Aug 8, 2015

8 things I've learned about Special Education Needs this summer

Public Domain image
Last week I was involved in another Train the Trainer course (Summer School) organised by the British Council in partnership with the Ministry of Education of Israel. The focus was Special Education Needs, and I had the privilege to work together with top expert in the field, Aharona Gvaryahu, MOE National Counselor for Students with Learning Difficulties, who was my co-trainer. While my role was sharing my knowledge and experience in designing and delivering teacher training workshops, my co-trainer as well as the participants of the course were a source of number of interesting insights into Special education, which I would like to share below:

  1. ADHD is more prevalent among boys than girls.
  2. A variety of activities, while generally recommended for Special Ed pupils, can at the same time be overwhelming
  3. There are no weak learners - there are less successful learners
  4. People with dyslexia may have trouble keeping time.
  5. Using yellow paper for handouts and worksheets (black on yellow rather than black on white) is recommended for people with dyslexia
  6. Classroom practices and materials which work well for students with dyslexia will work excellently for all pupils because dyslexia-friendly teaching is good teaching
  7. VAK learning styles are indeed baloney (see Russell Mayne's blog post HERE)
  8. Education tries to change present-oriented individuals (i.e. children are mainly concerned with here and now) into future-oriented ones (e teaching that smoking or drugs are not good for you because it would harm your future)

But, as my co-trainer had warned, the course, while comprehensively covering various special education needs, somewhat lacked specific EFL/ESL needs of special ed pupils - which, as you can see, is also missing from my list. So if you have experience teaching EFL to learners with special needs or - perhaps you were one of the participants on the summer course - can you suggest a couple of tips or share an insight on special ed pupils and language learning (vocabulary + grammar) to make the above list up to ten?

For other posts related to various summer schools I've taken part in, see the following:


  1. Marlene GrayevskyAugust 8, 2015 at 7:24 PM

    Comments to # 3: LD learners may take a different route, but they get there in the end. They simply need more time and a good map.
    Comments to #7: Fashions come and go leaving some useful "residue" in good teaching. What may remain of once fashionable VAK teaching is the emphasis on 3 step process: say, show and let them do it.
    #9 was brilliantly demonstrated at the course - navigation cards.
    My suggestion for # 10: using mnemonics (memory triggers) saves weak learners while more successful pupils benefit from them as well.

    1. Thank you for your comment, Marlene!

      Regarding #9, navigation cards are indeed great but to me it's more of a general tip rather than a TEFL-specific one, especially since the suggestion was to use L1. But I like your #10: Using mnemonics which is, of course, great for more successful pupils. This, in fact, confirms insight #6 which, if I remember correctly, was something you said on the course.

      Thank you once again for your insights and stopping by my blog.

  2. Hi Leo - there was a good course on FutureLearn recently specifically on dyslexia and ELT (and it touched on dyspraxia and dyscalculia too). Heres' the link: - it repeats regularly. I started it but could not complete though you might ask Laura Soracco how she found it.

    1. Thank you, Sophia! I'll pick Laura's brains about it.
      Are you thinking of taking the course again in the future?

  3. Hi Leo,
    As an EFL teacher who attended the course you mentioned above and as one who kept thinking of how to bring the SEN material into EFL classes, I would like to share some points. Note No.6 has strongly drawn my attention both here and in the course and thus I got some ideas regarding English to suit as many students as possible. Since students with dyslexia often have difficulties with information processing as a result of impaired working memory, they seem to have difficulties with language and grammar. Therefore, graphic organizers or charts for example can help them in organizing the material better in their heads. For Example, when we come to tenses it may sound very complicating for students with dyslexia and for students with executive functioning disorder. So, teachers can offer the students (the whole class) handouts with clear division of parts; namely, form, use and time expressions. Difficulties may increase when it comes to mixed tenses and then teachers need to make sure that the students have the handouts well organized ( in a file) according to the right sequence of tenses starting from the "past perfect" (depending on the age) through the "future". Teachers may also teach the different aspects of each tense namely, the "simple" and the "progressive" through pictures, videos, role playing or any other vivid examples. I believe that the most helpful one are the personalized ones that relate to the students' own experiences such as describing what they are doing at the moment vs. what they usually do or what they were doing a day before from 4:00 to 6:00 o'clock and so on.
    I've already used some of the ideas above in my classes but what makes it different is that I am now aware how helpful things can be to students who are sitting in our classes and sometimes we don't even have an idea about their difficulties.

