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Teaching complex content to learning disabled students: the role of technology.

ABSTRACT: A program of research has combined the effectiveness of Direct Instruction curriculum design and mastery learning with the efficiency of technology to teach more cognitively complex skills. This article explains one example of this comprehensive intervention in detail. Findings from several studies are briefly reviewed. The purpose of this article is to document how such a comprehensive intervention reduces performance differences between students with learning disabilities and their peers, while using technology to minimize, or even reduce, the demands placed on the leacher.

A major obstacle to mainstreaming secondary students is the performance difference between learning disabled students and their peers. Various interventions have been offered to help overcome these differences: Curriculum-based assessment (Fuchs, 1986), Direct Instruction curriculum design (Engelman & Camine, 1982), mastery learning (Bloom, 1984), tutoring (Scruggs, & Richter, 1986), learning strategies Deshier, Schumaker, & Lenz, 1984), and so forth. Most of these interventions also demand additional teacher effort and time to use them.

Numerous studies have investigated the effectiveness of Direct Instruction curriculum design and mastery learning principles with learning disabled students in teaching more cognitively complex skills: reading comprehension (Camine & Kinder, 1985), content area instruction (Darch & Camine, 1986), math problem solving (Darch, Carnine, & Gersten, 1984), and other areas (Gersten, 1985; Gersten, Woodward, & Darch, 1986). The purpose of this article is to explain how these two interventions have joined with technology to preserve or extend instructional effectiveness and, at the same time, reduce the demands on teachers who implement them. Such comprehensive interventions might well be essential for cognitively complex topics such as fractions, chemistry, or reasoning skills, which are difficult and time consuming to teach.

Using technology to reduce the time and effort required to implement comprehensive interventions could lead to more instructional interactions between special education teachers and their students. The need for such savings is suggested by the finding that instructors of learning disabled students spend only about 40% of their time delivering instruction, that is, in contact with a student regarding an academic task, teaching, monitoring, or giving feedback (Rieth & Frick, 1982). Although other interventions have been combined with technology to reduce the implementation demands of the interventions (e.g., Fuchs, Fuchs, Hamiett, & Hasselbring, 1987), they do not target instruction of more cognitively complex skills.

Table I provides an overview of how different principles of curriculum design and mastery learning have been combined with various types of technologies to form a comprehensive intervention and then applied to five fairly diverse topics. The instructional design principles include relatively sophisticated ones, such as identifying and teaching unifying principles, and fairly mechanical ones, such as correcting errors by prompting students to apply previously learned strategies. Some of the mastery learning procedures are extensive, such as the six-step procedure in Table 1 for videodisc courses; others are much simpler, such as reviewing missed items on a delayed schedule until they are answered correctly. The technologies encompass both the new---videodisc---and the familiar---computer-assisted instruction. Finally, the topics addressed by the comprehensive intervention range from science to math to critical reasoning.

The comprehensive intervention will be explained in some detail with the first content area listed in Table 1---earth science. The curriculum design principle is to teach a unifying principle; the mastery learning procedure consists of the six steps listed in Table 1. The curriculum design component receives particular attention because of its complexity. This particular combination of components was selected because of the newness of videodisc instruction. Following this illustration are a series of brief summaries of research studies that evaluate the extent to which comprehensive interventions can be used fairly easily by teachers and, at the same time, reduce performance differences between learning disabled students and their general education peers. THE NEED FOR COMPREHENSIVE INTERVENTIONS Secondary learning disabled students are experiencing increasing demands to learn complex material, exemplified by new high-school graduation requirescience textbooks are not designed to meet the needs of many students, especially learning disabled students. Many biology texts have increased in size by over 300 pages during the past several years. An average high school biology text requires students to master 3,000 terms and symbols---an average of two each minute of class (Hurd, 1986). This extremely large collection of material provides a great challenge to the resource room teacher and even to the science teacher. "New high school biology teachers . . . are overwhelmed by details and overlook the integrity and elegance of biological concepts" (Wivagg, 1987, p. 71).

