skip to content | CalSTAT
California Department of Education, Special Education Division’s special project, California Services for Technical Assistance and Training (CalSTAT) is funded through a contract with the Napa County Office of Education. CalSTAT is partially funded from federal funds, State Grants #H027A080116A. Additional federal funds are provided from a federal competitively awarded State Personnel Development Grant to California (#H323A070011) provided from the U.S. Department of Education Part D of the Individuals with Disabilities Education act (IDEA). Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the position of the U. S. Department of Education.
By Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor, Stanford University School of Education
The common ideal we hold across California’s public schools is that children who learn in a wide variety of ways—including children with disabilities —can access the core curriculum in a general education classroom. However, there is nothing common about putting this ideal into action. Successful inclusive classrooms are still relatively rare. Such successful practice involves the entire school and requires nearly every adult to actively support the strengths of all children and welcome all differences as a positive part of a learning environment.
Today, despite the fact that special education is still closely connected to a medical model where children are “diagnosed” with certain disabilities, most educators have embraced three important understandings: Learning differences exist along a vast continuum; human beings typically develop compensatory strengths—often formidable ones—to allow them to expand their learning, even though they may have some areas of difficulty; and strategic instruction can significantly and positively affect what students achieve. Moreover, many educators now believe that the view of disability as some kind of insurmountable deficit is a social construct that has been proven to be detrimental to children and should be challenged.1
However, misconceptions continue to linger, despite solid research. Some educators
equate special education
with certain kinds of behavioral models of teaching, such as those that focus only on a rote acquisition of skills;
others view it as a legalistic requirement that concentrates almost exclusively on labels and procedures that must be followed. Moving beyond these limited conceptions, a truly inclusive model recognizes and incorporates the following tenets:
In an inclusive setting, how can teachers use all of their knowledge—of child development, learning, language development, effective teaching strategies, and distinctive learning needs—to help all children progress? There are many instructional adaptations that demonstrate how teachers can accomplish this kind of integration and that can assist children with special learning challenges. What follows are three such adaptations, built on principles that can be used to inform other strategies.
Increasing evidence suggests that all children benefit from learning environments that provide positive behavioral supports. These supports offer specific levels of instruction—scaffolding—to promote healthy personal interactions. At the foundational level of the scaffold, teachers teach and reward appropriate behavior, and they incorporate into the classroom preventive practices for common behavioral challenges. At the more intensive levels, teachers instruct and guide children in practicing explicit social and emotional skills, providing individualized instruction for children with particularly challenging behaviors, as needed.2 The following example demonstrates how these more intensive levels of support can be offered at a preschool level.
Young children with speech and language delays have difficulty connecting with peers and developing meaningful relationships. Because these children do not easily convey and interpret social-communication cues, it is hard for them to join in play or coordinate social activities with others. Their attempts to socialize often include obscure or poorly timed messages that can be mistaken as signs of disinterest or deviance. Many of these children spend inordinate amounts of time alone or in therapeutic settings, pursuing repetitive and unimaginative activities. This isolation can interfere with their social and emotional development. Without instruction in appropriate behavior, they are at high risk for being excluded from their peer culture and for failing to learn the communication skills they will need throughout life.3
One strategy for providing this instruction in behavior involves engaging children in an Integrated Play Group.4 This involves children with special needs and non-disabled children and uses principles of “cognitive apprenticeship,” a scaffolding that enables “expert” assistance from more skilled peers to teach communication and play strategies to those children experiencing social or linguistic delays. Within an Integrated Play Group, the “novice” players are involved in play at their own level of development, while more advanced interactions are modeled by the “expert” players—children who are socially adept. The activities of the novices are carefully monitored and supported; their smallest effort to become more sophisticated in their socialization is encouraged and directed through the play of the typically developing children, as well as by verbal and visual cues from the teachers. This activity also involves teaching the peer group to be more responsive to and accepting and inclusive of children who relate and play in different ways.5
Tiered behavioral supports are proven effective at all ages. In addition to teaching positive socialization skills, their application makes the classroom a more conducive place for teaching and learning for all students.6
In contrast to earlier beliefs that students with learning disabilities need
highly repetitive, rote activities in order to learn, researchers have discovered
that “cognitive strategy instruction”—helping students learn
tactics for solving problems or producing work—is highly beneficial for
all students, but particularly for students with special needs. This kind of
strategy includes helping students develop some of their own devices for learning
and retention, such as memory aids (e.g., mnemonic devices7? ) and organizational
strategies (task analysis,
webbing, and outlining8 ). It also
includes strategies for enhancing metacognition9—that is, the child’s own understanding of how to think about a certain topic or the child’s strategies for solving a certain kind of problem. Enhancing metacognition essentially involves teaching a child how to think, as opposed to simply teaching him or her what to think. Research shows that students with and without learning disabilities benefit in many academic subjects when they receive cognitive strategy instruction. (See insert below.)
In order to ensure accessibility for all students within daily classroom instruction, teachers need to know how to create adaptations for all of the work they plan. These adaptations can include the following:
Size: Adapt the number of items that the learner is expected to learn
Time: Adapt the time allotted and allowed for learning, task completion, or testing. For example, individualize a timeline for completing a task; pace learning differently (increase or decrease the pace) for certain learners.
Level of Support: Increase the amount of personal assistance with a specific learner. For example, assign peer buddies, teaching assistants, peer tutors, or cross-age tutors.
Input: Adapt the way instruction is delivered to the learner. For example, use different visual aids, plan extra concrete examples, provide hands-on activities, or place students in cooperative groups.
Difficulty: Adapt the skill level, problem type, or rules on how the learner may approach the work. For example, allow the use of a calculator to figure math problems, or simplify task directions. In general, change the rules to accommodate a student’s needs.
Output: Adapt how the student is allowed to respond to instruction. For example, instead of a written response to questions, allow a verbal response, use a communication book for some students, or allow students to show knowledge with hands-on materials.
Participation: Adapt the extent to which a learner is actively involved in the task. For example, in studying geography have one student hold the globe and point to a country or continent while others point out specific locations.
Alternate Objectives: Adapt the goals or expected outcomes while using the same materials. For example, in social studies expect one student to be able to locate just the states while others learn to locate capitals, as well.