    1. Hi Laila,

      Thank you for your comment. I'm glad that the same things drew our attention during the course.

      My only concern is if these students are already struggling with grammar, should we teach MORE grammar (albeit through different means) or would they benefit more from a more lexical approach, as I've advocated on this blog? After all, if the traditional approach of presenting grammar rules and practising them sequentially has proved difficult for these learners, why stick to the same method? Why not start with chunks? Especially chunks relevant to the learner.


    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hey Leo,
    I've just completed an online 5-week course this summer through TESOL entitled, “Separating Difference From Disability with Students Learning English as an Additional Language”. Catherine Collier taught the course which focused specifically on learning disabilities and adult learners of ESL and provided great insight on how to adapt materials. She also focused on how language acquisition issues and/or cultural issues can sometimes be misread as a learning disability. This fall TESOL is running the course again with a focus on K-12 ESL learners. Not sure if this would be of interest to you, but thought I’d pass it along :)

    1. Hi Heather,

      It is definitely of interest so thank you for sharing the link. The mention of cultural differences which can be misread as an LD also sounds very interesting.

      I share the address again as a clickable link here for other visitors to this blog:


  5. Hi Leo,

    Regarding learning styles, it is unfortunate that researchers don't look at individual learners who have extreme preferences for such modalities such as VAK (visual, auditory, kinesthetic/tactile). Studies often just lump whole classes together and then, indeed, learning styles statistically are less relevant.

    Many of our special needs pupils have extreme modality preferences (e.g. a strong avoidance for auditory processing and a strong preference for visual processing). For such learners, models such as VAK are very useful if the teacher empowers these learners to actively transfer material for themselves into their preferrred modality. For example, a strongly visual learner would do well to learn words to a song by downloading the lyrics rather than just trying to sing the song repeatedly. Struggling to learn in an avoided modality is often a less successful approach and certainly wastes a lot of the learner's time.

    We teachers who work with special needs kids see individual learners with extreme preferences all the time. It's unfortunate that researchers throw out very useful tools such as VAK, as a result of testing large groups rather than individual learners who succeed far more and faster when their strongly preferred learning style is taken into account. Dr. Melodie Rosenfeld

    1. Hi Melodie,

      Thank you for your comment. I've never been a big fan of VAK but for a while was interested in Multiple Intelligences.However, both concepts have come under a lot of criticism lately. See, for example, this recent article in ELTJournal by Patricia Harries and Carol Lethaby:

      I heard their talk at TESOL 2015 conference - the room was packed. It was a thoroughly researched session. You can see the slides here:

      And of course, Russell Mayne, whom I mentioned above, has written a lot on the topic.

      I have no doubt that we all learn differently, I'm just not sure (anymore) that VAK is a useful approach, and Aharona Gvaryahu has confirmed it for me.

      I'm glad that you stopped by my blog and took the time to comment. Hope to see you more.


    2. Thanks for the presentation, Leo. I’m familiar with the contentions and it was a good slideshare.

      I agree that basing a curriculum on VAK and scaling up VAK to large populations is not effective and not recommended.
      But when working with one learner, particularly if he/she has LD and/or a strong preference for one of the VAK modalities, then there is nothing so effective as addressing his/her VAK modality preferences. It’s almost a crime not to.

      It’s striking how strongly-auditory EFL teachers teach auditorily, to the detriment of their highly visual students. I was the unintended victim of this in 7th grade when our Spanish teacher used an audio technique – listen, repeat and don’t take notes. I never did learn Spanish and I’m good with languages. What a shame.

  6. I love this blog!! The flash up the top is awesome!! dissertation help

  7. Thanks for sharing nice information with us. i like your post and all you share with us is uptodate and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...