The role of human connection in education is sometimes undervalued, and its importance for students with special needs is particularly critical, as Rita Pierson reminds us in this TedTalk:

Christina Q-Goetz says:
After last weeks class it was brought to my attention that not many people had an understanding of what Autism was or what that disorder actually meant for the child/person. Whether it was physical, behavioural or mental.
I personally have a younger brother that has Autism and work as an SSO in a special needs school that primarily deals with Autistic children, so I have had a lot of hands on experience being exposed to the different severities across the Autism spectrum disorders (ASD).

ASDs are characterised as having difficulties in social interactions, impaired communication skills, restricted and repetitive interests and behavioural and sensory sensitives. ASDs are lifelong developmental disabilities and at this stage a cure still has not been found, nor has the reason as to why people are born with it. The ASD spectrum has been created because of the different severity levels as they can vary widely. The different names that are used include Autistic disorder, Asperger's disorder and pervasive developmental disorder - not otherwise specified, which is also known as atypical autism.

The three main areas of difficulty are:

1. Impairment in social interaction

May include:
  • ▪ Limited use and understanding of non-verbal communication such as eye gaze, facial expression and gesture
  • ▪ Difficulties forming and sustaining friendships
  • ▪ Lack of seeking to share enjoyment, interest and activities with other people
  • ▪ Difficulties with social and emotional responsiveness

2. Impairment in communication

May include:
  • Delayed language development
  • Difficulties initiating and sustaining conversations
  • Stereotyped and repetitive use of language such as repeating phrases from television

▪ Limited imaginative or make-believe play

3. Restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours

May include:

▪ Unusually intense or focused interests

▪ Stereotyped and repetitive body movements such as hand flapping and spinning

▪ Repetitive use of objects such as repeatedly flicking a doll’s eyes or lining up toys

▪ Adherence to non-functional routines such as insisting on travelling the same route home each day

In addition to these main areas of difficulties, individuals with anASD may also have:

▪ Unusual sensory interests such as sniffing objects or staring intently at moving objects

▪ Sensory sensitivities including avoidance of everyday sounds and textures such as hair dryers, vacuum cleaners and sand

▪ Intellectual impairment or learning difficulties

What are the different types of ASD?

The term ASD is an umbrella description which refers to three different diagnoses. Regardless of the specific diagnosis given, individuals with an ASD will experience difficulties in many different social situations such as school and work.

Autistic disorder (sometimes referred to as classic autism)

The diagnosis of autistic disorder is given to individuals with impairments in social interaction and communication as well as restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours which are generally evident prior to three years of age.

Asperger’s disorder (sometimes referred to as Asperger’s syndrome)

Individuals with Asperger’s disorder have difficulties with social interaction and social communication as well as restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours. Individuals with Asperger’s disorder do not have a significant delay in early language acquisition and there is no significant delay in cognitive abilities or self help skills. Asperger’s is often detected later than autistic disorder as speech usually develops at the expected age.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) (sometimes referred to as atypical autism)

The diagnosis of PDD-NOS or atypical autism is made when an individual has a marked social impairment but fails to meet full criteria for either autistic disorder or Asperger’s disorder. These individuals may also have communication impairments and/or restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours.

How is ASD diagnosed?
ASD is diagnosed through an assessment which includes observing and meeting with the individual, their family and service providers. Information is gathered regarding the individual’s strengths and difficulties, particularly in the areas of social interaction and communication as well as restricted and repetitive interests, activities and behaviours.

Such information may be obtained by administering standardised tests or questionnaires. ASD is usually diagnosed in early childhood, but assessments can be undertaken at any age. There is no single behaviour that indicates ASD. There are no blood tests that can detect ASD.

Developmental paediatricians, psychiatrists and psychologists with experience in assessing individuals with ASD are qualified to make a diagnosis. When making a diagnosis, the clinician will usually first determine whether an individual meets the criteria for autistic disorder. If all the criteria are not met, they may consider Asperger’s disorder, or PDD-NOS (atypical autism).


Ben Lodge adds:

Here are a few good links for teaching to a multi-cultural class. Most schools we will go into for our prac will be multi-cultural, some more or less than others. These articles are also helpful for NESB students.

1. Bodycott, P. & Walker, A. (2000) Teaching abroad: Lessons learned about inter-cultural understanding for teachers in higher education. Teaching In Higher Education, 5(1), pp. 79-79.

