How Teachers Can Assist

How teachers can assist students with language disorders

I found the following article to be extremely relevant to our classrooms. Throughout our many classes at American University, we have all asked for practical ways our studies can relate to our classrooms. The information I am posting below provides applicable ways teachers can work with students who have language disorders. It is essential for teachers to assist these students before these students begin to fall behind in their academics. These are easy to follow steps for general education teachers to effectively include students with such exceptionality in their classrooms. These steps come directly from Patchell and Hand’s article entitled, “An invisible disability - Language disorders in high school students and the implications for classroom teachers”.

Modifying Teacher Talk to assist students with language disorders 1,2,3,4,5

  • Request feedback; (this can be very illuminating, and may be done routinely of all students; the following are examples of ways to do it),
    • ask students if they can follow the content and the speed with which it is being presented.
    • ask the class to write down (anonymously) what they thought the point was of a lesson, and hand it in. Check for common misunderstandings and give feed- back at the next lesson
    • ask the class to write a question for one thing they didn't understand of a lesson or exercise. Check as above
    • ask random selections of students what was easy and what was hard in a lesson or exercise, and why they thought it was so.
  • If there are problems with speed or content, try one or more of the following;
    • repeat the instructions
    • restate, emphasising key points
    • slow the rate of presentation
    • use shorter units of explanation
    • allow students more time to process, organise and structure a response
    • limit the amount of material
  • Encourage and reward students' seeking help and clarification
  • Be prepared to consider that what appears to be inattention or noncompliance may be incomprehension, and that a history of it may have led a student to adopt maladaptive behaviours
  • Limit the amount of new vocabulary presented at any one time
  • Provide visual cues and concrete materials to assist learning and remembering. Use for illustration, emphasis and development of ideas.
  • Use gesture and/or action (your own and theirs) to enhance the meaning of verbal material. Body movement enhances learning in some students
  • Encourage and use a variety of memory strategies, such as mnemonics, charts and visuals, rehearsal, reward schedules for incremental increases in performance
  • Avoid sarcasm, ambiguity, and explain and restate metaphorical language. Be aware that abstract ideas and language may be problematic, and restate.
  • Use direct rather than indirect instructions, e.g.stop talking rather than I didn't hear Warren because some people were talking.
  • Evaluate learning styles, and be prepared to use a variety of strategies, e.g. some students may respond better to a story told than a story read, or visual rather than auditory cues, such as a chart of ideas with arrows versus a mnemonic.

Modifying classroom work to help students with language disorders 1,2,3,4,5

(Some of these ideas are 'good' teaching practices, some for whole class consumption and some are specific to students with language disorders. Much is also identical with sound advice for classrooms or other environments involving students from non-English speaking backgrounds.)

  • Making things explicit
    • Provide clear written instructions for assignments and projects
    • Be direct and explicit re classroom rules. Don't enforce with sarcasm
    • Explain the purpose of activities - some will not correctly infer them - and present new tasks in small steps
    • Provide a list of vocabulary for a new topic and check students' understanding. Personal dictionaries with topical vocabulary can be useful for a student who can't retain material
    • Emphasise information that it is important to learn
    • Explicitly teach study skills for the subject concerned (it is more effective when tied to the content being studied).
    • Explicitly teach note taking and time management, and use organisational systems with the whole class e.g. diaries, buddy systems, keeping lists of subject requirements in lockers, communication books between home and school, etc.
    • Provide models; good essays/assignments etc, good strategies used (make them real ones)
    • Write more on the board; this effectively slows presentation, allows time to process and reinforce information, and it is there for longer
  • Ensure students complete tasks without experiencing failure
    • Teach students with difficulties to compile lists of significant facts, details or information, and order them according to headings.
    • Use memory strategies (such as cards with key words) for learning these.
    • Students with language disorders often have difficulty with reading and writing.
    • It may be desirable to negotiate with them other ways of collecting and presenting information; e.g. tape recording
    • Encourage peer group contact and acceptance. Peer Assistance one to one, when carefully planned, can be helpful, as can making a whole class project out of getting everyone through the tasks, using positive rewards
    • Provide a private negotiation time with the student
    • Negotiate with the student the amount of work appropriate for them
    • Set untimed tests and exams.
  • Routinely talk with significant others; parents, special education teacher, speech pathologist, counsellor etc when students have problems

This page was added by Susan Oliver.

1. Patchell, F. & Hand, L. (1993). An invisible disability - Language disorders in high school students and the implications for classroom teachers. Independent Education.
2. McKinley, N. L. and Larson, V. L. (1990). Language learning disorders in adolescents. Seminars in Speech and Language, 11, 182-191.
3. NSW Department of School Education (1989) Programming for students with language disability. Sydney.
4. Bashir, A. S. (1989). Language intervention and the curriculum. Seminars in Speech and Language, 10, 181-203
5. Buttrill J, Niizawa J, Biemar C, Takahashi C and Hearn S (1989) Serving the language learning disabled adolescent: a strategies-based model. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 20, 185-204.