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Inclusive postsecondary strategies for teaching students with learning disabilities: a review of the literature.

Abstract. One out of every 11 postsecondary undergraduates report having a disability, and students with learning disabilities are the largest and fastest growing subgroup of this population. Although faculty are becoming more comfortable with providing students with learning disabilities accommodations as mandated by federal law, many instructors are using inclusive teaching strategies to better meet the needs of all students. Principles of universal design, borrowed from architecture and manufacturing, are increasingly influential on postsecondary pedagogy. This review of the literature examined 38 research-based articles related to universal design and inclusive practice at the postsecondary level. Five primary themes are identified and discussed in relation to their supporting literature: backward design, multiple means of presentation, inclusive teaching strategies and learner supports, inclusive assessment, and instructor approachability and empathy.


Students with disabilities (SWDs) are attending college in increasing numbers. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2002), 9% of U.S. undergraduates surveyed in 1999-2000 reported having a disability. The majority of these students attend two-year postsecondary programs, but enrollment in four-year institutions is increasing steadily. Reasons for these enrollment increases are numerous and include better academic preparation, improved transition planning, and increased availability of federal monies for scholarships and model programs (Brinckerhoff, McGuire & Shaw, 2002).

Unfortunately, retention and degree completion rates of SWDs in postsecondary education have not followed the same trajectory, with many students dropping out during their first year (Belch, 2004; Horn, Berktold, & Bobbitt, 1999; Stodden, 2001). Various factors contribute to these students' failure in college, including inadequate academic preparation (Horn et al., 1999), a lack of transition support between high school and college (Frieden, 2004), fragmentation and inconsistency in service provision (Frieden, 2004), and a lack of faculty knowledge and use of appropriate accommodations and modifications (Malakpa, 1997; Villarreal, 2002).

Students with learning disabilities (LD) are the largest subgroup of SWDs, comprising some 46 to 61% of all such students enrolled in postsecondary education (Wolanin & Steele, 2004). Students with LD are also the fastest growing subgroup, their numbers having tripled in 10 years (Brinckerhoff et al., 2002). Despite their growing presence on college campuses, students with LD struggle to succeed, as evidenced by the findings of the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2. For instance, when asked about their graduation expectations, only 25% of the study's 2,049 students with LD anticipated completing a four-year degree program (Wagner, Newman, Cameto, Levine, & Marder, 2007).

Although many factors contribute to the postsecondary experience of students with LD, research focused solely on this subgroup of SWDs has shown that the faculty-student relationship is important to student success. Hartman-Hall and Haaga's (2002) study of 86 postsecondary students with LD demonstrated that "the response a student receives to a request for assistance or accommodation for a learning disability, particularly from a professor, likely affects the student's willingness to seek help in the future" (p. 271). Further, a number of researchers have suggested that the success of college students with LD is directly influenced by their perception of faculty support (Allsopp, Minskoff, & Bolt, 2005; Troiano, 2003; Wallace, Abel, & Ropers-Huilman, 2000).

Unfortunately, many faculty shy away from working with students with LD because they feel ill equipped to teach these students (Mull, Sitlington, & Alper, 2001; Muller, 2006). Hartman-Hall and Haaga (2002) recommended faculty training in disability awareness and disability-related best practices to increase instructor knowledge and awareness about accommodations and of how faculty behaviors affect SWDs. The purpose of this article was to meld a pragmatic discourse on the pedagogical and institutional underpinnings of educating SWDs using current theoretical models and evidence-based research.

Faculty members often rely on Student Disability Offices on campus for direction on how best to serve SWDs in their courses. Such instructions are typically communicated through a boilerplate form listing suggested accommodations for a particular student. Common accommodations include extended time on tests or modified assessment, note-taking services, or assistive technology devices such as screen readers or books on tape (Hawke, 2004). While accommodations might be beneficial for students with LD, they alone are not a panacea. Further, prescribed accommodations only serve students who identify themselves as having a disability, and seek support. Such retroactive adjustments generally do not address barriers embedded within the curriculum design, and may or may not increase faculty understanding of best practices for SWDs.

In response to the increasing demands on faculty to meet the needs of a diverse student population, researchers and practitioners in higher education have begun to explore and embrace the principles of more inclusive pedagogies (Arries, 1999; Beacham & Alty, 2006; Belch, 2005; Moriarty, 2007; Ouellett, 2004; Scott, McGuire, & Foley, 2003). Universal design provides a framework for instruction that anticipates and addresses the needs of a variety of learners, including those with LD.

The concept of universal design was first articulated by architect Ronald Mace in the 1980s (Mace, 1985) and originally focused on eliminating architectural barriers for persons with physical disabilities (Center for Universal Design, 1997; Scott et al., 2003). Over the past few decades, various scholars have modified the concept to include considerations of diverse learners, and in 1998, Silver, Bourke, and Strehorn introduced the theory of universal design to higher education in their writings on accessible instruction.

The process of universal design conceptualization and adaptation has resulted in several acronyms for approaches to universal design, each with varying underlying principles. For purposes of practice, the differences in these approaches are less important than the commonalities. For instance, the Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability has developed nine key principles of Universal Design for Instruction (UDI), which can be used to create a more inclusive learning environment (Scott, McGuire, & Shaw, 2001).

These principles emphasize equitable and flexible teaching based on simple and intuitive instructional practices with careful attention to ensure that material is presented in a variety of formats to create access for all learners regardless of disability. UDI requires the instructor to anticipate and be tolerant of differences among students with regard to prerequisite skills, pacing, and level of effort necessary to learn course content. The instructor is also expected to create a classroom environment that offers the appropriate physical space and supports for learning, promotes interaction and a sense of community, and communicates high expectations for all learners.

In a similar effort to equate the theory of universal design to educational environments, the Center for Applied Special Technologies developed Universal Design for Learning (UDL). As discussed in Zeff (2007), UDL's central tenets to guide postsecondary instruction are as follows:

1. Multiple Means of Representation: Course content should be expressed using a variety of methods to assist all students, including those with LD.

