Pre-service teachers' perceptions of inclusion.
A total of 82 pre-service general education teachers were surveyed regarding their perspectives toward the inclusion of students with disabilities into general education classrooms before and after taking one three-unit university course on human diversity. Results indicated that (a) positive perceptions varied depending on the type of disability of the student, and (b) pre-service general education teachers benefit from a course in human diversity due to the improvement of their overall perceptions of students with disabilities by the end of the course.
Federal law does not mandate the full inclusion of students with disabilities into general education classrooms; however, each year more schools adopt inclusion models for their students in special education programs (McLeskey, Henry, & Hodges, 1999; Friend & Bursuck, 2002). This is influenced by administrators at the school district level who apply state regulations and, thus, may gain financial incentives due to different funding formulas for various models of service delivery. In addition, administrators may also believe that the educational benefits for students in special education who are placed in inclusive settings are stronger than for those placed in segregated special education programs. Special education and general education teachers also influence the facilitation of inclusion programs based on their own philosophies and willingness to implement this model on a daily basis (Shade & Stewart, 2001).
One prerequisite of the successful inclusion of students with disabilities is a positive attitude toward inclusion among pre-service general educators (Cook, 2002). Pre-service and veteran teacher attitudes toward inclusion and students with disabilities should be frequently assessed to ensure that students are programmed for success. Teacher training in the awareness of diversity and appropriate strategies for teaching students with disabilities should occur prior to the placement of students in general education classrooms so that teachers feel comfortable teaching students with learning differences (Bishop & Jones, 2002; Campbell, Gilmore, & Cuskelly, 2003; Reynolds & Birch, 1977). Therefore, it is optimal that teacher training occur at the pre-service level. If general education teachers feel negatively toward students with disabilities or have not been trained in appropriate strategies for the successful inclusion of students with disabilities, they are less likely to be willing to work with these students in their classrooms (Engelbrecht, Oswald, Swart, & Eloff, 2003; Aksamit, 1990). Thus, students with disabilities are less likely to be successful in general education classrooms unless the appropriate teacher training has occurred. Additional support in the classroom such as an instructional assistant will also help the student's level of success.
Because some students with disabilities frequently exhibit behavioral problems and present more challenging learning differences than students already placed in general education, they require additional attention and support for a successful educational experience (Shade & Stewart, 2001 ; Salend, 2005). If pre-service teachers are appropriately trained in strategies and interventions for working with students with disabilities as well as being exposed to different types of disabilities, they may exhibit more positive attitudes toward inclusion (Cook, 2002; Coates, 1989; Forlin, 2001). As a result, students with disabilities would have a greater chance for success in general education placements.
Preparation of Pre-Service Teachers
The preparation of pre-service general education teachers to teach students with disabilities is an acute concern for university teacher preparation programs (Kamens, Loprete, & Slostad, 2000; Woloshyn, Bennett, & Berrill, 2003; Bullough, 1995; Hutchinson & Martin, 1999). As students with disabilities have become increasingly included into the general education classroom, there is a critical need to educate pre-service teachers about appropriate methods and strategies for teaching students with various disabilities (Cook, 2002; Romi & Leyser, 2006). Models of preservice general education teacher training in the area of special education may include: (1) one course on characteristics of diverse learners and strategies for working with students with special needs; (2) one course and one fieldwork component working with students with special needs; and (3) embedded strategies for teaching students with special needs in multiple courses throughout a multiple subject credential program.
One state university in southern California with a large teacher preparation program addresses this need by requiring that all pre-service teachers take a three-unit course in human diversity. The course, which is held at a local, diverse elementary school, focuses on preschool-12th grade special education and student diversity issues and includes a 15 hour tutoring practicum. The pre-service teachers are each assigned two K-6th grade students to work with each week. The students exhibit varying forms of diversity including identified disabilities such as learning disabilities, Down syndrome, or mild cognitive disabilities; at-risk learning characteristics such as students who are in the lowest 10 percent of their class academically or have little family support; and/or English language weaknesses such as poor reading and writing skills due to first language dominance. In addition, the university professor schedules five different preschool-12th grade school visits for the entire group of pre-service teachers. Each school visit focuses on a different area of diversity and/or disability for the pre-service teachers to observe, interact with, and reflect upon after the three-hour visit is complete.
It is expected that the pre-service teachers who complete this course will gain an understanding of students with diverse special needs, learn strategies on how to successfully include them into general education programs, and increase their comfort level with diverse learners overall. Thus, this research explores the efficacy of one pre-service teacher training model at a state university designed to expose future general education teachers to special education.
Participants in this study were enrolled in a general education teacher preparation program where they completed a major in Liberal Studies or Child and Adolescent Studies and earned a multiple subject credential within four years of a baccalaureate degree program. One requirement of the program was that all pre-service teachers complete a three-unit Introduction to Human Diversity course offered within the College of Education during their sophomore or junior year. None of the participants had completed their student teaching semesters. This course was taught by the first author who is a special education professor and who used the same textbook and course materials throughout each of the three 15 week sessions.
Over three semesters in three different university human diversity courses, 82 pre-service teachers were surveyed twice with a survey based on seven questions about their perceptions of students with disabilities using a Likert Scale. The pre-service teachers were given a preliminary survey on the Perceptions of People with Disabilities on the first day of the class meeting. Following 15 weeks of instruction, the 15 hour practicum, and five diverse school visits, the pre-service teachers were then surveyed on the final day of the class meeting using the same Perceptions of People with Disabilities survey. The questions about including students with the four specific disabilities (reading disability, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome and behavior disorder) focused on the basic definition of each disability as presented in the course reading materials and based on the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (1994).