A required course, such as earth science, deals with the solid earth, the oceans, and the atmosphere, and generally includes geology and geophysics, meteorology, oceanography, and solar-terrestrial astronomy. In all of the six earth science textbooks that I reviewed, each of these topics was covered independently, with its collection of rules and nomenclature, as if there were no connection among the topics. Explanations of how the earth, the atmosphere, and the oceans work were usually presented in a disjointed way that would leave students with a jumbled collection of unrelated concepts and facts. Learning disabled students, in particular, need the support of a comprehensive intervention to succeed in demanding content area instruction. The next section describes the components of the comprehensive intervention applied to earth science. THE COMPREHENSIVE INTERVENTION Curriculum Design A primary principle of curriculum design set forth by Engelmann and Camine (1982) is to show how seeming unrelated phenomena can be unified through a common set of rules. Learning a small set of related rules that then makes sense out of dozens of facts is easier than learning those same facts as unrelated bits of information.

Their position has been first to identify and teach those concepts necessary to understand the underlying principles of a discipline. The underlying principles are presented and then used to explain various facts. After that, time is spent teaching the most important remaining facts that do not relate to the underlying principles. For example, earth science covers a wide variety of phenomena in the solid earth, oceans, and atmosphere. Yet textbooks do not emphasize the underlying principle of convection, which can be used to explain many of the phenomena found in the earth, atmosphere, and oceans.

Convection, the circular motion of a substance, requires knowledge of many prerequisite concepts: heating and cooling, their implication for expanding and contracting, which lead to rising and sinking, and finally, high and low pressure areas. The way the prerequisites fit together is illustrated in Figure 1, from Earth Science (Systems Impact, 1987a). A portion of a substance is heated at position A. As it expands, it becomes less dense and rises, leaving behind the area of low pressure. An area of high pressure is created above the heated substance at point B. The substance then moves from the high pressure area at B to the low pressure area at C. That low pressure is created as the substance in front cools, contracts, and sinks. The sinking substance creates a high in front of it, as at point D. The substance then moves from the high pressure area at point D to the low pressure area at point A. The cycle repeats itself over and over, forming rotating cells, called convection cells, which appear at the top of Figure 1.

After this instruction, convection, in large part, is used to make sense out of large-scale ocean currents, air currents, and many other phenomena. Figure 2 depicts convection cells in the solid earth and how they account for plate tectonics which in turn can explain granite mountains, volcanoes, earthquakes, mid-ocean trenches, and so forth. The crust of the earth actually rides on top of the convection cells. At point E in Figure 2, the crusts come together at a subduction zone, where the ocean crust goes under the continental crust, causing earthquakes, rift valleys, and volcanoes. At point F in Figure 2, the ocean crust is pulled apart by two convection cells, causing deep ocean trenches and volcanoes. The large sections of the earth's crust that ride on these convection cells form the "plates, referred to in plate tectonics.

In short, students first learn the prerequisite concepts needed to understand convection. Convection then serves as the underlying principle for many of the natural phenomena found in the earth, oceans, and atmosphere. These phenomena are not unrelated facts, but part of a structured, comprehensible system. Technology The technology component of the earth science intervention is the laser videodisc. One side of the videodisc contains up to 54,000 individual high-resolution video frames. The frames can be shown in rapid succession to create motion sequences or displayed singly for any period of time. Moreover, by pressing a few keys on a remote control pad very similar to the remote control for a TV), the teacher can move anywhere on the disc in a few seconds. Automatic stops built into the disc allow still frame exercises to appear and stay on the screen following an explanation or demonstration.

The way these features are orchestrated can be illustrated with an example: The teacher is presenting a videodisc lesson from the earth science intervention to an entire class of students. She diagnoses students as having difficulty with the concept of bouyancy, so she enters the address for the segment of the disc that explains bouyancy. Within seconds, the students are reviewing bouyancy with a dynamic video presentation. At the end of the demonstration the disc stops automatically, displaying an application exercise. The remote control device frees the teacher from the chalkboard, allowing her to move around the room and help students and note when students have had enough time to complete an exercise. The teacher then uses the remote control to advance the player to the next frame, which shows. the answer to the exercise.

