Research-Based Instructional Methods for Students with Learning Disabilities

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Students with learning disabilities often need specialized instruction to be successful in a general education setting. Let's look at some research-based instructional methods that will help all of your students learn new concepts and keep up in school.

Learning Disability

Most teachers have experience working with a student who struggles in school. Every classroom has seen students who tend to avoid writing assignments, are easily distracted, fall behind in their math workbooks, or have a hard time following directions. Some of these students may have learning disabilities and need our help to be successful in school.

A learning disability (LD) is a neurological disorder that affects an individual's ability to understand written or spoken language. This disability typically impacts a student's ability to listen, speak, read, write, and do math calculations. Students with learning disabilities usually have the same potential for learning as their regular peers, but we often see barriers to academic performance that need to be addressed.

LD in a Regular Education Classroom

Students with learning disabilities are usually placed in general education settings with their regular peers. When we set high expectations and provide the necessary support, students with LD can often keep up in the classroom. It is the teacher's responsibility to notice when a student is struggling and make changes to their instruction to accommodate for those learning disabilities. Here are a few common challenges that students with LD face in the regular classroom:

  • Trouble with writing assignments
  • Difficulty reading, especially out loud
  • Difficulty following routines and teacher instructions
  • Easily distracted
  • Slow to learn new skills

These challenges make it difficult for a student with LD to function alongside their peers. Because of these issues, students with LD often score lower on tests, fall behind on their assignments, and have trouble staying motivated. In order to help all of our students succeed, we need to implement effective interventions to our classroom instruction.

Research-Based Methods

'Research-based methods' is a term used to describe instructional techniques that have been scientifically proven to be successful. The methods we will discuss in this lesson have been tried and tested with a large sample of students with LD in a variety of situations and settings. It is important to keep in mind, however, that all students with LD are unique in their strengths and weaknesses. It will be up to you as the teacher to determine what is and isn't working as well as how to adapt these methods to specific students in your classroom.


Modeling occurs when teachers demonstrate exactly how to perform a skill while their students observe. After describing your lesson objective, you should model the steps for your students so they know what they are supposed to be doing. Modeling is usually repeated three times to reinforce the skill. Here is a simple example of how modeling would work if you were teaching your students how to hold a pencil:

  • Mrs. Hight: 'Today we will be learning how to hold a pencil correctly. In order to hold a pencil correctly, I put the pencil between my thumb and pointer finger and pinch. I make sure to hold the pencil down on the bottom near the tip.' At this point, Mrs. Hight shows her students the pencil and then demonstrates how to pinch it between her thumb and pointer finger. She repeats this two more times.

In this simple example, the teacher demonstrates exactly what she expects her students to do. They now have a better idea of what holding a pencil should look like. Students with LD benefit from modeling because they do not have to depend on language alone to understand. They also have the visual example from the teacher.

Simple Instructions

When giving instruction to the class, use fewer words and keep it brief. Students with LD may have a hard time processing spoken language and can get lost in multi-step instructions. Check out this example of how to simplify your instructions:

  • Rather than saying: 'It is now time for math. Please get out your math workbooks and pencils and put them on your desk to show me you are ready to begin.'
  • Try saying: 'Math books and pencils.'

This approach will help your students with LD keep up with the class as you transition between activities, begin a new subject, or talk them through an assignment.

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