Answered by Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger
Learning disabilities (LDs) manifest in a number of different ways and with varying degrees of severity. For this reason, the following five tips may not apply to all students with LDs, however, they will have a positive impact on reading and writing acquisition for the majority of students.
Tip No. 1: Making Learning Accessible
Learning must be made accessible for intermediate students with LDs. An intermediate student with reading LDs may read fewer than 100 words per minute, whereas the average student reads around 150 words per minute. Such a student may have persistent difficulty in identifying certain words. When students are asked to work on non-specific processing skills (e.g. summarizing, making inferences, making connections, etc.) using long written texts, students with LDs may immediately be at a disadvantage and often lack the time to complete the task.
In order to make learning more accessible for students with LDs, educators can:
- Suggest that instead of a written text, a student use another medium for working on these skills, such as listening to a story being read aloud or watching a video;
- Encourage students to work in pairs;
- Encourage the use of assistive technology such as text-to-voice applications.
By offering various media from which to learn, instead of using written texts exclusively, educators can avoid creating obstacles to school success for students with LDs.
Click here to access an article on the LD@school website entitled, “Assistive Technology for Students with Learning Disabilities: Information, Tools and Resources for Teachers”, written by Cindy Perras.
Tip No. 2: Strategies to Assist with Writing Tasks
According to Diane Wagner, LD@school expert, writing involves juggling many skills at the same time: grammar, spelling, letter formation, vocabulary, punctuation, capitalization, content, and following the directions of educators. All of these skills must be automatic for writing to be effective. As students move through to intermediate levels of schooling and beyond, the challenges relating to writing continue to increase; students become more involved in story writing, editing, research, note taking, and test/exam writing.
Students with LDs may experience writing difficulties related to handwriting (graphomotor difficulties) and/or written expression. It is important for educators to recognize where the breakdown in written language occurs, and to utilize appropriate and compensatory strategies.
Click here to read an article on the LD@school website entitled, "Explicit Instruction: A Teaching Strategy in Reading, Writing, and Mathematics for Students with Learning Disabilities", written by Jean Roger Alphonse and Raymond Leblanc.
Tip No. 3: Strategies to Assist with Spelling
Students with LDs often have persistent difficulty with spelling. Both French and English languages are complex; spelling is not always consistent nor is it always contextual. According to Jeffrey MacCormack and Nancy Hutchison, there are several strategies that have been found to be particularly effective for students with LDs, including:
- Technology to instruct (e.g. spelling software)
- Technology to compensate (e.g. spell-check)
- Multi-sensory training (e.g. computerized spelling toys, Speak and Spell)
- Study and word practice
- Explicit teaching of spelling rules
Tip No. 4: Encourage Students to be Active Readers
Students with LDs have difficulty reading for a variety of reasons. For example, they may read too slowly, they may make frequent comprehension errors, they may have difficulty paying attention, or they may lack the motivation to read. Reading silently, on their own, struggling students do not have an opportunity to develop complex skills.
Fortunately, many practices are easy to use in an intermediate classroom:
- Have students read a story in groups, in which each student “plays” a character; this will make reading more interesting and help the students to more fully understand the markers of dialogue;
- Have students create a graphic organizer with the characters in the story and the connections between them. This will encourage students to take good notes and support reading comprehension.
- Set the scene ahead of time, talking about the author and what he or she intended. This will spark the students’ interest, ensure that they all have the same knowledge going into the task, and enable them to understand the issues.
- Caution students about any challenges they may encounter with the story, such as the use of flashbacks, long descriptive passages or a large cast of characters. This will keep struggling readers from tuning out, thinking that they are the only ones who find the story challenging.
Tip No. 5: Teach Reading Strategies
At the intermediate level, students are introduced to more varied and complex texts. The importance of reading strategies may not have been apparent to struggling readers earlier on, when the texts to which they were exposed were simpler. Educators can model strategies to understand what is being read before, during, and after reading and adapt these strategies to the type of text being read. By simply using effective reading strategies to support understanding, one can greatly impact school results.
Nathalie Paquet-Bélanger is the French Learning Disabilities Consultant of the LD@school team. She is completing a Masters degree in education science at the University of Quebec at Rimouski. She holds a bachelor degree in special education from the same university and a certificate in ICT integration in education (TELUQ). She is also a sessional instructor for the integration of ICT in education at the UQAR. Her current position is special teacher at the Charlesbourg Public Secondary School where she enjoys working with teenagers and a diversity of learning difficulties. Nathalie is glad to bring her contribution and expertise to the LD@school team and to network with teachers sharing the same passion for the success of students with learning disabilities.