Teaching the Disabled or Below Average Readers


The term disability in learning or reluctance in learning, as a definite entity, is attributed to Samuel Kirk (Kirk, Samuel and Bateman, Barbara D. 1962), while there had been several past studies of academic student who does not perform as well as expected or as well as the IQ indicates and students who are reluctant to learn (p23). The account of neuropsychology, with its special importance on brain damage or impairment as a foundation for limiting upper-level quality that permits or facilitates achievement or accomplishment, made it sensible to assume a biological basis for learning disabilities.

Nevertheless, reluctance in students’ academic performance after some years of sound education, has shown that gifted students are fast in understanding and any setbacks in the pace of leaning and instruction can be a major cause in their reluctance to learn or cause what is known as learning impairment in the student. However, in such a scenario just as the case of the Kenyan student (Irene) talked about in the case study presented below.

Literature Search

Learning impairments or students reluctance to learn after some years of studies clearly represent a complicated condition, and many issues can be partly responsible for it (Kaufman, Nadeen and Kaufman Alan S, p.309). According to Amend, Webb, & Gore (2007) in their book ‘A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children”, they noted that gifted children just like all children need to have friends, have fun with toys, love their families, and enjoy learning new skills. However, some children gain knowledge and understand faster and more easily than others. And in some cases, they learn how to read or do addition before enrolment to kindergarten, and they discover these skills without being shown by anyone. Their speedy learning can in reality cause problems for them in school. A rapid-learning gifted child who has previously gained a skill or does not need repetition to master it can become quite dispirited- to the point of disliking or even hating school if there is nothing new or interesting to learn (Page xiii).

Educationists and psychologists have managed or controlled many experiments to develop special means of teaching for reluctant learners. Leitner, G. 1992, established beyond reasonable doubt that video instructions are very effective to low ability or reluctant students. Bloom 1976 studied the usefulness of mastery learning approach and ascertained it to be more successful for low achievers. A common feature underlying all the aforesaid strategies is individualization of instruction. The research evidences reveal that the following special method will be very effective for students:

Mastery learning theory

This is the means of adapting or conforming oneself to new or different conditions of instructions to the needs of diverse students. The basic idea behind mastery learning is to make sure that all or almost all the students have extensive information or understanding of a given skill to set up or lay the groundwork for level of mastery prior to going on to the subsequent skill. The diagram below clearly illustrates the teaching mastery strategies

Mastery learning theory

This case study is on a young Kenyan student named Irene. She can speak fluent English. Although errors sometimes occur, she can notice her errors and correct them immediately. Irene has studied for close to/ about 13 years. However, at a point in her educational pursue, she was reluctant to learn which affected her academic grades and educational acquisition skills.

It must be accepted, that a lot of factors (including genetic and maturational variables, impairments relating to the process of hearing and/ or sight, diversity in degree of expansion, differences in laterality and imbalance, unusual models of intellectual supremacy emotional and psychiatric problems, are perhaps the most common causes) have been involved. Conscious of these several likely etiological influences, preferred a numerous grounds-numerous phenomenon that follows and relations model.

Her learning ability in most subject areas were not very appealing whereas in Geography, History. Music, Art, she performed better. On a critical look one will notice that due to the teaching techniques, she was able to understand and grasp most of the topics with a lot of persistence from the teacher and her determination.


The information used in this paper was collected by assessing Irene, a Kenyan student classroom continuous assessment reports. In order to thoroughly examine her classroom academic skills and understanding, the case study questions were carefully designed to cover all relevant factors, which include socio-cultural aspects, personality factors, learning environment, learning styles, learning strategies, the degree of acculturation and the integrative motivation of the learner. The answers were classified into different relevant factors by their orientation. By analysing the answers, the factors which mainly influence this learner’s classroom ability have been uncovered.

Data Collection

The human brain comprises of various parts. Each of these parts has a particular task of turning sounds into speech, to process colour, to record fear, to identify a features or differentiate a fish from a fruit. But this is not inactive gathering of components; each brain is distinctive, continually changing and delicately responsive to its surroundings.

