Working with Students with Learning Disabilities? Here are the Strategies!

Studies show most students with learning disabilities require differentiated teaching and assessment system in inclusive classrooms, possibly in combination with assistance from resource teachers and other specialists as depending upon severity of disabilities. Teachers should understand circumstances in inclusive classrooms and be willing to be differentiating teaching and be responsive. A supportive and encouraging classroom should be provided. Echevarria, Vogt, and Short suggest a structured learning environment, scaffolded instruction, and opportunities to experience success help alleviate frustration (2008).

Incorporating ADAPT Strategy: Hutchinson points out that teachers need to use differentiated instruction that is effective for exceptional students, efficient for teachers, and becomes a regular part of teachers’ planning and teaching (2010). Therefore, a systematic strategy called ADAPT is suggested here. Accounts of students’ strengths and needs, demands of the classroom, adaptations, perspectives and consequences, and teach and assess the match are five steps included in this strategy.  During the final stage of this strategy, teachers assess how well his or her adaptation has matched student strengths and needs to classroom demands. This will help teachers think of altering continuing or the differentiation. While planning adaptations during ADAPT strategy, students’ strengths and needs, and demands of the classroom environment are considered.

Bypassing Strategies (Teaching Around the Mismatch), Remediating or Accelerating, and Teaching through the Mismatch: Students are allowed to succeed in class using alternative methods during Teaching Around the Mismatch. Intensive Remediation and Acceleration examples of Remediating or Accelerating to Overcome the Mismatch. As Hutchinson (2010) has stated, teachers can made “differentiations in the fundamental organization and instruction” taking in the classroom to Teach through the Mismatch.

Differentiating Teaching: The Ontario Curriculum Planner on Special Education mentions that individuals learn in different ways and at different rates, and that in order for the student with a learning disability to be successful within the context of the curriculum, he or she may require modifications to the curriculum expectations or appropriate accommodations (2001). So, to help students with learning disabilities succeed, teaching and assessment should properly be differentiated. Adapting the curriculum to students’ needs, providing different materials in different forms, making notes about important points, reinforcing oral descriptions with visual materials, allowing extra time for students to process information, and incorporating colour-coded and manipulative learning materials are some suggestions for teachers to keep in mind while teaching students with learning disabilities.

Differentiation can be performed in a variety of ways:

Dehn (2008) suggests complex projects or assignments be broken into several key steps or components (as cited in Martinussen & Major, 2011). This helps students process information in part and reduce their working memory demands. Similarly, According to Graham, Harris, and Olinghouse (2007), explicit instruction in learning strategies can be provided to students (as cited in Martinussen & Major, 2011). As a result of this, they find it easy to approach complex academic tasks such as writing an essay. Martinussen and Major (2011) recommend external memory aids such as cue cards be also made available to students. Studies also suggest organizational skills be explicitly taught to students so that they are aware of the importance of being organized and timely.

Regarding differentiation in the classroom, Hutchinson (2010) specifies that students can benefit from checkpoints for assignment or project completion and homework journals for nightly assignments. Students can be provided with clearly numbered, and written as well as oral instructions to begin, stay on and successfully complete tasks. Flexibility, teaching strategies for all content areas, allowing students to work at the place of their interest, and making accommodations so as to promote concentration as well as required movement in the classroom are some of differentiating techniques teachers can incorporate to enhance students’ learning experiences.

Teaching Strategies: Hutchinson recommends that teachers teach strategies and skills about how to learn things to students with learning disabilities. Sufficient time should be provided to students to learn these ideas. Note-taking, highlighting main ideas, organizing assignments and writing, making entries in a diary, working in groups, cognitive strategies, critical thinking and problem solving, enquiry and research strategies are some of the strategies students should be taught to make their learning experience a success.

Incorporating a Variety of Techniques and Materials: Hutchinson (2004) says it is always affirmative to incorporate a variety of materials and techniques in an inclusive setting. Incorporating visually oriented materials, and manipulatives, and teaching aids such as diagrams, organizational charts, graphic organizers, and videos would enhance students’ learning experiences. Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2008) recommend using gestures, body language, pictures, and objects to accompany speech; providing a model of a process, talks, or assignment; preview material for optimal learning; allowing alternative forms for expressing their understanding of information and concepts; using multimedia and other technologies in lessons, providing repeated exposure to words, concepts, and skills; and using sentence strips make students’ learning more productive.

Teaching can be scaffolded by paraphrasing what is already said or what is written, reinforcing contextual definitions for students to contextualize the meaning, and slowing speech, increasing pauses, speaking in phrases, and allowing students the wait time to process information (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2008).

When needed, one-on-one teaching, coaching, and modeling can be incorporated. A buddy system can also be introduced.

Helping Students Speech-Read: According to Hutchinson (2004), using gestures and facial expressions, and trimming beards and moustaches if they interfere with speech-reading make students feel more comfortable. I would not mind at all following these suggestions. Hutchinson (2010) also says, “For students who are speech-reading, arrange the classroom so the student can see your face at all times, and get the student’s attention before speaking to him or her.”

Assisting Students in Reading: “Collaborative learning and guided or scaffolded learning to allow students to complete tasks, with support, before they would be able to complete them independently” can be used as Hutchinson points out. Studies show that incorporating prereading, during-reading, and postreading activities results in enhancing students’ participation and knowledge on content concepts.

