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ARTICLE#:4 -----------------------------------------------------------------

TITLE: Learning disabilities and challenging behaviors [book review].

AUTHOR: Mather, Nancy.; Goldstein, Sam, 1952-; Villareal, Donna,;
SOURCE TITLE: Education and Treatment of Children
SOURCE INFO: v. 25 no3 (Aug. 2002) p. 366-70
ISSN: 0748-8491
UPDATE CODE: 20021031


The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is

reproduced with permission. Further reproduction of this article in violation
of the copyright is prohibited.
Mather, N., & Goldstein, S. (2001). Learning disabilities and challenging
behaviors: A guide to intervention and classroom management. Baltimore:
Paul H. Brookes. (softcover, 397 pp., $44.95)
Organizing and managing large amounts of information is often a challenge
for students with learning disabilities. This book provides teachers with a
practical tool to do the same with the broad topic of learning disabilities--
identify, organize, and manage the development of the academic and social
behavior skills that students with learning disabilities need to participate
successfully in school. The authors, Nancy Mather, faculty member
specializing in learning disabilities at the University of Arizona, and Sam
Goldstein, clinical neuropsychologist and faculty member at the University
of Utah, incorporate contributions by Robert Brooks, Karyl Lynch, and Ann
M. Richards.

Directed towards K-12 teachers, school psychologists, speech-language
therapists, and other educators, this book aims to present a useful, up-to-date
map for navigating through the broad topography of school learning
disabilities. The authors write that “...the main focus is on identifying the
developmental, learning, and behavior skills that will be most effective for
helping students to succeed in school” (p. 5). The conceptual framework
used by the authors is a set of ten blocks that form a pyramid. This pyramid
symbol appears in the top right hand corner of every odd-numbered page
and serves as a constant reminder of the core academic and social behaviors
needed for school. The book's first objective is to use the 10-block pyramid
to assist teachers in helping students better understand themselves as unique
learners. The blocks are guides to systematically describe and assess
individual strengths and needs in the classroom. A second objective is to
help professionals design and implement comprehensive school intervention
programs. A third objective is to use the block concepts to organize and
describe an array of effective instructional practices, methods, and resources
to teach students with learning disabilities.