Its components are mutually dependent or influencing each other and their functions are not fixed firmly, occasionally one fragment will take over the job of another, or be unsuccessful, due to some hereditary or environmental hitch, to work at all. Brain action is guarded by currents held with another element in a vibrant system of systems that does millions of diverse things in similar. It is perhaps so compound that it will never be successful in understanding itself (McGregor, D p, 1).

There are considerable numbers of children who have difficulties in learning specific topics or reluctant to learn after some given period in their academic pursue. Generally learning problems may arise owing to any one or combination of the following factors:

  • Low level of intelligence
  • Mental retardation
  • Visual impairment
  • Motor handicaps
  • Economic difficulties

Learning difficulties or impairment caused by the above noted factors are not regarded as learning condition of being unable to perform as a consequence of physical or mental unfitness. For instance, a mentally retarded student has learning problems in all academic subjects. The learning problems of a mentally retarded child however, are not caused by learning disability but low level of intelligence.

Analysis of Data in Terms of Related Theory

Similarly, like in Irene’s case, she gives an impression of having a learning difficulty, which evident in an imperfect capability of paying attention to a sound, thinking, and reading, due to impairment in the mental or emotional development connected with perception.

In such a scenario related to that of Irene, teaching resourcefully is the principal of all the competencies is essential of a successful teacher. Since successful teaching deals with the needs, interests and abilities of pupils as individuals, it requires understanding of the environment in which the pupil lives, the development problem he or she faces and the student’s mental abilities.

Consequently, it is more true so when the educator is dealing with the slow learners like Irene. It also calls for an appreciation of the learning procedures necessary for creating an atmosphere where learning can occur and for making teaching so interesting that every pupil will be motivated to learn. Stimulating students to think significantly, without outside help and creatively is essential for effective teaching.

For teaching proficiency for a slow learner like Irene to be useful and flourishing, the teachers should apply in a manner consistent with its purpose or design the use of linguistically and culturally suitable styles of tutoring activities like teaching the shapes of letters as structured symbols that appeared in the children’s communities.

Teaching the symbol of correspondences of an audible part of a transmitted signal (i.e., phonics); teaching the arrangement of parts or elements of definite function words; teaching vision words; reading to children, along with vocal reading and repeated readings; asking children to envisage what will happen next in a story; and inviting them to make up other ending to stories (Adams, p.14).

Consequently, any series of steps to be carried out or goals to be accomplished upon for the development and understanding of subjects taught or courses for Irene and every other child suffering from such case as dyslexia or slow learning must include commencement of prior knowledge, active involvement by the students, and several opportunities for them to keep knowledge or educational practice before they are asked to work alone- all these methods have also been utilized successfully in coaching students with reading difficulties (Blanton, & Blanton, 1994).

In the case of Irene another issue of consideration is the kind of oral language environment that excited the feeling of literacy development is found less often in their homes than in those of middle-class children.

In particular, exercises like those expressing the same message in different words, escalating on children’s utterances, and adult-child book sharing-practices that grant acquaintances between oral language development and literacy skills-are less prevalent in low-income homes. Hence, according to this view, it is not systematic educational approach per se that places Irene or every other pupil in her shoe at risk as much as the need for certain kinds of linguistic and educational stimulation.

Furthermore, early intrusion programs such as Head start, Sesame Street, and The Electric Company were, actually designed to provide these kinds of stimulation, and evidence suggests their success in doing so.

However, original gains in the language and literacy achievement of Irene are not always maintained as she grew older, moreover, a good start, in and of itself, is not enough. The early involvement effects scatter with age can be understood when acquisition of language and literacy are viewed as developmental processes, ones that go through various stages.

According to child educational success and development researchers, the following series in progress of language are experienced by pupils regardless of their background. According to researcher’s children or pupils from ages 1 to 3 acquires from 2,000 to 3,000 lexical items (Words). From ages 3 to 5, they can rhyme words, rebuild segmented words familiar to them, and they have command of basic morphological rules. From 5 to 8, children learn more complex phonological aspects of language-segmenting words into sounds, blending separate sounds into words, and they learn more elaborate syntactic structures. From age 8 on up, they develop further in aspects of language such as pragmatics, semantics, and phonology.

Beyond these more common progressive changes in language, the way of reading also changes with development, from universal meaning-oriented errands, to ones necessitating great skilfulness, knowledge and fluency with print, to use of reading for the functions of learning new information and perceptions (Chall and Baldwin, L., 1990). As the task of reading changes, so too does the demands for cognition, language, and skills for dealing with print.

