Teacher helps students define learning disability Pupils teach peers at an open house

The 10 children didn't really know what a learning disability was -- even though each of them has one -- until their "helping teacher," Randi Malamphy, explained it this fall.

"A learning disability means someone who learns differently," said Gary Simmons, a fifth-grader at Piney Ridge Elementary School.


"And we're not stupid," said Keith Gibson, his classmate and best friend. "Some of us have average to above-average intelligence."

The children figured if they didn't know what a learning disability was, the rest of the school probably didn't either. So they decided to survey students.


When results showed that 70 percent of the students didn't know anything about learning disabilities, they had another bright idea: They invited the whole school to visit the resource room where they get their supplementary tutoring through flash cards, computers, educational games and audio tapes.

At the open house Thursday, the 10 children paired up to lead small tour groups of four students each through the different stations of their room.

By the end of the day, Ms. Malamphy's charges were tired but still excited about the opportunity to explain how they learn -- something even they had never really understood before.

"Some of them thought they were stupid, or slow learners," Mrs. Malamphy said of the children in her class, but now they articulate their learning disabilities.

"My learning disability is reading, writing and spelling, and visual perception," said Brett Geiman, a fifth-grader. "That's where, when you write something, you write it backwards."

Many of the children excel in some areas even though they have trouble in others.

"I'm very good at math," said Chris Pickett, a fourth-grader.

"We learned some famous people who have them [learning disabilities]," said Brett.


Thomas Edison had one, he said.

L "And Mrs. Malamphy has one," said fourth-grader Robbie Ruch.

Indeed, Mrs. Malamphy had struggled with reading comprehension all through school. Just as she was ready to drop out of the University of Maryland at 19, she took some tests and discovered that she had a focusing problem.

The revelation inspired her to major in special education.

Now, in her ninth year of teaching, she works with the Piney Ridge students for one to 10 hours a week, depending on how much help the children need.

Other students who organized the open house were fifth-graders Brian Hood and Matt Richard; fourth-graders Timmy Riddle and David Gerting; and third-grader Jessica Gehrig.