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Teacher's Strategy in Teaching English to Students with Intellectual Disability: Work with Mental Retardation Students

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Concept of Teaching and Learning

Teaching and Learning are two things that cannot be separated because both of them support each other. Teaching activities cannot do without involving learning activities. Here are the definitions;

a. Teaching

Teaching is a process of sharing the knowledge and experience from one person to let another person know and learn. Brown states that “Teaching is showing or helping to learn how to do something, giving instruction, guiding the study of something, providing with knowledge, causing to know or understand” (Brown, 2000). In short, teaching is showing or helping someone with new knowledge.

From the definition theories about teaching above, it can be concluded that teaching is about helping someone to learn how to do something. According to, Hornby (1986) defines teaching is giving instruction in order for somebody to know or be able to do something. It can be done by giving the learners instructions of how to do that or by guiding them in doing the thing that they expected to learn. Someone who does teaching is used to be called as a teacher, while the one who is taught is used to be called as a learner. The main purpose of teaching is indeed, to make the learners know or understand how to do something she/he expected to learn.

Teaching is not an easy matter. There are many skills needed in changing someone from not knowing anything into knowing or understanding how to do something. In most cases, students are studying just because they are forced to do that. They just do what their parents want them to do. Whereas, the first thing to do in acquiring knowledge or knowing how to do something is having a desire. Students must have a desire or at least a curiosity if they want to know how to do something. It is a teacher’s duty to implant a desire or a curiosity in his/her student’s mind. It can be done if a teacher knows how to make his/her lesson interesting for students. Besides that, a teacher has to create a good relationship with his/her students if he/she wants the teaching process runs well.

b. Learning

Learning is process of acquiring new knowledge. According to Brown (2000), learning is acquisition or getting, learning is retention of information skill, and learning involves some forms of practice, perhaps reinforced practiced”. Also, Copp (2009), states that learning is the lifelong process of transforming information and experience into knowledge, skills, behaviors, and attitudes. Someone can be said as a learner if he/she is intended to acquire knowledge of a subject or a skill by study. In the process of teaching, there are many practices involved. Someone cannot acquire knowledge just by a single practice. He/she has to do practices repeatedly. The main purpose of learning is to know or understand how to do something. In this case, the learner’s desire and motivation play so significant roles. Those two things determine whether the learner can really acquire knowledge or not.

Teaching Strategy

Teaching strategies refer to the structure, system, methods, techniques, procedures, and processes that a teacher uses during instruction. Smilansky (1968,1990) as cited in Perry (2011) defined teaching strategy as the way of teacher to play with children. Moreover, OECD (2010) also described teacher strategy as a combination of process where the teacher manages the class and used all the facilities to enhance students’ understanding. There are some types of teaching strategies such as expository strategies, cooperative learning, inquiry, contextual teaching and learning, and problem-based learning. All of those strategies are not fit for all the material. It depended on the context. One strategy might fit to one particular topic but it does not certainly fit to the other topic so that the teacher has to have the ability to choose the best one.

In addition, there are some factors that influence teaching strategies. Those factors are related to teacher, student, environment, and the lesson Balachandran (2015). The factors relating to the teachers include the knowledge to use the resources, the ability to manage the class, doing adjustments based on students’ learning styles. Moreover, the factors relating to the students are class composition, grade level, benefit from a certain instruction, and students’ engagement. Meanwhile, the factors relating to environment consist of the resources of learning that support the learning process. At last, the factor relating to the lesson is developing contextual learning which relates the lesson with the real life.


a. Definition of Disable

All children must have some difference either physically (some are shorter, some are higher, some are stronger and some are weaker) or intelligently (some learn quickly and are able to remember and use what they have learned in a new situation, while others need repeated practice and have difficulty maintaining new knowledge). Hence, children who showed these differences either physically or intelligently are called exceptional children. This term refers to children with learning or behavior problems, children with physical disabilities or sensory impairments, and children who are intellectually gifted or have a special talent. Wardani (2009) this term includes children who have difficulties in learning as well as those who have excellent performance that modifications in curriculum and instruction are necessary to help them fulfill their potential. Also according to World Health Organization stated that a disabled is any restriction or lack (resulting from impairment) of ability to perform an activity in the manner or within the range considered normal for a being human being. In short, disability is a short from special education needs and is a way to refer to students with disable.

A learning disabled student has poor auditory memory both short term and long term, has a low tolerance level and a high frustration level, has a weak or poor self-esteem, is easily distractible, and finds it difficult, if it impossible, so stay in task for extended periods of time, is spontaneous in expression: often cannot control emotion, is easily confused, is verbally demanding, has some difficulty in working with other group settings, has difficulty in following complicated direction or remembering direction for extended period of time, has coordination problem with both large and small muscle group, has inflexibility of thought: is difficult to persuade otherwise, has poor had writing skills and has a poor concept of time.

b. Kinds of Disable

Based on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), there are 13 categories of children with special needs such as Autism, Blindness, Deafness, Emotional Disturbance, Hearing Impairment, Intellectual Disability, Multiple Disabilities, Orthopedic Impairment, Other Health Impairment, Specific Learning Disability, Speech or Language Impairment, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Visual Impairment. (The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities, 2012). According to Fisher and Cumings (2008), there are seven types of learning difficulties: problems in speaking and listening, in reading, in writing, difficulties in learning mathematics, in organization skills, and problems with social skills and motor skills.

