Essential Skills for Struggling Learners: A Framework for Student Support Teams

Erik Von Hahn, Sheldon Horowitz, Caroline Linse

Research output: Book/ReportBook


To provide the right supports for struggling students in grades pre-K to 12, your school team needs a thorough understanding of the skills that contribute to learning—and a systematic way to help students with a wide range of learning difficulties. This innovative planning guide is your key to identifying and prioritizing the essential skills that students with and without learning difficulties need to succeed.

This book presents 11 key domains of learning—divided into neurological, developmental, and educational domains—and gives your team a complete, collaborative plan for pinpointing where students need help and adapting your supports to meet those needs. For each of the 11 domains, the authors offer a logical framework that consists of critical skill sets and skills your students need for learning success. Every domain gets a dedicated chapter that helps you:

Understand why the domain is essential to learning in both special and general education
Learn about the research and resources used to develop the framework for that domain
Take a deep dive and master key terms and definitions
Discover how the skills associated with each domain develop in typical learners
Find students who are struggling by making good observations, and by identifying missing or underdeveloped skills
Identify your students’ strengths so you can help them build and expand on their skills
Clearly communicate your observations to all team members
Build better intervention plans and IEPs using the specific educational objectives, teaching strategies, and accommodations suggested in each chapter
PRACTICAL MATERIALS: Each chapter offers an in-depth Case Study example, a Skills Observation Sheet for notetaking during student observations, and a Skills Framework for use as a quick reference on skills when making observations and developing IEPs. Two practical appendices walk school professionals and team leaders through the collaborative process of putting the frameworks in the book into practice.

Support students in 11 domains of learning:
Vision Skills
Hearing Skills
Motor Skills
Formal Language Skills
Pragmatic Language Skills
Social Skills
Executive Skills
Affect and Self-Regulation Skills
Reading Skills
Writing Skills
Math Skills

Section I focuses on neurological functions and associated skills necessary for learning.
Although all of the skill sets discussed in this book have a neurological basis, the three discussed in this first section (vision, hearing, and motor skills) are especially dependent on intact biological structures. The term neurological is used for this section to highlight the importance of biology. Without intact neurological structures, it is more difficult for students to develop
the skills that are discussed in this chapter and the two that follow. This chapter is focused on
vision and will introduce key components of vision, all of which are critical to successful functioning at school and elsewhere.
As a first step, it is important to recognize that vision is a complex skill set that includes
unique and separate components. Because of the many skills discussed in each chapter, frameworks were organized into skill sets and skills. The term skill set refers to a category or group of skills. Skill sets are further divided into component functions and skills. When one considers all of the skills that make up each framework, the importance of categorizing skills this way becomes clear. For example, normal vision does not include only the function or the skill of seeing objects clearly at near and at a distance. Normal vision includes many other functions and skills, such as the capacity to see clearly, even if lighting conditions change. Normal vision includes being able to use of the full field of vision, extending nearly 180 degrees in all directions and involves the ability to see colors. It allows for the capacity to notice subtle differences in reflected light to make out differences in depth or surface texture, a capacity used to notice changes in ground surfaces while walking or in facial expressions while speaking to a friend. Vision not only allows us to understand three- dimensional space that is visible but also allows us to understand three dimensional space that is imagined. Further, normal vision is dependent on motor skills. The
motor skills required to move the eyes allow us to look at and focus on objects that are either
stationary or moving, as well as to look at and focus on objects, while we are ourselves moving.
In sum, vision consists of many skills. Impairments in any of the different components that contribute to vision can interfere with the functions and skills just listed and can affect participation at school and elsewhere. As will be evident later in this chapter and throughout the book, it is important and challenging to organize so many skills into a logical framework.

The reader will notice that these first chapters (vision, hearing, and motor skills) list anatomical structures in addition to skill sets and skills. This chapter first presents key aspects of visual anatomical structures. The Vision Skills Framework then introduces the visual functions
and skills that are so important to learning. The chapter goes on to explain how to set up an observation and how to build an intervention plan or an individualized education program
(IEP) with objectives and strategies focused on vision. It wraps up with a Case Example of a
child with a vision impairment and provides a brief summary and conclusion.
There are four anatomical and functional aspects to vision:
1. Ocular muscles

2. Ocular structures: Cornea, pupil, iris, lens, and retina

3. Connections between the eye and the brain: Optic nerve, optic chiasm, optic tract, and
geniculate body (These connections and the connections to the visual cortex are collectively
referred to as the visual axis.)

4. Neurological structures that support visual processing by the brain: Connections between
the geniculate body and visual cortex; connections between the visual cortex and other parts of the brain
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationBaltimore
PublisherPaul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
Number of pages440
ISBN (Print)9781681252551, 1681252554
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • special education


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