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LEARNING DISABILITIES: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES - page 8 / 42

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random assignment and limited use of control groups, the impressive gains she reports are difficult to disregard completely. She was far ahead of her time with respect to the care she took to document the efficacy of her methods. Furthermore, in addition to furthering the work of Orton and Fernald through systematic investigation, she pioneered two practices that are fundamental to the field of learning disabilities today.

First, Monroe introduced the notion of discrepancy between actual achievement and expected achievement as a way of identifying students with reading disabilities. She calculated a “reading index” by comparing the student’s reading grade (the average of four tests: Gray’s Oral Reading Paragraphs, reading comprehension as measured either by the Haggerty Test for cases less than third grade achievement or by the Monroe Test, word analysis from the Iota Word Test from the Monroe Test, and word discrimination from the Word Discrimination Test from the Monroe Test) to an average of the student’s chronological, mental, and arithmetic grade. For example, a boy who chronologically is at a grade of 3.6, who on the basis of the Stanford-Binet has a mental grade of 4.0, and who has an arithmetic grade of 3.5 would have an average of 3.7. If his grade scores on the four reading tests average 2.0, then his reading achievement would only be 2.0/3.7, or 54%, of his expected achievement. Monroe advocated using 80% as a cut-off for having a reading disability, and using this cut-off she estimated that about 12% of the population had reading disabilities.

Second, Monroe went beyond using standardized tests just to identify children with reading disabilities. She advocated analyzing the specific types of reading errors children made on the tests in order to guide instruction, thus introducing the notion of what would later be called diagnostic-prescriptive teaching. She developed individual profiles of errors made on three reading tests (Gray’s Oral Reading Examination, the Iota Word Test, and the Word Discrimination Test from her own test). The errors included faulty vowels, faulty consonants, reversals, addition of sounds, omission of sounds, substitution of words, repetition of words, addition of words, omission of words, refusals, and words aided. Based on the types of errors the child presented, Monroe had specific remedial training suggestions.

Samuel Kirk. In 1929, Samuel Kirk began graduate school in psychology at the University of Chicago. As part of his training, he spent time as a resident instructor at the Institute for Juvenile Research, where Marion Monroe worked. Kirk’s duties were varied, but there was one fortuitous experience that was life- changing for Kirk and the eventual field of learning disabilities:

At this school I taught in the afternoon and served as a recreational worker after school. In the evenings I helped the nurses put the boys to bed and see that they stayed there. In reading the clinical folders of one of these children from the famous Institute for Juvenile Research, I noticed that the boy was labeled as “word blind,” a term I had never heard before in my psychology courses. He was ten years old, a nonreader, and had a recorded IQ of 82. This clinical folder referred to Marion Monroe’s monograph [Monroe, 1928] on reading disabilities, Hinshelwood’s book [1917] on congenital word blindness, and Fernald’s kinesthetic method. After reading these references, which I found the next day in the university library, I arranged to tutor the boy at nine o’clock in the evening, after the boys were supposed to be asleep. This boy, who was eager to learn, sneaked quietly out of bed at the appointed time each night and met me in a small space between the two dormitory rooms…, actually, in the doorway of the boy’s toilet. By making this arrangement we both knew we were violating a regulation, since the head nurse had directed me not to allow the boys out of bed after nine. In the same vein as the Boston Tea Party, and knowing the consequences of civil disobedience, I decided to take a chance and violate the directions since the cause was good. I often state that my first experience in tutoring a case of reading disability was not in a school, was not in a clinic, but in a boy’s lavatory. (Kirk, 1976, pp. 242–243)

After 7 months, the boy was reading at the third grade level and he was released from the Institute to attend regular school. Monroe, hearing of Kirk’s success, invited him to confer with her about his tutoring. She then tutored Kirk in diagnosing and remediating severe cases of reading disabilities.

For his master’s thesis, Kirk (1933) compared the Fernald kinesthetic method with the look-and-say

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