Here’s the featured article for the fifth issue of ELTWeekly:
Teaching the Students with Learning Disabilities
Learning Disabilities Defined:
In a Language Class, a teacher often finds that all the students, including exceptional students have their own unique and individual set of learning strengths, weaknesses, and needs. It is for the teacher as important to identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses as it is to determine his or her needs. The reason is many factors such as physical, intellectual, educational, cultural, emotional, and social influence/affect a student’s ability/disability to learn.
Learning disability can primarily be defined as a learning disorder apparently evident in both academic and social situations. It is not a result of impairment of vision, of hearing, or physical disability, developmental disability, emotional disturbance, or cultural differences or varied traditional practices.
Language Learning Disabilities:
With reference to Language Learning it can be defined as a significant language disorder evident as a discrepancy between academic achievements and assessed intellectual abilities. It refers to the problems that can be perceived in the receptive language skills which involve listening and reading as major activities; language processing wherein one can think, conceptualize, and integrate; expressive language skills which involve speaking and writing as major activities.
Technically one can easily say that it refers to a condition diagnosed as perceptual handicapped, a brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia or aphasia.
Observations in a Language Class:
In a language class, generally student’s strengths are used to address his or her areas of need. But unfortunately students with learning disabilities typically have average cognitive abilities. And hence they require specific teaching strategies to learn and then to demonstrate their knowledge and language skills.
A language teacher’s general observation would suggest that students with some learning disabilities face problems in receptive language skills, language processing, expressive language skills or in their ability to sustain attention. More specifically the teacher will go to the extent saying that some other with learning disabilities will have problems in consistent performance, conceptual skills, understanding the directions, vocabulary, reading and comprehension, writing, spelling, and/or oral expression of language, organizing and sequencing thoughts and ideas, the social use of language, strategies for reception, storage, and production of information, long and/or short-term memory.
Teaching Strategies and Suggestions
There are some general strategies for a teacher, which help him/her retain the learning environment of the classroom. First of all the teacher needs to provide an encouraging and supportive classroom environment wherein it has to be ensured that the student feels that he or she is a valued member of the class and tries to establish and communicate consistent behavioral expectations and consequences. Moreover, the students should also be recognized and praised for their efforts, improvements, and task completions putting a check on their regularity. They should also be provided preferential seating to help the student focus and maintain attention. They should also be allowed alternate tasks (in case of task based language teaching or should be permitted to take short breaks.
Some social skills related suggestions can also be taken care of. They are: The teacher should teach the students to notice, interpret, and respond appropriately to body language; to initiate, maintain, and conclude a conversation; foster opportunities and provide strategies for the student to make and maintain friendships;
The teacher can also attach daily schedules/timetables to the student’s notebook cover; provide extra text books to use at home; teach the use of metacognitive strategies; encourage the use of lists, advance organizers, and personal planners for personal organization; provide written outlines for assignments; encourage the student to label, date, and number pages in his or her notebook; employ verbal rehearsal and questioning strategies following instruction, to help the student focus on important information; provide immediate reinforcement of correct responses and immediate feedback where Possible.
And at last with reference to enhancing the language skills of the students the teacher can provide the students with many formal and informal opportunities to develop his or her oral communication skills; organizational strategies to help the student prepare oral presentations (e.g., short and long speeches); opportunities for the student to use technology, such as PowerPoint or other kinds of presentation software, to help organize and present information; demonstrate and discuss ambiguity, figurative language, and irony; opportunities for discussion of cause and effect, humorous situations, feelings, and
characters; use wh questions as prompts to help the student convey information orally; restate key concepts in grammatically simple structures; use visual aids consistently to support oral messages; give the student extra time to process information; and encourage the student to ask for clarification.