2. Multiple Means of Expression: Expression of student understanding should be solicited using an array of modes.

3. Multiple Means of Engagement: Faculty should be cognizant of differing backgrounds and motivations of students and provide means of interaction with course material that support diverse learners.

UDL relegates the medical or deficit model of disability in favor of a more inclusive paradigm in which persons with disabilities are seen as part of a continuum of learners with various strengths and weaknesses. As such, it is more often the classroom and instructor that need "fixing" than the student. This mindset creates opportunities for pedagogical change, because many of our teaching practices are under our personal control.

Both UDI and UDL are in keeping with Chickering and Gamson's (1987) seminal Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, which are as follows: (1) encourages contact between students and faculty, (2) develops reciprocity and cooperation among students, (3) encourages active learning, (4) gives prompt feedback, (5) emphasizes time on task, (6) communicates high expectations, and (7) respects diverse talents and ways of learning. In addition, UDI and UDL offer new ways of thinking about, and designing, instruction that delivers optimal levels of learner support.

Much like the application of universal design in architecture or product development, a universally designed teaching and learning environment is inherently more inclusive and likely to meet the needs of a more diverse clientele. Still, the universal design movement in higher education remains somewhat nebulous in its implementation; faculty may intuitively recognize the potential benefits of such inclusive teaching practices, and yet lack the understanding needed to bring these concepts to fruition in the classroom (Rose, Harbour, Johnston, Daley, & Abarbanell, 2006).

A growing body of literature has begun to elucidate the practical mechanisms of universally designed postsecondary pedagogy, and serves as the focus of this review. Although many recent articles are theoretical or descriptive in nature, we are beginning to see some empirical research on the efficacy of universal design and inclusive teaching practices as applied to higher education settings serving students with LD (Beacham & Alty, 2006; Brothen & Wambach, 2003; Getzel, McManus, & Briel, 2004; Hartman-Hall & Haaga, 2002; Sullivan, 2005). Additionally, we are hearing from the students themselves via qualitative and mixed-methods research that asks, among other things, "What supports and teaching strategies do you find most beneficial?" Analysis of the results of these studies provides further information on effective inclusive teaching practices and adds to the growing knowledge base on best practices in postsecondary education.

This review and synthesis of the literature will identify research-based recommendations for inclusive pedagogy, exploring each within the context of universal design theories in the postsecondary setting.


The articles and book chapters discussed in this literature review were selected using the following steps. First, we conducted a thorough computer search via the following online databases and search engines: Education Abstracts, ERIC, GALE PowerSearch, Google Scholar, InfoTrac, JSTOR, PsycArticles, PsycInfo, SAGE Journals Online, and WilsonSelectPlus, using combinations of the following keyword phrases: postsecondary education, college, higher education, universal design, teaching, inclusive teaching, pedagogy, disabilities, and learning disabilities.

We also searched our local university library's holdings and the table of contents of 38 peer-reviewed journals from 1990 to 2008 from both the LD and higher education fields. (The selection of these journals began with the inclusion of all related journals from the university library's holdings and was expanded to include non-university-owned journals identified as potential sources through the online databases mentioned above.) For each article meeting the initial screening criteria (i.e., the content is related to universal design/ inclusive teaching and postsecondary education of students with LD), we examined the reference section to identify additional resources for evaluation. The results of this initial search yielded 184 articles, books, book chapters, and reports.

A decision was made not to extend the search into work done in high school settings. Therefore, we screened the 184 resources to ascertain their focus on postsecondary settings and excluded any articles that were based on work in the K-12 setting. The rationale for this containment of the literature search, aside from practicality, was that the postsecondary setting is a different environment than the high school milieu in terms of stakeholders, expectations, teaching, and learning (Scott & McGuire, 2005). Effective inclusive practices at the K-12 level will not necessarily transfer to higher education; however, there is a definite need to study inclusive pedagogies in each of these arenas.

We further reduced our initial pool of resources in the following ways. First, we reviewed each article, book chapter, or report to verify that the work was based upon actual research using quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methodology. Literature reviews and theoretical articles were extracted, read for content, and checked for primary sources, but were not included in the final analysis. Next, we reviewed the remaining pool of the research-based articles to ensure that each study was focused on students with learning disabilities.

Twenty-three articles met this criterion; we also incorporated in our synthesis 15 articles that focused on the more general population of postsecondary SWDs. These studies included large numbers or percentages of students with learning disabilities among their participants, but also included students with other types of disabilities, such as physical or sensory impairment. To exclude these studies because they did not focus exclusively on students with LD would have resulted in loss of important data. When appropriate, we have identified these articles with an asterisk in Table 1 or text descriptions to indicate their inclusion of non-LD participants.

A final round of data reduction consisted of eliminating resources that did not contain findings pertaining to inclusive teaching practices. For instance, we eliminated a qualitative investigation on the characteristics of successful postsecondary students with LD because its findings were focused solely on student characteristics and circumstances, and the teaching of these students was not addressed. Ultimately, our search yielded a total of 38 studies dealing with universal design/inclusive teaching practices, postsecondary education, and students with LD (see Table 1 for study authors and year of publication).

Data Analysis

Content-analysis procedures were employed to identify categorical descriptors representing the dominant themes in the qualifying literature. Following the recommendation of Leinhardt and Leinhardt (1997), we first immersed ourselves in the data by reading and rereading each article, so that an inductive approach guided our subsequent analysis. Information from each resource (sample, design, results, etc.) was entered into an evidence table to provide a structure for our analysis, as per the recommendation of Green, Johnson, and Adams (2006).

