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Help for Teaching
Students With
Learning Disabilities


More educators are teaching children with learning disabilities, at the same time new regulations and strategies for helping these students are becoming available. The National Center for Learning Disabilities has resources to help all teachers. Included: Sources for teaching children with learning disabilities.

With more states and districts mainstreaming special education students and those with learning disabilities, classroom teachers as well as special education teachers need to know the laws and policies that apply to students with disabilities and strategies to maximize their learning.

Dr. Sheldon H. Horowitz

A resource for all educators is the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), which launched an interactive At-School Center, with information not just for parents, but also to help teachers and parents work together to provide the best educational programs for a children.

Sheldon H. Horowitz, Ed.D., the director of professional services at the NCLD, talked with Education World about the At-School Center and other resources NCLD offers educators and parents.

Education World: While the interactive At-School Center is aimed at parents, how can teachers use it?

Dr. Sheldon H. Horowitz: In the best of all worlds, parents and educators would be "attached at the hip," working side by side, sharing information, and planning opportunities to enrich students' learning experiences at home and in the classroom. The reality of everyday life, however, makes this type of collaboration virtually impossible.

"Teachers today are challenged (and charged) to find ways to identify students who struggle and provide them (and their peers) with the very best instruction possible."

By targeting information on the In-the-Home section to parents, our intention is to help build a common knowledge base and shared vocabulary between parents and educators about strategies and activities that promote student success. To effectively advocate for children who struggle to learn, parents need to know about the opportunities, services and supports made available through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Parents also need to understand how the new Response to Intervention (RTI) provision, a part of the law that allows states and school districts to use high quality, research-based instruction in general and special education to provide services and interventions to students who struggle with learning and who may be at risk or suspected of having learning disabilities. Teachers are therefore encouraged to visit this online center and to encourage parents to do the same.

EW: What are some of the biggest challenges facing classroom teachers of learning disabled children?

Dr. Horowitz: The real question here is not about children with learning disabilities, but rather about all children, whether they have a specific learning disability, say in math or in reading, whether they have speech-language disorders, ADHD, or any other special education needs or combination thereof. The mandate to appropriately address the challenges faced by these students was written into law back in 1975 when the first IDEA law was passed. And the law's stipulation that schools must provide students with a "free and appropriate education" in the "least restrictive setting" has been our marching order for more than 30 years.

The good news is that during the past three decades, we have studied the instructional techniques, strategies and conditions that best enable students to learn critical skills, especially in the area of reading. So my answer to the question is that teachers today are challenged (and charged) to find ways to identify students who struggle and provide them (and their peers) with the very best instruction possible. That is, teaching based on the highest quality research and professional wisdom, and that takes into account not just subject matter, but a student's rate of learning and his or her ability to achieve the highest standards possible within the general education curriculum. Teachers also are challenged due to the lack of resources in our schools.

NCLD continues to advocate at the federal level for full funding of IDEA and for increased funding available through the No Child Left Behind Act. We provide information about participating in our activities on our legislative action center. The budget and appropriations process happens annually and we always need new voices to join with us and support this important effort aimed at members of Congress and their staff.

"By targeting information on the Parent Center to parents, our intention is to help build a common knowledge base and shared vocabulary between parents and educators about strategies and activities that promote student success."

EW: What types of students do you include in the definition of those with learning disabilities?

Dr. Horowitz:"Learning disabilities" is a term used to describe the seeming unexplained difficulty a person of at least average intelligence has in acquiring basic academic skills. These skills are essential for success at school and work, and for coping with life in general. A learning disability is not a single disorder. It is a term that refers to a group of disorders and can become apparent in different ways with different people, at different stages of development and in different settings. Learning disabilities can affect a person's ability in the areas of listening, speaking, reading writing, and mathematics and is often first suspected when there is a clear and unexplained gap between an individual's level of expected and actual levels of achievement. Learning disabilities also can encompass problems in the area of social-emotional skills and behavior, and some individuals with learning disabilities struggle with peer relationships and social interactions in addition to academic challenges.

EW: More districts and states are implementing a policy of inclusion for children who before might have been in separate classes. What assistance or resources do you have for teachers who are working with children with so many different ability levels?

Dr. Horowitz: The best sources of assistance and the most promising pool of resources are to be found right there in the school. General and special educators working creatively, sharing ideas and strategies, tapping related services providers and others including speech-language therapists, psychologists, and occupational therapists, implementing progress-monitoring activities and sharing responsibility for needed adjustment in instruction. These are ways to ensure that students have the best opportunities to succeed, and these are the ways to help educators and administrators create learning communities, pooling resources and sharing expertise to the benefit of all.

Other resources include Response to Intervention - A Primer, Response to Intervention - Tiers Without Tears, as well as a report published by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education titled "Response to Intervention: Policy Considerations and Implementation" to accesses information and guidelines for implementation of effective ('inclusive') policies and practices.

EW: What are some of the key elements of the IDEA every educator should know?

Dr. Horowitz: IDEA is a comprehensive and extensive law; I would urge everyone to read through NCLD's IDEA Parent Guide. Not every state has chosen to implement IDEA in the same way, so be sure to find out about features of the law that are being rolled out in unique ways in your particular state.

This e-interview with Dr. Sheldon Horowitz is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

Originally published 05/10/2006
Last updated 03/01/2010