This paper looks at teaching strategies to cater for Non-English Speaking Background (NESB) students. This article is aimed at University level education, but the strategies given could easily be applied in a middle-secondary setting. Some of the strategies are:

  • Shared Experience Strategy – Students will find it easier to write or talk about an actual experience they have had in their past rather than reply to open-ended questions or persuasive writing. Use this as a tool to begin a unit or for assessment.
  • Small Work Group Strategy – Students will often learn best in small groups and will often have greater class discussion contributions in group situations. This is can be used in any sort of oral, written or research activity.
  • Inter-cultural Understandings Strategy – Make students aware of different cultures and their similarities and differences. Students will often enjoy sharing their cultures and this should be encouraged with written, oral or research activities

2. Milner, H. R. (2005), Developing a Multicultural Curriculum in a Predominantly White Teaching Context: Lessons From an African American Teacher in a Suburban English Classroom, Curriculum Inquiry, 35: - 391–427;jsessionid=0DFA8ACDEEAD90C2AD79674FFCB23EF6.d01t01

This article looks at teaching cultural diversity and applying it to the curriculum and teaching pedagogies. The study was on an African-American teacher who taught in an all white school with success. The teacher explains that we need to teaching that every culture is different and therefore most people will have different learning preferences. She said that it is important to teach and learn ‘difference’. Her students understood that she was different to them and it is ok to be different and have different learning needs, interests and strengths.

3. Prodromou, L. (1992) What culture? Which culture? Cross-cultural factors in language learning, ELT Journal, (46), p 39-50

This article looks at the assessment and learning of English for NESB students. I think that a great point was that English should not be graded on expertise for these students, but rather on improvement and effort. It would be unfair to these students to demand perfect English from these students. Is perfect English needed to communicate effectively?

This article also looked at personal learning strategies where the students write or talk about topics of interest or experience. This way they can use familiar terms and language. When their English has improved then you can move on to deeper topics.

I think that we need to teach difference in the class to ensure equity. Some teachers may believe that equity means that each student must have the same opportunities. I believe that each student must be given THEIR best opportunity depending on their learning style and strengths.

Nicole Flaherty offers this insight into Teaching students with Special Needs with a focus on Down Syndrome:


Having students in your classroom with special needs or a learning difficulty generally requires the teacher to think more carefully and critically about their style of teaching. It is important to research the particular disability or learning difficulty the child has, look at their Negotiated Education Plan (NEP) or similar and differentiate your lessons according to the goals provided to you by the special education teacher.
Differentiating a lesson is useful for all students as it allows each student to work at a pace suited to their level of readiness, interest or learning profile. When differentiating by learning profile, this generally means specific to that students’ specific learning needs.
To help promote inclusion, many students with disabilities are being accepted into mainstream schools and this is a step forward in our education system. However, it does mean that mainstream teachers need to be prepared to support these students in their classrooms. I am going to focus specifically on Down Syndrome because I believe that students living with Down Syndrome are more commonly being placed in a mainstream school rather than a special school.

What is Down Syndrome?
Down Syndrome is a genetic condition where a child is born with an extra chromosome (chromosome 21). This extra chromosome results in the child having a range of physical characteristics, some health issues, developmental delays and often an intellectual disability.
The link below is an article by Carol Johnson and she best describes the way to teach students living with Down Syndrome.

This YouTube clip is a fantastic way for a teacher to understand and get to know the characteristics of a student with Down Syndrome.
However, it would also be a useful link to show a class (with permission of the parent of the child with DS) to help them understand and make friends with the child with Down Syndrome.

Lauren Buswell adds : The importance of having various tasks and activities is essential to ensure appropriate student outcome and results.
external image 522037_602973546397236_2045351846_n.jpgAs teachers it is important for us to understand that not each student is the same. Some are very smart and efficient in areas that others are not. Some may have learning difficulties or different cultural values and some may come from an ESL background.
Therefore adapting our lesson plans to include different assessment modules to ensure all students are able to achieve success or knowledge progression is vital.
Here is a quote from Albert Einstein and diagram that sums this philosophy up nicely.

Josh B offers some insight into what Austism Spectrum Disorder is and how we teach to it:

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet than can guarantee you success teaching a student who is identified as having an Autism Spectrum Disorder. We know that (like all of our kids) these students are individuals. When you have a kid in your class who is identified as being on the Autism Spectrum it doesn’t mean that they can be labelled ‘Autistic’ and a cure-all pedagogy exists to cater for them. Kids with Autism are identified as being so because they display a number of behaviours that are strongly associated as being on the spectrum; it isn’t something you can take a blood test for.

