Effective Literacy Instruction for Students with Moderate or Severe Disabilities

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9781557668370: Effective Literacy Instruction for Students with Moderate or Severe Disabilities

With this practical guidebook, teachers will help students with disabilities meet academic standards for literacy. Appropriate for use in all settings, including inclusive classrooms, this book is the lifeline every K–12 teacher needs to

  • Teach every key literacy component—phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, text comprehension, and oral language—to students with disabilities.
  • Implement proven strategies. The practical teaching techniques and suggestions throughout the book are backed by research and field tested.
  • Plan better lessons that get results with simple organizational tools like the Literacy Planning Matrix.
  • Teach students with a wide range of disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and multiple disabilities.
  • Understand the research. The authors highlight reliable research on effective literacy practices and put it in the most accessible terms.

A must-have resource on one of today's hottest topics, this easy-to-use book will help educators raise expectations for all students and teach those with disabilities the crucial literacy skills they'll use for the rest of their lives.

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About the Author:


Susan R. Copeland, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Special Education at the University of New Mexico. She teaches courses in both the undergraduate dual license program and the graduate program in special education. Prior to receiving her doctorate from Vanderbilt she worked with individuals with disabilities in several capacities, including as a classroom special education teacher and as a coordinator for a community program serving children and adults. Dr. Copeland's research and teaching focus developing instructional and social supports for students with disabilities within inclusive environments and advocacy and empowerment of individuals with severe disabilities.

Dr. Keefe received her bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the United Kingdom, her master's degree in anthropology at the University of Nebraska, and her master of arts and doctoral degrees in special education from the University of New Mexico. She has taught in inclusive settings at the elementary level and now is actively involved in various educational reform issues throughout New Mexico. Her research interests include inclusive practices, co-teaching, and systematic change at the school level. Dr. Keefe enjoys tennis, playing banjo with ther band, going to Jamaica, and reading.



Diane Ryndak, Ph.D., received her Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is the author or coauthor of numerous articles, chapters, and books and coeditor of two compendia of TASH articles most frequently used by institutions of higher education. Several of her articles have been republished in the compendia and in international journals, and one of her books has been republished in Japan. Dr. Ryndak served as a Fulbright Research Scholar in Poland, where she returns frequently to work with colleagues at The Maria Grzegorzewska Academy for Special Education in Warsaw and across Poland. She has represented the U.S. Department of State with efforts related to the inclusion of citizens with disabilities in all aspects of life in the Ukraine; conducted over 30 international presentations; andguest lectured in Turkey, Peru, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Her body of work focuses on inclusive education and access to the general curriculum for students with extensive support needs, student outcomes achieved by inclusive services, preservice teacher preparation, and technical assistance for sustainable school reform efforts related to inclusive education. Dr. Ryndak has served multiple terms as a member of and Secretary for the TASH National Board of Directors and as the chair of the TASH Publications Committee, National Agenda Committee on Inclusive Education, Conference Committee, International Issues Committee, and Personnel Preparation Committee. She has served as Associate Editor for Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities (RPSD) and as a member of the editorial or review board for seven peer-reviewed professional journals, including RPSD, American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Journal of Ethnographic and Qualitative Research, and Teacher Education and Special Education.


Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpted from Chapter 2 of Effective Literacy Instruction for Students with Moderate or Severe Disabilities, by Susan R. Copeland, Ph.D., and Elizabeth B. Keefe, Ph.D.

Copyright © 2007 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

A major focus and challenge for teachers of students with moderate or severe disabilities has been providing access to the general education classroom while still individualizing instruction (Brown, Wilcox, Sontag, Vincent, Dodd, & Gruenewald, 2004; Jackson, Ryndak, & Billingsley, 2000; Villa & Thousand, 2005). A perusal of recent publications in special education reveal an increasingly sophisticated educational knowledge and instructional practices aimed at providing meaningful access to the general education curriculum through such strategies as the Infused Skills Grid (e.g. Castegnera Fisher, Rodifer, & Sax, 1998), Program at a Glance (e.g., Snell & Janney, 2000), and Ecological/Discrepancy Analysis (Downing, 2002, 2005; Ryndak & Alper, 2003; Snell & Brown, 2006).

Research clearly indicates that students with moderate or severe disabilities benefit from placement in general education classes (Villa & Thousand, 2000). Research has shown gains in many areas including increased learning (Fisher & Meyer, 2002; Ryndak, Morrison, & Sommerstein, 1999), increased engaged time (Katz, Mirenda, & Auerbach, 2002; Logan, Bakeman, & Keefe, 1997), improved social and play skills (Fisher & Meyer, 2002; Keefe & Van Etten, 1994), and higher quality IEPs (Hunt, Farron-Davis, Beckstead, Curtis, & Goetz, 1994). At the same time, research indicates that students without disabilities do as well or better from education in inclusive classrooms (Cole, Waldron, & Majd, 2004; Sharpe, York, & Knight, 1994; Staub & Peck, 1994). No research base exists to show that students with disabilities gain any educational benefits from segregated educational placements (Downing, 2005).

