ERIC Identifier: ED412527
Publication Date: 1997-00-00
Author: Sanacore, Joseph
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Student Diversity and Learning Needs. ERIC Digest.
To successfully reach out to a diversity of learners requires substantial
support. Although budget-minded critics will argue that such support is costly,
they need to be reminded that an investment in prevention today will eliminate
or lessen the expense of remediation tomorrow. Not surprisingly, educators who
receive substantial help are more effective when carrying out worthwhile
innovations that increase all students' potential for success. This notion of
support is vitally important because students' "at-riskness" will not disappear
and because the government and educational community continue to believe in the
efficacy of raising academic standards. This Digest will discuss some sources of
support intended as a complement to and a scaffold for teachers and
administrators who experiment with different ways of meeting a diversity of
At-risk learners benefit from
instructional activities that are carefully planned and mutually supported by
classroom teachers and learning center staff (Nelson, 1994). Unfortunately, many
schools provide separate instruction in both settings. For example, in the
English classroom, students may explore the theme of good and evil by reading
and discussing William Golding's "Lord of the Flies," whereas in the learning
center, at-risk students may complete workbook exercises and other fragmented
activities unrelated to the instructional theme. Clearly, at-risk learners are
more likely to be successful when classroom and learning center teachers provide
them with congruent goals, resources, strategies, and skills.
A model that can be adapted to both push-in and pull-out efforts represents
an ambitious approach, but it can be a major source of support for at-risk
learners (Sanacore, 1988). Specifically, these learners receive language arts
instruction 7 periods a week. Twice a week, the majority of students experience
a double period of instruction, while the at-risk learners are enriched with
activities that support the language arts program. If "Lord of the Flies" is
being highlighted, the classroom teacher might immerse students in interactive
activities concerning important themes, concepts, and vocabulary of the novel.
Meanwhile, the learning center teacher might engage individuals in a similar
instructional focus, while providing support through a prereading plan,
structured overview, semantic mapping, or semantic feature analysis.
An important part of this classroom/learning center connection is cooperative
planning time that is built into the teaching assignments of the English staff
(Raywid, 1993). These professionals are scheduled weekly for 20-minute periods
of teaching and for one period of mutual planning with the learning center
staff. During the planning session, the key players discuss their community of
learners and organize congruent activities that support effective learning.
Creating a closer link between the classroom and the learning center makes
sense. This approach increases transfer of learning and simultaneously lessens
the incidence of fragmented, reductionistic teaching. Thus, at-risk learners
have more opportunities to engage in cohesive instruction directly related to
their learning strengths and needs. Although curricular congruence is not a
cure-all, it is a serious source of support for helping at-risk learners to be
successful and independent.
SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER AS TEAM TEACHER
Similar to the
intent of curricular congruence is the changing role of the special education
teacher serving as a team teacher. This inclusionary perspective helps learners
with mild, moderate, and severe disabilities to be successful in the
heterogeneous classroom and, thus, to be genuine members of the learning
community. In a chapter of Villa and Thousand's "Creating an Inclusive School" (1995), middle grades science teacher Nancy Keller and special educator Lia
Cravedi-Cheng describe their bonding as team teachers, which led to the social
and academic growth of themselves and their students. Initially, the key players
decided to meet at least one period each week for mutual planning. During this
time, they focused on building a trusting relationship as they defined and
redefined professional roles, discussed content to be covered, planned related
instructional activities, and assessed student outcomes. These and other
planning agendas set the stage for continued growth with a variety of joint
responsibilities (i.e., having parent conferences, managing student behavior).
While reflecting on their professional growth, Keller and Cravedi-Cheng realized
that successful inclusion occurs when both teachers and students receive
support. Planning cooperatively, developing goals, maintaining personal
accountability helped the teachers to merge their talents, to reaffirm their
commitment to all students, and to reach their audience academically and
socially. As was expected, both special needs students and their nondisabled
peers became contributing members of the learning community.
Cheryl Jorgensen (1995) describes an interdisciplinary program at Souhegan
High School in New Hampshire. The learning environment for grades 9 and 10
involves 2 teams for each grade level, with approximately 85 students in each
team. Social studies, science, English, and special education teachers share
daily blocks of time morning and afternoon, and these professionals may organize
instruction in a variety of ways to accommodate students' learning needs. An
important part of these efforts is collaborative planning time for content area
teachers and special educators.