The term students with disabilities are more restrictive than exceptional children because it does not include gifted and talented children. The categories of exceptional children according Heward (2006) are:

  • a. Blind and Low Vision

Blindness is often thought to be complete loss of vision with no remaining perception of light. However, this ultimate form of blindness is rare. Far more students have a permanent loss of some, but not all, of their eyesight. Blindness can be either congenital (occurring before or at birth) or is acquired as a result of trauma or a medical disorder.

  • b. Autism Spectrum

Autism Spectrum disorders are defined as neurodevelopmental disorders described as persistent deficits which limit the student’s ability to access the educational process. Symptoms must have been present in the early developmental period and caused limitations in social, academic, occupational, or other important areas of current functioning.

  • c. Intellectual Disability (Id)

The definition of intellectual disability is a student who exhibits below-average intellectual functioning and potential for measurable achievement in instructional and employment settings.

  • d. Learning Disability (Ld)

Deinition of learning disabilities is a persistent condition of presumed neurological dysfunction which may exist with other disabling conditions. This dysfunction continues despite instruction in standard classroom situations. Students with learning disabilities exhibit average to above average intelligence ability, severe processing deficits, severe aptitude-achievement discrepancies, and measured achievement in an instructional or employment setting.

  • e. Deaf And Hard Of Hearing (Dhh)

Deafness refers to a profound hearing loss of 90 decibels or greater. Hard of Hearing refers to those students who have some residual hearing. Hearing loss may be conductive when there is a disruption of the transmission of sound through the outer and/or middle ear or sensor neural, which is due to sensory or nerve damage in the inner ear, auditory nerve, or auditory cortex of the brain. When the deafness is congenital (occurring before or at birth) or prelingual (before the age of about three when spoken language is normally acquired) the student will have significant communication impairments resulting from having a restricted exposure to language and social frame of reference when learning to speak, write, or lip read.

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Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disability (South Africa, Australia), mental retardation (America) or learning disability (United Kingdom) all represent names which communities use to draw some sort of line between what is considered to be the difference between normal and subnormal intellectual functioning. Mental retardation (MR) refers to sub-average general intellectual functioning which originates during the development period of the child and is associated with impairment in adaptive behavior (Solanki et al. 2015). It is a genetic disorder manifested significantly below-average overall intellectual functioning and deficits in adaptive behavior (Armates 2009). Also according to AAMR (1994, 2002) Mental retardation is a sub-average intellectual functioning and limitation in adaptive skills such as communication, self-care, social skills, health, safety, and work and is manifested before the age of 18 years. Intellectual Disability is characterized by impaired intellectual, adaptive functioning, and has an IQ less than 70 with difficulty in daily living activity (ADL). It is a condition of incomplete development of the mind, which is generally characterized by impairment of skills and is manifested during the development period, which contributes to overall level of intelligence. In short, intellectual disability is a person with IQ less than 70.

In Indonesia, intellectual disability is also called Tuna Grahita. The words “Tuna Grahita” come from the word “Tuna” and “Grahita”. Tuna means lost, while Grahita means thought or mind. Besides that, there are some other terms which refer to Tuna Grahita such as Mental Retardation, Mental Deficiency, and Mental Defective (Somantri, 2007). It is said by Kemis and Rosnawati (2013:10) that Tuna Grahita is a disability of general intelligence function which is sub-average, that is below 70 based on standard intelligence test. This disability also affects the adaptable attitude which happens before the age of 18. Hence, intellectual disability in Indonesia also called Tuna Grahita.

Children with intellectual disabilities which is sometimes referred to as cognitive impairment or mental retardation can take longer to learn to speak, walk and take care of their individual needs such as dressing or dining (Ozmen and Atbasi, 2016). They are likely to have problems learning at school. They will learn, but it takes them longer though there may be some things they cannot learn. Children with mild intellectual disability (ID) have a lot of learning difficulties. They are developing according to the rules that apply to all children, but their development process is slower than usual and limited according to the level of the ID (Ajdinski, Keskinova, and Memedi, 2017). As a group, students with intellectual disabilities exhibit difficulties in a wide range of academic skills, including acquiring basic academic skills (Slikker, 2009). Like other types of disabilities, intellectual disability has different levels. These levels provide a good indication of the amount of attendance students will need to reach their full potential. An average child of 4, 5 or 6 years old should be able to speak intelligibly, and should also be able to do the basic life activities without the assistance from an adult person (Kuyini, 2015). However, when that is not the case, an adult who has the intellectual abilities and adaptive behavior skills of a ten (10) year old would be thought and considered to have a mild intellectual disability (ID). In short, children with intellectual disability have problems in learning at school and take longer time to learn.

