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Holistic Learning for Students with Special Needs

written by: David Graham Farnsworth • edited by: Linda M. Rhinehart Neas • updated: 7/12/2012

A quick representation of the idea you are attempting to understand is a model. When the special needs learner builds individual models, he can weave them together in a complete construct – a total set of understandings – to increase learning comprehension.

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    Creating Interlinked Knowledge Webs

    The goal of holistic learning consists of skills remediation, so the special education student can matriculate successfully with group instruction. To promote success individualized teacher-directed instruction targets a learner's areas of need. Emphasis remains on the creation of large knowledge webs of interlinked ideas – in lieu of rote memorization of arbitrary information. The student masters a task's finer points and eventually sequences them altogether at his own pace. A student can even independently move through the sequence by either system prompts or a visual schedule. The holistic resource room leads special learners to the discovery of their inner nature or own consciousness as their knowledge source. Scott H. Young notes: “Holistic learning is the opposite of rote memorization. Instead of learning through force, your goal is to create webs of information that link together."

    Learners in the holistic resource room use models based on chunks of understanding (constructs) to solve problems. The instructor, in this unconscious learning method, cannot break down learning into separate skills or portions. Students don't even realize they are learning. Their knowledge unfolds each time through the adaptation and consumption of new relevant information – like an infant learning to speak. Even with a lot of missing information, as long as the student maintains a construct, he can solve a problem. Therefore, in order for the holistic resource room to prove effective for high school students, it must offer a model-friendly, language and print-laden accessible environment. Positive reinforcement and learner encouragement for efforts are paramount for success. Educators demonstrate enthusiastic, joyful and positive learning attitudes. Instead of attempting to control the process of learning, resource room educators assist or facilitate students with it. Through the guidance and assistance of the instructor, a student draws out his inner potential to develop his own creativity and learning ability to see the greater scope of things. The learner gets more than an information-based education, since he is developing his consciousness from within. The resource room helps the student weave his ideas into knowledge webs of concepts and subjects that are interrelated – through various different perspectives. The instructor aims to guide the student thinking process toward the relationship of things.

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    Visceralization, Metaphors and Exploration

    Visceralization (an enhanced method of visualization) helps students understand how an abstract concept interacts. Begin with a pad of paper, and in pictures, sketch the relationship between several ideas (to compose a simple model). Ask learners about the sound, feel and look of a concept – its function and response. A second method involves the use of metaphors (linking two concepts that aren't related) to tie together constructs. Metaphors, as an aid to building constructs, helps the student put together ideas, even if the model does not give accurate data. To facilitate the metaphor process, have students play a type of “that reminds me of" game that relates a concept. Students write down all ideas, regardless of how absurd or unrelated – to link ideas together that usually do not connect. This promotes student understanding by allowing the ability to view a new concept through known vantage points.

    When linking constructs together, it helps the student fill in the blanks. If the student is less than meticulous in the metaphor or visceral approach, exploration plays a vital role in the holistic resource room to refine final understanding. Exploration entails checking models, metaphors and constructs for any mistakes – dismissing models unrepresentative of learning, then filling in the blanks for increased comprehension. Explore by reviewing and testing the whole idea network – homework, tests and assignments – to clear up any errors or gaps in understanding. Further exploration involves studying notes and assigned readings that designate ideas.

    Most ideas of holistic approach components are integrated together in an individualized program. For example, a language arts program in the resource room combines the components of reading and writing with experiences that stress oral language, reading/writing that is individualized and the discourse of written language and strategy lessons within a holistic framework. Within the class framework, the “strategy methods" is the only component that's not a habitual part of the daily program. Use strategy methods only when a learner requires a specific skill (when the other four components remain ineffective). To increase student motivation, the instructor should model a variety of reading/writing exercises to promote comprehension:

    • field trips
    • informal lessons on reading/writing usage (how/why)
    • reading to students
    • labeling items in class
    • letting students dictate written products
    • incorporating written language into oral language
    • activity planning that promotes the utility of reading/writing

    Group students in the resource room with similar instructional weaknesses. Organize class so a student can start on any one of the components right away (by either job or contract sheet). Instructors do not offer help until needed. Students spend all of their resource time on one component or the other – without the teacher initializing an activity for holistic learning in the high school resource room.