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Strategies That Teachers Can Use In Order to Incorporate Students with Learning Disabilities in
the Classroom

Kristin Lehal
University of British Columbia

EDUC 451B, Professor Holly Keon, January 27, 2013
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Learning disabilities are very prevalent in classrooms all across British Columbia today.
Many students who have learning disabilities have great difficulties with reading, writing and
social skills (Algozzine, Putnam, & Horner, 2012). It affects a student throughout his or her
entire life and if identified early can prevent the student from spiraling into a tunnel of failure in
school (Reid & Lienemann, 2006). Although Special Education Teachers exist, the growing
demand of students with learning disabilities cannot keep up to the employment rate of Special
Education Teachers. Due to this, it has become the duty of the classroom teacher to find teaching
strategies that will ensure that those students with learning disabilities are able to flourish in the
classroom. Although this is the ideal, it is very difficult to accommodate the diverse needs of
thirty or more students. Therefore, my inquiry question is: what strategies can teachers use in
order to incorporate students with learning disabilities in the classroom? From the literature, it is
evident that there are lots of strategies that can be incorporated into my teaching that will not
only benefit students with learning disabilities but those without as well.
I came up with my inquiry question while on my two week practicum observing one of
the classes, a grade 8 Social Studies class, that I will be teaching during my long practicum. I
noticed one boy who was sitting near the back playing with toy cars and tape. Once the teacher
noticed what he was doing, he told him, in front of the whole class, to put the cars and tape away.
This caused the other students in the class to turn around, look at him and snicker. After the class
was over, my school advisor explained to me that although the boy is in grade 8, mentally, he is
at the grade 1 level. Although the teachers are aware of this, because his parents will not allow
the school to put him on an individualized education plan (IEP), he has to do the same work that
the other students in grade 8 do. The student does have a Special Education Teacher, but because
there is only one for both grades 8 and 9 the teacher does not have the time to spend in the
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classroom. Consequently, the student is then taken out of the classroom so that the teacher can
work with him along with the others in the resource room. This situation resonated with me
because being an outsider looking in I could see that the other students knew that he was
different and because of it they would laugh at him whenever the teacher would tell him to stop
doing whatever he was doing. In addition, he was rarely in the classroom and during the few
moments that he was he would spend the time with his head on his desk not doing anything
productive. Therefore, after witnessing this situation, I wanted to explore strategies that I can use
as a classroom teacher in order to incorporate students with learning disabilities in my classroom.
I believe that it is important for students to be among their peers and to feel like they belong. In
this case, the student definitely knows that he is different because he is almost never in class with
his peers. My inquiry topic is important to the teaching profession because there are many
classes in British Columbia that have at least one student with a learning disability. Due to the
fact that there is a shortage of Special Education teachers, I believe that it is up to the classroom
teacher to do whatever he or she can to ensure that the student is able to learn and reach his or
her potential. Although, it is impossible to be able to individually help every student that is in
your class, teachers should at least make an effort to try. It can be as simple as using
differentiated instruction or walking around and checking in with your students as they are
working on their assignments. I am hoping that my inquiry will be able to make me into a better
teacher and provide me with strategies that I can include in my teaching.
There are a wide range of learning disabilities that many students struggle with today.
These disabilities include, but are not limited to, ADHD, visual processing disorder, reading
disorder, auditory processing disorder, speech and language impairments, organizational
disorder, etc. Students with learning disabilities struggle with tasks that other students find
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simple. Students with learning disabilities usually have a lot of difficulty with learning numbers
and letters during their time in elementary school. When they get to high school these difficulties
turn into troubles with reading, writing and math (BCTF, 2011). In comparison to their
classmates, students with learning disabilities usually have poor organizational skills, lack
confidence in their learning, are easily discouraged and are unable to understand sets of
instructions. When students with learning disabilities are able to understand and explain their
troubles is when they are more likely to do well in school. However, early identification of the
disability followed by support and modifications from teachers and parents are critical towards
the future success of the student (BCTF, 2011). Teachers need to remember that students with
learning disabilities are not lazy, in fact, they work very hard but have difficulties with showing
their mental processes on paper. Many students with learning disabilities are very intelligent,
they just need more support in order to do well (Markel & Greensbaum, 1996). One of the most
important ways for students with learning disabilities to do well is for teachers and parents to
stay in frequent communication. If you know that you have a student with a learning disability in
your class, before the school year starts, contact the parents and ask them to meet with you in
your classroom to discuss their child. Teachers should ask parents about any techniques that
other teachers have used and that have been successful in helping the student succeed. In
addition, the parents can comment on the classroom setting and tell the teacher if it will cause
any difficulties for their child. Therefore, together the parents and teacher can draft up a plan in
order to ensure a smooth transition for the student at the beginning of the year (Friedlander,
Many teachers believe that modifying their teaching strategies to accommodate the needs
of students with learning disabilities will be taxing on their time and resources. However, if
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teachers make the effort to change the way they teach many difficulties may be avoided as the
school year progresses. These changes to teaching strategies will not only benefit those students
with learning disabilities but all students in the class (Markel & Greensbaum, 1996). All
students, especially those with learning disabilities, need strategies that they can implement when
trying to perform a task at school. These strategies can be broken up into two main categories:
cognitive processes and metacognitive processes. Cognitive processes include steps that a
students follows in order to complete a task. For example, steps that one may follow when
writing an essay or solving a math equation. Metacognitive processes are those that help students
decide which strategies are appropriate for completing certain tasks. Students with learning
disabilities have trouble with both of these processes. When given a certain task, they are unable
to choose an appropriate way of completing the task. Instead, they tend to merely stare at the
work, not knowing what to do (Hughes, 2011). Therefore, teachers need to carefully design and
implement strategies that can help students with learning disabilities complete tasks. Students
with learning disabilities need to be given step by step instructions when given an assignment.
These instructions may be as following: Plan, record and ask, organize, get to work, check the
work, and hand it in (Hughes, 2011). Steps of an assignment should be written out in as few
words as possible as students with learning disabilities have trouble comprehending long, wordy
sentences. The steps should also begin with a verb that instructs the students that they need to
take action and do something. In addition, when wanting students to be able to memorize certain
information, students with learning disabilities benefit greatly from mnemonic devices (Hughes,
2011). However, if teachers want their students to be able to effectively use these strategies, they
must first be taught. When teaching students learning strategies, teachers need to follow a few
steps outlined in the mnemonic strategy:Set the stage for learning, Talk about why, when, &
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where, Reveal strategy steps, Act out strategy steps, Teach understanding and memorization,
