04 SES 04 B, Teacher Learning
This paper reports on an international collaborative research project which investigates UK and USA teachers’ pedagogical learning, their theorising and their decision making when teaching students with severe intellectual disabilities. Whilst the prevalence of children with severe intellectual disabilities is less than 1% of school age children in England (DfE, 2012) and 2% in the USA (USDoE, 2011), there has been a considerable increase in numbers of approximately 30% in both countries since 2004 (DfE, 2012; NCES, 2011). This emphasises the importance of fully understanding teacher learning and the development of professional knowledge for the teachers working with this group of pupils, a complex and under researched phenomenon (Jones, 2010). The project is situated within teacher education contexts in England and Florida, each adopting very different approaches to pre-service and in-service teacher special education, but with both experiencing a dearth of teachers qualified to teach students with severe intellectual disabilities (DCSF, 2010; McLesky et al, 2004).
This project, then, explores teachers’ understanding of, their use of, and their learning and decision-making about pedagogical approaches when working with students with severe intellectual disabilities, in order to enhance understandings of the process of teacher learning in this specific field. The research questions are: How, what and when do teachers learn about teaching students with severe intellectual disabilities? What pedagogies and teaching strategies do they use and how do they make decisions around these?
We are specifically interested in the how of teaching. However, we situate this within a broader conceptualisation of pedagogy – ‘the act of teaching with its attendant discourse’ (Alexander, 2004, p11), which includes curriculum and knowledge, noting the complex policy and practice context that impacts decisions teachers make. For example, there are major tensions in what constitutes pedagogy for students with SInD (Ware, 2005) and these are further influenced by policies, beliefs and practices around inclusive education. Since the passing of laws in both countries in the 1970s which opened up education for these children, there have been major changes in policy and practice in educating students with such low-incidence disabilities. American federal mandates, for example, emphasise educating students in least restrictive school environments, with a focus upon access to core academic general curriculum content. Similarly, in England, there have been moves from segregation to integration to inclusion. In both countries, teachers of students with severe intellectual disabilities experience a tension between subject- and standards-based curricula and meeting individual needs and functional curricula (Ruppar et al, 2007). Pedagogical decision-making is also influenced by the nature of teacher learning opportunities. The project is therefore situated within a broad conceptual framework that seeks to further understand three interrelated aspects: pedagogy for teaching pupils with severe intellectual disabilities, inclusive education and teacher learning.
Alexander, R. (2004) Still no pedagogy? Principle, pragmatism and compliance in primary education. Cambridge Journal of Education, 34, 1, 7-33. Aho, E. et al. (2010) Teachers’ principles of decision-making and classroom management; a case study and a new observation method. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 9, 395-402. Calderhead, J. (1981) Stimulated recall: a method for research on teaching. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 51, 211-217. DCSF (2010) Salt Review: Independent review of teacher supply for pupils with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties. Annesley, Nottingham: DCSF. Department for Education (DfE) (2012) Special educational needs in England: January 2012. Jones, P. (2010) “My peers have also been an inspiration for me”: developing online learning opportunities to support teacher engagement with inclusive pedagogy for students with severe/profound intellectual disabilities. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 14, 7, 681-696. McClesky, J., Tyler, N.C. and Flippin, S.S. (2004) The supply of and demand for special education teachers: A review of research regarding the chronic shortage of special education teachers. Journal of Special Education, 38, 1, 5-21. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2011) Statistics of Public Elementary and Secondary School Systems, 1980–81; and Common Core of Data (CCD), "State Nonfiscal Survey of Public Elementary/Secondary Education", selected years, 1990–91 through 2009–10. Ruppar, A., Dymond, S. and Gaffney, J. (2011) Teachers’ perspectives on literacy instruction for students with severe disabilities who use augmentative and alternative communication. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 36, 3-4, 100-111. U.S. Department of Education (2011) Office of Special Education Programs, Annual Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, selected years, 1980 through 2009 Ware, J. (2005) Profound and multiple learning difficulties. In A. Lewis and B. Norwich (Eds.) Special teaching for special children? Maidenhead: Open University Press.
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