Source: Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 43:2, 236-250
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)
This qualitative study is grounded in a social constructivist approach.
Inherent in this approach is how participants make meaning of their experiences through interactions with others (and objects) in the environment (Esterberg, 2002).
The authors and co-principal investigators of this study, were interested in gathering information about how preservice teachers perceived their experiences in field placements and our on-campus co-taught course on special education.
The two research questions addressed in this study are:
(a) What are early childhood teacher candidates’ self-efficacy beliefs related to supporting children who receive special education services? and
(b) What are early childhood teacher candidates’ perceptions of their learning experience in a co-taught course?
The research is situated within a small public liberal arts college in the northeast with a long history of teacher preparation.
The college is located in a rural setting that supports students with a broad spectrum of learning needs.
The preservice teachers who participated in the research were all students who were declared Education majors within the Early Childhood program.
There were 15 participants from three rounds (i.e., semesters) of data collection including 14 females and one male.
The participants were all of junior or senior standing (having earned between 60 and 90 or more matriculated credits at the time of this practicum course).
They had a range of prior experience supporting children with (dis)abilities – some had little to no experience and one had worked as a paraprofessional prior to enrolling in the program.
All participants had a basic introduction to the field of special education and inclusion prior to this course.
The second practicum (the focus of this investigation) was developed to support preservice teachers’ understanding of special education services while fully acknowledging that the purpose is not to prepare them as special educators.
Rather, the purpose is to support general educators’ understanding of special education roles, responsibilities, and specializations.
Preservice teachers learn from the co-teaching faculty during the on-campus class sessions and mentors, a term used intentionally to be inclusive of a wide range of special educators, school counselors, related service providers, and allied health professionals, about assessment, atypical development, as well as the roles and responsibilities of professionals that work in early intervention, preschool, and elementary schools.
The culminating field placement for preservice teachers is a semester-long Student Teaching experience that is facilitated by one faculty member.
This placement is intentionally sequenced and aligned with the preservice teachers’ future goals and previous placements.
Preservice teachers seeking certification are placed in the primary grades for the semester, whereas preservice teachers who pursue the non-certification option are placed in a birth to age five setting in a complementary age group to their first practicum experience.
The co-teaching faculty members, both have a range of previous co-teaching experiences across age spans and educational settings (representing early childhood, elementary, secondary, and higher education levels).
As part of the process of co-teaching they scheduled a weekly shared planning time during which they deconstructed concepts, planned curriculum, and discussed shared expectations for preservice teachers and their own teaching practices.
Their goal as co-teachers was not only to model the practice of co-teaching, but also to model a growth mindset for students by challenging our own beliefs and knowledge about education and pedagogy.
They established a partnership that encouraged dialogue and trust.
After each class session, they debriefed on what their impressions were of the class and on ways that they could reinforce concepts or clarify perceived misconceptions in future class sessions.
Data collection occurred during the second, third, and fourth semesters that the authors cotaught the course following a pilot semester.
They collected data from multiple sources including a post-then-pre instrument and focus groups/individual interviews in an effort to better understand preservice teachers’ experiences and potential growth.
Researchers used peer-debriefing, member checks, and triangulation methods to ensure the trustworthiness of the data (Bloomberg & Volpe, 2008).
Findings and discussion
This study highlights the authors efforts to better prepare future early childhood teachers for their collaborative roles in developing more inclusive learning environments for all children. The findings of this study closely align and contribute to the literature on self-efficacy and coteaching.
There was an initial level of apprehension or a lack of confidence in one’s ability to facilitate the inclusion efforts in the classroom noted in the authors’ research which reinforces the need for continued comprehensive programming.
Similar findings have been noted in other studies and factors that improve self-efficacy are closely linked to preservice preparation that combines course work on inclusive practices with quality field experiences (Barned et al., 2011; Bruder, Dunst, Wilson, & Stayton, 2013; Leatherman & Niemeyer, 2005; Mitchell & Hedge, 2007; Voss & Bufkin, 2011).
In their findings, preservice teachers did not view (dis)ability as inherently bad; rather they were open to the ideas of inclusion and identified as advocates for inclusive practices – perhaps due in part to the intentionally inclusive nature of the program as a whole.
What this course and experiences within their field placements strengthened was their ability to see themselves in those roles as professionals with an increased level of confidence to support all children in the general education classroom.
In other words, the preservice teachers’ self-efficacy was influenced not only by their experiences, observations, and the engagement with their field placement mentors, but also the mechanism of co-teaching by which the course content was facilitated.
The authors recognize that co-teaching may not be possible in all programs, but perhaps elements that support preservice teachers’ experiences could be infused into existing program structures.
In these instances, they recommend that faculty view their programs with opportunities to infuse collaboration, role awareness, perspective-taking, and inclusion strategies using other methods such as school/community partnerships, service-learning, and existing field-based opportunities.
Faculty should work toward providing opportunities that promote strength-based perceptions and inclusion in an effort to minimize negative stereotypes of children with (dis)abilities and special education services.
Ultimately, the creation of a safe and supportive learning and teaching environment modeled and facilitated by instructors for preservice teachers is vital so that preservice teachers can engage in the difficult, yet critical work of examining the convergence of their identity, beliefs, and future roles in the workplace.
Barned, N. E., Flanagan Knapp, N., & Neuharth-Pritchett, S. (2011). Knowledge and attitudes of early childhood preservice teachers regarding the inclusion of children with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 32(4), 302–321.
Bloomberg, L. D., & Volpe, M. (2008). Completing your qualitative dissertation. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Bruder, M. B., Dunst, C. J., Wilson, C., & Stayton, V. (2013). Predictors of confidence and competence among early childhood interventionists. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 34(3), 249–267.
Leatherman, J. M., & Niemeyer, J. A. (2005). Teachers’ attitudes toward inclusion: Factors influencing classroom practice. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 26(1), 23–36.
Mitchell, L. C., & Hedge, A. V. (2007). Beliefs and practices of inservice preschool teachers in inclusive settings: Implications for personnel preparation. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 28(4), 353–366. doi:10.1080/10901020701686617
Voss, J. A., & Bufkin, L. J. (2011). Teaching all children: Preparing early childhood preservice teachers in inclusive settings. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 32(4), 338–354.