General Educators' Specialized Adaptation for Students with Learning Disabilities

By Fuchs, Lynn S.; Fuchs, Douglas et al. | Exceptional Children, March-April 1995 | Go to article overview

General Educators' Specialized Adaptation for Students with Learning Disabilities


Fuchs, Lynn S., Fuchs, Douglas, Hamlett, Carol L., Phillips, Norris B., Karns, Kathy, Exceptional Children


ABSTRACT: We examined general educators' specialized adaptation for students with learning disabilities (LD). Participants were 40 general educators whose classrooms included at least one student with LD for mathematics instruction. Teachers were assigned randomly to two treatments: routine adaptation (use of curriculum-based measurement and peer-mediated instruction) and routine plus specialized adaptation (prompting and special support to implement adjustments in response to individual student difficulty). Results indicated that teachers in the latter group engaged differentially in specialized adaptation and that their thinking about how they planned for their students with LD changed. Although some teachers implemented substantively important, individually tailored adjustments, others relied on adaptations that were uninventive and limited. Specialized adaptation was not associated with enhanced student learning.

With instructional adaptation, teachers formulate judgments about the success of previous lessons for individual students and, based on those judgments, adjust subsequent teaching strategies or goals (Glaser, 1977). A long-standing assumption in educational psychology has been that responsive instructional adaptation is related to student learning (Corno & Snow, 1986). In fact, research conducted in special education settings lends empirical support to this assumption: When special educators systematically adjust the nature of student programs in response to individual, objective assessment information, their students learn reliably and dramatically more (e.g., Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, Hamlett, & Ferguson, 1992; Jones & Krouse, 1988; Wesson, 1991).

Unfortunately, the need for instructional adaptation may be at odds with an essential feature of general education classroom life: By the end of September, most teachers have institutionalized activity, instruction, and management "routines" that persist through the school year (Clark & Elmore, 1981). Although these routines facilitate classroom order, efficiency, and predictability (Yinger, 1979), they may also limit the ongoing change and flexibility necessary for instructional adaptation.

General education's capacity to incorporate meaningful adaptation has become a critical issue during the past decade, as the rhetoric of the regular education initiative and the inclusive schools movement has increased pressure to provide educational programs to students with disabilities in general education classrooms (Fuchs, D., & Fuchs, 1994). Therefore, in this article, we explore the capacity of general education to engage in instructional adaptation.

PREVIOUS RESEARCH ON

GENERAL EDUCATORS'

INSTRUCTIONAL ADAPTATION

Instructional adaptation can be categorized as (a) routine adaptation, or the extent to which teachers establish their initial routines to facilitate ongoing adaptation or varied goals, or (b) specialized adaptation, or how teachers modify planned instruction beyond their routine adaptation in light of specific student difficulty (Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, & Bishop, 1992b).

General Educators' Routine Adaptation

Routine adaptations are variations in materials, grouping arrangements, and goals, which teachers establish at the beginning of the year within their standard routines because they anticipate a need for differentiated instruction to accommodate ability differences among students. An example of routine adaptation is the use of reading groups that operate in different levels of the basal series.

Baker and Zigmond (1990) investigated teachers' use of routine adaptation by conducting teacher interviews and observations of reading and math classes in one elementary school. They found low levels of routine adaptation: Teachers taught in single, large groups; and their lessons incorporated little or no differentiation based on student need. McIntosh, Vaughn, Schumm, Haager, and Lee (1993) corroborated these findings with observations of 60 social studies and science classes across the age range. …

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