For starters, it’s important to define what specific learning difficulties are. The three most common specific learning difficulties are dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia.

Manifestations of specific learning difficulties can be visible in one or more areas. They may include attention, comprehension, processing, memory, communication, reading, writing, calculation, coordination, social competence, and emotional maturity.

It is also important to emphasize that such students don’t have learning difficulties that are primarily the result of visual, auditory, motor or emotional difficulties, intellectual disabilities, and cultural or social deprivation.

In describing children and people with specific learning disabilities, there are other common and extremely important characteristics: average or above-average intelligence and the disparity of achievement and ability in one or more areas. Specifically, teachers often encounter students who have enviable skills in, for example, fine arts but are challenged by English language and reading.

What is important to emphasize is that children like this can master ALL content if they find it linguistically manageable. This means that appropriate methodical adjustments are required that take time and effort, but are extremely beneficial for all children!

The following will offer some of the general methodological guidelines for teachers that can help in teaching children with learning difficulties.

Plan and Structure Your Lessons

Always start with a discussion or warm-up. It will give you the insight into the children’s current knowledge as well as misperceptions that they may have regarding the topic you are planning to discuss. You should also plan the discussion in advance.

The discussion is followed by new content. You can present the new content through group work. Always finish the unit with a reflection, that is, by checking the newly learned material. It is not always enough to ask: “Is everything clear?”, sometimes it’s necessary to ask more specific questions that require more specific answers.

We must receive feedback from children about understanding the material.

Provide Instructions and Give Out Tasks in a Clear and Appropriate Manner

Each lesson must have a clear definition of WHY something is being taught and HOW that knowledge will serve the student. For this reason, the tasks you assign to children must be purposeful and appropriate concerning the child’s cognitive abilities.

The information should also be conceptually presentable (“Prussia is a country that no longer exists”, says the teacher. “How can a state suddenly not exist?”, the students will question).

It is very important to give instructions to children with specific learning difficulties using simple vocabulary, highlighting and repeating key parts. Also, it is always necessary to make sure that everyone understands the instructions. Often, what is very understandable to teachers is not equally understood by the students.

Don’t give too many instructions at a time. Give the information gradually and use visualization (diagrams, schematics, insert images into text, use colors – especially for keywords).

Make sure the assignments or texts you give your students are always carefully created.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Maybe this will help: How to Deal with Children’s Learning Difficulties

Combine Different Types of Activities

Don’t forget that there are other ways to fill classes except for your lectures. Children, but also adults, have limited attention, which means they can actively focus on content for about 15 minutes. It is, for this reason, a good thing to be able to transfer new knowledge and skills through a series of other activities focused on the same content.

Use different activities to encourage students to participate:

  • making posters
  • role-playing
  • quizzes
  • teamwork or working in groups

When working in groups, it is extremely important to tailor the group to the child with specific learning difficulties. They should feel good and comfortable in the group. Moreover, they should also be able to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.

For example, if you want to apply a puzzle method in which each group has a specific piece of text to process and present basic parts of their text at the end of the class, it’s not good for a dyslexic child to be the writer. However, they can (and should) present their ideas and discuss them with others.

Correctly Select the Font of the Material (Arial, Tahoma or Verdana), Leave Sufficient Space Between the Lines, and Don’t Underline Words

If you are writing on a whiteboard, write in colour, but rely more on the handwriting.

In case you plan to work with handouts, make sure you correctly select the font so every student will find it readable.

Tasks should encourage metacognitive learning. Such learning teaches students how to take responsibility for their own learning, and it’s achieved by reviewing their own learning styles as well as recognizing their mistakes.

Children with specific learning difficulties have problems with this type of learning. Especially if they are left to themselves. Encourage them and be prepared to help them.

Homework and Exams

A child with specific learning disabilities needs to spend more time writing exams.

However, it is not enough to just extend the time. You should teach the students how to use this time effectively. The rule of the 3 goes: Planning, Writing, and Checking.

Also, you need to understand that children with specific learning difficulties sometimes cannot focus on spelling and content at the same time. If the task is to write an essay, then ignore the spelling. However, if you want to check for spelling, you can ask your student to rewrite a finished essay.

Lastly, be sure to give feedback. Everyone needs to know how successful they were in something. But you should be careful here too. Poor feedback in front of the whole class badly affects all children, regardless of the presence or absence of difficulty.

Make sure to provide the student with feedback at the right time and in the right place.

Very often it’s us, the teachers, our will and motivation that are the key (sometimes the only) factors on the path to a goal – successful integration of students with disabilities into the regular education system. We can always turn our problems into our advantage if we treat them the right way.

Want to learn more about working with ESL students with special needs? EFL and Autism Spectrum Disorder: How to Make It Work

About the Author

Milica Madić, freelance blog/article writer from Serbia, with experience in teaching and working with young learners.

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