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Thursday, December 3 • 2:20pm - 3:10pm
The myths vs. reality of self-contained classrooms for students with intellectual disability LIMITED

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This study investigated practices in self-contained high school classrooms serving students with significant cognitive disability. Nineteen students and nine teachers across five high schools participated. A time-sampling method was used to describe the ecological, teacher, and student behaviors of these classrooms. Results revealed students in these classrooms were often passively engaged and had few opportunities to learn from rigorous curriculum. Instructors engaged in few practices known to be effective in supporting the learning of students with significant cognitive disabilities. Finally, the classrooms themselves were often distracting and demonstrated little evidence of specialized or effective instruction. Implications are included. OBJECTIVES: +T2 IMPORTANCE: Educators, families, and policy makers continue to assume that segregated education is beneficial to students with disabilities. Rarely, however, have researchers investigated actual classroom practices; instead, these generally operate with great autonomy and little oversight. By identifying actual practices of self-contained classrooms, we dispel the myths that segregationists rely upon. TRANSLATING TOPIC INTO IMPROVED OUTCOMES:settings, the question then becomes, why are students with SCD not included in general education? Improving self-contained classrooms would likely fail to improve the outcomes of students with SCD for several reasons. First, teacher autonomy and their own segregation in special education classrooms may contribute to teachers not possessing and implementing new knowledge. The observed classrooms were all very segregated from the rest of the school, even in separate building wings. With such isolation, there may not be a perceived need to change practices within self-contained settings. Empirical research looking at science teachers? implementation of changes in practice have identified dissatisfaction with one?s teaching methods and goals as essential for teachers to implement and continue to use new practices (Gess-Newsome, Southerland, Johnstonm & Woodbury, 2003; Feldman, 2000). In the current study, special education teachers expressed satisfaction and confidence in their abilities, which may have been an artifact of their isolation, and would impede their desire to change their practices. Second, however, teacher dissatisfaction is not enough to create and sustain change in practices. For instance, while Gess-Newson et al. (2003) identified teacher dissatisfaction as key to teachers? adoption of new practices, the authors found that supports to overcome structural and institutional barriers were insufficient to sustain change, but were in fact necessary. Specifically related to the issue of teacher time use observed in the current investigation, Vannest et al. (2009) implemented an intervention consisting of progress-monitoring, consultation, and feedback to increase the amount of time special education teachers spent engaging in active instruction. Although teachers agreed with the importance of increasing their instructional time and made small gains, they ultimately articulated institutional barriers, namely paperwork, limited their ability to change practices even though the desire was present. Thus, the isolated nature of self-contained classrooms may itself prevent substantial change from taking place, and, instead, necessitates that efforts to change practice include a movement away from these environments in addition to teacher training. Third, there is mounting evidence of the benefits of including students with the most significant cognitive disabilities in general education. Students taught in self-contained settings do not have full access to the general curriculum due to the nature and extensiveness of their separation from what is taught, how it is taught, and with whom they learn (Kleinert et al., 2015). Indeed, in the current investigation, grade-level curriculum, adapted or otherwise, was rarely observed. Additionally, inclusive classroom settings are associated with increased expressive communication and reading and math skills (Kleinert et al., 2015). However, the lack of instruction and engagement that appears to be taking place in self-contained classrooms is alarming. Finally, general education curriculum settings are the best place to improve participation, membership and access to general education (Jackson, Ryndak, & Wehmeyer, 2008-2009). Ultimately, we must carefully examine whether there is in fact a need for self-contained, segregated settings, and consider the changes that can be undertaken to adequately train teachers and remove barriers associated with greater inclusion for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

avatar for Jennifer Kurth

Jennifer Kurth

Associate Professor, University of Kansas
Inclusive Education

Thursday December 3, 2015 2:20pm - 3:10pm
Mt Hood 1414 SW Naito Parkway Portland, OR 97201

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