Term Paper: Effective Teaching Methods

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¶ … teaching a beginning reader, especially as late as secondary level, relevant material that reflects the individual's learning methodology and learning skill level needs to be seriously considered. First, students with autism have varying degrees of difficulty with communication, from severe or little to no interaction, to mild or the ability to receive information and provide a response or feedback. In order to teach reading to such a student, it is necessary that he/she is interested in labels, letters and words and has enough ability and skill level to look at these materials. Once a student recognizes that groups of letters form words that have meaning and groups of words form sentences that have meaning, it is possible to move to beginning reading material. (Porco, 1989, p. 4). Second, as with any other student, regardless of age, one learning style or methodology will work better than another. This concept is even more essential with autistic students. Prior to looking at specifics of teaching a subject, such as reading, it is necessary to determine appropriate learning styles.

Autism is a complex disorder that can take many forms, and numerous programs are available to tailor an educational approach tailored to suit the individual's unique needs. The first consideration for teaching any subject is the methodology. Some autistic speciaists believe applied behavior analysis (ABA) has the best results in terms of learning ability and others find the model called treatment and education of autistic and related communication-handicapped children (TEACCH) to be most appropriate (Sherman,.). It must be noted here that most of the studies in autism and learning have been conducted with grade school children and younger, but professionals believe that similar results are applicable for secondary-level students.

Simpson (2001, p. 68) notes that ABA is recognized as a scientifically valid method of educating youth of all ages with autism spectrum disorders. It is "clearly a highly utilitarian and flexible method that can be applied in a variety of ways and settings with students with autism, including as a way to implement incidental teaching programs" (McGee, Morrier, & Daly, 1999). However, professionals and parents are sharply divided in their expectations of ABA outcomes. There is also significant controversy as to ABA being used to the exclusion of all other strategies and for extended periods of time. TEEACH was the first applied and most utilized approach worldwide, with a large number of U.S. states recommending this approach for all school systems.

TEACCH's adapts the environment to accommodate the student and focuses on visual processing strengths. It consists structured learning environments with physical organization, schedules, work systems, and task organization and emphasizes development of social, vocational and living skills through visual cues to adapt the environment in real life (Panerai, et al., 2002). There are several basic differences between ABA and TEACCH. Jennett, et al. (2003) highlights that "one aim of ABA is to help the individual with autism appear indistinguishable from his or her peers...This contrasts with a primary value of the TEACCH approach of respecting the culture of autism" (p.584). ABA attempts to change the individual to fit the environment and TEACCH tries to change the environment to fit the individual. Further, regardless of approach and appropriate for all instructional age levels, it is recognized that there are six essential themes for effectual learning for autistic children: 1) individualized supports and services for students and families, 2) systematic instruction, 3) comprehensible and/or structured environments, 4) specialized curriculum content, 5) a functional approach to problem behaviors, and 6. family involvement. (Iovannone et. al, 2003, p. 150)

The concept of teaching reading is the same as noted above, there is no one set approach. "How one teaches reading is shaped in no small way by how one defines reading" (Hall, Ribovich, Ramig, 1979, p. 5). The teacher is responsible for guiding the student through the reading process, and the ideology taken toward reading affects the instruction, assessment, and texts of the student. All of the ideologies seem to agree on three things affecting reading instruction: "the text being read, the reader, and the context for reading" (Klein, Peterson, Simington, 1991, p. 9). However, the debate over the role of each of these factors has not been resolved.

According to Templeton (1995) there are three suggested approaches to reading instruction: bottom-up, top-down and eclectic. Those supporting bottom-up learning process suggest that students begin the reading process by identifying letters. The student will then begin to build from letters to words to sentences until able to understand meaning. This process is associated with the phonics programs and basal reading programs, where teachers follow basal readers and group children into hierarchical reading groups according to skill levels. For example, phonics instruction provides the reader with a schema for classifying words and letters. Once the students can create a classification system for syntax and phonology then they may be able to develop what is called automaticity, "that is words are recognized rapidly, accurately, and with minimal attentional resources" (Resnick & Weaver, 1979).

Those supporting reading as a top-down process suggest that the essential goal is to process the meaning of words and sentences before processing the actual construction of the words. Individuals (Klien, Peterson, Simington, 1991) recommending top-bottom approach argue that word-identification is not necessarily that important. This methodology is frequently associated with the whole-language reading, where teachers often avoid specific skills instructions and students are motivated to read for their own reasons and agendas. According to Katims (2000), this concept is beginning to dominate regular education classrooms, but is not yet common with special education classroom that still relies on functional reading.

Similar to the approach of using several different methodologies noted above, Klein, Perterson, and Simington (1991) define eclectic models of reading, where there is. A mix of bottom-up and top-down modes. This recognizes the importance of learning about text construction, as well as the reader's background knowledge in determining meaning (Templeton 1995). The autistic students who are beginning to read or increasing reading ability need structure and phonics skills of the bottom up approach. However the student also needs the opportunity to develop the schema for classifying and constructing meaning from passages of real text, which is used in the top-down style. A reader with autism just looks at a mental list of words and concrete associations for understanding, so words not committed to memory are harder to recognize. A phonics background provides the autistic student with a template to decode words not readily accessible through associations with concrete images.

Autistic children need reading instruction that addresses the student's way of thinking, which requires the teacher to use methodologies from several different groups of thinking. The student may benefit from parts of each methodology, yet the teacher may find that staying with one methodology will not provide the ability to perform all aspects of reading. The aim is providing the student with the ability to read and construct meaning from written text. Instruction only with pronunciation disregards the whole interactional reading dynamic. Autistic students have difficulties recognizing that communication is an interactive process. Encouraging them to be involved and interact with others who are reading and with the text itself helps to reinforce that reading is an exchange of ideas. To the contrary, only giving a student a full or strings of text without the skills to classify words will just lead to greater frustration and confusion. Autistic students seem to function best when there are structured guidelines and will frequently become more frustrated when presented with abstract ideas with no concrete meaning.

Reviewing the literature reveals that children with autism require a reading program that is structured, but flexible. Children with autism have difficulty in developing appropriate schema for classifying their environment; therefore providing them with appropriate structure will help them to begin to… [END OF PREVIEW]

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