Substitute Curriculum: Provide different instruction and materials to meet a student’s individual goals. For example, during a language test one student could be learning computer skills in the computer lab while the others take the written exam.10
Those teachers who are prepared to teach students with disabilities often
become more skillful teachers in general. These educators develop deeper diagnostic
skills and a wider repertoire of strategies that are useful for all of their
students, many of whom learn in unique ways. In addition, any student who has
little prior knowledge or experience in a particular subject, regardless of
learning style or ability, will gain greater access to material if it is presented
with visual aids, concrete examples, and hands-on activities—common adaptations
for children with learning disabilities. This argues for teachers knowing the
range of adaptations, how to implement them, and under what circumstances they
are most effective. Some can be learned in teacher preparation courses. Others
are learned on the job. Together, they give teachers the instructional arsenal
they need to help all children access the general education curriculum and
reach their full academic potential.
Metacognitive Strategies for
Teaching Writing to Students with Learning Disabilities
Studies of the learning process have found that students are more able to learn complex skills when they can think “metacognitively,” that is, when they think about their own thinking and performance so they can consciously monitor and change it. In fact, studies have found that successful writers engage in an internal dialogue in which they talk to themselves — sometimes even muttering aloud — about audience, purpose, form, and content. They ask and answer for themselves certain questions: Who are they writing for? Why? What do they know and what do they need to find out? They maintain this ongoing internal dialogue as they organize ideas, plan, draft, edit, and revise. Successful writers guide their thinking with metacognitive strategies that help them write purposefully.
This basic research has led to strategies for teaching writing that help novice writers learn how to engage in this kind of self-talk and self-monitoring. In one study, teachers of fourth- and fifth-grade students were taught how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. The teachers analyzed texts for their students, modeled the writing process, guided students as they wrote, and provided students with opportunities for independent writing over the course of a year. Those students who engaged in these kinds of self-regulating metacognitive strategies and who were able to explain their writing process improved their academic performance.
While there were significant differences in the writing knowledge between those students with and those without learning disabilities within the comparison group, the students with learning disabilities in the “metacognitive” group were just as able to describe and use the writing strategies — such as the ability to organize, evaluate, and revise their papers in appropriate ways — as were the general education students in the comparison group. Sometimes, the students with learning disabilities who had received this strategy instruction even outscored the general education students. (Source: Englert, Raphael, & Anderson in “Socially Mediated Instruction: Improving Students’ Knowledge and Talk about Writing.” Elementary School Journal, 92(4), 411–449)
This article draws on a chapter in Linda Darling-Hammond & John Bransford (eds.), Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005),
entitled “Teaching Diverse Learners” by contributing authors: James Banks, Marilyn Cochran-Smith, Luis Moll, Anna Richert, Kenneth Zeichner, Pamela LePage, Linda Darling- Hammond, and Helen Duffy.
Notes and Resources
Buron, Kari Dunn and Pamela
Wolfberg, Eds. Learners on the Autism Spectrum: Preparing Highly Qualified Educators, Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC, 2008.
Darling-Hammond, Linda and John Bransford, Eds. Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What Teachers Should Learn and Be Able to Do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2005.
McDermott, Ray and Herve Varenne. “Culture ‘as’ Disability,” Anthropology & Education Quarterly, Sept. 1995, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 324–348.
Wolfberg, Pamela. Play and Imagination in Children with Autism. Shawnee Mission, KS: AAPC, 1999.
by Mary Hudler, Director, California Department of Education, Special Education Division
To fulfill its promise, our public education system in California must address the achievement gap that exists between students who are white and students of color, as well as the gap that exists for English language learners, students in poverty, and students with disabilities. It is also imperative that we address the disproportionate representation of certain groups of students overly identified as needing special education services. Response to Intervention offers a way to eliminate these gaps in its promise of a school-wide process that assists all students who are struggling with learning or behavior.
The term “Response to Intervention” (RtI) appeared in the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004 in the section related to the determination of Specific Learning Disability (SLD). However, to be a valid way of determining SLD, RtI must exist within general education with a strong focus on prevention and early intervention in behavior and academics. If these interventions are delivered with fidelity, RtI data can be a meaningful component in SLD determination.
To further study and understand current research and thinking about RtI from both general and special education perspectives, Dr. Anthony Monreal, California Department of Education (CDE), Deputy Superintendent of the Curriculum and Instruction Branch, assembled a team of California stakeholders and policymakers to attend the December 2007 U.S. Department of Education national conference on RtI. In concert with the national perspective on RtI presented at this event and with the IDEA and the Superintendent’s P–16 (Preschool-Through-Grade-16) Council’s recommendations to close the achievement gap, Dr. Monreal convened a June 2, 2008, meeting in California on RtI. He invited superintendents and assistant superintendents of curriculum and instruction from districts and county offices of education from numerous parts of the state. Others participants included members of the RtI Technical Work Group (created by CDE’s Special Education Division) and all division directors in the Curriculum and Instruction branch of CDE.
The RtI Technical Work Group had previously developed draft guidelines for RtI and the determination of students with SLD. This draft information was provided to participants at the June 2 event for discussion, with Dr. Monreal framing the day around three questions: What are the current practices of RtI in closing the achievement gap? What impedes effective RtI practices in closing the gap? And what would be our next steps in planning and providing an RtI summit to communicate a common message and understanding throughout the state on RtI?
With facilitation by Dr. Dave Raske of Sacramento State University, Allan Lloyd-Jones of CDE, and Silvia DeRuvo of the California Comprehensive Center at WestEd, meeting participants discussed the history of eligibility for SLD, the key components of an effective RtI process, and the descriptors of those components.
In both small and large groups, participants discussed RtI as a general education, multi-step process of providing high quality, research-based instruction and interventions at varying levels of intensity for students who struggle with learning and behavior. All true RtI efforts then match interventions to student need, closely monitoring student progress. Individual progress (or lack of) shapes decisions about further instruction or interventions to ensure that each student is learning. The participants also determined what RtI is not: It is not a special education service delivery system and not a regimented process that deters or delays referrals for assessment for possible special education instruction and services.
