Towards remedial education

Equally Qualifying

Towards remedial education

Resource rooms help disabled children to beat learning difficulties, writes Chitra G Kumar.

Kishore was jubilant when he came to know that he had passed his Class X board exams with 60%, so were many others like Prema, Raksha, Praveen, Ashok, Smitha, Ruksana and Yethi raj. In fact, some of them had even secured a distinction. What is novel about this? you may ask. Haven’t all these children achieved something which we get to read every summer when Class X results are announced; a successful completion of their primary and secondary education?

But the pride and joy of the results stem from the unique fact that these are children with specific learning difficulties and were able to achieve this despite their limitations and placed in a regular classroom. These children have varied difficulties, most of them hidden under their smart externals. They may have difficulty in reading, spelling, comprehension, writing and performing mathematical calculations unlike other children in their age group. In educational parlance, they are categorized as children with Learning Disabilities (LD), which connotes that they may be either dyslexic (difficulty in reading), dysgraphic (difficulty in writing) or suffer from dyscalculia (difficulty in solving mathematical problems).

Students with LDs are limited or obstructed in their academical performance by one or all of the disabilities characterized above.  As a result they find it hard to keep up with the progress in their grade level and consequently labeled “lazy” or “dumb”. What these children need is a learning approach that will enable them to build on their skills and cope with the pressures of learning; a process known as “Remedial Education”.

Remediation

Remedial education is characterized by breaking down and rearranging teaching strategies from a regular classroom process to suit a child with LD, since each child has a different learning style. This is ideally provided in a special classroom in schools, often called a "self-contained classroom or resource room", which is valuable to a student with LD. Here, a child gets to improve his potential through specific skill building tasks. For example, a child with reading disability lacks phonological awareness and that is overcome through exercises in letter-sound-association in the form of puzzles, word games, flash cards etc. A resource room thus plays a vital role in helping these children to overcome their learning difficulties and is as necessary in a school as in a science laboratory, computer lab or a library.

A resource room is a classroom where a teacher, who is a qualified special educator, instructs and assists students identified with disabilities. Within this setting the individual needs of an LD student are supported by designing a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP). Special educators focus on particular goals as mandated by IEP and the remedial general education curriculum. For example, some programs emphasize the development of executive skills, including homework completion and behaviour. An LD student getting such support will spend time in the resource room, referred to as a "removal from the regular education environment", for a portion of the day as well as in a regular classroom with modifications and accommodations which may include specialized instruction.

Depending on individual needs, students usually attend resource rooms three to five times  every week for about forty five minutes in a day. Some research has suggested that these classrooms are of particular benefit to students with language-based learning disabilities such as dyslexia. Another research has indicated that students show growth in visuo-motor perception, arithmetic, spelling and overall self-perception through time owing to a resource room. Students using these services are typically considered included rather than segregated or mainstreamed, because they attend other classes with their peers, especially at the secondary level. At least one study has suggested that students with LD having access to a resource room in their school have higher expectations regarding their academic successes. This may be due to the familiarity with the resource room teacher, small group direct instruction or confidence within an area that they are comfortable with and where their differences are respected. Researchers believe that explicit instruction that breaks down tasks into smaller segments is an important tool of learning for students with LD, since students benefit from the "re-teaching" of core concepts initially taught in general education classroom and reinforced in resource rooms through the small-group instructional model. It will also enhance the achievement of students with a multitude of educational disabilities.

While discussing about the significance of resource rooms, it is important to understand the role of mainstreaming. In the context of education, maintstreaming is the practice of educating students with special needs or LD during specific time periods based on their skills while retaining them in a regular school. This would mean that regular education classes are combined with special education classes to achieve the desired result from such students. Proponents of both mainstreaming and the related philosophy of educational inclusion assert that educating children with disabilities alongside their non-disabled peers fosters understanding and tolerance, facilitates access to the general curriculum and prepares students of all abilities to function in the world beyond school.

Benefits of mainstreaming

Studies show that mainstreamed students with disabilities reflect the following benefits;

n Higher achie­vement: Mains­trea­mi­ng has shown to be more effective academically than exclusion practices.

Access to a resource room for direct instruction has shown to be effective in increasing students’ academic skills and thus increasing the abilities applied by students in a general education setting. Compared to a full time placement in a special education class or special school, both part time and full time placement in the regular classroom have shown to improve academic achievements of students with mild academic disabilities, as well as to improve their long term behavior.

n Higher self-esteem: By being included in a regular-paced education setting, students with disabilities have shown to be more confident and display qualities of raised self-efficacy. Students are urged to believe that they are equal to their peers and enthused to perform their best.

n Better social skills: Any kind of inclusion practice, including mainstreaming, allows students with disabilities to learn social skills through observation, gain a better understanding of the world around them, and become a part of the “regular” community. Mainstreaming is therefore particularly beneficial for children with LD.

Thus, special education is, first and foremost, an instruction focused on individual need. It is to be carefully planned, intensive, urgent, relentless, and goal directed. It is an empirically supported practice, drawn from research. It means teaching something special and teaching it in a special way. To provide special education means monitoring each student’s progress and taking responsibility and accountability for changing instruction when the monitoring data indicates that sufficient progress is not being made. Open and balanced communications between special educators, regular teachers and the administration will be beneficial for success of students with special needs in an inclusive setting. Resource rooms in schools will not only be of great help to students with LD, but also helps the regular classroom teachers to understand that a “one size fits all” approach to learning  does not benefit all children and hence they must learn to improvise their teaching techniques to suit the whole class.
Consequently, schools must give immense importance to the setting up of resource rooms and hiring of quality special educators to help children with academic difficulties. This will boost the morale of not only the children but their parents too, since quality education is one which ensures that no child is left behind.

(The writer is a resource consultant in special education)

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