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A CASE STUDY: Strategies for Assisting Teachers in Supporting Learners with Learning Difficulties

Strategies for Assisting Teachers to Support Learners with Leaning Difficulties: A Case Study of Three Schools in the Motheo Education District


Case Study Details:

  • Topic: Strategies for assisting teachers in supporting learners with learning difficulties
  • Document Type: Research proposal
  • Number of Words: 16000
  • Citation/Referencing Style: Harvard


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INR10AB Introduction to Research in Education Course



This study aims at developing strategies in a quest to support teachers to address learning barriers in an inclusive classroom setting. Khan, Hashmi and Khanum (2017, 34) purport that inclusive education is the process of responding to the diversity of children through enhancing participation in classrooms and reducing exclusion from education. In a normal education setting within the South African education fraternity, there are many students who face learning difficulties and thus feel excluded. These learning difficulties are caused by many factors that range from socio-economics, abuse and many other psychological barriers that make it a daunting task for them to learn. Education is, in its own sense, a two way process. In order for such learners to learn effectively, there needs to be a proper and well-structured teaching instruction that supports them. However, many teachers do not cope with encapsulating learners into their teaching. This because there are many learning difficulties that bar learners from learning and addressing them individually appears to be a mammoth of a task for many teachers.

Folrin and Cole (1993, np) in Khan et al (2017, 35) relate that it is the responsibility of the teachers to meet the needs of all learners in classrooms regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Furthermore, Hsien (2007, np) suggests that teacher preparation for inclusive education is important for building confidence and developing positive attitude towards inclusion of learners. Teachers in ordinary schools are willing to offer their services for inclusive education, provided they are facilitated with proper training (Khan et al: 2017, 35). The instigation of this study thus wishes to explore ideas about how teachers can be supported in order for them to can assist their learners who are facing a dichotomy of learning barriers.


The problem faced by this study is that teachers are left in the periphery and do not know how to actively include learners in an education setting that has learners with learning difficulties. Since there is on one-way method to teaching, addressing learning difficulties from many learners in a classroom is a mountain to climb for many teachers. The lack of knowledge, strategy and support on how to deal with such learners, particularly from School Management Teams (SMTs), make it more challenging for such teachers.  The Statement of the problem will thus be: Assisting teachers in supporting learners with learning difficulties in an inclusive classroom setting.

1.2  Research Question

Based on the statement of the problem, the research question for this study will be: How can teachers be assisted in supporting learners with learning difficulties in an inclusive classroom setting?

Reflecting on the mentioned research question, the following research sub-questions will be applicable:

  • How can teachers be assisted to support learners with learning difficulties in an inclusive classroom setting?
  • What kind of learning difficulties are difficult for teachers to address?
  • Do learners with learning difficulties feel included in teaching and learning?



1.3  Purpose of the study.

The aim of this study is to develop strategies that will assist teachers in order for them to support learners with learning difficulties in an inclusive classroom setting.

Reflecting on the stated aim of the study, the following research objectives will be applicable:

  • Probe ways in which teachers can be assisted in supporting learners with learning difficulties in an inclusive classroom setting.
  • Investigate the different learning difficulties that are difficult for teachers to address.
  • Find out if learners are with learning difficulties feel excluded from teaching and learning.

1.4  Significance of the Study

More often than not, the department of education and the public in general focuses on learners as the producers of good or even poor results at the end of an academic year. The practice is absurd in a sense that education needs to be looked at from the angles of both the offered and the received instruction. Many learners find it difficult to learn because of the many learning barriers that they are faced with and the teachers find it difficult to teach because they do not have the necessary capacity and support to assist learners with such learning difficulties. This is the point where this study fits in- to develop strategies that will support teachers in order for them to assist learners with learning difficulties in an inclusive learning setting.

1.5  Definition of key terms



Watson and Borman (2005, 43) explain students with learning difficulties as those whose access to the curriculum is limited because of short term or persistent problems in one or more of the areas of literacy, numeracy and learning how to learn.



Inclusive education can be defined as a system of education that is responsive to thediverse needs of learners with particular focus on developing an inclusive communityand education system that is based on a value system that invites and celebrates diversity arising from gender, nationality, race, language, socio-economic background, cultural origin and level of education achievement (Mittler, 2000:14).


  1. Review of related literature.

2.1 Introduction

This segment will covet the review of literature for the intended study on how teacher can be assisted in order to manage an inclusive education classroom. The review of literature will highlight a few aspects that will solidify that indeed there exists a need for the assistance of such teachers. This section will cover the historical background, the international perspective on inclusive education and lastly the South African perspective.