Finally, participants discussed the ways that current efforts to close the achievement gap dovetail with many of the core elements of RtI: planning and implementing research-based instruction; general education teachers being active in students’ assessment in the general education curriculum (aligned to the California Content Standards); universal screening for all students to determine students’ needs; continuous classroom progress monitoring in the general education classroom; research-based interventions; progress monitoring during interventions; staff development and the collaboration of all school staff; and parents’ involvement as active participants who are informed in all stages of the instructional and intervention process to improve the educational outcomes for their children.
As a next step, CDE is planning an RtI summit in the 2008–09 school year. Organizing this event will involve collaborative planning and technical assistance from expert RtI implementers, stakeholders, and the federally funded centers that provide technical assistance to California: the California Comprehensive Center at WestEd; the National RtI Technical Assistance Center; and the Western Regional Resource Center (WRRC).
A Sure-Fire Approach to Effective Teaching
Ensuring Access through Differentiated Instruction
By Willard Daggett, Ed.D., President, International Center for Leadership
in Education and Lin Kuzmich, Senior Consultant,
International Center for Leadership in Education
instruction works. It fails only when we fail to focus on the needs of our students. However, just because it works does not mean it is easily accomplished. Differentiation is not simply a lesson plan or even a complex series of actions involving long preparation. It is a careful, data-driven decision to use the right teaching and learning tools to meet the needs of students.
What Is Differentiated
Differentiated instruction, at the simplest level, means teaching each student exactly what he or she needs to be taught; it means starting with what each student knows and can do and then building from there, rather than teaching with the belief that all students of a given age or in a particular grade know and can do pretty much the same things. Differentiated instruction is “responsive” teaching rather than “one-size-fits-all” teaching. And by definition, it ensures that all children access the general education curriculum.
Specifically, differentiated instruction consists of clear and focused attention
to the following four components: (1) aligned curriculum and assessments; (2)
a large strategy toolkit for every teacher; (3) a deep commitment to personal
connections; and (4) a set of instructional skills that
supports diagnostic thinking. Clearly, it also requires the support of administration and a deep understanding of how students learn best in the twenty-first century.
Once these components are in place and the focus is shifted solely to the student, differentiation will succeed.
The importance of aligning curriculum with student assessment hardly needs to be argued. Successful schools test what they teach and teach what they test. However, an integrated effort to differentiate instruction must go beyond this. Schools and school districts must encourage rigorous and relevant learning that focuses on those standards that are most important for the future of our students, that helps students conceive of and develop ideas, and that asks the great, critical questions that give students an opportunity to reflect on those things that truly matter.1
The chart below left illustrates the intersection of knowledge with rigor
and relevance. Planning quadrant “D” units of study, including
real-world performance assessments, leads to natural and embedded differentiation.
When curriculum and instruction are directly connected to the students themselves and their long-term goals — when what is taught is relevant — then students see value in what they learn.
Each educator needs a large enough instructional toolkit for differentiation to work. The contents of this toolkit require both specific and generalized skills: the ability to match the level of the school with its content (elementary versus secondary) and to address the learning styles of today’s students, and an understanding of the newest brain research. Also vital to this toolkit are literacy strategies and critical thinking skills, along with learning strategies across content areas.2 With this set of knowledge, abilities, and strategies at the ready, teachers will have a twenty-first century toolkit — one that enables them to select the most engaging strategy that is best matched to each student.
Successful differentiation requires personal connections among staff. When educational communities encourage reflection, trust, engagement, and the development of personal skills, they make possible the effective implementation of initiatives such as differentiation. In order for these kinds of relationships to develop, teachers must be given the time to form learning communities that allow them to coach and mentor each other.
Those teachers who are given the opportunity and encouragement to learn and form relationships in their professional lives are then able to take these same habits into the classroom and demonstrate the possibilities to their students. Personal connections form another critical element of successful differentiation: It is impossible to know how to tie learning to a student’s abilities and goals if you have no personal knowledge of the student. Knowing and understanding students at more than just a superficial level makes differentiation possible.
The fourth necessary component for successful differentiated instruction is diagnostic thinking. When teachers can analyze current student data and converse knowledgeably with colleagues about successful strategies and student growth, they are then able to select the right teaching and learning tools — even for those students who are the hardest to serve. In order to be able to do this, however, teachers need a deep understanding of the development and use of formative and summative assessments; they need the skill to use them; and they need to know which tools in their toolkit will be most effective under which circumstances.
If these four key elements of success are in place, educators are ready to
meet the diverse needs of their students. They are ready to differentiate their
Beyond the theoretical, we can realistically differentiate six things:
The following three questions model how differentiation can guide the
way we think about students and
• If we know students are struggling with critical thinking
about particular content, can
we select the right group size
and graphic organizer to scaffold student thinking?
• Have we checked to see if students have the background knowledge and, if not, can we effectively select media to provide that background?
• Students in a class have a wide variety of learning needs and
styles; can we provide choices or a short menu of options for the unit assessment?
Each of these questions leads us into methods of differentiation that are possible for any teacher, regardless of the demands of the curriculum, schedules, and already-packed agendas. Well-chosen decisions about differentiation — ones that are open ended, offer choice, and use a variety of resources and technology — all serve to motivate students to demonstrate proficiency.
Differentiated curriculum and instruction puts the focus on the student. The major, guiding questions then become simple: Are the students learning? What can we do to help them on their journey?
The Four Major Components of Successful Differentiation:
Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners
Aligned Curriculum and Assessments
Knowledge in one discipline
Apply in one discipline
Apply across disciplines
Apply to real-world, predictable situations
Apply to real-world, unpredictable situations
1. Gregory and Kuzmich, 2005. The strategy of teaching with “great, critical question” (also referred to as “the big ideas” or “enduring questions”) is also discussed at www.authenticeducation.org/bigideas/.
2. Gregory and Kuzmich, 2004. See also “Reading and Interpreting Diverse
Materials” at www.literacymatters.org/content/readandwrite/diverse.htm.
Daggett, Willard. Using the Rigor/Relevance Framework for Planning and Instruction. Leadership Press, Rexford, New York, 2007.
Gregory, Gayle and Lin Kuzmich. Data Driven Differentiation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc., 2005.
Gregory, Gayle and Lin Kuzmich. Differentiated Literacy Strategies for Grades K-6, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, Inc., 2004.
