Paulk, Teresa Anne, 2009: Applied Dissertation, Nova Southeastern University, Fischler School of Education and Human Services. Professional Development/Special Education/General Education Teachers/Inclusion.
Students with special needs require the regular classroom teacher to attend to certain accommodations and modifications in order to assist them in reaching their educational goals. The remedy of integrating children with special needs into the mainstream of schools while providing them with individualized supports is one educational reform made particularly complex because it forces a tangential relationship between special and general education to intersect and become cooperative in nature (Janney, Snell, Beers, Raynes, 1995). This applied research dissertation was designed to improve the preparedness of general education teachers to effectively meet the needs of students with special needs through a series of professional development opportunities.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Introduction
Nature of the Problem
Based on a school mandated needs assessment of general education teachers, the problem identified in this study is that general education teachers at this middle school feel the need to be better prepared in order to work effectively with students in an inclusion setting. Inclusion students are those that participate in the regular classroom but have been identified as having special needs. Students with special needs require the regular classroom teacher to attend to certain accommodations and modifications in order to assist them in reaching their educational goals. This is clearly a problem as teachers are responsible for attending to special education students within their classrooms. Without adequate teacher training, many students' needs may be unintentionally neglected. The purpose of this study is to present a series of workshops for general education teachers to increase teacher's knowledge and skills through professional development to effectively work with inclusion students. The most basic ingredient required for successful inclusion programs is the need for general and special educators to work together as equal partners in teams that solve problems, develop innovative program options and curriculum, and implement instruction to both students with and without disabilities (Langone, 1998).
Background and Significance of the Problem
As more and more regular classrooms provide an education for all students, with or without a disability, classroom teachers must assist all students in adjusting to an inclusive classroom, provide guidance for positive social interactions, and create classroom environments that facilitate the learning process (Andrews, 1998). The remedy of integrating children with special needs into the mainstream of schools while providing them with individualized supports is one educational reform made particularly complex because it forces a tangential relationship between special and general education to intersect and become cooperative in nature (Janney, Snell, Beers, Raynes, 1995). Instead of deciding who or who does not belong in regular education classes, there should be a change in direction toward increasing the capabilities of the regular education program to meet the unique needs of all students (Stoler, 1992).
General education teachers struggle with how to deal with and teach students with special needs. Many teachers feel they have not been adequately prepared to effectively assist these particular student's needs. They have addressed the fact that professional development has not been provided or focused on improving teaching methods regarding students with special needs in the past several years. Increasingly, there is an emphasis on actively involving teachers as collaborators in the construction of knowledge; incorporating principles derived from the work on teacher learning as an active, collaborative context bound activity (Deppler, Loreman, & Shama, 2005).
The middle school that is the intended site for this study is located in a school district that serves approximately 8000 students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The school district consists of eight elementary schools, one high school, one middle school, and one alternative school. This researcher's school was opened in August of 2007 and was designed to serve 2200 students. However; in 2008 the school consisted of approximately 1799 students. Table 1 describes the overall demographic population of students at the middle school.
Table 1. School Student Population
There are a total of 13 inclusion classrooms within the middle school which include three sixth grades, six seventh grades, and four eighth grade inclusion classrooms. Each grade level, sixth through eighth grade has a self-contained classroom for students with special needs with one special education teacher and one paraprofessional. The middle school also has a resource class, self-help skills class, and a social studies class for special education students.
The researcher in the study is a reading acceleration teacher who has students with special needs in her classroom. She holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education, a master's degree in reading, and a specialist degree in educational leadership. For 12 years the researcher was employed as a first grade teacher in an inclusion setting. For the past two years she has taught in a middle school working with sixth through eighth grade students who struggle in the area of reading in an inclusion setting. Other experiences include (a) reading rescue teacher, (b) reading recovery teacher, (c) member of the better seeking team, and (d) various other school committees.
This project will address the following research questions:
1. What skills and/or types of professional development help general education teachers to be better prepared for working with inclusion students?
2. How could professional development assist general education teachers in providing skills and information in order to successfully educate students with disabilities?
