade 10 teachers told her, “He said, I don’t think it’s okay to give you more advantages than everyone else in the class, or I’d give them it too” (Kira, S1, 267-268). She further reported, “my English teacher this year didn’t let me … Was like, ‘I’m not giving you extra time on this and stuff.’ He didn’t think it was fair” (Kira, S1, 60-61). Kira indicated her position when reminding teachers of her IEP, “you have to talk to your teachers in the beginning to say ‘can I use the computer?’ and ‘can I do this and this?’ but it’s kinda like, I feel guilty   142 sometimes doing it” (Kira, S1, 66-67). Kira noted that although she could advocate for herself when teachers were not following her IEP’s guidelines, she felt guilty about it.      Mark, Oliver’s father, noted that some students who experience learning disabilities do not have someone to advocate for them to ensure that their needs are met:  I’ve found that once I make the teacher aware of the IEP (.  .  .) Then there’s usually a fairly quick response. Not in every case (.  .  .) So you can imagine there are students, as I said before, who do not have a psych-ed in place, do not have an IEP in place, or if there is and the parents don’t make the teaching staff aware of it, they will be ignored. (Mark, P2, 173-178)  Mark, Oliver’s father, who is a teacher in alternative high school, noted that not all students with learning difficulties are fortunate to be assessed and diagnosed to draw attention to their needs. Moreover, some parents of diagnosed students are not aware that some teachers do not implement the IEP. With no systemic advocacy for students with difficulties or with a diagnosis they are at risk of not being noticed. Barbara shared her communication with the public high school regarding James’ IEP: I emailed the teacher at the beginning of the year, for every part of school, since we’ve been in public school, “This is James, these are the things he can’t do.  Please be aware. Do not ask him to read in front of class.” I’ve had teachers do that.  Despite my admonitions, and, “He may need slight significant support. If you can’t do it, let me know and I’ll figure out a way to make that happen.” (Barbara, P1, 316-320)  Barbara described a scenario in which teachers were not following the IEP so parents had to remind them regularly to apply the IEP’s guidelines. This raises a concern for students with an IEP, whose parents are not confidently advocating by reminding teachers regularly of the IEP. There is a possibility of students being ignored although they have an IEP because they do not   143 have someone, either at home or at school, to advocate for their rights documented in the IEP.  When Alexandra was attending a private high school, her parents advocated for her. Alexandra shared that her teachers also need reminders, “I would say (.  .  .) my teachers. (.  .  .) they all know my IEP, they have it.  Sometimes I do need to remind them” (Alexandra, S1, 100-103). James also noted, “I’ve had teachers that haven’t known I’m dyslexic. I have told them, and they just forget” (James, S1, 69-70). However, he clarified if teachers are aware then “some teachers that are quite good about it and they offer to scribe whenever they can and stuff like that. Yeah it really depends on the teacher” (James, S1, 70-72). James described that if teachers know what students need support or accommodations they are likely to provide it. However, in some cases, the equity value underlying accommodating students based on their needs––grounded in the BC policy and documented in the IEP by school personnel––was either not agreed upon, ignored, or forgotten. Thus, the IEPs were not implemented systematically by all teachers.  5.1.3.  Test Writing Measuring Learning or Written Output  Students had strong opinions about test taking and the validity of tests as a measure of their knowledge, understanding, and learning. Elizabeth described that preparing for tests and doing well on tests did not guarantee her appropriation or mastering of the material:  Pretty much, you know if you study the night before, really hard and you know the information, you can ace the test, but then it all goes out your ear. I don’t remember a lot of the stuff I’ve learned because I’ve been able to kind of like work through the system. (Elizabeth, S2, 529-532) Elizabeth who was at the end of Grade 12 at the time of the interview noted that high school, “it’s like not a place to learn right now. It’s a place to learn and forget” (Elizabeth, S2, 536-537), meaning that test performance is not a parameter for learning. Kira also expressed that, “My opinion on tests is they are really unfair. (.  .  .) A lot of people don’t do well on them because   144 it’s not how they learn” (Kira, S1, 823-829). Dewayne shared that tests do not reflect Jonathan’s learning, yet, he needed to write in tests. He said: “When he’s doing a test, he does the minimum amount of work.” Every single time we heard that, we had to remind them, “By the way, he’s got written output challenges, but if you were to test him verbally, I think you’d be surprised.” [they replied] “Oh yeah, he’s really good verbally.” (Dewayne, SP3, 264-267)  Alternatively to measuring his limited written output, Dewayne suggested measuring his learning through his strengths of speaking, as his Grade 3 teacher did. Kira argued that tests are false measures of her learning. She said:  It’s a false like… kind of judgment of what you know. Because it puts a lot of stress on you, (.  .  .) I would do so much better in school if I only had projects and homework. (.  .  .) because I do pretty well in those. (Kira, S1, 832-836) Tests were not reflecting her learning because her reading and writing difficulties and the stress she experienced during tests hindered her ability to show her learning.  Mark also expressed his doubt in the validity of tests as a measure of learning, “I don’t know that testing is always fair to begin with. It’s like climbing the tree” [referring to the cartoon “Our Education System” see Appendix F] (Mark, SP3, 518-519). Mark shared what would be Oliver’s preferred way to show his learning: “For a student like Oliver, if he were given the opportunity to present something in a video format or artistically, that’s a completely different, then the table turns and you can see someone who can excel at something” (Mark, SP3, 521-523). Mark further indicated his hope that strengths of students would be used to show their understanding. He said, “So, I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that for students that are in Kindergarten now that if they have strengths in other areas that they’ll be able to use those strengths to show their understanding” (Mark, SP3, 524-527).    145 Participants expressed that test taking requires use of their weaknesses in written output, reading, and stress management during tests taking. Therefore, tests are not a fair measure of their learning. Parents suggested the possibility of students expressing their learning through projects or other formats that allow them to use their strengths.  5.1.4.    Assistive Technologies   Students and parents described various types of assistive technologies provided for students in school. Videos, audio-books, hands on learning and teaching, explicit and individualized explanations, discussions, and other assistive technologies, were used and found helpful to support the learning and teaching processes of students with learning disabilities. Use of visuals or videos was noted by Alexandra, “I learn more hands on and actually seeing something happen, rather than reading about it I guess. Like watching videos about a war in Social or something, I find that more useful than reading about the war” (Alexandra, S1, 539-541). Kira was grateful for teachers’ use of videos, “my teachers have given me a lot of different ways to study (.  .  .) my Socials teacher. He would show a lot of videos about everything we were learning, and that really helped me” (Kira, S1, 279-281). Audio books were helpful tool for Jonathan and other students. Dewayne, his father, said: We’ve downloaded the audio book, got the movie. We’re doing everything we can to help him get through that and still achieve what they’re trying to achieve with that. If he was to sit down and read it, he would get to the end of the page and wonder what the page was about. (Dewayne, P1, 313-318) Videos or audios were described as effective technologies that teachers and parents provided to students. In addition, Alexandra noted, “I also have my laptop, which will read to me textbooks or if I need to Google stuff. I have programs on my laptop that I can highlight it and it will read it to me” (Alexandra, S1, 63-64).   146 Kate described a stressful situation and how it was technically resolved. She said: Music, art class, Physical Ed. (.  .  .) Some of her biggest upsets have come from classes like that. (.  .  .) it was sheet music. (.  .  .) She’d be the last person to find her song. Then she CAN learn it, but she’s going to be slower, but the teacher had no idea that she had an IEP, so I had to phone her up and say, “You do know she’s dyslexic? Well your titles are stressing her out. Why don’t we color code it?” (.  .  .) So we solved it. (Kate, P1, 114-125) A tool as simple as color-coding sticker to mark sheet music made music class manageable for Alexandra and for her teacher. Teachers used assistive technology and other accommodations to assist the learning processes. Students noted the benefits of assistive technologies, such as, video, audio, scribes, and use of computer.  5.1.5.  Summary Based on the interview data implementing accommodation had the purpose of helping students to meet standard academic expectations of, usually, writing a test. Another purpose of the accommodations was to give students opportunities to show what they have learned by using assistive technologies, that is a different way then the standard test writing. Accommodations helped students meet the standard expectation but sometimes the focus on it neglected the importance of providing students with tools to learn the skill of writing for example, rather than by passing the use of the skill of writing. In addition, no accommodation could be implemented without teachers’ agreement with the need of it based on an equity principal.  5.2.   Beliefs and Expectations Shaping Learning and Teaching Beliefs of teachers about students’ abilities and beliefs of students about teachers’ expectations of them carried emotional weight that affected students-teachers relationships that then affected the learning and teaching processes. Beliefs and expectations were entangled and overlapped in the interview data as shared by participants. Four patterns are presented in this sub-theme. The   147 first pattern is the potential positive effect of high expectations. The second pattern is the potential negative effect of low expectations. The third pattern is the unfair aspects of some expectations. The fourth pattern is the web of beliefs underlying people’s interactions in the learning and teaching processes.   