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Definition of disabilities

Page history last edited by Lara Malpass 10 years, 10 months ago

Disabilities are hard to define and can be culturally constructed. Disabilities that are defined and diagnosed in the United States may not be considered a disability in another country.


The exact diagnosis of a disability is not important when including a student with a disability in your classroom. Specialist or medical knowledge may be needed if we are attempting to diagnose a specific condition and prescribe treatments. However, at the classroom level, teachers are not expected to become directly involved with medical interventions or attempt to cure the student. Their role is to notice whether children and adolescents are experiencing particular difficulties – with learning, communicating, moving around, and how their role in the classroom can minimize the disability while maximizing learning. Teachers need to act alongside parents and other professionals to find ways in which the learner can more easily participate and achieve in education. If you notice that a particular child is having difficulty learning to read then it is necessary to provide that student with a specific intervention that maybe not all students need to help them learn to read. If another student is learning at a slower pace then it will be necessary to provide curriculum at a slower pace. Teachers should adjust lesson plans and teaching methods so that they can help any student who is struggling. 


Research has shown that even those with the most severe disabilities can profit from education; no child need now be regarded as ineducable. Disability as a label is not important or necessary. What is important is that you accommodate your instruction to meet the educational needs of the student.  As a teacher you want to maximize learning while minimizing the disability.  Observing students and their learning is the most important concept in inclusive education.


Observing learners in your classroom (X min)


Teachers will be able to:

1. Identify whether it is important or not to have a medical diagnosis of what type of disability a student has in order to include them in your classroom.

2. List techniques to identify (instead of medical diagnosis) and observe struggling learners in the classroom.

3. List techniques to document student behavior.


To help teachers understand more about observing children, try this activity:


Ask teachers to brainstorm the different ways in which they observe, get to know or assess their students.

Then ask them what sorts of differences in children’s characteristics, behavior or performance they notice when they make these observations.  As teachers, what do they do with the assessment information and what observations have they made of students in their classroom.


Answers that teachers may give

Teachers might give answers such as:

• We closely watch a student's behavior in class.

• We ask students questions throughout the lesson to see if they understand and are following along.

• We give short tests or activities frequently to see if students have understood and we do not need to go back and reteach.


Teachers may say that when they make these observations they notice:

• students who learn quickly or slowly

• students who concentrate and behave well, or those who have difficulty focusing after a short time and disrupt lessons

• students who have friends and get along well with others, or those who seem to be alone and have trouble making friends

• students who are less coordinated, have trouble moving around or have trouble making the shapes for drawing and writing because of impairments with gripping

• students who always seem to participate in class, continually volunteering answers, and those who are usually silent in class

• students who seem to struggle to speak.


These following are observations (and suggestions trainers can give teachers to look for to assess students) that a good teacher makes in order to understand and manage their class and develop quality learning.


Next steps for a teacher who observes a student with a disability in their classroom

Once a teacher has observed a particular behavior and discussed it with others, they can begin to plan the next steps for supporting that student.

They could:

• make simple and bold basic learning materials from locally available objects (e.g. using bottle tops to help learners with visual or intellectual impairments to count) or adapt existing materials so that learners with disabilities can use them more easily

• keep asking for ideas from parents, learners, fellow teachers, etc. – somewhere in the school or local community there will be someone who has helpful ideas

• ask students how they learn best. 


The following is an example that teachers can use in their classroom in order to document student behavior and learning to identify students who are struggling.

Learner Journal

Effective teachers keep journals of their students and what they are struggling with or excelling at in their classroom. This will be helpful to identify patterns and ways to differentiate instruction to help each student. 

Keep a journal at the end of every day. 

1. Write down your daily activity or lesson plan.

2. Reflect on how well you think the activity went.

3. Write down student behaviors and how each student reacts and learns to lesson.

4. Keep track of advice from colleagues here.

5. Include samples of student work.





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