Definition of Terms
Inclusion. Occurs when students with disabilities are included in the general education classroom/program to the extent possible. Any support services the student needs will be provided in this setting.
Accommodations. Services or supports used to enable a student to fully access the subject matter and instruction. An accommodation does not alter the content or expectations; instead it is an adjustment to instructional methods. Accommodations should be specified in a student's IEP. Examples include books on tape, content enhancements, and allowing additional time to take a test.
Modifications. Involves an adjustment to the instructional content or performance expectations of students with disabilities from what is expected or taught to students in general education.
Individual education plan. A legal document designed by a team of educators, specialists, and the child's parent(s)/guardian(s) that outlines the child's learning/behavioral goals and objectives. This document must be updated at least every 12 months; however, an IEP team meeting can be called by any member of the team at anytime. The IEP includes a description of the child's present level of educational performance and identifies annual goals and objectives along with methods for assessing progress toward goals and objectives. In addition, the IEP includes any necessary supports, accommodations, adaptations, and/or related services.
IDEA. First enacted in 1975 as the Education for all Handicapped Children Act. It is a comprehensive law that governs the education of students with disabilities. The current version of the law was amended in 2004 (referred to as IDEA '04 or PL 108-446). The IDEA legislation provides funds to states to ensure education for students with disabilities, protect student and parent rights, and provide early intervention services for infants and toddlers with disabilities.
Special needs. A term to describe a child who has disabilities or is at risk for developing disabilities who requires special services or treatment in order to process.
Professional development. This term refers to the training offered to develop the knowledge and skills of instructional staff in a school.
Special education teacher. A teacher who is trained and educated in the field of working with and teaching students who have special needs or disabilities.
Chapter 2: Literature Review
All students with disabilities have a right to a free appropriate public education under federal law. To provide that education, general education teachers as well as special education teachers need to be able to make sound decisions regarding students' individualized education programs (IEPs), assessments, and placements (Weishaar, 1997). The enactment of P.L. 94-142 and its amendments presents challenges to regular education teachers. This federal law requires public schools to educate disabled students in the least restrictive environment possible (Damer, 2001). In order to meet the challenge of educating special needs children, regular classroom teachers need to adapt, change and develop strategies that will help meet the needs of not just individuals with disabilities, but all individuals. Inclusion is a challenge for regular education teachers because most have not been adequately prepared (Rekkas, 1997). As more and more regular classrooms provide education for all students, with or without a disability, classroom teachers must assist all students in adjusting to an inclusive classroom, provide guidance for positive social interactions, and create classroom environments that facilitate the learning process (Andrews, 1998).
Educators are coming to recognize the importance of the integration of students experiencing severe handicaps into a regular education classroom. Instead of deciding who does or does not belong in regular classes, there should be a change in direction toward increasing the capabilities of the regular education program to meet the unique needs of all students (Stoler, 1992). For inclusion to be successful, regular education and special education teachers need to be collaborative with each other to plan, problem solve and evaluate students' progress (Rekkas, 1997).
A renewed effort to educate students with mild disabilities in regular classroom settings has been launched, under the general title of the Regular Education Initiative (REI). This movement calls for a shared responsibility between regular and special education in addressing the needs of students with disabilities in typical classroom settings. Proponents of the REI argue that there is significant room for improvement in the provision of special education services and that a primary obstacle to higher quality programs is the restrictive settings in which services are provided (McLeskey & Pacchiano, 1994). Educators have indicated repeatedly that they need additional staff development and training to enable them to meet the needs of the diverse learners now included in general education settings (Bradley & West, 1994).
Professional development is considered to be one of the most effective ways to improve the teaching and learning process. The ultimate goal of professional development is enhanced learning for all students, which is fulfilled via quality teaching (Eun, 2008). Professional development is an important component of instruction at every school and in every district yet many schools struggle with and fail to define a systematic approach to staff development. As a result, many training sessions are not deemed meaningful (Gonzales & Vodicka, 2008).