Kuzmich, Lin, Cindy Strickland, and Gayle Gregory. Applied Differentiation: Making it Work in the Classroom. Elementary and Secondary Editions of a Multimedia Kit. Sandy, Utah: School Improvement Network, 2006.
Kuzmich, Lin. “A Model for Meeting Student Needs and Sustaining Differentiation,” Presented at NASSP Annual Conference, 2005.
By Louisa Moats, Ed.D., Consulting Advisor on Literacy Research and Professional Development at Sopris West Educational Services
Children need to be able to read if they are going to access the general education curriculum. The good news is that, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Development, research-based instruction in reading is fast becoming a mainstay in kindergarten and the early grades, significantly reducing the number of young children who experience reading difficulty. However, in many places there are still huge numbers of students beyond the third grade who are victims of misguided reading instruction or scarce resources. These unfortunate conditions have particularly drastic consequences for children with learning disabilities. They are the students who stand to benefit the most from effective reading instruction, and they are the ones who risk losing the most if it is absent from their early school years.
For the older struggling reader, there are complicating factors that are important
for both parents and teachers to understand. The effort to read for these students
is slow, taxing, frustrating, and unsatisfying.1 It is thus no surprise that,
for the most part, they avoid reading. And therein lies the most challenging
aspect of teaching older students: because reading is difficult for them, they
do not like to read, and so they do not read much. As a result, they are not
familiar with the vocabulary, sentence structure, text organization, and concepts
of academic “book” language. Over time, their comprehension skills
decline; they become poor spellers and poor writers. What usually begins as
a core phonological and word recognition deficit — often
associated with other language weaknesses —
becomes a diffuse, debilitating problem with language, both spoken and written.
We now understand the nuts and bolts of learning to read; and we know that,
at any age, poor readers exhibit weaknesses in three areas: phonological processing,
and speed and accuracy
at word recognition. This is exactly
the same for older poor readers as it is for younger poor readers.2 We also know that, at any age, when an individual’s reading comprehension
is more impaired than his or her listening comprehension, inaccurate and slow word recognition is the most likely cause.3 Knowing these things shapes the solution.
All effective instruction in reading and language shares the following qualities:
The studies on how well this works have already been done: research-based, intensive reading intervention4 can be effective in helping older readers acquire the skills they missed in the primary grades and can advance their skills to the appropriate grade level in one to two years.5 However, whatever the intervention, it must match the students’ level of reading development, because each stage of growth requires a special focus.6 Very poor readers often struggle because they are unable to identify speech sounds. So they must have their phonological skills strengthened. This will improve their ability not only to recognize words, but to spell and to develop and expand their vocabulary, as well.7
For those students whose reading skills are less severely impaired, educators usually need to target reading fluency.8 And, if students can decipher words, then educators must aggressively address vocabulary deficiencies with direct teaching 9 and incentives to read challenging material in and out of school.10
For those students who do not know the words they are reading and cannot derive meaning from the context, teachers must work to expand their vocabularies and help them learn a repertoire of comprehension strategies.11 Students cannot and should not bypass any critical skills necessary for fluent and meaningful reading just because of their chronological age.
For a reading program to work, however, a research-proven method is not enough. Older students who have experienced reading failure from an early age must also be convinced that their renewed investment of energy will be worthwhile. How do you convince them? In a program of the Washington Literacy Council, adult students who have recently developed the ability to match speech sounds to letter symbols speak to incoming students about the helpfulness of the structured language instruction they are about to receive. Getting testimony from these kinds of credible sources can do much to convince recalcitrant students that, finally, their efforts will produce results, and that these results are worth their effort.
The majority of poor readers who read below the thirtieth percentile in the intermediate and upper grades need some level of direct instruction in two basic skills: the ability to recognize printed words and the ability to map speech sounds to letter symbols. Some of the techniques for teaching older students, however, differ from those used to teach younger students. The first rule of thumb is to treat older students like the young adults they are: Use adult terminology, such as “phoneme deletion” and “morphemic structure.”
Another successful strategy during phonemic drills involves short tune-ups that include games, such as reverse-a-word (“Say ‘teach’; then say it with the first sound last and the last sound first — ‘cheat’”). A third, particularly effective strategy is the Wilson Reading System Sound Tapping12 technique: Each sound in a word is represented by one tap. Students tap the first sound with their index finger and thumb, the second sound with their middle finger and thumb, the third sound with their ring finger and thumb, etc. Single sounds that are made with more than one letter (/sh/, /ch/, /th/, /ck/, /ph/) are represented with one tap. This technique helps students to hear all the sounds in a word.
As students progress in their ability to recognize syllables and spell accurately, teachers can begin to emphasize morphemes — prefixes, roots, and suffixes, mostly from Latin and Greek. Beginning with inflections that may change the spelling of a base word (fine, finest; begin, beginning; study, studied), students can analyze words into units that often link meaning and spelling. (The fact that the words “designate,” “signal,” and “assignment,” for example, all share the root “sign” can open a discussion about the aspect of meaning they all share).13 Instruction must be cumulative, sequential, and systematic, so that students overcome the bad habit of relying on context and guessing to decode unknown words.
Two critical abilities — to associate a sound with its letter/symbol and to recognize words — are usually fast and automatic in good readers. Poor readers are usually too slow, even after they become accurate, and this slowness generally reflects the lack of practice with reading. However, for some poor readers, slow word retrieval appears to be an unyielding, constitutional characteristic. These individuals do not easily develop whole-word recognition, but instead decode each word as if they were seeing it for the first time.
Older poor readers can usually
increase their reading speed with a great deal of practice at several levels:
sound-symbol association, word reading, and text reading at an easy level. Quick speed drills, conducted as challenge games to achieve a goal, can build automatic recognition of syllables and morphemes. Taking turns reading out loud in small groups, reading with a tape recording, choral reading of dramatic material, and rereading familiar texts can all support reading fluency. Above all, however, students must read as much as possible, and they must read material that is not too difficult if they are to make up the huge gap between themselves and other students.14
Normally progressing students can read most of the words in their listening
vocabulary by fourth or fifth grade. From then on, they learn vocabulary —primarily
by reading — at the rate of several thousand new words
per year. Older poor readers are at least partially familiar with more spoken
words than they can read, but because they do not read well, their exposure
to words in varied contexts is limited. Many poor readers must overcome a huge
vocabulary deficit before they will be able
to read successfully beyond the fifth grade level.