Interestingly, special needs students at Souhegan High do not usually require
instructional modifications in their heterogeneously grouped classes; however,
when support is needed for nurturing full participation, it may be provided by
peers, adults, adapted resources, or assistive technology. Individuals also
benefit from modified expectations--for example, a physically disabled learner
may have his or her lines in a play tape-recorded by a classmate. When the lines
are to spoken aloud, the disabled learner leans on a pressure switch which then
activates the lines.
VOLUNTEERS AND PARAPROFESSIONALS
Another source of help for
students and teachers in a heterogeneous learning environment is an "extra set
of hands." In "The Reading Resource Handbook for School Leaders" (1996), Patty,
Maschoff, and Ransom provide useful insights about parent volunteers and teacher
aides supporting the language arts program. Specifically, these individuals may
nurture learning by functioning as effective role models, reading to students,
listening to them read, listening to their retellings after silent reading,
asking challenging questions concerning their reading, coaching their efforts,
sharing and monitoring reading and writing, developing instructional materials,
administering interest and attitude inventories, organizing a classroom
newspaper, assisting with bulletin boards and classroom displays that encourage
reading and writing, and serving as a resource during field trips. Volunteers
and aides can make valuable contributions to the classroom context, and their
support is vitally needed to accommodate the diversity of learning needs which
has increased markedly in recent years. Well-constructed questionnaires
surveying parents and potential volunteers can provide useful information that
can lead to a functional plan of action for eliciting, managing, and developing
effective volunteers and aides.
Students' journey toward success
also involves natural immersion in authentic resources. All learners, including
those at risk of failing, benefit from literacy-rich classrooms cluttered with
paperbacks, anthologies, fiction and nonfiction works, dramas and comedies,
poetry, illustrated books, "how-to" manuals, bibliotherapeutic stories, talking
books, large-print books, dictionaries, magazines, newspapers, and pamphlets.
Students are more apt to respond positively to these materials when they are
permitted to choose from a wide variety of options, when they observe teachers
respecting their choices, and when they are encouraged to read at their own
comfortable pace in the classroom.
Being sensitive to students' interests and strengths will also help them to
meet content area expectations, especially if teaching and learning are
organized around important themes and concepts. For example, if the
instructional unit concerns the Civil War, and individual may demonstrate his or
her preferred learning style by reading illustrated materials and by creating a
flow chart showing important battles. Others may respond to thematic and
conceptual aspects of the study unit in ways that represent their unique styles,
as the teacher guides them to focus on instructional outcomes that fulfill
curricular expectations. These flexible considerations not only provide
immediate learning benefits, but also promote a lifelong love of learning.
Not surprisingly, this flexibility also applies to technological resources,
which play a major role in helping students to be successful. Disabled learners,
in particular, may benefit from adaptive hardware, such as seating devices,
switches, electronic communication aids, and computers that scan printed
materials and read the text aloud. Although appropriate instructional resources
can facilitate learning in heterogeneous classrooms, a problematic economy has
caused school administrators to allocate budgets for the basic curricula.
Administrators need to work with parents and the community to provide a wide
variety of resources to support students and teachers (Mendez-Morse, 1991). This
effort increases the chances that special needs students and their nondisabled
classmates will respond positively to literacy learning and will use it
throughout their lives.
Jorgensen, Cheryl (1995). "Essential
Questions--Inclusive Answers." Educational Leadership, 52(4), 52-55. [EJ 496
Mendez-Morse, Sylvia (1991). "The Principal's Role in the Instructional
Process: Implications for At-Risk Students." SEDL Issues about Change, 1(3),
1-4. [ED 363 967]
Nelson, Carol (1994). "Organizing for Effective Reading Instruction." ERIC
Digest. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and
Communication. [ED 369 034]
Patty, Del, et al (1996). The Reading Resource Handbook for School Leaders.
Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon.
Raywid, Mary Anne (1993). "Finding Time for Collaboration." Educational
Leadership, 51(1), 30-34. [EJ 488 684]
Sanacore, Joseph (1988). "Needed: A Better Link between the Reading Center
and the Classroom." Clearing House, 62(2), 57-60. [EJ 386 881]
Villa, Richard A., ed., and Jacqueline S. Thousand, ed. (1995). Creating an
Inclusive School. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development. [ED 396 505]