Traditionally, professional development for teachers has been delivered in the form of a short, often half-day, in-service meeting designed to present a specific strategy or teaching method with little follow-up regarding implementation (Putman, Smith, & Cassady, 2009). Research shows that when schools are strategic in creating time and productive working relationships within academic departments or grade levels, across them, or among teachers school wide, the benefits can include greater consistency in instruction, more willingness to share practices and try new ways of teaching, and more success in solving problems of practice (Darling-Hammond, Wei, Andree, Richardson, & Orphanos, 2009). Professional development is a key to reforms in teaching and learning, making it essential that we use best practices to measure its effects. Several decades of research have provided us with a wealth of information to improve our conceptualizations and measures of professional development (Desimone, 2009). Professional development is a common and necessary approach to improving teacher quality. However, while teachers are required to participate in professional development activities, it is often the case that they are not involved in selecting and planning those activities and that professional development may not be closely tied to classroom practice (Colbert, Brown, Choi, & Thomas, 2008). Several researchers have ventured into the realm of professional development in order to identify the most effective trends. The most frequently mentioned trends found among these studies were: (a) utilized well-defined language of effective classroom learning and teaching to drive the professional development experience; (b) provided teachers with opportunities to build their knowledge and skills; (c) created a learning community; (d) lead to teachers assuming leadership roles; and (e) required teachers to continuously assess themselves and make improvements that impacted teacher effectiveness, student learning, leadership and the school community (Colbert, et. al., 2008). According to Putnam et al., key features of effective professional development include reflective practice, immediate classroom applicability, creation of "safe" environments to attempt unfamiliar new practices, and clear means of assessing the impact of new practices on student learning (2009).
While efforts to strengthen teachers' professional relationships can take many forms, a number of researchers have identified specific conditions necessary for their success. According to Darling-Hammond, et al., (2009) a study of 900 teachers in 24 elementary and secondary schools across the country, researchers found that teachers formed more stable and productive professional communities in smaller schools, schools with little staffing complexity, schools where teachers were more involved in the decision making process, and schools that held a common planning time for teachers to meet and plan assignments.
The Intentional Teaching Model (INTENT) was developed to provide a method of professional development aimed at meeting the requirements of NCLB and other standards or accountability mandates (Putman et al., 2009). Phase one of INTENT consists of assessing teachers' attitudes or beliefs regarding professional development. In Phase two teachers work collaboratively to identify individual and school-wide goals. Phase three involves the most important aspect of INTENT and that is for teachers to initiate the activities in their classrooms that are associated with the individual and school-wide goals stated in phase two. Finally, in Phase four teachers have changed their practices and are more apt to transfer the learned practices and maintain their individual and school-wide goals. These teachers are also are helpful with the effort of working with other teachers and become motivators for other teachers to change and reach goals. INTENT was implemented within two schools in which teachers were involved in professional development. Both schools were involved in similar training programs across a three year period. School A's three year program was from 2001-2004 and school B's program began in 2002 and continued until 2005. Both schools went through the four phases of the INTENT program. Throughout the program both schools focused on professional development regarding reading instruction. As a result of INTENT both schools showed gains in reading achievement at the school level in accordance with the state mandated tests. The authors contend that the differences in establishing successful outcomes within schools are only attainable through the combined presence of quality professional development content.
Professional development is a goal-oriented and continuous process, supported through mentoring, coaching, and feedback, and contextualized to address the perceived needs of the student within individual classrooms and schools (Little & Houston, 2003). Teachers must be given high quality professional development in order to bring about change and improve upon student achievement. The Florida State Department of Education and the University of Central Florida worked together to develop a professional development model titled Project CENTRAL, which stands for Coordinating Existing Networks To Reach All Learners. This model was designed to identify and disseminate scientifically based instructional practices through professional development, resources, and research. The model was mainly brought about to provide qualify professional development that is scientifically research based and present it to educators who in turn would then implement the practices to students within the classroom. The model includes four steps; (1) identification of scientifically based instructional practices; (2) selection of teams of teachers to attend professional development; (3) classroom implementation; and (4) data collection of the results of student learning through traditional and action research methodologies. After thorough and intense research the instructional practice that was identified and utilized for professional development was phonological awareness. The team of teachers that selected were those from the state of Florida in early elementary who demonstrated awareness in phonological awareness. Specific action plans were developed during the final professional development session for teachers to implement with their students in the classroom and data was collected from each participant. Consumer satisfaction results collected through questionnaires and focus groups indicated positive results regarding the professional development from Project CENTRAL. Ninety percent of the respondents were completely satisfied with the content and process of the professional development institutes. During the last year, more than 200 participants attended the institutes held in Florida on phonological awareness. Overall, students who participated showed a significant increase in phonological awareness, from .69 in the fall to .89 in the spring. Almost 20,000 students have received the benefits of the institute throughout the state of Florida.