If vocabulary study is to be effective, however, it must occur daily and involve more than memorizing definitions. Effective teachers deliberately use new words as often as possible in classroom conversations. They reward those students who use new words or who notice the use of new words outside of class. Teachers can also show how to use context appropriately to derive meanings, find root morphemes, map word derivations, explain word origins, and paraphrase idiomatic expressions or special uses for words. If possible, word study should be linked to subject matter content and literature that is taught in class, even if the literature is being read aloud to the students.15 All of these strategies are proven effective and are easily adapted to any classroom.
As students reach the fourth or fifth grade level of reading ability, teachers should start to emphasize advanced reading strategies. Those students who have not read a great deal often lag in their knowledge of genre, text structure, text organization, and literary devices. They are unused to reading for information or reading to grapple with the deeper meanings of a text. As a remedy, teachers need to directly explicate and model the internal questioning patterns that occur in the mind of a good reader, encouraging students to practice these patterns many times in small- or large-group discussions. Probing and using open-ended questions about issues significant to the students are effective strategies for stimulating language. Great texts such as fables, poems, oral histories, and adapted classics promote student engagement. Even if students are working on word recognition, they will benefit from daily opportunities to discuss meaningful material.
The process of teaching comprehension must simultaneously include teaching about sentence structure, text cohesion, punctuation, phrasing, and grammar because comprehension can break down at the most basic levels of language processing. For example, students who are poor readers may fail to identify the referent for a pronoun, the figurative use of a word, the significance of a logical connective, or the tone of a phrase in determining the meaning of a written passage.
Written response to reading can greatly enhance comprehension, but poor readers must have their writing skills developed sequentially and cumulatively. Writing improves when students practice answering specific questions, elaborating subjects and predicates, combining simple sentences, constructing clauses, and linking sentences into organized paragraphs. These are the building blocks of clear, expository writing.16
While developing the building blocks for writing, students also need examples
of good writing; and they need their teachers to show them how the writing
process works, from start to finish. This helps students transcend the daunting
challenges of generating and organizing their own thoughts. Rather than turning
students loose to face a blank piece of paper, which can petrify even capable
writers, the instructor models and demystifies the composition process by first
helping the class generate and sort ideas. Then the class decides on an outline
and topic sentence. Next, the teacher talks the class through each step of
a shared composition, modeling decisions about what and how to write. Finally,
the teacher models the task of editing, pointing out sentences that need to
elaborated on, combined, or reordered, and replacing words as necessary. Students are thus prepared to compose independently.17
Older poor readers can learn to read if two conditions are met: They are taught the foundational language skills they missed, and they have ample opportunity to apply these skills in reading meaningful texts. Each approach teaches language structure explicitly to match the developmental needs of the students; and each uses systematic, structured, and cumulative methods applied to age-appropriate texts.
These approaches teach language at
all levels: sound, word, sentence, and passage. They unpack the building blocks of words, ensuring that students process them accurately, build fluency through ample practice, and engage actively in the meanings of the text.
Beyond the third grade, poor readers can be taught—if their program
has all of the necessary components; teachers are well prepared and supported;
and the students are given time, sufficiently intensive instruction, and incentives
to overcome their reading and language challenges. Given the right approach,
students will not just buy into the
effort. They will become readers.
Notes and Resources
1. Cunningham and Stanovich, 1997.
2. Shankweiler, et al., 1995.
3. Shankweiler, et al., 1999.
4. For “Twelve Components of Research-based Reading Programs, go to www.readingrockets.org/article/242; for “Implementing Research-based Reading Instruction in High Poverty Schools: Lessons Learned from a Five-year Research Program,” go to www.umich.edu/~rdytolrn/pathwaysconference/presentations/moats.pdf; and for a discussion about “Applying Research in Reading Instruction for Adults,” go to www.nifl.gov/partnershipforreading/publications/html/mcshane/index.html.
5. Torgersen, et al., 2001.
6. Curtis and Longo, 1999.
7. For a discussion of instructional and assessment guidelines for phonological awareness, go to www.ldonline.org/article/6254 .
8. For “Fluency: Instructional Guidelines and Student Activities,” go to www.readingrockets.org/article/3416; for “Five Surefire Strategies for Developing Reading Fluency,” go to http://content.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4367.
9. Direct teaching involves actively engaging students in the process of finding the meaning of the word and then exposing students to the same words numerous times. Research shows that effective vocabulary instruction uses both the context provided by the text and class discussion as springboards for vocabulary instruction. See www.readingrockets.org/article/3472.
10. See “Hooking Struggling Readers: Using Books They Can and Want to Read” at www.readingrockets.org/article/374.
11. For “Text Comprehension Instruction, “ go to www.nifl.gov/partnershipforreading/publications/reading_first1text.html. For “Comprehension Instruction: What Works,” go to www.ldonline.org/article/68.
12. For more about the Wilson Reading System Sound Tapping technique, go to www.wilsonlanguage.com/w_wrs.htm.
13. To learn more about spelling instruction, go to “Spelling Supports Reading” at www.adlit.org/article/19746.
14. For the resource list, “Older, Struggling Readers: What Works,” go to www.sonoma.edu/users/p/phelan/423/feldoldrdg.pdf.
15. For more about effective vocabulary instruction, go to www.literacymatters.org/content/readandwrite/vocab.htm.
17. For a wealth of free graphic organizers to help students as they learn
to write, go to www.readwritethink.org/student_mat/index.asp.
Cunningham, Anne, and Keith Stanovich. “Early Reading Acquisition and Its Relation to Reading Experience and Ability Ten Years Later.” Developmental Psychology, 33, 934-945. 1997.
Curtis, Mary, and Ann Marie Longo. When Adolescents Can’t Read: Methods and Materials That Work. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books. 1999.
Shankweiler, Donald, et al. “Cognitive Profiles of Reading-Disabled Children: Comparison of Language Skills in Phonology, Morphology, and Syntax.” Psychological Science, 6, 149-56. 1995.
Shankweiler, Donald, et al. “Comprehension and Decoding: Patterns of Association in Children with Reading Difficulties.” Scientific Studies of Reading, 31, 69-94. 1999.
