ACADEMIC DIARY WITH DZIFA: Learning differently

Academic Diary with Dzifa: The psychology of learning – what is your strategy?

Smart lookup

  • Dyslexia: it involves difficulty in learning to read or interpret words and letters, but does not affect general intelligence
  • ADHD (Attention-Defect/Hyperactivity Disorder): a condition including having difficulty in paying attention, being hyperactive and impulsive
  • Dyscalculia: is a term referring to a wide range of difficulties with mathematics
  • Dysgraphia: refers to trouble writing (messy writing) and/or putting thoughts on paper
  • Dyspraxia: presents itself in the form of difficulty in coordination and movement (motor skills)

Every child is unique in their own way. This uniqueness is influenced by their character, ambitions, virtues, limitations, among others. In the midst of all these factors, when a child presents a learning difficulty, it becomes even harder for facilitators and parents to find the best approach to easing the process of learning and completing school tasks.

A child who presents a learning difficulty may struggle to keep pace with mates in processing a given information or completing a given task. The presentation of a learning difficulty, however, does not mean that a child is not smart. What it means is that, that particular child learns differently or learns through a different method.

Sadly, in most schools and even homes, such learners, who through no fault of theirs are experiencing such learning difficulties, are labelled as ‘dumb’ or lazy. These ‘labels’ go a long way in affecting their personality and social life.

Expects have identified five common learning difficulties that present in various forms namely: Dyslexia, ADHD (Attention-Defect/Hyperactivity Disorder), Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia and Dyspraxia.

According to one research site,, 1 out of 5 people have a learning difficulty. If this is the case, then facilitators, school administrators and stakeholders in the educational sector need to factor or consider different teaching and learning approaches in building programmes and curricula that will meet the needs of every learner (with or without learning difficulty) who seeks to acquire some form of education.

The focus of this article will be to discuss a few but vital supportive approaches that can lovingly be given to learners who may present one learning difficulty or the other.

The need to establish a sincere relationship with the child and praise efforts:

In order to give support to the child, try to explain to the child’s level of understanding that not being able to grab a concept or complete a task within the same duration as their mates does not mean that they are lazy or not smart or less valuable. It only means that they learn through a different method.

Give them the assurance that you are going to assist them with methods that will help them reach the same result as their mates. Depending on the learning difficulty being dealt with, it falls on the facilitator to try and find out the learning approach that best suits the child.

Give genuine praise to the efforts that the child puts in to overcome his/her difficulty, and congratulate each milestone of improvement.

By focusing on results, the child can easily be discouraged, most especially if the one offering the help keeps comparing the child’s results to that of their mates.

Encourage the child to practise more, and make a conscious effort at being exceptional with practice. This can be possible only when time and effort are invested into mastering the needed skill or knowledge. No matter the length of time, when sufficient effort is invested, the desired result will definitely be achieved.

Focus on the child’s strengths and provide a role model:

Every child, no matter the challenges he/she has with learning, is better at doing something else either than their challenge. Paying some attention to the child’s strengths and cultivating these strengths will help create exceptional skills that will eventually enable the child to build his/her confidence. In building confidence, the child will now learn to use his/her strength as a springboard in standing out among their peers. As the child gets noticed and praised for his/her strength, this will in turn encourage them to work on gradually overcoming their weakness.

For instance, if a child has a problem with dyscalculia, and the same child is talented for kinesthetic activities, we will strive for the best results through developing the kinesthetic activities. After all, the world presently has a place for every kind of profession. No one is being forced to fit the mold of traditional professions.

Providing such ones with role models who also had learning difficulties but have broken the odds and have their names written in gold will also serve as a source of motivation and encouragement.

“For instance, Leonardo da Vinci exhibited signs of dyslexia and ADHD, Richard Branson has dyslexia and considers it his ‘greatest strength’, while Michael Phelps was diagnosed with ADHD in fifth grade.” –

Be sure to feed intellectual curiosity

It is a big no! no! to suppress any growing child’s curiosity at any point in time since it forms part of their developmental process. When it comes to children with learning difficulties, the story is no different. For children with learning difficulties, curiosity is one of the crucial factors when it comes to maintaining continuity in their activities and finding creative ways of teaching them.

Be encouraged to answer gently and provide answers that refer them to materials that can enable them dig deeper into the subjects that they may find appealing. Satisfying a child’s curiosity in this manner can bring about great results.

Reach flow state through play

In recent times, play-based learning has been incorporated into the educational system. So, use play-based methods and materials to allow the child reach flow state and do not interrupt it.

When the child begins to view and experience learning as a game, the child unknowingly reaches the flow stage where they become absorbed in the learning process and concentration reaches its peak. This will mean that the child will spend a longer time in practising at their own convenience while they follow their own aims and pace.

Divide activities into smaller sessions with clear instructions, and make good use of visual aids

Dividing tasks or activities into smaller sessions is a great way of engaging children because of their limited attention span. This method, however, works especially for children with ADHD.

Due to the challenge of staying attentive, it will be best to divide a task into steps, where the child can look back at the completed part after each step and gradually perceive the bigger picture of the activity or task.

Dubbing from the words of one expert, “There are other benefits of splitting tasks into parts; primarily, the regular secretion of the happiness hormone serotonin and decreasing the odds of giving up due to the scope of the task and the delayed gratification”.

Remember this:

Discovering the strengths of children with learning difficulties and fine-tuning those strengths with creative supportive approaches will help them avoid many unpleasant situations at school and elsewhere.

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