Can School-Based Interventions Enhance the Self-Concept of Students with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

The desire for a positive evaluation of self [the need to feel liked by others and the need to like oneself] affects a person's feelings, actions, and aspirations throughout life. In the course of childhood and adolescence, school experiences play an important role in the development of self-perceptions and can have powerful and long-term effects on a child's self esteem. Individuals with learning disabilities (LD) are especially vulnerable to low self-concept. Research findings have linked LD with poor self-concept, and it is clear that students with LD often experience academic challenges that can drain self-esteem.

Despite much recent research and speculation on the subject, the factors that affect a child's self-concept are not completely understood. We do know, however, that students self-concepts are related to their academic achievement. Students with lower levels of academic achievement have lower self-concepts than students with high levels of academic achievement. Students with more positive self-perceptions of their academic ability tend to do better in school than students who consider themselves to be poor learners.

Researchers have studied a variety of classroom interventions designed to improve the self-concepts of students with LD. These interventions can be characterized as following one of two approaches:

The self-enhancement approach.

The skill development approach.

Interventions that adopt a self-enhancement approach are designed to change students self-perception by means of techniques like cognitive therapy. The focus in these interventions is on eliminating self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that are believed to interfere with academic success.

In contrast, interventions that adopt a skill development approach are based on the assumption that building a child's skill in a particular academic area, such as reading, will improve the student's self-perceptions in that area and will give the student the expectation of future academic success. Although skill development interventions often include some aspects of the self-enhancement approach, such as frequent positive feedback from teachers, the basis of the approach is that improvements in academic performances should boost self-esteem.

Research method

The authors of the research synthesis conducted thorough literature searches to identify studies of school-based, nonclinical interventions conducted between 1975 and 1997 ... A total of 36 interventions were evaluated in 31 separate studies. A technique known as meta-analysis was used to examine the collective findings of this body of research. (Editor's note: Meta-analysis offers a systematic way to look at different kinds of research and compare the effectiveness of different practices.)

Findings

To what extent can school-based interventions enhance the self-concept of students with LD?

The results of the meta-analysis demonstrated that school-based interventions can lead to beneficial changes in the self-perceptions of students with LD.

Investigators note that these findings are particularly significant in light of the fact that the interventions typically lasted less than 12 weeks with sessions held on two- three times per week.

Are certain types of interventions more helpful than others in enhancing self-concept?

An important finding of the meta-analysis was that interventions using both types of approaches-- skill development and self-enhancement--succeeded in improving the self-concepts of students with LD. Interventions that used group counseling techniques produced favorable outcomes for students of varying ages. Academic interventions seemed particularly beneficial to middle-school students. A key component of many of the successful academic interventions was an emphasis on students working collaboratively with their classmates and receiving feedback from classmates on their progress. …