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DIFFERENTIATION OF COURSES OF STUDY IN

DENVER FOR SLOW-LEARNING CHILDREN

GLADYS MAY MACLIN


Chairmanof SpecialClassesCommittee,PublicSchools,
Denver, Colorado

Introductionto the problem.-One of the crucialproblemsin the


educationalfield today is that of modifyingschool workto meet the
needs of childrenof limitedintelligence. ArthurI. Gates,of Teachers
College,ColumbiaUniversity,says: "To enableeach child to develop
in the happiest and socially most productive manner requires an
educationalprogramdifferentiatedboth in degree and in kind."'
Statementof Denver's problem.-For many years the Denver
schools have made provision for childrenof limited ability in both
regular and special classes. The CurriculumDepartment began an
intensive study of the problem of differentiatingcurriculumsfor
these childrenin October,1927, after the new coursesof study in all
elementary-schoolsubjectshad been revisedfor normalchildren. In
the present discussionthe term "slow-learningchildren"is used to
designatechildrenof limited intelligence. The intelligencequotients
of such childrenas determinedby the Binet test range from about
70 to 90o. However, this test is not a complete measure of general
intelligence and is not so consideredin determining slow-learning
childrenin Denver. A small percentageof these childrenare cared
for in specialrooms,but the great majorityof them are found in the
regularclassroomsin Denver, as in most cities throughoutthe state
and country. Whereverthey are, they need specialindividualatten-
tion both for their own progressand for the well-beingof their as-
sociates.
Point of view of committee.-The last decade has seen a welcome
change in the attitude of the educationalworld toward childrenof
limited mental ability. It has become more helpful and construc-
' A. I. Gates, "RecentAdvancesin EducationalPsychology,"Schooland Society,
XXIX (January 5, 1929), 5.
1o4

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DIFFERENTIATION OF COURSESOF STUDY 105

tive. Progressiveeducationalprocedurenow takes into full account


the many vocationalpossibilitiesopen to these childrenand plans its
educationalcoursesaccordingly. The Denver committeeworkingon
the problemhas attempted to present its findingsin terms of a posi-
tive constructivephilosophy, stressingwhat the slow-learningchild
can do instead of what he cannot do, stressinghis capacitiesin terms
of mental age instead of his incapacitiesin terms of intelligencequo-
tient.
Aim of education.-The plan of differentiatingcurriculumsfor
slow-learningchildrenis based on the belief that the object of educa-
tion is to provide exercise for the child's capacities no matter how
limited they may be. It is the duty of the school to providethe dull
child with a school environmentthat offers opportunity and incen-
tive to exercisethe best of his mental abilities. To do this, two things
must be known: (i) the natureof the child'sabilitiesand disabilities
and (2) the type of environmentthat will best stimulate him to suc-
cessfulendeavor.
Objectivesfor slow-learningchildren.-Modern educators agree
that the general aims for the subnormalchild are the same as those
for the normal child. The prevailing philosophy emphasizes social
usefulnessas the objective of all education. This goal is achievedfor
all types of childrenthroughthe seven cardinalobjectives of educa-
tion, namely, health, worthy home membership,commandof fun-
damental processes,vocational efficiency,citizenship,worthy use of
leisure time, and ethical character. By their very nature, these car-
dinal objectives do not permit of differentiation.For the child of
limited mental ability, however, the ways and means of achieving
these objectives will be different;the level of achievement will be
lower; the emphasison certain objectives will be stronger. To illus-
trate, the final goal for all childrenis to becomeself-supporting,self-
controlledcitizens. The normalchild attains this goal far moreeasily
than does the subnormalchild becausehe is by natureequippedwith
a normalintelligencewhich helps him to adjust himselfreadilyto his
environment. Stern defines intelligence as the "general mental
adaptability to new problemsand conditionsof life."'
'William Stem, The Psychological Methods of Testing Intelligence, p. 3. Trans-
lated by Guy MontroseWhipple. Baltimore:Warwick& York,Inc., 1914.

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io6 THEELEMENTARY
SCHOOL
JOURNAL [October

