Observations of Students with Learning Disabilities in General Education Classrooms

Article excerpt

Many educators agree that schools need to effectively integrate students with learning disabilities into the general education classroom. Students with learning disabilities are often characterized as "inactive learners," remaining on the periphery of academic and social involvement in elementary and secondary classrooms (Torgeson, 1982). Central to the argument for effective integration of these students is that for a part of each day, most are removed from general education curricula and from their peers without disabilities; as a result, students with disabilities must continually reestablish themselves as members of the mainstream. Some educators have decried the segregating effects of removing students from the general education classroom and have advocated that effective integration can be accomplished only through a complete restructuring of general and special education (Gartner & Lipsky, 1987; Reynolds, Wang, & Walberg, 1987). Others have recommended a thoughtful evaluation of general education practices with students with disabilities and an exploration of alternative procedures before endorsing such restructuring (Braaten, Kauffman, Braaten, Polsgrove, & Nelson, 1988; McKinney & Hocutt, 1988; Mesigner, 1985).

Can general education meet the diverse needs of the largest group of special education students in regulm' classes--mainstreamed students with learning disabilities? First, we must establish a foundation of classroom-based research (Baker & Zigmond, 1990; Ceci, 1990; Vaughn, McIntosh, & Hogan, 1990) that will provide contextbased information about the feasibility of accommodating students with disabilities in the general education classroom. A logical first step, therefore, is to examine general education classrooms that include students with learning disabilities-- the consistency or discrepancy between teacher and student behaviors, as well as interactions among students with and without disabilities, and the nature of adaptations that teachers make for students with disabilities.


Mainstreamed students with learning disabilities often experience difficulties in establishing relationships with peers (Pearl, Donahue, & Bryan, 1986; Wiener, 1987). For example, La Greca and Stone (1990) found that students with learning disabilities were less well accepted by peers than were low- and average-achieving students. Although the social relationships, social status, and peer relationships of mainstreamed students with learning disabilities have been examined, few studies have examined the social interaction of these students in the general education classroom. The nature of interaction with the teacher is not likely to be the same for students with disabilities as it is for other students in the general education classroom. Siperstein and Goding (1985) matched isolated/rejected students with learning disabilities and popular peers without disabilities and then compared the interaction between the teacher and these two groups of students, respectively. Teachers' initiations and responses to the students with disabilities were more negative and corrective than with the students without disabilities. Dorval, McKinney, and Feagans (1982) found that general education classroom teachers initiated conversations more frequently with mainstreamed students with learning disabilities than with average-achieving students, but that these initiations were primarily directed to inattentiveness and rule infractions. Slate and Saudargas (1986) also found that students with learning disabilities received more individual contacts with the teacher, but that these contacts related to being engaged in an activity other than schoolwork. However, the academic engaged time of the mainstreamed students with learning disabilities was not significantly different from that of average-achieving peers. No study was found, however, that examined teacher adaptations and instructional procedures across grade levels from elementary school through high school. …


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