Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Grouping Practices and Reading Outcomes for Students with Disabilities

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Grouping Practices and Reading Outcomes for Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

For many years, a common practice among elementary school teachers was to divide students into small, same ability groups for reading instruction (Barr & Dreeben, 1991; Slavin, 1987). During the 1970s and 1980s, this prevailing practice began to draw criticism on the grounds that ability grouping lowers self-esteem and motivation among students with reading problems, restricts friendship choices, and often widens the gap between high and low achievers (Calfee & Brown, 1979; Hiebert, 1983; Rosenholtz & Wilson, 1980). Since that time, attention has been increasingly focused on alternative grouping practices such as cross-age tutoring (e.g., Come & Fredericks, 1995; Labo & Teale, 1990) and cooperative learning groups (e.g., Johnson & Johnson, 1975; Slavin, 1983). These alternative grouping formats were developed to help classroom teachers accommodate different students' needs and to avoid the negative outcomes that have been associated with the use of ability-based reading groups.

More recently, the widespread inclusion of students with disabilities in the general education classroom has raised the question of the effectiveness of different grouping practices for students who are often several grade levels below their classmates in reading. The purpose of the present study was thus to investigate the relationship between the reading outcomes of students with disabilities and the grouping format used during reading instruction.

Though previous reviews have examined a number of different grouping practices for classroom instruction, such as (a) small groups (Lou et al., 1996; Kulik & Kulik, 1987), (b) ability grouping (Barr & Dreeben, 1991; Kulik & Kulik, 1982; Slavin, 1987), and (c) student pairing (Cohen, Kulik, & Kulik, 1982; Gredler, 1985; Scruggs, Mastropieri, & Richter, 1985; Scruggs & Richter, 1985), these reviews either (a) did not report findings for students with disabilities (e.g., Cohen et al.; Devin-Sheehan, Feldman, & Allen, 1976), (b) focused on a single disability such as behavior disorders (Scruggs et al.) or learning disabilities (Scruggs & Richter), (c) targeted one type of student pairing such as cross-age tutoring (Gredler), or (d) were not specific to reading (e.g., Lloyd, Crowley, Kohler, & Strain, 1988, Scruggs et al.; Scruggs & Richter). The present review was designed to integrate findings from reading interventions that used any of three grouping formats for students with disabilities: pairing, small groups, or multiple grouping formats.

Mathes and Fuchs (1994) conducted a best-evidence synthesis of 11 studies of peer tutoring in reading for students with disabilities. Their meta-analysis indicated that peer tutoring was an effective intervention for these students (mean unbiased effect size [ES] of .36). Findings of this study also indicated that students with disabilities made greater gains in reading when they served in the role of tutor (ES = .43) than when they were tutees (ES = .30) or did reciprocal tutoring (ES = .34). Other research has found that students with disabilities can perform effectively in the role of tutor, a practice often referred to as reverse-role tutoring (Cook, Scruggs, Mastropieri, & Casto, 1986; Eiserman, Shisler, & Osguthorpe, 1987; Osguthorpe & Scruggs, 1986), as well as in a reciprocal tutoring role (Delquadri, Greenwood, Whorton, Carta, & Hall, 1986; Mathes, Fuchs, Fuchs, Henley, & Sanders, 1994).

A comprehensive review of small group instruction was recently conducted by Lou et al. (1996). The findings of Lou et al.'s meta-analysis confirmed those of previous syntheses (e.g., Kulik & Kulik, 1987; Slavin, 1987) indicating that small group learning is associated with higher academic achievement than whole class instruction without grouping. However, data pertaining to students with disabilities were not reported.

No review to date has addressed outcomes associated with the use of multiple grouping formats, that is, the systematic use of a specific combination of two or more different grouping formats. …

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