Program for Students with Learning Disabilities
Part I – Description of the Program for Students with Learning Disabilities (PSLD)
The PSLD provides academic accommodations and instructional services to University
of Alberta students identified as having learning disabilities. The program started as a
pilot project in 1986 and was developed in consultation with Dr. Lillian Whyte of the
Department of Educational Psychology. It is administered by Specialized Support and
The PSLD runs throughout the calendar year. Instructional components as well as
exam writing accommodations, technology supports, counselling, advising, and classes
are provided during the Fall Session (September – December) and Winter Session
(January – April). During Spring/Summer Session (May – August), some services are
reduced. However, students may still access exam accommodations, and receive
assistance with strategies, counselling, and advising.
A large body of research literature supports the position that, with instruction in specific
learning strategies and the assistance of a system of support services, adults with
learning disabilities can succeed in university degree programs. The University of
Alberta offers a program to provide these support services. Program goals are
achieved through a multi-component system utilizing a cognitive strategies approach to
The following are the goals of the PSLD:
To identify and assess students at the University of Alberta, who because of
learning disabilities, are having difficulty succeeding in academic courses.
To develop and administer programming and support services that will help these
students to acquire strategies for learning more effectively and independently, so
that they can succeed in their academic work with reasonable effort.
To help these students develop their abilities in skill areas such as reading,
writing, studying, personal management, and social interaction.
To assist these students in developing awareness and understanding of their
own learning profiles and to support the development of self-advocacy.
To evaluate the effectiveness of the program, modify it as required, and share
findings with other post-secondary institutions.
PSLD Service Components
The PSLD provides the following services. PSLD staff determine with each student
which service components are appropriate.
Individualized Educational/Support Plan (IEP/ISP)
Evaluation and Support Program Planning
Learning Strategies Classes
Reading Strategies Classes
Writing Strategies Classes
Individualized and Drop-in Strategy Coaching
Advising and Counselling (Academic and Personal)
Training in use of computer, adaptive technology, and technical devices
The following is a brief description of the service components in the PSLD.
In addition to the initial psycho-educational assessments required to receive services
through the PSLD, each student works with staff to complete specific assessments.
These assessments evaluate current skills in reading, writing and learning strategies
and help students and staff to work together to develop an individualized program of
support. Initially these assessments take place when students first join the PSLD (in
September or January of each year). To monitor progress, informal re-evaluation of
these skills takes place throughout the four terms of the PSLD. A final follow-up
assessment occurs when students have completed the program.
The PSLD team works with students to schedule and administer assessments. Then
the PSLD Manager discusses results with students. Members of the PSLD team, in
consultation with each student, use these results and information from the initial psycho-
educational assessments to design a combination of the PSLD components suited to
Individual Education/Support Plans (IEP’s)
Based on assessment results and information obtained from meetings with the student,
an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is designed with each student. The purpose of the
IEP is to specify which aspects of the PSLD are appropriate and to monitor the progress
of each student. Regular reviews of this progress take place between the student and
PSLD staff. This contact allows the student to update staff on marks in university
courses and gives the staff the opportunity to evaluate, in collaboration with each
student, progress in the program.
Evaluation and Support Program Planning
Students enrolled in their first term of the PSLD participate in up to 20 hours of
individual consultation with the PSLD Manager and other PSLD and SSDS staff
members and in learning strategies classes. As awareness of individual learning
profiles (areas of strength and need) develops, the PSLD staff and students can
collaborate more effectively to explore options regarding a variety of strategies and
supports to address individual needs. By the end of this term, each student will have
played an integral part in developing his/her Individualized Educational/Support Plan
with the PSLD staff. This process will include in-depth evaluation of skills essential to
succeed in an academic environment, consideration of previous strategy and
technology use, facilitation of referrals as appropriate, and selection of relevant sections
of PSLD strategies classes for subsequent terms. Students will also develop or refine
their own self-advocacy plans throughout this process.
Note: 1. This consultation may be used as a transitional term for students
entering U of A directly from a secondary or post-secondary institution at
which the students have received accommodations or programming
related to their learning disability.
