Teaching students in general can be tasking for an educator but teaching students with learning disabilities as well adds more of a difficult dynamic. Students with learning disabilities are being included in the general education classroom more and more as inclusion is being pushed at the benefit of the students. Many learning disabilities present different problems and there is not a one size fits all method to help educators in their classroom. Learning disabilities are dynamic and changing and take continuous intervention in the classroom to set the student up for success. According to the National Center for Education statistics, “In 2013-14, the number of children and youth ages 3-21 receiving special education services was 6.5 million, or about 13 percent of all public-school students. Among students receiving special education services, 35 percent had specific Learning disabilities” (NCES, 2016. P.1). The number of students that educators are serving that have learning disabilities is increasing and it is the responsibility of the educator to use the most beneficial teaching strategies for these students that will set them up for success. There are research proven teaching strategies that are available to educators, but it remains necessary to individualize and monitor progress of applied teaching strategies as the student progress or demonstrates lack thereof.
Constructivist Vs. Behaviorist Theory
Even though there are difficulties when teaching students with learning disabilities, it is important to not only incorporate best practices and research-based strategies, it is highly important for educators to be open to different perspectives and experiences of other educators. It is also important for educators to continue to evolve with the student and change approaches as necessary. Two approaches to teaching students with learning disabilities is the Constructivist Theory and Behaviorist Theory. It is important for educators to understand the differences between the two approaches as well as advantages and disadvantages to benefit the students. Algahtani defines Constructivism as a, “teaching technique as opposed to a theory. The model combines new ideas by interpreting new experiences in line with previous knowledge so that learners can make sense of new concepts” (Algahtani, 2017, pp.1032). This approach allows educators to approach concepts and knowledge presented as student oriented and student centered. This takes into consideration the student’s social context and experiences as well as allows them to make a connection at an individualized level. This approach is beneficial because it meets the student where they are and builds upon things they know, in return setting them up for success.
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The Constructivist approach present knowledge and concepts in real-world scenarios instead of abstract concepts that can be difficult for students with learning disabilities to understand. Algahtari presents an example in her journal, “For instance, as opposed to compelling learners to master problems in economics like making change for the dollar, the Constructivist model advocates that students are given actual money to use in class or in the school store” (Algahtani, 2017, pp. 1032). This strategy helps students with learning disabilities develop practical skills, which has historically proven to be very challenging for students.
Behaviorist theory is based on positive operant conditions. This is a strategy in which a reward is given to an individual when desired behavior is demonstrated. Behaviorist Theory focuses additionally on the educator giving explicit and direct instruction to students. An advantage of the Behaviorist approach is that it breaks tasks into smaller tasks, this allows for more manageable tasks for students with learning disabilities, as they tend to struggle with more larger scale tasks and expectations (Algahtani, 2017, 1033). Algahtani states in relation to the Behaviorist approach and theory,
“This approach has faced a lot of criticism in the general education field, but it is promising when used with students with intellectual disabilities. Instead of looking at the negative aspects of the approach as indicated in the general education setting, it is important to consider the positive part of the Behaviorist Theory so that it can be used to improve the learning experiences of students with intellectual disabilities” (Algahtani, 2017, pp. 1033).
The Behaviorist Theory additionally allows educators to model concepts presented, which in return helps students with learning disabilities grasp more complex things such as writing. Breaking down and modeling each step and task that needs to be successfully completed to reach the big picture is a positive aspect of the Behaviorist theory and is beyond beneficial for the success and education of students with disabilities.
Either approach that is used by educators, it is important for educators to alter their approaches and be open to using what works for each individual student. It is important to meet the needs of the students and incorporate all the best approaches for students struggling with intellectual and education difficulties.
Effective Assessment Strategy
One teaching strategy and assessment tool that is the most well known and familiar in the classroom, whether there are students with learning disabilities or not, is multiple choice tests. With the prevalence of more and more inclusion in the general classroom, it is important for educators to know how to accommodate these students and their needs. This is not only beneficial but is becoming to be more required. In the secondary classroom setting, it is mostly expected for students to know how to complete multiple choice tests satisfactorily and this is not always the case. Students with disabilities often struggle with this basic concept. Trammell states,
“For many students with learning or learning-related disabilities, this skill set remains relatively weak due to the information processing and/or memory issues that interfere with discrimination, managing cognitive distractions, and holding information from several possible answers in short-term memory for active classrooms” (trammel, 2011, pp. 257).
Educators faced with this barrier in regard to educating students with disabilities are best effective when making realistic and appropriate accommodations for their students. These accommodations and strategies need to come with the efficient and informative trainings; this will produce the best results for student’s content retention. Beneficial strategies, when it comes to multiple choice testing, is as simple as lowering the number of options offered per question, breaking down the test into smaller segments, allowing more time for the student to complete the assessment, presenting simplified questions, allowing students to correct and learn from questions presented, and eliminating any additionally answer sheets, such as a Scantron (Trammell, 2011, pp. 253).
These accommodations are not only reasonable and appropriate but have been proven to help students with learning disabilities perform at a higher success rate and equally on par with their non-disabled per counterparts (Trammell, 2011, pp. 253). The implementation of simple, appropriate accommodations is a proven positive teaching strategy that all educators would benefit from implementing into their teaching and approach in their classroom, in return students with disabilities to learn and be as successful as their peers.
