Educational Alternatives Connect the Dots #3: Responsiveness to Intervention
Reading Assignment for Connect the Dots #3 includes:
Chapters 4 and 5 from Inclusion: Effective Practices for All Students
What We Need to Know About Responsiveness to Intervention (and Shouldn’t be Afraid to Ask)
Is Response to Intervention Good Policy for Specific Learning Disability?
Assignment: Discuss the two methods of identification of learning disabilities and how a shift to RTI has changed practice in schools. Which characteristics of learning disabilities might present the biggest challenge to you in the classroom; discuss why and which effective teaching strategy you would choose to address the issues.
It seems that the overall reaction to the shift to RTI in regards to the way it is instituted in schools, the success of students with disabilities, and the effect on the teachers and students in the general education classroom has been positive. Even through there are many different challenges that may arise with the inclusion of students with disabilities in the classroom, the overall results are extremely beneficial for all parties involved, including the teacher and the students. With conscientious attention and an open mind for creativity and challenges, RTI and inclusion practices can have great impacts for all aspects of the educational system both inside and outside the classroom.
There are two methods of identifying leaning disabilities - Severe Discrepancy and Response to Intervention. The first has been generally replaced by the second for many reasons. The Severe Discrepancy method is defined as a determination of disability through the “severe discrepancy between the student’s expected achievement level and actual achievement level (Inclusion 82).” In general this method utilizes elements like student performance on class tests and standardized tests in comparison to other students in that grade level to determine if there is a severe difference in a student’s performance. If a severe discrepancy in academic performance is identified, other factors including other disabilities, culture, truancy, language issues, poor quality teachers, or low economic status, can be eliminated as causing the discrepancy then the student can be identified as having a learning disability. The major problem with this method of identifying a learning discrepancy is that a student has to fall severely behind their peers before their learning disability can be identified. An additionally issue is that that this method is not necessarily as quantitative and universally applicable as professionals would like them to be and therefore there is not a generally accepted and systematic way of identifying a learning disability with this method.
The second method of identifying a learning disability is the Response-to-Intervention approach also uses the principle of identifying learning disabilities through unexpected low academic performance. However, in this method prevention is at the forefront of the teacher’s minds from the beginning of their experience with their students. Teachers try to identify students who are struggling at the beginning rather than waiting for the accumulation of test materials. When a teacher identifies such students they attempt to reach the students using more small group instruction, structured teaching, tutoring, and other accommodating methods. If a student is still struggling with these accommodations, they receive “intensive, individualized interventions using highly effective instruction and fr equent monitoring of student progress (Inclusion 84).” If none of these methods work, other causes have likely been eliminated and then the student is reviewed for identification with a learning disability. This approach enables an individualized approach to the identification of learning disabilities and prevents students from falling behind and potentially ruining their educational opportunities.
The shift to RTI has had many impacts on school systems and the general classroom. There are many additionally services provided to students as a result of RTI, many classrooms have more adults in them through the positions of paraprofessionals and special education teachers thus benefiting all students, more students are identified with a learning disability at an earlier age thus receiving a more tailored education, learning experiences are more engaging and are designed to incorporate multiple intelligences, and most importantly it has made teachers and administrators more accountable for the education and inclusion of students with learning disabilities into the schools.
There are many possible issues that could arise with learning disabled students in the general education classroom. The main issues include but are not limited to “oral expression, listening comprehension, written expression, basic reading skills, reading fluency skills, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, and mathematics problem solving (Inclusion 86).” These issues are based in the cognitive deficits of memory problems, attention problems, and metacognitive problems, or in social and motivational problems which students face when they have a learning disability. The characteristic of learning disabilities that will likely pose the greatest challenge to me as an English Language Arts Middle School teacher is the characteristic of problems with reading comprehension. This is due to the fact that reading comprehension, at least the way I see it, is the basis of Language Arts material, as demonstrated by curriculum, standardized tests, the general concepts of literacy and literature in the English language, and most importantly (as having an eye on the end game is) acceptance to college and higher education for all students. Reading comprehension not only enables students to understand specific texts and materials, but it enables students to reach higher into the body of academic and life knowledge. Without being able to successfully comprehend what they read, students will not be able to answer questions and make connections to the world in their readings, let alone excel in their academic pursuits.
Through my personal experience both as a student, a teacher, and a learner, I believe that the best way to help students improve their reading comprehension is by utilizing graphic organizers and concept maps. Through these visual aids students are able to associate not just a picture or image with a text or story but a sense of flow and connection with the material. By creating the graphic organizer the students are able to have a feeling of tangibility of the material, and associate a process with the material. As students use the form or review the graphics over and over again they develop an imprinting of the skills and the process in their minds. For students who excel at writing, they are also able to take an active role in creating their graphic organizer. Most importantly, this method is extremely effective due to the fact that the brain is designed as an organizational system. Therefore, by initiating this organization using a tangible and active methodology, student reading comprehension can be increased and all students will benefit. Personally, I believe that (and have every intention of implementing this belief in my work with my students) using graphic organizers is not just about having a visual to associate with the text, and this is where the strategy can fall short into ineffectiveness. I believe that it is more about figuring out ways to effectively replicate the brain’s organizational pathways and nuances into a physical form so that the two can be aligned in processing and thus aligned to facilitate comprehension. It does a student no good if they are trying to remember material and trying to learn a new way of structuring material at the same time. This is where further discrepancies and confusion can and do occur. Therefore it is essential that graphic organizers are designed with great attention to detail and flow and with the students’ mind and capability levels in mind. Through every step of the process.
Additionally, I believe that a great challenge is reaching the student with ADHD in a constructive way and helping to incorporate them into the learning environment. I think that in many ways students with ADHD are put to the wayside and disciplined unfairly due to the fact that teachers find it easier to ignore them than to try to reach them. I see it as a personal challenge. I think that it is not only essential in order to reach ADHD students by keeping things moving and interesting and physically engaging, but that ultimately the rest of a class of students will be more engaged and excited about learning if these kind of accommodations are made.
Ultimately, I believe that the inclusion of students with learning disabilities ultimately helps the entire learning environment because it forces teachers to mix it up - to change the way they do things - to be innovative and try out things that the students have never seen before. I see it as nothing but beneficial if a teacher is willing to take on the challenge.