5.2.1.  Positive Effect of High Expectations of Academic Outcomes Participants’ perspectives suggested that setting high expectations that reflect the beliefs in students’ ability or potential helped students improve their standards of performance. Elizabeth argued, “Expectations are good though, because then you’re held to a standard” (Elizabeth, S2, 400). For example, Jonathan described his teacher’s words conveying expectations higher than his level of performing, “he’s like really confident, and he’s a confidence booster, I guess. He’s like, ‘I know you can do it. It can’t be that hard for you.’ Kind of jokes around” (Jonathan, S1, 375-378). Maria described Anthony’s drastic positive change in behaviour and academic performance when he moved to high school. She attributed his improvement to his high school teacher’s, “same guy, same Anthony. But she was very positive. She tell me, ‘He’s a funny guy, very social.’ The approach there was different. (.  .  .) Then, he started to change. (.  .  .) felt good about himself” (Maria, P2, 304-309). Maria attributed Anthony’s improvement to the change from elementary school teachers’ negative interpretations of him to the mini high school teachers’ positive approach to him. Mark, Oliver’s father, summarized the effect of expectations on students’ learning:  I think the teachers that he has admired and learned the best from, have given him the ability to realize that he can do anything that he would like to do. (.  .  .) I think those that have not have also, in the back of his mind, let him know that he can’t do everything. (Mark, P1, 247-251) Elizabeth, Jonathan, Maria, and Mark reported that teachers’ positive expectations of students   148 supported their improvement and, as Mark indicated, low expectations had also influenced students.  5.2.2.   Negative Effects of Low Expectations of Academic Outcomes The influence of teachers’ expectations was evident also when teachers conveyed low academic standards for students. Barbara described what she thought one teacher believed about her son James, “there was a teacher last year, his math teacher (.  .  .) who felt that he was just a bad kid and was cheating and all this stuff” (Barbara, P1, 470-472). She further elaborated that the teacher’s beliefs and low expectations of James did not match the high mark he produced on his math test. Barbara said, “essentially not trusting his abilities and it’s not affirming the work that he had done and the effort that he had put in, and just basically accusing him of cheating. That was hard” (Barbara, P1, 531-533). Barbara interpreted the teacher’s beliefs as reflecting low expectations. She said, “Essentially, the message was, ‘You’re not smart enough to have done that well.’ Right? That was really negative” (Barbara, P1, 535-536). Barbara was adamant about the inaccuracy of the math teacher’s beliefs and expectations of James to perform at a lower level than he performed. She said:  My husband and I went in there to talk to her about this, because James was devastated and hurt because he was working really, really hard [knocking on the table to emphasize] and was doing well, and she was accusing him of cheating, and was saying, “You can’t do your exam in the resource room, because I want to watch you.” So David went in there and was like, “Look, this is not okay.”  (Barbara, P1, 474-478)   James’ parents noticed the negative impact that these low expectations had on James.  Kate described a scenario of teachers lowering their expectations of students. She said, “give up on them. You know? ‘It’ll be too hard for them to learn this, so why bother teaching them?’ (Kate, P2, 29-30). She emphasized the impact of teacher’s expectations and words of   149 encouragement that convey their beliefs in students’ abilities:  Their expectations are lowered. So emm … say if the teacher knows this student is gifted, they usually give them more work to do to try to encourage them to reach their potential, but with an LD student, “Oh well, just do three math questions.  (.  .  .) Instead of giving them proper accommodations like a reader, “Let’s read through all of those word problems. You can do this. I know you can,” (.  .  .) So a lowered expectation. (Kate, P2, 35-42) Kate described how teachers’ beliefs of students’ abilities dictated their expectations of students and elaborated on the negative effect of teachers’ low expectations on students.  When someone else’s expectations are lower, then it affects your self-esteem.  Especially when you’re little … [laughing] because you’re trying to get some of your self-esteem from that teacher. Their enthusiasm, their willingness to help you and their expectations of you, sometimes when you’re a kid, dictate how you see yourself. (Kate, P2, 52-55) Kate noted that the impact of teacher’s beliefs go beyond academic outcomes to affect students’ self esteem.  In the second interview, further discussing her perceptions of her teacher, Elizabeth explained her view that teachers’ low expectations may inhibit growth:  Well if expectations are low I guess it’s easy to surpass them. Also, that means you can’t push yourself harder because it’s like, you can just pass that expectation right away. Then, you’re like, “Oh, I’m good.” But then there’s no other, because you want to keep climbing the ladder. And like … If the ladder stops, then you’re kind of there at your destination, but maybe that’s not the destination you want to go to, if that makes sense. (Elizabeth, S2, 402-409) Elizabeth’s analysis of teachers’ expectations linked w