Thus, videodisc technology allows an interactive format usually not possible with conventional audiovisual materials. The videodisc technology also dynamically presents experiments and demonstrations that are difficult or expensive to conduct in classroom situations. Vivid visual demonstrations are associated with nearly every concept presented, rendering them easily understood. Computer graphics, sound effects, brisk pacing, highlights and other techniques also help maintain students' attention. Mastery Learning The earth science intervention has a specific system for helping teachers diagnose and remedy student difficulties. This system is embedded in six steps that are utilized with all concepts introduced in the program: 1.During the initial explanation of a concept, the

videodisc narrator asks questions which students

answer orally. 2. Immediately following the initial explanation,

students write answers to a series of problems.

The last problem serves as an informal test. If

more than 20% of the students miss the test item,

the teacher plays an explanation from the disc.

This pattern of demonstration followed by practice

is repeated for each concept presented in a lesson. 3. Students do homework (without supervision). 4. The next lesson begins with a quiz covering the

one or two major concepts introduced in the

previous lesson. The screen gives the disc address

for a remediation if students fail to meet the quiz

criterion. 5. Every fifth lesson is a test. Again, teachers

diagnose student errors and select remedies from

the disc based on student performance. 6. After being tested, a concept is reviewed every

few lessons.

These six steps provide the teacher with opportunities to check student understanding and with simple remedies for students who have difficulties. The mastery learning system has been found to work very well in teaching entire classes of learning disabled and remedial students (Kelly, Camine, Gersten & Grossen, 1986; Hofmeister, Engelmann, & Camine, in press; Moore & Camine, in press).

Also important to note are the benefits to the teacher: diverse audio-visuals are easily available, lesson plans are prepared and have been extensively field-tested, and the mastery learning system has built-in quizzes and tests. Kelly, Gersten, and Woodward (in press) reported that high-school resource room teachers found that videodisc courses were easy to use and supported their role as teachers. (Observations of these teachers at other times of the day, when the videodisc was not in use, were made before the study began and after it was completed. At the end, teachers were giving more explanations and guided practice and the success rate of their students had increased.)

The foregoing described how technology can be melded with Direct Instruction curriculum design and mastery learning, for the benefit of teachers as well as students. The remainder of this article summarizes research studies in which a variety of Direct Instruction instructional design principles and mastery learning procedures were combined with technology. See Table I for a summary.) Most of those research studies asked specific questions, using random assignment to treatment of learning disabled students, and, in some studies, remedial students as well. Those studies, which also describe the characteristics of the learning disabled students, report on the findings relating to those research questions. This article looks at a different aspect of those studies (and presents original data from other studies)comparisons of the performance of learning disabled students and their nonhandicapped peers, with an eye to relative ease of use of technology. Chemistry The components of the chemistry intervention (Systems Impact, 1987b) were very similar to those of the earth science intervention. Unifying principles were taught to an entire class via a tape version of the videodisc course with the same six-step mastery learning procedure Hofmeister, Engelmann, & Camine, in press). The subjects were students who had not yet passed a science class, which was a high school graduation requirement. Of the 16 students who participated, 5 were learning disabled and 11 were remedial. Ten students were in the 1Oth grade, 5 were in the 11th grade, and I student was in ]2th grade. Students were taught with the chemistry program for 4 weeks, approximately 40 minutes per day. At the end of the 4 weeks, the students were given a posttest. The test was also given to advanced placement, second-year chemistry students at the same high school. The mean percentile score on the math section of the Stanford Achievement Test was 17 for the experimental students and 95 for the advanced placement students.

To ensure that the test was not biased toward the intervention, two high-school chemistry teachers from a high school in a different district examined the test. After carefully considering each item, four questions were rejected. Each teacher felt the remaining questions were a fair measure of beginning chemistry, the kind of items that they would expect beginning chemistry students to know.

