Saturday, January 2, 2010

Integration of the Learning Disabled Student


Brophy (1988) says that the demands that are being made of teachers negates their abilities to develop and plan their own curriculum, in order to meet the needs of their students, and I heartily agree.

How To's - a practical approach

All of the current books written on integrating the special student agree that there is a structure which must be in place before an integration project will be successful. One of the most important qualifications is a supportive administration because of the need for pedagogical, theoretical and financial support in order to help the teacher meet the needs of special students in large classes.

The Principal

The book "Changing Canadian Schools" (Porter & Richler, 1991) cites many ways in which the principal must take a leadership role:

-allow for transitional planning time
-prepare the teachers for the process
-enhance teacher expectations and attitudes
-expand resources
-schedule preparation time
-enhance and use support services [which indicates a prerequisite knowledge of same]
-meet with teachers regularly
-share experiences and problem solve
-establish school-based teams
-increase communications between staff members
-support and select teachers carefully
-assign teacher assistants
-reward successes and promote public awareness of these programmes

The principal must have strengths in the areas of staff management as well as special education, not to mention finding spare budget money for allocation of release time and support services. This is a difficult task and, in addition to all the other demands made on principal's time, these supports may not be there. Many schools are attempting to institute the collaborative, team-teaching philosophy in Special Education: the Universities are providing courses which endorse and propound this style, yet some school boards and principals are not giving teachers the time and class sizes necessary in order to achieve such goals. The frustrations felt by many are increasing. The number of teachers facing stress and burnout are rising. The Carleton Board of Education has five times the number of teachers off on Long Term Disability leave than is the norm for our population.

The Teacher

The classroom teacher must be an exemplary teacher and possess many skills in order to meet the needs of the special learner. Lewis and Doorlag (1983) outline a series of steps teachers can follow to meet the needs of the individual learner:

1. Get information on the types of disabilities of a student.

2. Develop him/herself by developing the skills necessary to manage classroom with large numbers of multi-disabled students . [Collaborative teaching, developing IEPs, running efficient classrooms, teaching smarter not harder.]

3. Think positively: the task can be accomplished. The teacher, as the academic focus, must take the direction and control of the classroom. S/he must have high expectations for students, make the students accountable, encourage co-operation not competition and maintain a positive, effective climate.

4. Know personal strengths and weaknesses, as well as strengths and weaknesses of individual students. Teach study skills and strategies in order to streamline the academic process and encourage learners to take responsibility for their own education: how to review new information, study for tests, note-taking, managing homework, teach revision strategies.

5. Insist on in-service training. Learn to modify materials and activities. Learn behaviour management techniques: nondistracting settings, study carols, control distractions.

6. Seek the appropriate assistance: ensure that it is a group effort: the SERU, Principal and the support services team. Learn and live the collaborative approach to special education.

7. Utilize parents. This is becoming more difficult since many parents must, or may choose, to work. I find it difficult getting organized enough to phone parents and plan ahead enough to call them in.

8. Prepare the other students for the integration of the learning disabled child by developing a positive attitude and explaining, appropriately curriculum modifications to their peers.

9. Embrace these assumptions:

a) All students can learn. [It is our responsibility to find the teaching method or approach that will reach them.]

b) Learning is a process of change. [Assimilating new information, changing old ideas or beliefs and integrating the new and the old information.]

c) Teaching involves the manipulation of the environment.

d) The management of behaviour is simply the collection of data: developing antecedents and consequences of behaviour. [A child isn't bad or stupid, we must find their learning channels and we can change their behaviours through behaviour management programmes.]

10. Smile. [At least laugh! Some days this may be the most difficult item!]

Peer Tutoring

Many schools, especially in the high schools and beyond, students are being trained and encouraged to tutor peers. This provides a great deal of support to the learner who feels as if s/he is all alone. In Manotick we have lunch time buddies for our Down's Syndrome student. Certainly this is an approach that could work for academic problems as well.