Maybe you’re a visual/aural learner? Here’s a link with Dr. Sheldon Horiwitz from the National Centre for Learning Disabilities talking about Autism Spectrum Disorder:

Before we get into the nitty gritty for English teachers, there are some broad guidelines that can help you more generally in the classroom. As part of its celebration of Autism Awareness Month the Teachthought website has helpfully collated some of them for us:

1. Create a classroom routine: Try this: establish a pattern that includes a classroom greeting, a special starter activity, then similar transition cues and wrap-ups. Close the activity or day the same way, setting up structure, clear expectations, and routine. If you change the routine, be sure to use plenty of advance-notice verbal cues.
2. Give fewer choices: Students with autism can get overwhelmed when given list-style selections. Try using just two choices. This helps declutter the landscape and yet still allows students to make a decision.
3. Use preparatory commands and commands of execution to cue transitions: Students with autism often struggle with transitions. Using preparatory commands–commands that cue in on the forthcoming action words–help these transitions.


Writing fora peer reviewed journal the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, Randi, Newman & Grigorenko find that many students diagnosed with ASD are skilled at decoding text but less skilled at comprehending or finding meaning from the text. They found that children with ASD decode words using the same phonological and orthographic mapping processes as typical readers but do not develop their comprehension skills at the same rate.

A quick definition of skilled text comprehension is probably necessary here; this is the one offered by Randi, Newman & Grigorenko:

‘Skilled text comprehension is a complex process that depends on knowing the meanings of words, in addition to such skills as analyzing the syntactic and semantic structures of word combinations, drawing upon one’s background knowledge to interact with the topic of discourse, applying logical inferential abilities, and relying
on metacognitive structures, such as self-monitoring.’

These understandings of reading comprehension are skills that all teachers strive to instill in their students. What compounds the difficulty in helping students with ASD acquire them is that students are often unable to engage with simple story narratives. These students are (sometimes) unable to ‘determine character’s motives or identify with characters’ emotions or perspectives’. Randi, Newman & Grigorenki tell us that children with reading comprehension deficits that operate at the sentence level ‘may need scaffolds reminding them to associate newly encountered words with information in previous sentences’, here are a few of the specific strategies offered:

1. Using visual images to help students construct meaning from the words that they are reading on the page.
2. Construct an organisational structure and schema to aid memory.
3. Because students with ASD’s tend to focus on specific words without connecting them to the bigger picture: underline repeated words in a passage and then guide them to form a generalisation.
4. When reading narrative don’t be afraid to remind students of what happened in the past to help them make causal links to what is happening to characters now.
5. If you can find suitable graphic novels and remove the text, do so. Allow the student to narrate the pictures and work with them to construct causal meaning from their own narration.
6. If a student excels in another subject, for example: music or sport – use this passion to facilitate learning English skills.
7. When setting reading comprehension tasks for students be explicit and explain your instructions.


In terms of resources available to you locally from the Education Department you can find some guidelines and ‘support plans’ for students on the Department for Education and Child Development website:
A little disappointingly the tools offered by the department seem to be a bit dated (2008) and the links provided all seem to be selling teachers resources rather than offering them for free, but the NEP support plan printout does provide you with a helpful checklist that you can use to collate relevant information that can then act as a springboard for differentiating the curriculum.

What I have really noticed undertaking this research is that Australia (and we’re not alone) is behind the eight ball in terms of teaching teachers how to teach kids with learning disorders. A report by the Autism Education Trust in to the UK education system provides insights that I think are highly applicable in an Australian context. The 51 page is a comprehensive read, it has some good ideas, I have very briefly summarised some of them for you:

1. Staff need to communicate openly about ASD’s and encourage others to learn.
2. Schools can become Autism ambassadors. Actively engage the community and remove the stigma.
3. Web the curriculum: teach students with Autism in a consistent fashion across subject areas. HAVE A PLAN IN PLACE FOR YOUR SCHOOL.
4. Build relationships with families. Work together.
5. Adapt the curriculum; acknowledge that each pupil with ASD has special needs.
6. Use multiple assessments that monitor and reward progress not only in terms of academic skills but also in social and behavioural outcomes.
7. Build relationships with specialist health and social care practitioners. AIM TO BECOME AN EXPERT.

For expansion upon these ideas please visit:

I was impressed with this website and they have a book available as an online resource and in hard-copy: ‘Tools for Teachers brings together over 70 autism-specific materials and simplifies some of the terminology surrounding autism. It features tried and tested resources, each with a description of how to use it and why it works.’

What responsibility and potential does the English teacher have for sustaining and monitoring young people’s language development across the curriculum? Jean suggests we could investigate some of the following questions:
  • What does the Australian Curriculum Literacy continuum say about oral/aural, reading/written, metalinguistic skills development?

