Diversity and Learning Needs
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication
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 learning needs.
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 inboth 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
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
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.
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
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.
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 468 684]
Sanacore, Joseph (1988). "Needed:
A Better Link between the Reading Center and the Classroom." A> Clearing
House, 62(2), 57-60. [EJ 386 881]
Richard A., ed., and Jacqueline S. Thousand, ed. (1995). "Creating
an Inclusive School." Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Development. [ED 396 505]
publication was prepared (Digest #127, EDO-CS-97-08, June 1997) with funding from
the U.S. Department of Education under contract number RR93002011, and published
by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication.
opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or
policies of Learn2study, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products,
or organizations imply endorsement by Learn2study.