For children from families of low-income, the stages of literacy development are perhaps much similar as they are for more advantage children. Print acquisitions are more fundamental for success in the early grades, language and cognition more fundamental later on.

However, if development in some aspects of low-income children’s language or literacy development becomes deferred by conditions at home or occurrences in school, these delays will lead to negative results on their later improvement

The writing development of students or children suffering from dyslexia followed the same pattern as their reading, with retarding gains from grades 4 to 7. Overall, the students were rich in ideas but weak in organization, composition, and form. Fascinatingly, comparable trends which were described in the writing of at risk students are: difficulty with syntax and structural forms rather than with ideas.

A lengthwise study of Irene’s assessment reports from grades 1 through 4 helps to specify further trends in this child’s literacy development. Consequently, children who entered the grade 1 with little awareness about the relationships among words, letters, and sounds were children who experienced problems in learning to read and understand whatever is being read. And according to Irene who experienced failure from grade 1, the probability was quite high that she will continue experiencing problems in her later career part in life.

When reading tasks becomes more compound (requiring confidence as well as understanding of less familiar words and language patterns), involving cognition and demands of linguistic become greater.

The materials to be read are no longer recognizable and knowledge of word meanings and problems-solving skills have a strong part to play in reading and understanding. And, if instruction does not meet their needs in these areas, slow learners who were successful initially may begin to falter (Chall and Baldwin, L., 1990).

Before going more into the kinds of instructional approaches that research has shown to be more effective for Irene (or children with reading problems), let us first discuss another impairment which Irene or similar affected children go through which can also be classified as difficulties in school because of reading and related language disabilities.

Learning and assimilation disabilities in students

Over the years, Irene and students with similar problems of learning or whose learning disability involves reading have been thought of, regarded, classified under a subsuming principle or with a general group or in relation to another by a variety of labels- poor readers, corrective readers, disabled readers, or as children with specific or developmental language disabilities. More recently, the term dyslexia has had wider use.

In the case of Irene according to her educational assessment report, reading disability, or dyslexia, is by far the most prevalent among the learning disabilities, and by far the most studied. In relation to Irene’s poor academic performance, current estimates are that dyslexia affects anywhere from 5% to 17.55 of children.

Based on research conducted over several decades, though, we also know that about half of the present age students experience difficulty in learning to read, and among those who have not learned to read by age 9, approximately 75% continue to experience severe reading difficulties throughout high school and adulthood (Just like Irene) Chall, J.S. (1996.

Even though Irene is unable to cope satisfactorily with the usual educational standards of the ordinary students, with proper guidance and care she will be capable of being educated. In adulthood, she’ll become self supporting, independent and socially adjusted.

One defect, however, which is worth noting, is that most of the reluctant learners are not identified at appropriate time and stage. Psychologists and educationists specify that the remedy for reluctant learners lies mainly in their nature and the extent of the causes which produce it. Each case is unique and requires specific remedial measures. Psychologists and educationists have laid down the following remedial measures which may prove effective and conducive to reluctant learners. Teachers are advised to provide appropriate level of instruction and appropriate educational programmes for the slow learners.

Educational Programmes for reluctant Learners

Consequently, varieties of educational programmes have expressed a good opinion to get over the problem of slow learners in the mainstreaming. Most of these methods are within the range of interest or activity that can be anticipated by the teachers.

The quality of being able to bring about an effect of certain measures has already been shown to be valid beyond reasonable doubt by the researchers. A clear representation of what is perceived or the basic component in the formation of the educational programmes meant for slow learners will enable the teacher to combat reluctant learning in a successful manner.

The following are the corrective measures which set up or lay the groundwork for the educational programmes for slow learners.

  • Motivation
  • Individual attention
  • Restoration and Development of self confidence
  • Development of good working habits
  • Elastic curriculum
  • Remedial instruction
  • Healthy environment
  • Periodical Medical check up
  • Special teaching methods


The word ‘motivation’ is used to identify an aim, need, or desire to do something. Motivation can be applied to behaviour in a wide array of situations. One use of the concept of motivation is to give an account or representation in words of a general propensity to strive towards certain types of goals. Success of a teacher basically depends on how he in an effective manner motivates the students to learn.

