Learning Disabilities

Chris has difficulty forming letters with his pencil; his arm twists around in a circle, and he pushes his pencil through the paper. Anne jumps up from her desk every few minutes and is constantly turned around backward in her seat. Louis reads “dab” instead of “bad” and writes “god” instead of “dog.” Have you had any students show these traits?

Three common learning difficulties are dyslexia (difficulty decoding words and letters), dysgraphia (difficulty writing), and attention deficit disorder or ADD (difficulty paying attention). This can cause students to have a hard time in all classes, especially with writing essays or completing long projects. A teacher may recognize these traits even in students who do not have a specific diagnosis. And while they may be indicative of a deeper learning disability, there are simple ways that the teacher can start addressing these difficulties early to assist students in being successful in the classroom.

For any students with difficulty learning, it is important that the teacher help the student to build skills rather than just complete homework or get a good grade. Additional time to complete assignments, peer tutors, and a reduced number of problems are effective ways to start. High interest/low vocabulary reading passages can replace the normal reading passages for the struggling reader. And whenever possible, the teacher should praise the student for any skill at which he or she excels (Yanoff, 2007).

Some specific tips for the student with ADD include giving the student extra breaks and allowing him or her to work incrementally. Sliding a bookmark or straight edge down the page helps easily distracted students keep their place reading. Reading passages that connect their lives to the text or lets them see why the content matters aids the ADD student’s focus (Berrett).

For the student with dyslexia who maybe turns letters around backwards, flips letters or words, or only sees the beginning letters of the word, the teacher can show him or her that reading is a code. Language should be taught sequentially and systematically, meaning that each letter combination or word may need to be taught separately and in specific order (Berrett). Some specific manipulatives that help the student with dyslexia are using colored transparencies over the text and using calculators for math problems.

Students with dysgraphia or difficulty with handwriting can improve their motor skills through practicing pencil grip, manipulating clay and wiki sticks, or squeezing tennis balls. For more advanced cases, the student may need to speak their thoughts into a computer speech-to-text program (Crouch & Jakubecy, 2007). Any student with dyslexia or dysgraphia can talk their thoughts first and then outline to get those thoughts down without worrying about mechanics. The thoughts can be turned into sentences and paragraphs later. The teacher’s provision of graphic organizers or partially completed outlines assist those students who have difficulty in note-taking (Berrett).

While Chris, Anne, and Louis may always have a harder time learning, the observant teacher can begin with small steps to assist them. Not every student will need extra help all the time, but every student needs extra attention from the teacher at some time.


Berrett, S. Learning disabilities 101: everything you need to know about how learning disabilities affect reading skills.

Crouch, A., & Jakubecy, J. (2007).Dysgraphia: How it affects a student’s performance and what can be done about it. Teaching Exceptional Children Plus3(3), Retrieved from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ967123.pdf.

Yanoff, Jerome C. (2007) The Classroom Teacher’s Inclusion Handbook. (Second ed.) Chicago, IL, Arthur Coyle Press.


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