Topic outline

  • General

    • Topic 1


      This section provides information to assist teachers and learning support personnel teams to understand the learner and work with inclusive curriculum to support and accommodate learning difficulties and specific learning disabilities.

      Learning outcomes for users of this section are to:

      • develop understanding of the characteristics of students with learning difficulties and specific learning disabilities
      • acquire knowledge of some early indicators that a learner is at risk of not achieving to their potential
      • increase understanding of the issues around working with diverse groups of learners
      • enhance understanding of different ways of learning and the impact it has on learners and on them as educators
      • broaden the concept of literacy to include social and emotional aspects
      • develop understanding of the importance of multi-sensory teaching and learning
      • incorporate structures and develop strategies and learning experiences that apply the principles of inclusive teaching methodology
      • explore and reflect on successful models of practice in centres and schools
      • Topic 2

        Understanding the learner

        Learners whose skills are below expectation for their age and ability may be identified by parents or caregivers, centres and schools as having learning difficulties or specific learning disabilities . There is a wide range of characteristics which may impact on learning in a variety of ways.

        LEARNING DIFFICULTIES is a general term which refers to children or students who experience difficulties with their learning. Research suggests that between 10-16% of children and students exhibit difficulties in academic and developmental skills (Louden et al 2000). A learning difficulty may arise as a result of one or more of the following:

        • developmental delay, for example speech and language difficulties
        • poor coordination, for example fine and gross motor skills
        • emotional difficulties and/or trauma
        • limited environmental experiences
        • lack of appropriate educational opportunities
        • interrupted schooling
        • health issues.

        SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITIES (SLD) is a term used for learners with average or above intelligence who exhibit developmental and academic skills that are significantly below expectation for their age and general ability. The term learning disability is often used in place of SLD. Research suggests that approximately 2-4% of children and students have a specific learning disability (Louden et al 2000). A specific learning disability is generally assumed to be intrinsic to the individual and linked with neurological problems.  They are severe and prolonged  and often persist despite appropriate school intervention. These learners also have strengths that need to be identified and highlighted to provide a balanced perception of themselves as learners and community members.

        What problems might these learners demonstrate? There is no set type or problem that fits all learners identified as having a learning difficulty or specific learning disability.

        These learners will generally experience several of the following:

        • disruptive or passive behaviour
        • reluctance to learn due to frustration, poor confidence, fatigue, lack of motivation
        • learned helplessness
        • difficulties across Learning Areas – literacy and numeracy
        • communication problems (may have difficulty with oral or written language)
        • poor handwriting and coordination skills
        • poor memory and/or poor recall strategies
        • poor listening, concentration and attending skills
        • organisational difficulties
        • difficulty in following a sequence of instructions
        • task completion difficulties
        • poor self-concept and social skills
        • problems generalising knowledge and skills to other situations.

        Resilience is important for all students but has specific relevance for students with specific learning disabilities and learning difficulties.  Interventions that work with these students can be used by all students. Following are three specific interventions to teach resilience:

        1. Martin Seligman describes resilience as the natural response of our ancestors to stressful or adverse life events.   He has been involved with the Penn Resilience Program which has been implemented in a range of school in Australia and internationally, a total of over 3,000 children participating in the research. The Penn Resilience Program consists of the following elements:

        • Learned optimism, through realistic and flexible thinking
        • Assertiveness (and social skills such as “active constructive responding”)
        • Creative brainstorming and decision making (social problem-solving)
        • Relaxation skills

        For further information

        2. The term academic resilience which is defined as the ability to effectively deal with setback, stress or pressure in the academic setting. Andrew Martin and Herbert Marsh in their research found that academic resilience comprises self-belief (confidence), a sense of control, low anxiety (composure), and persistence (commitment).  This has implications for pedagogy.  Specifically, enhancing students’ self-belief, control, and persistence and reducing their anxiety are key means to enhance student’s capacity to deal more effectively with setback, stress, and pressure at school. 

        3. Nola Firth has found that being resilient is a better predictor of school and life success than the extent of the child’s dyslexia. 