  • ‍‍‍What exactly is Literacy ‘across the curriculum’ and how might this vary in different discipline areas? How can we support our students by supporting our colleagues who teach science and mathematics and health and social studies?‍‍‍

  • Brayden Chambers says...Literacy across the curriculum refers to explicit literacy teaching in all subject areas within schools. It should not be left up to just English teachers to develop the literacy skills of students, but this should be a task that all teachers contribute towards. Sometimes it is hard to try to come up with ideas on how to integrate literacy learning into the classroom, but when you really put your mind to it you find that there are many different activities that can be used in pretty much any subject area that will contribute towards literacy learning in the curriculum.

  • Brayden Chambers also offes these literacy focus Activities/Strategies from the Physical Education classroom:
    1. Picture books can be used in the physical education classroom to get students interested in physical education topics. ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍Children’s books can enable students to engage in operations of; thinking, observing, comparing, classifying, hypothesising, organising, summarising, applying, and criticising (Fingon, 2011).‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ The book Oh the Things You Can Do That Are Good for You!: All About Staying Healthy (cat in the hat) by Tish Rabe is a goo book for younger grades about living a healthy lifestyle.
    2. Journal writing- physical educators can get students to keep daily physical education journals that contribute towards physical goals, or students may be required to keep journals highlighting the important concepts that are being learnt within the classroom. Buell & Whittaker (2001) contend that journal writing and also ‘quick writes’ can be an effective way to integrate writing and reflection into physical education.
    3. This document offers a full description of benefits of picture books and journals in the physical education setting-
    4. And here is a great website for creating student worksheets in ‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍grammar,‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍‍ sentence writing etc-

Jean also asks "how can we define ‘Functional’ literacy"?
  • and how does this relate to employment or competencies/capabilities for full participation in the global society?
  • New media = new literacies, and so what are the implications for us and for students who find it difficult to grapple with ICT?
  • English is now non‐compulsory in SACE 2; what are the implications of this in English as to where/how we should focus our efforts?

Equity issues

These issues are obviously highly relevant in achieving successful outcomes for all students (ESL, remote/isolated, NEP, dyslexia, disrupted schooling…) and so what do we need to consider here in curriculum planning in English? How might our work with special needs students transfer to supporting these students in other study areas? Jean suggests we look for some relevant expert-referenced reports to focus our thinking. It may also be useful to talk to teachers and counsellors working with identified groups of disengaged students to take on some of the approaches they are using successfully. There is a program in England called NotSchool that puts up lots of video clips and articles and this program has been picked up in a modified form by Open Access College in an initiative called e-Worx and by DECD in their i-Can project.
  • The Victorian Government commissioned a report released in 2010 to address issues of disengagement and it may be worth reading the recommendations of this and understanding the risk factors for students that their study identified. The report is called Re-engaging our kids
    These principles include:
    • Inclusive education provision to ensure that young people at risk of disengaging or disengaged from school are given opportunities to participate in a wide range of positive learning experiences. This approach creates high educational aspirations, and strong educational outcomes
    • An understanding of development should underpin education provision with emphasis on developing educational experiences and learning environments which recognise and respond to developmental needs.
    • A coordinated response, with focus on wrapping a comprehensive range of flexible services and support networks around to address the full range of needs and risks that may underpin (or place children or young people at risk of) disengagement from education.
    • Flexible education provision to tailor responses to the needs of young people at risk of disengaging or disengaged from school, offering a range of flexible learning environments, pedagogies and approaches which are both meaningful and relevant.
    • Timely and accessible education provision to enable early dentification of and early intervention with options (within each school network and region) easy for young people and their families to navigate and access.

JENNY ADDS: Great clip to watch:‍‍

Dahlia Adds
National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is celebrated across Australia each year between 27 May and 3 June. The dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey—the anniversaries of the successful 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision. During this period earlier this year, the Head of Girls’ Boarding Indigenous Student Coordinator gave a presentation during Reconciliation Week about supporting indigenous students.

These are the notes I took away from the staff development presentation.
  • A supportive group of students
  • Positive relationships with Aboriginal students;
  • High expectations for these students;
  • Flexibility in teaching and assessment;
  • Recognising when students need help;
  • Being sensitive to cultural issues;
  • Dealing consistently with racism.

