Unit 3: Types of Learners


Unit 3: A Variety of Language Learners


Everyone learns a bit differently from the person sitting next to them. The differences in learners make it challenging for educators to use the same strategies and skills for all their students. Two groups of learners who are most likely to be active members of a classroom and school community are multi-lingual learners and students with disabilities. These students may have an especially challenging time learning to read because reading is such a language based skill. We will explore those groups of learners as well as some culturally responsive and inclusive teaching practices for reading in this unit.


3.1 Students with Disabilities

3.2 Multi-Lingual Learners

3.3 Culturally Responsive and Inclusive Practices

3.1 Students with Disabilities

Students with disabilities often have difficult accessing language - both in the production and reception of phonemes as well as the association of phonemes with graphemes. This doesn't mean they cannot access the information, it just means their brains are structured differently so teachers need to adapt their instruction and resources to meet their needs.

Many of these students receive speech therapy, so the speech therapist also conducts activities to help students develop these skills. But this need to be collaborative and be transferred over to the classroom instruction as well.

Multi-sensory phonics incorporates more than one of the physical senses - visual, auditory, kinesthetic, tactile - into instruction. Kinesthetic and tactile are especially beneficial to students with disabilities because the physical aspect of those senses tend to be more easily accessible to students with disabilities (Kamala, 2014, pp. 33-34).

In /get/, the sounds are all short and crisp, which can be sounds missed. In /safe/, each sound /s/, /ā/, and /f/ can be stretched out and elongated to increase the amount of time a student has to identify the sound.

In certain phonological and phonemic awareness activities as well as phonics instruction, it's important to use sounds that can be elongated and stretched rather than short and crisp sounds. Elongated sounds increase the number of opportunities for students to identify the initial and final sounds that short and crisp sounds might not (Yopp & Yopp, 2000, p. 142)

3.2 Multi-Lingual Learners

While the most commonly used language in the U.S. is English, it is far from the only language used. Many people in the U.S. speak another language and many learn to speak another language before they learn English. While schools are primarily taught in English, it's important to acknowledge the different backgrounds of students and make their foundational phonics and reading instruction diverse and applicable to the students you're teaching.

Another incredibly important way to do that is to develop an understanding for the variety of languages students speak at home. It is very cool and impressive that some students can already speak two languages, especially since they are so young! Think about their native languages and what phonemes and sounds might be more accessible or more difficult to access as a result. Use their words to support your instruction and generalize some of the skills from phonological and phonemic awareness for your students (Lambert & Strom, 2020, 27:54).

Another way to be more culturally responsive towards learners from different cultures and language backgrounds is to read books from all different cultures and make sure your students are adequately represented in the classroom readings and materials. Some children's books already include words from different languages.

3.3 Culturally Responsive and Inclusive Practices

Culturally responsive and inclusive instructional practices are typically those used with students with disabilities and multi-lingual learners. Like we discussed in Unit 2, making phonics fun is also an inclusive practice. Teachers must get to know their students well to access their backgrounds, interests, passions, and quirks in order to create truly immersive culturally responsive, relevant, and inclusive lessons. Phonics, being the foundation for all reading and future learning, is no exception.


Reflect on what you've learn so far in this course. What are some ways you can make phonics instruction more comprehensive and inclusive for your students. Open this Jamboard, create a new sticky note, and post your ideas!

Bonus: A Note on "Ebonics":

In the late 1990s, schools in Northern California and across the U.S. became increasingly worried about the emergence of African American English or African American language "Ebonics" as its own language. The perception was that this "other language" was unprofessional, genetically-based, and couldn't or shouldn't be incorporated into schools and learning. Instead, intelligence was based off of "middle class coded phrases" even without the informational content taken into account (Marshall & Hobbes, 2019, 13:45).

In reality, there is actually a grammatical structure to African American English and it simply does what language is supposed to do - convey language from one person to another (Marshall & Hobbes, 2019, 18:02).

However, students who use African American English in their day to day lives are taught to "code-switch" between their words at home and at school (or in the professional world) from an early age. When students - all student - feel more comfortable and there aren't direct repercussions or judgements for their words, they are more likely have more complex thoughts (Marshall & Hobbes, 2019, 10:50).

For more information on this topic, listen to You're Wrong About Podcast E40: The "Ebonics" Controversy.

Wrapping Up

This unit, we examined how phonics can be made more accessible to various learners. Let's put all our ideas from this course together in Unit 4: Designing a Comprehensive Lesson. Back to Home.

Extended Resources:

Kamala, R. (2014). Multisensory Approach to Reading Skills of Dyslexic Students. IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science, 19(5), 32–34.

Lambert, Susan (Host) & Strom, Carolyn (Guest). (2020, Feb 5). The cognitive science behind how students learn to read: Carolyn Strom (No. 9) [Audio podcast episode]. In Science of Reading: The Podcast. Production Company.

Marshall, S., & Hobbes, M. (Hosts). (2019, Apr 4). The “Ebonics” Controversy (No. 40) [Audio podcast episode]. In You’re Wrong About. Production Company.

Yopp, H. K., & Yopp, R. H. (2000). Supporting Phonemic Awareness Development in the Classroom. The Reading Teacher, 54(2), 130-143.