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Strategies For Active Learning

Puzzling is the term teachers use to describe students with learning disabilities. They tell us that these students look entirely normal, seem intelligent, carry on intelligent conversations – that they don’t appear to any different than other students. Yet these students have difficulty doing certain tasks – not all- in school. Some have difficulty reading; others perform poorly in spelling; still others make frequent mistakes in math. Teachers in many schools tell us that these students are very hard to teach – that they simply do not learn in the same ways or as easily as others their age.

They tell us that these students have special needs and are not easy to teach in large classes in which most other students perform reasonably well. They tell us that modifying instruction so that these students can profit from teaching is an intricate process. So what is the ideal school curriculum for students with learning disabilities? How should a classroom teacher implement a program to meet the needs of students with disabilities? What strategies for active learning should be included in the program for students with learning disabilities? All these questions will be tried to answer in this research paper.

First, learning disabilities should be identified in the formal school context. Thus, preschoolers should not be labeled as learning disabled as growth rates are so unpredictable at young age. In addition, very young children who appear to have problems may be identified under a noncategorical label, such as developmentally delayed. For many children, learning disabilities first become apparent when they enter school and fail to acquire academic skills. The failure often occurs in reading, but also happens in mathematics, writing, or other school subjects.

Among the behaviors frequently seen in the early elementary years are inability to attend and concentrate; poor motor skills, as evidenced in the awkward handling of a pencil and in poor writing; and difficulty in learning to read. In the later elementary years, as the curriculum becomes more difficult, problems may emerge in other areas, such as social studies or science. Emotional problems also become more of an impediment after several years of repeated failure, and students become more conscious of their poor achievement in comparison with that of their peers.

For some students, social problems and inability to make and keep friends increase in importance at this age level. A radical change in schooling occurs at the secondary level, and adolescents find that learning disabilities begin to take a greater toll. The tougher demands of the junior and senior high school curriculum and teachers, the turmoil of adolescence, and the continued academic failure may combine to intensify the learning disability. Adolescents are also concerned about life after completing school. They may need counseling and guidance for college, career, and vocational decisions.

To worsen the situation, a few adolescents find themselves drawn into acts of juvenile delinquency. Because adolescents tend to be overly sensitive, some emotional, social, and self-concept problems often accompany a learning disability at his age. Most secondary schools now have programs for adolescents with learning disabilities. Many teachers in New York suggested that we abolish the label learning disability, and merge it with the emotionally disturbed and the educable mentally retarded and only deal with the child from an instructional point of view by defining learning tasks so that they can be taught step by step.

I strongly opposed with this suggestion. Though maybe it is possible for the child with severe learning disability, but this approach is not sufficient to mild learning disabilities students. This is one of the greatest sources of controversy about the strategies issue for students with learning disabilities. The question of how much academic and learning retardation is evidenced before an individual should be identified as learning disabled. Aside from identifying children with learning disability, it is very important to judge the extent of a child’s learning disability as either mild or severe.

Determining the level of severity is helpful in placement and in planning teaching delivery. I strongly suggest that students with mild learning disabilities should be given different remediation from those of students who have severe learning disabilities. So, within the regular classroom, the regular teachers should often make changes in instruction that will benefit these students. On the other hand, students with sever learning disabilities pose a very different problem and they require quite different educational services.

So they need the environment of a special classroom, should contact mainly with one teacher, and should be given special services for most of the day. Because of the intensity of their problems, the special class should be given fewer students than the regular classroom. I suggest the 1:3 teacher to student ratio is the best to maximize and hasten the remediation process. However, students with severe learning disabilities can gradually be mainstreamed for special subjects or activities or placed in the resource room, or even back in the regular classroom as their progress permits.

Active Strategies for Students with Disabilities This knowledge of the characteristics of learning disabled students is one basis for implementing a program to meet the needs of students with disabilities. Thus, we have seen that children with learning disabilities compose quite a diverse group. It should be no surprise then to find that the teaching and active strategies for learning should be designed to help those children are also quite a diverse. Some of the strategies for active learning that could be included in the program for students with learning disabilities are the following: 1) Task training.

This strategy emphasizes the sequencing and simplication of the task to be learned. Ysseldyke and Salvia (2004) have advanced two theoretical models namely: (a) analyzing the child’s abilities and disabilities and (b) analyzing the task and the direct training of the terminal behavior or task. This view is supported by behavioral analysts who advocate (1) finding out what the child can and cannot do in a particular skill, (2) determining whether or not the child has the behaviors needed to succeed in the task, (3) defining the goals in observable terms, and (4) organizing a systemic remedial program using reinforcement techniques.

The applied behavior analysts do not infer processes or abilities that underlie difficulties but rely solely on the child’s interactional history and the current behavior and environmental situation. They feel that their approach, which is task oriented and observable, is the most parsimonious approach, and to some it is the only approach needed. 2) Ability or process training. The focus here is on the remediation and simplification of the task to be learned. Quay (2003) discussed the relative efficacy of ability or process training.

He stated that three approaches to remediation have evolved: (1) remediating a disability so that learning will be facilitated at a later date, (2) training and ability or process for its own sake, and (3) direct training of the task. He concludes that the direct instruction method (task training) should be tried first and then discarded in favor of other methods if direct instruction is not successful. 3) Process-task training. This strategy combines the two strategies mentioned above and integrated into one remedial program.

Raschke and Young (2002) support this approach. They compared the behavior – analysis model with the diagnostic-prescriptive model. They state that neither approach alone has the answer and propose what they call a dialectic-teaching approach into one system. Essentially the model assesses the abilities and disabilities of the children (intraindividual differences), makes task analyses of the skills to be learned, and prescribes remediation in the functions and skills to be developed.

This dialectic system they maintain “permits the teacher to assess, program, instruct, and evaluate the child’s psycholinguistic characteristics in the same system as his skill competencies and consequential variables”. Hence, the task of developing active strategies for students with learning disabilities proved to be a formidable challenge. Thus, providing varied teaching strategies for students with learning disabilities in a way acceptable to all has continued as a debatable issue since the inception of the field.

Although a number of strategies have been generated and used over the years, each has been judged by some to have some shortcomings. There are many types of disabilities, each of which may require a unique strategy and thus a unique remedial method. So any teaching strategy should best meet the requirements needed to serve properly learning disabled students within the regular classroom. Hence, learning disabled students should be treated or given remediation within the given school context with the greatest help of the regular classroom teacher but the guidance of the learning disabilities specialist.

So, it is implied that each school should have a learning disabilities specialist. With this, a change in the administrative arrangements for the placement for instruction of children with learning disabilities is a must. It is important to take note that in the past, the rapid growth of special education was in the direction of removing atypical children from the mainstream of regular classroom and placing them into special education programs.

Even the regular education supported this movement which maybe because the responsibility of educating children with a variety of learning problems is transferred to the domain of special education, and that would really lighten the work load of regular teachers. But that should not be the case and I do not support that movement. The trend should be reversed and all students with learning disabilities should be brought back into the regular classroom with the regular students and in the hands of the regular teacher with the help of the learning disabilities specialist.

By promoting the merging of special and regular education, the regular education initiative reflects a major change in the way students with learning disabilities are identified, assessed, and educated. The approach is supported by many special educators (Maheady & Algozzine, 2001; Reynolds, Wang & Walberg, 1997). The success of the initiative depends on the support of regular and special teachers (Semmel, Abernathy, Butera, & Lesar, 2001; Coates, 1999).

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