One of the simple realities of education that any teacher will experience is that many children have different and/or special needs. Students with learning difficulties, students from minority racial or ethnic backgrounds, learning-related gender characteristics, and gifted and talented students, are but are few of the groups that a teacher will inevitably have to deal with at some point of their teaching career.

This page aims to provide you with a simple overview of some of the problems and possible solutions to the issue of dealing with Different Learners.

Teaching children with special needs – what can you do?

1. Compile Background Information

* previous assessments – school and professional
* specialist’s notes and recommendations
* parental information

2. Modify Equipment / Techniques

* accessibility – rooms, equipment, personnel
* teaching styles
* equipment / resources

3. Program Inclusively

* individual / ability level groups / whole class
* peer support / buddying
* extra help – parents/aides

4. Establish a self-support base

* colleagues / friends / parents

One way of dealing with a class of individuals is to examine the environmental, emotional, sociological and physical preferences that children might have that potentially influence their learning and motivation. In this way a teacher is able to ascertain the elements that best suit any given child and, therefore, improve their learning situation.

The model below (McInerney and McInerney,1998:243) highlights some of the key elements to look for.

Sixteen Elements of Learning Styles

The Environmental Elements

1. Sound

2. Light

3. Temperature

4. Design

The Emotional Elements

5. Motivation

6. Persistence

7. Responsibility

8. Need for structure

The Sociological Elements

9. Working alone

10. Working with peers

11. Working with an adult

12. Working in a combination

The Physical Elements

13. Perceptual Strengths

14. Intake

15. Time of the day

16. Need for mobility

The list below (McInerney and McInerney,1998:267) is an excellent example of ways in which a teacher may adapt education to suit individual needs.

Micro Adaptations

using a variety of teaching skills; variability, questioning, reinforcement

giving students the time needed to learn

providing flexibility in classroom rules and organisation

monitoring and processing student feedback and other environmental cues
– modifying instruction as required

modelling thinking and learning processes

using a variety of lesson formats and resources for presenting material, e.g. programmed instruction lecture, self-directed learning, ICAI – Intelligent Computer Assisted Instruction, parent educators and excursions

structuring lessons through the use of advanced organisers, headings, reviews

using a variety of styles of discourse

Micro / Macro

providing for individualised goals and programs, e.g. negotiated curriculum

providing flexible teaching/learning spaces, e.g. individual study spaces, clustered desks, interest centres, resource centres

using group work – student collaboration, cooperative learning, provisions for students to seek help and give help, peer and cross-age tutoring

using task analysis and matching student characteristics (such as competence, attitudes, values) with task demands e.g. IEPs

teaching thinking/learning skills to provide the
student with skills to adapt to the demands of the material/course to be learnt

implementing enrichment/remediation programs

implementing intervention strategies to develop in students a positive sense of self as a learner, and self-regulatory and self-management skills

providing flexibility in assessment and reporting criteria


providing appropriate physical (such as ramps and special equipment) and educational (a variety of teaching aids and materials) resources

providing elective as well as core subjects

implementing streaming by ability and needs

implementing vertical grouping and semesterisation

providing opportunities fro accelerated promotion

implementing special programs aimed at provided for students’ individual differences, e.g. PLAN – Program for Learning in Accordance with Needs, PSI – Personalised System of Instruction, IPI – Individually Prescribed Instruction, TAI – Team Assisted Individualisation, IDE – Individually Guided Education, ML – Mastery Learning

providing resource personnel (such as support teachers), special curriculum advisers, and teacher aids

providing effective guidance counselling

adopting a whole-school approach, e.g. ALEM – Adaptive Learning Environmental Model, establishing special schools/centres, e.g. selective high schools, hospital schools, extension programs, intensive language centres

implementing bilingual and community language programs


Much of the information on this page has been taken from

McInerney, D.M. and McInerney, V. Educational Psychology: Constructed Learning (Second Edition)

(Australia: Prentice Hall, 1998)


mcewen Said:
November 11th, 2006 at 4:48 am

When I first started reading this I assumed that you were a special ed teacher, but your ‘about’ doesn’t confirm this? I only wish this could be compulsory reading.
Best wishes