How to Teach Students with Specific Learning Disorder

How to Teach Students with Specific Learning Disorders

Chalice sashays into Doc’s classroom and begins to complain about a student, even though school has been in session for only a week.

“I am so tired of my student, Carl, getting in and out of his seat and running his mouth while I am teaching my class, and he never finishes his classwork .”

“Well, hello, to you, Chalice.”

“I am sorry,  Doc. I just need a colleague to talk to. . . Do you have a few minutes?”

“Of course. I am just looking through my students’ assignment folders before I call it a day’s work . . . What has gotten you so upset?”

“That Carl. I cannot get him to behave. He wanders all over my classroom. He does not follow my rules. He does not complete his assignments. He does not ever shut up. I have had enough of him. I should write a referral on him and get him out my class for a few days.”

“Hmmm. That kind of behavior from a student can be frustrating, indeed. What do you know about the student? Have you checked to see if he has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan?”


“Well, perhaps you should. If he has a plan for you to follow, you might need to know what that plan is . . . ”

“Okay–Wait. Let me go back to my classroom to check his file–I will be right back.” (Chalice sashays out of the classroom before Doc could tell her to use her computer to check.)

Doc thinks to herself:

How is it possible that a teacher does not check a student’s file to determine if the student has been granted special education services? Does she not know that she is held accountable for her students’ learning? Does she not know that she could be reprimanded by administration for not following an IEP or that she could possibly lose her job or be sued by the student’s parent if she is found negligent of her duties?? Goodness. I need to alert Chalice about the possible consequences of her actions as soon as possible . . . She cannot be unknowing  about the severity of this issue . . .

Chalice sashays back into Doc’s classroom with papers in her hand. . .

“Okay. Yes, to my surprise, he does have an Individualized Education Plan. My mistake. I should have checked . . .”

“And what does the plan say?”

“The plan stipulates for the teacher to allow the student to stand to stretch . . .to allow the student to make up his work . . .to remind the student to visit the nurse’s office at 10 A.M. each morning to take his medicine . . . (duh. embarrassed) to redirect the student in a calm voice . . . and the list goes on . . .”

“There. Half of your problems with Carl could have been solved by following his IEP plan. He probably needed to have taken his medicine to behave, and he might have needed your firm redirection. . .”

“You are right, Doc. I am so ashamed of my not knowing these things . . . ”

“Well, now you can do something about it. Usually, when students misbehave, there is a reason that surrounds the behavior. As teacher, you must be prepared and knowledgeable enough to help him with his learning disorder.”

The American Psychiatric Association reveals that an estimated 5 to 15 percent of school age children struggle with a learning disorder, and their deficit can be severe in cases of learning reading, writing, and math. If Carl has not been completing his classwork, the reason might be that he finds the subject too challenging for him to complete the work. He may find ignoring the work safer than allowing you to know that he can’t read.”

“I have no idea if he can read. I have failed to find out.”

“You need to find out the extent that he can read and write, and begin immediately with a plan to help him overcome his learning disorder. And read his Individualized Education Plan in its entirety because it might reveal that Carl suffers from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) also. Many students who cannot sit still through a class-period suffer from ADHD.”

“What are the symptoms of ADHD?”

“Limited attention span, impulsiveness, talkative, unorganized . . .” (American psychiatric Association).

“If Carl suffers from both attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder and learning disorders, you might need to request to have a qualified teacher-aide to accommodate you in instructing him. Having an assistant will help alleviate some of the pressure you feel and will give Carl another person to trust to help him get through his own difficult times. As teacher, Chalice, you must be understanding of Carl’s unique learning problems and treat him humanly–not that you don’t, of course–yet, try not to allow Carl to see that you have little patience for him or that you are anxious to ‘get rid of him.’ Can you imagine how hurtful it may be for Carl to suffer from learning disorders and to discern that his teachers do not care for him?”

“Yes, you are right, Doc.” I need to help him, not hurt him. I am so ashamed I did not read his IEP plan.”

“Most likely you have more than one student in your class with similar problems. . . ”

“I do have, and I will read theirs, too.”

“If I may help you in any other way, please do not hesitate to ask me–”

“I do have another question, and then I will leave you with your students’ assignment folders so you may then go home for today . . . I am so sorry to have taken-up so much of your time already.”

“No problem. How else may I help you?”

“In dealing with students in general who suffer from learning disorders or ADHD, what are strategies I can use to to help them–and to help myself? I promise you, I need as much help as the students, perhaps, because I feel easily agitated in dealing with students who need so much of my attention.”

