Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Teaching Middle School Students with Learning Disabilities to Recruit Positive Teacher Attention

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Teaching Middle School Students with Learning Disabilities to Recruit Positive Teacher Attention

Article excerpt

Promoting the academic and social success of students with disabilities in inclusive classrooms is one of the primary responsibilities of both special and general education teachers. A growing number of schools are striving to educate nearly all students with special needs in general education settings (Putnam, Spiegel, & Bruininks, 1995). Scruggs and Mastropieri (1996) reported that although two thirds of the general education teachers they surveyed supported the concept of inclusion, only one third believed they had the sufficient time, skills, training, or resources necessary to accommodate students with special needs. Additionally, Sale and Carey (1995) reported that full inclusion did not eliminate negative social perceptions of students with special needs. Students with disabilities, many of whom have limited social repertoires in addition to deficient academic skills, are expected to succeed in general education classrooms. Inclusive education will be of limited value to students with disabilities unless they attain meaningful academic and social gains in general education settings.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN GENERAL AND SPECIAL EDUCATION SETTINGS

Baker and Zigmond (1990) conducted descriptive research in an urban school district of 42,000 students, K-12. They found that general education classrooms were characterized primarily by instruction directed towards large groups of students with little teacher time spent on addressing individual needs. In other observational studies, students with learning disabilities were found to receive more individual instruction and teacher praise in special education classrooms than in general education classrooms (Deno, Maruyama, Espin, & Cohen, 1990; Gable, Hendrickson, Young, Shores, & Stachowiak, 1983; Nowacek, McKinney, & Hallahan, 1990; Thurlow, Graden, Greener, & Ysseldyke, 1983).

Where positive teacher attention and praise occur more frequently (e.g., a special education resource room), individuals may be more likely to emit desired behaviors. Those same behaviors may not be emitted in settings where reinforcement is either nonexistent or too infrequent to be effective (e.g., the general education classroom; Baer, 1981). Because of different teacher-student ratios in special and general education classrooms, good performances by students receiving special education services are more likely to be noticed and praised in the special education setting, and more likely to go unnoticed and unrewarded in the general education classroom.

NATURAL CONTINGENCIES OF REINFORCEMENT

The differing contingencies of reinforcement in special and general education classrooms may account for the failure by some special students to maintain and generalize newly learned skills across these settings. Behaviors typically will not extend to other settings or stimulus situations unless teachers program for generalization (Baer, 1981). One strategy for programming the generalization of skills is to aim for natural contingencies of reinforcement (Baer & Wolf, 1970).

Aiming for natural contingencies of reinforcement begins with teaching only those behaviors that will be maintained by the postintervention environment. Skills most likely to be maintained by the natural environment are age appropriate, normalized, and functional (Ayllon & Azrin, 1968; Baer, 1981; Kohler & Greenwood, 1986). Some target behaviors do not meet existing contingencies of reinforcement in the generalization setting because they are performed with insufficient rate, accuracy, duration, or strength (Stokes & Baer, 1977; Stokes & Osnes, 1989). Sometimes, however, appropriately executed target behaviors are not reinforced because the natural contingencies of reinforcement in the generalization setting are dormant (i.e., behaviors that need to be reinforced go unnoticed; Stokes & Baer; Stokes & Osnes). In such instances, the natural contingencies of reinforcement are "asleep and need to be waked up and turned on" (Baer, p. …

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