2.2 Historical background

Tremblay (2007:2) in Lebona (2013, 22-23) states that historically people with any form of disabilities were often placed inhospitals, asylums, or other institutions that provided little, if any, education. During the era of extermination in Greece, disability was seen as “punishment of the gods” – hence as bad or an evil sign. Among the many great pioneers in special education, the contribution of Ovide Decroly (1871-1932) is noteworthy. Tremblay (2007:13) furthermore states that Decroly, who was a Belgian teacher and psychologist, founded a school for children with mild disabilities (behavioural disorders, learning disabilities, light mental retardation) in 1901 and he gradually invented his pedagogy for these children. In 1907 he founded a school for “ordinary” children with the same pedagogy, based on the following 4 fundamentals:

  • Hobbies and interests of the child guides the education;
  • Taking cognizance of globalization, which means that the child learns globally, without order? A complete picture must be presented to the child followed by particulars and analysis;
  • The class workshop or class laboratory is where the child lives and works, which is everywhere;
  • Recognition of the importance of a natural environment that places the child in a situation of discovery (Tremblay, 2007:27).


Gradually, during the twentieth century, voices arose asking for integration in education, thus shifting the focus to integration. Integration was initially understood to be a gradual reform of the special education system, without changing the ideology underpinning the system which advocated provision of education in special classes. In an attempt to provide education to children with disabilities, principles of mainstreaming and integration were put in practice. According to Turnbull, Turnbull, Shank, Smith and Leal (2002:77) the goal of mainstreaming was to return learners with disabilities to the mainstream of education as much as possible, alongside normally developing peers.

Most of these children were still enrolled in self-contained special classes. Swart and Pettipher (2005:7) posit that, in contrast to mainstreaming, the goal of integration was (and still is) to ensure that learners with disabilities are assigned equal membership in the community. Frederickson and Cline (2002:65) state that a further aspect that differentiated mainstreaming from integration was that special services followed the learner to the school. However, only a limited number of additional provisions were made and the onus was still on the learner to “fit in”.


For decades special schools have been the pivot of education for learners with special needs. In quite a number of countries in the western world, including South Africa, educators and administrators have put a great deal of effort into the development of a thorough and widely accepted system of special schools. Because of the unusual, special instructions provided in these schools, many function as separate, independent schools. The separate system used to be seen as an expression of the core for learners with special needs.

However, this view of special education has gradually changed as the segregation of these learners with special educational needs is now perceived as unacceptable. The prevailing view is that they should be educated together with their peers in regular education settings. The idea of inclusive education was given momentum by two conferences organized under the auspices of the United Nations. The first of these, held in Jontien, Thailand in 1990, promoted the idea of education for all; this was followed in 1994 by a UNESCO conference in Salamanca, Spain, which led to a statement that is still being used in many countries to review their education policies.





Inclusive education in Sweden is considered within the social model of disability which shifts the focus from medical to social intervention, as is the case in South Africa. Booth (2005:14) points out that the social model moves from the premise that barriers arise because of the interaction between people, i.e. learners at school and their environments. These environments have a direct influence on the progress of learners, including inter alia, policies and cultures, infrastructures, social and economic status.


In an attempt to move away from special schools, Sweden and other Scandinavian countries have long adopted an active policy of inclusion and integration of persons with disabilities in their society and schools. Flem and Keller (2008:198) state that Scandinavian countries use terminology such as ‘comprehensive schools’ and common schools for all that suit every child



Howell and Bassett (2002:59) in Lebona (2013, 41-42) state that special needs education was fragmented not only by the apartheid laws that enforced separation along racial lines, but also by legislation and policy that separated “ordinary” children from children categorized as having “special needs”. Separate education departments, governed by specific legislation and fragmented along racial lines, reinforced the divisions in the education system (Engelbrecht et al., 2002). The inequalities apparent in mainstream education were also reflected in special education.


In line with South Africa’s constitution, education policy makers in South Africa were made aware that in reconstituting education, the rights of learners described as having special educational needs would have to be given due consideration. In line with international thinking, South African inclusive education activists argue for an education system that accommodates the learning needs of diverse learners, including those with disabilities, in mainstream classrooms.

In order to illustrate the conceptualisation of inclusive education and the challenges in implementing inclusive education strategies within the South African context, it is necessary to consider the complex contextual influences that have shaped, and continue to shape, the transformation of education, including the move from conceptualising special needs within an individualistic deficits approach to needs, to a human rights approach within the social context in which life is lived out. According to Sayed (2000:102) these influences include a specific history of inequality, imbalance and In justice for the majority of the population that have shaped post-apartheid educational policy, as well as the ‘fiscal constraints that the new government inherited in 1994.