She then discussed what has worked in the past
Connecting with the student:
  • Find out what “Sparks them”...
  • Aboriginal Links in your subject area
  • Finding out about the student’s community
Find out how they learn:
  • Read Stretch report (a specific program implemented
  • Ask them what their preferred method of learning
Set tasks that are achievable:
  • Break it up
  • Dot points instead of essays
  • Provide alternative ways to show learning
Provide positive feedback:
  • Be specific
Hold student accountable:
  • Expect them to complete homework/utilise Stretch Centre over lunch
One on one mentoring:
  • Join them over lunch in the dining hall and help them out!
She went on to discuss the key people involved in this are of Inclusion and Enrichment, and how to contact them (the support program at this particular school). This talk concluded with a group discussion about certain indigenous students and their educational progress so far this year. I believe staff initiatives similar to these presentations are an important part of staff collaboration and development. If the whole staff take the same approach, one that is informed and effective, then the whole school can move forward together and closing the gap.

Reconciliation Australia 2013 <>.

Kate Green says: I was not really sure where to put these, but I feel for those students who may struggle with simple English grammar / terms may in fact benefit from these short YouTube clip links. Teachers may also like to brush up on their own skills.
Each of these clips is just the short version of the tutorial.
However the full version can be downloaded and listened to by clicking on the link at the end of the presentation.
I also came across 'English Grammar 101: the essentials' which I think is just as valuable as the above YouTube clips.
I have also placed the PowerPoint presentation below

Lydia Sulda also provides some resources on Grammar and Speech Terms
This is an activity used by Year 11 Students at a school I attended during placement to expand on the Nine Parts of Speech
(some of which were mentioned above in Kate's terms)

In this activity the Nine Parts of Speech are Nouns, Pronouns, Adjectives, Verbs, Adverbs, Prepositions, Conjunctions, Interjections and Articles. The students used this work sheet as a guide to create posters, which were than placed around their English room to remind them throughout the year of the different types speech elements that they would use in their writing. Lesley Lindsay-Taylor from Tumby Bay Area School created this worksheet and I am posting this as an example of the range of different types of activities that you can use in a classroom to teach these elements.This activity, whilst used in a Year 11 class for revisiting the Nine Parts of Speech could be used at any stage of Middle or Secondary Schooling, as it can be completed as a revision assignment or the beginning of a topic on sentence structure or reading and writing. It could also be used as a lead in tool for an assessment task similar to the English reading and examining tasks that they have in the National English and State English Competitions, as well as in the NAPLAN tests, where you are required to read a section of text or a short story and state the nouns and adjectives or highlight which words are prepositions and conjunctions etc. The only critique I have of the activity is whilst it’s very simple and effective; it may not actively engage students in the content. An option to change up the activity to be to create a film or advertisement for the word, or a collage of pictures of words or objects that relate to the central part of speech.

I think it’s important to continually remind students of the different elements of speech that are used in all types of writing, not just stories and essays. The more you go over the elements the easier it becomes for students to recognise and pick apart sentences into their different sections. I myself had lots of trouble in school remembering and correctly identifying the different parts of Speech. Thus as a teacher I think I will work harder to impress the knowledge upon my own students. Whilst many people view the different terms of speech as unimportant, I believe it is a key foundation of knowledge upon which students can build upon to enrich their writing in both essays and creative pieces.

Jean suggests the approaches from Systemic Functional Linguistics may be more useful than traditional descriptive grammar. DECD offers T&D in this approach. Basically the difference is that SFL analyses how individual words and groups of words function in actual examples of speech and written text and attempts to show the logic underpinning human communications in different contexts. Ideas that emerge from this approach such as nominalisation and modality are critically important as students move into senior schooling.

Lydia Sulda comments on Phonograms

  • Phonograms are the different ways that letters in the alphabet can be sounded out to form words.
  • Students often have difficulty remembering all the different ways that letters can be spoken, especially when combined with other letters.
  • It is important for students at a middle school level to be adept at phonograms as this also helps improve their spelling abilities for when they transition into secondary schooling. The resource below was a selection from a teaching book, given to me by Amanda Partington from Tumby Bay Area School, which gave instructional tips on how to teach Phonograms in a classroom.

  • I also found a Youtube clip, called ‘Teaching Phonogram Sounds, Pt.1’ in which Denise Eide, who wrote the book ‘Uncovering the Logic of English’ talks about how to teach Phonograms and their sounds: Teaching Phonogram Sounds
  • Activities that you could do with a class that involve phonograms could be
    • Fast Flash Cards = where students are required to say the sounds really fast and whoever gets the best time can win a prize
    • Matching Words = find words that have the same phonograms and discuss how the use of the different phonograms denote different meanings
    • Colloquial Sayings = have the students create their own easy to remember sayings like the mnemonic rule of thumb “I before E except after C” except focused on remembering phonograms
  • Whilst teaching Phonograms is extremely important for general speech and to help with spelling; it is not the most engaging of material so the more interesting you can make the lessons, the easier the students will learn the content. A few tasks on Phonograms could be used in a unit of work focused around improving the language features, perhaps in preparation for short story or editing during essay writing.


