The most effective help for children with learning difficulties is for their class teachers to find strategies that help them to learn better. There are three main ways that children learn: through what they hear (auditory), through what they see (visual) and through what they do (kinaesthetic).
Most children with learning difficulties learn better through practical activities – learning by doing (kinaesthetic learning) – so teachers will try to give them plenty of practical experiences, encourage them to use equipment (eg. Numicon equipment in maths) and use drama to help them explore ideas. Children often learn to read better if, for example, they use magnetic letters to ‘make and break’ words physically, rather than just looking at them written down.
Many children with learning difficulties are visual learners: they learn better through seeing than hearing. Visual supports are often used to help them to learn.
Some examples of this might be:
- Using a visual timetable – pictures of what is going to happen that day/lesson and in what order. The pictures are often velcroed to a strip so that they can be removed as they happen, to help the child to understand what is happening and what is going to happen next.
- For younger children a ‘First / Next’ visual timetable is often used to help them understand what the job is that they need to do now and what the next job will be.
- Task lists, listing what the child needs to do in a particular lesson, might be provided for children who struggle to remember information or process what they hear.
- Mind maps or topic webs might be used to show children how ideas relate to each other. Teachers may use these when they are teaching or children might be encouraged to create these for themselves when, for example, planning a piece of writing or recording information about a science topic.
- Word webs might be used to help children to learn new vocabulary. This involves taking a new word and writing around it lots of clues to help the child retrieve that word from their memory. These can be ‘phonic’ clues, such as what sound the word begins with or how many syllables it has, or they may be ‘meaning’ clues, such as what else it relates to, what it does or what its opposite is.
- Picture sequences might be used to help children to understand processes in science, for example, or what is happening in a story.
- Sandtimers might be used to help children to see how long they need to concentrate on a task for.
Other strategies that might be used to help children with learning difficulties to make progress:
- Vocabulary related to a new topic might be specifically taught to a child who struggles to understand language.
- A fiddle toy might be provided for a child who struggles to pay attention in teaching sessions.
- Word mats or times-table grids might be provided for children who struggle to remember spellings or times tables.
- A privacy board (a three-sided board that stands up on the child’s desk and blocks their view of other people) might be used to help a child to concentrate.
Children with learning difficulties will often have interventions (specialised programmes of learning) to help them to develop particular skills, particularly reading, writing, language and maths. These interventions are usually run by trained teaching assistants, for small groups of children.