How is the van Dijk Method used with students with severe disabilities?

Expert Answers
kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dr. Jan van Dijk, a professor of sociology and communication science in The Netherlands, working with colleagues, developed a system for assessing children with severe, often multiple disabilities, upon observing the frustration psychologists, social workers and parents all experienced when standardized tools were used that failed to account for the individuality of these children.  An article van Dijk authored with Catherine Nelson, Every Child has Potential: Child-guided Strategies for

Assessing Children using the van Dijk Framework, discusses their motivation in developing more personalized systems for assessing children with severe disabilities, which incorporates a broad and diverse set of tools to better capture the learning potential for each child:

“This framework known as the “Child-guided Assessment for Children with Multiple Disabilities using the van Dijk Framework” follows the lead of the child as it attempts to discover the processes a child uses to learn rather than what he or she knows. It builds upon child strengths as interventions are developed based upon the findings of the assessment.”

Again, emphasizing the unique situation of each child, van Dijk and Nelson emphasize the importance of knowing each child as intimately as possible, which requires detailed interviews, or the use of questionnaires, in which parents and other adults with routine contact with the child in question provide as much information as possible on the child:

“In order for an assessment to be successful, it is important to gather information from teachers, parents, and caregivers about the child’s likes and dislikes, perceived strengths, and the communication forms the child uses. This information will help in the selection of materials that might be used in the assessment and in the establishment of initial routines and activities. Important also is to ask parents and caregivers what they are hoping to learn from the assessment because parental priorities may be different from educational ones.”

The actual process for assessing a child is protracted and requires the establishment of as comfortable an environment for the child as possible.  Once the child is made to feel comfortable, than the assessment process begins.  Depending, of course, on the nature of the disability(ies), testing methods are selected as appropriate, including oral communication, encouraging the child to simulate activities and to emulate the tester, action-reaction exercises, and other techniques.  Because van Dijk has specialized in children who are blind and/or deaf, many of the techniques he has developed involved utilization of other sense, especially touch and the use of vibrations.

The material links to which are provided below will provide more detailed information on these techniques and their application, but the key point is the individualized approach at the core of van Dijk’s methods, and the use of varied testing systems as appropriate.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Child-guided Assessment for Children with Multiple Disabilities, also known as the Van Dijk approach to assessment, was created as a way to find alternative assessment methods for children with disabilities. The problem is that standardized testing could not possibly be used to test students with specific academic needs. It would not be fair nor ethical to subject a child with problems such as speech, hearing, or information processing to take the same exact test  as a child with no problems. It is even more unfair to expect the same outcome from both tests, without taking into consideration the tester and the circumstances under which the test was taken.

Given that conflict, Van Dijk proposed a system of observation, formative assessments, empirical data collection, and a multidimensional set of criteria to properly assess children based on what they can do, and not what they cannot. The purpose of testing is to guide instruction in the first place, not to fool children into telling what they know and what they do not know.

Van Dijk's words evidence this statement by stating that his framework 

...follows the lead of the child as it attempts to discover the processes a child uses to learn rather than what he or she knows. It builds upon child strengths as interventions are developed based upon the findings of the assessment.

Part of the multifunctional approach used in Van Dijk are formative portfolios, student interest inventories, one-on-one conferencing, goal-setting, and interviews with parents along with the Student Success Team (SST) assigned by the school by law to serve the needs of the special education child.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantees that all special needs populations will receive the best public education that they can get in the least threatening environment. This entails a classroom atmosphere of peace, care, safety, community, full-equipped and staffed, and with appropriate teaching, learning, and assessment methods.

This very environment is what sets the tone for special needs teachers to employ Van Dijk and get all the needed documentation to formulate the whole picture of the child. Only after a dossier of this type is completed is that the teacher and the SST can convene again to determine the proper assessment tool for summative assessment.
Keep in mind that Van Dijk specialized in visually and hearing impaired children, so his methodologies were quite more hands-on and and functional/notional. Van Dijk can still be applied to the mild to moderate inclusion room by following the processes previously stated.