Adapting Classroom Organization: It is important that teachers adapt classroom organization according to students’ needs. For instance, to enhance the learning of students with ADHD, Hutchinson (2010) suggests that classrooms be organized so as to provide the student with a carrel to minimize distracting factors. It is warned that this experience be “a high-status opportunity, not a punishment”. While incorporating ADAPT, Hutchinson further recommends that teachers maintain students’ interest, model by thinking aloud, and provide adequate opportunities for practice.

Building Relationship with Students: Knowles (2010) mainly advocates building proper relationships with students, and changing curriculum, instruction and assessment. Displaying warm welcome and respect, talking to and planning for individual students, valuing individual gifts and talents, and being a patient teacher and good listener are some of the strategies Knowles shares with us in regard to building relationships with students. For example, praising and rewarding positive behaviour, giving specific instructions, explicitly creating and encouraging students to follow classroom rules and routines, providing appropriate reprimands and prompts for behaviour, ignoring mild negative behaviour should be considered while working with students with ADHD (Schultz et el., 2011).

Though studies suggest little attention be given to inappropriate behaviour, Hutchinson (2010) reminds that a verbal reprimand – “immediate, unemotional, brief reprimand backed up with a time out or less of privileges” – might be necessary when behaviour is getting out of hand. Hutchinson further mentions “a time out” procedure, a punishment in which a student is removed from opportunities for reward.


Chaban, P. (2010. Spring).  ADHD: From intervention to implementation. Toronto: Canadian Education Association.

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible for English  learners: The SIOP model.  New York: Pearson Education.

Hutchinson, N. L. (2004).  How much do I have to change for one student?  Teaching

 exceptional children  and adolescents: a Canadian casebook (pp. 89 – 96). Toronto: Pearson Education Canada.

Hutchinson N.L.  (2010).  Inclusion of Exceptional Learners in Canadian Schools:  A practical handbook for teachers.  Toronto:  Pearson Canada Inc.

Knowles, T. (2010).  The kids behind the label: Understanding ADHD.  The Education Digest, 76: 3, 59 – 61.

Martinussen, R. & Major, A. (2011).  Working memory weaknesses in students with ADHD: Implications for instruction.  Theory Into Practice, 50: 1, 68 – 75.

Ontario Ministry of Education.  (2001). Special education companion: Curriculum unit planner.

Retrieved April 28, 2011, from

Ontario Ministry of Education.  (2001). Special education companion: Curriculum unit planner.

Retrieved April 28, 2011, /documents/companions/speced2002.pdf

Schultz, B., Storer, J., Watabe, Y., Sadler, J., & Evans, W. (2011).  School-based treatment

of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.  Psychology in the Schools, 48: 3.


About Raj Khatri

In addition to providing mentoring services to pre-service ESL/EFL instructors, I have always enjoyed for over 15 years facilitating both adult and K-12 ESL and EAP classes that include international, immigrant and refugee students in a variety of settings across North America and South Asia. The opportunity to work as TESL Practicum Supervisor at the Department of Linguistics of the University of Victoria between 2014 and 2019 helped me share with and learn from colleagues and enhance my knowledge and expertise in the field.  I had served as an ESL Instructor III at the University of Regina for two years and a half before joining Camosun College as an ELD Instructor in the fall of 2014. I always appreciate the opportunity I was provided with to facilitate EAP, ESL, LBS and LINC classes in various capacities, including Professor at Centennial College, Instructor at the Toronto Catholic District School Board, Seneca College, and Centennial College in Toronto, and Lecturer at Padma Kanya Multiple Campus (Tribhuvan University affiliated) and Teacher at GEMS in Kathmandu. Awarded the University of Victoria Fellowship (2014) and the Geoffrey & Alix O'Grady Scholarship in Linguistics for Academic Excellence, I am currently working with Dr. Huang on my doctoral studies in linguistics, with a major focus of research in applied linguistics, while still continuing to facilitate EAP classes and supervise TESL practicum students in BC. Before I completed my Special Education program with Honors at Queen’s University in Ontario and got certified to teach in the K-12 public education system as an Ontario College teacher (OCT), as well as to teach adult ESL classes as a TESL Ontario accredited instructor in 2009, I had worked with Dr. Haulman and earned my second Master’s degree in TESL at the University of Central Oklahoma, where I had received the President’s Honor Roll for four consecutive semesters and graduated Summa Cum Laude. I was deeply honored when Brad Henry, then Governor of the State of Oklahoma in the United States, recognized my public input about college safety and public education in 2007 and 2008. Holding the belief that it is important to give back to the community, I have always been engaged in voluntary activities, both in professional and community-related areas and have been enjoying working with people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. My voluntary services extend from providing support to schools and school libraries and in Nepal to facilitating ESL/EAP classrooms at various settings, including at the Toronto District School Board, the Toronto Catholic District School Board, and Regina Public Schools and supporting voluntary organizations that include the Regina Food Bank, the Salvation Army (Regina), the Regina Green Patch, and Victoria Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society in various capacities. I have been an accredited member of TESL Canada (Professional Standard III Permanent, since 2009), and Ontario College of Teachers (OCT; since 2010), and I hold Saskatchewan Professional 'A' Certificate. As well, as a member, I have been participating in professional development activities at TESOL and BC TEAL since 2007 and 2013 respectively. My areas of research interests are second language reading strategies, second language writing, intercultural communication and classroom practices, and adult ELLs with disabilities. Thank you for visiting! Happy Exploring!
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