Next, guided by the principles of universal design, and in particular UDL, we used open coding and categorization to identify tentative subsets of research focus. Margin notes were used to record the essence of each study's findings, which later served as the basis for descriptive or categorical labeling. Much of the open coding fell into several non-mutually exclusive categories that paralleled the three principles of UDL. These categories were further refined via discussion that followed Jensen and Allen's (1996) guidelines on dialectical and hermeneutic analysis.

First, we examined the findings and codes of each study for accuracy and inter-rater agreement (hermeneutic analysis). Next, we compared and contrasted the findings and codes between studies, looking for synergy while considering other possible interpretations (dialectic analysis). As a result of this discourse, categories were collapsed or expanded as appropriate, and a final round of review, discussion, and coding was conducted.

Ultimately, we identified five distinct categories, or themes, that best synthesized the findings of the 38 articles: (a) backward design, (b) multiple means of presentation, (c) inclusive teaching strategies and learner supports, (d) inclusive assessment, and (e) instructor approachability and empathy. Table 2 lists each theme and associated studies. In the following sections, we discuss each of these themes, first in relation to its theoretical underpinnings, and then through an examination of its supporting research.


Backward Design

Theoretical underpinnings. In theory, effective implementation of universal design emanates from thoughtful planning with regard to content, outcomes, and processes. The backward design technique, which begins with the formulation of learning goals and objectives, serves as a tool for inclusive teaching. According to proponents of UDL, "setting clear goals is the essential first step in teaching" (Rose & Meyer, 2002, p. 87).

When faculty clearly identify the essential components of a course, all students benefit because the result is a transparent, "non-discriminatory baseline of course content, methods, skills, abilities and expectations that are required of all students" (Ouellett, 2004, p. 139). According to Arries (1999), instructors should first develop objectives, then outline appropriate assessment content, and finally choose the best combination of supporting media for conveyance.

By employing backward design, faculty identify and select methods for achieving learning outcomes (Ofiesh, Rojas, & Ward, 2006), including what students should be able to do, know, appreciate, or demonstrate proficiency in at various points in the course (Ouellett, 2004). Instructional strategies and learning assessments should consistently reflect course goals and objectives, which should also be clearly communicated with students (Harrison, 2006; Rose et al., 2006).

Supportive research. Only 4 of the 38 studies addressed the principles of backward design, so we consider this an emerging theme in terms of research-supported practice. Results from Hill's (1995) survey of 264 SWDs (including 52 with LD) indicated strong support for the necessity and value of detailed syllabi. Students also found it very helpful when faculty provided lists of course readings before the start of the semester. Writing detailed syllabi and providing course readings in advance of the first class requires instructors to think through the course from start to finish, consider the end goals, and carefully select readings that will best support students' learning--all activities indicative of a backward design approach to course preparation.

Madaus, Scott, and McGuire's (2003) study of 23 students with LD from three postsecondary institutions produced findings similar to Hill's (1995). In focus groups, students frequently expressed appreciation of faculty who provided clear and consistent expectations along with explicit information about course requirements at the outset of the semester. The syllabus is the first place to begin with this clarity, but follow-through is also important as students perceive inconsistency on the part of a professor as a "barrier to learning" (Madaus et al., 2003, p. 2).

Backward design principles are further supported by two case studies on the effectiveness of universal design-influenced courses: Brothen and Wambach's (2003) investigation of a computer-based psychology course and Sullivan's (2005) study of an introductory mathematics course. Both courses offered many supports indicative of UDL; for instance, the instructors utilized multiple means of content presentation, offered increased technology supports, and allowed for variations in assessment process and product.

Also inherent in the design of each course was a focus on goals; in the math class, the instructor developed initial goals, which were then customized to each student. These aims, emphasized at the outset of the class, acted as a beacon throughout the course, providing students with reminders of learning benchmarks that should be achieved by the end of the course. The psychology class utilized a meticulous, mastery-based course design that emphasized both short- and long-term goals.

Results from each of these investigations point toward the advantage of backward design. In Sullivan's (2005) case study, all three participants (students with LD) improved their math performance and understanding. The five students followed in Brothen and Wambach's (2003) study also experienced academic success in their psychology course, despite varying levels of disability. These findings are promising; however, more research in this area is needed in order to infer causal attributions between the use of backward design and SWDs' achievement.

Multiple Means of Presentation

Theoretical underpinnings. One of the central tenets of UDL is the use of multiple means to present information. According to Rose et al. (2006), presenting content through flexible means addresses physical, perceptual, and cognitive barriers that can interfere with learning. For example, a universally designed course may be an amalgam of lecture, discussion, and technological methods of interaction and acquisition (Mino, 2004). Furthermore, oral modes of content conveyance can be bolstered by graphical representation of information (Ouellett, 2004). This can be accomplished in the classroom by incorporating videos or PowerPoint[R] presentations. Course websites provide additional flexibility by enabling faculty to provide information in text, audio, graphical, or video formats that students can access where and when they choose (Rose et al., 2006; Scott et al., 2003). The fixed print in bound textbooks, often the primary or exclusive manner in which content is presented in college courses, can be an impediment to many students (Rose, Meyer, & Hitchcock, 2005, p. 17). Digital alternatives, which are available through some publishers, provide a flexible format that allows students to highlight, manipulate, and copy information (Ofiesh, Rice, Long, Merchant, & Gajar, 2002), and facilitates the use of potentially beneficial assistive technology supports such as text-to-speech programs and online dictionaries (Scott et al., 1998).

The use of multiple formats in the presentation of content is also in keeping with the American Psychological Association's (2002) call for increased learner participation and engagement in the learning process, and Grasha's (1996) work on teaching and learning, which emphasizes undergraduates' preference for active, experiential learning. Moving away from the one-size-fits-all approach also gives students the ability to select the formats that are most personally beneficial. "There is no one way of presenting information or transferring knowledge that is optimal for all students" (Rose et al., 2006, p. 137).