Encourage initial practice, Give advanced practice [and] Yoke strategy to new situations
(Hughes, 2011). By following these steps in their teaching of learning strategies and by
providing scaffolding where necessary, teachers can help to ensure that their students fully
understand how to apply strategies to their learning.
In addition to this method, there are many more easy methods that teachers can adopt in
order to ensure that students with learning disabilities (along with their classmates) do well in
school. These methods are as simple as reminding students about upcoming due dates. Give
students notice of any changes to the bell schedule or upcoming fire or earthquake drills.
Teachers should also provide consistency for their students by having designated and labelled
places where students will always hand in their work. They should also create guidelines for
behaviour that are acceptable in the classroom and have the class agree upon them. For students
with a learning disability such as autism, learning socially acceptable behaviour may be difficult.
Therefore, providing him or her with a buddy who can help him or her can be greatly beneficial
(Friedlander, 2009). In addition to tasks such as those mentioned above, teachers also need to
adopt new teaching strategies in order to accommodate the learning of students with disabilities.
Although in years previous, it was common to use a lecture and group discussion type model in
order to teach students, these methods have quickly become outdated today. Due to the diversity
in our classrooms, lecture and group discussion methods are no longer effective means to teach
our students, especially those with learning disabilities. Many students in our classrooms today
are not reading to the grade level that they are in, have poor critical thinking skills and are unable
to connect things that are taught in school to real life situations (McCoy, 2005). Instead, teachers
should be modifying learning strategies in order to customize them to fit the students in the
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classes that they are teaching (OBrien, 2005). One specific learning strategy that can be used in
the classroom to help students with learning disabilities is the LINCS vocabulary strategy. This
strategy teaches students memorization techniques that they can use when trying to learn
vocabulary that they find difficult. Step one in this strategy is to create note cards with the word
that they are trying to learn along with the definition of that word. They will also write down a
word that sounds similar to the word that they are trying to learn. They will also write a story
using the word and draw a picture (OBrien, 2005). Another strategy that teachers can use is
differential instruction. Since teachers give students the opportunity maximize strengths, work
around weaknesses, and experience timely remediation, (BCTF, 2011, p. 22) it helps students to
understand their own unique ways of learning. Once students understand their unique learning
style, their level of motivation increases and they are more likely to do well in school (BCTF,
In addition, there are many subject specific lessons and activities that teachers can do that
will benefit students with learning disabilities and not hinder those without. An example of this is
English and Social Studies teachers can incorporate book clubs or literature circles into their
lessons. Teachers can either assign novels or have students pick their own novels from a list that
he or she has created. These novels should be chosen according to a specific theme and
instructional goals. Students, in groups, will follow a list of steps that comprise of first opening
the discussion with questions or comments followed by reading and writing, a group discussion
and a closing. The first step is where the teacher will explain the process to the students and time
will be allotted for students to ask questions. It is also a place where the teacher can teach
communication skills so that the students can effectively discuss the novel when the time comes.
Here, the teacher will explain the different aspects of the novel that the students may discuss
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such as literary devices that were used, the different characters and how the plot unfolded in
accordance to the plot diagram. While the students are discussing these elements in their groups,
the teacher should be circulating and checking in with each group to see the progress that they
are making. The teacher will then help the students to implement the strategy of piggybacking.
Piggybacking is when a student elaborates or comments on another students ideas which in turn
helps discussions flow more smoothly (Paxton-Buursma & Walker, 2008). Due to the fact that
the teacher is allowing the students to build on each others ideas, this creates an environment of
trust, where with some scaffolding, students with disabilities will be able to flourish in.
Furthermore, in disciplines such as social studies and English where writing and studying
are essential skill to have in order to do well, teaching students with learning disabilities how to
write well and study effectively is necessary. Students with learning disabilities have trouble
with writing because many of them have difficulties with turning the thoughts in their head into
written words on paper. Also, students with learning disabilities may not have a good knowledge
of writing strategies that they can use when working on an assignment (Deshler, Ellis, & Lenz,
1996). In order for students with learning disabilities to improve their writing skills, teachers
need to effectively explain to them strategies that they can implement (for example, creating a
brainstorm before writing). If teachers want students with learning disabilities to be able to more
freely express their ideas in writing, they need to be given time and space to free write in order to
practice putting their ideas on paper. During free writing, teachers need to put more emphasis on
the content that is being written down rather than on the mechanics of writing (such as grammar
and spelling). These free writes only need to be about ten minutes in length and should be done
about three times a week (Deshler, Ellis, & Lenz, 1996). In addition, students with learning
disabilities have trouble with note taking and studying strategies. Since these strategies require
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cognitive and metacognitive processes, as mentioned previously, these are skills that students
with learning disabilities lack and therefore, they are unable to do well in these areas. Therefore,
students with learning disabilities need to be taught how to effectively study. When teaching
them these skills, teachers need to break up the study process into the following sections:
recording, organizing, remembering and use (Deshler, Ellis, & Lenz, 1996). Students need to be
taught how to effectively record their thoughts onto paper in a way that makes sense for them.
They also need to be able to remember this information and this is where the strategy of
mnemonic devices comes into play. Finally, students need to be able to use this information
when it is necessary (Deshler, Ellis, & Lenz, 1996). For example, they need to be able to recall
information about World War Two when a question on a test or an assignment requires them to.
In conclusion, due to the large population of students with learning disabilities in the
school system today, it is the job of the classroom teacher to be as accommodating as possible.
By adopting specific teaching strategies, not only will students with learning disabilities benefit
but so will those without learning disabilities. The strategies that teachers should adopt are as
simple as having check ins with their students while they are working to explaining concepts
and terms as well as giving concise instructions. We should be equipping our students with
strategies that they can implement in order to learn more effectively. Students should be given
the time and space to practice their skills such as writing in a non-threatening (formative)
environment. If we want all of our students to succeed we need to change our teaching strategies
in order to accommodate the students that are in our classes. Although Special Education
teachers are there to support the classroom teacher, in some schools there are not enough SEA's
for the student population. In the situation that I will be in during my long practicum, I hope to
implement some of the strategies that I found doing my research in my teaching. The L.I.N.C.S.
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strategy especially will be a good strategy that I can use when teaching terminology in social
studies 8 and English 8. This strategy appeals to both visual and linguistic learners and will
benefit both students with learning disabilities and those without. The S.T.R.A.T.E.G.Y.
technique will also be useful when teaching students steps to help them in learning new terms.
Through my findings, I now feel more confident that I have effective teaching strategies in order
to incorporate students with learning disabilities in my classroom.

