Helping Students with Learning Challenges Be Academically Successful

Delana H Stewart


Year-by-year as parents/teachers grow to learn their students’ learning styles, personalities, interests, and abilities, a mural begins to take shape demonstrating and defining how each particular student is shaped.  Each year parents/teachers should reassess and reevaluate where a student is and where the student is headed.  All students should be gently stretched beyond their personal comfort zones, like working a muscle.  Work at a level too high causes painful problems.  Work at a level too low results in lack of development.  Not all students will go to college, but ALL students must be prepared for life.

These days, many in Christian circles are familiar with Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Life. In this book he discusses each person’s unique shape using the acronym SHAPE.  The letters stand for: Spiritual Gifts, Heart (passion), Abilities, Personality, and Experiences.  No two people are alike.  No two children are alike.  Do not compare two students to each other, to yourself, or to anyone else.  Be aware of what your state or national government considers the “norm” for each grade level.  At the same time look deeper: look for and help your child/student discover his/her own SHAPE.

There are three very basic groupings of students (with any number of degrees within each group): Above average, average (neuro-typical), and below average.   Again, this is very basic.  Students can have a high IQ or an average IQ with exceptional abilities in one area and still be faced with learning disabilities or learning challenges. The following strategies, listed by Paul Burden in his book Classroom Management (2006), help students with learning disabilities to be academically successful.

  1. Control the difficulty of the task.
  2. Teach students in small interactive groups.
  3. Use a combination of direct instruction and cognitive strategy instruction.
  4. Provide a framework for learning (regarding content and assignments).
  5. Model processes and strategies using thinking aloud and instructional conversations.
  6. Teach self-regulation and self-monitoring.
  7. Provide opportunities for extended practice and application.
  8. Use learning tools and aids (computers, spell checkers, tape recorders).
  9. Adjust workload and time (reduce amount of work, provide extensions).

10.  Present content and have students demonstrate their learning in multiple ways.

11.  Teach students to use memory strategies.

A good resource for helping the junior high or high school student learn to be successful in academics is the Quantum booklet series by Bobbi DePorter and Mike Hernacki.  The titles in this series include: Whole-Brain Approaches to Note-Taking, Discovering Your Personal Learning Style, The Power to Read Your Best, Working Magic with Your Memory, and How to Write Like a Pro. These booklets are actually used in a NorthStar Academy one semester online course called Learning to Learn. A great tip for helping adolescents study for tests can be found on the following website: It is an excerpt from a book called Academic Success Strategies for Adolescents with Learning Disabilities and ADHD, by Esther Minskoff, Ph.D., & David Allsopp, Ph.D.

The Reading Rockets Website ( talks about motivation being a key factor in helping the learning disabled achieve academic success.  Some tips they offer parents are:

  1. Provide a warm, accepting home environment.
  2. Give clear directions and feedback.
  3. Create a model for success
  4. Build on the student’s strengths
  5. Relate schoolwork to the student’s interests
  6. Help build a family structure that fosters consistent work towards the goal.
  7. Help the student to have some control over how and when he learns.
  8. Emphasize the child’s progress rather than his or her performance in comparison to the other students in the class or family.
  9. Remember to reinforce the behavior you want.
  10. Use reinforcers wisely. Recall that intrinsic motivation works best. Follow a child’s interests, when possible, rather than spending time building elaborate reward systems.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Education offers some downloadable pdf documents on helping your child.  Go to the following website ( or click on one of the titles below.  These online booklets offer some fantastic tips.  This website also offers a search engine to articles about a multitude of learning disabilities.


Helping Your Child Series

en Español
The Helping Your Child publication series aims to provide parents with the tools and information necessary to help their children succeed in school and life. These booklets feature practical lessons and activities to help their school aged and preschool children master reading, understand the value of homework and develop the skills and values necessary to achieve and grow.

Helping Your Child Learn History
PDF (2M)
The booklet is designed to help families prepare their children to achieve the lifelong task of finding their place in history by helping them learn what shaped the world into which they were born. Employing the latest research, the booklet is largely comprised of activities that can be experienced at home or in the community for children in preschool through grade 5, yet also features information about the basics of history; practical suggestions for how to work with teachers and schools to help children succeed in school; and a list of federal sources, helpful Web sites and suggested books for parents and children. (June 2004)

Helping Your Child Learn Science
PDF (1M)
Every day is filled with opportunities to learn science—without expensive chemistry sets or books. Parents don’t need degrees in chemistry or physics to help their children learn science. All that is needed is a willingness to observe and learn with them, and, above all, to make an effort and take the time to nurture their natural curiosity. This booklet provides parents of children ages 3 through 10 with information, tools and activities they can use in the home and community to help their child develop an interest in the sciences and learn about the world around them. (March 2004) en Español

Helping Your Child Learn Mathematics
PDF (776K)
Our increasingly technological world demands strong skills in mathematics, not only in the workforce but also in everyday life, and these demands will only increase over the lifetimes of our children. The major portion of this booklet is made up of fun activities that parents can use with children from preschool age through grade 5 to strengthen their math skills and build strong positive attitudes toward math. (March 2004) en Español

Helping Your Child Become a Reader
Other than helping your children to grow up healthy and happy, the most important thing that you can do for them is to help them develop their reading skills. This booklet offers pointers on how to build the language skills of young children, and includes a list of typical language accomplishments for different age groups, suggestions for books, and resources for children with reading problems or learning disabilities. (August 2002) en Español

Helping Your Child With Homework
PDF (508K)
Homework can help children to develop positive study skills and habits, improve their thinking and memory abilities, and encourage them to use time well, learn independently, and take responsibility for their work. This booklet helps parents of elementary and junior high school students understand why homework is important and makes suggestions for helping children complete assignments successfully. (August 2002) en Español

Helping Your Preschool Child
PDF (725K)
How well children will learn and develop and how well they will do in school depends on a number of things, including their health and physical well-being, social and emotional preparation, and language skills and general knowledge of the world. This booklet highlights techniques parents can use to encourage their children to develop the skills necessary for success in school and life by focusing on activities that make learning fun. (August 2002) en Español

Helping Your Child Succeed in School
PDF (1,600K)
Every child has the power to succeed in school and in life and every parent, family member and caregiver can help. This booklet provides parents with information, tools and activities they can use in the home to help their child develop the skills critical to academic success. (September 2002) en Español

Helping Your Child Through Early Adolescence
PDF (2,090K)
Learning as much as you can about the world of early adolescents is an important step towards helping your child through the fascinating, confusing and wonderful years from ages 10 through 14. Based on the latest research in adolescent development and learning, this booklet addresses questions, provides suggestions and tackles issues that parents of young teens generally find most challenging. (September 2002) en Español

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