Effective instructional practices for students with special needs are models that teachers are required to understand and implement throughout their teaching careers. In order for all students to attain successful learning experiences within the classroom, it is vital that teachers understand who their students are as well as their capabilities for learning (Education Services Australia, 2011, p. 8). Upon reflecting on a range of instructional practices for students with special education needs within a regular school setting, strategies such as reading comprehension strategy instruction (CSI) and mnemonic strategy instruction (MSI) are significant practices amongst many that have been implemented effectively in a range of classroom settings. As CSI and MSI are two significant strategies for effective teaching and learning, they are also two inclusive practices that I believe will be highly effective to undertake on with my year two internship class later this year.
Reading comprehension strategy instruction (CSI) has been noted as a thoroughly researched intervention used in many classroom settings including those in special education (Trabasso & Bouchard, 2002, p. 177). CSI initially focuses on having students actively engage with both cognitive and metacognitive strategies in order to comprehend a text (Berkeley, Scruggs & Mastropieri, 2010; Brigham, Berkeley, Simpkins & Brigham, 2007).
As an effective instructional strategy, CSI allows students to experience intentional, problem solving thinking processes when analysing and interacting with a text (Berkeley, Scruggs & Mastropieri, 2010, p. 439). Furthermore, CSI enables learners to build upon “…the capacity to learn independently, to absorb information on a variety of topics, to enjoy reading, and to experience literature more deeply” (NCEE, 2010, p. 5) There are seven key strategies that teachers must integrate in order to successfully implement CSI: monitoring comprehension, clarifying texts through metacognition, the use of graphic and semantic organisers, answering questions, generating questions, recognising story structure and summarising the text (Armbruster, Lehr & Osborn, 2001, p. 42-45). These key strategies all interrelate in order to give students an alternate and more explicit view on how to comprehend texts. In regard to applying CSI within a diverse learning environment, teachers must explicitly model, demonstrate or guide the selected students in order for them to become self- regulated learners (Edmonds, Vaughn, Wexler, Reutebuch, Cable, Tackett & Schnakenberg, 2009). CSI is solely directed to students with mild disabilities and reading deficits who have an “…absence of appropriate cognitive strategies or ineffective and non-persistent deployment [to comprehend texts]” (Gersten, Fuchs, Williams & Baker, 2001, p. 287).
Teachers can impart these CSI strategies through cooperative learning with other students and also through adapting flexible strategies of learning for students with special education needs in order to be inclusive to all (Education Services Australia, 2011, p. 9). It is important to observe and note the implications of CSI in both mainstream classrooms, and for children with special needs as all learners are spread across a continuum of abilities. In addition to this, it is vital that teachers are aware that the CSI strategies integrated within a diverse classroom setting must cater to the needs of all students whilst maintaining an inclusive classroom environment (Little, 2017). An example of utilising effective CSI based practices with a diverse class can be seen through motivating the students through a cooperative learning approach with small group instruction (Lencioni, 2013, p. 26). It can be seen that students who find certain aspects difficult to grasp in their education often develop a negative outlook on that specific area. With a cooperative learning approach to utilising CSI in a diverse class, students with special needs can be placed in similar ability or mixed ability groups. This can be seen as a highly valuable experience for all learners to engage with, as students who have and do not have special needs are able to work within an inclusive classroom. All students are given the same text that grasps their interests but are given a variety of adjusted questions to discuss suited on their ability to comprehend texts (DET, 2005, p. 13). This specific approach to utilising CSI practices has been favourably effective in regard to student participation and also the development of metacognition in comprehending texts (Lencioni, 2013, p. 26). In regard to applying CSI methods within my future professional teaching practices, I feel that I would most definitely use this strategy of implicating small group discussion tasks on my internship class. I feel that the students who have a learning disability would appreciate a different approach to comprehending texts. This approach can ultimately enrich their understanding of how to comprehend literature more thoroughly and confidently through oral communication. From my experiences with my internship class, these students work extremely well through group tasks as they feel socially included with the other students and often feel more motivated and confident to progress through their work in comparison to doing individual and independent work (Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, 2008, p. 8).
