Monday, July 1, 2013

Curriculum Development for Individuals with Specific Learning Disability

          Specific learning disability is one of the most pervasive disabilities among learners most especially in the regular classroom setting. The sad fact about this is that most individuals having this disability are labelled as slow or dumbfounded. With the lack of proper diagnosis and assessment, learners with this disability might end up being lagged behind academically and the worse, might fail schooling. For this, teachers must be aware and must have the knowledge to design the curriculum to suit the needs with individuals having specific learning disability. 
Specific learning disability as defined by IDEA is:
  •  a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.
  • does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, of mental retardation, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.  [34 CFR §300.8(c)(10)]

Common learning disabilities
·         Dyslexia – a language-based disability in which a person has trouble understanding written words. It may also be referred to as reading disability or reading disorder.
·         Dyscalculia – a mathematical disability in which a person has a difficult time solving arithmetic problems and grasping math concepts.
·         Dysgraphia – a writing disability in which a person finds it hard to form letters or write within a defined space.
·         Auditory and Visual Processing Disorders – sensory disabilities in which a person has difficulty understanding language despite normal hearing and vision.
·         Nonverbal Learning Disabilities – a neurological disorder which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative and holistic processing functions.

  Principles in Curriculum Development
Universal Design of Learning
            UDL principles guide educators in finding innovative ways to make curriculum accessible and appropriate for individuals with different backgrounds, learning styles, abilities, and disabili­ties in various learning situations and contexts (Rose & Meyer, 2002). This paradigm for teaching, learning, assessment, and curriculum development focuses on adapting the curriculum to suit the learner rather than the other way around. UDL guides teachers and curriculum developers toward creating flexible materials and methods before they are put in students’ hands, rather than waiting until students arrive and trying to retrofit inflexible materials to each learner.

Principle I: Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the “what” of learning). Students differ in the ways that they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them. For example, those with sensory disabilities (e.g., blindness or deafness); learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia); language or cultural differences, and so forth may all require different ways of approaching content. 
Principle II: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression (the “how” of learning). Students differ in the ways that they can  navigate a learning environment and express what they know.   In reality, there is no one means of expression that will be optimal for all students; providing options for expression is essential.
Principle III: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (the “why” of learning). Students differ markedly in the ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn. Some students are highly engaged by spontaneity and novelty while other are disengaged, even frightened, by those aspects, preferring strict routine. In reality, there is no one means of engagement that will be optimal for all students; providing multiple options for engagement is essential.

Goals of a Watered-up Curriculum for Individuals with Specific Learning Disability(Ellis,1999)
1.       More emphasis on students' constructing knowledge
·         the role of the teacher is to facilitate students' constructing (and reconstructing) of understandings so that their thinking becomes increasingly clear.
2.       More depth, less superficial coverage.
·         more concerned with facilitating in-depth understanding and developing deep knowledge structures of essential concepts or "core ideas" than they are with content coverage (e.g., addressing all the topics in the book).teachers strive to focus both their own and students' energies on understanding core ideas of the curriculum, how they interrelate, and how these core ideas help us understand the current world and solve real-world problems (Cushman, 1994; Newman & Wehlage, 1993).
3.       More emphasis on archetype concepts, patterns, and strategies.
·         enabling students to recognize how some concepts, patterns and strategies are manifested throughout many dimensions of life, and how to use these as tools to enhance their own comprehension of complex ideas and ability to communicate them to others.
4.       More emphasis on developing relational understanding and knowledge connections to real-world contexts.
·         instruction is designed to facilitate students' connecting new knowledge to their background experience and knowledge (Wansart, 1995).
5.       More student elaboration.
·         requires the learner to interact with the information, relate it to background knowledge in some way, and convert it in some manner while retaining its essential meaning (Newman & Wehlage, 1993; Pressley et al., 1987).
6.       More emphasis on developing effective habits of the mind, higher order thinking and information processing skills, and learning strategies.
·         learners learn how to "be smart" as they learn the content-area subjects. Thinking skills are considered as an integral part of the curriculum that is of equal importance to the content being taught (Marzano, 1988).