Supportive research. Ten of the 38 studies included in this analysis produced results relating to the principles and practices of multiple means of content presentation. In interviews, focus groups, and surveys, many students with LD have voiced support for books on tape (Burgstahler, Duclos, & Turcotte, 2000; Elacqua, Rapaport, & Kruse, 1996; Finn, 1998) and for materials presented both visually and orally (Madaus et al., 2003).

In Fuller, Healey, Bradley, and Hall's (2004) survey of SWDs, 44% of the 173 respondents reported difficulties learning in lecture-based classes. Students voiced a need for faculty to augment lectures with visual aids, lecture transcripts, and the like, in order to circumvent functional impairments in accessing course content.

Support for the practice of visual and oral presentation of course material was also garnered in Kitz and Thorpe's (1995) investigation of the efficacy of a videodisc (interactive video) presentation of algebra instruction. Twenty-six students with LD were divided into two groups for instruction in basic algebra; one group received videodisc presentation of content, the other a more traditional, textbook-based approach. Students in the videodisc group outperformed those in the traditional group on posttest measures of algebra skill and also earned higher grades in their first year algebra classes.

Fichten and colleagues' (2001) survey of 725 SWDs, 37% of whom had LD, indicated strong support for having course materials available electronically as well as in printed form. This finding remained constant when only the students with LD were considered. As discussed previously, there are many potential benefits to using electronic text for content delivery because of the possibility for customized modification, and compatibility with assistive technologies such as text readers.

Brothen and Wambach's (2003) universally designed psychology course utilized computers to provide students with multiple means of presentation. In addition to traditional lectures and readings, students accessed course content through various types of computer activities, including electronic flashcards, completion exercises, and practice quizzes. The authors attributed some of their students' success to the flexibility and variety of computer-based content presentation. For example, students could participate in the computer-based activities repeatedly, until they felt confident that they understood the material. The private nature of this self-guided, self-paced study reduced the necessity of making public students' need for extra time and practice. This medium also allows for instant feedback on performance--a much appreciated feature by struggling students who are not sure if they are "getting it" or not.

Sullivan (2005), faced with a less than reader-friendly textbook for her math course, culled key excerpts from that and other texts to prepare a concise and readable handout. In this way, although the medium (print) remained constant, the presentation of content was available in different versions, making the information more accessible to all. As reported earlier, the three students in Sullivan's case study each made gains in math skill and comprehension. Although we cannot directly attribute these gains to the multiple means of presentation offered within the course, the study nonetheless provides general support for UDL-influenced techniques such as those Sullivan used to make her text accessible to a wider audience.

Even though much of the literature recommends the use of multiple representations of content, there may be mitigating variables that would preclude a ubiquitous prescription of this practice, particularly when multiple formats of content are presented simultaneously. Beacham and Alty's work (2006), based on Dual Coding Theory, has indicated that the cognitive load required to attend to multiple simultaneous representations of content (i.e., text and diagrams or diagrams and sound) may be cognitively taxing for students with dyslexia. Further research on the effect of simultaneous multiple representations of content is warranted.

Inclusive Teaching Strategies and Learner Supports

Theoretical underpinnings. In addition to providing multiple formats for relaying information, universal design theories implore faculty to employ a variety of instructional strategies to benefit students. What instructors actually do and what supports they provide or permit determines the flexibility of the course and, in turn, the likelihood that a greater number of students will be successful.

Rose and Meyer (2002) urged teachers to provide multiple examples, highlight critical features, and support background context. Furthermore, teachers are asked to provide learner supports such as models of skilled performance, opportunities for guided practice, and ongoing performance feedback. Choice is also important to the UDL classroom, therefore, instructors are encouraged to offer students some selection in content, tools, and even rewards. The term "accessible pedagogy," coined by Rose and his colleagues (2006), is a perfect expression for what UDL expects of educators: teach in the most inclusive manner possible.

Research support. The results of 21 studies provided strong evidence of the value of inclusive teaching strategies and learner supports. The majority of these investigations (17) yielded results pertaining to one or more of the following domains: inclusive lecture supports, study aids, writing assistance, and strategy instruction. We will address each of these topics in turn.

* Lecture. As discussed, lectures present a number of accessibility barriers to students with LD (Fuller et al., 2004). In multiple studies, students reported the value of receiving copies of lecture notes, whether created by hired notetakers, fellow students, or the instructor (Burgstahler et al., 2000; Elacqua et al., 1996; Finn, 1998; Hadley, 2007; Kurth & Mellard, 2006; Lancaster, Mellard, & Hoffman, 2001; Madaus et al., 2003). Audio recordings of lectures have also been viewed as beneficial (Kurth & Mellard, 2006) as have lecture outlines (Madaus et al., 2003).

Most studies have relied on student report of the value of various lecture supports; Lazarus (1993), however, used a case study design to follow three students using guided notes (lecture outlines on which students fill in details). Findings indicate that use of guided notes resulted in significantly improved academic performance.

In a 1995 study, Ruhl and Suritsky examined the efficacy of lecture outlines and the pause procedure, as measured by immediate free recall. In their investigation, students with LD viewed a 15-minute videotaped lecture under the following conditions: Group 1: with the provision of an outline, Group 2: with the provision of an outline and pauses for discussion, and Group 3: with pauses for discussion alone.

Following the lecture presentation, a test was administered to all groups to assess the impact of the above conditions on student recall without the aid of notes. The results indicated that the pause procedure alone provided the greatest influence on outcomes, insofar as the students in Group 3 achieved higher scores than either of the other two groups. However, the researchers noted that the group that received both outline and pause conditions performed nearly as well as the group that experienced only the pause procedure. Further investigation is needed to determine if the use of outlines in college lectures somehow interferes with the note-taking ability of students with LD,

* Study aids. Student report studies have produced important information regarding useful study supports. Particularly valued are organizational aids such as graphic organizers (Sullivan, 2005), as well as reading guides, chapter outlines, and study guides (Madaus et al., 2003). In two studies (Burgstahler et al., 2000; Graham-Smith & Lafayette, 2004), students voiced their appreciation for the availability of various assistive technology supports, especially assistive technology labs where tools such as text readers and voice recognition software could be used. Several investigations (e.g., Higgins & Raskind, 1995; Roberts & Stodden, 2005) went beyond student report to evaluate the efficacy of certain technologies. Given their focus on assessment, however, these studies will be reviewed in a later section of this article.

