If you're a teacher, you likely have kids with learning disabilities in your classroom. During the 2014-2015 school year, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, one student in five had a learning or attention issue. Two and a half million students had a learning disability such as dyslexia, and 6 million had ADHD. And those numbers are rising, the National Center for Education Statistics says.
Because October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, there's no better time to talk about how teachers can help these students succeed in the classroom.
Further Reading: Accommodating Different Learning Styles: 3 Tips to Guide You
Honing the Right Skills
Most teachers don't wait until Learning Disabilities Awareness Month to adopt strategies to help their students. But many wonder how they could be more effective. In 2018, the National Council for Learning Disabilities surveyed 1,350 teachers of varying backgrounds and experiences. Only 17 percent of teachers who responded to the survey said that they felt prepared to teach students with mild to moderate learning disabilities, and only half said that they felt confident that students with learning disabilities would meet grade-level standards.
To provide teachers with more help, the government enacted the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, which enables states and school districts to use federal funds towards training teachers to work with kids with learning disabilities. The nationwide act has helped provide teachers with the resources they need to help their students succeed, and district-level initiatives have supplemented that effort.
The Every Student Succeeds Act also champions useful classroom strategies. In particular, the act supports universal design for learning (UDL), which provides options and flexibility for kids to learn in their own way. In a UDL classroom, for example, kids can access information on several formats, such as text, audio, video, or hands-on learning. Students can also demonstrate what they've learned in different ways: instead of a written test, students might deliver an oral presentation, make a video, or even draw a comic strip. By allowing students to learn at their own pace and to have a say in how and what they learn, UDL greatly improves access to education for kids with learning disabilities.
More Strategies for the Classroom
Every teacher, no matter their field of expertise, needs to be prepared to work with students with disabilities. Here's some strategies to best meet the needs of your students with disabilities.
- Read each student's Individual Education Program or 504 Plan, which outlines their learning accommodations. Review the student's learning goals for the year and make any necessary classroom modifications.
- Meet with the student's resource room teacher, special education teacher, and anyone else who assists the student so that they are aware of any specific extra help the student needs in your class.
By taking advantage of testing guidelines and classroom accommodations, you'll help students with disabilities feel comfortable in your classroom and set them up for success.
Organizations such as Understood—a group founded by 15 nonprofits including the Learning Disabilities Association of America and the National Center for Learning Disabilities—advocate for students with learning disabilities by helping teachers adjust their strategies to meet the needs of their students. Here are a few classroom strategies that Understood recommends:
- Wait. When you ask the class a question, don't immediately call on the first student who raises their hand. Pause for a few seconds to allow every student the time to process the question.
- Use multisensory instruction. Create lessons that allow kids to use more than one sense at a time, which can help students with disabilities grasp information. Engage students' tactile senses by using manipulatives in math or asking kids to write vocabulary words in sand or shaving cream. Many kids with attention-deficit disorders focus better when they're allowed to stand up, move around, and expend excess energy.
- Break discussions into small groups. Most kids benefit from small-group learning because it gives them the opportunity to interact with others and learn together. And every kid benefits from individual time with the teacher, even if it's not much time. Teachers can help kids with ADHD eliminate distractions and focus, for example, and they can adjust the pace of instruction based on the group's needs.
- Model behavior. The I Do, We Do, You Do method teaches kids to work independently. After watching the teacher complete a learning task, the student then performs the task with the teacher's assistance, and then the student tries it alone.
These are just a few effective strategies that you can easily integrate into your classroom.
Further Reading: Don't Wait Until It's Too Late: How to Intervene with Struggling Students Early
Learning Disabilities Awareness Month is important for teachers in every discipline and at every teaching level because students with learning disabilities are part of nearly every classroom in every grade. But being aware is just the beginning. October is a great month to find out what tools your school can provide to help you and your colleagues work even more successfully with all of your students.