Practical Applications Within the Curriculum

Bloom's Taxonomy - One very practical method of differentiating curriculum is the utilization of Bloom's higher order thinking skills. The Gifted learner can explore subject matter in more independent learning contracts while the learning disabled students can work within small groups on a collaborative basis, receive tutoring from the teacher and work on skills they may need to develop before they are able to move to the higher order thinking skills. The beauty of this approach is that the differentiated programme is not so obviously differentiated from regular student to the learning disabled student and the gifted student. Students are very aware of "reading groups" and who is doing less difficult work. Fortunately, with Whole Language and group work, differentiation of programme is less obvious.


Simmons, Fuchs & Fuchs (1991) believe that teachers have access to many excellent curriculum packages which can be adapted to the class with integrated students. However, it is difficult, with time constraints, class sizes and the demands of the instructional environment, to tailor these materials to the instructional needs of the Learning Disabled student.

Collaborative grouping in the L.A. periods can facilitate a better understanding of materials and encourage learning disabled students to develop to their intellectual potential, rather than being limited by their specific disability. The Learning Disabled also need to participate in thinking tasks, not just answer lower level comprehension questions. Co-operative learning benefits many students. It does require teaching experience and organization on the part of the teacher, however. It requires a time commitment in order to prepare the work. The materials; reference materials, strategies and access to learning materials.

Another important part of the curriculum for the integrated class is the teaching of such skills such as skimming, reading for details, making predictions, and developing close techniques to practice grammar skills. These are valuable tools that the L.D. , as well as the average ( which includes high and low averages) learner, need to learn to use. Many students have slipped by in a system where class sizes are too large and children are allowed to slip through the cracks. We must teach learning and coping strategies in the elementary panel before it is a band-aid measure rather than a preventative measure. A colleague promoted a student to the next grade last year with the proviso that he receives SERU support in order to ensure that progress was realized. The help has not been forthcoming. The student is still struggling. These are the students who fall into a hole they can't climb out of. They are the high school dropouts who have mild disabilities and are carried forward on the tide until they sink because they can't swim.

Another strategy helps students in evaluating their own learning: students need to learn to think about thinking: Gearheart (1992) suggests a WISE approach:

1. Were your goals met?

2. Itemize important information: review class notes, highlight important information, seek clarification of mysteries.

3. See how information can be remembered: mnemonic devices, vocabulary list, a list of important details.

4. Explain what you learned. Rethink, or rewrite, notes in your own words and discuss key points with others.

This strategy seems more helpful in the late junior and intermediate grades where the lecture technique is practised but never taught. Children need to learn how to benefit from many teaching strategies but we must equip them properly. It could also be used within active learning science activities and to prepare for tests.


Learning Disabled students, by their nature, have ability levels which are incongruent. Many times their auditory/verbal channels for receiving and processing information far exceed their abilities to communicate in written language. The logical step for the teacher is to teach writing revision strategies in order to encourage students to utilize the best written/expressive vocabulary possible. Many students avoid more complex words in fear of mistakes and those ugly red marks for teachers are known. Thanks to concepts such as "invented spelling" many learners are learning to cope with spelling disabilities, for example, by using wise strategies and other helps: spell checker.

Gearheart et al (1992) includes a description of two strategies which are helpful for the writer. They recommend the integration of the TOWER and COPS strategies.


THINK about what you want to write about. Formulate some ideas and brainstorm possibilities.

ORDER ideas. Develop an outline or structure to organize your ideas and plan which ideas will come where.

WRITE. Develop a draft of your writing, write down all of the thoughts, research or factual information without worrying about corrections. Draw a line through all mistakes, without erasing, in order to preserve all thought/ideas which may be re-included later on. This gives the teacher an idea of the thought processes of students are undergoing and which ideas are giving them problems.

EDIT. Students should use the COPS process at this stage.

REWRITE. After the editing process final copies of the writing can be written.


CAPITALIZATION - Are all proper nouns, names and first words of sentences capitalized?

OVERALL- How does the paper look overall? Are sections properly spaced? Are the pieces of paper neat and free of extraneous marks?

PUNCTUATION - Have I included periods,commas, question marks and exclamation marks where appropriate?

SPELLING - Have I checked spelling? Have I asked a friend or parent to check the writing for corrections?