Mnemonic strategy instruction (MSI), or memory enhancing strategies, is seen as an effective instructional strategy that is commonly implemented across a large learning range within classrooms (Brigham & Brigham, 2001, p. 1). Mnemonic strategies initially focus on “… a specific reconstruction of target content intended to tie new information more closely to the learners existing knowledge” (Fontana, Scruggs & Mastropieri, 2007, p. 346).
Additionally, MSI acts as a simplified method of understanding and reinstating new information. The three key strategies that are implemented and embedded within MSI are keyword strategies (using concrete words to recall a new term), peg word strategies (facilitating new information using an methodical number sequence for knowledge to be recalled) and letter strategies (using acronyms and acrostics to recall information) (Fontana, Scruggs & Mastropieri, 2007, p. 346). It can be seen that mnemonic strategies can “…help [students with special needs] bridge between their areas of relative cognitive strength and their areas of relative weakness” (Mitchell, 2008, p. 116). Along with this, MSI has been proven to have been validated for learners who possess learning disabilities as well as with typical students at varying levels of education (Brigham & Brigham, 2001, p. 1). Comparably, students with learning disorders or other disabilities may take longer to grasp onto certain mnemonic strategies although it has been proved to have significantly increase their learning and ability to recall knowledge more consistently (Mastropieri, Sweda & Scruggs, 2000, p. 70). A key factor that has assisted in the effectiveness of this instructional strategy has been the “high degree of enjoyment” that the students have experienced due to the educator’s methods of exerting the MSI strategy (Scruggs, Mastropieri, Berkeley & Marshak, 2010, p. 81). Furthermore, research has also highlighted that teachers are favourable of MSI as it takes less time to plan and teach as well as it gives the students the chance to customise their own individual approaches to make recalling much easier (Fontana, Scruggs & Mastropieri, 2007, p. 352).
The implications that surround mnemonic strategy instruction is essentially presented in a manner that all students are able to interact and successfully gain a positive and inclusive learning experience from. MSI can become a highly effective instructional strategy where teachers can undertake a range of flexible and personalised approaches in order to cater to the needs and abilities of all students within the class (Corbett, 2001, p. 8; DET, 2016, p. 3) An example of utilising mnemonic strategy instruction within a diverse class can be seen through a letter strategy of certain concepts, for instance using the acronym MINTS (months and days, “I” as a word, names of people and places, titles, start of a sentence) to remember how to use capitalisation in sentence writing. This example can be relatable for the students as it is something that the students are familiar with in their everyday lives (i.e. mint lollies). From my personal experiences with students in my internship class who have a learning disorder, I had found that mnemonic instruction (specifically using the keyword strategy with visuals) was a highly effective approach that enabled the students to recall and reflect on certain instructions for writing skills. For instance, the teacher had a range of cartoon/clipart images propped up on the whiteboard that gave all students in the class the chance to look back and refer to if they are struggling to remember certain sequences of writing procedures. Not only did the mainstream students benefit from this strategy but students who had a learning disorder were able to successfully use this practice to write out a procedure. As this was a fantastic example of how to implement an effective mnemonic strategy in the classroom, I would most definitely apply this similar approach with the same class for my internship. Similarly, I would create an “memorable mnemonics” pin board or poster that displays the class’s unique mnemonics, such as the letter strategy MINTS, for all students to consistently refer back to for their writing skills across all key learning areas. Additionally, I would have the students glue in small printed variations of the “memorable mnemonics” into their workbooks, depending on the KLA, to make this learning approach more accessible and inclusive.
Effective instructional strategies are ideals that teachers must be aware of in regard to the attending to the learning needs of their students. Educators who are attentive to their students’ needs, specifically those with special needs, are more likely to have students with a larger success rate of learning. From analysing the two instructional practices of reading comprehension strategy instruction (CSI) and mnemonic strategy instruction (MSI), there are a wide range of approaches that teachers can implement in order to develop and maintain a positive and inclusive learning environment. I personally feel that these two strategies are the most effective in relation to my internship class, as I feel that there is a great potential for students with special needs to become more engaged, confident and included for learning within the classroom environment. Along with this, I feel that it is extremely important for all students to enjoy learning new methods of understanding. In doing so, this can be achieved through implementing inclusive practices through instructional strategies such as CSI and MSI.
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