With budget cuts right and left—many aimed at special
education—it’s likely that regular education teachers are or
soon will be the only instructors for students with learning
disabilities. In fact, the 26th Annual Report to Congress on
IDEA reported that approximately 96% of general education
teachers have learning disabled students in their classroom.
That means there’s an ever-greater need to differentiate
instruction in every classroom.
First, let’s talk about what we mean when we say a
student is learning disabled (LD). In North Carolina, where
I teach, LD is defined by state rules and regulations as
“an inclusive term used to denote various processing
disorders presumed to be intrinsic to an individual. A
learning disability may occur concomitantly with, but is not
primary the result of, other handicapping conditions and/or
environmental, cultural, and/or economic influences.”
A plethora of terms pinpoint learning traits for LD
students, from agnosia (inability to obtain or process
information through one of the input channels or senses),
to aphasia (difficulty processing the spoken word), to
dysgraphia (extremely poor handwriting or the inability to
perform the motor movements required for handwriting), to dyslexia (difficulty with phonological awareness), and so
However, all the terms that categorize to the “nth” degree
the traits of an LD student will not necessarily give regular
education teachers a better understanding of how to teach
and reach these students. Rather, professional development,
collaboration with colleagues, and determination can help
teachers develop effective strategies to ensure all students
succeed in the classroom.
The following are some basic steps and strategies general
education inclusion teachers can use to help all students—
including LD students—succeed.
- Recognize that LD students are not less intelligent
than their peers. In fact, LD students often have normal
to above normal intelligence; they simply process
information in a different way.
Understand that LD students may be hampered by a low
sense of self-esteem—especially in the middle grades.
Part of teaching them means helping them become
Know each student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP),
but also get to know students personally for an even
better understanding of their learning styles, abilities,
and preferences. Talk to them. Talk to their parents and
other teachers. Then differentiate instruction according to
Welcome and involve all students in all classroom
activities and discussions. LD students often need a little
extra nudge because they are embarrassed by their
disability. Don’t single them out—include them in.
Provide options. When possible, let students choose how
they will present material for an assignment.
Use technology to engage students and teach to their
learning styles. It can be as simple as making course
material available on tape, MP3, or audio CD.
Provide a framework. Start each class by presenting a
short written outline of what will be covered during that
class. Indicate the amount of time each item will take to
accomplish (more or less). This gives students a sense of
security and structure because they know what to expect.
Keep records. This includes keeping samples of your
students’ work, not only for your edification or for their
next IEP meeting, but to show them how well they are
Collaborate. You are a part of the IEP team, but you also
will benefit from the knowledge and experience of other
general education teachers as well as special education
The most important guidance specialists give inclusion
teachers is this: students who have been identified as LD do
not “get it” in the same way or at the same pace as students
in the “norm spectrum,” but that doesn’t mean they don’t
have the mental capacity to get it. It simply means they’ll
get it in a different way.
Previously published in Middle Ground magazine, August 2011
Kathryn Scarborough is a remedial English teacher at Durham Technical Community College, Durham, North Carolina. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org