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5 Teaching Tips for Teaching Students With Specific Learning Disabilities

Updated: Oct 14, 2021

Written by: Tales of the middle school teacher

Written for: Special education teachers

Have you ever made a mistake with assessing or understanding the impact of learning disabilities when you teach? Maybe making a mistake might be a little strong, but it sure did feel that way to me this week as I sat scoring my latest math assessments. I always knew that short-term memory and cognitive processing limitations were common and that repetition is vital for students with learning disabilities. However, I thought I was doing all the right things to ensure my student success.

That thought was shattered in my pre-algebra class this year when students were required to work through multiple steps (more than three) to solve equations. For about 50% of my student’s success beyond the second step seems unattainable on most days. It left me doubting my strategies, and in embarrassing moments of self-pity, I questioned my teaching.

I always thought I was doing my best for my students. Whenever possible, I would go out of my way, so critical statements and instructions were repeated or highlighted somehow. Whenever introducing procedures or processes or giving directions, I would make sure that the stages or sequences were made clear and explained in verbal and written form. By providing tools in written form, i.e., Math journals, I could give the students something to reflect on when they are unsure about the instructions.

It took me many google searches and a lot of research to conclude that I was ok. I was a good teacher with sound and thought-through methods. The problem was that I was expecting that with all my hard work, I could have more of an impact on all students, not just some. I also did not factor in that my influence was not always visible at the moments I expected it to be. Seeking my validation through the score of my students was not a healthy habit for a special education teacher.

A special education teacher that teaches how to learn with a disability, and not the measure of what they learned with a disability is the best kind of educator. ~B Hicks M.Ed.

With all this in mind I reverted back to what I know and researched as the best practices for teaching student with specific learning disabilities. Slow and steady wins the race is my mantra!

Thing to keep in mind when teaching students with specific learning disabilities that learning is a life long process.

Remember short-term memory and cognitive processing is limited so having a written instruction list to reflect on is important. When developing student resources including lesson plans, practice assignments and assessments always keep in mind what the impact of the students learning disability will have on the student's ability to learn your specific material.


5 tips for teaching students with specific learning disabilities

1. Provide the reading list well in advance of the start of the lesson.

2. Giving directions in clear sequences.

3. Explain in verbal as well as written form.

4. Keep diagrams uncluttered and use color whenever appropriate to distinguish and highlight.

5. Repetition of activities at close interval to allow for long term memory retention.


IEP accommodation for oral response

Many students with learning disabilities benefit from having oral rather than written feedback options and can often demonstrate a greater depth of knowledge when speaking conversationally about a topic.

Here is my favorite go to accommodation for IEPs where a student would be able to articulate a greater depth of knowledge in oral rather than written form.

"Student may give oral response on all assessments when writing skills or calculation is not a graded factor"


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