The experimental students had an average pretest score of 17.3% and an average posttest score of 76.9%. Advanced placement students averaged 82. 1 % on the posttest. The advanced placement students did not score significantly better than the experimental students who had received the comprehensive intervention. Fractions The fractions intervention (Systems Impact, 1985) is another videodisc course with the six-step mastery learning procedures listed in Table 1, with comparable benefits for the teacher. Earlier research (Kelly, et al., 1986) compared the fractions intervention with a widely used math basal text. Curriculum design principles in the fractions intervention reduced the number of errors learning disabled and remedial students made in several areas, including reversing the terms numerator and denominator, misconceptions in analyzing fractions, and confusions in multiplying and adding fractions. For example, demonstrations and guided practice on a mix of multiplication and addition problems reduced confusions between these operations. The basal program always separated multiplication problems from addition problems, precluding the opportunity for students to practice discriminating between the two operations.

A separate study compared the performance of 8 learning disabled middle-school students placed in a self-contained classroom (mean percentile on total math for the CTBS was 16) with 21 seventh graders in a high-track math class (mean percentile on total math for the CTBS was 90). The learning disabled students were proficient in math facts, but scored only 5% on a fractions screening test. The learning disabled students took between 3 and 4 months to complete 31 of the 35 lessons in the fractions intervention. On a fractions test the mean score was 77% for the high-track seventh graders and 72% for the learning disabled students. Although the learning disabled students took a long time to complete most of the program, they could then perform fraction skills at a level comparable to their nonhandicapped peers.

Other studies have examined how the instructional design principles that underlie the videodisc course largely eliminate error patterns found in students who receive instruction from basal mathematics program (Kelly, Gersten, & Camine, in press) and how videodisc instruction contributes to students' acquisition of ratio and proportion word problem analyses (Moore & Camine, in press). Health Promotion In this study (Woodward, Camine, & Gersten, 1988) 30 learning disabled high-school students learned health-related facts relating to heredity, disease, nutrition, exercise, stress management, drinking, smoking, and lifestyles through text material and lectures. They then learned problem-solving strategies for health promotion through a computer simulation. The mastery learning procedure required students to apply the strategy successfully to simpler character profiles before more complex ones were introduced. The problem-solving strategies required students to prioritize and change undesirable health habits, check stress levels, and maintain health habit changes over time. The careful preteaching of relevant content, combined with instruction on explicit problem-solving strategies, resulted in over two-thirds of the 15 learning disabled students becoming proficient in health promotion analysis. Only 2 out of 15 nonhandicapped seniors (none of whom were remedial or handicapped) in a health class exhibited this same level of problem-solving sophistication. Three of the learning disabled students later tutored nonhandicapped high-school students who were enrolled in a health class. The handicapped students were judged to be competent and helpful tutors (Gurney, 1987).

Of all the technologies reviewed, the computer simulation provides the least time saving for teachers. What the technology does do, however, is make available a learning experience that would otherwise be impossible. Students can make decisions as fast as one every 10 seconds when working through the simulation. Each decision can require adjustments in as many as I 0 variables. A teacher could never record changes at that rate, but the computer does. Reasoning Skills Collins, Camine, and Gersten (1987) conducted research on a computer-assisted instructional program that taught individual remedial and learning disabled secondary students to draw syllogistic conclusions and critique arguments. The mastery learning procedure entailed each missed item being presented again later in the lesson, until the student answered the item correctly. Students learned step-by-step procedures for constructing arguments and for critiquing arguments. The specific curriculum design principle targeted for investigation was the use of process feedback, which related student errors to previously taught rules.

Process feedback led to higher scores on the posttest and a transfer test, but did not result in students taking significantly more time to complete the program. In terms of ease of use, all the instruction was delivered by the computer-assisted instruction (CAI) program.

In a later study Collins & Camine, 1988), the performance of four groups of students was compared: Learning disabled high-school students, general education high-school students, college students in an introductory logic class, and college preservice education students. The results appear in Table 2. On the constructing-arguments subtest (Part 1), the learning disabled students were quite proficient, performing at a level comparable to their general education peers and to the logic students. The college preservice education students scored significantly lower than the other three groups. On the critiquing-arguments subtest (Part 11), the logic students scored significantly higher than the other three groups. Overall, the learning disabled students scored comparably to two of the three other groups, indicating a lack of any performance deficits. A recent study in another state replicated these findings (Grossen, 1988). Vocabulary Johnson, Gersten, and Carnine (1987) compared two CAI programs that taught the meaning of 50 words identified as high utility words by three high-school special education teachers. Twenty-four learning disabled high-school students were randomly assigned to learn the 50 words from one of the two programs. An aide monitored the students, but did not provide instruction other than a brief decoding exercise, at the beginning of the period, on new words coming up in the CAI lesson.

