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Principles for Students With Learning Disabilities


The United States Department of education, working closely with the Council of Governors, has been struggling to ensure that there is a universal implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) across the country. The initiative is a typical standardized approach to teaching content and learning approaches in formal institutions in the United States and other parts of the world. According to Joseph et al. (2015), education experts have criticized the standardized approach to teaching and learning because of the varying capabilities of learners. The specific focus of this study is to review information about the existing reading intervention strategies based on the universal design of learning principles for individuals with learning disabilities. Students with disabilities still face numerous challenges as the current because some of the principles and practices that guide their learning process do not specifically focus on their unique condition. A child with Down syndrome has different educational needs compared to the other who is either blind or deaf. Scholars and education experts have been focused on finding reading interventions based on the universal design for learning principles that can help all students with learning disabilities.

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The review of literature investigates what other scholars have found out with the primary goal of identifying knowledge gaps or conflicting facts so that they can be addressed effectively. It is important to note that the study had some limitations, one of which was the source of the data (Galvan & Galvan, 2017). The author of this document (also referred to as the researcher or the author throughout this paper) relied only on secondary sources of information. The author excluded sources published earlier than 2015, although some of them had important information that could help in enhancing knowledge about the issue. Despite the existence of these delimitations, the researcher identified informative articles that provided critical information to the issue under investigation. A detailed approach of screening the sources, as discussed in the section below, helped in meeting the primary goal of the study.

Methodology Table with Detailed Audit Trail of Electronic Resources

Managing the needs of learners with disabilities is an area of research that has attracted the attention of many scholars over the years. According to Rao and Meo (2016), different studies have been conducted addressing various aspects of the issue. As such, numerous secondary sources exist that can help in informing this specific study. However, the limited time meant that the researcher had to select specific sources considered most relevant to the investigation. These sources had to directly address the author’s aim of the study. The researcher developed a specific inclusion criterion that each of the sources had to meet to be considered suitable for the project.

The process of narrowing the articles to determine their worthiness started with the general identification of sources as explained in stage 1 of table 1 below. Various online databases were identified and the search led to the identification of 75 sources. The selection process narrowed further based on the specificity of the sources. At this stage, the author was interested in selecting sources that directly address the aim of the study, and 46 items met the criteria. The third stage involved determining the year of publication. The researcher chose to use sources published not earlier than 2015. It was necessary to have current sources. The fourth stage focused on selecting scholarly articles. It meant that books and other non-scholarly publications were eliminated at this stage. The final step was to identify articles that were at least 10 pages, leading to the selection of 5 sources.

Table 1: Audit Trail of the Sources.

Stages of Selecting Sources Process Used for Narrowing to the Articles: Determining Their Worthiness Search Term/Phrase Used Number of Articles
Stage 1: General identification of Sources Journal articles on the selected topic were identified from six main databases, which include PsycINFO, Education Research Complete, JSTOR, Cochrane Library, Academic Search Premier, and ScienceDirect. At this stage, the rationale for selecting the articles was that they had to reflect the topic of discussion. -Designs for learning
-Student with learning disabilities
-Reading interventions
Stage 2: First stage of elimination (Specificity of the articles) The first stage of narrowing down the articles was the determination of the specificity of the topic. The researcher ensured that the selected articles were directly based on the topic under the review.
  • Universal design for learning
  • Principles of UDL
  • Students with learning disabilities
Stage 3: Second stage of elimination (Year of publication) The researcher narrowed the sources further based on the date of their publication. The review was based on recently published articles (Sources not older than 2015) -Articles published in 2015 or earlier 28
Stage 4: Third stage of elimination (Scholarly/peer-reviewed sources) The review was limited to peer-reviewed/scholarly sources. It means that books and other non-peer-reviewed sources were eliminated at this stage. -Scholarly/peer-reviewed articles 14
Stage 5: Fourth stage of elimination: Number of pages for each source The final stage of selecting the sources involved determining if they are at least 10 pages in length -Have at least 4 pages in length 5

The five-staged process enabled the researcher to identify 5 main articles that effectively discuss the issue under investigation. There was no form of bias when selecting the materials used in the study. The goal was to select trustworthy sources that offer meaningful information. From the time a learning material was located in stage 1 to the time the relevant number was selected, as shown in the above table, care was taken to review additional issues such as the method they used and their reliability. The process that was followed is summarized in figure 1 below.

