Teaching Students Experiencing Difficulties in Learning: Information for Teachers of Languages
Josie Sanchez Gerarcas
“Success is dependent on educational programming that is suited to the student’s individual strengths, needs, and learning characteristics.” “Learning Disabilities” refer to a number of disorders that may affect the acquisition, organization, retention, understanding, or use of verbal or non-verbal information. These disorders affect learning in individuals who otherwise demonstrate at least average abilities essential for thinking and/or reasoning. As such, learning disabilities are distinct from global intellectual deficiency. Learning disabilities result from difficulties in one or more processes related to perceiving, thinking, remembering, or learning. These include, but are not limited to, language processing, phonological processing, visual spatial processing, processing speed, memory and attention, and executive functions (e.g., planning and decision-making). Adapted from Learning Disabilities Association of Canada (LDAC), 2002
Students with learning difficulties comprise the largest group of students with special needs attending in many schools now days. For many students, these problems are (relatively) minor and temporary. On the other hand, for many teachers, continued scaffolding and instructional support are sufficient to help them gain the needed skills to comprehend text and communicate through the written word. Yet for others, more complex factors are at work.
Proficient reading and writing skills are critical to success. If students are not competent readers, they are at risk for academic, behavioral, social and emotional difficulties. Students with learning disabilities have the potential to be successful academically and socially. Teachers can change the trajectory for children at risk for failure in reading by intervening early and providing explicit, intensive, and extensive instruction. The expectation is that students are taught listening, speaking, reading, writing, viewing, and representing skills throughout their school careers. When students continue to struggle with the acquisition of proficient literacy skills, appropriate adaptations need to be made to enable them to successfully meet the demands of the curriculum.
“Make only adaptations that foster learning rather than excuse one from learning (Asch, in Westwood 1993).”
The Stage Statements and the Continuum of Learning in each K–10 Languages syllabus can help teachers identify the starting points for instruction for the students in their class. Most students experiencing difficulties in learning or who have a disability will participate fully in learning experiences and assessment activities provided by the outcomes and content within the syllabuses. Some students will require additional support, including adjustments to teaching and learning activities and/or assessment. If a student is unable to access any regular outcomes or content after adjustments have been made, only then will the student access the Life Skills outcomes of a particular syllabus. By denying some students access to regular outcomes and content, we may be providing reduced opportunities for these students to learn, reducing their chances in life (Ainscow and Muncey, 1990). Who are students with special needs?
These may include:
• students with sensory or physical disabilities
• students with intellectual disabilities
• students with emotional and/or behavioral disorders
• students with communication and/or language disorders
• students experiencing difficulties in learning.
Students classified as having a learning difficulty are a heterogeneous group and have a wide variety of characteristics, ranging from academic difficulties to cognitive and social-emotional problems (Kraayenord and Elkins, 1990). What are some common characteristics of students who experience...