Torgersen, Joseph, et al. “Intensive Remedial Instruction for Children
with Severe Reading Disabilities: Immediate and Long-term Outcomes from Two
Instructional Approaches.” Journal of Learning Disabilities, Vol. 34,
No. 1, 33-58. 2001.
Eric Dearden’s autism was not diagnosed until he was in the sixth grade. Yet his parents knew there was something unique about him from the beginning. As his mother, Peggy Dearden, explains, “he was quieter than the other two [of Eric’s brothers], and at the same time harder to soothe.” So, with nothing official to go on, she ventured into a world of parenting where the typical child-rearing guides did not serve. She could rely only on her instincts. And good instincts she had.
By the time he was four, Eric was in a speech and language program. The specialists recommended that he be with other children more, as this might remedy his communication delays. So, the next year Eric joined a full-inclusion pre-kindergarten class as a regular education student, even though the school district wanted to enroll him in a kindergarten/first-grade class. Peggy knew he was not ready.
Eric had not, at this point, been officially diagnosed with a specific disability. However, it was while he was enrolled in this class that the special education teacher took Peggy aside and, as Peggy describes it, “a little apologetically noted that Eric was having a hard time keeping up with the rest of the children.” The teacher asked Peggy if she would be willing to have Eric assessed for a disability. Peggy immediately responded with “Of course! Where do I sign?” This came as a great relief to the teacher, who was unused to parents being so open-minded about the implications of this assessment. However, Peggy’s only interest was in finding out what her son needed and how she could support him. And so their special education odyssey began.
As noted, Eric had demonstrated from birth that he was not a typical child. And everyone soon found out that neither was Peggy going to be a typical parent. Years before Eric’s official diagnosis of autism, she instinctively knew the importance of keeping him rooted — in a familiar place and among familiar people — if he was going to thrive. So, while inclusive classes existed at Eric’s grade school only in the first grade, by the time he was in the second grade, things changed. And they continued to change. Because of Peggy’s advocacy and because of the teachers’ responsiveness, the school kept adding inclusive classes right through Eric’s sixth grade.
Eric’s resource specialist teacher in elementary school, Nancy Yandle, talks about Peggy herself as “part of that first [inclusive] class. [The Deardens] were incredibly helpful and supportive in the move to a more inclusive program.” Yandle went on to give Eric’s parents credit for the fact that “at our school now, belonging is a given.”
Of course, this sort of experience does not take place in a vacuum, and Peggy reflected back the compliments. In a phone conversation, she praised the school staff involved in Eric’s education and described them as being “very, very supportive. Everyone on the IEP team was on the same page.”
It was not hard to be on Peggy’s page. While she was a determined woman, she was also a woman willing to do her homework and pitch in. At every step of the way, from Eric’s elementary school experience through high school, she talked to people, observed classes, listened and learned and volunteered — and then asked for what she believed Eric needed. And asked and asked and asked.
Even of herself she kept asking. Throughout elementary school, Eric continued being diagnosed with speech and language delays. Yet Peggy’s instincts told her there was a missing piece. And she knew how important it was to secure a definitive diagnosis for Eric before he went into junior high — rarely an easy transition for any child, and even less so for a teenager who is unique. It was during Eric’s sixth grade that an observant teacher mentioned that she had seen Eric rocking in class — not a lot, but noticeably. So at Eric’s IEP meeting that March, Peggy asked for the best-qualified psychologist to observe Eric in class. The psychologist came, observed, and thought Eric “looked fine.” Peggy still had a “gut feeling that there was something more to Eric’s disability.” She took him to the Frank D. Lanterman Regional Center where he was diagnosed with autism.
Peggy was not surprised. She had been reading about and researching
the disability for a number of years;
she had seen that “some of the signs
in Eric had been there all along.”
So Peggy and Eric went back to school to revise his IEP. With that, they began preparing for junior high. At this point, Peggy was told he could go into resource specialist classes (RSP) or special day classes. Not both. But Peggy visited all of the special day classes and believed that Eric’s “abilities were well beyond what they were doing.” So she formulated other plans — “a picture of what was best for Eric”— and then worked to get it.
By her own admission, “not everything we tried worked perfectly,” but
she kept herself informed of the opportunities, and she focused on gently and
persistently sharing her vision of what was best for her son. She insists that
what gave her the strength and commitment to keep advocating was the time she
spent observing the various classes. Being there and knowing her son gave her
a strong sense of what he needed.
As a result, Eric went on to participate in a unique blend of general education classes and RSP classes in junior high and high school. His general education art teacher, Yvonne Ramsey, describes Peggy Dearden as “incredible. She sees herself as part of the process. Eric’s parents went above and beyond in support of the school, in support of Eric, and in support of special education. Even if there is an issue that could promote conflict, she goes over to the other side of the table.”
Eric’s current RSP teacher Christy Ware concurs, describing Eric’s parents as people who approach “everything in a very collaborative manner. At IEP meetings, Peggy always brought sandwiches or snacks.” Ware noted that Peggy did not do this in an attempt to bribe or control, but out of respect for the fact that the teachers were often giving up their own lunch periods or after-school hours to help Eric. And the meetings typically went long. “Peggy simply appreciated the effort we were making for Eric, and she wanted to make things a little easier for us.” Yvonne Ramsey chimed in with the highest praise: “The mom just accepts Eric for who he is. . . . His mom and dad will stay in my mind forever as advocates for their son.”
And as a result of the Deardens’ patience, participation, and intrepidity, Eric’s schools just kept adjusting classes each year to accommodate Eric’s needs. Peggy remembers that “while every school at that time had special day classes, we were both sure that Eric could do grade-level work and contribute. When students are separated [from their general education peers] they can’t contribute. They don’t feel they have anything to offer, and not just academically, but personally, as well.”
Eric’s teachers and former teachers who were interviewed for this article were overflowing with enthusiasm for the Deardens and their capacity to see challenges and barriers not as points of contention, but as compelling reasons to join forces and work together. So, in this admirable, collaborative spirit, Peggy Dearden inspired the world around her. It seems that the only person who inspired it more was her son.
