Instructional Variables in Meeting Individual Needs

The instructional factors that teachers should consider in meeting individual needs are much the same for various groups of students. These factors are discussed in the following sections.

Meaningful Reading and Writing Tasks

In recent years the criteria for effective instruction have undergone a dramatic shift from emphasis on drill and practice to emphasis on meaningful tasks of reading and writing. The focus of instruction should be on ways to help students integrate new knowledge with existing knowledge to construct meaning (Roehler & Duffy, 1991). Good readers spend the majority of their time engaged in meaning-making activities such as silent reading and peer discussions (Allington, 1983). It is important for the tasks that students do to require thinking (Marx & Walsh, 1988). For example, choosing the correct response to a literal detail question requires significantly less thinking than summarizing the important events in a story.

Expectation Level

Research indicates that children in remedial and compensatory programs spend the majority of their time completing low-level tasks (Anderson & Pellicer, 1990; Allington & McGill-Franzen, 1989). Not only does this pattern reflect lower expectations, but students do not develop the higher levels of academic functioning necessary to achieve success in later years (Clifford, 1990).

While gifted students are academically advanced, they also need special provisions to meet their individual needs. Like all learners, their potential is affected by the quality of instruction and the learning experiences provided (Tuttle, 1991).

Students' Strengths

Successfully meeting individual needs is dependent upon knowing what an individual is already able to do and linking what is already known with what remains to be learned (Chall & Curtis, 1991; Eisenhart & Cutts-Dougherty, 1991). By helping students bridge the gap between their current abilities and the intended goal, teachers are providing scaffolds of support for learning (Rosenshine & Meister, 1992).

Varying Levels of Support

Scaffolded instruction may include direct explanation, modeling or showing students how to perform a task or operation, and think-alouds of the reasoning behind a particular procedure (Roehler & Duffy, 1991).

The organizational plan for the classroom can also provide scaffolding. For example, students acquiring English might be introduced to a concept with the whole class, work with peers in some form of collaborative learning, and then work individually to apply the concept independently.

See also Literature-Based Instruction

Active Involvement

Another characteristic of effective instruction and learning is the degree to which students are active participants in the learning process. When students use each other as learning resources by working in cooperative or team learning arrangements, student engagement increases (Knapp, Turnbull, & Shields, 1990). The lowest amount of student engagement usually occurs during seat-work types of activities (Evertson & Harris, 1992).

Match Between Classroom and Support Programs

The degree to which the classroom program and special support programs (such as Chapter 1 or Resource Room) philosophically match is referred to as congruence. When students receive philosophically compatible literacy instruction and all teachers emphasize the same strategies and skills, learning increases (Winfield, 1987). Typically, however, the opposite happens. A consistent lack of coordination between the core curriculum and the curriculum of special teachers has been documented (Allington & Shake, 1986; Johnston, Allington, & Afflerbach, 1985; LeTendre, 1991). The amount of congruence between instructional programs seems to be greatly influenced by the amount of communication that takes place between the classroom teacher and the special teacher (Allington & Shake, 1986).

Cultural Appropriateness

Cultural appropriateness of instruction includes consideration of the materials and types of activities used. All students, but especially students of different cultures - African-American, Asian-American, Latino, and Native-American - need multicultural literature. Its inclusion in the reading curriculum can affirm and empower students about their cultures. It confirms that members of many groups have contributed, and continue to contribute, to human life (Harris, 1990).

See also Literature-Based Instruction and Multicultural/Diverse Perspective Instruction


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