Learner Variables to Consider in Meeting Individual Needs

The factors that teachers should consider in meeting the individual needs of students include prior knowledge, language and cultural background, rate of learning/ amount of instructional time, and interests and attitudes. These factors should be considered for all students, including students experiencing difficulty, students acquiring English, gifted and talented students, and students of diverse cultural backgrounds.

Prior Knowledge

All students come to the classroom with a prior knowledge base. Researchers have clearly shown that this prior knowledge is important in how students develop literacy and learn to construct meaning (Anderson & Pearson, 1984). All instruction should build on the students' prior knowledge and not penalize them for what they bring to the classroom (Rigg & Allen, 1989).

Language and Cultural Background

Classrooms are composed of students from an increasingly wide range of language backgrounds (Rigg & Allen, 1989; Weber, 1991). Students who are non-English speakers benefit from beginning to read in their first language (Barrera, 1983). However, research also indicates that they benefit from beginning to read and write in English before they have completely mastered the English language.

The instruction and experiences that non-English speakers receive should draw upon the literacy skills developed in their first language. In learning to read and write, non-native English speakers benefit from the same types of instruction as native English speakers (Boyle & Peregoy, 1990).

Considering the cultural background of students is also important because the way in which students are expected to learn, interact, and use language in school may not match the way children learn at home (Allen, 1991).

Rate of Learning/Instructional Time

Children vary according to the rates at which they acquire reading and writing ability. Therefore, the amount of time available for literacy learning is important (Denham & Lieberman, 1980).

Schools need to organize instruction so that children needing more time to learn are provided access to larger amounts of high-quality literacy instruction (Allington, 1991). The small-group, pullout design used frequently in schools rarely increases the amount of instructional time required to provide students the support they need (Denham & Lieberman, 1980; Kiesling, 1978). Interest and Interest and attitudes also affect success in learning to read and write.


Students comprehend materials that interest them much better than they do materials that do not. They also seem able to read above their frustration level when they find materials highly interesting (Belloni & Jongsma, 1978). Students' own expectations and attitudes about their reading and perceptions of themselves also influence how they learn to read and write (Butkowsky & Willows, 1980).
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