Experience has shown that learning failure is very often due to poor motivation. Children taught by a teacher using motives in a sensible, individualised way will always learn more quickly and better, even if the method used is faulty. Reluctant learners usually give expression of an attitude of evasion resulting from preceding experience of failure or dislike of a subject.

Irene often glimpse at words rather than looking at them critically, searchingly, and carefully, with the result that their errors in recalling are the result of guessing from slight clues such as original letters or shallow similarities. An anxious feeling of failure and lack of interest are evident in their daily school activities. It singles out as important or draws attention to the need to take adequate and appropriate measures to improve their academic status.

When some improvement is noticed on such students, the teacher should try as much as possible to employ some valuable motivational method or art applied to some particular task to stimulate the slow learners. But in habitual classroom practice, most of the teachers go about their work in a usual manner without caring for the children in general and those who have made less than normal progress in particular and apathetically carry on the classroom work, accomplishing very little. This leads to large-scale decrement of human reserve in terms of human’s aptitude that may be developed.

The key to avert this state of affairs lies in motivations. That is why motivation is rightly said to be the royal road to success. An encouraging smile from the teacher can do better than his verbal instruction. When the teacher succeeds in motivating the students, his instruction will be effective and the educational objectives can be achieved. The teacher should be wary not to discourage the slow learners who usually feel frustrated.

The teacher should let them understand that they are not the ignored students and they are as dear to him as others are. When the teacher evinces this type of positive attitude, all his motivational techniques will work out successfully. Moreover, motivation not only instigates the behaviour of slow learners but also reinforces the ongoing behaviour. In the classroom situation motivation is that which drives the students to learn. It makes the students desirous of learning to apply him to the task. In addition to encouraging smile and kind verbal motivation, the teacher can make use of appropriate illustration, example and aids for creating motivational atmosphere inside the class.

Individual Attention

‘Individual attention’ refers to the attention given by the teacher to a particular student. Of all the students, it is the students who need individual attention from the teachers. The individual differences of the children should be properly recognised and the individuality of the child must be respected. The teacher should take positive effort to ascertain the specific disability of the students and accordingly he should devise his remedial instructional strategy which should cater to the needs of each student. It is necessary that the handling teachers should be very kind and sympathetic towards students.

Bloom 1976 spoke, pleaded, or argued in favour of mastery learning approach for backward students in which he allowed time to vary for mastery. Some positive motivational influence may be provided to those teachers who are perhaps entrusted with the task of imparting skills or knowledge to the reluctant learners in the way the government gives positive motivational influence for those teachers who take special coaching classes for the SC/ST students. With the act of enforcing; ensuring observance of or obedience to this corrective measure, better individual attention can be given to the students in the special classes which will eventually, promote better human resource development.

Restoration and Development of Self-Confidence

Children, who are retarded in intellectual development before admission to the school, go through years of failure and frustrations as a result of which their self esteem is seriously destabilized. Constant lack of academic success, rejection by other children, faulty instruction and mismanagement by parents lead to emotional disturbance, feelings of inadequacy and personality and conduct disorders.

These learners ultimately find themselves in a vicious circle. The interplay between the causes and symptoms becomes more and more complicated and difficult to disentangle. The breaking of this vicious circle becomes one of the most important objectives of remedial treatment.

This cannot be broken unless the school establishes a special educational programme for the learners. The teacher should instil self-confidence in the minds of learners. For that, he should avoid magnifying the mistakes committed by the students. He should also avert all sort of sarcastic censure.

Nevertheless, the teacher should show by their behaviour or external attribute a sympathetic attitude towards students. When the reluctant learners find themselves in some hitches, the teacher should accurately guide them. When they are right or when they provide a right response, the teacher should in actual fact make use of that chance to praise the respective reluctant learner for his accurate response. This type of praise, in addition to encouragement, will assimilate self confidence in the pupil which will ultimately stimulate them into manifesting better attainment.

Development of good working habits

Lack of normal development of intellectual capacities of learning children is frequently the result of progress of poor approach towards work. Assignments that are beyond learners understanding usually leads to boredom and poor attention in class. Recurrent failures and frustration may cause behaviour difficulties and reluctance to try or to take initiative.