Adjustmentof objectives for slow-learningchildren.-The subnor-


mal child is limited in intelligence-limited in all that aids him in
adapting himself readily to his sociologicalenvironment. Hence the
school must stress those objectives which will best serve to develop
and strengthenhis character,habits, and vocational efficiency. On
the developmentof ethical characterdependsthe successfulfutureof
the self-controlledcitizen. On the development of vocational effi-
ciency depends the successful future of the self-supportingcitizen.
These goals need special emphasis for subnormal children. The
means by which they are reachedmust be more simple, more con-
crete, and more specific than are those in the case of the normal
child.
Regularcoursesof studyusedas basisfor differentiation.-A study
of the objectives of the new Denver courses of study for the ele-
mentarygradesled to the conclusionthat these coursesfurnisha safe
foundationfor curricularadjustmentfor the slow-learningchild be-
cause they are designed to meet the general aims for all types of
children. Hence, Denver's differentiatedcurriculumsfor slow-learn-
ing childrenare based on the regularcoursesof study. However, to
meet the limited abilities of these children, the regular courses of
study have been adjusted in three general respects: (i) in subject
matter, (2) in methods of procedure,and (3) in standardsof attain-
ment.
Psychologicalbasisfor adjustment.-Beforeany adjustmentcould
be made, it was necessaryto establish a psychologicalbasis for each
change in subject matter, methods, and standards. An intensive
study of the psychology of subnormal children yielded pertinent
facts regardingthe differencesbetween normal and subnormalchil-
dren. For instance, subnormalchildrenshow limited ability to rea-
son, to comprehend,to generalize,to concentrate,to deal with ab-
stract ideas, and to form judgments.
Mental characteristicsconditioninglearning.-As the committee
wished to present the positive, constructivepoint of view, the limi-
tations of subnormalchildrenwere stated as mental characteristics
conditioning learning; for example, the subnormal child learns to
reason through a large number of concrete instances; he compre-
hends only subject matter within his experiences;he generalizesonly

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1929] DIFFERENTIATION OF COURSES OF STUDY
o07

throughthe applicationof a principleor processto a large numberof


specificcases; he concentratesonly on materialthat has vivid inter-
est for him. These are only a few of the typical characteristicsto be
consideredin planning coursesof study suited to slow-learningchil-
dren.
Adjustmentof subjectmatter.-With this psychologicalbasis, gen-
eral principlesfor the adjustmentof subject matter were considered.
To meet the limited intelligence,the quantity as well as the quality
of the materialmust be adjusted. Hence, two types of differentiation
have been used: quantitative-adjusting the amountof subject mat-
ter for slow-learningchildren-and qualitative-adjusting the kind
of subject matter.
Quantitativediferentiation.-Quantitative differentiationis nec-
essary because the slow-learningchild can never learn all that the
normal child can learn. The amount expected of him must be
limited in accordancewith his ability. A study of present and future
needs, interests,and activities and of minimumessentials adaptedto
mental ability will determinethe subject matter that shouldbe elim-
inated, retained and enriched, or added. For instance, a sixteen-
year-oldboy with a mental age of twelve years will probablybecome
a laborer in a humble environment, where his needs for complex
fractionsand five-placedecimalswill be nil. However, his needs for
the use of simplefractions-halves and fourths-and two-placedeci-
mals will be frequentin caringfor the financesof a simplehousehold.
The principleof quantitativedifferentiationdemandsthat the school
omit from his arithmetic training all work with complex fractions
and five-place decimals but give a much greater amountof practice
on simple fractions,such as halves and fourths,and two- and three-
place decimals.
Qualitativediferentiation.-Qualitative differentiationis neces-
sary because the subnormalchild can never make use of the same
kind of educationthe normalchild will use. The content offeredhim
must be suited to his mental limitations. His presentand futuresuc-
cess in the community requiresthat he form specifichabits of obe-
dience to authority, industry, emotional control, responsibilityto-
ward home, and so forth. Leadershipin civic affairsprobablywill be
beyond his ability. Therefore,he should be trained to recognizethe

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io8 THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOLJOURNAL [October

advantages of following a more capable leader. However, even the


individual of limited ability will meet some social and occupational
situations in which he himself will exerciseleadershipover those in
his own natural group. Hence, subject matter for the subnormal
child should stress specific habits of desirable leadership in those
types of activities in which he may excel. The subject matter pre-
sented to him must be within his experience;it must deal with con-
crete situations;it must have high interest value; it must teach spe-
cific habits; it must lead toward a vocation. It must be enriched
throughnumerousactivities and experiencesthat teach the subnor-
mal child facts and informationalreadyobvious to the normalchild.
It must differ in quality from that offered the child of high intelli-
gence, who will be able to form his own judgments,to initiate civic
movements,and to assumeleadershipin the community.
Effectivemethodsof procedure.-Effective methods of procedure
for the child of limited ability must take into account his mental
characteristicsand limitations. The learning processes of such a
child are conditionedby the limited degree to which each mental
ability is present. For instance, his ability to deal with abstractideas
is limited. Hence, good method for him presentsnew subject matter
not throughabstractideas but throughconcretematerials. His abil-
ity to generalize is limited. Good method thereforepresents new
principlesnot throughgeneralizationbut throughnumerousspecific
instances. His ability to reasonis limited. Hence, good method de-
pends much less on rationalizationbut much more on habit forma-
tion and drill.
Applicationsof laws of learning.-For childrenof all abilitiesgood
method dependson the applicationof the laws of learning. For the
child of limited ability these laws are particularlynecessary. The ef-
fort of such a child is conditionedmore by his interests than by his
initiative or persistence. Hence, the law of readinessdemandsthat
for him activities be more carefullyand frequentlymotivated than
for the normal child. Again, the slow-learningchild learns more
through the formationof specific habits than through reasoningor
generalization.Hence, the law of repetition demands that for him
drill be used more frequentlyand more intensively than for the nor-
mal child. The behavior of the child of limited intelligence is gov-

