Factors Affecting Academic Confidence in Teens with Learning Disorders

Home executive functioning Factors Affecting Academic Confidence in Teens with Learning Disorders

There is a reason that many boarding schools for teens with learning disorders shy away from using the phrase “special education.” According to a recent study, published in the British Journal of Sociology and Education, grouping children into classes based on their ability significantly affects students’ self-confidence. While our academic program specializes in working with teens with learning differences, we take an individualized approach to making classroom accommodations rather than separating students by their specific struggles. 

Putting Students into Special Education Classes

This study surveyed more than 9,000 middle school students taking part in Math and English classes where they were grouped by ability. The analysis shows that when compared with two years previously, there was a general trend that students had higher self-confidence in the subject area of mathematics or English if they were placed in the top set and a significantly lower self-confidence when placed in the bottom set in mathematics when compared with an average student in the middle set. This gap in self-confidence widens over time when students are placed in fixed tracks according to their ability at the time of placement testing, rather than re-evaluating students’ need for additional support on an ongoing basis. 

These findings suggest that the problem is not to offer specialized classrooms where accommodations are available, but that the problem comes with labeling students as “gifted” or “troubled.” These labels contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy, where students internalize these messages about their academic potential as part of who they are, not just their current level of understanding. It also ignores that while some subject areas may be more difficult based on executive functioning skills, other subject areas comes more easily. For many students with learning disorders, the core of their academic struggles is struggling with grasping essential study skills and communication skills, not with the subject material itself. Changing the course curriculum to accommodate the anticipated needs of students often doesn’t support building these skills. 

How Does Separating Teens with Learning Disorders Affect Students’ Identity and Future Goals?

Dr. Becky Taylor of the Institute of Education explains that “the labels associated with ability-based classes impact children’s self-perception in relation to their learning, subject identification, and feelings about themselves, as learners, and about their place in school. In turn, these factors affect students’ perceptions of their futures and the goals they set for themselves.” 

School settings are highly competitive when it comes to students comparing themselves to their peers; however, teachers often underestimate the fact that an achievement gap in a particular area is to be expected when every student learns in a unique way even though they are taught the same. While attempts to separate students by ability are well-intentioned, many students see this as “black-and-white.” Either they are smart and capable, or they are a failure and hopeless. As teenagers are taught that their grade school success determines their success as an adult, they often lose motivation early on rather than recognizing opportunities for continuous growth and learning.

We recognize that grades on an assignment don’t necessarily reflect one’s understanding of the curriculum or ability to apply that knowledge. Yet, students are easily discouraged by grades and are more likely to give up on goals if they believe that they are setting themselves up to fail. Teenagers, particularly those on the autism spectrum, are more likely to take feedback from teachers to heart without being able to understand where they might be coming from when they offer additional support. This can make it difficult for students to feel comfortable in a classroom setting.

How Can Residential Treatment Centers Build Academic Confidence?

Many of the students that we work with have a wide range of learning differences that have affected their classroom performance and confidence. Our teachers have years of experience working with this population, creating and curating curriculum to fit each student’s unique learning style. Through our academic program, our teachers help students build evidence that they have the potential to succeed in and out of the classroom. 

The mission of New Focus Academy is to provide individualized instruction in a supportive environment that promotes self-determination, resiliency, and excellence in learning. Our entire curriculum is focused on small class sizes where Life Skills Development and Team Projects accelerate independence and relational skills. The New Focus team uses hands-on real-world instruction to assist the students in developing skills to become independent and self-sufficient adults who can positively contribute to their community.

We recognize that one of the challenges our students face in participating in class and being motivated to learn is that course curriculum doesn’t always feel relevant. Math can look like a bunch of made-up equations, without understanding the real-world context in which they can apply it. This is why our curriculum focuses on the real-world application of functional math, functional language arts, and social and emotional learning. Students also have the opportunity to practice the skills that they learn in class in the milieu and on outings in the community.

New Focus Academy Can Help

New Focus Academy is a residential treatment center for boys ages 12-18 who struggle with autism spectrum disorder, other neurodevelopmental disorders, and learning disorders such as ADHD. The program utilizes positive reinforcement to increase the student’s self-esteem and independence. Our academic program teaches Utah’s Common Core Curriculum with a focus on Essential Elements, such as life skills, functional math and language arts skills, community-based living skills, and social-emotional skills.  The skills they learn at New Focus will help them learn to have positive social interaction, organization, and improve their self-management. Students are given the opportunity to gain the confidence they need to foster and maintain healthy relationships and lifestyle habits. 

For more information about how New Focus can help teens with learning disorders, call 844-313-6749. We can help your family today!