When Christy Ware learned about this article, her first response was “I am so happy that you are doing this to honor Eric. In all of my years [of teaching], Eric stands out as an incredible young man. He is amazingly responsible, persevering, and responsive. A lot of kids are not as challenged as Eric. These kids know it, and he serves as an inspiration to them.”
Ware says that he is like the “ant who moved the rubber tree plant. Eric has tremendous character and determination. You never expect that this kid can do what he has done. But by believing he can do it, he has done it.” Yandle calls Eric “a role model also for grownups in his willingness to persevere, his good attitude, and his self image.” She tells of an IEP meeting held a year ago to discuss transition. Several former teachers were invited to help Eric plan for his future — and to celebrate who he was and what he had accomplished. Almost everyone who was invited showed up, so there were a great many teachers there. Yandle recalls that “Eric was so excited to share his thoughts and plans. He has always been an inspiration . . . in his optimism and enthusiasm for life.”
Because Eric has been enrolled in so many general education classes, he has
many friends in both general and special education. He entered his senior year
with a 3.8 grade-point average. However, Peggy does not pretend that Eric’s
victories have been easy. He has autism. He faces significant challenges that
he will continue to face for his entire life. But, with the help of his parents
and teachers, he is having a very normal high school experience. His immediate
goals are beautifully common: He is looking forward to attending his senior
prom and to taking part in all of his school’s graduation festivities — although
this is one particular victory that, to date, may have been the hardest won.
Going into Eric’s senior year, the Deardens knew that if Eric did not pass the California High School Exit Exam — the CAHSEE — he would not receive a diploma. But this past December they were alarmed to discover that not passing the CAHSEE would also preclude Eric from joining his friends in their graduation ceremony. As of this writing, Eric has taken the CAHSEE six times. Late in 2007 he passed the mathematics portion; he just learned that he missed by nine points his March attempt to pass the English portion. He will take the test for the seventh time in November.
While Eric was studying for and taking the exam these many times, Peggy was not sitting still: She sent letters to the principal, the superintendent, the seven school board members, the school counselor, Eric’s teachers, and the district’s special education director. And she wrote them all more than once, advocating for her son’s right to walk in his graduation ceremony. While she was deferred to, turned down, and turned away several times, she persisted. Patiently. Gently.
Peggy recalls spending “hours on this. It was over two months of constant, sometimes daily calls to the California Department of Education (CDE), district headquarters, and the high school. I was also in frequent contact with the regional center, a disability rights attorney in Los Angeles, an advocacy group, and a disability rights law center. Most impressive was the Sunday morning phone call that CDE’s Jill Larson placed to me. I am so very grateful for all of the help that each person at the CDE gave.”
Currently, Eric’s school district is reviewing its policy for students who have completed all graduation requirements short of the CAHSEE. But the certain news is that Eric will walk with his graduating class on June 17, 2008.
And then Eric will go on with his life. He is determined to pass the CAHSEE, no matter how long it takes. He is determined to go to college with his brothers. He is determined to get a job and have a career. All signs point to him doing it all.
As the story unfolds, the various quotes —“Eric’s teachers have been very responsive;” “the Deardens have always been extremely committed to Eric’s education;” and especially “Eric is an unusually determined young man”— each win a prize for understatement. The actions of Eric’s teachers, Eric’s parents, and Eric himself all speak loudly about the importance of access and inclusion. The importance of persistence and patience. And, above all, the importance of high hopes.
July 12–15 (Vancouver)
Brain Development & Learning:
Making Sense of Science
This interdisciplinary conference sponsored by the University of British Columbia
is devoted to improving children’s lives by making the most current research
in neuroscience, child psychology, and medicine understandable and applicable
to those who work with children. Vancouver, British Columbia. For more information,
contact Rose Wang at email@example.com
and 604-822-7404; or go to www.interprofessional.ubc.ca/bdl.html.
October 3–4 (Kansas City)
Research, Teaching, and All That Jazz
The Council for Learning Disabilities is sponsoring its thirtieth international conference, featuring sessions and workshops that focus on such topics as instructional coaching, co-teaching, effective writing instruction, and more — all related to learning disabilities. Kansas City, Missouri. For more information, e-mail CLDinfo@ie-events.com; phone 913-491-1011; or go to www.cldinternational.org/Conference/Conference2008.asp.
October 9–10 (Portland)
Breakthrough Strategies to Teach and Counsel Troubled Youth
Designed for teachers, counselors, special educators, social workers, psychologists, foster parents, and anyone else who works with hard-to-reach or hard-to-manage children and youths, this workshop will deliver 200 ready-to-use strategies for addressing conduct disorders. Portland, Oregon. For more information, contact Ruth Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org and 800-545-5736; or go to www.youthchg.com/live.html.
October 22–24 (San Diego)
Evolving Leaders: Inspiring Greatness
The Reaching At-Promise Student Association presents its second annual institute, an event designed for school administrators who would like to improve their leadership skills. The event will offer proven techniques for increasing student achievement and empowering staff, along with strategies for integrating the knowledge of teaching and learning with effective management skills. San Diego. For more information, contact Eileen Holmes at email@example.com and 800-871-7482; or go to http://leaders.rapsa.org/.
October 24–25 (Arlington)
Applied Autism Research and
This two-day forum sponsored by the Organization for Autism Research will
feature current autism research and evidence-based interventions with autism
spectrum disorders. Its presentations and workshops will focus on life-long
education and interventions for individuals with autism and their families.
Arlington, VA. For more information, contact (toll free) 866-366-9710, e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.researchautism.org/news/conference/index.asp.
Schedule Your Own
California’s Diagnostic Centers
California’s Diagnostic Centers are rich sources of technical assistance and training for parents and teachers of children with disabilities.
The Diagnostic Center, Central
California, offers professional development projects, workshops, and consultation services to local education agency staff and parents on autism spectrum disorders, differentiated instruction, severe disabilities, literacy, behavior, and early childhood special education. For more information, call 559-243-4047 or e-mail email@example.com.
The Diagnostic Center Northern
California offers free, online trainings to parents on disability law
Section 504, transitioning students into adult life, and parents’ rights and responsibilities. Go to www.dcn-cde.ca.gov/trainfam.htm.