I believe that these tools can provide helps for students. It is especially helpful for the overworked educator with a large number of students and wide range of ability levels. I have used it and given each student a copy of it for their binders. I shall see if it works. It is difficult to monitor with so many students.


I came across an interesting study which looked at the homework practices of teachers (Salend and Schiff, 1989). The study was relatively small (71 Special Educators) and was restricted to teachers of the L.D. but it does cite fifteen studies which reported many suggestions applicable to the integrated teacher. These guidelines, the authors believe, increase the effectiveness of this tool, applicable for all learners.

The article pointed out the importance of explaining the purpose of the homework to the student and checking to see that it is done. Following up on homework requires time management skills, especially with the 33 students who are with me for Math. One suggestion in this article is checking those students who may be at risk, first. I have tended to collect everyone's book but the timing is difficult, once you collect the books, children can't take it home for homework and you are inevitably called to the phone, leaving this enormous stack of books on your desk. Inevitably the SERU teacher walks in and wants to have a mini-case conference. [Well, usually she wants to report test results to me...] Lately I have used this practice and find it much saner and simpler. Colleagues suggest collecting five books at a time but this means that you have their books and homework may not get done should you not get them marked before the end of the day. Also, it means that some students may be off on the wrong tangent, misunderstanding the work, while finishing off the rest of the assignment!

Only about 10 % of the teachers who participated in the study required parents to sign the homework. Again, I have found it valuable to maintain such a practice in order to help encourage some relatively simple communication between home and school, and because it encourages parents to look at the work. I believe, too, that we should encourage parents to assist the students. It helps if another adult can explain a concept to a student. It is the parent, after all, who knows their child and their learning style the best. Many parents say that they were "exactly the same when they were a student"!

Exemplary Teaching Practices


Framing is a practice outlined in Simmons, et al (1991) which prepares the student for what s/he is about to learn by explaining what skill is going to be taught, what they will learn, how they'll use this skill and why it is important. (See appendix for a sample framing template.) Framing gives the learner a goal and an investment in the learning activity and the process. They see the work to be done and it gives them something to aim for, goals to work through and an end to the activity is in sight.

Instructional Sequence

Lewis & Doorlag (1983) talk about breaking down the learning process into six fundamental steps that teachers should follow in order to ensure that objectives are met.

1. Review, check previous day's work.

2. Present new content/skills.

3. Guide student practice and check for understanding.

4. Feedback and correctives and reteach, if necessary.

5. Independent student practice.

6. Weekly and monthly reviews.

I must admit that this is not a process I practice consciously. Usually we move right from one E.S. topic to the next. Our Math textbook, which I follow carefully, practices these techniques. There have to some areas where we can work smarter, not harder, and I don't tend to differentiate math for my students. I do so extensively in other subject areas, though.


Ken Chuska recently spoke to Ottawa-Carleton educators and he pointed out that while we have always believed that Gifted students must be able to practice and refine higher order thinking skills, it is as imperative that the Learning Disabled, indeed all students, be given this opportunity as well. In fact, many gifted L.D. students are weeded out of gifted programmes because those involved don't feel that they can handle the work required. I believe that this is the fault of the educators and must be corrected. I have a background in gifted education, I've been published several times (Gifted Child Today,J/F '87 & M/A '88 and in the FWTAO Newsletter, F/M '90) I believe that our gifted programmes, in many schools, are sadly focused on the cognitive curriculum to the detriment of the affective mode.

A. L. Costa has written extensively in the book: The School As a Home For the Mind, about the need for educators, not only to teach students to "think about their thinking" but educators must think about their teaching. He believes, and I'm sure we can agree, that schools can be intellectually depressing places. We are isolated and have little of the thinking time that is required in order to live the metacognitive philosophy. We lack a sense of power, philosophies are handed down from above, without collaboration, input or discussion. He believes that teaching is a complex, intelligent act which is reduced to a series of formulas and steps, again, handed down from above. A teacher's unique characteristics: " vision, creativity, altruism and intellectual prowess" suffer under the present system. We cannot be the innovators we could be without a common vision of schools as a "home for the mind". This vision must be shared by staff, administration, trustees, school boards and directors, but it is not. As with most things which directly affect children, the bottom line is the bottom line.