* Writing assistance. Smith (1993) interviewed 31 students with LD to explore the nature of their written expression difficulties and how faculty might help them overcome them. Students emphasized the value of providing very precise assignment instructions and clear explanations of required formats. Other welcome writing supports included breaking larger assignments into smaller chunks, providing more lead time for assignments, and allowing extended time for project completion. Students in Finn's (1998) focus groups reported using--and valuing--proofreaders for written assignments. Similarly, the 10 students who participated in Hadley's (2007) longitudinal study of college freshmen with LD reported frequent visits to the writing center, but were dissatisfied with the availability and quality of service offered there. Given the findings of these three studies, faculty might consider embedding some level of course-specific writing support into the structure of their classes.

* Strategy instruction. A number of studies have investigated strategy instruction as a remediation for students with LD, and, depending on the nature of the course, these interventions may be applicable in a variety of college classes. Students participating in Graham-Smith and Lafayette's (2004) survey valued instruction in time management and study skills. Getzel and colleagues' (2004) investigation of 26 SWDs given individualized strategy instruction (proofreading, mnemonics, organization, etc.) showed that students who were frequent users of these strategies fared better (Dean's List, graduated, etc.) in college than less frequent users.

Gaddy, Bakken, and Fulk (2008) examined the effects of using text-structure strategies on science text comprehension (main idea and compare/contrast skills, specifically). Forty students with LD were randomly assigned to one of two groups: a traditional group where students were instructed to read and listen to text passages and then answer comprehension questions, and a strategy group where students were taught to underline key points, use self-dialogue, and write lists of comparison/contrast details. Students in the strategy group outperformed those in the traditional group on both immediate and delayed measures of comprehension.

Similarly, Butler (1997) conducted four studies in which 36 students with LD received instruction in task analysis, goal setting, and strategy selection, along with scaffolded academic support. In all four studies, students' task performance and self-efficacy improved.

Using a case study design (N = 5), Patwa, Chafouleas, and Madaus (2005) investigated the impact of the Paired Associates Strategy (PAS; a mnemonic keyword technique) on recall of factual information. Results indicated the strategy was effective for short-term but not for long-term recall. The authors suggested that PAS is best used for short-term preparation prior to exams, rather than for tasks requiring deeper understanding.

Zawaiza and Gerber (1993) examined two types of strategies for solving word problems. Thirty-eight students with LD were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a translation training group (linguistics-based approach where students were taught to define problem variables), a diagram training group (translation training plus instruction in diagramming problems), and a control group (no strategy instruction other than discussion of the problem). Results indicated that the combined strategy method utilized in the diagram training group was most efficacious in improving students' abilities to solve math word problems.

Inclusive Assessment

Theoretical underpinnings. Just as the literature suggests multiple means of content presentation, there is also a call for faculty to utilize flexible assessment methods that address barriers to the expression of knowledge (Baer, 1997; Brinckerhoff et al., 2002; Lightfoot & Gibson, 2005). For instance, overreliance on a single mode of assessment, such as paper-and-pencil testing, does not take into account learners' physical, cognitive, emotional, or sensory differences.

Ouellet (2004) recommended assessing students by using combinations of writing, speaking, and drawing via activities such as faculty-student conferences, journal writing, and videotaped presentations. The learning goals and objectives that serve as the foundation for instruction must be concretely linked to assessment activities (Harrison, 2006; Rose et al., 2006). Just as multiple formats of presentation are beneficial to instruction, providing alternative methods for assessment furthers the inclusive nature of the course.

Research support. This theme is strongly supported by research, with half of the studies in this analysis providing evidence in favor of using varied and flexible assessment techniques. A substantial number of studies (Alster, 1997; Baker, 2006; Finn, 1998; Hadley, 2007; Jarvis, 1997; Kurth & Mellard, 2006; Lancaster et al., 2001; Runyan, 1991) have shown that allowing extended time in testing situations promotes SWDs' success, often leveling the playing field for SWDs and their nondisabled peers. Thus, several of these studies revealed that the benefit of additional time is also extended to students without disabilities when this assessment option is available to them (Alster, 1997; Jarvis, 1997; Runyan, 1991). Another valued testing accommodation is a separate, quiet location in which to take exams (Burgstahler et al., 2000; Finn, 1998; Lancaster et al., 2001).

The only dissenting results for these types of testing accommodations came from Keim, McWhirter, and Bernstein's (1996) investigation in which no significant relationship was found between use of testing accommodations and grade-point average (GPA). However, the authors themselves noted several flaws in their analysis, especially the way in which dependent and independent variables were constructed, by averaging rates of testing accommodation usage and GPAs across courses, respectively. They concluded that a more precise method of analysis is warranted to ascertain true relationships among testing accommodations and grades.

Several studies investigated the effect of assistive technology usage on student assessment. Higgins and Raskind (1995) explored the compensatory effectiveness of speech recognition on written composition performance. Twenty-nine students with LD wrote essays under three conditions: without assistance, using a human transcriber, and using a speech recognition system. Results showed that students received higher holistic scores using speech recognition than when writing without assistance. No significant differences were noted between the scores of the human-transcribed and the voice-transcribed essays.

In a similar study, Roberts and Stodden (2005) tracked the written performance progress of 15 students with LD who were trained in the use of voice recognition software. Results indicated that ongoing use of the technology leading to written performance improvement is dependent on the level of need (severity of disability) and motivation. Although speech/voice recognition software cannot be considered a panacea for individuals with writing-related LDs, faculty might steer students with significant writing disabilities toward this useful, independence-promoting, assistive technology.

