Preparing Special Education Mentors Using Classroom Artifacts as a Vehicle for Learning About Teaching

Fall 2008

Source: Teacher Education and Special Education, Volume 31 Number 4,
(Fall 2008), p. 268-282

The authors investigate a project that focuses on preparing special educators to mentor preservice teachers throughout their preparation program, instead of mostly at the end of their program. Through use of classroom literacy artifacts, mentors are prepared in how to guide novices as they transition through coursework and into classroom practice.


Experienced and novice teachers participated in the research. They worked together as part of an ongoing preparation program.

15 mentors, who were special education teachers in a large urban school district, participated in the project. All mentors worked with students diverse in terms of language, culture, ethnicity, and race. Based on their observations and experiences, administrators, teachers, and university faculty recommended successful special education teachers.
The recommended teachers were contacted and invited to participate in the project. Each mentor agreed to work with one to three preservice teachers each semester. All mentors earned stipends for their work with the teacher candidates.
Mentors had an average of 6 years of experience (range 3 to 17 years). Mentors provided services to students with disabilities using a variety of service delivery models. Teachers worked in different settings throughout the day, with 67% in self-contained classes, 53% in inclusion classes, and 33% in resource classes. Mentors taught students with a range of abilities: 66% instructed students with high-incidence disabilities, 20% provided instruction only to students with autism, and 13% worked with students with severe and/or profound disabilities. In addition, the mentors worked with students of all ages, although most (75%) worked with students who were older than age 12.

Pre-service teachers
The mentors worked with a total of 37 pre-service teachers across the academic year. The preservice teachers were enrolled in a special education master's program, which made them eligible for a cross-categorical special education teaching certification in grades K-12 following graduation. About 40% of them were certified in general education, and most of those were currently teaching in general education. The other students were career changers who also worked during the day. The pre-service teachers were at different points in their programs, with some just beginning, others in their last semester, and others in all points in between. The number of pre-service teachers that participated each semester varied, with some of them graduating and others beginning the program midway through the project.

Responses regarding the selection, preparation, and discussion of the artifact are collected. Findings indicate that mentors can select and use artifacts that illustrate teaching complexities. Also, pre-service teachers value the discussions surrounding the artifacts and say it helped them learn about teaching students with disabilities. Although helpful as a way to focus on learning to teach students with disabilities, the artifact is still only a resource. Key to its usefulness is work with mentors to help them select, plan, and discuss the artifact.

Updated: May. 11, 2009