What is happening in these inclusive classrooms that leads to positive educational outcomes for all students? We believe that by improving access for students with disabilities, teachers are implementing instructional strategies that create richer learning environments for all students whether or not they have disabilities. In this chapter we examine the latest research and literature on creating rich learning environments for students. Brain-based learning is a new and exciting area of research in education focused on an examination of the chemical and structural aspects of how brains learn. We propose that this brain-based research provides a solid foundation to justify the use of such educational innovations as differentiated instruction, multiple modalities, and cooperative learning with all students, including those with severe disabilities. This chapter will provide an overview of the most recent research on brain-based learning, describe some examples of instructional strategies that are consistent with this research, and look at how individual individualized education program (IEP) objectives can be taken into account.

BRAIN-BASED LEARNING

Advances in imaging technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) have allowed researchers to examine the functioning of the brain in unprecedented detail. In contrast to classic studies in educational psychology that focused on external observation of human behavior as the basis for intuiting how brains functioned, these imaging technologies provide a window into the real time neuronal activity associated with the perception of environmental stimuli, how that sensory input is processed, and how information is stored in memory—in other words, how brains learn. Results from classic educational psychology research in combination with studies using the newest brain imaging technologies have produced a new level of understanding concerning the learning process—information that can guide educators interested in maximizing the impact of instruction for their students.

How Do Brains Work?

To better understand the educational implications of brain research, we must first understand what brains are made of and how they receive, process, and store information. The brain is part of the nervous system. The basic building blocks of the nervous system are specialized cells called neurons that differ from other cells in that they are designed to communicate with one another using a combination of chemical and electrical signals.

While neurons come in a variety of shapes, the typical neuron is shaped like a tree. The tree's canopy is composed of the main cell body. In place of leaves, the neuron's cell body is covered with multiple projections called dendrites that lie in contact with adjacent neurons. The function of a cell's dendrites is to receive information in the form of chemical signals from surrounding neurons. If the received signals are sufficiently strong, the neuron is activated, meaning it transmits the signal down the length of its trunk, or axon, and on to the roots. The roots are filaments that lie adjacent to the dendrites of other neurons. The filaments of one neuron don't actually touch the dendrites of adjacent cells; they'reseparated by a tiny gap. This gap is called the synapse. Neurons transmit signals across these synapses by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. Examples of neurotransmitters include glycine, epinephrine, dopamine, serotonin, cortisol, and endorphins.

The brain is made of billions of these interconnected neurons, which are arranged into various structures, the most obvious of which are the two halves, or hemispheres, of the brain, which are connected by thick chords of neurons called the corpus callosum. Other brain structures generally come in pairs, with one in the left hemisphere, and one in the right. Some of these structures control bodily functions automatically, without active thought. For example, the brain stem controls breathing and the beating of the heart, the cerebellum controls balance and muscle coordination, and the amygdala moderates emotion. While these structures can influence learning, of greater interest to teachers are brain structures that play a role in conscious thought and memory, as it is here that the most active aspects of learning take place.

Conscious thought occurs in a part of the brain called the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is made up of lobes, each with primary responsibility for specific aspects of brain function. For example, the occipital lobes are primarily responsible for vision; the temporal lobes for hearing; and the parietal lobes for both body awareness, such as sensations of heat, cold, pain, or pressure, and for control of which of these sensations to pay attention to at any given time. Last are the frontal lobes, which are the seat of consciousness. The frontal lobes control conscious thought or cognition and the body's voluntary movement. For example, when engaged in a conversation, it is the frontal lobes that allow you to understand the conversation, decide that you have something to say, and direct the muscles in your throat and mouth so you can speak.

This structural description of the brain's various parts and associated functions, however, is tremendously simplified. In truth, the functioning of the brain is both highly complex and integrated across all of its parts in both hemispheres. Attempting to isolate a single part of the brain and teach it leads to educational fads such as the right brain–left brain hoopla in vogue some years ago where lessons were designed to accommodate specifically either left-brained individuals who were said to be more verbal and analytical or right-brained individuals who were supposed to be more artistic and emotional. In truth, both halves of the brain are actively engaged at all times during all activities, either analytic or creative. Yet, while efforts to consider left–right-brained teaching strategies may have been misguided, the intention of making instruction more effective based on a more sophisticated understanding of how brains learn is a valid enterprise. Achieving that goal may be more fruitfully achieved by looking at the brain functionally rather than structurally.