Inclusion is not a new idea. Over the past four decades, many parents and professionals have proposed that students with disabilities should have the opportunity to attend school with their nondisabled peers. The inclusive educational movement originated from a strong philosophical desire to increase opportunities for children with disabilities to be educated in mainstream schools alongside their community and similar aged peers. In more recent years inclusivity has been seen as having a dual role. While the initial vision of including more students with disabilities has been retained, the focus has been broadened to additionally consider the need to better cater for the widening population of increasingly heterogeneous classrooms (Forlin, 2005).
According to Dixon (2005) inclusive classrooms are what the name implies - classrooms where all students are included, regardless of abilities or disabilities. This inclusion is not just a physical inclusion, that is, students sharing the same physical space, but also a mindset. In an inclusive setting, participants are not only accepted as equals, they also contribute as equals. Everyone in an inclusive setting contributes for the good of the whole.
Bennet, Deluca, & Bruns, (1997) define inclusion as serving students with a full range of abilities and disabilities in the general education classroom, with appropriate classroom support. In such settings, children with disabilities are considered as full members of the classroom learning community, with their special needs met there. The interpretation of the term "inclusion" varies among school districts. In some districts that claim to be inclusive, students with mild disabilities have been placed in the regular classroom with very little or no assistance from a special educator. In other districts, students with severe disabilities are placed in the regular classroom for the entire school day, and each student is accompanied by a full time instructional aide. Placement in the classroom has always been a goal of special education, but knowledgeable professionals clearly understand that the regular classroom is not an appropriate placement for all students and those schools must maintain a full continuum of educational options as required by federal law (Guetzloe, 1999).
The complexion of public school education was changed dramatically in 1975 with the passage of PL 94-142, Education of the Handicapped Act. The most prominent features of the law were two provisions: (1) all handicapped children (the accepted term in 1975) must be provided a "free appropriate public education" (FAPE), and (2) this education must take place in the "least restrictive environment" (LRE), (Damer, 2001). These provisions are accepted practices in which children aged three to twenty-one are provided an education under public expense, public supervision, and to be in conformity with an Individualized Education Program, (IEP).
An appropriate curriculum for a student with a disability (a) should provide for the unique needs (social, emotional, behavioral, and academic) of each student and the traditional educational demands of the regular school and (b) should focus on the specific factors that contributed to the student's eligibility for special education services. These factors should be addressed as goals and objectives in the student's IEP. Both content and instructional methods must be structured to meet the student's individual needs (Guetzloe, 1999).
In more recent years, a renewed effort to educate students with mild disabilities in regular classroom settings has been launched, under the general title of the regular education initiative (REI). This movement calls for a shared responsibility between regular and special education in addressing the needs of students with disabilities in typical classroom settings. Proponents of the REI argue that there is significant room for improvement in the provision of special education services and that a primary obstacle to higher quality programs is the restrictive settings in which services are provided (McLeskey & Pacchiano, 1994).
Numerous professional organizations have commented on and endorsed the practice of inclusion. For example, the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) published a Position Statement on Inclusion in April 1993, endorsed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. It clearly supported the ideals not only of inclusive classrooms but also of strong parent involvement within such settings (Bennett, Deluca, & Bruns, 1997).
