Academic journal article Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice

Using Invitational Learning to Address Writing Competence for Middle School Students with Disabilities

Academic journal article Journal of Invitational Theory and Practice

Using Invitational Learning to Address Writing Competence for Middle School Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Students with disabilities and those who struggle academically have lower rates of academic engagement in the classroom (Rock 2U05). Academic engagement is affected by the student's ability to effectively (a) initiate interactions, (b) distinguish when help is needed, (c) express ideas, and (d) ask questions (Ornelles, 2007). Students who have difficulty initiating, asking for help, and expressing ideas are consequently at risk for withdrawing from classroom instruction and interactions. Academic engagement in learning contributes to students' academic success (Greenwood, Horton, & Utley, 2002); therefore, it is critical to support students' classroom engagement and provide them with experiences that pique their interests and support their desire to learn.

Ravet (2007) found that students' most common explanation for disengagement was boredom. Boredom was linked to a general disinterest in the curriculum or a dislike of "specific sorts of learning activity such as writing tasks" (p. 349). Many students with disabilities have difficulty with writing (Graham & Harris, 1993). These students are often unfamiliar with the characteristics of good writing, believe that revisions are unnecessary, and assume that teachers alone are responsible for error correction (Kindzierski & Leavitt- Noble, 2010). As a result, many students with disabilities have developed negative feelings about, or an aversion to writing by the time they leave elementary school (Graham & Harris, 1993; Harris & Graham, 1999; Hollenbeck, 1999; Kindzierski & Leavitt-Noble, 2010).

Ravet (2007) found that following boredom, the most common explanation for disengagement was the student-teacher relationship. In the present study, we aimed to increase student engagement by first focusing on building relationships; after which we could focus on content and writing tasks. To address relationship-building, we worked with one middle school teacher in two separate classes to create an Invitational Learning environment.

According to Purkey and Stanley (1991) an Invitational Learning environment is built on trust, respect and optimism. Trust involves encouraging independence, ownership, and recognizing personal effort. The result of a trusting environment may be increased student initiative and engagement. Respect is shown by integrating students' thoughts and ideas into the requirements of an assignment. Respect may involve students working collaboratively, which requires that the teacher model and reinforce those behaviors that convey mutual respect for opinion and thought (Purkey & Novak, 2008). Optimism is shown when the teacher communicates genuine feedback regarding progress and performance; optimistic feedback is reflected in tone and in verbal praise.

The basis of Invitational Learning environments supports the underlying tenets of inclusive education (Harte, 2010; Tralli, Colombo, Deshler, Shumaker, 1996). Operating under the assumption that inclusive classroom contexts provide an important foundational base for student learning, the authors of the present study examined the process of building a more invitational learning environment for middle school students with disabilities. This study focused on documenting events and dialogue in two classrooms as this process unfolded.


Teacher-student collaborative dialogue is an under-researched area in special education (Hollenbeck, 1999). We believed that creating a dialogue-rich Invitational Learning environment for students with disabilities would have a positive influence on their writing. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to describe the process of creating an Invitational Learning environment in two middle school special education classes comprised of students with mild to moderate disabilities. . We focused our efforts on English Language Arts classes during the time that was devoted to writing. As the Invitational Learning environment began to emerge, we implemented a specific writing intervention, Cognitive Strategy Instruction in Writing (CSIW; Englert & Mariage, 1996), that focused on teacher-student and peer dialogue to enhance engagement with writing. …

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