                The question of which content should be taught in resource rooms has remained a hotly debated issue over the years. Some practitioners stress tutoring students with learning disabilities in subject matter content from the general education (e.g., US history or language arts), while others stress only remediation in basic skills (e.g., reading or math). Others feel that students with disabilities should receive a functional life-skills curriculum, with an emphasis on things like making job applications, balancing checkbooks, and so on. The table below lists the advantages and criticisms of each of these curricular approaches.
Type of Approach
Basic-skills remediation
1.       Stresses basic reading and math
2.       Emphasizes only skills necessary for school and life success
3.       Easily modeled on elementary curriculum
1.       Turns the special educator into a basic-skills tutor
2.       No difference between special class and reading/tutoring programs
Tutorial subject matter
1.       Complements the regular education class curriculum rather than just basic-skills areas
2.       General education teachers appreciate the help
1.       Forces special educators to teach subjects in which they are uncertified
2.       Attends to state graduation requirements more than child's needs
Functional skills
1.       Stresses life-survival skills (checkbook skills, job forms, etc.)
2.       Requires mastery of essential skills and provides the time to master them
1.       Is a pessimistic view of the child's learning potential
2.       Presents little opportunity for learning of many important topics
Learning strategies
1.       Provides students who have learning disabilities with a set of cognitive strategies that can be used in all subjects
2.       Research evidence indicates substantive support for the work
1.       Time to teach the strategies must be taken from academic work
2.       General education teacher may not follow up on strategy usage
3.       Implementation usually requires attendance in a strategy workshop by the learning disabilities teacher

Teaching Strategies for Students with Learning Disabilities

Instructional Strategies to Increase Fluency (ability to read text quickly, accurately and with expression)

General information
·         Fluent readers focus attention on understanding
·         Non-fluent readers focus attention on decoding, not comprehension
·         Fluency building should be done on the student's independent, not instructional reading level
Guidelines for building fluency
·         Check for requisite skills: ability to identify names and sounds of letters; ability to read phonetically regular words; ability to recognize a few sight words
·         Calculate fluency rate so progress can be monitored
·         Choose appropriate texts: decodable, independent level, reflect the student's interests
·         Model fluent reading by reading to the student 10-20 minutes with expression (phrasing, intonation) while the student follows along

Use specific teaching strategies such as:

Partner reading - The teacher, parent or another student reads for about 3 minutes modeling good phrasing  and intonation while the student follows along - the two readers then read the same passage together for another 2 minutes - the struggling reader then reads the passage 
Tape assisted reading - Short passages (or sections of a passage) are tape-recorded and the struggling reader follows along with the tape for repeated practice
Chunking - To emphasize that connected text is divided into meaningful phrases, divide sentences into phrases by using slash marks or more spaces - this allows the student to read shorter chunks of words, then put them together
Phrase card reading - Similar to chunking, phrases are written on index cards - after reading the phrases several times for mastery, the phrases are then combined to make a complete sentence
Repeated readings - Reading poetry is an excellent way to reinforce fluency by practicing a poem for class presentation - it is recommended that 
Poetry Parties be held to practice these repeated readings – 
Readers Theatre is another excellent way to approach repeated readings - this is an activity in which each student has a portion of a passage to present to the rest of the group - it facilitates fluency by giving each student many opportunities to practice their portion of the presentation - the students can switch scripts and practice with other passages

Instructional Strategies to Increase Comprehension (ability to gain meaning from text)
General information
A wide variety of reading (variety of topics and texts) should be provided
Development of extensive vocabulary should be addressed - simply being able to read a word is not enough - the student must also know what the word means and be able to use it in context
·         A variety of comprehension strategies should be utilized
·         The generation of questions after reading supports comprehension
Guidelines for increasing comprehension
Before reading