Howard Blackman, an Executive Director of the La Grange Area Department of Special Education is a passionate advocate of inclusion and believes that many options should exist for all students, not just those with disabilities. He states that many parents and professionals agree that careful implementation of inclusion can be beneficial for a greater number of students. Good inclusion requires the support from all involved in order to be successful. Administrators and school systems need to be understanding and prepared to re-allocate funds in order to financially support inclusion within the regular classroom. General education teachers and special education teachers need to develop collaborative relationships in order to facilitate inclusive classrooms. Special education teachers can work effectively in the regular education classroom with other teachers, thereby enriching educational opportunities for all students. Blackman (1993) asserts that although the benefits of inclusion for children with disabilities have been emphasized because of the irreplaceable impact that contact with a range of other students provides, we have learned that heterogeneous instructional grouping provides everyone with increased learning opportunities and outcomes.
In an international study noted by Hart (1998) positive changes were exhibited by teacher's attitudes, and expectations of, pupils with disabilities, in their perceptions of the potential of inclusive education and in their belief in the relevance of their own expertise in meeting the needs of all pupils. Other findings noted by Hart included evidence that inclusive education benefits the academic achievements of pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities and that their inclusion is not detrimental to the achievements of other students. Other portions of this study revealed the notion that schools developing inclusive education have teachers who are more critically analyzing the effectiveness of their teaching leading to improved learning for all pupils.
Leyser & Kirk (2006) studied the views, perceptions, and concerns about mainstreaming/inclusion of a sample of 437 families of children of differing disabilities and age groups in a Midwestern state. Overall, parents strongly supported the philosophy of mainstreaming/inclusion, viewing it as a civil rights issue and an issue of social justice and choice. The majority of parents agreed that their child should have the same privileges and advantages that other children of the same age have in school. They felt the most important benefit of inclusion was in the social-emotional area: socialization, friendship development and enhanced self-esteem for their child, and increased understanding and sensitivity of their peers. Some parents mentioned the effects of instruction concerning their child within an inclusive classroom. They commented on how much students learn from watching each other and how much regular classroom children seem to help the child who struggles.
Fisher, Caren, & Pumpian (1996) noted several findings that repeatedly demonstrated the efficacy of integrating students with disabilities into regular classrooms. More specifically, during the last 20 years, it has become obvious that inclusive education enhances: (a) achievement of individualized education plan (IEP) objectives; (b) interactive social skills development and communication skills development; (c) skills generalization, or the transfer of learning to new environments; and (d) post school integration into real jobs and homes in the community.
Some educators believe that by placing severely disabled students in regular education classes, all individuals will benefit. Many experts in the field believe that students can assist one another based on their individual strengths and needs as well as develop friendships and inter act with non-disabled peers. It is believed that disabled students, regardless of their disability, will be able to achieve their optimum potential in this type of integrated setting (Stoler, 1992).
Chapter 3: Methodology
The researcher's objective for this study is to include all general education teachers who work with students with disabilities within an inclusion setting. All general education teachers were asked to participate in the needs assessment pre-survey in the spring of 2008-2009, 62 out of 68 general education teachers responded to the survey. Teachers' level of degree, years of experience, age, and gender, vary as indicated in Tables 2.
Table 2. Description of teachers who responded
Level of Degree
Years of Teaching Experience
Age of Participating Teachers
The focus of this survey was to determine whether general education teachers believed that they were adequately prepared to work with inclusion students. The main question on the survey--"Have you had any continuing education classes within the last five years regarding special education?--required a yes or no answer. Of the 62 teachers who responded to the survey, half of them reported that they had not participated in any professional development regarding special education within the last 5 years. The last question of the survey allowed for teacher's personal responses. General education teachers expressed the need to become better prepared when working with students with special needs within their classrooms as indicated by the results of the needs assessment in Table 3.
Table 3. Results of the Needs Assessment
Teacher Survey Questionnaire
1. General education teachers are provided with ongoing training and in-service in order to prepare them to feel competent in teaching students with disabilities in the general education classroom.
2. Special education teachers and general education teachers need to collaborate in order for inclusion to be successful.
3. General education teachers have the knowledge, skills, and experience to teach students with disabilities in their classroom.