Audit trail of the sources.
Figure 1. Audit trail of the sources.

Analysis in Tables

During the review of the literature, one of the first factors that the researcher considered was to define some of the primary terms used in this study. Defining the terms was essential in enhancing the understanding of the content of the paper. Some of the key terms and phrases used extensively in this document include learning designs, principles, reading interventions, students with learning disabilities, and universal. Each of them is defined in table 2 below:

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Table 2: Terms.

Terms Meaning
Learning designs A framework that is meant to support learning experiences (Joseph et al., 2015).
Principles Value/proposition which guides evaluation or behavior (Rao & Meo, 2016).
Reading interventions Strategies and activities used to assist struggling learners to develop their reading abilities (Al-Azawei et al., 2017).
Students with learning disabilities A learner with physical or mental challenges making their learning process different from other learners (Rao & Meo, 2016).
Universal Can be applicable to everyone/ applied in all cases (Joseph et al., 2015).

The research was based on the five journal articles chosen for the study. Each of them was selected based on their validity and reliability to enhance trustworthiness in this study instead of allowing bias to inform findings made. Table 3 below identifies each of the five studies, participants that were involved in data collection, the research method used, and findings made.

Table 3: Participants, methodology, and findings.

Study (Author) Participants Methodology Findings
Al-Azawei et al. (2017) Undergraduate students A mixed research design, combining action and survey methods “Using educational technologies to address curricula limitations is a bridge to enhancing learner willingness to accept e-learning” (p. 77).
Al-Azawei et al. (2016) K-12 students with disabilities A randomized pretest-posttest control group design “The traditional teaching approach of ‘one-size-fits-all’ cannot meet learner diversity in contemporary learning” (p. 53).
Joseph et al. (2015) K-12 students with or without abilities A quantitative research design based on a survey Teachers are in the best position to identify the unique needs of their students and develop effective mechanisms of meeting them.
Leidig et al. (2018) K-12 students with varying capabilities A randomized pretest-posttest control group design Supporting struggling learners during their final elementary school year using the RAP strategy in a peer-tutorial setting significantly enhances their skills when this intervention continues for weeks.
Rao and Meo (2016) Relied on solely on secondary sources A literature review Teachers have the capacity and primary responsibility to identify goals aligned with academic standards but reflect learners’ capabilities.

As discussed in the tables above, the five articles formed the background of the information presented in this paper. Instead of conducting a strength/weaknesses analysis for each of the five journals, limitations such as time and the word count have made it necessary to conduct a general analysis of the weakness of the method itself. Table 4 below lists the general strengths and weaknesses of the method used to conduct this study.

Table 4: Methodology strengths and weaknesses.

  • Sources were peer-reviewed/scholarly journals
  • All the sources are current (published recently)
  • Sources are detailed enough to provide the needed information
  • Some sources were restricted to North America, making them less applicable in other jurisdiction
  • Useful but outdated sources were not included in the list

It was necessary to identify some memorable quotes from the five primary articles used in the study. The quotations helped in emphasizing facts brought out in each of the sources used. In this case, as well as in the previous cases, the researcher was keen to avoid personal bias when selecting quotes. Each of the quotations was chosen based on how well they reflected the information presented in the entire text. They were considered an effective summary of facts presented in the five journals. Table 5 below outlines the quotations:

Table 5: Quotable statements.

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Article Quote
Al-Azawei et al. (2017) “E-learning should be blended with effective pedagogical approaches to deliver accessible learning and meet learner needs” (p. 56).
Al-Azawei et al. (2016) “The UDL evidence-based principles are grounded on the findings of neuroscience, where the human brain activates three main neural networks during any instructional experience” (p. 41).
Joseph et al. (2015) “Evaluation of the quality of students’ questions may provide important insight into which strategies result in the best self-generated questions” (p. 17).
Leidig et al. (2018) “The ability to extract meaning from written text develops over time” (p. 232).
Rao and Meo (2016) “Despite the fact that learner variability exists in all classrooms, UDL-based lesson development does not compel the teacher to develop unique paths for each student’s needs” (p. 1).