        • Her research shows that without proper identification and treatment children with dyslexia can often develop challenging behaviours, and are more likely to give up, and drop out of school. Research has shown that such children are at serious risk of mental health difficulties, especially depression.
        • She stresses that many people who have dyslexia have forged successful careers and fulfilling lives. Some well-known examples include actor Tom Cruise, businessmen Richard Branson and Kerry Stokes, Australian sailor and youngest person to circumnavigate the globe, Jessica Watson, and the 2009 Nobel Prize winner in medicine, Carol Greider.   
        • Success and Dyslexia: Sessions for coping in the upper primary years (ACER Press, 2011) teaches students the strategies used by successful people who have dyslexia. Delivered in an inclusive model of both whole-class and small group settings, the program concentrates on developing all children’s coping skills, positive thinking and assertiveness before they undertake the challenge of transition to secondary school. It teaches students to think positively by challenging self-defeating thoughts, discovering what they want, and asking for that appropriately.
        Other resources and programs that teach social skills and resiliency include KidsMatter, Program Achieve, Friends Anxiety Prevention Program.
        • Topic 3

          Understanding the curriculum

          The Curriculum Years R-10  page on the DECD website provides the following information:

          Curriculum describes the core knowledge, understanding, skills and capabilities students should learn as they progress through school.

          Teachers use curriculum to:

          • plan student learning
          • monitor and assess student progress
          • report student progress to parents
          • support student wellbeing.

          The Department for Education and Child Development (DECD) supports the principles and practices of equity for the diverse range of learners in centres and schools. DECD recognises that education is a significant element in creating a more just society.

          Access to and participation in relevant curriculum provides learners with the opportunity to develop knowledge, understandings and dispositions that enable them to participate and assist in creating a more just society.

          The South Australian Curriculum, Standards and Accountability (SACSA) Framework is the curriculum currently used in government schools for Reception to Year 10 subjects. The SACSA Framework is inclusive of all learners with particular attention being paid to learners from:

          Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

          • linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds
          • English as a second language background
          • low socio-economic backgrounds
          • particular groups of girls and boys
          • isolated or rural backgrounds

          and/or learners who have:

          • a disability, learning difficulties and/or learning disabilities
          • high intellectual potential.

          DECD is transitioning to the Australian Curriculum which sets out the core knowledge, understanding, skills and general capabilities important for all Australian students.  It is being developed progressively and implemented by each state and territory. The Australian Curriculum describes the learning entitlement of students as a foundation for their future learning, growth and active participation in the Australian community. It makes clear what all young Australians should learn as they progress through schooling. It is the foundation for high quality teaching to meet the needs of all Australian students. Information regarding the development (including consultation) and implementation of the Australian Curriculum is available on the ACARA (Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority) website. The Australian Curriculum in DECD page on the DECD website provides information regarding the implementation of the Australian Curriculum in S.A. schools.

          The South Australian Certificate of Education (SACE) provides pathways to further education and some subjects count towards higher qualifications offered through TAFE and private providers and University. Year 10 - 12 students working towards the South Australian Certificate of Education study SACE subjects.

          The SACE Board has provisions to assist Aboriginal students reach their goals and plan future career pathways. There are a range of modified SACE subjects to provide opportunities for students with identified intellectual disabilities.

          Students studying SACE can apply for special provisions to undertake assessments if they have an illness or impairment such as:

          • physical disability
          • vision or hearing impairment
          • medical condition
          • psychological illness
          • learning disability.

          VET (Vocational Education and Training) in schools allows students in years 10-12 to:

          • develop skills for the workforce
          • develop an understanding of the workforce
          • undertake training in specific industry skills
          • gain credit towards a nationally recognised qualification such as a certificate, diploma or advanced diploma while undertaking their SACE.

          Doing VET in school may improve admission scores for those planning further study with a training provider or university.

          • Topic 4

            Inclusive practice

            The Three Wave Model:

            • Wave 3: additional highly personalised interventions.
            • Wave 2: additional interventions to enable children to work at age-related expectations or above.
            • Wave1: inclusive quality first teaching for all.

