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Instructional Variables

Instructional Variables

There are numerous variables that individual students bring to the classroom.  The effective teacher will address the variables over which he or she has control and will set aside the others.

Difficulty Level

Each student has a level at which he performs and a level to which his abilities can be stretched without encountering undue stress.  The effective teacher quickly learns to gauge the extent to which each student’s abilities can be stretched in one learning session and to fit the instruction to that student’s abilities.  If the student is assigned work at a lower level, the student does not make adequate progress.  If the student is assigned work at a higher level, the student experiences frustration and eventually either gives up or acts inappropriately.


Federal law establishes the required amount of space per student, but within the classroom,  teachers can allocate space that creates positive learning environments.  For example, during reading time, some students will function better at their desks; whereas, other students will function better reclining or sitting in a corner.  Some will function better with music and others will function better with quiet surroundings.  Careful planning of space (including a “headphone” area) can increase student achievement.


Every adult learner knows the meaning of a lecture that exceeded the FFF (fanny fatigue factor); in other words, the speaker went too long.   Similarly, in education settings for children, there are optimal amounts of time that vary with each student.  The farther one is pushed beyond that optimal time, the less effective the learning becomes.  The key is to find the optimal time and rely on it with the goal of gradually increasing the time on task to the point where the student is able to spend longer periods of time on task.  In order to accomplish this,  teachers must be observant and judicious. 


How language is used affects student learning.  When a student understands, he is able to process the information he is given.  In today’s society, a teacher may be dealing with students of various abilities, of various language backgrounds, and of various values toward education.  In other words, everyone brings a different “self” to the classroom.  Effective teaching includes the use of words that are easily understood, clear, and graphic.   Illustrations and gestures that are universally understood can be used as assistive tools for learning.  One of the greatest speeches given in the western world is the one given by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg.  It was short.   It was simple.  It was direct.  There is a lesson for educators in the value ascribed to this speech:   Teaching is not effective if it is not understood, and simple speech may be the greatest.  This is especially true when dealing with students who have profound language limitations, whether those limitations are due to learning disabilities or to cultural backgrounds.

Teacher-Pupil Interpersonal Relationship

Disabled students do not simply appear in the classroom.  They bring a long history of educational and emotional baggage that includes various feelings of inadequacy and frequent experiences with failure.  Hopefully, the student has encountered good,  effective educators previously who have started the student on the road to effectiveness, but whatever the case, it is the task of the teacher to take the student wherever he is (educationally and emotionally) on the day he enters the classroom and to move the student forward.   Effectiveness in moving the student forward depends on sound educational procedures, but it depends equally on the type of relationship that is established between the teacher and the student. 

Other than the parents, the teacher has more influence on the student’s self image and self esteem than anyone else alive.  The teacher can either build the student’s image and confidence or can destroy it.  A nurturing environment is critical to student success.

The following principles offer guidelines for therapeutic teaching.

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