Using Data to Modify the Learning Environment

Instructor: Linda Winfree

Linda has taught English at grades 6-12 and holds graduate degrees in curriculum and teacher leadership.

In this lesson, you will learn how to collect and use data to modify the learning environment through instructional and physical alterations for students with emotional impairments.

Using Data to Modify the Learning Environment

For students with emotional impairments, the structure of their learning environment is important to be able to experience academic success. As the needs of your students will vary, you will want to collect and use observational data that can be used to direct modifications of your students' learning environment.

Let's join middle school special education teacher Tara as she uses observational data to serve her student Moira.

Student Observations as Data Source

Moira is an eighth-grade student who receives inclusion special education services for an emotional impairment. Moira suffers from extreme anxiety related to reading and writing. She struggles with reading long texts and wanting pieces of writing to be perfect. Due to the stress stemming from these issues, Moira often complains and displays avoidance behaviors when schoolwork involves reading and writing.

Tara serves Moira in her inclusion classes, but she also teaches Moira in a self-contained resource class for forty-five minutes daily. To help make effective adaptations for Moira, Tara wants to collect data on her anxiety levels and time spent completing tasks. She creates an observation form, a chart that allows her to record observations when Moira has reading or writing work. Tara and the other classroom teachers complete these observation forms, while Moira self-rates on an anxiety rating scale, a numerical range that quantifies her stress levels, and tracks her time to finish tasks. Tara then tracks the data to look for patterns.

Data Indicators

Data indicators such as observed changes in behavior or rated levels of anxiety lead Tara and her co-teachers to make instructional adjustments. For example, observations show that Moira displays increased avoidance behaviors, such as arguing or putting her head down and refusing to work, when she is asked to read or write independently. In contrast, when placed in a cooperative group or pair, she is more likely to engage in the task without avoidance. Also, when her assignments are broken into chunks and she is provided a checklist, the avoidance behaviors also decrease.

Tara then examines Moira's anxiety rating scales. The data supports Tara's observations. Moira self-reports lower levels of anxiety when she is working in a small group or with a partner. Although slightly higher, her levels of anxiety remain lowered when she is given chunked assignments and works with a checklist to guide her. Tara gathers her data results and sits down to consult with Moira's classroom teachers.

Modifying the Learning Environment

During their planning meeting, Tara and Moira's classroom teachers agree she is not learning when she withdraws from assignments that incorporate reading and writing. Tara shares the breakdown of her data indicators, that Moira has higher levels of engagement and lowered anxiety when she is involved in cooperative learning or provided smaller pieces of assignments and a checklist to guide her in completing them. Moira is expected to read and write in not only her language arts class, but in her content area classes as well, so the teachers discuss how to modify her learning environment in each class.

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