Very briefly, metacognition for the students follow the following steps:

*describe what they know and what they need to know/want to learn
*describe what data are lacking and their plans for producing those data
*describe their plan of action before they begin to solve a problem
*list the steps and tell where they are in the sequence of a problem strategy
*trace the pathways and blind alleys they took on the road to problem solution

Before beginning lessons teachers should outline the purpose of the lesson, the learning outcomes and the goals or purposes for learning these skills. This gives the student a sense of the long-term reason for their education: they are not memorizing facts to be regurgitated on a test, to earn a mark on a report card.

Peer Coaching

Costa advocates Peer Coaching as an ideal way for teachers to safely improve their teaching practices in a non-threatening way. It is a metacognitive strategy to help teachers to think about their thinking and measure whether their practices match their theories and philosophies. Again, Peer Coaching requires a principal's co-operation and a divestment of funds in order to provide the release time necessary for peers to observe peers. It is a teaching/learning strategy that requires teachers to think about their thinking and think about their teaching. A teacher modelling metacognition inspires students to use the same model, to aspire for intrinsic motivation and learn to question the how's and the whys of the universe.

Team Teaching is a wonderful avenue for teachers if they choose to utilize the Peer Coaching strategy. It is difficult to implement, however, unless one can find like-minded peers and an adequate space.


I came across a very interesting study (Slavin, et al, 1991)which outlines a "never streaming" philosophy practised in Baltimore. The programme uses a preventative approach with the young reader, which recognizes the need of early intervention, especially for socio-economically deprived students who may not have been exposed to good reading and writing role models. The Success For All programme's purpose (see Slavin et al, 1990) is to ensure that all students reach the third grade with their age peers, mastering basic skills in language acquisition. Obviously this school board has decided that the allocation of funds for this programme is a worthwhile expenditure by preventing problems, rather than remediating them at a later date, for increased costs.

Students who are at risk are identified in first grade and they receive one-on-one tutoring from certified teachers for 20 minutes per day. Most tutors are parent volunteers who are untrained and poorly supervised, who lack an understanding of basic pedagogy. The programme also provides family support services which focus on the parent-school relationship. A family support team provides intervention strategies where appropriate: truancy, health, vision or hearing problems.

There is a project facilitator who works in each school. The facilitator manages the 8 week assessments, visits teacher, co-ordinates and organizes meetings among school staffs . A follow-up programme ensures that the child maintains the achievements in grades 2 to 5. A study(ibid) of Abbottston school has found that not a single child in third grade is achieving two years below grade level in reading, compared to a control group in which 10% of students do fall within these parameters.

Another study which compared student/teacher interactions in resource rooms and in the regular classroom (Hall, 1991) found that teacher behaviours in the regular classroom can not and could not meet the needs of the Learning Disabled students. Teachers in a resource room are "more effective in supporting learning-disabled children academically." They found that teachers in a resource room were more able to cater to individual needs by offering more personal contact, she did less recitation and sustained more feed-back and managed to find more wait-time (response to question time), than the regular classroom teacher has time for. "Sustaining feedback" was defined as the process of "asking subsequently clarifying questions to students who make an incorrect response". The regular classroom teacher, with 32 or 33 other students can't give this kind of time to all of the students, everyone is so anxious to participate, and deserve to answer questions, have time to talk about their ideas and themselves, but can't be given this kind of attention in the crowded classrooms in which we are forced to teach. Students are competing for teacher attention, calling out, interrupting their peers in frantic bids for recognition. In fact, the resource room teacher can do this and yet the study showed that the resource room was more work-oriented than the regular classroom. A great deal of time is spent in regular classes maintaining order, changing activities and regaining crowd control.

In further studies, Ashman (1991) has stated that meta-analysis has found nothing out for certain: "ambiguous findings" in the value of integration as compared to segregated settings.

"Integration may not be the critical issue, the important factor may be the quality of programs that are provided within mainstreamed and segregated programs already in place".

