Educational Psychology

The goal of educational psychology is to understand the interaction between the person who teaches something and the person who is taught.

Accountability is an integral part of education, special education, withstanding. Accountability is defined as holding a person responsible for the consequence of his or her actions.

Notwithstanding, however, there continues to be much debate and little agreement on what constitutes an appropriate placement for students whose individual differences have neurological, biological, cognitive, and psychological underpinnings.

Interestingly, accessibility and Progress for Students who have a disability is now part of State accountability along with the following parameters:

  1. Students’ barriers to learning (e.g. processing difficulties, inattention, impulsivity, etc.) must first be identified by teachers and then accommodated for them if they are to receive an appropriate education as mandated by law.
  2. The need for program changes and accommodations. For instance, alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards are progressively endorsed by an increasing number of districts and used for accountability purposes.
  3. The disconnect there is in special education between what research demonstrates to be effective for students and what really happens in the classroom.

WWC -- What Works Clearinghouse

WWC classifies instructional practices and programs for students with Learning Disabilities and for early childhood special education on the basis of research studies that meet rigorous standards. On the flip side, Evidence for ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) is equally effective as it identifies the research-based tools that should be used for struggling students.

Teachers’ Corner

The brain is equipped with over 100 billion nerve cells ready to collect information and to learn the skills that are necessary for survival. Learning and the storing of information gives rise to new neural pathways and strengthens existing pathways, for instance. In fact, every time we learn something, our long-term storage areas undergo anatomical and physical changes. Learning is the process by which we acquire knowledge, while memory is the process by which we retain that knowledge. One cannot remember what one does not understand.

The cognitive profile of students with special needs typically reveals a weak working memory. It takes more time for students with disabilities to process incoming information. Therefore, if not enough time is allocated to the processing of new information, that information is not transferred to the long-term memory for later retrieval and is lost. It is important to understand how information is received, processed and stored in memory. Good teaching goes beyond just telling; it should involve helping students connect new information with old information. Good teaching allows students to process the information, review it and make sense out of it. It also involves making sure that students assign value to the information they learn to increase their chances of retaining that information in their long-term memory. One cannot remember what he does not understand.

The IEP of students with a disability, autism withstanding, typically includes accommodations for teachers to “repeat information,” “break information into small chunks,” “give extra time to students to process,” etc. under the “accommodations and modifications” part of their IEP. This is because the processing of information has important educational implications. If students are bombarded with too much information at the same time without being told what to focus on in advance, they are likely to have difficulty retaining let along learning the information. The best way to ensure long-term retention of what is learned in school is to make sure that the students have mastered the essential features of what is to be learned. We run the chance of forgetting something as soon as it was learned.

teacher and students

Rote Rehearsal

Rote rehearsal is used when one needs to remember and store information exactly as it reaches the working memory. Rote rehearsal is the method we use when we need to remember a telephone number, for instance. We repeat the phone number over and over until it is ingrained in the brain. Conversely, if the information has no meaning, the brain will not naturally rote rehearse it, so it will not retain it, and the information will be lost within minutes. Again, it bears repeating that if many students with special needs do not remember what they learn, it is not because they have a poor memory; it is because they are often not given the opportunity or time to make sense out of what was taught. Therefore, if they could not make sense out of it, it is either because they were not provided adequate time to process the information or because they could not sustain their attention long enough. “Interference” in education for instance, refers to the difficulty to remember because of a lack of opportunity to rehearse newly learned information through various exposures to the same material.

Elaborative Rehearsal

Elaborative rehearsal, a more complex thinking process, applies to linking new information to information that is already in the students’ brains. The goal is to review the new incoming information several times before associating it with something that was learned before, before making a link between the new and old information. Typically, regular education instinctively and naturally uses strategies to remember. They naturally use rehearsal memory to remember and elaborative memory to understand or connect with new material. Students with disabilities typically do not.

Students with special needs resort more to rote rehearsal when learning because it is safer for them. However, rote rehearsal does not build long-lasting solid foundations. Therefore, students who rote learn gain only marginal and superficial access to what they are taught, which makes retention practically impossible.

Students’ thinking processes and ability to learn are defined by their overarching cognitive structures. The responsibility of a teacher is, therefore, to ensure that all students, regardless of their ability, are included meaningfully in the classroom. It is also to reach out to every student’s individual abilities, talents, limitations, and learning differences to support the development of the crucial neural connections without which long-lasting memories that cannot be used as prior knowledge for new learning. This accommodation is premised on a good understanding of the way the brain acquires, processes, and stores information that should guide and inform teaching.

According to most recent research, a learning disability is not the product of a single cause. It is described to come from the difficulties the brain experiences in bringing all the information that comes from its different parts together in a cohesive manner. When these parts do not integrate into one another, it results in faulty reception, inaccurate processing of information and ultimately in flawed learning. In short, the ability of students with special needs to learn is shaped by the way their brain is structured. Dyslexia, for instance, affects language processing, yet it does not affect all students who harbor the disorder the same way. All learning disabilities are not created equal. This compounds the role of teachers who must determine each student’s unique needs.