Charlotte Lehmann says:

I think it is really important for teachers to continually address Indigenous education and equality within the classroom. I came across an article today which discussed the racial sledging of Adam Goodes a Sydney Swans player on Friday night by a young thirteen year old girl during the Indigenous round in AFL. It stated that they have decided to push for a greater emphasis on promoting the idea of equality in the classroom. Marie, Erin & Green, Warrick (May 25th 2013) ‘Equality Education in Schools the Key, AFL Indigenous Greats Say’ Sunday Herald Sun

It made me think about what type of education that young girl had and continues to receive and why she may have developed this stereotype. I think as future English teachers we have a lot of opportunities to confront racism and promote equality. We have a huge range of resources at our finger tips whether it is analysing the movie The Rabbit Proof Fence or reading the book Deadly Unna. If we confront these issues early enough in a student's education it may stop them from having stereotypes about people in the future. I think it is important for teachers to foster acceptance between students, so they know that it doesn't matter who they are or what background they are from. I have found that the Australian Human Rights website has a range of resources that can be incorporated into the English curriculum and stories that can be discussed within the classroom which can assist in promoting equality and acceptance. Australian Human Rights Commission, ‘Human Rights Education and Community Engagement’,

KathrynP shares some important information about Dyslexic students in the classroom.

One of the things I find most confronting when it comes to the idea of teaching, is trying to figure out how I am going to make sure I meet the range of learning needs that my students may have. I have younger brother, who from a young age, was diagnosed by specialists as having both dyslexia (difficulty with reading, writing and spelling) and dyspraxia (difficulty with balance and co-ordination problems). Dyslexia is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a ‘disorder involving difficulty in learning to read words, letters and other symbols’. It is actually more than this. Dyslexia Australia (2013) redefines this learning disorder far better.

‘Dyslexia is the capacity to process information differently, enabling innovative thought and perception. It is characterised by a visual and experiential learning style. Methods using this learning style allow dyslexic people to realise their capabilities and minimise the negative impact commonly developed by conventional methods.’

Dyslexic students are often thought to just have trouble with spelling, reading and writing, where reversals of letters and words are the main problem these children face. This is quite wrong. Again, Dyslexia Australia (2013) notes that people with dyslexia display some of the following signs:

  • Confused by letters, numbers, words, sequences, or verbal explanations.
  • Reading or writing shows repetitions, additions, transpositions, omissions, substitutions, and reversals in letters, numbers and/or words.
  • Complains of feeling or seeing non-existent movement while reading, writing, or copying.
  • Seems to have difficulty with vision, yet eye exams don't reveal a problem.
  • Trouble learning Sight Words (WHY? Click Here)
  • Reads and rereads with little comprehension.
  • Spells phonetically and inconsistently.

Dyspraxia relates to people who have significant trouble with a range of balance and coordination activities. Dsylexia Australia (2013) explains that this learning difficulty ‘Shows up as "clumsiness" caused by motor difficulties caused by perceptual problems, especially visual-motor and kinaesthetic-motor difficulties’.

  • Prone to accidents, may fall a lot, bump into furniture.
  • Poor hand-eye, foot-eye coordination.
  • Slow and poor at dressing, unable to tie shoelaces, do up buttons etc.
  • Speech and language difficulties.
  • Difficulty in holding a pen properly.
  • Poor writing and drawing abilities.
  • Reading and spelling difficulties.
  • Walk awkwardly.
  • Confused about which hand to use.
  • Difficulties throwing or catching a ball.
  • Poor short term memory, they often forget tasks learned the previous day.
  • Reading and writing difficulties.
  • Cannot hold a pen or pencil properly.
  • Cannot hop, skip or ride a bike.
  • Cannot answer simple questions even though they know the answers.
  • Speech problems, slow to learn to speak or speech may be incoherent.

Don’t jump to conclusions about students though – Don’t just assume they are Dyslexic or experiencing another learning difficulty. Learning difficulties are something that should be tested for and diagnosed by those who are adequately trained in the field.

