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Definitely not true. The learner does not need ‘fixing’. This type of thinking views the learner’s difficulty in a medical way, assuming the learner is somehow ‘broken’ and needs fixing. In order to have an inclusive society, we all need to learn more about the difficulties and differences of others. Teachers can learn a lot from learners with SENs and schools need to learn to adapt their teaching and mindset to promote inclusion. For example, instead of looking for a specialist to work with the child, the specialist could help with training for teachers to better understand ways to work with the child.

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Language and learning disabilities are generally due to factors intrinsic to the learner, such as a neurological impairment or a problem with symbolic processing (Perkins, 2005), whereas second language learning difficulties are typically due to factors extrinsic to the learner, such as the language learning process itself or cross-cultural differences (Damico & Hamayan, 1992). In the case of vocabulary usage, for example, if an ELL frequently forgets a common word that has been taught, it is possible that the visual aid used to represent the concept may have been culturally irrelevant for that student (for example, the Liberty Bell representing the concept of freedom or independence that is specific to American history); hence the visual symbol would not provide any help for that student in learning new vocabulary. For learning-disabled students, the same difficulty — that is, forgetting common words that have been taught — may result from a completely different set of reasons. The student may have oral language comprehension or production difficulties as a consequence of word retrieval problems, or the student may have memory problems. In such cases, the pedagogical needs of the two populations are different: learning-disabled students need support in creating compensations to overcome their problems (e.g., Damico, Smith, & Augustine, 1996; Dunaway, 2004; Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, 2004; Westby, 1997), whereas second language learners need to develop further proficiency in academic language.

What about special needs students

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No, you don’t. It will of course help you to learn more about SENs and to get advice from specialists in the area, but learners with SENs benefit from good teaching practice, particularly in the area of classroom management, planning and setting of tasks. For example, learners with SENs needs clear, consistent rules and instructions, they need short do-able tasks which give a sense of achievement, they need to feel the teacher cares about them and understands them as a person and they need multi-sensory presentation and practice of material. Good teachers do all of these things without specialist knowledge of SENs.