2. The PSLD recognizes that the delivery sequence of components may
need to be altered in the case of students who enter the PSLD
immediately prior to, or during a field, co-operative, clinical, or teaching
placement; during their final year of university; or, for students who are
experiencing other extraordinary circumstances.
Instruction in Cognitive Strategies
Each instructional component of the PSLD involves up to 12 hours/term of instruction in
small group settings. Individualized Strategy Coaching with one of the PSLD Instructors
during designated lab times may supplement this instruction.
Learning Strategies Classes
In the first two consecutive terms of involvement in the PSLD, most students participate
in Learning Strategies classes. The instructional content includes goal setting, note
taking in the university setting, memory techniques, self-management, exam
preparation and writing, and collaborative learning. The first term of Learning Strategies
classes focuses upon ensuring awareness and development of general strategies. The
second term of Learning Strategies classes emphasizes expansion, generalization, and
transfer of specific strategies to meet the demands of different academic situations.
Reading Strategies Classes
Once students and the PSLD team have completed one term of Evaluation and Support
Program Planning and have developed an Individualized Educational/Support Plan,
students participate in appropriate sections of Reading Strategies classes during their
second through fourth terms of involvement in the PSLD. A cognitive learning
strategies approach is utilized in all sections. Instructional context in the different
sections targets strategies appropriate for areas such as reading comprehension (basic
and advanced), vocabulary building and efficient decoding (word attack), and flexibility
in approach to reading (skimming, scanning, rate). Students’ awareness of their own
learning profiles is emphasized. This awareness serves as the basis for choosing and
implementing individually appropriate strategies. Adaptive software programs are
integrated into strategy instruction.
Writing Strategies Classes
Again, once students and the PSLD team have completed one term of Evaluation and
Support Program Planning and have developed an Individualized Educational/Support
Plan, students participate in appropriate sections of Writing Strategies classes during
the second through fourth terms of involvement in the PSLD. A cognitive learning
strategies approach is also utilized for instruction in all sections of the Writing Strategies
classes. Instructional content in the different sections targets strategies for building
skills throughout the writing process. Some sections may focus upon strategies to
clarify and define essay topics; select, organize, and integrate written information; use
supportive evidence; and, discern various points of view for an issue. Grammar and
vocabulary development, spelling, punctuation, editing, and increasing the length of
written production while decreasing time expended are also emphasized. Students
learn to apply writing strategies to their university courses, to integrate basic adaptive
software programs into their strategies, and to modify and monitor their strategy use
according to their learning profiles.
Individualized Strategy Coaching
Students may participate in individualized coaching in reading, writing or learning
strategies. Although individual appointments may occasionally be booked, drop-in lab
hours are established to assist students in adapting skills and strategies learned in
PSLD classes to suit specific academic assignments. Please note that this service
differs significantly from content tutoring; the instructors coach students in modifying
and applying strategies based upon the requirements of the assignments and students
learning profiles. Instructors do not serve as content tutors.
The PSLD advising component is designed to help students achieve their academic
potentials through a variety of academic, personal, and social strategies.
The PSLD provides academic advising and support in the following areas:
Facilitating students’ understanding of psycho-educational assessment results
Helping students to choose appropriate academic programs and course loads
Helping students to acquire effective communication skills with instructors
regarding their learning disabilities
Determining exam accommodations according to students’ needs
Liaison with faculties and staff regarding students’ learning disabilities and
participation in the PSLD
Providing recommendations and supporting letters, and supporting students with
academic appeals, if needed
Liaison with university staff is extremely important in supporting students.
Accommodations required by students may involve the cooperation of instructors,
departments, or faculties. These arrangements may include gaining permission to tape
lectures, making exam accommodations, preparing for field placements (such as
teaching placements), and other individualized arrangements.
