Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities
A Learning Disability -
- Is a general term for a what may be one of a heterogeneous group of disorders.
- Is presented by significant difficulties in listening, speaking, reading, writing and/or performing math skills.
- Is part of the person's make-up; it will not go away.
- Is presumed to be a dysfunction of the central nervous system.
- May be discovered across one's life span.
- May result in problems with behavior, social perceptions, and social interactions.
- Is not the result of other disabilities such as loss of sight or hearing, lack of intelligence, or lack of schooling.
These comments are developed from the Learning
Disabilities Adaptations/ Accommodations Guide, developed by the
Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center, and available online.
Note especially Section E: Matching Adaptations/Accommodations
to Learner Needs.
Identifying a Possible Learning Disability
Signs of a reading disability:
- Difficulty identifying individual sounds in words, cannot correctly sound out words when reading.
- Student requires many repetitions to learn a new word and may not recognize a newly learned word when it appears later in the text.
- Student uses context to guess at unfamiliar words, eg. reads an incorrect word that makes sense in the text, rather
than using phonetic cues to decode the written word, such as "dog" rather than "puppy".
- Oral reading is very laborious and slow, with many repetitions and pauses.
- Student puts so much energy into decoding words that comprehension is poor; does not understand what was just read,
but understands the same material if another person reads it.
Signs of a writing disability:
- Limited ability to communicate in writing; student struggles to write short notes or letters.
- Student asks for help completing forms.
- Spelling problems interfere with meaning; student leaves out letters or syllables in words.
- Handwriting is difficult to read; student misuses capitals and lowercase letters or has poor spacing between words,
letters or lines.
- Student uses an awkward grip on the pencil.
- Difficulty editing written work; student does not see errors.
Signs of a numerical disability:
- Difficulty remembering basic math facts; always uses a calculator, student uses fingers or has to write down simple problems.
- Student confuses numbers and symbols; student makes errors resulting from using incorrect numbers (6 instead of a 9), or using wrong math symbol (+ instead of X).
- Difficulty with multi-step math operations; student leaves out steps or does steps in the wrong order in math problems.
With appropriate accommodations and teaching strategies a person with learning disabilities can learn to take advantage
of their strengths and minimize weaknesses, and thus increase the potential of success. Being familiar with a student's
preferred learning style and incorporating many different modalities into lesson plans provides a greater likelihood of progress.
Suggested auditory techniques:
- Reduce visual distractions - make sure printed material is well spaced.
- Have the student read out loud, or whisper when reading and sounding out words.
- Provide audio-taped versions of written material.
- Have the student verbally recall information when reading by asking who-, what-, when-, and why- questions out loud.
- Teach phonics, sound blending and syllabication.
- Teach word families, using cutout letters or other manipulatives.
Suggested visual techniques:
- Minimize noise distractions.
- Continually discuss, summarize and review information.
- Pair words with pictures or objects when teaching new vocabulary.
- Have the student create his or her own mental visual image of new words.
- Provide demonstrations or gestures along with verbal instructions.
- Use visual configuration and structure clues for word identification.
Suggested tactile or kinesthetic techniques:
- Allow students to move around during lessons.
- Use various types of writing tools, for example pencils, pens, soft-tip markers, and large markers.
- Use objects to manipulate.
- Use objects to teach abstract concepts.
- Use the computer whenever possible.
- Have students underline or use highlighters on key words.
For more suggestions ask a literacy coordinator.