The general education teacher, the learning disabilities specialist, reading and math specialist, speech-language pathologist, transition specialist, and school psychologist, among others, serve students with LD during the assessment, planning, and intervention processes. Team members need to be able to shift roles flexibly, depending on the students' needs and the specialists' area of expertise.
The General Education Teacher
Because nearly 85 percent of students with LD spend at least 40 percent of their time in the regular classroom, the general education teacher has responsibility for a good deal of their education. The general educator confers with teacher assistance teams, makes program modifications, and, if these are not successful, refers students for evaluation.
Once a student is identified as learning disabled, the regular classroom teacher's responsibilities are detailed in the IEP. Unfortunately, more often than not general educators merely provide information on current student perforrmance in the IEP process rather than becoming actively involved in instructional planning, despite the firsthand knowledge that comes from observing and teaching their students with LD for so many hours a week.
Although the classroom teachers bear considerable responsibility for students with LD, their day-to-day commitments rarely allow sufficient time for planning special programs. And, even if time were available, these teachers are often unprepared to meet the challenge.
To help them deal with a wider array of abilities and learning styles in their classrooms, university teacher-preparation programs are increasingly requiring special education and multicultural coursework. School districts in recent years have intensified in-service education to help teachers understand the unique needs of students with LD, how to adapt teaching methods and materials, and how to adapt programming to match the increasing cultural diversity in the classroom.
Nevertheless, general education teachers continue to feel they lack sufficient knowledge or skills to plan for and instruct the learning disabled. All too often they delegate instruction of children with LD to aides and volunteers who have less training than they do to teach this student population. They also rely heavily on the learning disabilities teacher instead of adapting instruction on their own.
The Learning Disabilities Specialist
The specialist in LD is expected to be skilled in classroom observation, interviewing, assessment, specialized teaching, consulting with other professionals, and nurturing positive attitudes toward students with LD. The specialist in LD consults with the general education teacher and provides services to students with LD in the regular classroom or in a resource room for one or more periods each day. Approximately 14 percent of students with LD are taught by learning disabilities specialists.
Teachers of the learning disabled generally remediate basic academic weaknesses, teach learning strategies, and provide tutorial help in classroom subjects. The techniques these teachers use are intended to be special, not just a repetition of regular classroom instruction. After all, students have been identified as having LD because they require a quality and intensity of instruction different from that which benefits the average student. Unfortunately, too many learning disability teachers merely mimic what is being done in the general education class, rather than offering these students the quality and intensity of instruction they need.
Specialists in LD also assess students and provide in-service training to school staff. Given the large numbers of youngsters with learning disabilities being educated in regular classes, the consultation role is of prime importance. Consultation does produce significant increases in student progress, but the need to help students pass minimum competency tests, the daily academic pressures, too few planning periods, and the reluctance of general educators to take responsibility for students with special needs make allocating time for consultation difficult.
Teachers of the learning disabled often find themselves serving as tutors in regular class work because general educators are unable, unwilling, or don't have the time to accommodate the exceptional learner. Tutoring may well be needed. but other personnel, even peer tutors, could fill this role as well or better than the specialist in LD. For the most part teachers of the learning disabled are not experts in content-area subject matter, though some states now require such specialization or certification. The more they tutor, the less time that teachers of the learning disabled have to invest in remediating the weaknesses in math, reading writing, and learning strategies that created the need for tutoring in the first place. Many teachers of the learning disabled try to do both by addressing the basic skills within the context of the classroom content. This is appropriate as long as the goal is clear: assisting basic academic skills more than teaching content. Gains in basic skills have more potential benefits than learning specific pieces of content.
Teachers of the learning disabled express frustration about the unrealistic expectations placed on them, inadequate support systems, inadequate accomodations for students with LD in the regular classroom, and insufficient time to consult effectively with teachers or instruct students intensively. They also worry that the more that they tutor, the more dependent students will become and the less initiative general education teachers will take to deal with individual differences in their classrooms.
Even though teachers of the learning disabled must address a broad spectrum of academic and social needs, state certification requires too little coursework in remedial reading, learning theory, curriculum development, speech-language development and disorders, math remediation, and consultation. Assessment training is also insufficient, resulting in learning disabilities teachers using technically inadequate instruments, not understanding the statistics necessary for test interpretation and allowing tests rather than their clinical judgments to dictate their conclusions.
To address the need for more uniform training of teachers of the learning disabled, more uniform certification standards, criteria for employment, and standards for monitoring professional practices, the Council for Exceptional Children's Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) published the DLD Competencies for Teachers of Students with Learning Disabilities.
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