David Scanlon, Ph.D.
- Associate Professor
- Lynch School of Education
- Boston College
- Chestnut Hill, MA
The Learning Disability Quarterly
- Certified SIM Professional Development Specialist
- University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning
- Lawrence, KS
My Background and Interests
While to this day I miss being a special education teacher in a vocational agriculture high school, I entered into the higher education field because I wanted to learn more about how people teach and learn. In fact, I only took my first education class while in college because my advisor pushed me to do so. I became so enthralled with thinking about teaching and learning that I switched out of my plant-science major before that semester was even over. I’ve never tired of the basic questions, “How do people learn things?,” and “What does that tell us about how to teach them?” As my life unfolded, I needed a lot more pushing, though. Another advisor pushed me to take my first special education course, and that got me so excited that I changed my new major from vocational education to vocational special education.
As I was studying, the “paradigm wars” between explicit instruction and constructivist instruction and between phonics instruction and whole language instruction were raging. I found myself intrigued by all perspectives, and I was thoroughly confused as I tried to figure out with which side I agreed. Finally, I had the epiphany that both sides were right; we just need to figure out the right balance. That’s why the Strategic Instruction Model (SIM) made a lot of sense to me: it bridges top-down and bottom-up teaching and learning practices. Thus, I worked at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning (KU-CRL) for a few years as a researcher to learn more about SIM, and that is where I conducted the initial research that eventually resulted in the ORDER Routine.
I continue to be interested in higher order literacy strategies for the content-areas, and I continue to do research in that field. I also have interests in adult literacy and adult education. Recently, I have begun to study speech and language instruction for children with Asperger’s Syndrome and related conditions. Talk about a fish out of water! There is so much I have yet to learn, but I am very much enjoying getting a further education.
Since I left the KU-CRL, I have had regrets about that decision, too. However, I have been very happy teaching college courses, with students ranging from freshmen to doctoral students. Teaching about the things I research has provided me a whole new way to learn about them, plus I get to be at the front of the classroom again!
The Story Behind the ORDER Routine
When I arrived at the KU-CRL, inclusion was a relatively new phenomenon, but Don Deshler and Jean Schumaker were already at the vanguard. They asked me to help them think about how to adapt SIM to this new context. I brought my interest in the literacy skills students need to be successful in the content areas to the table. We had general ideas of the challenge we wanted to address, but we wanted to seek the input of teachers to more fully understand the complexities of the situation. We decided initially to consult with social studies teachers, because that content area reflects a variety of the literacy skills students are typically called upon to perform across the school day. We also involved special educators and a few teachers from other content areas at the middle-school and high-school levels.
The first thing the teachers informed us about was the variety of academic skills needed for students to be successful in their courses. We gathered their information, and then we talked and studied for many hours on how to address their concerns. At the same time, we considered the applications of strategic instruction to their inclusive contexts. We knew that the task before us was not only to apply strategic instruction in fast-paced, academically diverse classes, sometimes with minimal direct special education support, but also to guide students in performing higher order thinking and learning skills.
After several experimental iterations, we arrived at the ORDER “Strategy,” a set of steps that students could follow to depict relationships among the information they were learning. A large number of middle-school and high-school teachers and their students collaborated with us as the teachers implemented the strategy instruction in their classrooms and gave us feedback. There were a few teachers who stuck with us through multiple years of research. They all provided great practical insights about how the ORDER Strategy could be used by students to fit the demands of the context. In fact, we came to realize that the ORDER Strategy needed to become the ORDER Routine, based on feedback from teachers about how they needed to support students in learning such a higher order process while also attending to the many demands on them to “get through” the curriculum with a diverse student population. We are very proud of the fact that the ORDER Routine provides students with procedures to facilitate their critical reflection on lessons or readings, which includes recognizing the relationships required for comprehending content and explaining what they know.
My Thoughts About The ORDER Routine
While I have already confessed to being a fan of strategic instruction, I take particular pride in the ORDER Routine. I think we developed something really special. This routine helps students with LD, other struggling learners, and their peers to think critically, instead of simply getting “the right answer.” Students who learn to use ORDER Steps are really learning to think. Another great thing about the routine is that it facilitates students’ performance of skills that good learners use. The routine is not a convoluted procedure, and it does not reduce the content to isolated bits of basic information. With this routine, students are actively engaged in thinking about what they are learning.
Teacher and Student Feedback on the ORDER Routine
Nearly twenty years after we began the research that resulted in the ORDER Routine, I still exchange holiday letters with one of the teachers who helped us from the start. Almost every year, she writes about how our project “saved her” or was “the first thing” that really helped her to engage her students. She, too, knew that real learning required engaged thinking, not just regurgitation. Many of the teachers who have learned to use the routine have given us similar feedback. They find that they can use it with students of varied ability levels and that it makes a difference in how thoroughly their students comprehend lesson or reading content. Perhaps the best feedback of all is watching students as they learn the routine; over time, their ability to explain their knowledge in rich and expansive ways improves dramatically!
My Contact Information
David Scanlon, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Special Education
Lynch School of Education
140 Commonwealth Ave.
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467
Work Phone: 617.552.1949