4. My teacher education taught me to appropriately work with students with disabilities in my classroom.
5. I am confident regarding my knowledge about the laws that involve students with special needs.
6. I am confident regarding my knowledge about the policies that involve students with special needs.
7. I am confident regarding my knowledge about the procedures that involve students with special needs.
8. I understand what an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is.
9. I can effectively use an IEP when submitted to me by special education teachers.
10. I feel confident about implementing accommodations and modifications with special education students in my classroom.
11. I understand the difference between accommodations and modifications.
12. I the space below, please make any comments about professional development topics that would benefit you as a general education teacher when working with inclusion students with special needs and have IEPs.
- I rely on the knowledge and experience of my co-teacher to help me in planning and implementing instruction.
- General education teachers that are new should have a complete understanding of what an IEP is and how to use it.
- Overall, teachers need more training on how to deal with the different disabilities and what to expect from the students.
- Differentiation strategies are necessary when including special needs children and I would like more training on that subject.
- We need to know specific behavior modification tools that work well with specific students.
- Special education teachers need to be sure all regular education teachers have IEPs and other important information.
- We need to rely on special education teachers to work with special education students to keep our work up-to-date if they have any spare time in their daily schedule.
- Conferences at the beginning of the year with inclusion teachers would help.
- A more detailed explanation about the students' habits, likes, dislikes, etc. would be helpful.
- IEP's helped but doesn't elaborate on the student's mannerisms.
- I rarely receive IEP's after the 1st nine weeks. I can't make modifications if I don't receive an IEP.
- I would like professional development on laws, policies, and procedures regarding special education and accommodations and modifications.
- Training needs to be relevant to our students. Most special education trainings I went to were not realistic and never taught you how, just gave you merely idealistic goals, strategies, and techniques.
- I have several computers in my classroom so I would love more ideas about how to use those to help special need students. Also, time management can be a concern when differentiating instruction, so any help in making things run smoothly would be great.
For the purpose of this research, Qualitative date was collected utilizing a pre-survey to determine teacher's needs regarding special education and inclusion. The needs assessment pre-survey has determined general education teacher's knowledge regarding special education laws, policies, and procedures. Teacher's responses to the survey helped the researcher to determine specific areas in which general education teachers' require professional development. A post-survey will be utilized after each professional development workshop to establish its effectiveness and to determine the knowledge and skills gained by teachers regarding special education and inclusion.
A needs assessment pre-survey was made available to all general education teachers within the middle school in the spring of 2008-2009. Data was collected and analyzed to determine the specific needs of general education teachers in order to better prepare them to work with inclusion students. The needs assessment provided the basis for the researcher to develop meaningful professional development for general education teachers. A series of 10 professional development workshops will be developed and made available to address the needs of general education teachers. Each month a new topic in the area of special education will be introduced and discussed by a certified special education teacher or our school system's director of special services. The professional development will consist of a variety of topics: (a) the referral process, (b) laws and policies related to special education and inclusion, (c) understanding and utilizing an Individual Education Program (IEP), (d) accommodations and modifications, (e) behavior interventions, (f) technology services for special education students, (g) setting up your inclusion classroom and communicating with your inclusion teacher, (h) tiers to intervention/student support team, (i) differentiated instruction, and (j) classification of students with disabilities and emergency procedures. A post-survey will be administered at the end of each professional development workshop to determine the effectiveness and value of the information presented. At the completion of the series of professional development workshops, the participants will complete a final survey to determine the success of the professional development workshops.
Several limitations to the study have been noted by the researcher. One limitation is the number of teachers participating in the study. The number of teachers who participated in the needs assessment pre-survey may be smaller or larger than the number of teachers who participate in the weekly workshops. Another limitation that may affect the outcome of the study is the responses provided by teachers may not accurately depict their knowledge and opinions in regards to special education and inclusion. A final limitation for this study is the fact that the surveys which will be used to determine knowledge and skills gained by teachers after each workshop as well as the final survey which will determine the success of the professional development workshops have not been field tested. These surveys were developed by a previous Nova Southeastern University student within her dissertation. Permission was obtained for utilization of the surveys within my study.