Level of Intellectual Disability Students

Mental retardation students have varying degrees of severity. These are the level of mental retardation and its criteria according to Grossman (1973):

1) Mild Mental Retardation

At this level, a person takes longer to learn to talk, but can communicate well once he or she knows how fully independent in self-care, has problems with reading and writing, is socially immature, is unable to deal with responsibilities of marriage or parenting, may benefit from specialized education plans, has an IQ range of 50 to 69, may have associated conditions, including autism, epilepsy, or physical disability.

2) Moderate Mental Retardation

At this level, a person is slow in understanding and using language, has only a limited ability to communicate, can learn basic reading, writing, counting skills, is a slow learner, is unable to live alone, can get around on own, can take part in simple social activities, and has an IQ range of 35 to 49.

3) Serve Mental Retardation

At this level, a person has noticeable impairment, has severe damage to and/or abnormal development of central nervous system, and has an IQ range of 20 to 34.

4) Profound Mental Retardation

At this level, a person is unable to understand or comply with requests or instructions, must wear adult diapers, uses very basic nonverbal communication, cannot care for own needs, requires constant help and supervision, has an IQ of less than 20.

The Causes of Intellectual Disability

Generally, Intellectual Disability or Tuna Grahita is caused by some factors which have been built in from pre or post-natal, and each student has different causes which bring them to disability. According to Kemis and Rosnawati (2013: 15), those factors are:

  1. 1) Genetic Factor

Genetic factor happens when there is Biochemical Disorder or Abnormality Chromosome in human body.

  1. 2) Pre-Natal Factor
  • a) Rubella Infection
  • b) RhesusFactor
  1. 3) Pre-natal accidents which happen during the process of birth.
  2. 4) Post-natal accidents which are caused by infection such as meningitis and nutritient problems of which the children are lack of nutrients and proteins.
  3. 5) Socio-Cultural Factor

This factor includes the ways of society and cultures affect disabled students in their self-development, particularly in their intelligence. These may come from family, friends, relatives, society, and certain cultures.

  1. 6) Metabolism Disorders

Metabolism disorder is caused from chemical process in body which is not organized.

In conclusion, adult people have to know the causes of disabled student’s type Tuna Grahita in order to give early solutions, particularly the solution in learning process.

Previous Related Studies

There are several previous studies which are related to this study. The first study was conducted by Kurniawati, Indah. 2013. The Teaching and Learning Vocabulary Process to Children with Mental Retardation of the Fifth Grade Students in SDLBC Purwosari Kudus. The objective of the research in this study is to describe the process of teaching and learning English for children with mental retardation of the fifth-grade students in SDLB-C Purwosari Kudus and describe the problems appear in teaching and learning process. The writer observes teaching and learning process and does interview to the English teacher. The method which is used by teacher in SDLB-C Purwosari Kudus is Communicative Language Teaching. The use of CLT is characterized by the involvement of the students in teaching-learning process; in here is use of the question-answer technique. The problems appear come from the activity. They are: the different capability of the students, the students cannot developed their initiate, need long time to finish one topic, and the students still depend on the teacher to get new vocabulary.

The second related study conducted by Fitriana Kartika Sari, 2018 entitled “Process Of Teaching Vocabulary To Mentally Retarded Students By Using Flashcards At SLB Negeri Colomadu In 2017/ 2018 Academic Year”. This study aims to describe the teaching vocabulary process, how the process of teaching vocabulary to mental retardation and to know the problem faced by teacher in teaching vocabulary process by using flashcards. The method used in this research is descriptive qualitative method. The subject in this study was the teacher who taught mentally retarded students. Based on data analysis, the result of this study indicated that there were four aspects in teaching vocabulary process to mental retardation by using flashcards namely: a) the material, b) the technique, c) the media, and d) the procedure. The problems faced by teachers in teaching vocabulary process by using flashcards are a) limited facilities, b) required teacher creativity, and c) financial grounding.

The last related study conducted by Siti Mutiatun in her thesis Techniques of Teaching English as A Second Language for Students “With Different Ability” at SMPLB Siswa Budhi, Surabaya. This thesis explained about several techniques that are used for teaching English. The first technique is explanation which is used in every meeting in English class. The second technique used is discussion, even though it is different from typical class. The third technique is picture which is favored by the students. The fourth technique is drilling, this technique used along with pictures. And the last is reward, which can motivate the students in learning English more. The teacher already used several methods, but she has not a specific skill in English. This subject is consisting from some disability not specific to one disabled.

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Teacher’s Strategy in Teaching English to Students with Intellectual Disability: Work with Mental Retardation Students. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
“Teacher’s Strategy in Teaching English to Students with Intellectual Disability: Work with Mental Retardation Students.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
Teacher’s Strategy in Teaching English to Students with Intellectual Disability: Work with Mental Retardation Students. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Feb. 2023].
Teacher’s Strategy in Teaching English to Students with Intellectual Disability: Work with Mental Retardation Students [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 27 [cited 2023 Feb 8]. Available from:
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