Catering for diverse learning needs

Monday, 28 Feb 2022

Schools today know that students have different learning needs, and more than ever before, are flexible to them. Whether it be learning challenges, aspirations for trade or university, schools cater for the diverse needs of their students, are clear about what students can and should be able to do, and how to deliver teachings to achieve maximum impacts.    

Teaching methods need to be inclusive to be able to cater for specific needs. These strategies and adjustments enable the learner to achieve at or close to their potential. It doesn’t matter whether these learner needs relate to a diagnosed disability or a highly gifted student, top-performing schools set ambitious goals about meeting these requirements. 

Here’s how schools adjust to the individual’s teaching, learning and assessment requirements today:

1. Choice and curriculum diversity - allowing students some choice and ownership with the curriculum. This choice can also drive intrinsic student motivation. We all work harder in our areas of passion.  

2. Timing — the amount of time allocated to each subject area or learning task. Is there enough time to complete the learning task? Are there checkpoints? Is there a drafting and feedback process?

3. Scheduling — when assessment occurs. Is there flexibility in the assessment schedule? If a student is a state sporting team, can the assessment deadline be extended? Can the student or the year advisor contribute to the assessment schedule to support a co-curricular or family need?

4. Setting — where assessment is completed. Does the assessment need to be complete in the classroom? What can be done at home? Should all the work occur in the classroom? Who owns the student’s project? Can we take the class outside? If we are doing a science lesson on wavelength, can the lesson happen at the beach?

5. Presentation — how an assessment appears or is communicated to a student. Is the task presented in different modes to appeal to the visual, auditory and sensory needs of students? Do the students have some choice in how they present their work?

6. Response — how a student responds to the assessment feedback. Feedback that is specific and timely is essential. A mark or a grade without a conversation or annotation is almost worthless. The student needs to feel that their work has value and that the teacher has acknowledged their effort so that the student can feel ownership over their learning journey.

7. Gamification and fun - is the student enjoying the learning experience. Not all learning experiences should be turned into games or competitions but there are some opportunities where students can work hard to achieve their personal best. Gamification in mathematics programs such as Mathletics is an avenue that many schools are investigating.

8. Parental Involvement - valuing education highly is just part of the equation. Parents and carers are the essential third part of the student learning process along with their teachers. Parents who value the schooling experience and are respectful of the aim of the school often reap the benefits with children who also value the time and commitment required to do well academically.

9. Developing an open mindset - this is a key ingredient in school settings today. Schools evolve quickly, processes change, and opportunities arise. Students, teachers and parents who have an open mindset tend to be more adaptable and resilient when it comes to change. The last two years of COVID has certainly highlighted this attribute.

10. Future-focused - giving students access to career education early. Schools who invest in career education, guest speakers, work experience opportunities, and internships as early as possible tend to support students to develop meaningful post school relationships and goals. 

Top school systems tend to address the diversity of student needs with differentiated pedagogical practice – without compromising on standards. They realise that ordinary students can have extraordinary talents; and they personalise the education experience so that all students can meet high standards. Moreover, teachers in these systems invest not just in their students’ academic success but also in their wellbeing. And this makes for better students, learners, and preparedness for life ‘after school’. 

Nick Johnstone 

This article was first published in the March 2022 edition of Focus Magazine