The Diagnostic Center, Southern
California, offers trainings on numerous topics, such as “California Standards for the Teaching Professional” and “Overview of Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Go to www.dcs-cde.ca.gov/prf/trbrochure_web.pdf
to view the center’s full range of trainings and to learn more about scheduling one.
California Services for
and Training (CalSTAT)
CalSTAT offers online, self-paced trainings on classroom management and on writing measurable, annual goals and short-term objectives tied to general education; go to www.calstat.org/learningCenter/selfPaced.html.
Sponsored by The Center for Research on Learning, the eLearning Design Lab provides training on a variety of important topics for teachers of children with disabilities. For more information, go to http://elearndesign.org/resources.html.
The Special EDge newsletter, podcasts, and supplementary resources are available free at the above URL.
The Access Center: Improving Outcomes for All Students K–8 offers resources to help provide students with disabilities access to rigorous academic content in language arts, math, and science. Their site also offers a series of professional development modules and information briefs on such topics as teaching and learning strategies, supports and accommodations, universal design for learning, differentiated instruction, and more.
Accessing the General Education Curriculum: Research-Based Interventions for High School Students with Disabilities is the transcript of a NCSET teleconference call held on August 17, 2004, with Dr. Jean Schumaker, Center for Research on Learning, University of Kansas. Access to the complete conversation is available at the above URL.
Access to the General Curriculum for Students with Disabilities: A Brief for Parents and Teachers, available at the above URL, provides a straightforward overview of the definitions, legal mandates, and issues related to providing students with disabilities access to the general education curriculum.
Children with Challenging Behavior: Strategies for Reflective Thinking was written from two perspectives: that of a parent and that of a professional. The authors offer practical strategies, resources, and insights for families and practitioners who work with — and love — children with challenging behavior. The book helps to sort out challenging behavior from other factors, such as cultural expectations, language differences, or disabilities.
Intervention Central makes available a wealth of materials and resources to help school staff and parents promote positive classroom behavior and foster effective learning for all children and youths. The Web site offers numerous academic and behavioral intervention strategies, publications on effective teaching practices, and tools that streamline classroom assessment and intervention.
The IRIS Center at Vanderbilt University provides free, online, interactive trainings that translate research about the education of students with disabilities into practice. These trainings address accommodations, differentiated instruction, assessment and progress monitoring, collaboration, learning strategies, response to intervention, and more. The center also offers materials, case studies, activities, and information briefs.
Moving ON — Transition to Adult Services: Workbook for Parents is a practical, friendly publication designed for parents and their young adults with disabilities who face the challenges and opportunities of transitioning from high school into adult life. The book is available as a free download at the above URL.
The National Institute for Literacy makes available a number of valuable publications designed to help parents and educators support children’s efforts to learn to read. Putting Reading First: Helping Your Child Learn to Read, The Effect of Family Literacy Interventions on Children’s Acquisition of Reading, and What Content-Area Teachers Should Know About Adolescent Literacy are just three of the numerous publications available from this site.
(select “Resource Center” from the left column, then “Instructional Strategies.” From there, select the following title.) New Access to the General Curriculum: Universal Design for Learning is a friendly, readable document that addresses what it means for special education students to have access to the general curriculum — especially those who have formerly been limited to special education curricula.
The Savvy Teacher’s Guide: Reading Interventions That Work, by Jim Wright (2005, 53 pages) and available as a free download at the above URL, offers classroom instructors a range of reading interventions for students with diverse learning needs. The document offers numerous strategies for promoting error correction and reading fluency and for building text comprehension. All featured interventions are research-based.
The RiSE (Resources in Special Education) Library freely lends materials to California residents; the borrower only pays for return postage costs. The items listed on this page are a small sample of what the library holds. Go to www.php.com/services/libraries to view all holdings. To order materials, either phone or e-mail RiSE librarian Judy Bower: 408-727-5775; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alternative Math Techniques: When Nothing Else Seems to Work
Richard Cooper. Longmont, CO: Sopris West. 2005. 129 pages and CD-ROM. This collection of tips, advice, and new concepts offers help and hope for teachers working with struggling math students. Call #23707.
Co-Teaching in the Differentiated Classroom: Successful Collaboration, Lesson
Design, and Classroom Management
Melinda L. Fattig and Maureen T. Taylor. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 2008. 126 pages. How do you implement co-teaching programs in mixed-ability classrooms? How can general education teachers and special education teachers work together to improve classroom functioning, while promoting high achievement for all students? This guide explains. Call #23969 and 23970.
From Talking to Writing: Strategies for Scaffolding Expository Expression
Terrill Jennings and Charles Haynes. Prides Crossing, MA: Landmark School Inc. 2002. 191 pages. Offering an approach that has emerged from over 30 years of teaching students with language-based learning disabilities, these authors offer tools for helping children find topics, retrieve words, formulate sentences, and sequence their ideas. The book also includes techniques for helping students find correct words; frameworks for sentence, paragraph, and essay instruction to use in both language arts and content classes; and teacher-friendly examples and templates to use with students. Call #23956
Rachel Janney and Martha E. Snell. Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes Publishing. 2000. 93 pages. Introducing a fresh approach to adapting schoolwork for students with disabilities and designed for teachers of grades K–12, this handbook offers strategies for curricular, instructional, and alternative adaptations, as well as guidelines for implementing them. Call #23416
Quick Guides to Inclusion: Ideas for Educating Students with Disabilities
Michael Giangreco. Baltimore, MD: Paul Brookes Publishing. 2002. 153 pages. This set of five guides is designed to help general education teachers successfully include students with disabilities in general education classrooms. The guides address differentiated instruction, supporting literacy in all children, supporting friendships for all students, self-determination, and creating inclusive high school classrooms. An additional brief guide offers advice to school personnel on assisting students who use wheelchairs. Call #23430
Developing Minds: General Strategies for Teachers
Mel Levine, M.D. Boston, MA: WGBH. 2002. 25-minute video. As it depicts children and early adolescents struggling with learning problems, this video explores a systematic process for understanding and managing a child’s learning strengths and weaknesses, with a focus on how teachers can help children be more successful at learning. Call #23167 and 23168.
California Services for Technical
Assistance and Training (CalSTAT)
A Special Project of the Napa County Office of Education| 5789 State Farm Drive, Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Fax: 707-586-2735 | email:email@example.com