The experimental CAI program incorporated these curriculum design principles: (a) test students to identify the words requiring instruction so that instruction can be matched to student needs; (b) review previously introduced words; (c) maintain a teaching set of seven unknown words---a large enough set to prevent students from developing a successful guessing strategy, but not so large as to overwhelm the students; (d) when a student responds correctly to a word twice in each of two consecutive lessons, move the word to a review pool, and add another unfamiliar word to the teaching set.

The mastery learning procedure used in the program was to review learned words in a cumulative fashion. After a student learned 10 unfamiliar words, these words were presented again as test words. If a student missed any of these words, they were moved back into that student's teaching set.

Of the students in the experimental group, 83% mastered the 50 words, versus 67% in the comparison group, who learned from a CAI program nationally recognized for teaching vocabulary. Students in the comparison treatment took significantly longer to master the 50 words---an average of 9.1 sessions compared with 7.6 sessions for the experimental group.

The performance of the learning disabled students was compared to that of 30 general education 10th graders in an English class (none was a remedial or handicapped student); the mean score on a test of the 50 words was 86% for the learning disabled students and 8 1 % for their general education peers. CONCLUSION These studies illustrate how Direct Instruction curriculum design procedures and mastery learning procedures can reduce performance differences between handicapped and nonhandicapped students. The contribution of the technology is not so much improved instruction as convenience (e.g., readily available collection of audiovisuals or the rapid calculation of a simulation) and efficiency. Consider the need for efficiency in vocabulary instruction. Beck, Perfetti, and McKeown (1982) taught 104 words in 75 30-minute lessons. At the end of the study, students knew an average of 85 words that they had not known prior to the program, but this took 2,250 minutes of instruction or approximately 26 minutes per word. This amount of time is considerably more than that typically devoted to vocabulary instruction in secondary schools.

If technology can free the teacher from delivering drill and practice instruction, a significant efficiency could be realized. The computer-assisted program in the Johnson et al. study 1987) taught about 30 words, but a teacher was not required to instruct. Similarly, the reasoning skills program did not require a teacher. Although the computer simulation and videodisc courses required a teacher, the technology still made the instruction much more efficient. For example, in one study a teacher presented the content of the Mastering Fractions program on overheads rather than on the videodisc (Hasselbring, Sherwood, & Bransford, 1986). The students learned as much from the overhead presentation as did other students (randomly assigned) who learned from the videodisc course. However, the teacher who used the overheads required a half-time assistant to create and manage the overheads ! Another recent study (Gleason, Camine, & Boriero, in press) found that a Direct Instruction CAI program on word problem analysis taught students with learning disabilities as effectively as an expert teacher who presented the same material. The pre-post change was 51% to 93% for the expert teacher group and 49% to 9 1 % for the CAI group.

As suggested by this study and by the Hasselbring et al. (1986) study, the argument for technology in instruction does not necessarily rest on improvements in learning, but in convenience and efficiency for the teacher. (Note that this conclusion may have to be altered when results produced by technology are compared to those produced by non-expert teachers.) This interpretation is consistent with Clark's (1983) review of the research on learning from media. After reviewing studies that examined the learning benefits being assigned to a range of audio, video, and computer-based technologies, Clark stated:

The best current evidence is that media are mere

vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence

student achievement any more than the truck that

delivers our groceries causes changes in our

nutrition. Basically, the choice of the vehicle might

influence the cost or extent of distributing instruction,

but only the content of the vehicle can

influence achievement. (p. 445)

The conclusion---that effective instruction can be supported by technology to make its implementation more feasible---has important implications for special education and for thinking about the role that technology can play.
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Author:Carnine, Douglas
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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