How can we best identify barriers to learning in the classroom and how can we make the curriculum more accessible (to everyone)?
What are barriers to Learning?
Barriers to learning are considered as the lack of access to the classroom environment and the lesson goal. The learner may be struggling with one or more types of learning barriers, therefore the teacher should be dealing with the pupil according to their individual differences to ensure an effective learning process. Students who have a learning disability may be facing many different types of learning barriers.
They will need interventions according to their needs to ensure that they are reaching their maximum potential. Barriers to learning can be intrinsic barriers such as mental health disorder, dyslexia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorders, or extrinsic barriers as cultural barriers, emotional factors as an example; feeling neglect or poverty.
In this article, we will explore why a student might have difficulty accessing the curriculum. We will also look at different tools for students that scaffold the learning process. In every classroom, different types of learners will have access issues. We will also use this opportunity to frame the idea of 'inclusive by design'. This is the idea that learning experiences can be designed to be inclusive for everyone by using classroom concepts that we can all utilise.
How can we identify barriers to learning?
To acknowledge barriers to learning and reduce learning challenges, it is vital to identify the barrier to learning as soon as possible, even before the child reaches school age. An important factor to be taken into consideration while identifying the barrier to a student in the learning environment is to use different ways of identification. Here are ways to identify a barrier to learning:
- Students' schoolwork: Keep tracking the learner's classwork, homework, projects, oral, written, and, practical level. Focusing on the outcomes of the pupils' thinking and learning instead of the abilities of pupils.
- Assessments of pupils: School's assessment result, that is done in various ways not only written forms but also orally, practical forms. Assessments of outside agencies e.g: psychologist or occupational therapist.
- Observations: Observing the learner's behaviour (e.g: attention and concentration), the learner's learning styles, learner's emotional and social engagement, how does the pupil react to the situations.
- Interviews: Communication with parents, teachers, other practitioners. Learners are the prime ones to speak about their personal barriers, so it is important to speak with the pupil.
Where do we encounter barriers to learning?
The environment around us plays an important role in reducing or increasing the common learning barriers. In the following area we can face barriers to learning:
- Barriers to learning at school: Although schools now are using different teaching methods and embracing different ways of learning, schools are still facing learning difficulties.
- Barriers to learning at work: Employees also may be facing learning difficulties in their workplace. Common workplace challenges like lack of motivation, not offering training courses, these examples affect the employee as an adult learner.
- A barrier to a student at home: The recent pandemic that led to school closures and online learning showed us that in some homes there are limited tools for students. For some populations, academic barriers, emotional learning barriers and social skills barriers were increased during this online learning time.
How to break down barriers to learning
Classroom teachers are presented with complex problems on a daily basis. Quite often, these barriers are linked and it takes careful unpicking to understand how they affect one another. At Structural Learning, we regularly run training sessions that encourage this diagnostic practice. On a recent training course, we facilitated a session that involved linking classroom problems. This helps educators reframe the issues and eventually arrive at the essence of the need. Obviously, time pressures can hinder these types of activities but the following ideas should help your school examine access issues.
- Motivation: Motivation is an important factor in learning. Lack of motivation will lead to learning difficulties. As a result, teachers need to motivate the learners to learn by using rewards, learning games, and creating an exciting learning environment and experience. If you are concerned about motivation you might be interested to use the Leuven scale to monitor classroom engagement.
- Base knowledge: Many of the learning barriers in literacy and numeracy are because of knowledge gaps as these two subjects are dependent on building up skills systematically. To overcome this obstacle teachers need to define the learning sequences and pre-requested background knowledge for the learning goal.
- Learning challenges: Learners may find it difficult to access learning materials. This may be because it's text-heavy and the grammar is difficult to understand. Teachers should ensure that the learning goals and teaching methods are accessible to all learners. Teachers need to use different teaching styles such as oracy or multisensory learning to be aware of the needs of pupils and the ways to remove obstacles that affect pupil engagement in learning. As an example, pupils with ADHD may need to be provided with additional time on tests and break time between tasks. Teachers need to use various strategies according to the pupils need to reduce learning challenges.
- Emotional factors: emotions play an important role in barriers to learning, when learners have a fear of failure, negative learning experience in the past, fear of change all these emotions may lead to learning difficulty. To overcome these factors, teachers and parents need to reward the learner's effort and celebrate their success even for a simple achievement, to help the learner to gain their confidence and overcome the negative emotions.
Tackling Emotional and Behavioral Barriers
Emotional barriers, such as anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem, can significantly impact a student's ability to learn and engage in the classroom.