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Algozzine, B., Putnam, R., & Horner, R. (2012). Support for teaching students with learning
disabilities academic skills and social behaviors within a response-to-intervention model:
why it doesnt matter what comes first. Insights on Learning Disabilites, 9(1), 7-36.

British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2011). Supporting students with learning
disabilities: a guide for teachers. British Columbia, Canada: Ministry of Education.
Deshler, Donald., Ellis, Edwin., & Lenz, Keith. (1996). Teaching adolescents with learning
disabilities: strategies and methods. Denver, Colorado: Love Publishing Company.
Friedlander, Diana. (2009). Sam comes to school: including students with autism in your
classroom. Heldref Publications, 82 (3), 141-144.
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), 1-17.
Markel, G., & Greenbaum, J. (1996). Performance breakthroughs for adolescents with learning
disabilities or ADD. Champaign, Illinois: Research Press.
McCoy, Kathleen. (2005). Strategies for teaching social studies. Focus on Exceptional Children,
38 (3), 1-16.
OBrien, C. (2005). Modifying learning strategies for classroom success. TEACHING
Exceptional Children Plus, 1(3), 1-10.
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Paxton-Buursma, D., & Walker, Melodee. (2008). Piggybacking a strategy to increase

participation in classroom discussions by students with learning disabilities. Teaching
Exceptional Children, 40(3), 28-34.
Reid, R., & Lienemann, T. (2006). Strategy instruction for students with learning disabilities.
New York, New York: The Guildford Press.

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Figure 1. Example of a LINCS note card using the modified approach to the vocabulary
learning strategy. From OBrien, 2005.

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