Comprehensive Literacy Instruction in Self-Contained Special Education Classrooms: Epistemology and Practice Public Deposited

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Last Modified
  • March 22, 2019
  • Bock, Amanda Kay
    • Affiliation: School of Education
  • Special education has evolved separately from general education, resulting in a separate system with different purposes, instructional practices, content, expectations, and outcomes for students. The separate system is based on a set of beliefs about teaching and learning (epistemology) that leads to a denial of meaningful learning opportunities and increases the impact of disability on students' lives. The special education system predominantly relies on a behavioral approach to literacy instruction, but this approach is ineffective in teaching students to gain and convey meaning through print in the variety of contexts required by life beyond school. This study addresses the need to shift literacy instruction for students with severe disabilities to a constructivist perspective. The purpose of this study was to explore instructional practices in two self-contained special education classrooms as teachers implemented a comprehensive literacy curriculum rooted in a constructivist perspective. This study used grounded theory to analyze field notes, teacher interviews, and paraeducator interviews collected over the course of one school year. Data analysis resulted in three major findings: (1)Teacher control was inversely related to student engagement. The more control teachers exerted, the less students communicated and participated; as teachers released control student communication, participation, and engagement increased. (2)Teacher clarity about the goals and purposes of lessons supported a collaborative construction of learning and the use of instructional feedback. (3)When teachers combined a release of control with clarity about the purposes of lessons, students engaged in learning that had higher cognitive demands. Behaviorist methods in literacy instruction have long been associated with low student engagement, low cognitive demands, and ineffective literacy instruction. This study demonstrates how practices rooted in a behaviorist perspective limit students' engagement and learning opportunities during literacy instruction. An emerging body of literature shows that students with severe disabilities benefit from literacy instructional practices recognized as best practices in general education. This study demonstrates how two teachers applied constructivist, student-centered teaching practices to literacy instruction for students with severe disabilities to gain their students' interest, enjoyment, contributions, and cognitive engagement in useful and applicable learning.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Noblit, George W.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2013

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