Classroom adjustments: Developmental language disorders
This podcast is part of a series that highlights adjustments that can be made in the classroom to enable students with disability to access and participate in education on the same basis as their peers.
In this episode, we talk about common adjustments teachers make in the classroom to support students with developmental language disorder, or DLD. A neurodevelopmental condition, DLD affects both language expression (talking and writing) and language comprehension (listening and reading). DLD can have an immense impact on a student’s ability to learn and their capacity to participate in school-based activities, given the challenges associated with communication.
Year 11 student Bella describes her brain as working at a different pace to those of her peers. She says trying to decode language often causes her fatigue. Her mum Kylie explains how Bella had to learn to self-advocate, so teachers knew what support she required from the outset. Teacher Tina Ellis declares that visual prompts are very beneficial for students with DLD. Psychologist and speech pathologist, Professor Pamela Snow reveals that students with DLD can appear to be inattentive or uncooperative but, in reality, they are simply working hard to process basic information. Speech Pathologist and Academic Haley Tancredi expresses why it’s crucial for teachers to simplify their use of language in the classroom while considering the student’s age and ability.
Give students more time to process information and respond to questions; teach them to ask for thinking time.
The classroom environment can be taxing for students with DLD given their compromised language skills. Don’t expect students to wade through text – chunk information and present it in small components. Once you break down certain concepts, relate them back to the student’s experience to further aid with comprehension. Concrete examples will consolidate understanding for the student. Support this approach with visual prompts such as graphs, diagrams and concept maps. Further, accompany your verbal instructions with a written backup to help reinforce the learning.
Reduce the number of assessments a student needs to complete. So, rather than expecting them to finish six comprehension questions, set two key tasks that will test their understanding. Make sure that the assessment piece is as visually simple and not verbose as possible.
Reflect on the language you use in the classroom and how you deliver instructions. When giving directions and offering examples, use simplified words and short sentences. Also, ensure that you are not speaking at rapid-fire speed. Once you’ve presented the necessary information, repeat the key pieces – even more than once if necessary. Remember that students with DLD often experience difficulties with working memory. This approach will help them with comprehension and reinforce the learning. Again, the use of visuals to support verbal instruction will consolidate student understanding and provide reinforcement.
Create a partnership with the student. This will allow you to assess what their barriers are, and enable you to work collaboratively with them to support their learning. When adopting strategies, remember to be flexible and be prepared to adapt them when you see changes in your student’s engagement. Remember, many student’s with DLD are good at flying under the radar. By adopting a partnership, you’ll help your student to avoid missing out on key learnings. Collaboration with the student around any required adjustments made will lead to a successful partnership.
Consider ways that you can reduce the cognitive load for students with DLD. Think about environmental adjustments – reduce background noise and carefully think about seating configurations. A student with DLD may benefit from a reduction in distractions such as random classroom chatter.
Written expression may pose difficulties for students with DLD, give students extra time to demonstrate their knowledge and skills and consider the use of assistive technology.
How can I change the way I deliver instructions to help support students with DLD? Are there particular concepts that need to be explicitly taught (i.e. before/after)?
What visual strategies can I use to scaffold student’s learning? Why is it important to use them?
Given students with DLD can fatigue easily, what steps can I take to help with this?
What behavioural cues do I need to look out for that may indicate that a student with DLD is having trouble understanding?
What formative or summative assessments could provide me with further information regarding a student’s listening/written comprehension skills?
What metacognitive strategies can I explicitly teach to students with DLD to support their learning?