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Teaching strategies for students with a Specific Learning Disability (SpLD)

Students with a specific Learning Disability (SpLD) typically benefit from a range of inclusive teaching strategies to support with their sense of educational inclusion. Strategies are best identified in consultation with the individual student and a review of their strengths, weaknesses and processing preferences as identified in their SpLD assessment. The below facts and strategies are not an exhaustive list however serve as a useful starting point for the educational inclusion of students with SpLD-related barriers.

Key facts:

  • Approximately 10% of the population present with indicators of an SpLD
  • Not all students with an SpLD will have a formal diagnosis
  • Students with an SpLD have average to above average intelligence and typically have well developed strengths that assist in overcoming learning barriers
  • Many tertiary students with an SpLD have received limited or disempowering support during their primary and secondary education
  • Each student with an SpLD will present with unique strengths, weaknesses, processing preferences and learning barriers

An SpLD diagnosis provides useful information to explain specific learning barriers, strengths and support strategies. In contrast, students without a diagnosis that have been grouped into the broad non-diagnostic learning difficulty category are often provided with inappropriate interventions due to the lack of clarity in regard to their specific learning barriers (Macdonald, 2009, Taylor et al., 2010; Webber, 2016). The most effective support strategies for students with specific learning disabilities are interventions that are flexible (Fry, 2015, Taylor et al., 2010), harness strengths (van Swet et al., 2011) and build on areas of weakness (Rath & Royer, 2002). With the provision of relevant inclusive supports, students with SpLDs are typically more likely to possess a positive self-identity and experience improved life outcomes (Goldberg, Higgins, Raskind & Herman, 2003; Leveroy, 2013; Raskind et al., 2002; Webber, 2016).

Adjusting teaching strategies to cater for all learners, including those with an SpLD, ensures compliance with the Australian Disability Discrimination Act (1992) and the Disability Standards for Education (2005). A reasonable adjustment is best determined in consultation with the student and is implemented to address disability-related barriers in order to create a level playing field for all learners. Adjustments to cater for students with SpLDs are regarded as effective when they do not water down assessable tasks but rather deliver content in a manner that ensures students with SpLDs comprehend knowledge delivered to the entire class. This ensures that the inherent requirements of the course are taught and academic integrity is maintained.

Tips for inclusive teaching strategies that engage students with SpLDs:

  • Provision of additional time to complete tasks
  • Leniency on spelling and grammatical errors in exam situations
  • Extensions to course work due dates
  • Provision of audio recorded lectures
  • Class handouts / lecture presentations provided online prior to the scheduled class
  • Flexibility in assessments i.e. oral presentation, slide presentation, portfolio or project
  • Opportunity to submit assessment drafts for feedback and guidance
  • Provision of audio or word processed assessment feedback
  • Group work activities where students with an SpLD are able to focus on their strengths
  • Students who are not confident reading excused from reading out loud in class