Upon referral by the PSLD Manager, other forms of assistance and opportunities may
also be available, such as the following:
Accessing reserved work/study space
Coaching to appropriately transfer academic strategies and supports to career
Sponsorship for professional development opportunities
Production of texts or readings in alternate format because of severe reading
difficulties (materials that are not available from CNIB or Recordings for the Blind
and Dyslexic can be read on to tape by volunteer readers at SSDS.
Furthermore, SSDS can teach students to prepare their required readings in e-
text form for use with voice-output programs)
Progress and Evaluation
A student’s progress in the PSLD will be evaluated through the following methods:
PSLD staff’s regular notations on IEP’s (i.e., progress in reading, writing,
academic skills, etc)
The student’s marks on papers/exams and final course grades
The student’s own sense of accomplishment and self-esteem
Completion of PSLD classes
When applicable, transferring to more appropriate educational programs within
the university, or to studies or employment elsewhere
Moving from academic probation to satisfactory academic standing
Formal post-testing through PSLD
Graduating from university
If progress at university is not forthcoming, the PSLD staff will work with the student to
evaluate the reasons and make recommendations. The PSLD needs input from the
students to be effective; therefore, questionnaires regarding PSLD component delivery
are distributed at the end of each term. Comments and suggestions assist the PSLD
team in monitoring the effectiveness of the PSLD and in making modifications to
programming and delivery.
Part II – Program Requirements, Recommendations, and Responsibilities
To be successful in the PSLD, the student must meet several requirements:
Program contract and Individualized Educational/Support Plan
Appointments with PSLD staff
Program Contract and Individualized Educational/Support Plan
The PSLD team and each student will establish a program contract based upon
individual needs to determine appropriate services and components. It is very important
that both the student and PSLD staff make a commitment to follow this plan; therefore,
students are actively involved in developing their Individualized Educational/Support
Consistent attendance at PSLD classes and meetings is essential to fulfilling the
desired goals of the year of programming planed with the PSLD team. Progress in the
program, determined by more efficient and effective learning, depends on regular
Absences will be discussed at weekly staff meetings. Students with questionable
attendance records will be asked to meet with the staff to discuss program commitment
and continuation of services.
Appointments with PSLD Staff
Students must make appointments with the PSLD Manager at the beginning and end of
each term. These appointments are essential to arrange funding, to facilitate progress,
and to ensure effective communication between students and PSLD staff.
Both university students and PSLD staff have very tight schedules! Therefore, all
appointments must be kept or rescheduled well in advance. Cancellation notice must
be received at least 24 hours prior to appointment time or the appointment will be
recorded as a delivered service and funders will be billed accordingly.
Program Recommendations Students enrolled in the PSLD take a reduced course
load; three (or two in some circumstances), rather than five courses, still allow full-time
student status. This allows students to spend more time on course work, the PSLD
classes, and applying new strategies. Students may need to obtain permission to
reduce their course loads from their faculties. The Manager can provide formal support
for this, when necessary.
Responsibilities of the Students in the PSLD
In addition to program requirements and recommendations outlined in the general
sections of this SSDS Student Handbook and Part I of this Supplement, PSLD students
must meet additional responsibilities. PSLD staff and students must work together so
that students receive the assistance they require to complete their degrees and so that
staff can provide effective and efficient services. The following section outlines
Communicate academic and personal needs to PSLD staff
Check e-mail regularly
Communicate Academic and Personal Needs to PSLD Staff
Communication is important to ensure effective and efficient provision of individualized
services. For staff to advocate for students and make appropriate recommendations,
students must take the following steps:
Meet with the Manager a minimum of twice each term (at the beginning and the
end of the term).
Make an appointment with the Manager immediately if notification of academic
warning, probation, or a requirement to withdraw is received.
Make an appointment with the Manager if letters of support or recommendation
are required. At least two weeks’ notice to prepare support letters is needed.
The PSLD staff frequently uses e-mail to contact students. All students in the PSLD
should activate their University of Alberta e-mail accounts and check for messages at
least once each week. Students should check their e-mail for messages at least once
Students should make sure that they are fully aware of the PSLD requirements and
recommendations. Students should clarify any confusion with PSLD staff.