In this special education lesson, we’ll be going over practical tips for teaching students with learning disabilities.
After briefly reviewing what learning disabilities are, we’ll dive into strategies you can use in the classroom to improve student learning.
Defining Learning Disabilities
Imagine being a student. Reading has always been hard for you; in your English language arts class, you struggle to keep up with the material. When you look at the assigned text, the words are blurry and spaced out.
Some letters are flipped around too. You just don’t see written language the way everyone else does.Luckily, your teacher suspects you might have a specific learning disability, which means your brain interprets information differently than other people. She thinks you have dyslexia, a type of learning disability where written language is interpreted incorrectly because the words appear blurry or in the wrong order and letters look flipped.
Dyslexia is only one type of a specific learning disability. A specific learning disability affects a student in one or a few academic areas, unlike intellectual disabilities, which include a low intelligence quotient (IQ) and a ceiling on cognitive abilities.
Learning disabilities can occur in any subject area, usually reading or math. Luckily, there’s a lot of research on accommodations that can help students with learning disabilities; today, we’re going to look at common ones for reading and math.
Accommodations for Reading
There are many types of reading disabilities.
However, each one can be addressed with unique strategies to help students learn.
As we mentioned earlier, students with dyslexia have trouble seeing and interpreting written language. One strategy is to allow students to use books on tape or read-alouds so they’ll have access to the same content as other students.
Your students with dyslexia can read along, or simply listen to the material. Students with dyslexia also benefit from copies of teacher notes to eliminate the need to copy notes in class. Large print can also help people with dyslexia read better. Dyslexia-specific fonts are available; however, so far research has shown that different fonts do not necessarily improve reading outcomes.
Language Processing Disorder
Imagine listening to a friend tell you a story, but you just can’t understand what she’s saying.
Frequently, you can draw a picture to show what you mean, but you just can’t think of the words. These symptoms are characteristic of language processing disorders, where people have difficulty interpreting the meaning of spoken language. This means they find listening to other people, forming their own language, reading, and writing challenging.Classroom strategies include lots of visual and kinesthetic learning tools, such as pictures or manipulatives to accompany spoken or written language. Consider drawing storyboards to accompany readings or allowing students to express themselves visually. Also, speak to your students slowly, using direct language for describing what you want them to do. Give them extra time to process what you are saying.
Other Reading Disabilities
There are a variety of other learning disabilities, such as difficulty with reading fluency, speed, and comprehension, which can benefit from some general accommodations. First, try bolding important words in text and providing space for students to annotate words they need to look up or important facts. Providing sentence starters (prompts), word banks, or visual aids can help with text- dependent questions. Partner reading can also be a good way to increase reading fluency. Pair students with reading disabilities with higher-skilled partners to practice their skills, called heterogeneous grouping.
You can also assign a tutor or paraprofessional to work with your learning disabled students in one-on-one situations.
Accommodations for Math
Just as students can have specific problems with reading, the same is true with math. Learning disabilities in math are called dyscalculia. Dyscalculia can range from students struggling to compare quantities to remembering basic math facts and applying math logic. This can make math class and school in general very frustrating for students; luckily, there are some strategies to help them.
Consider giving students with dyscalculia smaller amounts of information at a time, called chunking. Give clear steps on how to solve math problems, and encourage students to follow them using graphic organizers. For example, in physics the four-step method is useful. In the four-step method, students first identify what the problem is asking, what information is given, what equation they should use, and then solve the problem in a graphic organizer. These steps help break down complex problems into reasonable chunks.
Visual aids and manipulatives are also helpful. Consider giving younger students manipulatives such as blocks to aid in addition and subtraction problems; number lines are also helpful in these processes.In addition, some students will require the accommodation of a calculator – even if they are not normally permitted to use this technology in class. Students with dyscalculia should also be allowed extended time for classwork, homework, and tests.
Specific learning disabilities are problems with processing information.
Students with disabilities in reading, such as dyslexia or language processing disorders, can use read-alouds, books on tape, visual aids, and alternative prints to help them process content. Students with reading comprehension issues can benefit from sentence starters, word banks, space for annotation, and heterogeneous grouping in partner reading. Dyscalculia is a math learning disability; affected students can benefit from graphic organizers such as the four-step method, chunking, manipulatives, number lines, and calculators.