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Learning Differences: Signs of Learning Differences

Brian Regan - Stupid in School

Brian Regan's comedy sketch truly reflects what many of our students experience in a typical school classroom, when they are undiagnosed or the teacher is not aware of required modifications and adjustments.

Signs of Learning Differences

Most will have a Cluster of the Following Signs:

  • Seems unable to follow verbal instructions
  • Reluctant to speak, OR
  • Talkative but talk contains little real substance
  • Tells stories badly (sequencing, grammar, descriptives)
  • More grammatical errors than most peers
  • Uses stereotypical language more than peers (cliches, slang, swear words, over-use of certain phrases)
  • Explaining is difficult (whys and wherefores of things)--can't put complex grammar together
  • Abstract language and ideas are difficult--can only deal well with concrete and here-and-now matters
  • Difficulty "finding" words (lots of "ums" and filler words "you know" and "thing" or "stuff")
  • Can't follow sarcasm, jokes, play-on-words, puns, metaphors. Ambiguous language taken seriously
  • Says the wrong thing at the wrong time in the wrong place in the conversation and doesn't realize it
  • Does not pick up on social non-verbal cues, facial expressions, gestures--does not realize when the other wants to end a conversation or understand the emotional content of another's words

Problems with School Work

  • Can't complete homework
  • Class discussion is badly handled
  • Trouble gaining information from books, lectures, resources
  • Trouble prioritizing information
  • Trouble knowing what to do first, next, last
  • Following rules of classroom are erratic, difficulty understanding rules or need for rules
  • Poor test performance
  • Can't explain what the problem is or reason for failture of assignment or behavior
  • Trouble with school routines--classroom locations, period length, warm-up routines, after-school help, meetings, remembering what to take home and bring back, backpack and locker is messy
  • Poor at working independently
  • Concentration and attention seem poor
  • Overall poor organization

Problems with Behavior

  • Poor self-esteem
  • Problems establishing or maintaining friendships
  • Loss of motivation, cumulative sense of failure
  • Depression, anger, frustration, withdrawal, agression
  • Reluctance to participate, including remedial work
  • Inappropriate coping mechanisms: bullying, clowing, copying and cheating, plagiarism, delinquency, truancy, going to the nurse or restroom frequently

Comprehension Difficulties

Comprehension relies on mastery of decoding; children who struggle to decode find it difficult to understand and remember what has been read. Because their efforts to grasp individual words are so exhausting, they have no resources left for understanding. 

Signs of comprehension difficulty: 

  • confusion about the meaning of words and sentences
  • inability to connect ideas in a passage
  • omission of, or glossing over detail
  • difficulty distinguishing significant information from minor details
  • lack of concentration during reading

Retention Difficulties

Retention requires both decoding and comprehending what is written. This task relies on high level cognitive skills, including memory and the ability to group and retrieve related ideas. As students progress through grade levels, they are expected to retain more and more of what they read. From third grade on, reading to learn is central to classroom work. By high school it is an essential task. 

Signs of retention difficulty: 

  • trouble remembering or summarizing what is read
  • difficulty connecting what is read to prior knowledge
  • difficulty applying content of a text to personal experiences

Signs of Math Difficulties

Output Difficulties

A student with problems in output may

  • be unable to recall basic math facts, procedures, rules, or formulas 
  • be very slow to retrieve facts or pursue procedures
  • have difficulties maintaining precision during mathematical work
  • have difficulties with handwriting that slow down written work or make it hard to read later
  • have difficulty remembering previously encountered patterns
  • forget what he or she is doing in the middle of a math problem

Organizational Difficulties

A student with problems in organization may

  • have difficulties sequencing multiple steps
  • become entangled in multiple steps or elements of a problem
  • lose appreciation of the final goal and over emphasize individual elements of a problem
  • not be able to identify salient aspects of a mathematical situation, particularly in word problems or other problem solving situations where some information is not relevant
  • be unable to appreciate the appropriateness or reasonableness of solutions generated

