Date of Award
Doctor of Education in Teacher Leadership (Ed.D)
Teacher Leadership for Learning
Dr. Harriet Bessette
Dr. Guichun Zong
Dr. Tak Cheung Chan
The purpose of this two-year qualitative case study was to explore how elementary special educators’ perspectives influence their curricular and instructional decision-making when engaged in the development of learning opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities. In particular, this investigation focused on gaining a better understanding of educators’ willingness and/or ability to provide rich, relevant, and challenging curriculum to students with intellectual disabilities. The conceptual framework that undergirds this study finds its roots in a theory of social justice, guided by the work of Apple (1979, 1990), Freire (1970, 1998), and Cochran-Smith (2004, 2008). Data collection efforts center around four primary measures: in-depth biographical and open-ended interviews, observations, ideology surveys, and teachers’ collages. The study examines the following overarching research question and sub-questions:
R1. How do teachers’ perspectives differentially influence their curricular and instructional decision-making as they are engaged in developing equitable learning opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities?
R1a. What perspectives do teachers hold regarding students with intellectual disabilities?
R1b. What factors contribute to a teacher’s willingness and/or ability to provide challenging curricula to students with intellectual disabilities?
R1c. How can our knowledge of teachers’ perspectives regarding the education of students with intellectual disabilities be used to better understand the role of social justice as it relates to educating students with intellectual disabilities?
R1d. How can teachers’ self-knowledge of their perspectives on students with intellectual disabilities be used as a catalyst in providing equitable learning opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities?
Findings suggest that teachers’ perspectives have a profound impact on classroom life, including curricular and instructional decision-making, resulting in significant implications for general and special education, teacher preparation, and issues related to social justice. The data reveal that teachers face numerous barriers when they attempt to provide equitable learning opportunities to students with intellectual disabilities, including lack of resources, challenging student behavior, scheduling issues, insufficient planning time, non-acceptance of students with significant intellectual disabilities in general education classrooms, difficulty level, reduction in level of teacher expectations, and teacher beliefs, assumptions, and biases. As a result, it may be inferred that teachers typically offer students with significant intellectual disabilities little, if any, opportunity to access the general education curriculum.
A major assertion of this study supports the notion that a continuum of instructional and curricular practices that embed a variety of social, functional (often off-grade level) academic, and daily living skills within activities and instruction using the general education curriculum are needed for students with intellectual disabilities. The conclusions suggest that teachers and pre-service teachers may be able to ameliorate prejudices and/or biases through reflection and acknowledgment of their beliefs about students with intellectual disabilities and how their beliefs relate to practice and the professional knowledge base. Finally, programs that blend the general education curriculum with a functional curriculum can enhance equitable learning opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities.