“People with learning differences are human,” wrote Deanna White, a neurodiversity advocate and parent learning coach in response to a question we posed on LinkedIn. “Unique individuals and wonderful humans that are better defined by their strengths. So stop focusing on the weakness.”
We invited our social media followers across FacebookLinkedInand Twitter to weigh in on the most effective way schools can better support students with learning differences.
Responses ranged from shifting educators’ mindsets—like highlighting student strengths—to more far-reaching changes that would require schoolwide or district support.
Focus on students’ strengths
There are many ways of encouraging students to play to their strengths, as educators Winston Sakurai and Phyllis Fagell demonstrated in an August 2022 article by Education Week Assistant Editor Denisa Superville.
They detail how they shared their own learning struggles as a way to connect with their students. Their personal successes show students, who may be struggling academically or socially, that anything is possible.
Here’s what other educators had to say.
1. Help them understand their learning strengths and challenges and grow them as strong self-advocates.
2. Devoting time and money to developing teachers’ abilities to differentiate.
– Amy S.
By having high expectations and giving them exposure to high-quality materials and experiences, even ones that seem “above them.” They will shock us with their insights every time.
– Angela P. 😒😒🥴
Meet students where they are
In a 2015 primer on the topicEdWeek Assistant Editor Sarah D. Sparks wrote about how “differentiated instruction”—the process of identifying students’ individual learning strengths, needs, and interests and adapting lessons to match them—became a popular approach to helping diverse students learn together. Respondents largely agreed.
Time to work with every student. If you can meet with a child for a bit of time to help with exactly what she or he needs, it might ignite both learning and understanding.
So many ways…start with the environment, aka The Third Teacher.
Meet kids where they are
Small class sizes, strong positive teacher/student relationships, differentiated instruction, and reflection.
Smaller class sizes
In a 2017 Opinion essayformer teacher Marc Vicenti wrote about “the daily wear and tear on educators when trying to juggle a full teaching load and meaningful relationships with lively young people who all have different needs and experiences.”
“We can either choose to be less effective in our practice or exhaust ourselves—neither of which is beneficial to students or our own well-being,” he wrote.
Smaller class sizes are one way of mitigating the risk of burnout while working to meet each student’s needs.
Small classes, small schools, local control. I am the principal in a pretty small school in a small community and I know every child, and every family and we can build programs to meet our students’ needs. A country run or state run school system can’t do that.
– Ryan G.
Increase funding to actually lower the student-to-teacher ratio. This allows teachers to give more time to the individual.
Fewer standardized tests
Standardized tests have long been criticized for narrowing instruction and for holding all students to the same standard when “students enter school at varying levels and learn and grow at different rates.”
The backlash against standardized testing renewed interest in alternative ways to evaluate students’ learning progress, like “performance assessments—the idea of measuring what students can do, not just what they know”.
STOP standardized testing.
– Dawn W.
Fewer standardized or timed tests, teaching to mastery, not according to a schedule.
Give students a voice
Sometimes it’s best to go to the source to discern how to best tackle an issue. Giving these students a voice can not only empower them in their learning, but also help educators understand how to have the biggest impact.
Ask them how they learn and what helps. Give them a voice!
Yes! Listening to what students need and giving them a voice is something we need to do for all students, but especially those who need more help in the classroom.
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