Motivational barriers, including a lack of interest or feelings of inadequacy, further contribute to an emotional learning barrier. As teachers, it's crucial to recognize these challenges and develop strategies to address them.
Lack of focus and engagement can be symptoms of emotional and behavioral barriers. To tackle these issues, teachers should create a safe, supportive learning environment that encourages open communication and fosters positive relationships between students and educators.
This can help alleviate emotional distress and promote emotional well-being.
Additionally, educators should consider implementing social and emotional learning (SEL) programs that teach students how to manage their emotions, build resilience, and develop healthy coping mechanisms. SEL programs have been proven to improve academic performance and overall mental health.
It's also essential for teachers to recognize that external factors, such as family issues or traumatic events, may contribute to emotional and behavioral barriers. By working closely with school counselors, psychologists, and social workers, teachers can develop individualized support plans to help students overcome these obstacles.
In conclusion, addressing emotional and behavioral barriers is crucial for enhancing student success. By fostering a supportive learning environment, implementing SEL programs, and collaborating with other professionals, teachers can empower students to overcome these challenges and reach their full potential.
Overcoming Language Barriers
Language barriers are common obstacles faced by many students, particularly English Language Learners and dyslexic learners. Teachers can use multisensory strategies to create inclusive classrooms and support the learning process for students who face these challenges.
Multisensory learning, which engages multiple senses simultaneously, has been proven effective in aiding comprehension and retention of new information.
Drawing on educational theories from Vygotsky and Piaget, multisensory learning emphasizes the importance of social interaction and cognitive development in the learning process. Teachers can incorporate visual techniques such as dual coding, which combines verbal and visual information, to help students better understand and remember complex concepts.
This approach has been particularly effective in supporting dyslexic learners who often struggle with traditional language-based teaching methods.
In addition to visual techniques, teachers can utilize auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic strategies to engage students in the learning process. For example, incorporating songs, chants, or rhymes can help reinforce new vocabulary and grammar rules.
Hands-on activities and movement-based exercises can further enhance language acquisition by providing opportunities for students to physically engage with the material.
By employing multisensory strategies, teachers can create more inclusive and effective learning environments for students who face language barriers. This approach not only supports language development but also fosters a deeper understanding of the subject matter, ultimately promoting academic success for all learners.
What learning strategies can help children access the curriculum?
Identifying a barrier to student engagement is only the starting point. Classroom practitioners need practical strategies and resources to enable all types of learners to access the curriculum. Pending on the age of the student, a pupil might need a combination of the strategies below.
- Think time or wait time: This is a strategy that enhances critical thinking. Teachers ask questions and give learners time to think about the answer. This strategy will help learners with ADHD as it will give them time to think. Also, learners with slow processing speed will have time to understand the instructions and think about answers.
- Multisensory instruction: This is a teaching method that involves different use of senses at one time (hands, eyes, hearing, movements). This way may help dyslexic learners, for example, teachers may ask them to draw the sound 'a' in the air or dyscalculia learners by using hands-on activities as an example using blocks to explore number concepts.
- Modelling: Using techniques like ‘my turn, your turn / we do, you do’ most learners will need to show them the steps of the activity, so they need to understand the concept and feel secure with it to be able to work it out independently.
- One-to-one support and small group instruction: Dyslexia learners may benefit from being in a small group of reading, as teachers can focus on a specific skill. Learners with executive functions issues need one-to-one given instructions and to limit distractions.
- Graphic organizers: This is a visual technique to show the connections and links between ideas. Helping the learners to organize their thoughts and plan their tasks. Dyscalculia learners may use the graphic organizers to break down the maths problem into short chunks.
- Universal design for learning (UDL) strategies: providing learners with different and flexible ways of learning. Allow the learners to access and engage with concepts using various resources. As an example, different ways of assessment, provide flexible learning environments (small and large group work, individual work, quiet place). Given regular feedback, provide printed, digital, and audio resources. ADHD learners may benefit from using UDL by using headphones to listen to given instructions or explanations.
- Writer's Block: This practical toolkit enables learners to break down abstract concepts into a physical format. The brightly coloured blocks are used to organise and connect a students thought process. If you are interested in this approach and can see how it could be used in your school, we run a range of training courses for teachers.
- Universal Thinking Framework: This taxonomy has been used to design and deliver curriculum content in an inclusive manner. The learning and teaching actions enable a child to understand how to move their thinking forward. Over the last year, we have seen how teachers have used this concept to scaffold whole-class teaching.
If you are interested in any of the concepts that have been mentioned in this article please do get in touch to discuss any requirements you may have. We have a range of resources and training options available to schools that are interested in revisiting their inclusion policies.