If careful attention is given to individualisation of treatment, integrated course of academic studies content and balance and to appropriate organization, the students can develop the feeling of power to overcome problems and progress in independent application to work. Furthermore, the students lack the skill to measure the comparative importance of work. They may be doing a work at the wrong time, which will ultimately retard learning.

Teachers have an important duty to build up good work habits in students. They should instruct the students how to study each topic, tackling the problems linked to the topics and how to make responses for the questions and how to perform the project or enhancement activities should be well explained to slow learners and a strict purposeful surveillance also should be kept to confirm that they follow the guiding principle given by the teachers in learning the topic.

They should be taught to make analytical and synthesised learning, besides that instructions to adapt regular study at home is also essential. They should also be taught how to deal with each subject at ease. If the above are taken well care of, the students will be able to achieve a reasonable degree of success within a substantial period of time.

Elastic Curriculum

Chall, & Curtis, M.1992, noted two essential assumptions that motivate all curricula: 1) that knowledge should be planned to meet the sake and 2) that curricula should be designed to meet the pressing and long-term desires of students. The knowledge centred integrated course of academic studies focuses on the content of study subject, but requires centred curriculum. In the most intense instance the subject centred curriculum requires that the students be taught content despite of learner characteristics. The other extreme is that integrated course of academic studies deal only with the wants of the learner and sacrifices content for ‘relevancy’.

Extreme care should be taken in planning the set of courses for the students, which should be as adaptable as possible to go well with the requirement and need of the students who are usually concerned with real perceptual understandings. So, much consideration towards concrete characteristics of work should be employed. The teachers should not instil great deal of stress on abstract and theory-based study because the slow learners cannot understand the abstract concepts without difficulty. Teachers should endeavour to institute possible relationship or show possible relationships so that the slow learners can understand the abstract concepts.

When there is actual demonstration of instructional content, the students are in a position to comprehend in a better way and it improves their learning ability and learning rate to a substantial extent. Practical work should be given appropriate significance in the integrated course of academic studies of the students.

The purposes of education, which are: self realisation, human relationship, economic efficiency and civic responsibility can be developed in slow learners in the integrated course of academic studies. Practical work is one of the numerous areas of study in which the students can frequently and effortlessly attain success or have it organized for them. The work done must as a result be well-matched to the competence of individual children; it should be programmed to produce proof of success by looking good or being valuable. On the other hand, it is to be remembered that knowledge builds on knowledge in the way success builds on success.

Physical education must not be exclusively relevant to the growth of strength and physical skills, or without a doubt with physical development. It should be perceive or thought about as an essential part of the entire curriculum for personality improvement.

Primary skills are not formulated and as a result more mature ones are more difficult to learn. Besides, Physical education should take advantage of the many opportunities it will have to compensate for other restriction and to certify feelings of achievement and success. So the subject teachers should desist from involving the physical education periods of study for other subjects.

Remedial Instruction

Chall and Baldwin, L., 1990 suggested that the corrective training classes or special classes should be carried out in a consistent manner established on laid down procedures. Studies have established beyond doubt the usefulness of corrective classes in case of specific slowness in a specific subject area. Foremost, the lack of an adequate quantity are characterized by great determination and confirmed by experts distributing diagnostic tests to students. Subsequently the proficiency of experts may be utilised to act in some form of artistic expression with specific slowness. The following are the guidelines for the smooth working of a remedial programme.