In order to be successful, students with special needs require interventions. An intervention is nothing less than the link between a teaching method that was identified clearly to be effective and the intended change(s) in the learning outcome of the learner. Interventions are multi-leveled and inevitably include the implementation of activities, outcomes, treatment fidelity. However, the complexity is in delivering interventions with fidelity, often pauses challenges. To be successful, an intervention must contain:

  1. Baseline data to establish the student’s level of functioning before the intervention.
  2. The confirmation of a specific concern and the identification of a specific goal.
  3. The selection of an intervention that is based on the identified needs of the student and lastly.
  4. An assessment and evaluation of students’ progress after the intervention has been implemented. An intervention (also often called RTI for Response To Intervention) is based on nothing else than data-based decision-making.

The Brain and Learning

Learning changes to the brain by rewiring it. This is crucial because, interestingly, in order to learn, one must adapt to things that are new and different. This adaptation to what is new and different causes structural and functional changes in the brain. These changes in the brain lead to long-lasting connections as long as these new connections are used. It is admittedly, not as simple as teachers literally just handing knowledge over to students. Students must construct that knowledge in their own minds on their own. Teachers can only give students ladders that lead to higher understanding, but only the students themselves can choose to climb these ladders.

By way of example, students who learn in contrived settings without real exposure to natural environments do not learn at the same speed as their regular education counterparts. This is because regular education students benefit from a lot more exposure to learning materials than do students in special education classrooms. Students with special needs in special education classrooms learn skills in isolation and often with limited opportunities to generalize what they learn across people, places and times. This is of practical and theoretical significance because if a special education student struggles with learning, it might very well be because that student is not given the opportunity to generalize his new skill outside of the classroom, with different people and at different times. This is because connections that are not used frequently do not survive and are lost.

The brain is the most powerful force on earth. It is flexible and malleable. Paradoxically, although the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and alternatively, the right side of the brain controls the left side of the body, both sides of the brain must communicate together for learning to take place. Interestingly, while it is the right side of the brain that grasps the meaning of a story, picks up on nonverbal visual-spatial information and emotions, the left side, on the other hand, decodes grammar and syntax and controls language processing. What we did not know until a few years ago is that the brain is plastic which means that the more we learn the more the brain develops and the more effective it becomes.

Classroom Settings

Pull-Out Special Education Classrooms Versus In-Class Support in the General Education Setting
The theoretical basis of pull-out settings - to the extent that there is one - is that all students with special needs fare better in separate classrooms away from the regular education classrooms, and, inevitably, away from their peers. However, these students are increasingly placed in regular education classrooms with two teachers always present in the classroom: a regular education teacher and a special education teacher. This model is predicated on the belief that all children can learn, with their peers, if they are provided with the right support.

Two Teachers in the Classroom Throughout the Day = Co-Teaching or In-Class Resource (ICR)

Co-teaching means a classroom in which a special education teacher and a regular education teacher share the responsibility of assessing and instructing regular education and special education students. Co-teaching disallows the theoretical misconceptions that because students with special needs learn differently, they cannot be taught in the same classroom as their regular education peers. Research demonstrates unequivocally that Students’ placement bears on learning as the classroom dynamics becomes an internal and external catalyst for their motivation and performance. Co-teaching model brings special education services and strategies to the regular education classroom instead of taking students to a segregated setting away from their peers. However, the intuitive appeal of co-teaching bellies the challenges it faces in its design.

Effective Co-Teaching Models Endorse the Following Features:

  • Bring the support special education students need to the regular education classroom alongside with their peers instead of taking them to low expectations separate settings
  • Endorse research-based learning individualized strategies, accommodations, modifications because no two students learn the same way
  • Implement the IEP in the regular education classroom
  • Facilitate students’ understanding by integrating special education strategies into the regular education curriculum
  • Make most effective use of both teachers
  • Teach to individual IEP goals and accommodations
  • Modify content, not standards of excellence
  • Monitor progress at all time by taking consistent data to ensure students’ continuous progress
  • Recognize that students who do not learn at the same rate but understand that it does not mean that they cannot learn

However, the fact that both teachers are both on the same level, it would be counterintuitive for them to both do the same things in the classroom. Each serves their own individual purpose. The role of the general education teacher is to implement the general education curriculum to all students. On the flip side, the special education teacher differentiates the general education curriculum to accommodate the individual needs of the special education students. This is done by reducing the number of math problems on a page, for instance. It does not mean lowering the expectation by lowering the grade level of the material presented.

Current Trends in Bully Prevention

Bullying is pervasive and worldwide, students in the United States withstanding. According to the
Department of Education one in five students has or will experience school-based bullying within a school year. Bullying is typically grounded in a student’s difficulty to navigate his or her way around school groups and structures. Individual features such as gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and religious affinity are usual factors. This, regardless of the unapologetic anti-bullying legislation that has been adopted by all 50 states. Encouragingly, schoolwide bully preventions have had a measure of success in the recent past through SEL (Social Emotional Learning.) SEL is rooted in self-awareness and/or self-management, social skills, mutual respect, bullying prevention curriculum, schoolwide-targeted, individualized and selected interventions, etc.

Current Trends in Preparing General Education Teachers to Work with Students with Disabilities

Preparing general education teachers to work with students with disabilities and improve their outcomes in the classroom traditionally requires only one course related to the teaching students who have special needs. Pennsylvania is the only state in the United States that requires a class of introduction to special education course, a class on adapting the curriculum and a class on assessment.

Special education should not be viewed as a location. It should be viewed as the type of instruction that should be delivered to the students who have been identified as needing special help. Special education can be provided anywhere, at home, in a hospital, in a general education classroom, in a special education classroom, etc. Special education is not an end in itself. It is the means to an end, and the end is to provide students with special needs the skills they need to become contributing adult members of society.