The pre-service teachers surveyed were all traditional undergraduate students placed into cohorts of approximately 28 students per cohort. Three males and 79 females were surveyed for the study. All were either sophomores (N = 62) or juniors (N = 20) with a mean age of 20.5 years. Only 9 students had previous experience with students with special needs. This previous experience was limited and varied from having a family member with a disability to working as an assistant at a preschool for three hours a week for six weeks. None of the pre-service teachers had taken a course in human diversity or special education prior this course. Courses completed thus far in their program included only courses in their majors (Liberal Studies or Child and Adolescent Studies) and one educational foundations course with no required field experience.
The overall results of this study demonstrated that there was a significant difference in the attitudes and willingness of the pre-service teachers to teach special education and include students with disabilities before and after the 15 week human diversity course.
Desire to Teach Special Education
At the beginning of the course, 33% (n = 27) of the pre-service teachers were interested in or open to teaching special education. The final survey determined that the remaining 67% (n = 55) of the pre-service teachers were interested in or open to teaching special education. There were no pre-service teachers who indicated that they would not be willing to teach special education following the 15 week course.
Willingness to Include Students" with Disabilities
The preliminary survey reported that the same 33% (n = 27) of the pre-service teachers were willing to include a student with a reading disability. By the end of the course, 99% of the preservice teachers were willing to include a student with a reading disability in their general education classrooms.
Including a student with cerebral palsy was defined as including a student in a wheelchair with speech difficulty. This was acceptable to 50% (n 41) of the pre-service teachers in the preliminary survey and acceptable to 83% (n = 68) of them at the end of the 15 week human diversity course. Therefore, by the end of the course, just 17% (n 14) were still unwilling to include a student with cerebral palsy in their general education classrooms.
A total of 60% (n = 49) of the pre-service teachers were open to the inclusion of a student with Down syndrome into their general education classrooms prior to taking the course. However, the final survey reported that 80% (n = 66) of the pre-service teachers were willing to include a student with Down syndrome. Thus, 20% (n = 16) of the pre-service teachers were still unwilling to include a student with Down syndrome in their general education classrooms following the completion of the human diversity course.
Finally, the preliminary survey indicated that 50% (n = 41) of the pre-service teachers would be willing to include a student with a behavior disorder and 77% (n = 63) were willing by the end of the 15 week course. A student with a behavior disorder was defined as a student who would need continual behavior management strategies to direct an individual's activity in an appropriate manner. Twenty-three percent (n = 19) of the pre-service teachers were still hesitant about the inclusion of a student with a behavior disorder.
Willingness to Learn Inclusion Strategies
At the beginning of the human diversity course, 26% (n = 21) of the pre-service teachers were willing to learn strategies to successfully include students with disabilities into general education classrooms. By the end of the course, 89% (n = 73) of the pre-service teachers were willing to learn additional strategies about inclusion. A total of 11% (n = 9) of the pre-service teachers reported that they had learned numerous strategies in the human diversity course and would not need any additional strategies for the successful inclusion of students with disabilities.
Positive Feelings About People with Disabilities
A total of 43% (n = 35) of the pre-service teachers felt positively about people with disabilities prior to taking the human diversity course. The final survey reported that 100% (n = 82) of the pre-service teachers felt positively about people with disabilities as a result of the 15 week course.
This study aligns with previous studies (Shade & Stewart, 2001; Cook, 2002; Campbell et al., 2003) which empirically demonstrate that a single course in human diversity can significantly change the perspectives of pre-service teachers regarding their perceptions of the following: (1) including students into the general education classroom with specific disabilities such as a reading disability, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and/or a behavior disorder; (2) teaching special education; (3) desiring additional strategies on how to include students with specific disabilities in general education; and (4) increasing their positive feelings about students with disabilities. Although it is clear that students with certain types of disabilities such as a reading disability are less intimidating to pre-service teachers than are students with other types of disabilities (behavior disorders, Down syndrome, and cerebral palsy), the pre-service teachers in this study still had more positive perceptions of the four disability categories surveyed overall at the end of the 15 week human diversity course.
It is interesting to note that evidence from this study that pre-service teachers perceive the inclusion of students with reading disabilities to require the least amount of alterations of instruction aligns with previous reports that perceptions of students with learning disabilities may not be significantly different from students without identified disabilities (Wologhyn et al., 2003; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1996; Wang, Reynolds, & Walberg, 1988).
Teacher training institutions should ensure that pre-service general education teachers take at least one course on human diversity to improve their perceptions of students with disabilities and diverse learning needs. Also, this study demonstrated that pre-service teachers were interested in additional strategies for teaching students with disabilities in the general education classroom following one three-unit university course on human diversity. Although perceptions were more positive overall, some pre-service teachers still hoped for additional strategies. Future research could analyze methods of incorporating these strategies into general education teaching credential programs.
Positive perceptions varied depending on the type of disability of the student. Sixty-seven percent (n = 55) of the pre-service teachers wanted to teach special education after taking the course compared to 33% (n = 27) at the beginning of the course. Fifty-six percent (n = 47) had more positive feelings about people with disabilities following the human diversity course.
The results of this study suggest the following: (1) pre-service general education teachers benefit from a course in human diversity as their perceptions of students with disabilities and the inclusion model for specific disabilities improved at the end of the course; and (2) recruitment of pre-service teachers into the special education field would be more successful following a basic university course in human diversity.
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|Author:||Howell, Erica J.|
|Publication:||Academic Exchange Quarterly|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2006|
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