  • The students are able to take hold of tangible ideas rather than abstract ideas. Therefore there must be plenty use of audio visual aids in the instructional process which can provide unique experience to the students in the presentation of the content. Tangible presentation of instructional content can be made by making use of appropriate media application in the instructional process.
  • Sudden recurrent programmes should be brought in instead of extended lessons every week. This will cater for the short span of concentration of students. Further, it will avert fatigue and boredom, to which the students are easily vulnerable.
  • The instructional substance must be very vigilantly arranged in a sequence of grades or ranks keeping in mind the capacity, requirement, educational and experience levels of the students. In the gradation of teaching materials the principles of proceeding from easy to difficult and simple to complex must be scrupulously followed.
  • The teacher ought to be conscious of the fact that a friendly approach in corrective teaching is exceedingly favourable. Friendly smile, a few cheering words, praise at suitable time will have a far accomplishing influence on the learning capacity of slow learners. The cumulative effects of these procedures will make better impact on the achievement of slow learners than even an effective instruction.
  • To bring forth interest, communal skills and self-assurance in slow learners, pressure may be laid on successful use of art, music and drama. Moderate success can be attained in these areas which receives into the mind and retain in them self confidence. Moreover, nothing of value or importance reaches a desired goal like success; and its only success that can build success.
  • Furthermore, if additional time is given for slow learners for remedial instruction, they too can attain the mastery level. Just as there are special coaching classes for the SC/ST students in the evening hours, special corrective classes for slow learners can also be established.
  • The teacher dealing with slow learners should give due importance to practice, drill and review which all facilitate the comprehension and retention of slow learners. Repetition and direction should also be emphasised. For this computer assisted instruction and modular instruction can be made use of since these teaching strategies effectively incorporate practice, drill review, revision and repetition in the instructional process.
  • With a view to ensure optimum human resource development special remedial classes should be arranged for slow learners. In 1968 Bloom proposed that rather than providing all students with the same amount of instructional time and allowing learning to differ, perhaps we should require that all or almost all students reach a certain level of achievement by allowing time to differ. That is, Bloom suggests that we give students as much time and instruction as necessary to bring them all to a reasonable level of learning. If some students appear to be in danger of not learning, then they should be given additional instruction until they do learn. Bloom. B.S 1976, hypothesizes that given additional instructional time; students who do not master their lessons in the time usually allowed should be able to reach achievement levels typically attained by only the most able students.
  • Subsequently, the problem inherent in any mastery learning strategies is how to provide the additional instructional time to students who need it. In much of the research mastery learning, this additional instruction is given outside of regular class time, such as after school or during recess. Those students who failed to meet a pre-established mastery criterion following a lesson were given this extra corrective instruction until they could earn a 90 percent score on a similar quiz. Research on mastery programmes that provide corrective instruction in addition to regular class time has generally found achievement gains, particularly for low achievers.


The search for the causes, cures, and preventative measures for failure in language and literacy has been a long one. And the lessons learned so far, if implemented, can help children with reading difficulties to learn to achieve well.

What we need to remember is that the vast majority of children who lag behind in reading can be helped, whether they are because of a less academically stimulating home or school environment, or because of a learning difficulty that may or may not be neurologically based.

As our review has indicated, the researched case study on the student points to the benefits of instruction that is designed to raise the level of reading development. For those not at risk, a facilitative, noninterventionist approach to literacy instruction may be effective. But, for children who are at risk for reading failure or reluctant to read, a more formal, direct kind of instruction aimed at building on their strengths while addressing their needs has shown to be the most beneficial.

List of References

Adams, J. (1990) Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambrige, MA: The MIT Press.

Amend, E. R., Webb, J. T., & Gore, J. L. (2007) A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press, Inc.

Blanton, L. & Blanton, W. (1994) Providing reading instruction to mildly disabled students: Research into practice. In K.D. Wood & B. Algozzine (Eds.), Teaching reading to high risk learners (pp.9-48). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Bloom, B. (1976) Human characteristics and school learning: New York: McGraw-Hill

Chall, J. S & Baldwin, L. (1990) The reading crisis: Why poor children fall behind. Cambridge, MA: Havard University Press.

Chall, J. S., & Curtis, M. (1992) Teaching the disabled or below average readers. In Farstrup, A.E. & Samuels, S.J. (Eds.), What research has to say about reading instruction (2nd ed., pp.253-2760. Newark, DE: IRA.

Chall, J, S. (1996) Stages of reading development. New york: Harcourt Brace.

Kaufman,N and Kaufman, A. S. (2001) Specific learning disabilities and difficulties in children and adolescents… Cambridge University Press. New York, NY

Kirk, S. & Bateman, B. D. (1962) Ten years of research at the Institute for Research on Exceptional Children, University of Illinois. The Institute. New Zealand.

Leitner, G. (1992) New directions in English language corpora: methodology, results, software… Walter de Gruyte. Berlin.

McGregor, D. (2007) Developing thinking; developing learning: a guide to thinking skills in… McGraw-Hill International. Berkshire, England.