  1. Methodology

3.1  Qualitative Research Approach

This study will adopt a qualitative research approach in adhering to it aims and objectives. Mason (2012, 1) contends that through qualitative research we can explore a wide array of dimensions of the social world, including the texture and weave of everyday life, the understandings, experiences and imaginings of our research participants, the way that social processes, institutions, discourse or relationships work, and the significance of the meanings that they generate. This study will attempt to explore the social world of its participants. It will go deeper in generating knowledge about how teacher feel about their inability to support learners with learning difficulties. The qualitative research approach will assist in probing the learning experiences of learners with difficulties and concomitantly assist in finding possible solutions to their problems.

3.2  Research instruments

An interview guide will be used to guide the flow of the discourse during data collection. The questions asked will be used as an initial statement to spark a discussion. Such a question will then be discussed thoroughly by the researcher and the entire research team. Members of the research team will informed of their right to use a language of their choice. A tape recorder will be used throughout the process of data collection. The recorded discussions will later be transcribed into verbatim.

3.3 The Population and Sampling



3.3.1 Population


The population of this study will comprise of teachers, principals, learners and school-based support teams of the selected schools in the Motheo Education District.


3.3.2 Sample

Three primary schools will be selected by means of purposive sampling to participate in the study.


3.4 Sampling techniques

Purposive sampling involves the researcher who should select what he/she thinks is a ‘typical sample’ (Walliman, 2005:279).  In this instance two secondary schools and a primary school will be chosen.  Strydom and Delport (2005, np) explain that in purposive sampling, the researcher should first think critically about the parameters of the population and choose the sample cases accordingly.  In the case of this study, the researcher will first investigate which schools (participants) would provide rich detail so as to maximize the quality of information that is to be obtained.


3.5  Data Collection Procedures

3.5.1 Interviews

Stringer (1999, 68) in Macdonald (2012, 42) explains that interviews are a method used in qualitative research which “enable participants to describe their situation”. Interviewing offers researchers access to people’s ideas thoughts and memories in their own words rather that the words of the researcher. Bergold and Thomas (2012, 11) maintain that interviews conducted in the context of qualitative research mostly are semi-structured.


Van Teijlingen (2014, 17) explains that semi-structured interviews include predetermined questions, but order can be modified based upon the interviewer’s perception of what seems most appropriate.

Van Teiljlingen provides the following characteristics of semi-structured interviews:

  • Every participant gets same key questions asked
  • The researcher is flexible with the way questions are asked
  • Probing questions are used
  • They are particularly useful for exploring the views of a person towards something.

The researcher will draw reference from the above characteristics of semi-structured interviews in conducting the interviews. A set of questions will be used to find direction in response to the actual research questions of the study. Each research question will consist of an array of questions that will attempt to facilitate in detail, issues that will respond to the main research question or research sub-questions concerned.

All key questions will be followed sequentially. Where necessary, probing questions will be asked to get more detail about the question asked. The researcher will, however, be careful not to ask probing questions that might influence the response of the research member.

3.6  Data analysis

The researcher will adopt content analysis to analyze the gathered data: data gathered from the interviews will be was organized, transcribed, segmented and coded. From the various codes, themes or categories will be established inductively to facilitate interpretation and presentation of findings.

3.7  Ethical Considerations

Morolong (2007: 59-60)  cites that according to (Johnson & Christensen, 2000: 69; Eita, 2007: 50) the following guidelines are important in assuring the ethical acceptability of a research: The researcher obtained the informed consent of the participants; No deception was justified by the study’s scientific, educational or applied values; It was also highlighted that the participants were free to withdraw from this research at  any time; The participants were protected from physical and mental discomfort, harm and danger that might have arisen from the research procedures; The participants remained anonymous and the confidentiality of the participants was protected; It was stressed that it was voluntary to participate in this study, because, according to Leedy and Ormrod (2001: 101) “people being studied must be willing participants in it”.

The researcher is well aware that any non-compliance with the standard ethical considerations of the research will render his research project null and void. Prior to the process of data collection, permissions to undertake the study will be requested from the Free State Provincial Department of Education. A brief outline of the study and its intended benefits will be submitted with the request. Cases of assents, consents, permissions will also be well executed.




3.8 Limitations of the study

The arm of the study will only be extended to three school within the Motheo Education District. This could limit the broader outlook and the scope of the research outcomes. For more representative results, more schools would need to be engaged. Equally, the number of willing participants to formulate part of the forum might be a limiting factor as working with people on a voluntary basis always proves to be mountain to climb. The study will have to be executed outside school time, so it might be a challenge to put together all members during a time when they have to be dealing with their personal business.


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