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Hi, SeekFreaks! In line with our discussion of supporting teachers via Response to Intervention (RtI) and the role of school-based physical therapists as advocates for students with disabilities, we are reviewing an article that explored the knowledge of teachers on the impact of preterm birth.
Are our teachers aware of how preterm birth affects a student’s social, behavioral, motor and academic performance? Are they prepared to meet the needs of such a student? If not, what do they need to be prepared?
SeekFreaks, although this study is just limited to children born preterm, it is easy to see how this can apply to students with different types of disabilities.
Johnson et al asked teachers and educational psychologists in the UK to complete a survey seeking demographic information, perceived competence and completion of the Preterm Birth-Knowledge Scale (PB-KS). The PB-KS is a 33-item test that measures knowledge of the impact of preterm birth that is based on current evidence. Answers to items can be a Yes, No or I don’t know. A previous study using the PB-KS on neonatal practitioners showed a 26.0 mean score (SD 3.6).
The article reported:
- teachers and educational psychologists scored lower than neonatal practitioners with mean scores of 14.7 (or 45% mean accuracy) and 17.1 (or 52% mean accuracy), respectively
- scores are lowest on questions about the most common adverse outcomes of preterm birth such as math difficulties, poor attention and poor social skills
These scores are no surprise since only 16% of respondents reported receiving formal training about preterm birth — of which only 3.1% received such training in their initial schooling. The study further found that only 38% felt adequately equipped to support preterm children.This likely explains the hesitance of teachers we work with when a child with disability is included in their classrooms.
There is, however, a silver lining from the study. Some teachers as a group scored higher than others – teachers in special education schools. It is reasonable to assume then that training and practice, practice, practice do work. This is especially true for a group that is motivated to learn – the study reported that more than 80% of respondents requested more information! The article pointed out that it is important that teachers are provided information about the impact of preterm birth and “strategies for supporting the students in the classroom.”
As discussed in our article PTs in the Schools…How Did We Get Here?, physical therapists bring our medical expertise to schools. We can, thus, support teachers by filling in the gaps in their knowledge and skills with regards to working with students with disabilities, including those that were born prematurely. Here are some steps you can take:
- Conduct an in-service at the start of every school year about the role of school-based physical therapists (you can use some of the discussions we posted here on SeekFreaks) and some “yellow” or “red” flags teachers should look out for in their students. You can also discuss some of the most common diagnoses in school-aged children.
- Ask teachers to reach out to you as soon as they learn that their class will include a child suspected or identified as having a disability. Prepare them to work with the student effectively by providing suggestions for modifying the task, instructions or expectations. Help the teacher organize the classroom environment to accommodate the student’s needs.
- Spend the start of the school year in the classroom or whichever area the student is having difficulties in so that you can support and instruct the teacher or other school personnel in real-time and in real-life situations.
- Provide the teachers with some resources specific to a child’s diagnosis that they can study and refer to on their own or with your assistance. Here are some examples:
- University Leicester slideshow on the consequences of preterm birth by Dr. Samantha Jones.
- Canchild Developmental Coordination Disorder slideshow and flyers for teachers specific to each grade level.
- WebMD has slideshows on various topics such as autism spectrum disorder and better study habits for kids with ADHD.
- Create a monthly, bimonthly or quarterly consultation time with the teacher to check in on progress of the student in the classroom and discuss how else you can support the teacher.
- Inform the teacher or school staff of any live or online continuing education opportunities that can help boost their knowledge of specific disabilities, and strategies they can implement.
- Share your contact information and let them know that they can ask you any questions, big or small.
Now, despite the higher PB-KS scores of special education teachers, we caution you not to assume that they are already well-equipped. In fact, this study found that teachers in special education schools, despite outscoring their peers, still scored 10 points lower than neonatal practitioners in a previous study. The body of information on various disabilities increases with every new research published, and we cannot expect that teachers have the time to read them. This means that the above steps apply to special education teachers as much as with general education teachers.
As noted earlier, this study was conducted in the UK. Do you think a similar study in the US would contribute further to the special education literature? Perhaps, a more interesting study would be to explore which strategies have been helpful in educating teachers to address the educational needs of students with disabilities.
Keeping students with disabilities in the least restrictive environment in accordance with the individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) meant that more and more students with disabilities are being included in general education classes. Thus, teachers with minimal experience need to be ready to help them academically, socially and functionally. Let’s use our expertise to help teachers and their students succeed in school!
Freakishly Fast Poll
Seeking Your Views
SeekFreaks, this survey was conducted in the UK; however, the results are not far off from my own experiences. How is it similar or different from yours?
What barriers do you encounter when consulting or collaborating with teachers? What have helped you overcome these barriers?
What other suggestions do you have for improving your teacher’s knowledge of student’s disabilities? Share with us any online resources you have used.
Leave your answers and comments below.
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