Differentiated Instruction in the Self-Contained Special Education Classroom Research Proposal

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Differentiated Instruction in the Self-Contained Special Education Classroom

Differentiation in the Self-Contained Special Education Classroom: A Defense of Differentiation and the Importance of Special Education EnvironmentsDownload full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Research Proposal on Differentiated Instruction in the Self-Contained Special Education Classroom Assignment

Thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act, increasing educational research, and a revitalized interest in special education students and the methods by which they receive the best education possible, the question of differentiation has once again taken a starring role in K-12 drama. According to Thompson, whose 1999 Personalized Learning article about differentiation predated the current overwhelming response to the topic, differentiation "causes us to grapple with many of our traditional -- if questionable -- ways of 'doing school'" (pg. 12). Indeed, Thompson (1999) argues that in order for differentiation to work, teachers must "know where we want to end up before we start out -- and plan to get there. That is, we must have solid curriculum and instruction in place before we differentiate them" (pg. 13). In discussing this important first step in the differentiation process, Thompson (1999) unintentionally uncovers the importance of differentiation in modern education. Differentiation is a means, not an end, but it can be the most important tool in helping students reach that all-important end of nor only grasping knowledge, but also of learning how to think, reason, and operate in the so-called real world. Education is a process that involves the mind, but also the heart and the body. Students are not all gifted in the same manner, and some may even be unable to perform certain tasks. Furthermore, education greatly involves the heart, and students who are asked to perform tasks that they do not enjoy or do not feel like they can succeed in accomplishing can have a difficult time when it comes to learning, as they feel unmotivated. Finally, to use a cliche, students are all "wired differently," meaning that some of them have stronger tendencies in certain subjects and areas of study. Thus, differentiation is beneficial for all students by incorporating the trio of mind, body, and heart in a positive classroom environment that lets students feel comfortable while simultaneously stretching them.

Although the term differentiation is used quite frequently in association with the traditional classroom or the inclusion classroom, it has not been fully investigated in regards to the self-contained special education classroom. As discussions about inclusion and differentiation in the traditional classroom continue to gain popularity, the self-contained special education classroom is, in some localities, in a fight to survive. Brown (2004) writes that "with suitable supports, including differentiated instruction, students ranging from gifted to those with significant disabilities can receive an appropriate education in general education classrooms" (pg. 34). In a discussion of the rhetorical uses of special needs terminology, Tomlinson (1982) says that the term "special needs" bas been used "as a legitimation for the exclusion of more and more children from the normal education system and for placing them in a type of education which does not allow them to compete for educational credentials, and subjects them to even more social control than in normal schooling" (pg. 72). Arguments such as these have been used in increasing number as of recently in order to condemn the institution that is the self-contained special education classroom. However, research shows that, while inclusion can be beneficial to some students, special education classrooms are still necessary. For instance, Zigmond et al. (1995) found in three different research studies that general education inclusion environments produced academic results that could be described as neither "desirable nor acceptable" for students with learning disabilities (para. 1). Thus, inclusion is not always the answer for students with special needs. However, the self-contained special education classroom cannot expect its students to have uniform needs any more than can the general education teacher or the inclusion instructor. Therefore, it is necessary that teachers, parents, and children in self-contained special education classroom understand the benefit of differentiation. Teachers in such arenas must be constantly on the lookout for ways they can personalize education, for ways in which they might encourage students to understand concepts using their unique strengths and abilities. While some special education students have learning disabilities and others physical, mental, and emotional disabilities, differentiation techniques can be use to address all of these students in order to fast-track them on the road to the final outcome -- an ability to function in society using the facts and processes learned in primary and secondary education. In the self-contained special education classroom, teachers who use differentiation strategies will not only encourage learning at a higher rate, but they will also allow student to develop their mind, body, and heart trio in order to feel capable of undertaking life in the "real world." Furthermore, instructors who engage in differentiation techniques in the self-contained special education classroom may be able to further the cause for this particular classroom's existence, showing teachers, parents, and administrators that the differentiation techniques used in the special education classroom are moving this classroom from the era in which it was used to delay students to giving them the best chance at receiving an education that will help them further their careers and personal lives after graduation.

I. Review of Literature

Tomlinson (1999) sets the tone for a discussion of diversification with her vision of how the practice is carried out. She shows how one teacher gives a history lesson in a traditional sense, by giving students a lecture, requiring them to take notes, and then asking them to complete questions in the textbook. This lesson is followed by a test that is preceded by a quiz. However, Tomlinson (1999) also shows how a teacher uses diversification to give the same lesson, using graphic organizers, bringing in artifacts such as art and pictures, and inviting student to participate by dressing up, bringing in food, and reading period literature. Tomlinson (1999) writes that both classrooms have serious flaws, and suggests that both the diversified and the traditional classroom must have two elements in order to make it successful. According to the author, "student understanding and student engagement" are those two elements -- "students must really understand, or make sense of, what they have studied and should also feel engaged in or 'hooked by' the ways they have learn'" (pg. 14). The purpose of diversification, then, is enhancement, and Tomlinson states that diversification can "help young people realize that learning is satisfying" (Tomlinson, 1999, pg. 14). Thus, Tomlinson argues that a differentiated classroom must be based upon the concepts that the teachers want the students to learn. After teachers have come up with a plan, they can assess "the readiness, interests, and learning of [their] students and [involve] them in goal setting and decision making in their learning" (Tomlinson, 1999, pg. 14). Thus, Tomlinson (1999) gives the picture of a classroom that involves differentiation, a classroom that could be managed at any level -- from special education students to gifted students. Some of the features of Tomlinson's model include role-playing, multimedia, and student decision based on personal interest.

In later scholarship, Tomlinson (2000) revisits the topic of differentiated instruction and builds on her previous work by establishing some concrete definitions and standards. For instance, Tomlinson (2000) gives a definition of differentiated instruction: "At its most basic level, differentiation consists of the efforts of teachers to respond to variance among learners in the classroom" (pg. 1). Further, the author provides four key classroom areas that a teacher can differentiate -- content, process, products, and learning environment. Finally, the author concludes her argument by stating that differentiation is necessary in the elementary grades because of the diverse students in elementary grades and the evidence that suggests students who are "taught in ways that are responsive to their readiness levels…interests…and learning profiles" perform better academically (Tomlinson, 2000, pg. 1). However, Tomlinson reminds readers that it is of the utmost importance that the instruction that is differentiated is quality instruction to begin with.

Although Tomlinson's works do a great deal to describe the process of differentiation and its importance, they do not directly involve the concept of differentiating instruction in the special education classroom save to argue that differentiation is one way to deal with a classroom of learners at diverse ability levels. Before discussing this concept, however, it is at first necessary to discuss the self-contained special education classroom and its place in the modern educational realm. Tomlinson et al. (2003) in their discussion of diversification in today's modern classroom, point out that one of the reasons that diversification has become such a buzz word in educational circles as of late is an emphasis on mainstreaming special education students. The authors write that "these demographic realities are intensified by (a) an emphasis on detracking to promote equity for students who might otherwise find themselves schooled in low-expectations environments" (pg. 1). Tomlinson (1982) would agree with this assessment, suggesting that terminology has been invented to rationalize the way in which children with special needs are given less attention and less help on their… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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