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How DO you teach children with learning challenges?

Effective teaching requires a connection between the teacher and the student. This is especially true when a child has a learning challenge. A close connection allows the teacher to modify and accelerate instruction as the student grows. Understanding the zone of proximal development helps the teacher understand what a child is capable of learning in any given session.

The zone of proximal development is a way to visualize the learning zone.

Zone of Proxmial development

Zone of Proxmial development

Any information above the zone is too difficult for the child to comprehend while anything below the zone she’s already mastered and no longer needs to work on. The tricky part about the zone is it is always moving. On days that the stars are aligned and the child is open and able to learn easily, the child will move swiftly through almost any appropriate material you give. However, if a child has a learning disability, or struggles with emotional regulation, the zone may be different for different subjects or on different days depending on what has happened already before the learning session.

It is the role of the teacher to connect with the child at the beginning of the session to determine where the zone is for that day and then moving the child step-by-step though the material to take him to higher levels of comprehension.

Staying in the zone may sound simple, but it is the core of working with any child with a learning challenge.

If instructors stay within a child’s zone of proximal development the child will learn. The challenge for the instructor is both staying within the zone and having the appropriate materials so that the child can connect to the new information. Having instructional tools that appropriately address the child’s area of deficits is critical to the learning process. The selection of materials can be a challenge in itself. One reading program may be great for certain kind of student and completely inappropriate for another student. This is where testing and evaluations are helpful. An educational professional can read the testing results and match the child’s areas of weaknesses to programs that develop those specific areas.

Another key component for creating a successful treatment plan is making it fun and motivating for the child. I believe all children want to learn and feel good about their intellectual capability. Our role as teachers, parents and educators is creating the right interventions which stay in the child learning zone, address the specific needs of the child, are fun and guide the child towards his or her potential.

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