The process of identifying and responding to the needs of students with learning difficulties is challenging for administrators and teachers in Australian mainstream schools. The reason is that the term ‘learning difficulties’ is too broad to be associated with one concrete strategy to overcome the problem and manage the situation in schools (Rivalland, 2000, p. 12; Westwood, 2008, p. 3). Furthermore, there are barriers associated with determining the level of experienced learning difficulties (Elliott, 2000, p. 59).
The problem is in the fact that, on the one hand, the focus on the group of students with ‘learning difficulties’ contributes to creating the teaching environment based on the principles of equality, diversity, and flexibility. On the other hand, teachers can experience significant problems while identifying and managing students with learning difficulties influenced by the environment and students with actual learning disabilities, who are also discussed in the context of the general term.
From this point, it is important to note that teachers take the primary role in working with students with learning difficulties because their task is to identify the problem, make assumptions regarding its origin, and propose and implement an effective teaching strategy in order to allow a student to cope with learning difficulties. In this case, strategies proposed for students with learning difficulties caused by the lack of motivation, complex social factors, and problems in the family will differ significantly from the strategies appropriate for students with learning disabilities (Scott, 2004, p. 2).
Not only teachers but also counselors, coordinators, and assistants can identify a student with learning difficulties (Robinson, 2002, p. 30). At this stage, the main task is to conduct the necessary assessment in order to support assumptions and understand the origin of the problem.
There is a lack of specific assessments and tests utilized in Australian schools in order to identify the learning difficulties. As a result, the same diagnostic tools can be discussed as inappropriate to identify difficulties associated with a range of social factors and external environment and problems caused by the physical or intellectual impairment (Robinson, 2002, p. 30). The school personnel can use the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children or IQ tests to assess students, but they should be very careful while labeling students (Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2001, p. 337).
The problem is in the fact that labeling a student as disable, a teacher deprives him of a chance to be treated equally to the other students (Kavale & Forness, 2000, p. 239; Scott, 2004, p. 5). Thus, reporting the findings, it is important to focus on the accuracy of the received results. In this case, the identification of students with learning difficulties should lead to such positive results as the change of the teaching strategy to meet the student’s needs instead of such negative results as inadequate labeling.
In this process, it is necessary to clearly distinguish the learning difficulties caused by different factors and use appropriate tests to assess students’ problems in learning. It is also important to be ready to provide the positive support for students regardless the results of the assessment because the main task is to meet all students’ needs and develop the instruction and strategy as well as the effective intervention to help students to cope with identified problems. Learning difficulties should be addressed with the focus on strategies that work to reduce barriers for students, to understand the material, and to acquire necessary skills.
Elliott, J. (2000). The psychological assessment of children with learning difficulties. British Journal of Special Education, 27(2), 59–66.
Kavale, K., & Forness, S. (2000). What definitions of learning disability say and don’t say: A critical analysis. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33(3), 239–256.
Rivalland, J. (2000). Definitions & identification: Who are the children with learning difficulties? Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities, 5(2), 12–16.
Robinson, G. (2002). Assessment of learning disabilities: The complexity of causes and consequences. Australian Journal of Learning Disabilities, 7(1), 29–39.
Scott, W. (2004). Learning difficulties and learning disabilities. In B. Knight & W. Scott (Eds.), Learning Difficulties: Multiple Perspectives (pp. 1-15). Frenchs Forest: Pearson SprintPrint.
Sternberg, R., & Grigorenko, E. (2001). Learning disabilities, schooling and society. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(4), 335–338.
Westwood, P. (2008). What teachers need to know about learning difficulties. Victoria: ACER Press.