The book is divided into 4 sections, which explain the four “stories” of the
pyramid: foundational blocks, symbolic blocks, and conceptual blocks and
learning strategies. The sections are subdivided into 11 total chapters,
averaging 30-50 pages. The chapters, each focusing upon a block of
learning, provide descriptions, examples, appendices, and work samples of
actual children whose experiences weave through the book and whose later
lives are discussed in the concluding chapter.
Chapter 1, The Building Blocks of Learning, explains the pyramid model,
which is the book's conceptual framework. While students may present any
combination of strengths and weakness among the blocks, the authors
describe 5 common profiles seen among students with learning disabilities:
(1) strengths in symbolic and conceptual blocks, weaknesses in foundational
blocks; (2) strengths in foundational and conceptual blocks, weaknesses in
symbolic blocks; (3) strengths in foundational and symbolic blocks,
weaknesses in conceptual blocks; (4) Strengths in conceptual blocks,
weaknesses in foundational and symbolic blocks; and (5) a significant
strength or weakness in one block. The chapter provides a 5-page
questionnaire for screening students in relationship to these areas of the
building blocks model.
Chapter 2, Theoretical Foundations, provides additional rationale for the
blocks and current definitions of learning disabilities, the aptitude-
achievement discrepancy measure, and alternative identification procedures.
Part II, the foundational blocks section, includes chapters 3-6 regarding
attention, the emotions and behavior, self-esteem, and school environment.
Chapter 3 discusses the attention block, specifically as attention deficit and
hyperactivity disorders (ADHD). Topics include the characteristics, causes
and developmental course of ADHD, the teacher's role in the evaluation of
ADHD, effects of medications, and classroom models for managing
attention difficulties. In addition to concrete suggestions for ways to more
effectively interact with students with ADHD, the authors include handouts
such as a “Ritalin Quiz” and a two-page chart listing commonly prescribed
medications for ADHD, dosage levels, duration of behavioral effects,
benefits, and usage precautions.
Chapter 4, Understanding and Managing Emotional and Behavior Problems,
discusses aspects of student behavior, temperament and mood in the
classroom. The chapter focuses on five areas: anxiety, depression, classroom
interventions, oppositional and conduct problems, and the use of behavior
modification concepts. After brief description of popular models and
techniques for dealing with discipline referrals, the authors explain practical
behavior modification strategies including schedules of reinforcement,
modeling, shaping and positive/ negative reinforcement. Punishment is
discussed in terms of response cost procedures and the use and misuse of
time-out procedures.
Chapter 5, written by Robert Brooks, is about strategies to promote
academic self-esteem and resilience. The author outlines the components of
the mindset of the effective educator, based upon attribution theory. He
defines ways to recognize and strengthen students' “islands of competence”
and learned attitudes. He encourages teachers to foster self-esteem,
motivation, and resilience among all students, including students with
learning disabilities. In the book's framework, self-esteem is the third of the
four “foundational blocks” that form the base of the pyramid model. The last
of the foundational blocks is school environment. This section relates to the
classroom and school learning environment. Teachers are advised to
maximize this aspect, which they control, through the use of active teaching
with techniques such as direct instruction and small-group instruction. The
authors describe the importance of seating arrangements, classroom space,
communication with parents, allocating time in the classroom, managing
transitions, and using preventative approaches to discipline. Important points
for discussion are highlighted. A final section outlines the use of positive
homework practices.
While the foundations--learning environment, emotions, attention and self-
esteem--are essential aspects of learning in school, they are not sufficient to
guarantee student success. The third section of the book describes level two
of the conceptual pyramid, symbolic blocks that relate to visual and auditory
information processing. Chapter 7 defines and describes orthographic
awareness, orthographic dyslexia, phonological dyslexia, verbal short-term
memory, and fine motor development. Discussion includes suggestions for
classroom accommodations to address these areas. The chapter includes a
handwriting evaluation scale, an instrument for screening early reading
processes, a supplemental checklists and recording sheet for use with
emergent readers, and an appendix which gives an overview of the
relationship between speech sounds and spelling development.
Chapter 8 relates specifically to how to teach decoding and encoding,
reading fluency, calculating, and handwriting. This chapter explains skills
development in decoding and encoding, phonics, types of text, reading
fluency, calculating, handwriting, and in writing classroom accommodations.
Several types of synthetic and analytic phonics methods are briefly
described. Specific activities for increasing reading rate are offered. The
section's appendix is Frye's 1,000-word list.
The fourth major section of the book discusses the conceptual blocks of the
pyramid model. Chapter 9, Thinking with Language, Images, and Strategies,
is written by authors Karyl Lynch and Ann M. Richards. This chapter
explains the components of oral language, receptive and expressive skills,
instruction and interventions for students with nonverbal learning
disabilities, and provides an overview of metacognitive and executive
processes, the basis of learning strategies instruction. A final section
discusses classroom accommodations including altering difficulty levels,
providing a classroom coach, allowing more time and practice, and
consideration of physical classroom arrangements. The appendix is an
outline of test-taking strategies for students.
Chapter 10 describes various ways to better instruct students in the areas of
reading comprehension, written expression, and math problem solving. The
abilities in the conceptual blocks of the pyramid model help learners of all
ages understand meanings, comprehend relationships, visualize complex
designs, and apply previously acquired knowledge as they engage in
academic tasks. The chapters range from suggestions for specific software to
assist students in organizing thoughts, to quick, helpful strategies to improve
the editing process, such as “think-alouds,” self-regulated strategies, and
reading a student's paper aloud backwards in order to isolate and more
effectively proof each sentence. This useful chapter contribution is written
by Karyl Lynch and includes the following sections: reading comprehension
and written expression; reading comprehension strategies; written language
strategies; math problem solving and an appendix of synonyms for words
children use commonly in writing.
In Chapter 11, The Classroom Environment as a Microcosm of the World,
the authors follow up with the lives, 10 years later, of the same students
introduced in Chapter 1. These students are referred to throughout the book
as exemplars of the learning challenges described in the pyramid model; the
stories of the students are reminders of how school and academic learning
lead to post-secondary and adult transitions as well. The authors emphasize
that students who use learning strategies are able to compensate and adjust
for weaknesses in other areas. The pyramid concept is invoked as the authors
provide closing thoughts to guide teachers. Among the suggestions are for
teachers to respect students; to want to teach; to work from a model; and to
focus on keeping the work of the students meaningful, interesting, and


The Building Blocks of Learning pyramid comprehensively describes how a
child's unique learning and behavior characteristics, as well as his / her
support system and strengths, affect success in school. This book would be
excellent as an introductory college/university textbook about learning
disabilities and classroom behavior problems. In addition, each chapter can
stand on its own to supplement or introduce specific topical areas. By
describing each of the blocks, teachers and other specialists can use the book
as a resource to develop and implement appropriate instructional plans. The
book's discussion of accommodations, which are explained in several of the
chapters, actually merit a complete chapter in themselves for their relevance
to the instruction and assessment of students with learning disabilities.
The authors stress the importance of providing choices to students,
understanding why some students struggle, and the attention needed to assist
students in gaining self-understanding. One aspect, however, that the text
avoids addressing is the influence of home language and cultural differences
among students with learning disabilities, described as one of the fastest
growing student populations in the reauthorized Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act of 1997. While the Building Blocks model has yet to be
extensively researched, it may indeed be among the most robust and flexible
models available to address the needs of LD students, including culturally
and linguistically diverse exceptional learners. Overall, this textbook meets
its objective to suggest a conceptual framework to bridge between
educational research and practice.
The pyramid shows what students need to be successful in school. Mather
and Goldstein's book would be a useful text for school inservice activities to
help teachers better understand and affect the factors that influence student's
school performance. This book is a welcome contribution to an education
field hungry for comprehensive, practical ways to understand and support
students with learning disabilities.
Donna Villareal
The Ohio State University