·         Read the title and activate background knowledge about topic
·         Teach unfamiliar vocabulary
·         Establish purpose for reading - for fun or learning
·         Preview text - cover, title, text, structure, and picture
During reading

·         Use questioning techniques (types of questions from simple recall to more complex analysis of text)
·         Use graphic organizers - fill in as you read (these can be done in outline form for Braille readers)
·         Use self-monitoring techniques by asking: Does this make sense to me? Do I know what all the words mean? Can I predict what will happen next?
·         Use fix-up strategies - re-read problem words/sentences; retell in own words; read ahead a few sentences to use context; connect to previous knowledge
After reading
  • Use questioning techniques - Who or what was this story about? - What was the most important event? What was the main idea? - answer who, what, where, when, why and how questions
  • Review vocabulary - look up any words still not understood
  • Summarize - Write a summary of ten words or less
  • Complete and revise graphic organizers
Instructional Strategies for Writing  (ability to construct compositions)
General information
·         Students should be encouraged to experiment with writing
·         Students should have daily opportunities for writing many kinds of texts such as lists, messages to others, poems and stories
·         Students should be allowed to write about topics that are personally meaningful
·         Students should have a bank of words they can use in writing endeavors
·         Students should be taught spelling strategies
·         Students need to learn to revise and edit their own writing
Guidelines for developing writing skills
The following mnemonic can be used to assist the student in remembering the components of effective writing:
    P - pick a topic or subject
    L - list information you want to include (can use graphic organizers)
    E - evaluate the list for completeness and proper sequencing
    A - activate your writing with a topic sentence
    S - supply supporting sentences and details
    E - end with a concluding sentence or statement
This can be used when writing a simple paragraph as well as an extended story or report.
Another useful mnemonic can be used for revising and editing writing to check for essential elements:
    C - capitalization
    O - organization and overall appearance
    P - punctuation
    S - spelling

Instructional Strategies for Increasing Mathematical Abilities
General information

·         Learning disabilities in math and the effects they have on development can vary widely and involve language difficulties, visual-spatial confusion, sequencing problems and long-term memory difficulties
·         Since learning disabilities in math may revolve around using language, specific math vocabulary must be explicitly and extensively taught

Guidelines for developing math abilities
·         Provide experience with concrete materials because pictorial representations often confuse these students
·         Introduce new skills by using many opportunities to practice with concrete examples before moving to abstract uses
·         Verbal explanations must be completely accurate and concrete, with as few elaboration's as possible
·         Allow adequate processing time
·         Allow use of facts charts
·         Permit the student to demonstrate understanding using objects or pencil marks
·         Provide small increments of instruction rather than longer sessions - two twenty minute sessions every day are more beneficial than an hour long session every other day
·         Teach concepts in small segments
·         Verbal information should be broken into smaller steps instead of all at once - present concepts, give directions, ask questions, offer explanations
·         Request that the student frequently verbalize what they are doing
·         Turn lined paper sideways to serve as columns for organizing work
·         Offer strategies for remembering and working through the sequence of steps in solving problems, such as mnemonics or organizers
·         Allow use of a large type or talking calculator

Curriculum Models
The Medical Model. This modelemphasizes diagnosis and treatment of neurological symptoms.   This was used as one of the earlier models, during the late 1940s and 1950s.  (Algozzine et al., 1993).  This takes the medical perspective to determine a treatment method. 
Psychological Process Model. This model was mainly used in the 1960s. It shifted the emphasis from medical to educational approach to curriculum. Controlled and structured pull-out programs or special classes continued to be used for the treatment. Remediation of perceptual skills was of particular interest in this model.  The focus was on changing behaviors that accompanied the learning problem and helping teachers (and others) how to see the students’ differences and work with them.  This change in focus and perspective was a major contribution to education since it helped raise the public’s awareness (including teachers

Behavioral Model. This model came about due to the lack of success with the psychological process model in terms of improving academic skills.  It focused on improving not only academic, but also social skills.  Teaching began to take on a direct instructional and functional approach to improving students’ skills.  (Algozzine et al., 1993).  This model was divided into the two areas of behavioral approaches  aimed at helping students improve both their behavior and academic skills; and academic achievement that shifted the focus from mental processing skills to realistic ways to use skills in daily functioning and self-sufficiency once out of school (Algozzine et al., 1993).