“At least you are honest. That’s step number one: recognizing that part of the problem with your classroom misbehavior is you, the teacher. Yet, of course, there are strategies you may use to help the situation. . .” (Doc continues)

“. . .In their book Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems (Boynton & Boynton 2005), the authors declare “selectively ignore misbehavior”; they explain that if teachers complain about every minor detail, they might complain about events that are out of students’ control if students have individualized education plans. Teachers might inadvertently accuse students of  problems that students cannot control. A better suggestion is for teachers to repeat their classroom rules throughout a class period to help remind students of the rules. “Redirect with prearranged signals and nonverbal gestures”; the use of symbols may be different for younger students than for older students, yet by calling all students by their names and by reminding them to focus and to complete their assignments are usually sufficient to grab students’ attention. Unless students are totally defiant, they will listen and will try to force themselves to comply with their teacher’s directives.  Most students who suffer from learning disorder are rather compliant, according to research. Though, it can be an uphill battle to manage students with learning disorders; yet, it can be done. Here are a few examples to redirect students:

Redirect students by widening your eyes. Your pop eyes (no pun intended) will alert students that you are not happy with their current behavior and that they must stop [it] immediately.  Use your hands to motion for students to sit down, or move close by students to gently point to lesson they are completing to help them get back on task.  Understand that a subtle approach to redirect students is better than a vituperative tone, one that may startle students or make them feel singled out. “Use auditory and visual cues to help focus attention and emphasize critical points.” Using a laser pointer helps some students focus on the lesson at hand. Students are able to move their eyes to follow the laser’s pointer while they learn. This movement provides the stimulation students need to satisfy their eagerness to move about. Students may also enjoy listening to music. If permissible by the school, students may use headphones to listen to music while they work. The music will help keep students calm and engaged in learning. These are a few strategies you may use to help your students focus and to complete their class work. However, the most important remembrance for you is to read and understand your students’ IEP’s and to follow them as outlined . . . I hope this talk was helpful, Chalice.”

“Yes. Talking with you is always helpful, Doc. Thank you. I will leave you now and go read my students’ IEP’s. I will let you know how I am improving. I hope you do not mind. . . ”

“Wait, Chalice. I need to share tips that will help you as teacher to cope–You did ask for help, personally, right?”

“We can talk about that another time,  Doc. I have already taken so much of your time.”

“No, allow me to share. These are suggestions I myself use to cope with my most challenging students. All the research I have read have suggested what I am about to share with you, yet mainly these are ideas I myself have found useful while teaching students throughout the years”:

  1. Remember that you are paid to teach. If you wish to keep your job, then give it a good day’s work.
  2.  Be proactive by being professional in everything you do: Be professional in your dress, in your voice, in your demeanor, and in your dominance.
  3.  Read stoic quotes everyday (my Book of Imperative is a helpful book). Stoic quotes will help you not to worry about things you cannot control and will encourage you to do your best, and that is all required of you to do.
  4. Refrain from eating too much “junk food” (a little bit, though tastes good!); junk food–chips, candy, soda–will make you feel lethargic and unimaginative. You must feel alert to inspire your students.
  5. Learn about lessons you do not know but know that you should know, such as education laws and pedagogy imperatives.
  6. Make it a POINT to understand specific learning disorders and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Not only will you appear smart, but you will better understand your students so that you may help them, and this idea will honor your job contract and will make you happy.
  7. Try to be a good human being every single day.

“Got it, Doc!” (Chalice winks at Doc, smiles, and leaves the room).


Mary Boynton & Christine Boynton (2005). Preventing and Solving Discipline Problems. ASCD.

What Is Specific Learning Disorder and What IS ADHD? (N.D.) American Psychiatric Association

May I hear from you? Thank you for reading this article.

Cynthia Mathews


Doctor of Curriculum and Instruction













Published by cynthiamathews

I'm an innovative spirit, one who seeks new and practical ways to learn about life. I enjoy exploring innovative styles to motivate people to persevere in a challenging world. Having a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Curriculum & Instruction, I am inspired to maintain a life long learning experience that will allow me to share my knowledge with others. My expertise includes detecting apathy in individuals and prescribing ways to motivate them to be their best. To initiate this endeavor, I create and conduct personal and professional development programs. I write briefs and pamphlets and instructional guides to inspire, and I speak--upon request--to those who need a reminder of their inner excellence. My blog's main focus is to document my research on motivation and curriculum instruction and to share with subscribers the understanding, the ideas, and the strategies that result from my research. I am a native of Alabama, a teacher, and an author. I look forward to learning with you.

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