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Intervention Research for Adolescents with LD

Teaching Effective-Problems with Teaching

A Meta-Analysis of Outcomes Related to High-Order Processing (Executive Summary)

Background and Purpose

As children go through adolescence, striking changes occur in their problem-solving abilities. As a result, adolescents are generally more efficient and sophisticated learners than younger children, and they are able to more easily cope with advanced topics in difficult academic areas.

Adolescents with learning disabilities (LD), however, have difficulties in problem solving, also called high-order processing. The problems begin in elementary school, when a child with LD experiences difficulties with tasks such as word recognition, spelling, and computation. These difficulties become generalized as the child ages, and adolescents with LD typically have difficulties with skills of high-order processing.


The search for effective methods of improving problem-solving skills in adolescents with LD has become an important focus of research in recent years, especially as it has become clearer that deficits in problem-solving skills are superimposed on lower-order processing problems in areas such as spelling and computation.


The purpose of this report was to synthesize and summarize the research on interventions conducted between 1963 and 1997. Fifty-eight intervention studies were analyzed according to the age and intelligence of the adolescents, the characteristics of the intervention (e.g. number of instructional interventions, components of instruction) and the methods used by the original investigators. It was hoped that this synthesis of the research literature would help identify instructional models for adolescents that predict success in improving problem-solving skills.


It was clear from earlier research that not all interventions work equally well in this population of students, and two instructional methods seemed superior to others: direct instruction and strategy instruction. It was considered important to distinguish the points of commonality and distinction of these two approaches and identify the components of instructional models that predict the best outcome for adolescents with LD.


For purposes of this study, direct instruction was categorized as those that employed the following techniques:


  • Breaking down a task into small steps
  • Administering probes
  • Supplying repeated feedback
  • Providing students with diagrammatic or pictorial presentations
  • Allowing independent practice and individually paced instruction
  • Breaking instruction down into simpler phrases
  • Instructing in a small group
  • Teacher modeling of skills
  • Providing set materials at a rapid pace
  • Providing instruction for individual children
  • Having the teacher ask skill-related questions
  • Having the teacher provide new materials


Studies included in this synthesis that were categorized as strategy instruction had the following components:


  • Elaborate explanations
  • Teacher modeling of processes
  • Reminders to use certain strategies
  • Step-by-step prompts
  • Teacher-student dialogue
  • Teacher asks process-oriented questions
  • Teacher provides only necessary assistance



Three main questions were posed as the core of this review of the literature on problem solving in adolescent learners:


Do studies that use direct and/or strategy instruction produce better effects on problem-solving skills than those that do not?


  • In contrast to other methods, interventions were more effective when studies included derivatives of cognitive and/or direct instruction.
  • Effective instruction can be either a bottom-up or a top-down approach, as long as certain components are included in the intervention.
  • No statistical advantages of the direct instruction or strategy instruction were apparent.
  • A clear orientation to task, drill-repetition-practice, sequencing, teacher modeling, and systematic probing may supersede effects related to distinctive qualities of either the strategy or direct instruction methods.


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