diverse learners

Diverse Learners are children who, because of gender, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, differing ability levels, learning styles or disabilities, may have needs that require varied instructional strategies to help them learn.


The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University. The theory suggests that traditional ways of understanding intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, are too limited. Dr. Gardner said our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, but there are 6 other types of intelligences that get less attention in society but are equally important. The 8 types of intelligences are:

Our culture places a high value on people with strong language and logic skills. However, the theory of multiple intelligences helps us develop children who show gifts in the other intelligences: the future artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, mechanics, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live.

Being aware of multiple intelligences helps teachers present information multiple ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more. It helps all learners succeed.


Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers develop at different rates and patterns. Most children acquire skills during predictable time periods called developmental milestones. When children have not reached milestones by the expected time period, it can be due to a developmental delay or a developmental difference. Developmental delays and differences can occur in any of 5 areas (cognitive, social, emotional, speech and language, fine and gross motor).


Types of developmental delays/differences include:

Early identification/treatment

Early identification seeks to determine which children have developmental issues that may delay learning or place them at risk.

For some children, developmental differences and delays are temporary; for others, they may persist, making the child’s referral for evaluation important for their success in school. Currently, there are no clear ways to predict whether developmental delays or differences that appear in the early years may persist.

Research has shown earlier assistance to address a developmental delay or difference helps the child progress faster, and face fewer challenges to learning. Therefore, when a toddler or preschooler demonstrates early developmental difficulties, we don’t know if they may at risk for a learning disability or other developmental issue at an older age, but adopting a wait-and-see approach or hoping that the child will grow out of their problems is not in the child’s best interest.

Signs of developmental delays/differences [see Appendix]

When to intervene

Educators’ jobs are not to diagnose, but it is important that teachers be aware and act on signs of developmental delays/differences. You should take action if:

Getting a child help

The journey from identifying a child with developmental/behavioral concerns to implementing a treatment plan has multiple steps:

Step 1: Implement principles of universal design. [see Learning Environment section]

Step 2: Implement individualized accommodations and keep notes.

Step 3: Meet with family. Refer child for assessment if appropriate.

Step 4: Create a plan for support with family.

Steps occur as needed.

Steps 1 and 2: Universal Design and Individualized Interventions

All classrooms have principles of universal design and accommodations built into the classroom. Step 1 is in place.

If the teaching team has concerns about a child’s development, or if the child is experiencing social, physical, or behavioral difficulties in the classroom or in informal interactions with peers, the teaching team should:


Try This…
  • Paying attention
  • Give explanations in small, distinct steps
  • Provide visual backup to oral instructions (schedules)
  • Have child repeat directions
  • Look directly at child
  • Place hand on child’s shoulder
  • Ask for eye contact before giving instructions
  • Following directions
  • Use fewer words
  • Provide examples
  • Repeat
  • Have child repeat
  • Provide checklist in pictures
  • Use auditory and visual direction
  • Expressing themselves
  • Ask questions requiring short answers
  • Provide prompts/cues
  • Learning by listening
  • Provide visuals
  • Give explanations in small, distinct steps
  • Remove extra words
  • Provide schedules/routines in pictures
Step 3: Meet with family. Refer the child for assessment if appropriate

If individualized interventions and strategies fail, and the child continues to show delays and/or differences, the teaching team and director should meet with the parents to recommend further evaluation or special services and develop a referral plan. In the meeting, the parents should receive a written summary of the reason for referral, a summary of First Circle’s observations related to the referral, and any efforts the school has made to accommodate the child’s needs.

Communicating with Parents

Many families are open to seeking assessment and services by qualified professionals if warranted. However, some families may have difficulty hearing the information. They may deny a problem exists because they fear or feel threatened by its possibilities and consequences.

Family cooperation is crucial to helping a child address a developmental issue. Teachers must recognize and be sensitive to family responses, including cultural differences in viewing and addressing a disability, and provide appropriate support.