Raskind and Higgins (1995) evaluated the impact of speech synthesis on students' self-assessment of their writing. Thirty-three students with LD proofread self-generated written language samples under three conditions: using a speech synthesizing system that highlighted words as it read the passages aloud; having the passage read aloud by another person; and receiving no assistance. Using the speech synthesis allowed students to detect a higher percentage of total errors and a higher percentage of capitalization, spelling, usage, and typographical errors. Although having the passage read aloud by another person allowed students to detect more grammar-mechanical errors, speech synthesis was shown to be a better compensatory tool for promoting overall project quality and greater independence.

Finally, some studies supported multiple formats or types of assessment. Sullivan's (2005) successful UDL-based math course measured student progress in a variety of ways, including journals (atypical for math classes), oral presentations, and take-home projects. In Reiff, Gerber, and Ginsberg's (1993) interview-based study of 71 adults with LD, participants reported on the benefits they derived from the use of multiple means of assessment in the college classroom. Students appreciated the flexibility of courses that allowed them choice and variety in demonstrating content and skill mastery.

Instructor Approachability and Empathy

Theoretical underpinnings. A fundamental tenet of UDL is the charge for all instructors to stimulate affective learning by providing multiple, flexible options for engagement (Rose & Meyer, 2002). According to Rose and Meyer, "affective networks" are key to engaging and motivating the student to set goals, establish priorities, and succeed in learning new material. The authors assert that we are more apt to learn when we are interested in the topic, when it is relevant to us, and when we understand why learning the material is important. In order to maximize such affective learning, instructors must get to know their students.

Ouellett (2004) cited the many benefits accrued when an instructor "knows" his or her students; for example, knowledge about students helps teachers determine academic readiness, predict areas of confusion, and plan accordingly for instruction. "Equally importantly, such knowledge helps instructors understand students' individual personalities, learning styles, and interests, which helps instructors determine and tailor appropriate supports ..." (p. 138).

According to Scott and colleagues (2003), "Often, the inclusiveness of a classroom depends on the kinds of interactions that take place between students and faculty" (p. 46). Scott urges faculty to make personal connections with students and use motivational strategies to encourage student performance.

Izzo and Murray (2003) developed seven key guidelines for applying UDL in college classrooms. Notably, the first guideline urges faculty to "create a classroom climate that fosters trust and respect" (p. 32). Instructors are encouraged to be accepting and available to all students, especially those with disabilities. By openly treating disability and accommodations as a typical element of classroom life, students with LD and other disabilities are welcomed and included in the learning community.

Research support. Twelve of the 38 studies in our analysis addressed student-faculty relationships, in particular, the importance of instructor approachability and empathy.

Graham-Smith and Lafayette's (2004) survey of SWDs illustrates the importance of socio-emotional factors in higher education settings. Seventy-one students were surveyed regarding accommodations perceived as most beneficial to them. Overwhelmingly, the responses indicated that a caring staff and safe environment were the most important aspects of college life for SWDs. These interpersonal dynamics took precedence over all other supports, including technology, testing accommodations, and instruction in time management.

Close relationships with faculty may be critical for some SWDs. The National Center for the Study of Postsecondary Educational Supports (2000) conducted focus groups with SWDs at 10 sites across the nation. Among key findings was the importance of faculty mentoring of students; indeed, some study participants viewed mentoring by faculty as equally important to the postsecondary experience as academic learning (p. 12).

In a focus group conducted by Burgstahler et al. (2000), students indicated that faculty empathy and approachability are highly valuable attributes. Specifically, students appreciated respectful, positive, and understanding instructors who are not hesitant to work with them. Denny and Carson (1994) surveyed 41 SWDs regarding their postsecondary experiences. Respondents felt that faculty could enhance acceptance of SWDs by modeling friendliness, assisting with special accommodations, and working more closely with SWDs. They also urged faculty to meet necessary accommodations and special equipment with a welcoming and cooperative attitude.

Fuller et al.'s (2007) survey of 173 SWDs produced similar results, as participants emphasized that the actions and attitudes of staff are critical and that "creating an inclusive learning environment" (p. 316) benefits all students. Participants in Hill's (1995) survey indicated their appreciation of faculty who are accepting and encouraging, who meet with students to discuss questions and concerns, and who solicit questions and discussion. Hill recommended that faculty speak to their classes early in the semester to issue an invitation to talk about learning issues.

Instructor empathy and approachability are characteristics that appear to hold particular value to students with LD. Participants in Madaus and colleagues' (2003) focus groups stressed that an effective instructor must be approachable and available. This is not surprising, considering that a majority of the 37 students in Elacqua et al.'s (1996) interview-based study, especially those with LD, reported that asking faculty for accommodations was a stressful experience that often included a lack of caring and understanding on the part of the instructor. Students desired a more respectful relationship with faculty.

Hartman-Hall and Haaga's (2007) investigation of students' help-seeking behavior yielded similar results. Eighty-six students with LD rated their willingness to seek help in two experimental manipulations; results indicated that instructor behavior influences students' willingness to seek assistance. This finding has serious implications for students with LD, many of whom benefit greatly from extra supports provided by faculty.


The paradigm of universal design is widely cited as a framework for assisting students with LD in postsecondary settings. Universal design is based on the premise that proactive planning to reduce barriers decreases the need for retroactive accommodations, thereby increasing opportunities for positive outcomes. Because flexibility is a key component of universal design, the framework is devoid of rigid mandates for particular instructional methods.

The literature reflects certain universal design trends in postsecondary education, including the "backward" design of courses beginning with clearly identified required outcomes, multiple means of presentation of course content, inclusive teaching strategies and learner supports, inclusive assessment, and instructor approachability and empathy. Attention to these factors reinforces the concept of heterogeneity among students with LD, and emphasizes the importance of faculty awareness of particular student challenges. As Scott and McGuire (2005) stated, universal design "provides a powerful, tacit message--student diversity is now the norm, not the exception, and college instructors can welcome all students through the creation of inclusive instructional environments" (p. 136).

