Friday, 4 December 2009

Assignment 4 – “Learning Disabilities and Response to Instruction”

Following my topic on dyslexia, I have chosen to look at detection of learning disabilities in a broad spectrum. Starting simply, I referred to “Teaching Children with Speech and Language Difficulties” (Martin, D., 2000). This book is for trainee teachers who have not experienced working with children who have some form of learning disability. When talking about speech and language problems, Martin uses very basic examples to show the reader how complexities affect children and get in the way of learning effectively. If new teachers understand the importance of detecting whether or not a child has a learning disability, they will be more alert and more helpful in regard to their class as a whole. If a child is not recognised as having a potential disability early, or not helped with it, they can struggle throughout their school life. In a section called “The Role of the Teacher” in Margaret Crombie’s book “Dimensions of Dyslexia: Volume 1”, it is suggested that children with issues give up on tasks if they are struggling:

As reading is likely to bring about [negative] feelings, the pupil will try at all costs to avoid reading.” (Crombie, 1996)

Martin goes into detail on the different ways in which disabilities can be comprehended depending on which profession someone is in. The two methods that I find most relevant are the “educational approach” which is about vigilance and the “psycholinguistic approach” which is about the intervention process. Observing children is a good way to start looking for disabilities, which can affect children in different ways. By paying close attention, a child’s concealed disabilities may become more obvious as time goes on.
At the back of the book Martin has added two checklists. The first is aimed at an entire class and has a list of possible issues that a child may have, categorised in three main areas. These areas are: “listening behavior”, “expressive language” and “social behavior”. This checklist is meant to be used over a period of time so that the teacher has time to get to know pupils and monitor their progress. The teacher may put a child’s name against a certain issue if they are causing concern and then go on to finding means of assisting those that appear to be having problems with learning. The second checklist consists of two parts, covering different age groups. They are only samples of the AFASIC (Association for all Speech Impaired Children) checklists. It covers different areas such as ‘”language content”’ and “communication”. The difference from the previous checklist is that this is an individual checklist. If the teacher fills this one out for every student then there will be more information than the class checklist. Both of these are unofficial tests but can be used to back up concerns which would then lead on to the children completing official tests. The section on intervention does mention how problems can differ, so it considers children’s skills and what their strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to learning. However, this is the area Gerber believes is ineffective or perhaps, not as effective as it could be.

Teachers are Still the Test: Limitations of Response to Instruction Strategies for Identifying Children with Learning Disabilities” (Gerber, 2005) is a journal that examines the aspects of Response to Instruction and Intervention that make it inadequate in schools. These points include its expense and teachers acting towards pupils differently based on their teaching, as well as the children’s behavior and approach to learning. He refers back to his previous arguments, some written more than 20 years ago, that are still relevant now. The main ones are teachers and students acting different towards each other and how externally behavioral problems are seen, yet most of the time inner problems are not. It is easy to see someone has behavioral problems without Response to Instruction trials and these trials will not necessarily work well in spotting unseen issues.

Gerber created two graphs which show how two students can accomplish different results even with help from a teacher. He formed a further graph, by joining the two previous ones together, which could represent any size of class. It shows that some children are fast learners while others are not; those are the ones that need more time. Each child is different. The graphs were fabricated to give a general idea of how children differ. I can see why Gerber has done so, as it would be too complicated to base this on reality. His graphs generally represent the expected outcomes, with more highs and lows depending on the child, the teacher, and what is being learned or attained. He also produced a table of approximations on how much Response to Instruction will cost per year, depending on how many children are allocated to one teacher. This table is a rough calculation on expenses sourced from the little information found. Looking at the calculated amount, it is unlikely every school would use Response to Instruction as a way of initial detection of learning disabilities. More staff would drain schools funds and additional time needed for trials would be less time learning from the class curriculum.

Response to Instruction is not possible on a large scale; we cannot tell how it will work or how successful it can be. Schools will have to be improved to suit Response to Instruction needs and teachers will need more training to increase on their knowledge and skills. Disabilities can be acknowledged out with Response to Instruction through closely observing pupils, especially their work. It will not make a learning disability any clearer to those without Response to Instruction. If this journal is taken into account, I think schools and teachers will find a cheaper solution than using Response to Instruction. Something that is more efficient in identifying a wide range of learning problems, not just the obvious ones. They may want to see more detailed reports on Response to Instruction because it has been very confined so far. If not, and people still think going through with Response to Instruction is the way forward; they will dismiss Gerber’s arguments.

Remembering the basic aims of “
Teaching Children with Speech and Language Difficulties” (Martin, D., 2000), should help teachers to spot children with disabilities more easily. I believe it will, but not for everyone as teachers act differently towards different pupils. Martin does not mention this, and is expecting teachers to spend a lot of time observing the children; only motivated teachers will do this. Gerber writes:

we think about teachers only in terms of specific isolated behaviors - curricula, or strategies - we can sometimes disregard the variability inherent in real teachers and in institutions that create, distribute, and constrain them.” (Gerber, 2005)

Teachers need to be able to teach in their own way because if every teacher teaches and acts exactly the same, and that is not efficient, then nothing will come out of teaching and children will not learn. Children sometimes need extra assistance to help and encourage them to learn:

It is for the teacher to find strengths of the pupil and give praise and encouragement whenever possible. Through an increase in confidence, the pupil’s whole approach to school work may be altered.” (Crombie, 1996)

The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell (2000) covers how improvements were made to increase the reading and learning of children who came from low income families. The television programmes “Sesame Street” and “Blue’s Clues” were made for this reason. A lot of research went into finding out how children remember things e.g. with repetition. The book mentions that structure and content are important, but we need to remember these aspects are suited for children that can learn easily; learning disabilities obstruct those who cannot. This issue is too complex to write on because each disability affects a child differently. Martin does explain some types of disabilities whereas Gerber writes about disabilities in general, without being specific. He does this because it links back to the fact that everyone is different. By not writing about specific disabilities this way neither extreme nor mild disabilities are left out.

On the design aspect of identification of disabilities, things could be improved. Perhaps Response to Instruction is useful, seeing as Gerber does not dismiss it completely. However, it is not useful at the moment due to its expense. The expenditure could be up to 2.2 billion dollars nationwide over a year (Gerber, 2005). There needs to be a cheaper, more effective and rapid solution. Martin’s writing does not cover improvements, it simply advises teachers to be more observant. Gerber, however, does say improvements are needed:

a set of concepts much broader than Response to Instruction will be necessary, concepts more focused on the determinants of capacity of teachers within real schools to respond effectively to students’ responses to instruction.” (Gerber, 2005)

If I were to continue with this topic, I would probably like to see Response to Instruction in action as it is hard for me to fully understand the processes. And see if just simple observation is the best way to spot learning disabilities. Talk to teachers and ask them how they have spotted disabilities in the past and what they do to get help for those children.


Gerber, M., (2005),
Teachers are still the test: limitations of response to instruction strategies for identifying children with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 38 (6) 516-524.

Gladwell, M., (2000),
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Great Britain: Little, Brown and Company.

Martin, D., (2000),
Teaching children with speech and learning difficulties. London: David Fulton Publishers Ltd.

Reid, G., ed., (1996),
Dimensions of dyslexia - Volume 1. Glasgow: Bell & Bain Ltd.

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