Changing student teachers' attitudes towards disability and inclusion

Changing student teachers' attitudes towards disability and inclusion,10.1080/13668250310001616407,Journal of Intellectual & Developmental Disability,

Changing student teachers' attitudes towards disability and inclusion   (Citations: 33)
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A total of 274 preservice teacher education students were surveyed at the beginning and end of a one-semester unit on Human Development and Education which combined formal instruction with structured fieldwork experiences. The latter included interviewing community members regarding their knowledge of Down syndrome and opinions on inclusive education, and writing an associated report. At the end of semester, not only had student teachers acquired more accurate knowledge of Down syndrome, together with more positive attitudes towards the inclusive education of children with Down syndrome, but their attitudes towards disability in general had also changed, and they reported greater ease when interacting with people with disabilities. The study illustrated the value of combining information-based instruction with structured fieldwork experiences in changing attitudes towards disability and inclusion. It also demonstrated that raising awareness of one disability may lead to changes in attitudes towards disability in general. Influenced by Australian and international anti-discrimination legislation (e.g., Commonwealth of Australia, 1992; US Congress, 1997), Australian national and state educational authorities now advocate for the inclusion of children with special needs within regular classrooms. Such advocacy alone, however, cannot ensure that the policy is favourably accepted by those most responsible for its effective implementation, namely, classroom teachers. It has long been accepted that teachers' attitudes and expectations impact upon their students' educational outcomes (Good & Brophy, 1997), and this is of particular concern where teachers hold less than positive attitudes towards individuals with a disability or the educational policy of inclusion (see, for example, Buell, Hallam, Gamel-McCormick & Scheer, 1999; Forlin, Douglas & Hattie, 1996; Murphy, 1996). Historically, teachers have not been favourably disposed to the policy of increased inclusion of children with special needs within the regular classroom (Center & Ward, 1987; Forlin et al., 1996). Their concerns include the amount of individualised time children with special needs might require, possibly to the detriment of other students; apprehension as to the quality of work produced by children with special needs; lack of adequate support services; and teachers' concerns about deficiencies in their own training and preparation in the skills required to support inclusive educational practice (Bender, Vial & Scott, 1995; Tait & Purdie, 2000). Teachers' attitudes are additionally influenced by the level of disability they are asked to accommodate within their classroom. Center and Ward (1987) found that while the majority of teachers expressed a generalised agreement with the policy of inclusion, when asked specifically about their own willingness to include students with particular disabilities within their classrooms, they were only willing to accept the inclusion of students with mild physical disabilities. They were reluctant to include students with more severe physical disabilities, or students with intellectual disabilities. Such results, indicating that teacher support for inclusion varied with the severity of the disability, have been consistently reported in research studies in the United States (Rainforth, 2000; Scruggs & Mastropieri, 1996), and have been replicated by Forlin et al. (1996) with educators in Western Australia. These attitudes to inclusion appear to have important correlates with actual classroom practice, although the direction of causality is not clear. Buell et al. (1999) reported a positive relationship between teachers' attitudes towards inclusion and their belief that they could influence the educational outcomes of children with special needs. Teachers with more positive views of inclusion had more confidence in their ability to support students in inclusive settings, and to adapt classroom materials and procedures to accommodate their needs. In all areas assessed, general classroom teachers rated their self- efficacy, ability, and understanding, in relation to inclusive practice, to be lower than did special education teachers, and expressed a greater need for related inservice training and increased support and resources. Similarly, Bender et al. (1995) found that teachers with more negative attitudes towards inclusion reported much less frequent use of instructional strategies known to facilitate the effective inclusion of children with learning disabilities. No relationship was found between attitudes towards inclusion and teachers' perceptions of their own efficacy in the general classroom. There are teachers with high self- efficacy who are not favourably disposed to inclusive practice. This emphasises the need to intervene to change teachers' attitudes to inclusion and their willingness to use associated effective instructional strategies. While teachers' attitudes towards inclusion are clearly influential in the effective implementation of inclusive policy within the classroom, a related body of research has investigated teachers' attitudes towards disability per se, since these may affect teachers' attitudes towards inclusion, and the effectiveness of their inclusive practices. Several important research studies in
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