Modifying Instruction for Exceptional Learners
Try Thinking Outside the Box
This article is concerned with the modification of instruction for the varying abilities of students within the so-called “standard range”, students who have been enrolled in regular vocational classes. These students have been found to have special learning patterns; whether they do things exceptionally well or they need assistance in adjusting in a conventional learning environment.
This article is also designed to make the instructor aware of the general learning characteristics of gifted and slower learners and to give the instructor skills in planning his/her instruction so that the “special” student’s specific needs are adequately met. This should be accomplished without detracting from the more typical student.
In many cases, instructors tend to prepare lessons for the majority of students who fall in the “average learner” category. However, by preparing a standard lesson plan, the needs of the gifted and slower learner as well as the “average” learners are actually not accommodated. An instructor needs to plan to use teaching techniques that will help all students reach their highest learning potential.
According to the Cognitive Processes of Learning there are three essential conditions for meaningful learning (R. E. Mayer, 1987): reception, availability and activation. The reception and availability conditions are met when teachers focus their learner’s attention on a problem and provide them with an anticipatory set or advance organizer (Glover & Corkill, 1990). Teachers fulfill the activation condition by modeling the inquiry process with skilled questions techniques. (Effective Teaching Methods 4th Edition—Gary D, Borich)
In order to successfully plan lessons for students with a range of learning characteristics, an instructor needs to be aware of the Cognitive Processes of Learning as well as the learning behavior of students. As the instructor observes students working in the classroom and laboratory, he/she can become sensitive to the particular needs and limitations of each individual.
To facilitate the instructor in recognizing and responding to those individual needs and limitations, he/she will need an understanding of the general characteristics of gifted and slower learners. The following are lists of these characteristics.
Types of Learners
These learners are generally characterized as followed:
- They tend to have good reading ability and to enjoy reading.
- They tend to be verbal and communicative.
- They tend to be generally aggressive and competitive in the scholastic situation.
- They tend to be independent, initiating more activities on their own and more frequently attempting to overcome obstacles by themselves.
- They tend to be able to deal with abstract concepts and theoretical ideals.
- They tend to be able to generalize, to see relationships, and to visualize.
These learners are generally characterized as follows:
- They tend to have low reading abilities.
- They tend not to be aggressive or highly competitive.
- They tend to learn physically (to understand a concept best if they can learn it through tactile means).
- They tend to be able to deal with the real and concrete far better than the abstract and theoretical.
- They tend to have difficulty in handling relationships, such as size, time and space.
- They tend to be limited in self-direction, personal initiative, and ability to overcome obstacles.
Techniques for the Gifted Learner …
Once the teacher identifies the special characteristics of the gifted learner, these are some of the methods the teacher should incorporate:
1. Keep the more capable learner challenged with new material. It is important that you have prepared new activities for the students and are ready to present them to the students as soon as they have finished the last task. They should have advanced work designed to extend the students’ abilities.
2. Maintain high expectations. More capable learners respond well to reasonable scholastic pressure. You should accept only high-quality work from the students. You should not allow them to become satisfied with mediocre performance.
3. Evaluate students’ work with care and thoughtfulness. Those who are more capable need praise and reward for exceptional results. However, they also respond positively to expert criticism of their efforts and probing questions about their knowledge.
4. Use discovery techniques. In laboratory and class work, purposely omit some instruction, insert some difficulties into the job, or leave some problems unresolved for students to overcome by themselves.
Care must be used in dealing with students who have differing learning rates and capacities. Slower learners are students who simply require more time to reach their educational goals. The more capable learners appear to learn rapidly without undue effort.
Techniques for the Slower Learner
The same systematic learning procedures should be incorporated with the slower learner. These are some considerations.
1. Provide opportunities for plenty of practice and drill. Practice can strengthen the bonds of learning and lead to greater and longer retention.
2. Provide the time necessary to learn. If a slower learner needs more time to master a new subject or skill, arrange for the student to have the time.
3. Teach visually. Slower students can often profit more from seeing a skill demonstrated well than from a verbal discussion. A well-presented demonstration can help to clear up what might otherwise be confusing or meaningless.
4. Use real experiences related to the classroom instruction. Field trips specially planned to show certain operations being performed would help slower learners.
5. Use a physical approach to learning. Use hands-on approach. Provide models or real objects for the student to manipulate.
6. Teach by small steps. Slower learners may need to know each step of the job from beginning to completion. They may need to be led carefully through the whole process before they can do it themselves.
7. Use a reward system for good work. Slower learners, who may be unaccustomed to success, tend to respond to reward in any form.
8. Use individualized learning material whenever possible. With well-selected materials, a slower learner can progress at his/her own rate and use learning techniques compatible with his/her own learning style.
After you adjust to this more effective method of teaching you are ready to enter into the next stage of development. As you become more confident in your ability to manage your diverse teaching environment; you should also be successful in dealing with a variety of behavior problems (if they should arise.)
Typically, this new stage of development will engage the following thoughts:
- Where can I find good instructional materials?
- Will I have enough time to cover the content?
- Where can I get ideas for encouraging class participation?
- How do I indoctrinate new concepts into my class?
The most outstanding instructors are the ones who teach on a level that addresses all basic student needs. Understanding your students is only the beginning in a successful teaching experience.
Practice What You Preach ...
Here is a scenario to gauge your understanding of these teacher concepts. It is a self-assessment for your information.
Dorothy is a new student in your Unified Geometry Class. She has come to you from a neighboring state and her parents have been through a trying divorce. You are giving a test on the Equilateral, Isosceles and Scalene Triangles. It seems as if everyone is finishing up their examination but Dorothy. She is looking out the window or watching other students turn in their papers. Finally, when the last student has left Dorothy begins in earnest completing her exam and brings it to you. Upon grading you find that Dorothy has made a perfect score.
1. What type of learner is Dorothy?
2. How would you address her unique situation?