Cognitive/Learning Strategies Model.  The focus is on teaching students how to learn, manage their own behaviors in the learning environment, and how to generalize the learned information from one setting to another.  This approach is also referred to as metacognition, tying together the past and the present.  These strategies emphasize a self-monitoring approach:  self-questioning, self-checking, self-correcting, self-evaluating, and self-reinforcing.  There are two areas relating to this treatment model:  Cognitive behavior modification that teaches students the skills necessary to be more self-sufficient;  and cognitive strategy model  that  teaches study skills techniques and is incorporates theories based on student learning styles, cognitive styles, thinking skills, and cognitive behavior modification research. 

Strategic Instruction Model. The SIM model was developed for students who already have basic decoding and word recognition skills. That said, even students who struggle with these early reading skills need to "learn how to learn" and could benefit from classroom routines and strategies that help teachers ensure that students are learning critical content (the course material students need to meet standards) in ways that prepare them for class promotion, high school graduation, and a success after school.
In other words, the focus of SIM is to promote effective teaching and learning of critical content in schools. SIM strives to help teachers make decisions about what is of greatest importance, what strategies can be taught to students to help them to learn, and what classroom-based strategies are effective in helping them learn well, carrying over these skills to post-secondary settings including college and the workplace.

Employability Skills for Adults with Learning Difficulties/Learning Disabilities Model. This curriculum combines employability skills training with instruction in learner compensation strategies. This unique combination provides a match between the learners’ learning strengths and weaknesses, instructional strategies, and employment goals. Learners identify, practice, and demonstrate self-accommodation strategies they will use on the job to maximize the potential for successful employment. The curriculum provides instructors with suggestions for individualized compensations, accommodations, and modifications that can be applied to all aspects of the learners’ lives.

Reading Recovery
It is an early intervention program designed to help low achieving six-year-old children to learn to read
and write. The program is an individual tutoring program in which a trained person meets with a child for thirty minutes each day outside the child’s re g u l a r c l a s s room. Although the teacher determ i n e s what strategies to use, Reading Recovery lessons operate in a stru c t u red framework. Each day teachers and students are involved in five major
Phonological Auditory Training – Spell Read
As learners learned how to automatically recognize and manipulate the individual sounds of the language, their reading and writing skills started to improve. 
 Early Success
This program is intended for use with a small group of children. Each of the skill areas involved in comprehension, fluency, phonemic awareness and phonics is taught. The components of the program include reading for fluency, first reading book walk, shared reading, making words, coached reading, individual reading, independent reading, writing sentences, and word wall. The program is not a total language arts program, but rather is designed as a short-term intervention method.
Gift of Dyslexia
This orientation and symbol mastery program, designed by Ron Davis, is intended to assist children who experience difficulties with visual perception. It is a kinesthetic approach to learning letters, symbols, and difficult target words.
Reading Reflex
This program uses the concept of phonographix and is one of the many programs available that moves from phonological awareness to sound symbol association. This program takes what the child knows, the sounds of his language, and teaches him/her the various sound pictures that represent those sounds. It does this through developmentally appropriate lessons.
Academy of Reading
This program is a comprehensive, interactive, multimedia reading program designed to enhance literacy skills in children, adolescents and adults. The program contains a wide variety of assessment tools and several training programs that help develop the skills necessary for successful reading. The program contains the following reading measures:
Phonemic Awareness Test Battery, Reading Subskills Test Battery, Word Recognition, Oral Reading Comprehension,  Silent Reading Comprehension, Cloze Paragraph Comprehension
 Fast ForWord
Fast ForWor d is a patented Internet-and CDROM- based training program for individuals with language and reading problems. In an intensive series of adaptive, interactive exercises using acoustically modified speech and speech sounds, Fast ForWord stimulates rapid language-skill development as children learn to distinguish the various components of speech. As children move into the more challenging levels of the training, the program encourages enhanced language awareness and comprehension. On average, children with language problems make 1 to 2 years of language gains after completion of the 4 - 8 week program.

