Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Use of Instructional Time in Classrooms Serving Students with and without Severe Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Use of Instructional Time in Classrooms Serving Students with and without Severe Disabilities

Article excerpt

How children spend their time in classrooms has been a long-standing concern of educators. Research in general education reveals that timerelated instructional variables (e.g., time allocated for instruction and learner engagement) are predictive of academic achievement (Good & Brophy, 1986; Greenwood, 1991; Latham, 1985; Tindal & Parker, 1987). This literature indicates that schools generally allocate less than half of the typical school hour to instruction, that most students are engaged approximately 70%-80% of that time, and that the typical ratio of engaged to allocated learning time is 33%. By placing the time the learner is actually engaged in the intended activity (engaged time) into the contexts of time allocated for instruction (allocated time) and the time actually used for instruction by the teacher (used time), it is possible to more accurately understand engagement ratios and the actual proportion of the school day devoted to core instructional activity.

Relatively little attention has been devoted to what actually transpires during the school day in integrated instructional contexts. For educators working in integrated contexts, it is important that all children benefit from instruction and that the presence of students with disabilities not diminish the quality or opportunity for instruction for students without disabilities. Preliminary reports on the use of instructional time in integrated contexts have focused almost exclusively on students with mild and moderate disabilities at elementary and middle school ages (Friedman, Cancelli, & Yoshida, 1988; Rich & Ross, 1989; Thurlow, Ysseldyke, Graden, & Algozzine, 1984; Tindal & Parker, 1987; Walter, 1983; Ysseldyke, Christenson, Thurlow, & Skiba, 1987a; Ysseldyke, Thurlow, Christenson, & Weiss, 1987b). In general, the time allocated for instruction and learner-engagement ratios from these studies are comparable to those found in the general education literature. Discrepancies in findings across studies in both fields have been attributed to differences in definitions of terms (Egbert & Kluender, 1984; Ysseldyke et al., 1987b).

Ysseldyke et al. (1987a) obtained notably different results in a study involving 122 students from 10 schools. Of these students, 92 were identified as having mild to moderate disabilities, and 30 had no identified disabilities. The average engagement ratio was 57%, with little difference noted between student groups. This is a particularly noteworthy investigation because engaged time was examined within the context of allocated time, and the sample included a comparison with students who evidenced no learning problems.

However, data on time use in general education classrooms serving students with severe disabilities are notably absent from the research literature. By examining components of instructional time, we can begin to understand the characteristics of instruction in inclusive educational contexts and, consequently, how we might begin to optimize instructional practices so that all students will benefit from such settings (Graden, Thurlow, & Ysseldyke, 1983). Implementation data are needed to move discussions of support for the inclusive schools movement beyond the philosophical arguments that have dominated the field. The current study was undertaken to examine uses of time in elementary school classrooms that included students with mild to profound disabilities. We were particularly interested in comparing engagement ratios of students enrolled in classrooms with and without peers with severe disabilities. We hypothesized that time allocated for instructional activities would be greatest for students with severe disabilities (Ysseldyke et al., 1987a; Ysseldyke et al., 1987b). Further, we projected that the amount of time actually used for instruction would be consistent across classrooms, but that reasons for lost time would be different across groups because students in classrooms where there were children with severe disabilities often spend noninstructional time assisting in meeting the needs of their peers with disabilities (Rich & Ross, 1989; Walter, 1983). …

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