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UBC Theses and Dissertations

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


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 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.

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