For my younger brother, having the above learning difficulties (dyslexia and dyspraxia) makes school really hard when the correct supports are not available or provided. It’s frustrating to watch a child struggle with some daily tasks, partly because support at home has not been followed through at school. This brings me to my major point – What can we (as teachers) do in the classroom to help students with dyslexia? We can accommodate these students to make the learning experience more positive. The following information is adapted from Please check out the link for thorough explanation of the accommodations. Also note that it is HIGHLY UNLIKELY for you to be able to do ALL of the things listed below. It is best if you use the ones that work the best for the student, and don’t overcrowd them with new systems, ideas and ways of going about learning. Just find the accommodations that work well in the context.


· Use a tape recorder. Many problems with materials are related to reading disabilities. The student can replay the tape to clarify understanding of directions or concepts.
· Clarify or simplify written directions.
· Present a small amount of work.
· Block out extraneous stimuli.
· Highlight essential information.
· Provide additional practice activities.
· Provide a glossary in content areas. At the secondary level, the specific language of the content areas requires careful reading. Students often benefit from a glossary of content-related terms.
· Develop reading guides.

Interactive Instruction:

· Use explicit teaching procedures.
· Repeat directions..
· Maintain daily routines.
· Provide a copy of lecture notes.
· Provide students with a graphic organizer.
· Use step-by-step instruction.
· Simultaneously combine verbal and visual information. Verbal information can be provided with visual displays (e.g., on an overhead or handout).
· Write key points or words on the chalkboard.
· Use balanced presentations and activities.
· Use mnemonic instruction.
· Emphasize daily review.

Student Performance:

· Change response mode. For students who have difficulty with fine motor responses (such as handwriting), the response mode can be changed to underlining, selecting from multiple choices, sorting, or marking. Students with fine motor problems can be given extra space for writing answers on worksheets or can be allowed to respond on individual chalkboards.
· Provide an outline of the lecture.
· Encourage use of graphic organizers.
· Place students close to the teacher.
· Encourage use of assignment books or calendars.
· Reduce copying by including information or activities on handouts or worksheets.
· Have students turn lined paper vertically for math.
· Use cues to denote important items.
· Design hierarchical worksheets.
· Allow use of instructional aids. Students can be provided with letter and number strips to help them write correctly. Number lines, counters, and calculators help students compute once they understand the mathematical operations.
· Display work samples.
· Use peer-mediated learning.
· Encourage note sharing.
· Use flexible work times.
· Provide additional practice.
· Use assignment substitutions or adjustments.

From personal experience, I understand that is extremely important to communicate with parents, they can provide insight to the child’s home life and support they receive outside of school. If you have parents that are particularly concerned about their child, assist them in finding further links and people they can contact (see the Speld SA link). If there are parents who are aware of their child having a learning difficulty and are already seeking outside assistance (special support tutors, psychologists and occupational therapists), READ the reports that parents may offer you – These can be vital to understanding where and when a student may need the most assistance and encouragement.

Get to know the resources! Both of these sites have some really great information regarding learning difficulties and how we can assist students, and what resources are available.

Link to SPELD (SA):
Assisting Dyslexia children:

Takeda M says:
Every school we work at as future teachers, may require us as to work with special needs students. These students are able to succeed in general education classrooms, but this comes from assistance from the teacher and other members around the school. Students with special needs are most commonly identified as those with a disability, such as learning disability or behavioural disorders. However we need to remember the other students as well such as students who speak a different language, student at risk for failure, students who have dealt with abuse and also those who simply don’t want to be at school.

Many of us will need to work with special needs students during our professional experience prac, and to help better understand ways to work with them I’m going to provide a few helpful resources. One resource I looked at was a chapter from a book which discusses different ways to help students with special needs, it included many of the special needs students we often forget about, like students who are at risk of failing or dropping out of school. It also provides questions in each section where you can reflect on what you have read.

  1. Lewis. R. (2011). Students with disabilities and other types of special needs. In introduction to inclusive classrooms. Pp. 50-67.

the task of making every classroom inclusive can be a challenge for teachers. The attidues of teachers towards students with special needs is extremely important, if teachers accept these students the chance of other students in the class excepting them is much higher. The following source provides ideas on how children’s picture books are a great way for teachers to create discussions about the acceptance of students with special needs. They are a great way for students to better understand their peers who have a special need.

They provide students with an explanation that is “uncomplicated language, avoiding jargon that is meaningless or easily misinterpreted (Winsor, 1998).”
Some of the books which can be useful in the classroom include:

  • Sarah’s sleepover by Bobbie Rodriguez – the story of a young girl who is blind, but thrives to live life like all her other friends.
  • Ben Has Something to Say by Laurie Lears – the story of a young boy with a stutter and how he overcomes this
  • My Sister is Different by Betty Wright – a story of a young boy struggling with his positive and negative feeling towards his mentally ill sister
  • Way to Go Alex by Robin Pulver – the story of how a young girl learns more about her brother as he trains for the special Olympics

These are just a few, there are many more which you can find within the following source. I highly recommend reading this source as it provides a number of different teaching ideas, which would be beneficial to incorporate into classrooms.

