10 SES 02 D, Research on Values, Beliefs & Understandings in Teacher Education
Teachers’ attitudes towards students with disabilities are internationally acknowledged as a key-factor for successful school inclusion (Sharma et al., 2017; Aiello et al, 2017; Saloviita & Schaffus, 2016; Sharma & Sokal, 2015).
In particular, teachers’ attitudes play a pivotal role in the effective inclusion of pupils with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) as teachers should be able to provide these students with appropriate educational experiences, to promote their learning opportunities and to improve their social communication skills (Alamri & Tyler-Wood, 2016).
As a matter of fact, ASDs represent a great challenge within the didactic field due to the specific educational needs that students with this kind of disability show in social interaction.
Indeed, a body of literature on teachers’ attitudes towards the inclusion of students with ASD highlights the presence of concerns and tensions due to ASD-related manifestations, particularly those pertaining to their difficulties in social interaction and emotional understanding (Alamri & Tyler-Wood, 2016; Chung et al., 2015; Emam & Farrell, 2009), thus hindering the implementation of inclusive teaching practices in the widespread consideration that a deficit in the domain of social interaction makes the social participation difficult to achieve.
Nevertheless, each student with ASDs has a different and unique set of educational needs, making teacher training for these students particularly challenging and complex (Morrier et al., 2011).
In this regard, research on teacher training programs for teachers working with pupils with ASDs has highlighted the importance of teacher education as an essential aspect of professional development which can lead to an increased awareness of the syndrome (Leblanc, Richardson, & Burns, 2009) and to a greater capacity to manage and improve classroom behavior of pupils with ASDs, thus reducing teachers’ concerns and stress (Probst & Leppert, 2008).
Within the Italian context, teaching students with ASDs is the challenging mission of learning support teachers and mainstream teachers that, on different levels and with diverse functions, should share the responsibility of inclusion of these pupils and, therefore, the implementation of the educational activities for each and every student.
To this aim and within a wider process of school reform fostered by the recent Law n. 107 of the 13th July 2015, Italian educational policies are responding to the need for the development of a new profile of competencies for both mainstream and learning support teachers by promoting an initial and in-service teacher education model which is more focused on the didactic-pedagogical disciplines taking into account, at the same time, the implicit dimensions of teaching, such as the one related to attitudes.
Stemming from these considerations, the present exploratory study aims to investigate the attitudes towards students with ASDs of a group of teachers who took part in a professional development course to obtain the warrant as learning support teachers at the University of Salerno (Italy) in the academic year 2017/2018 in order to assess if the specific training activity had an impact on the attitudes of the teachers involved.
The sample used for the study is composed of 218 mainstream and learning support teachers teaching at different school levels in the region of Campania who took part in a professional development course to obtain the warrant as learning support teachers at the University of Salerno (Italy) in the academic year 2017/2018. The research protocol included the administration of a paper and pencil questionnaire administered at the beginning and at the end of the training course and the subsequent data analysis. The questionnaire is divided into two parts. The first section collects demographic data aiming at providing a detailed description of the sample, whereas the second section comprises the Italian version of the Autism Attitude Scale for Teachers (AAST, Olley et al., 1981), validated in a previous study (Aiello et al., 2018). The original scale comprised 14 items and was originally developed to assess teachers’ attitudes toward the inclusion of pupils with ASDs in public schools. The Italian version of the AAST is composed of ten items, scored on a 5-point Likert scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree, and consists of two sub-dimensions, defined as: “Critical impact of the student with ASDs” (6 items) and “Taking care of the student with ASDs” (4 items). For each of the two sub-dimensions of the AAST, a repeated-measures analysis of variance (ANOVA) was carried out considering the time as factor within the subjects. Two levels were considered for the time factor: before the training course and after the training course.
Results showed a statistical significant decrease in the sub-dimension defined as “Critical impact of the student with ASDs” (F(1,158) = 8.970; p < 0,01; 2p = 0,05). This may suggest that due to the specific training course teachers’ concerns about the negative impact that the presence of the student with ASD have on the classroom and on school activities could decrease. On the contrary, no statistically significant differences arose with respect to the sub-dimension defined as “Taking care of student with ASDs”. Despite several limitations in the design, this study provides interesting results about the possible attitudinal change of teachers attending a specific training course on disabilities. Further analysis will be carried out to highlight possible statistically significant differences concerning some variables taken into consideration on the basis of the scientific literature, such as gender, being mainstream or learning support teachers, teaching in primary or secondary school and personal and professional experience.
Aiello, P., Di Gennaro, D.C., Girelli, L., Olley, J.G. (2018). Inclusione e atteggiamenti dei docenti verso gli studenti con disturbo dello spettro autistico: suggestioni da uno studio pilota. Formazione & Insegnamento XVI – 1 – 2018, pp. 177-188. Aiello, P., Sharma, U., Di Gennaro, D.C., Dimitrov, D.M., Pace, E.M., Zollo, I. & Sibilio, M. (2017). A study on Italian teachers' sentiments, attitudes and concerns towards inclusive education. Formazione, Lavoro, Persona, Anno VII, numero 20, pp. 10-24. Alamri, A. & Tyler-Wood, T. (2016). Teachers’ Attitudes Towards Children with Autism: A Comparative Study of the United States and Saudi Arabia. Journal of the International Association of Special Education, 16(1), 14-25. Chung, W., Chung, S., Edgar-Smith, S., Palmer, R. B., De Lambo, D., & Huang, W. (2015). An examination of in-service teacher attitudes toward students with autism spectrum disorder: Implications for professional practice. Current Issues in Education, 18(2). Emam, M. M. & Farrell, P. (2009). Tensions experienced by teachers and their views of support for pupils with autism spectrum disorders in mainstream schools. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 24(4), 407-422. Leblanc, L., Richardson, W., & Burns, K. A. (2009). Autism spectrum disorder and the inclusive classroom: Effective training to enhance knowledge of ASD and evidence-based practices. Teacher Education and Special Education, 32(2), 166-179. Morrier, M. J., Hess, K. L., & Heflin, L. J. (2011). Teacher training for implementation of teaching strategies for students with autism spectrum disorders. Teacher Education and Special Education, 34(2), 119-132. Olley, J. G., Devellis, R. F., DeVellis, B. M., Wall, A. J., & Long, C. E. (1981). The Autism Attitude Scale for Teachers. Exceptional children, 47(5), 371. Probst, P. & Leppert, T. (2008). Brief report: Outcomes of a teacher training program for autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 38(9), 1791-1796. Saloviita, T., & Schaffus, T. (2016). Teacher attitudes towards inclusive education in Finland and Brandenburg, Germany and the issue of extra work. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 31(4), 458-471. Sharma, U., & Sokal, L. (2015). The impact of a teacher education course on pre‐service teachers' beliefs about inclusion: an international comparison. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 15(4), 276-284. Sharma, U., Aiello, P., Pace, E.M., Round, P. & Subban, P. (2017). In-service teachers’ attitudes, concerns, efficacy and intentions to teach in inclusive classrooms: an international comparison of Australian and Italian teachers. European Journal of Special Needs Education, August 2017.
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