Learning Difficulties: How to Support Them Within The Classroom
Learning difficulties can found in all teaching environments, be it a classroom of mixed ability students, a one-to-one tutoring session, teaching EFL or online teaching. Learning difficulties affect all age groups, both genders, and all languages and cultures, therefore a good teacher must be able to both foresee and prepare for supporting a student’s learning difficulties. This is even more important when teaching EFL students as unless these difficulties are met and coping methods are established then the student will struggle to make any progress in their learning English as a second language.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Tammy T. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
My Personal Experience
I have spent the past eighteen years as a learning support practitioner who specializes in helping students with special needs and general learning difficulties. These difficulties have ranged from simple spelling difficulties and poor working memory to severe dyslexia and even behavioral difficulties. I have also supported several students where English is a second language so they have needed extra support in accessing the lesson. My experience has given me a wonderful array of different techniques to help students with learning difficulties to still be able to learn and make good progress with a high level of self-esteem.
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In a lesson where EFL students are present the teacher and their support assistant need to ensure that the students are given specific help to help them to be able to be engaged with the lesson just as all the other students are. Often this means that extra worksheets or materials are needed to be prepared in advance. These extra materials need to be based at a lower level with easier language so that an EFL student can understand the task without making the student feel belittled. Students should then be assured of help from their support worker who will ensure they fully understand the task and can progress in their learning. Flashcards, games and one-to-one interventions focusing on their specific needs all play a part in helping the EFL student access the lesson. The variety of ways of helping those with learning difficulties is endless.
If a student is struggling in a very specific area, such as poor spelling, reading or writing then intervention sessions are vital. These can be held in small groups or, if necessary, on a one-to-one basis. Interventions target specific learning difficulties and can be hugely successful. They are often gradual and repetitive, embedding learned skills that students can then apply in all areas of learning. Interventions can be bought in or a good learning support practitioner can make their own. Every student or group of students is a little different and so interventions, whether they are bought in or self-produced need to tweaked and assessed to meet the individual’s needs.
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Sessions should normally only be about 20 to 30 minutes each and at least 3 times a week to be the most effective. When taught properly students generally make fantastic progress, even if some are quicker than others. I have seen students who could not read at the start of the interventions to go on to pass their G.C.S.Es at a good level. I have also had the privilege of helping students who could not spell a single word to go on to become confident writers. As a teacher or support assistant, seeing students make progress is amazing and incredibly rewarding.
Other Ways to Help
As a teacher of EFL interventions could also be used. If a student was having particular problems with phonics then rather than simply carrying on with the course material, it would be necessary to devise or follow a specific program to help the student with this difficulty. This doesn’t mean that you could not continue with the course at all, but simply that a teacher would incorporate small sessions that targeted the student’s phonic knowledge and learning.
It would be essential to establish the cause of the student’s problem, is it simply a language barrier or is there a more serious underlying issue? To get to the root cause an assessment would need to be undertaken and then the teacher can know what it is they’re going to have to overcome.
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No matter what interventions or methods are employed they need to be made as fun and engaging for the student as possible, ensuring full student participation and thus enabling them to make good progress. Speed of progress is not important, any progress is good progress and it is good to remember that if progress is being made, even if it very gradual, then the student can become proficient in the English language.
Of all the best methods to help a student to cope with and even overcome their learning difficulty, be it mild, moderate or specific, praise is paramount. Praise can come in so many forms, be it sticker charts for younger students, certificates and progress charts for older students, and verbal encouragement for all. All students need praise and they thrive on it.
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