At-risk in middle school : definitions and understandings of support practices for students with learning disabilities in two integrated grade 6 language arts classrooms




Tobin, Ruthanne

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation focuses on the definitions and understandings of literacy support revealed by three teachers and two teacher assistants in their interactions with five children identified with learning disabilities in two grade 6 integrated classrooms. The nature of this support was revealed through interactions among students and their teachers, teacher assistants and peers while engaged in language arts activities in a pull-in, co-teaching model of support over a three-month semester. The data consist of the transcriptions of 29 separate audio-tapes of 60 minute duration which were recorded on average of two times each week. Thirty classroom interactions (each 50- minutes long) and 13 interviews with participants were recorded. The classroom support interactions and the interviews have been examined using a qualitative software tool (QSR NUD*IST) for the nature, understandings and perceptions regarding literacy support in language arts classes. Data were also analyzed for the text-accessing structures, strategies and technologies explicitly taught or made available to learners with LD in each classroom. The findings from this study add to the existing literature by identifying three dynamics of support for learners with learning disabilities in language arts classrooms. First, it offers definitions and descriptions of specific helping practices and attitudes of staff and students which serve to either access or restrict involvement in the language arts lessons. Second, it identifies attitudes and practices which diminish effective support for learners of this profile, and finally it reveals the importance of three teachers’ understanding and beliefs in three important areas that affected language arts instruction and student participation: a) adaptation and modification of curricula to suit individual needs; b) ways for learners to represent knowledge; and c) views on school-related abilities. Findings derived from the data regarding one teacher’s practices in the language arts classroom showed an inadequate understanding of these three concepts which negatively impacted the literacy experiences for the at-risk students. A second teacher’s practices showed an understanding of the concepts which resulted in satisfactory support for students with LD. The study also suggests that some of the practices directed at students with LD may have beneficial implications for general population students including First Nations children.



Learning disabilities