Implications for Practice

Although a paucity of research exists regarding backward design course preparation and its impact on students with LD, it merits attention and further study. As with all universal design-influenced pedagogy, backward design should help every student, regardless of ability or disability, to succeed. Clearly set and communicated goals, based on identification of essential learning outcomes, affords students many benefits, including a "more responsive classroom environment, greater clarity of instructors' expectations, an increased focus on the connection between learning and course content, the ability to become a more self-reflective learner, and a better understanding of one's strengths and weaknesses as a student" (Stassen, Doherty, & Poe, 2001, as cited in Ouellett, 2004, p. 139). These are invaluable assets to all learners, especially those with disabilities, whose learning challenges are typically greater than those faced by their nondisabled peers.

The research on multiple means of presentation and postsecondary students with LD strongly suggests that variety, options, and choice are important to inclusive course design. Provision of content in different formats, as opposed to relying on lecture or text, is analogous to a fisherman casting a net instead of dropping a line from a single pole. The wider the net, the more fish can be caught. Instructors who utilize printed and electronic text, visual aids with lecture, video, simulations, and so on, are increasing the opportunities for student access and learning. With emerging technologies like pod and vod casting, innovative faculty are taking the principle of multiple means of presentation to newer heights, furthering the inclusivity of their courses via multimedia content that can be accessed on demand. Motivation to learn is likely to be enhanced as well when students can choose among presentation formats, selecting the treatment most optimal for their own learning (Fichten et al., 2001).

This review of the literature yielded substantial evidence for the value and efficacy of a variety of inclusive teaching strategies and learner supports. As postsecondary faculty members, it is gratifying to know that what we do in class and what we provide in terms of support can make a powerful contribution to the inclusivity of our courses. When we see students struggling with content, we can look for intervention in our ever-increasing repertoire of teaching strategies and supports. This mindset is, in and of itself, very inclusive as we can never be pacified with the status quo for our students or ourselves. "There will always be a way to reach every student" may be an outlandish claim, but it is more optimistic and inclusive than statements such as "that's the way we've always done it" or "he'll never be able to learn this."

From graphic organizers to assistive technologies, strategy instruction to guided notes, a vast array of pedagogical possibilities exists in the inclusive classroom. As Harrison (2003) asserted:
   Instructors need to shift their focus away from
   merely providing instruction, and instead concentrate
   on facilitating learning by meeting the needs
   of the individual learner in the classroom. Implicit
   in the use of learning strategies and learner centered
   instruction is the desire to empower students
   as learners, both within and beyond the classroom
   environment. (p. 142)

By utilizing research-based inclusive teaching strategies and learner supports, instructors can create a more accessible and successful learning environment.

As the literature suggests, reliance on paper-and-pencil assessments is outmoded; inclusive classrooms must offer multiple means of evaluating student learning. At the very least, faculty should carefully consider the pros and cons of timed versus untimed exams. Most of the evidence demonstrates that extended time benefits students with disabilities and often levels the playing field for students with LD. Rigidity and uniformity used to be the hallmarks of assessment; however, a more inclusive environment offers flexibility by way of assistive technologies (e.g., speech recognition for writing papers), alternative formats (performance, project, essay, application), and even location (a quiet, distraction-free place in which to take exams). Faculty might do well to keep in mind these principles of assessment: "The key task in evaluation is to be clear about the essential components of the course and to consider how students demonstrate mastery of them for the purposes of assigning grades" (Ouellett, 2004, p. 140). In the studies examined in this literature review, students with LD were very vocal about their desire for clarity and their appreciation for flexible evaluation.

Finally, we come to the affective variables, the measure of an instructor's approachability and empathy. We were surprised at the high percentage of studies in our sample whose results addressed these interpersonal characteristics of the classroom dynamic. In 12 of the 38 studies, instructor behavior was seen as a powerful contributor to, perhaps even determinant of, the quality of SWDs' experiences in postsecondary education. What amazing power a teacher has! Faculty members appear to be more receptive to working with students with physical and sensory disabilities than with students with LD (Hill, 1995). Unfortunately, faculty attitudes and conduct towards students with hidden disabilities like LD continue to be barriers to postsecondary learning and success (Madaus et al., 2003).

One might argue that empathy and approachability cannot be planned or strategically embedded in a course as can pedagogy, materials, and so on. We maintain, however, that instructors can and should be proactive and "planful" in these domains; indeed, the studies in this review suggest many behaviors and techniques that would promote a sense of caring, respect, and personal accessibility. For instance, faculty can hold online office hours in addition to building-based hours (Fichten et al., 2001); make inclusive disability statements (i.e., invitations for students to speak with faculty personally regarding learning issues) early in the course (Hill, 1995); hold high expectations for all students, including those with disabilities (Barazandeh, 2005; Madaus et al., 2003); and welcome assistive technologies and other accommodations with a cooperative attitude (Denny & Carson, 1994).

These instructor behaviors will contribute to a sense of belonging for SWDs within the classroom community. "Care overcomes the sense of isolation and separateness that a student with disabilities feels and gives him/herself the permission to nevertheless belong and succeed in a frightening and challenging college environment" (Graham-Smith & Lafayette, 2004, p. 98).

Institutional Implications

Postsecondary faculty have expressed a desire for pedagogical training regarding disability instruction techniques (Burgstahler et al., 2000; Moriarty, 2007). This request needs to be emphatically communicated to college and university administrative officials. Because of the pressures that teaching faculty face, institutional support is essential for pedagogical improvement. Universities need to offer opportunities for faculty improvement with regard to these techniques. More-over, effective implementation of course enhancement strategies will require some degree of institutional change with regard to the way pedagogical skills are valued.