Many studies are focusing on the socialization needs of pupils, rather than the academic needs and that there are very few children who are integrated in subjects in which they are performing more than two grades below age level. He also says that there is a great deal of concern regarding the present "pull-out" model of education; discontinuity between programmes (SERU vs. classroom teachers), inadequate communication, social stigma attached to pull-out programmes, and limited academic progress. Yet, there are serious, documented shortcomings and the "in-class" model has not been found to guarantee that learning and the transfer of learning takes place. In fact studies show that the one major guarantee of success, the major prerequisite to such an approach is enough collaboration time built into the programme between involved staff members simply does not exist.

A further study by Deno, et al (1990) found that after examining three integrated models: the Minnesota School Effectiveness Project (MEEP), the Companion Reading Program and the Data-Based Intervention Model, children classified as low-achievers and children with mild learning disabilities did better in integrated programmes but special education students did relatively poorly in both integrated and resource programmes. The only statistically significant finding was that special education students scored significantly higher on spelling if they participated in resource spelling programmes. Their conclusion was that, overall, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that either approach is more appropriate and in fact a major overhaul must take place.



1. Costa. A.L., (1991) The School As A Home For The Mind, Skylight Publishing, Illinois
2. Gearheart, B.R., Gearheart, C.J., & Weishahn, M.W., (1992) The Exceptional Student in the Regular Classroom, Maxwell Macmillan Can., Inc.
3. Lewis, R.B., Doorlag, D.H., (1983)Teaching the Special Education Student in the Mainstream, Merrill Publishing, USA,
4. Ed., Porter & Richler, (1991) Changing Canadian Schools, The Roeher Institute, Canada,

Journal Articles

1. Ashman, A.F., Current Themes in Education. The Exceptional Child, Monograph #2, Queensland University, Australia,n2, 1992 (ERIC 345 461)
2. Brophy, J. (1988), Research on teacher effects: Uses and abuses, The Elementary School Journal, 89, 3-22
3. Deno, S., Maruyama, G., Espin, C., Cohen, C., Classrooms:Minnesota Alternatives, Exceptional Children, vol. 57, No.2,pp.150-161
4. Hall, E. A.,(1991) An Examination of the Process of Teaching Reading to Learning Disabled Children, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association( April,1991), ERIC document 336 894
5. Reynolds, Hill, Swassing, Ward, (1988),The Effects of Revision Strategy Instruction on the Writing Performance of Students with L.D.,Journal of L.D., vol.21,num. 9, p.540-544
6. Salend, S.J., Schiff, J., (1989),An Examination of the Homework Practices of Teachers of Students with L.D., Journal of L.D., Vol. 22, num. 10,p.621-623
7. Simmons,D.C, Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L.S, (1991), Instructional and Curricular Requisites of Mainstreamed Students with L.D., Journal of Learning Disabilities, Vol. 24,num. 6, June/July,p.354-360
8. Slavin, R.E., Madden, N.A., Karweit, N.L., Dolan, L., Wasik, B.A., Shaw, A., Mainzer, K.L., & Haxby, B., ( 1991) Neverstreaming, Prevention and Early Intervention as an Alternative to Special Education, Journal of Learning Disabilities, Vol. 24, num.6, p. 373-378
b) Slavin,R.E., Madden, N.A., Karweit, N.L., Livermon, B.J. & Dolan, L. (1990), Success For All: First-year outcomes of a comprehensive plan for reforming urban education. American Educational Research Journal, 27,255-278


1. TOWER Strategy: from The Exceptional Student in the Regular Classroom
2. Practice instructional template: Instructional and Curricular Requisites of Mainstreamed Students with L.D.


Dorit Sasson said...

Respect is a hard thing to break down when it comes to building a classroom management plan. Brophy article's gives insight for teachers on how effective classroom procedures and rules can make a difference providing the teacher is also respectful to the students.

Dorit Sasson
The New Teacher Resource Center
Make Your Teaching Sparkle. Teach for Success. Make a difference in the classroom.

Subscribe to receive your FREE e-zine and e-book, "Taking Charge in the Classroom" when you visit the New Teacher Resource Center at

Anonymous said...

Brilliant review

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