With the popularity of online schooling for students, from kindergarten to twelfth grade, educators are not only faced with dinging what best serves their students that have learning disabilities, but now must also do find the best and most effective way to do this with distance learning with online schooling. Distance learning is becoming more and more popular and the student population with learning disabilities engaging in these services continues to grow as well. This puts increased need on educators to use best practices, but also places an added pressure on teachers to be invite more creativity into their lessons and concept presentations, especially when working with students with learning disabilities. One barrier that presents itself when teaching students with learning disabilities is the lack of adequate teacher preparation. The article refers to the general lack of adequate online teacher preparation and goes on to address that teacher preparation for the online education of students with disabilities stating, “Teacher preparation that is specific to online learning and specific to student with disabilities is even more scarce” (Crouse, Mellard & Rice, 2018, pp. 125).
Even with the lack of teacher preparation and support, there are some skills that educators should implement when working with students with learning disabilities. These include monitoring student progress, providing instructional strategies and other support, assisting students in learning important vocabulary and meeting other textual demands, extending opportunities for learner-learning engagement and general social skill development and advocating with vendors and supporting in-house course designer when making curriculum (Crouse, Mellard & Rice, 2018, pp.126). The strategies are beneficial for all students, but have proven more beneficial for students in the online spectrum that have been diagnosed with learning disabilities. When it comes to online instructions, teachers have limited say in the curriculum and what is presented to the students, but if teachers are allowed to have some ability to maneuver things to be more individualized for their students, this proves to be a positive teacher strategy for working with students with learning disabilities. Teachers with limited ability to alter their curriculum are best serving their students with continued and close monitoring, encouragement and the ability to re-teach students who are struggling with graphing content and concepts (Crouse, Mellard & Rice, 2018, 131).
Modeling as a Teaching Strategy
An ongoing theme for effective teaching strategies for educators and students with learning disabilities is breaking down task and ongoing assistance. This can also be implemented in the form of modeling task for students by the teacher. Educators should model tasks, step by step which will help them best grasp the concepts presented by the educator. This strategy addresses the difficulty students with learning disabilities applying effective strategies to complete tasks. Student in the classroom need to be able to acquire the presented information, store and retain the information and finally demonstrate the information in ways such as successful assessments (Hughes, 2011, pp. 2).
Students with learning disabilities tend to use less effective and less successful strategies when trying to accomplish these basic concepts as compared to their peers. Learning strategies that offer specific steps help students with learning disabilities and helps set them up to reach successful outcomes. Another important teaching strategy is simplifying instruction and expectations. These steps are important and needed for the success of students with disabilities. Hughes states, “many students with disabilities can benefit from using well-designed, effective, and efficient task specific learning strategies to help them become more independent and successful learnings” (Hughes, 2011, pp.5). This solidifies the importance of using effective teaching strategies, continuous monitoring progress and maintaining flexibility in the classroom.
My Own Implementation
In my own classroom and throughout my own career the learned information about effective teaching strategies will be beyond valuable, even with students that do not have learning disabilities. In my classroom I will always do my best to be flexible with students. To be flexible will always include being able to modify lessons so that all students can learn the needed content in a way that works best for them. I will be as present as I can with all students, especially with student with learning disabilities. This will need to include constant monitoring and reporting of progress of students. This will include using all the new and emerging effective learning strategies in my classroom and always evolving to be the best educator I can be.
Having an understanding that even in the general classroom, an educator will undoubtedly work with students with all sorts of disabilities and be tasked with incorporating the most effect forms of inclusion for students. As an educator this will need to include continued education and openness to other’s advice and experiences to become the most effective teacher I can be.
In conclusion, whether it be the general “normal” classroom or online education, it is one thing that remains constant and that is that the power lies in the hands of the educator the support they have at their disposal. Teachers need to completely continue to be flexible and evolve their teaching strategies and approaches to student with emphasis and special focus on students with learning disabilities. Beneficial and positive teaching strategies for students with learning disabilities is that they need to include continuous monitoring and reporting, hands on and individualized instruction, and the ability to meet the student where they are at academically and developmentally. It continues to be very important for educator to continue to offer input into the curriculum development for students with learning disabilities and implementing what is proven to be most beneficial.
- Algahtani, F. (2017). Teaching Students with Intellectual Disabilities: Constructivism or Behaviorism. Educational Research and Reviews. 12(21). Pp. 1031-1035.
- Crouse, T., Mellard, D., & Rice, M. (2018). Learning to Serve Students with Disabilities Online: Teachers’ Perspectives. Journal of Online Learning Research. 4(2). Pp. 123-145.
- Hughes, C. (2011). Effective Instructional Design and Delivery for Teaching Task-Specific Learning Strategies to Students with Learning Disabilities. Focus on Exceptional Children. 44(2). Pp. 1-17.
- National Center for Education Statistics (2016). Children and Youth with Disabilities. The Condition of Education. Pp. 1-4.
- Trammell, J. (2011). Accommodations for Multiple Choice Tests. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability. 24(3). Pp. 251-254.