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1929] DIFFERENTIATION OF COURSES OF STUDY 109

ernedmoreby his emotionsthan by reasoningand judgment. Hence,


the law of effect demandsthat for him the schoolprovidean environ-
ment that will stimulate only desirableemotions.
Adjustmentof standardsof attainment.-The very nature of the
child of limited ability demandsthat standardsof attainmentbe ad-
justed to his limitations. It is necessaryat the outset to realizethat
the child of limited mental ability will be slow in his learning and
that in no way can he be forced beyond the level of his capacity.
Within his limits, however,he will respondto judiciousand system-
atic training.
Mentalageas basisof standardsof attainment.-There can be only
vexation and disappointmentif the child of limited ability is com-
pared with normalchildren. His attainments can never equal those
of normal children of the same chronologicalage. He should be
compared,therefore,with childrenof the same mental age. Mental
age is an objective measureofmentality. Its significanceseems to be
familiarto most teachersand principals;yet it is astonishinghow few
apply it constructivelyfor the purposeof determiningthe capacity
and educational treatment of a subnormal child. Mental age ex-
presses the degree of mental ability in years and months which is
possessed by the average child of correspondingchronologicalage.
It is the most importantfactor conditioninglearning. For instance,
a twelve-year-oldchild with an I.Q. of 75 has a mental age of nine
years. He should not be expected to meet the standardsof twelve-
year-old children. He can be expected to approximatethe attain-
ments of the average nine-year-oldchild. The last statement, how-
ever, should be qualifiedin at least two respects. In the first place,
while the mental age may be the same, the rate of mental growth is
slower for the subnormalchild than for the average child. The rate
of mental growth is indicated by the intelligencequotient, which is
the ratio between mental age and chronologicalage. For instance,
the twelve-year-oldchild with an I.Q. of 75 should not be expected
to make twelve months of mental growthin one year. He will prob-
ably make about 75 per cent of that growth, or nine months of
mentalgrowth. In the secondplace, as pointed out in an earlierpara-
graph, an I.Q. of 75 indicates the need for specifictypes of learning
procedureregardlessof mental age. The types of abilitiesmost used

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IIo THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOLJOURNAL

by the slow-learningchild in securinginformation,his method of at-


tack in solvingproblems,and his mannerof adjustinghimself to new
situations differ from those of the normal child of the same mental
age. Thus, in the planning of instruction and in the measuringof
achievement, a constructiveinterpretationof both mental age and
intelligencequotientprovidesthe most reliablestandardsnow avail-
able.
Attainment afected by total individuality.-Psychiatrists have
called attention to the dangerof exaggeratingthe purely intellectual
factor in the study and treatment of handicappedindividuals. The
trained psychiatrist takes into account the total individuality and
emphasizesthe significanceof personalitytraits. Certaincontribut-
ing factors, such as physical health, irregularschoolattendance,per-
sonality defects, and home attitudes, may influenceattainment. The
teacherwho expects a subnormalchild to approximatestandardsset
for normal childrenof the same mental age, however,will set a fair
standardin most cases.
Applicationof principlesof differentiationto arithmeticand read-
ing.-The generalprinciplesrelatingto the differentiationof curricu-
lums for children of limited ability are applicable to all academic
subjects. Denver has already appliedthese principlesto arithmetic.
The tentative courseof study in this subject is now being used as a
workingbasis for classroomexperimentationwith slow-learningchil-
dren in both regularand special rooms. At present Denver is work-
ing on the problemof differentiatedinstruction in readingfor chil-
dren of limited ability.
Publicationof reporton differentiated curriculums.-A monograph
a
containing complete report of the committee's work on differen-
tiated coursesof study for slow-learningchildrenwill be in print by
February, 1930. It will consist of three parts: (i) "General Prin-
ciplesfor Differentiationof Coursesof Study for Slow-learningChil-
dren," (2) "Differentiationof Arithmetic Course of Study for the
Borderline Child," and (3) "Differentiationof Reading Courseof
Study for the BorderlineChild."

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