            Schools need to have in place:

            • A clearly articulated statement about the nature of their Three Wave support and intervention model, the structures and processes at a school level that support implementation and the accountability mechanisms for monitoring the outcomes/success.
            • A school based team such as a Student Review Team or STAR team that can recommend evidence based assessment and intervention programs and monitor and review the implementation of programs.
            • A data base of students receiving Wave two and three intervention that could include the type and nature of support and intervention and record of student progress and achievement.
            • Teachers: The classroom teacher uses multiple sources of assessment data to determine the type and nature of intervention and support that is specific to an individual student.
            • The teacher implements/monitors intensive, systematic, explicit instruction. Curriculum and programs are adjusted for students identified as having difficulties with learning.
            • Parents/families: Parents are informed of their child’s strengths and difficulties that they are experiencing in their learning.
            • There needs to be an understanding by the student and their parents/carers that the curriculum content and achievement standards may be at a different level from their peers. Wave three programs in particular work toward “closing the gap”.
            • Parents are informed and give consent where it is determined that outside support services may be required to assess their child.

            • Topic 5

              Differentiating the curriculum

              What is differentiation?

              It comprises modifications to the curriculum, teaching structures, and teaching practices in combination to ensure that instruction is relevant, flexible and responsive, leading to successful achievement and the development of students as self-regulated learners.

              (van Kraayenoord, 1997)

              Differentiation is:

              • Rigorous 
              • Relevant 
              • Flexible and varied 
              • Complex 

              Differentation provides improved access to the curriculum for all learners and is essential to creating a truly inclusive learning environment. This is achieved through the adaptation of the learning environment and resources, and adjustments to pedagogy, curriculum content and assessment strategies to address student diversity.     Teachers in differentiated classrooms recognise that these differences among students are meaningfully related to learning, and proactively plan to address these differences through curriculum and learning opportunities (Tomlinson & Jarvis, 2009).

              Tomlinson, C. A., & Jarvis, J. M. (2009) Differentiation: Making curriculum work for all students through responsive planning and teaching. In J. S. Renzulli, E. J. Gubbins, K.S. McMillen, R. D. Eckert & C. A. Little (Eds.), Systems and models for developing programs for the gifted and talented 2nd ed., (pp.599-628). Mansfield, CT: Creative Learning Press.

              The Teaching for Effective Learning framework (TfEL) outlines principles of learning and teaching for differentiation.

              Differentiation is more than simply a set of teaching strategies or activities. It is an approach to teaching that is grounded in a set of core, underlying principles that reflect inclusive values. An effectively differentiated general classroom is characterised by the following principles and practices:

              • Teachers take responsibility for the progress of every student
              • Teachers and students work as partners in learning
              • Differentiation results in multiple ways to access quality, concept-based curriculum.
              • Teachers differentiate “up” instead of “down”
              • There is a balance between different ways of working
              • Ongoing assessment informs differentiation.
              • Grouping is flexible and intentional
              • Resources are managed to support differentiation.

              Teachers can differentiate at least four classroom elements based on student readiness, interest, or learning profile:

              • Learning environment (How does the class feel?)  Info_button
              • Content the Big Ideas (What concepts, strategies and skills will all students learn?) Info_button
              • Process (How will students learn and how will you teach?)  Info_button
              • Products (How will students learn and how will you teach?)  Info_button                           
              (Tomlinson, C. 2000)

              How do teachers differentiate a learning experience? 

              A basic lesson structure would: 

              • have a clear objective, that accommodates scaffolded learning to achieve task outcomes 
              • incorporate a good understanding of the learners to make sure instruction is targeted at the appropriate level of difficulty and student learning profile 
              • gain the learner’s attention by providing focussing activities 
              • review relevant past learning with the aim of connecting to new learning 
              • provide an overview as well as objective and purpose of the lesson 
              • provide information in small steps with modelling and checking for understanding 
              • include guided practice 
              • use reflective feedback and collaborative teacher-student feedback 
              • plan for independent practice and reteaching if necessary 
              • provide final review of the lesson. 

              How do teachers manage a differentiated classroom? 

              • Tasks and products designed with a multiple intelligence orientation 
              • Assessment for/as/of learning 
              • Rubrics and moderation 
              • Use of technology 
              • Product criteria negotiated jointly by student and teacher 
              • Group/peer investigation 
              • Use of multiple texts and supplementary materials 
              • Interest centres/authentic experiences 
              • Independent learning contracts/goals.

              Patti Drapeau,Educational Consultant - Teacher Units


              Universal Design for Learning