Research on Interventions for Adolescents with Learning Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis of Outcomes Related to Higher-Order Processing

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NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 62 describes the following:

Title | Research on Interventions for Adolescents with Learning Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis of Outcomes Related to Higher-Order Processing

Author | Swanson, H.L.

Source Elementary School Journal, 101(3), 331-345.

Year Published | 2001

Abstract
Presents results of a meta-analysis of studies of 58 interventions published during the period 1963-1997 concerning problem-solving skills for adolescents with learning disabilities. Results show that large effect sizes (ESs) emerged on measures of metacognition and text understanding. Interventions that included instructional components that loaded on factors related to advanced organizers, new content skills, and extended practice contributed significant variance to the magnitude of ES. The magnitude of ES was significantly higher for studies with samples meeting the IQ and reading cutoff criteria of >85 and

Background
Students with learning disabilities (LD)* struggle with one or more basic academic areas. Problems that students with LD have with low-order skills such as handwriting, word recognition, computation, or spelling often contribute to problems with high-order problem solving tasks when they get older. Whether time spent focused on mastering low-order basic skills takes away from time students with LD might spend developing a foundation of problem-solving skills, or low-order academic skills are the foundation of higher-order processing skills has not been determined, but there does appear to be a connection between learning disabilities and difficulty with high-order processing.

The high-order processing skills addressed in this meta-analysis are:

  1. Metacognition (e.g. self-questioning, planning, and strategy behaviors);
  2. Attributions (e.g. self-efficacy, effort, and ability);
  3. Understanding of text or comprehension;
  4. Verbal problem solving (e.g. reasoning, creativity, verbal intelligence, or written organization)
  5. Word knowledge or vocabulary
  6. Mathematical problem-solving (e.g. word problems, algebra, logic)

Research Questions
Which instructional practices best predict positive outcomes for adolescents with LD on measures of high-order processing/problem solving?

Research Design
Meta-Analysis*

  • Number of Studies Included | 58
  • Number of Subjects | The mean sample size was 20.28 (SD = 12.40).
  • Years Spanned | 1963-1997

Research Subjects
Adolescents with learning disabilities (LD) and IQ scores above 84.

Age/Grade of Subjects
All studies had a mean* sample age of 11 years old or older. The mean chronological age across the studies was 13.18 (SD = 1.97).

Specified Disability
Learning Disabilities (LD)

Intervention
The adolescents with learning disabilities (LD) in these studies participated in high-order processing instruction covering one or more of the following areas:

  • metacognition (e.g., planning, self-questioning, interviews of strategy behaviors);
  • attributions (e.g., measures of self-efficacy, effort, or ability);
  • understanding of text (e.g., comprehension, transfer, and thematic understanding);
  • verbal problem solving (e.g., reasoning, creativity, verbal or written organization);
  • word knowledge/vocabulary; and
  • mathematical problem solving.

Duration of Intervention
The mean number of instructional sessions was 20.44 (SD = 27.83). Each session was an average of 36.07 minutes long (SD = 12.40).

Findings
High-order processing interventions overall are effective for adolescents with LD. However, certain high-order deficits are easier to change than others, summarized as follows:

  1. The measures that were the most effective were metacognition (e.g., planning, self-questioning, and interviews of strategy behaviors) and understanding of text (e.g., comprehension, transfer, and thematic understanding).
  2. Measures that were moderately effective were verbal problem solving (e.g., reasoning, creativity, and verbal or written organization), word knowledge/vocabulary, and mathematical problem solving.
  3. The area most resistant to change was learner attributions (e.g., measures of self-efficacy, effort, or ability).

Combined Effects Size
The average effect size across all 58 studies was .82 (SD = 0.66).

Based on weighted effect sizes, the areas that approached the threshold of 0.80 for a “large effect” were

  • measures of text understanding (ES = 0.73) and
  • word knowledge (ES = 0.70).

When methodological variations between studies were accounted for, the domains that met the large effect criteria were:

  • metacognition (ES = 1.43) and
  • text understanding (ES = 0.94).

Conclusion/Recommendations
Overall, high-order processing interventions are effective for adolescents with LD. However, certain high-order deficits are easier to change than others. The measures which students most effectively mastered were metacognition (e.g. planning, self-questioning, and interviews of strategy behaviors) and understanding of text (e.g. comprehension, transfer, and thematic understanding). Measures which were moderately effective were verbal problem solving (e.g. reasoning, creativity, and verbal or written organization), word knowledge/vocabulary, and mathematical problem solving.

The instructional factors found in most effective higher-order processing interventions for students with LD were:

  1. Extended practice (e.g. distributed review and practice, repeated practice, sequenced and/or weekly reviews, and daily feedback);
  2. New content/skills (e.g. an entirely new curriculum or new material from a previous lesson);
  3. Advanced organizers (e.g. previewing materials prior to instruction, directing students to focus on specific points, providing background information on the task, or teacher explicitly stating instructional objectives).

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* Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which (1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; (2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; and (3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

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