Language Difficulties

A student with language problems in math may

  • have difficulty with the vocabulary of math
  • be confused by language in word problems
  • not know when irrelevant information is included or when information is given out of sequence
  • have trouble learning or recalling abstract terms
  • have difficulty understanding directions
  • have difficulty explaining and communicating about math, including asking and answering questions
  • have difficulty reading texts to direct their own learning
  • have difficulty remembering assigned values or definitions in specific problems

Attention Difficulties

A student with attention problems in math may

  • be distracted or fidgety during math tasks
  • lose his or her place while working on a math problem
  • appear mentally fatigued or overly tired when doing math

Visual Spatial or Ordering Difficulties

A student with problems in visual, spatial, or sequential aspects of mathematics may

  • be confused when learning multi-step procedures
  • have trouble ordering the steps used to solve a problem
  • feel overloaded when faced with a worksheet full of math exercises
  • not be able to copy problems correctly
  • may have difficulties reading the hands on an analog clock
  • may have difficulties interpreting and manipulating geometric configurations
  • may have difficulties appreciating changes in objects as they are moved in space

Difficulties with multiple tasks

A student with problems managing and/or merging different tasks in math may

  • find it difficult to switch between multiple demands in a complex math problem
  • find it difficult to tell when tasks can be grouped or merged and when they must be separated in a multi-step math problem
  • cannot manage all the demands of a complex problem, such as a word problem, even thought he or she may know component facts and procedures

From Misunderstood Minds

  • While these students might have trouble writing, they might do other fine motor skills well--drawing, building, playing an instrument.
  • They usually hold a pencil unlike others, either gripping it too hard or the suffer from pain after writing.
  • They can't write "fast enough" to keep up--cursive is very difficult.
  • They are often embarrassed of their written work so they write as little as possible, misleading the reading about their understanding.
  • They can often be faster on a computer, with less fatigue and better self-esteem.

from Levine, All kinds of minds, 269

Different Kinds of Memory Problems

  • Remembering new skills or new facts, even immediately after studying them
  • Remembering new skills or new facts for a short while (in the evening) and then forget them (in the morning)

Difficulty Remembering Different Kinds of Things

  • Things they see
  • Things they hear
  • Exact facts (state capitals, multiplication facts)
  • How do to certain things (long division, tying a shoelace)
  • The order of things (days in a week, months in a year)
  • Many times more than one type of memory problem exists--facts and sequences

Difficulty Writing and Composing

  • One has to remember spelling, punctuation, rules, vocabulary, ideas, organization, as well as how to actually make the letters
  • They often have trouble remembering what they were going to write because they are so consuming with remembering how to write
  • Often work too slowly--concentrating so hard on remembering so much

Above from 

Levine, All kinds of minds, 249-50

Usually More than Just Memory Problems

  • Attention and memory
  • Attention and memory and dyslexia

4 Components of Remembering are Difficult for Students with Working Memory Problems

  • Labeling (ex: wind, rain, snow, hail, temperate, savannah, tundra, moist, dry, tropical)
  • Categorization (ex: weather, climate, temperatures, biomes)
  • Association (ex: weather is to climate)
  • Organization (ex: The Effects of Climate and Weather on Landforms)
  • These students find it hard to concentrate
  • They are paying very close attention to something other than the task at hand and miss important information
  • They "take breaks" in their mind--they gaze, listen to certain sounds, think about things entirely unrelated to the current situation
  • They feel tired or bored at school
  • They often have minds that move too fast--they make careless errors
  • Sometimes they move their bodies too much and fidget and wiggle--this is the hyperactive addition
  • They are often impulsive and say whatever comes to mind, regardless of the relevance, so their conversations can be inappropriate
  • The want new situations or activities all the time, and they really want it
  • They are often very smart in other ways, and think "outside the box" because their minds are making connections in different ways

from Levine, All kinds of minds, 233-35