The Information Processing Model

The information processing model (Gagne & Driscol, 1988; see Figure 2.1) describes the functions of the brain responsible for learning while ignoring the specific biological structures underlying those functions. The model begins with the environment generating a variety of stimuli that activate the body's sensory receptors. So, light enters the eye and triggers neurons on the retina, sound enters the ears and triggers neurons in the inner ear, particles enter the nose or mouth and trigger neurons associated with smell or taste, and stimulation of the skin triggers neurons associated with pressure, temperature, or pain.

Neurons transmit these stimuli to the brain where they enter the sensory register, which is responsible for perceiving the prominent features of the stimuli through a process of pattern recognition. For example, the visual stimulus generated by looking at the letter X would be recognized as two crossed lines. This process takes the merest fraction of a second before the information is transferred to the short-term or conscious memory. Here the information is coded into a meaningful concept (i.e., the crossed line pattern is associated with a stored memory of the letter X retrieved from long-term memory). The consciousness is now aware that the letter X has been seen. This information will reside in short-term or conscious memory for at most a few seconds unless it is actively dealt with. Conscious memory might actively consider some aspect of the X or its meaning as part of a word within a sentence, which would result in its retention for a longer period. If information in conscious memory is to be remembered, it is sent to the long-term memory where it is stored for later retrieval. You may be wondering how this functional description of the brain relates to improving student literacy. Good question, and to answer it we need to examine both conscious or short-term and long-term memory more deeply.

Short-Term Memory

Short-term memory is constantly bombarded with incoming stimuli, far more than can be consciously dealt with. For example, right now neurons are sending messages to your brain about the feel of your clothes against your skin, of the pressure of your body against the chair you're sitting on, and of the ambient sounds around you, yet until you read this sentence, you weren't consciously aware of any of those things. Instead, you've focused your attention on reading this book. While people can consciously focus their attention for a period of time, choosing what to pay attention to is most often an unconscious process. As Patricia Wolfe, author and consultant on brain-based teaching, suggests, children may be criticized for not paying attention, but in truth, everyone is always paying attention to something; it's just that what students pay attention to may not represent what teachers would like (Wolfe, 2001). Most teachers would probably agree that students might learn more if they paid more attention to instructional tasks. Research offers clues as to what factors influence short-term memory in deciding where attention will be focused.

Novelty People pay greater attention to what is new or different. Something as simple as putting up a new bulletin board or rearranging classroom desks will foster greater attention in a classroom. So will varying instructional styles such as whole class versus small group, or instructional delivery methods such as overheads, lectures, videos, PowerPoint, or manipulatives. Fisher and Frey (2003) discussed the importance of getting students' attention in order to teach literacy skills more effectively. They suggested that this can be done through demonstrations, discrepant events, visual displays, and/or thought-provoking questions. Similarly, many lesson plan formats include an anticipatory set as a critical element to gain student attention and interest before instruction.

Intensity Students typically pay greater attention to stimuli that are more intense. Therefore, stimuli that are louder, faster, or more colorful than other competing stimuli are more likely to attract attention. Teachers make use of this fact when they use their teacher voice, or incorporate colorful illustrations into instructional materials. Movement is another factor affecting where short-term memory focuses its attention. Teachers who act out the action of a story or use props while reading aloud will command greater attention than those who sit passively in a chair.

Meaning Meaning also influences attention. For example, if we are in a group that spontaneously begins speaking Spanish, and we speak only English, the meaning of the conversation vanishes and our attention begins to wander. It's no different for a child when instruction is unclear, disorganized, presented in steps that are too large, or riddled with unfamiliar words. Under such circumstances, students' attention will invariably wander.

Emotions Robert Sylwester, emeritus professor of education at the University of Oregon, is well known for his assertion that "emotion drives attention, and attention drives learning" (Sylwester, 1995). A study conducted by Larry Cahill and James McGaugh at the University of California at Irvine demonstrates the point. Study participants were split into two groups, with each group viewing a slide show and listening to an accompanying story. Both stories used the same images of what appeared to be an accident scene. One story indicated that the accident scene was a disaster drill with a slide showing a young victim's badly mangled legs attributed to make-up used to make the drill realistic. The other story indicated that the images showed a real accident scene where the young victim's legs were severed from his body and surgeons later struggled to reattach them. Two weeks later, the participants were tested to see how well they remembered specific story details. Results showed that those who were told that the accident scene was real remembered significantly more than those told it was staged (Cahill & McGaugh, 1995). What this and similar studies demonstrate is that people are more likely to remember things that engage them on an emotional level.

As teachers, there are many ways we can increase our students' emotional engagement in learning. One way is to allow the students to pick their own topics of interest to study. For example, rather than being assigned a poem to analyze, or an animal to write about, the students can suggest questions they'd like to answer through science experiments. Another strategy for increasing students' emotional engagement is to present a conundrum or puzzle that piques the students' curiosity as the lead-in to a lesson. Allowing students to work in groups can raise their emotional engagement, as can tying instruction to real ...

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