·         Text to speech. Software that incorporates text to speech enables students to access content and information by having text read aloud, often in a high quality, realistic synthesised voice. 
·         OCR. Optical Character Recognition (OCR), is a method of converting text from paper format to an electronic version.   This means that books, printed worksheets, even photographs with graphics and text can be converted to electronic format and read aloud using text to speech. Reading material is instantly made accessible.
·         Talking books. Talking books are essentially books that are in electronic format, often looking very similar to the paper version. They may read text aloud, and include a range of multimedia elements such as real photos, animations, videos and recorded sounds that make the reading experience motivating and fun. 
·         Software that converts text files to audio. Being able to convert text to an audio file has the advantage of providing yet another format for accessing information and is an ideal way for students to engage in independent revision and study


·         Organisational software. Organisational software helps students brainstorm and display their ideas using a concept map of words and/or pictures that can then be transferred to a document outline with the click of a button. Templates to assist students develop their ideas for different writing tasks may also be included as an added feature. Another strategy for developing a written draft is to use highlighting tools and extract main points from a document or web page. By creating an outline of what has been read, students can use this as a starting point for their writing.
·         Onscreen word banks. Learners needing support to spell words or construct meaningful sentences can quickly and easily carry out written tasks using on-screen word banks. This software provides the additional support of text to speech and pictures for those whose visual recognition of words is poor.
·         Word prediction. Word prediction is a strategy that assists with spelling and word completion by making suggestions as you type. These suggestions are displayed in a window. Word prediction can help students expand their vocabulary, as they are less likely to avoid words for which they are unsure of spelling. In some cases, the word prediction program may accommodate for phonetic spelling errors. Such programs also learn words that are used frequently. Research studies have reported up to a 70% reduction in spelling errors when using word prediction programs.
·         Voice recognition. Voice recognition software allows students to create large amounts of text or control their computer entirely by voice. Documents and e-mails can be dictated without spelling mistakes and the need to extensively use the keyboard and mouse is significantly reduced.
·         Portable word processors or notetakers. For students whose handwriting is untidy or illegible, and who find writing with pen and paper frustrating, these devices help overcome these barriers and encourage students to independently take notes rather than rely on a scribe or peers. They are low cost, portable alternatives to laptops. Infrared capabilities mean that no cords are needed when transferring text to a computer for further editing. These devices are lightweight, sturdy and have the advantage of a long battery life. They are easy to use and can be used in conjunction with word prediction programs if the student struggles with spelling.


·         Electronic math worksheets. Electronic math worksheets are software programs that can help a user organize, align, and work through math problems on a computer screen. This may be helpful to people who have trouble aligning math problems with pencil and paper.
·         Paper-based computer pen. This technology records and links audio to what a person writes using the pen and special paper. It enables the user to take notes while simultaneously recording someone (e.g., a teacher) speaking. The user can later listen to any section of his notes by touching the pen to his corresponding handwriting or diagrams.

·         Talking calculators. A talking calculator has a built-in speech synthesizer that reads aloud each number, symbol, or operation key a user presses; it also vocalizes the answer to the problem. This auditory feedback may help him check the accuracy of the keys he presses and verify the answer before he transfers it to paper

(Disclaimer: I'm sorry but I neglected noting the references which are both from the books and internet resources. Credits are given to the rightful author  and I do not claim ownership of all the contents of this article.)

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