The outcome of the review of the current literature identified important facts worth discussing at this stage. As Al-Azawei et al. (2017) explain, it is necessary to develop reading interventions based on the universal design for learning principles meant to help learners with physical or mental challenges. The government has remained committed to revising the curriculum to reflect the changing market needs. It should be realized that students who graduate from institutions of higher learning have the necessary skills and a given level of experience that employers require. The biggest problem is that in this process of improving the curriculum, stakeholders have ignored the needs of students with different challenges. Leidig et al. (2018) believe that individuals with learning disabilities need a unique approach, based on their condition, which can enable them to gain knowledge at the same rate as their colleagues without such challenges. The study shows that it may not be easy to have a universal approach to managing challenges associated with various disabilities because of diversity. However, technology is becoming an important tool that can be used to address the problem.

The viewpoint of the researcher is that teachers should be actively involved in developing educational policies and curriculum because they are in the best position to understand and address the unique challenges of their pupils. The CCSS has received significant opposition across the country because important stakeholders such as teachers and parents were not involved. As such, it failed to address some of the critical issues which have been outlined in this report. The researcher believes that although the general classification of the challenges that learners face may be the first step towards solving the problem, it should not be considered the ultimate solution. For instance, individuals classified as having learning challenges may be suffering from dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or Dyscalculia.

Each of these conditions is unique and a universal method cannot be used to manage them. It requires the teacher, working closely with the parent, to identify the condition correctly and determine how the problem should be solved (Al-Azawei et al., 2016). For a long time, parents have been left out in solving such issues although they are also in a good position to diagnose the problem of their children. The knowledge gap identified in this review is on how parents can work closely with teachers to diagnose these conditions and find ways of assisting the learner. This is a lingering question that deserves further study. The issue of budgeting for these students should be factored by the government. Within the Department of Education, it is necessary to have an annual financial allocation to help in the implementation of policies meant to help learners with disabilities.

Conclusion and Implications

Reading interventions for students with learning disabilities has become essential. Research has proven that besides some of the traditional learning disabilities such as the deaf and the blind, numerous other mental conditions make it difficult for one to grasp new knowledge at a normal rate. Some of these conditions were believed to completely impair a learner to the extent that they may not have the capacity to learn. However, recent studies have suggested that with proper assistance, they can become self-reliant as adults. Using universal designs for learning principles has traditionally been used to address such problems. However, this study has indicated that the diversity of some of these learning challenges makes it undesirable to use universal approaches. Each learner has unique challenges that require specific solutions.

The primary theme in this study is the need for teachers to be allowed to play a major role in assisting these learners with disabilities. Studies suggest that they are in the best capacity to understand the weaknesses in each of their students. They can help in developing a means of solving these problems. Parental involvement is another major theme that comes out of the analysis. The outcome of this study will primarily benefit learners with disabilities, especially those suffering from rare mental conditions. It is expected that stakeholders in the education sector will realize the significance of giving them special focus instead of using general principles and concepts of managing their conditions. Teachers will also benefit because they will be involved in solving problems they face when handling special needs learners. Parents will also benefit from it by having an educational system that is sensitive to the needs of their children. The primary practical implication of this study is that it will redefine a reading intervention approach when handling learners with disabilities.


Al-Azawei, A., Serenelli, F., & Lundqvist, K. (2016). Universal design for learning (UDL): A content analysis of peer-reviewed journal papers from 2012 to 2015. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(3), 39-56. Web.

Al-Azawei1, A., Parslow, P., & Lundqvist, K. (2017). The effect of universal design for learning (UDL) application on e-learning acceptance: A structural equation model. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(6), 54-80.

Galvan, J. L. & Galvan, C. G. (2017). Writing literature reviews: A guide for students of the social and behavioral sciences (3rd ed.). Taylor & Francis.

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Joseph, L. M., Alber-Morgan, S., Cullen, J., & Rouse, C. (2015). The effects of self-questioning on reading comprehension: A literature review. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 4(1), 1-22, Web.

Leidig, T., Grünke, M., Urton, K., Knaak, T., Hisgen, S. (2018). The effects of the rap strategy used in a peer-tutoring setting to foster reading comprehension in high-risk fourth graders. A Contemporary Journal, 16(2), 231-253.

Rao, K., & Meo, G. (2016). Using universal design for learning to design standards-based lessons. Sage Open, 2(1), 1-12. Web.

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