Taking on a learning disability: Negotiating special education and learning to read
Policy regarding students educated in special education settings demands that schools label students, provide them with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and teach them in a context that is as close to the general/mainstream education context. I used ethnographic longitudinal case study methods to uncover the ramifications of labeling a student learning disabled because of an inability to read as expected and educating him in a self-contained special education context.
This study focused on the settings that bring disability in and out of focus and the positions people inhabit that maintain these positions (Davies & Harré, 1999; Harré & van Langenhove, 1999). I provide insight into how this student learned to read using Rogoff's (1990) model of apprenticeship and how notions of disability can be refuted by employing Gee's (1999) model of discourse analysis.
I collected data over a three-year period through the student's middle school years. Data collection included interviews, observations, document collection, recording and transcribing tutoring sessions, utilizing a researcher's journal, and through participant observations during tutoring sessions. I assembled and analyzed the data using case study methods as described by Glesne (1999), Merriam (2001), and Stake (2000).
The findings indicate that literacy learning did not occur in a self-contained special education context despite numerous IEPs developed for this student. Additionally, placement in this context hindered growth in mathematics and led to the school's determination that the student possessed a disability in mathematics despite that the curriculum that was tested was not covered.
The findings also indicate that learning to read was possible for this middle school student. Literacy growth was dependent on the intersection of guided participation, intersubjectivity (Rogoff, 1990), and an appreciation of Discourses (Gee, 1999). In addition, sharing the research about learning disabled students, with them, was paramount in changing viewpoints that disability is an innate characteristic.
How students, their families, and their teachers interact and negotiate in the context of special education is significant. These negotiations inform our understanding of the effectiveness of special education policy and how that policy translates into the experiences of the intended recipients.
0535: Reading instruction
0629: Labor relations
0533: Secondary education