Services for Students with Disabilities

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Academic Coaching is a working partnership that focuses on the process of learning. Together with a professional coach, students examine their learning styles, habits of working, and current difficulties or barriers to success.  Then together this team (coach and student) works to create and put in place more effective strategies than are the norm.  The aim is to heighten awareness of what it takes to achieve academic success and anchor this with new strategies, a supportive relationship, and personal accountability.

An important component of academic coaching is helping students understand how their ‘use of time’ and ‘levels of organization or disorganization’ (paper, space, and technological data) impact their studies.  This is important because with stress and nervousness it is easy for all of us to spin our wheels and accomplish less.  And in the process, living spaces, backpacks, and minds become less ordered so that finding what we need when we need it is faulty, such as retrieving information studied when needed for tests.  In coaching, it can also be important to examine and fortify some ‘study skills,’ such as: Reading for comprehension, developing a successful writing process, taking and reviewing notes, preparing for tests with every class and each bit of reading, and managing the test taking process.
Another important aspect of academic coaching relates to ‘strategic thinking, problem solving, and learning to work effectively with others’.  This area of focus can be especially useful when major problems surface and at times of major adjustment, such as:
  • Knowing how to function effectively in high school only to find that the fast pace and competition for grades in college requires much more or 
  • Moving from undergraduate work into a graduate program where the expectations and levels of engagement are higher or 
  • Finding it hard to adjust to dissertation work where levels of independence and self-paced  research and writing are less structured than coursework and preliminary exams were and where the expectations of an advisor seem to be greater
Why is Academic Coaching Important?
Students at the University of Michigan (U-M) are bright.  Some have been bright enough that they could be somewhat passive and still do well in high schools, preparatory academies, and even in their earlier undergraduate work.  But the structure of these programs may have allowed this to work – meeting with the same instructors each day or many days a week for continual reinforcement of what was to be learned, having reminders of the need to complete work, being able to do some work in class, and getting personal assistance before, during, or after class.  And if students lived at home, many requirements of daily life (doing laundry, food prep, washing dishes, making doctor’s appointments, and more) were often taken care of by others, especially when crunch time of paper deadlines and tests were near.  Parents most likely also questioned what homework needed to be done and reinforced time for study.
Moreover, the pace/speed at which course content is covered at universities like the U-M is much faster than in high schools and some other undergraduate programs.  Reading and learning outside of class is thought to be background for what is then to be covered in the classroom.  Testing covers both what students learn independently and what is covered in classes.  And information cannot simply be memorized because most testing asks students to apply everything they have learned to solve new and unique problems and to do it with reasonable ease and under the pressure of time.  In addition, the competition for grades is steep by comparison.
Why Coaching May be Important for Students with Disabilities
With the nature of many disabilities, learning can be uneven over time.  Whether a person experiences visual impairments, hearing loss, ADHD, learning disabilities, chronic or temporary health conditions, or mental health conditions, there are times when students are less able to be fully present to learn certain strategies and skills or take reasoning and problem solving to higher levels.  These times of less optimal learning can create what later appear as gaps in learning or functioning.  When students attempt to navigate college courses requiring some of these skill areas (which may be weak), they can experience significantly higher levels of stress and doubt their capacity to learn at the collegiate level in general.
Statistics have shown that completing a college education can make a significant difference to individuals with disabilities being able to gain meaningful employment.  Working with a coach can help students fill in gaps in learning, find technology to assist in processing and managing information, and learn problem solving skills to help them persist and succeed toward a college graduation.  So in some ways, coaching can be seen as helping students access information itself and move toward employability.
How Can a Student Find Out If Coaching Might Help?
If you are a student with disabilities or are significantly struggling in ways that cause you or others (parents, professors, and other professionals) to believe there is more going on than simple course difficulty, contact the Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) office at (734) 763-3000 and ask about academic coaching.