2. Kitterman, J. (2002). Children’s books and special needs students (teaching ideas). The reading teacher, 56(3), pp. 236-239.
  1. Lears, L. (2000). Ben has something to say. Morton Grove IL: Albert Whitman.
  2. Pulver, R. (1999). Way to go, Alex! Morton Grove IL: Albert Whitman.
  3. Rodriguez, B. (2000). Sarah’s sleepover. New York: Viking.
  4. Winsor, P. (1998). Talking point: Books about children with learning disabilities. Teaching exceptional children, 30(3), pp. 34.
  5. Wright, B. (1992). My sister is different. Austin TX. Raintree Steck-Vaughn.

Tamsin Hillier Says:
While on Prac last year I had the opportunity to work a day with a student who was special needs. This particular student found it hard to sit quietly looking at the board and found it hard to understand a teacher in a lecture type setting. She was living in a country town where special school was not an option which mean that she had to attend a mainstream school. The teachers working with this student where amazing in each lesson she was catered for but the other students were not penalised for it. This student who was autistic loved technology, the teacher she was with had an ipad, this meant that she was able to focus on something right in front of her, which made her feel calm. The particular app she was playing when I was working with her is an app called ithouchiLearn Feelings this particular app teachers autistic students about feelings, depending on the level of autism this is a great app. We also discussed another App called, which is a completely visual lesson, the class does require an ipad, ipod of some description to utilise these apps. Below are some common limitations for students with a disability:
  • Auditory perception and processing—the student may have difficulty processing information communicated through lectures or class discussions. He or she may have difficulty distinguishing subtle differences in sound or knowing which sounds to attend to.
  • Visual perception and processing—the student may have difficulty distinguishing subtle differences in shape (e.g., the letters b and d), deciding what images to focus on when multiple images are present, skip words or repeat sections when reading, or misjudge depth or distance. He or she may have difficulty processing information communicated via overhead projection, through video, in graphs and charts, by email, or within web-based distance learning courses.
  • Information processing speed—the student may process auditory and visual information more slowly than the average person. He or she may be a slow reader because of the need for additional time to decode and comprehend written material.
  • Abstract reasoning—the student may have difficulty understanding the context of subjects such as philosophy and logic, which require high level reasoning skills.
  • Memory (long—term, short-term)-the student may have difficulty with the storing or recalling of information during short or long time periods.
  • Spoken and written language—the student may have difficulty with spelling (e.g., mixing up letters) or with speaking (e.g., reversing words or phrases).
  • Mathematical calculation—the student may have difficulty manipulating numbers, may sometimes invert numbers, and may have difficulty converting problems described in words to mathematical expressions.
  • Executive functioning (planning and time management)—the student may have difficulty breaking larger projects into smaller sub-projects, creating and following a timeline, and meeting deadlines. Above list retrieved from:
The below links are some links I looked out while on prac after being introduced to teaching a student with special needs, this was new to me and found reading these documents helpful in understanding what I could expect in the class room.

Rhiannon Meuris-Palfrey says:

Screen Shot 2013-06-25 at 7.56.12 PM.png

I was lucky like Tamsin and had the opportunity to work in the unit for students with special needs. After the first few days of my placement I decided this was the area where I wanted to spend a majority of my placement in. I not only had lots of fun, but learnt so
mant new things, and got a lot out of teaching these students. Although this was my first experience in a special needs unit I felt extremely comfortable working with these students. I do have many memories from working in the unit, some of them being extremely influential on my way of teaching. I got to know the 10 students within the unit quite well. Every friday afternoon I would take them for a 3km walk around the block as part of their Physical Education lesson. The first few weeks we went it was hard to get the students to open up to me and have a personal conversation about simple things like what they were doing on the weekend. As the weeks past and the students got to know me know me, and felt comfortable being around me I found that I could not get them to stop talking. They would tell me how much they love me taking them for walks because I was cool, how they won bowling on the weekend, and how mum made the best cake last night. I think it is important when working in a unit with special needs children that you are aware of the difficulties that the children face in the classroom, as well as some of the ways you can assist their learning.

The following file is a great resource for teachers that might have the opportunity to work in a special needs unit. The information presented explains the basics that teachers should be aware of when teaching these students: