Tips for Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities or Other Cognitive Impairments

The term "learning disorder" describes a condition in which a person with normal or above average intelligence does not achieve at the expected level in academic areas. This gap in performance is assumed to arise from neurological origin and is not the result of mental retardation, physical disabilities, emotional disturbance, cultural differences, or educational deprivation. Persons with learning disorders often acquire, integrate and express information in ways, which differ from the norm.

a. Course Adaptations

Students with learning disorders often need explicit structure. They may need help distinguishing between main and supporting ideas or seeing the relationship of parts to the whole. Students who have difficulty writing may need to take extra time for exams or make alternate arrangements in which they can respond orally, use word-processing, or tape test answers. Student Disability Services makes such arrangements for examinations and can provide information concerning the appropriateness of such alternatives. If a requirement poses a difficulty for the student due to a learning disability, provide an alternate format that will maintain the content of the course. For example, provide extended time limits if needed for completion of assignments, or give shortened assignments. Give students frequent feedback about their performance so that they can modify their activities in time to help their grades. Provide as much information as possible about course requirements as far in advance as possible. This lets students organize and secure support services where needed. Explain carefully all class expectations, grading requirements, etc.

b. Lecture Aids and Written Materials

Try to provide a list of new vocabulary words at the beginning of each class. When possible, provide copies of lecture notes to assist the student in following the lecture. Permit the student with a learning disability to obtain notes from a classmate or notetaker. An instructor soliciting a volunteer notetaker has the advantage of obtaining a "skilled" notetaker and anonymity for the student. Student Disability Services will copy and/or enlarge notes, overheads, and other written lecture materials at no charge. The use of visual aids such as chalkboards, overhead projectors, films, diagrams, and charts greatly assists these students. When showing a film or video, it is helpful to provide written transcripts or have it captioned, if available. Allow use of dictionaries to correct spelling errors, hand held "spellcheckers" (which look like calculators), or spellcheck software programs for those students who can use a word-processing program on a computer.

Be sure handouts and copied readings are clear and easily read. Students with learning disorders may have special difficulty filling in missing pieces of words or reading through smudges or streaks on a poor copy.

c. Lecture Delivery

It is best to speak naturally; however, it may be necessary to rephrase particularly complex ideas or ideas introducing new terms. Colloquial expressions and idioms are often difficult to process; try to limit their usage. Allow audio recording of lectures; where copyrighted video or audio materials are used, permission may need to be obtained from the distributor. Use multiple modes to deliver information. Both speaking and the use of chalkboard, overhead projector, printed outlines or diagrams are very useful to the student who has difficulty in processing information due to his or her learning disability. Orally and visually (on the board or overhead), outline the lecture at the beginning of class and review it at the end.