Moriarty (2007) and Skinner (2007) have identified a number of barriers to the adoption of inclusive postsecondary practices. Skinner's study indicated that faculty willingness to provide accommodations (one facet of inclusive pedagogy) differed by academic discipline. Further research is needed to determine how "academic adjustments can be considered within the context of differences in skills and competencies needed for specific disciplines" (Skinner, 2007, p. 42). Moriarty's (2007) work highlights the lack of time available or designated for instructional improvement. It takes time to self-assess, to design improved courses, and to obtain necessary professional development. Only when institutions of higher learning recognize the inherent value of such activities and provide adequate support for their execution will widespread progress in equity, access, and inclusion be made.


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Please address correspondence about this article to: Ann C. Orr, Eastern Michigan University, Department of Special Education, 126 Porter, Ypsilanti, MI 48197, e-mail:

ANN C. ORR, Ed.D., Eastern Michigan University.

SARA BACHMAN HAMMIG, Eastern Michigan University.
Table 1
Included Studies

Author(s) and Year
Allsopp, Minskoff and Bolt (2005) *
Alster (1997)
Baker (2006)
Barazandeh (2005) *
Beacham and Airy (2006)
Brothen and Wambach (2003) *
Burgstahler, Duclos, and Turcotte (2000) *
Butler (1997)
Denny and Carson (1994) *
Elacqua, Rapaport, and Kruse (1996) *
Fichten et al. (2001) *
Finn (1998)
Fuller et al. (2004) *
Gaddy, Bakken, and Fulk (2008)
Getzel, McManus, and Briel (2004) *
Graham-Smith and Lafayette (2004) *
Hadley (2007)
Hartman-Hall and Haaga (2002)
Higgins and Raskind (1995)
Hill (1995) *
Jarvis (1997)
Keim, McWhirter, and Bernstein (1996)
Kitz and Thorpe (1995)
Kurth and Mellard (2006) *
Lancaster, Mellard, and Hoffman (2001) *
Lazarus (1993)
Madaus, Scott, and McGuire (2003)
Moriarty (2007) *
National Center for the Study of Postsecondary Educational Supports
  (2000) *
Patwa, Chafouleas, and Madaus (2005)
Raskind and Higgins (1995)
Reiff, Gerber, and Ginsberg (1993)
Roberts and Stodden (2005)
Ruhl and Suritsky (1995)
Runyan (1991)
Smith (1993)
Sullivan (2005)
Zawaiza and Gerber (1993)

* Studies include students with LD and students with other

Table 2
Themes and Associated Studies

Themes                  Associated Studies

Backward Design         Brothen and Wambach (2003) *
                        Hill (1995) *
                        Madaus, Scott, and McGuire (2003)
                        Sullivan (2005)

Multiple Means of       Beacham and Alty (2006)
Presentation            Brothen and Wambach (2003) *
                        Burgstahler, Duclos, and Turcotte (2000) *
                        Elaqua, Rapaport, and Kruse (1996) *
                        Fichten et al. (2001) *
                        Finn (1997)
                        Fuller et al. (2004) *
                        Kitz and Thorpe (1995)
                        Madaus, Scott, and McGuire (2003)
                        Sullivan (2005)

Inclusive Teaching      Allsopp, Minskoff, and Bolt (2005) *
Strategies and          Brothen and Wambach (2003) *
Learner Supports        Burgstahler, Duclos, and Turcotte (2000) *
                        Butler (1997)
                        Elaqua, Rapaport, and Kruse (1996) *
                        Finn (1997)
                        Gaddy, Bakken, and Fulk (2008)
                        Getzel, McManus, and Briel (2004) *
                        Graham-Smith and Lafayette (2004) *
                        Hadley (2007)
                        Hill (1995) *
                        Kurth and Mellard (2006) *
                        Lancaster, Mellard, and Hoffman (2001) *
                        Lazaras (1993)
                        Madaus, Scott, and McGuire (2003)
                        Moriarty (2007) *
                        Patwa, Chafouleas, and Madaus (2005)
                        Ruhl and Suritsky (1995)
                        Smith (1993)
                        Sullivan (2005)
                        Zawaiza and Gerber (1993)

Inclusive Assessment    Alster (1997)
                        Baker (2006)
                        Brothen and Wambach (2003) *
                        Burgstahler, Duclos, and Turcotte (2000) *
                        Butler (1997)
                        Elaqua, Rapaport, and Kruse (1996) *
                        Finn (1997)
                        Graham-Smith and Lafayette (2004) *
                        Hadley (2007)
                        Higgins and Raskind (1995)
                        Hill (1995) *
                        Jarvis (1997)
                        Keim, McWhirter, and Bernstein (1996)
                        Kurth and Mellard (2006) *
                        Lancaster, Mellard, and Hoffman (2001) *
                        Raskind and Higgins (1995)
                        Reiff, Gerber, and Ginsberg (1993)
                        Roberts and Stodden (2005)
                        Runyan (1991)
                        Smith (1993)
                        Sullivan (2005)
                        Zawaiza and Gerber (1993)

Instructor              Allsopp, Minskoff, and Bolt (2005) *
Approachability         Barazandeh (2005) *
and Empathy             Burgstahler, Duclos, and Turcotte (2000) *
                        Denny and Carson (1994) *
                        Elaqua, Rapaport, and Kruse (1996) *
                        Fuller et al. (2004) *
                        Graham-Smith and Lafayette (2004) *
                        Hartman-Hall and Haaga (2002)
                        Hill (1995) *
                        Madaus, Scott, and McGuire (2003)
                        National Center for the Study of Postsecondary
                        Educational Supports (2000) *
                        Smith (1993)
                        Sullivan (2005)

* Studies include students with LD and students with other
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Author:Orr, Ann C.; Hammig, Sara Bachman
Publication:Learning Disability Quarterly
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2009
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