Curriculum Reform in a Residential Treatment Program: Establishing High Academic Expectations for Students with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
Edwards, Lana, Chard, David J., Behavioral Disorders
* Educational reform efforts at the national, state, and local levels are reforming our schools dramatically by instituting high academic standards. With the recent trend of establishing national education guidelines, most states have directed attention to the development of their own educational standards. Increased academic requirements for core curriculum areas of English, language arts, mathematics, history, and science are evident in the adopted statewide standards from California ("Content Standards for California Public Schools"), Massachusetts ("The Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks"), and Texas ("Essential Knowledge and Skills"). In addition, nearly every state has mandated statewide assessment for all students.
The trend of developing state standards and assessments raises questions about how these standards can be applied consistently to all students regardless of educational placement and academic needs. Can students in a residential treatment program, for example, use writing as a tool for learning across the curriculum? Can students with psychiatric challenges apply a continuous, self-adjusting study system to their classroom projects, as suggested by the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for all middle school students? Can students with disruptive classroom behavior use prescribed criteria to evaluate their own oral, written, and visual work? Can they publish and present original work for school-- wide and community audiences? Can they edit their writing for all standard conventions? When examining the literature on the existing academic standards and curricula currently being implemented in programs for students with emotional and behavioral disorders (E/BD), serious questions arise regarding mandated state standards for all students.
Our research attempted to address questions of state standards and their application to all students, particularly students with E/BD who are placed in residential treatment settings. In collaboration with a residential treatment program in eastern Massachusetts, the first author created an integrated language arts/history curriculum that incorporated the Massachusetts education standards for English and language arts in the instructional design. While writing lessons for the curriculum, the first author collaborated with teachers from the residential program's day school so that teacher activity ideas and preference for content could be incorporated in instructional planning. For example, we selected a Civil War unit as the focus of the language arts/history curriculum due to the teachers' interest as well as their prior plans to teach a unit on the Civil War at the end of the academic year.
Collaborative efforts with the residential treatment program administrators focused on reevaluating academic standards in their education program. Although the residential treatment program personnel expressed satisfaction with the behavioral and therapeutic services provided to students, they acknowledged that changes needed to be made in their existing academic curriculum. Over all, program personnel indicated an interest in reforming existing instruction, which included frequent student breaks for card games, drawing, and movie watching, several daily sessions of independent silent reading, and entire class sessions of independent seatwork. Administrators planned to adopt a new curriculum based on the state's educational standards with increased academic expectations for all students.
The integrated language arts/history curriculum implemented in our research was aimed at increasing academic standards, specifically in writing, in the curriculum of a residential treatment program for students with E/BD. Two primary research questions guided the implementation of our curriculum model: (1) What are the effects of an integrated instructional approach based on the curriculum design principles of big ideas, integrated reading and writing, explicit reading and writing instruction, and scaffolded instruction (e. …