Effects of the proximity of paraeducators on the interactions of Braille readers in inclusive settings.
Teachers' assistants (Influence)
Teachers' assistants (Research)
Teacher-student relationships (Research)
Disabled students (Research)
Blind (Printing and writing systems)
|Author:||Harris, Beth A.|
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness Publisher: American Foundation for the Blind Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 American Foundation for the Blind ISSN: 0145-482X|
|Issue:||Date: August, 2011 Source Volume: 105 Source Issue: 8|
|Topic:||Event Code: 310 Science & research|
Abstract: This article reports on a multiple--case study that found
a relationship between the proximity of paraeducators and the
interactions of students with visual impairments with teachers and
sighted students in general education classrooms. More interactions were
found with teachers and peers in the classrooms when paraeducators were
physically distant from the students. The findings have implications for
addressing the roles of and training for paraeducators.
Paraeducators have long been an integral part of the support of students in education. Prior to the passage of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142), paraeducators were employed to support clerical and other nonteaching activities in schools. However, after the passage of P.L. 94-142, school districts were scrambling to meet the needs of children with disabilities using qualified personnel. As a result, paraeducators often became a solution for the support of children with disabilities who were being integrated into general education classroom (Marks, Schrader, & Levine, 1999; Werts, Wolery, Snyder, & Caldwell, 1996). However, even with this increased reliance on paraeducators, there are little empirical data to demonstrate the effectiveness of this practice.
In response to the need to understand the effect that the use of paraeducators has on students with disabilities, researchers began to explore which issues might exist in relation to this practice. Topics of concern that emerged included defining roles and responsibilities, supervision, training, and the proximity of paraeducators to the students (Downing, Ryndak, & Clark, 2000; French, 2001; Giangreco & Broer, 2005; Giangreco & Doyle, 2002; Giangreco, Edelman, Broer, & Doyle, 2001; Giangreco, Edelman, Luiselli, & MacFarland, 1997; Marks et al., 1999; Minondo, Meyer, & Xin, 2001; Riggs & Mueller, 2001; Wefts, Zigmond, & Leeper, 2001). Research on the use of paraeducators with students who have visual impairments is more limited; however, the same topics of concern that were found within the general special education population were also found for paraeducators who were working with students with visual impairments (Giangreco et al., 1997; Griffin-Shirley & Matlock, 2004; Lewis & McKenzie, 2009; McKenzie & Lewis, 2008).
Within the field of visual impairment, five studies explored these topics of concern. Griffin-Shirley and Matlock (2004), McKenzie and Lewis (2008) and Lewis and McKenzie (2010) conducted surveys that examined the roles and responsibilities of paraeducators in both public and residential schools who work with students with visual impairments and the training the paraeducators received and desired. Lewis and McKenzie (2009) added to the research by exploring the abilities of teachers of students with visual impairments to supervise paraeducators. The fifth study, by Giangreco et al. (1997), raised concerns that the proximity of a paraeducator to a student may affect the student's ability to function appropriately in the general education classroom.
Giangreco et al. (1997) conducted a qualitative study that investigated what key issues exist within general education when a paraeducator is present. The subjects were students who were identified as deaf-blind and had additional disabilities, including cognitive delays and other health impairments. Giangreco et al. used observations of the paraeducators and students in typical activities during the school day, including group activities with peers. In addition, they conducted interviews with adult members of the students' educational teams to help interpret the observational data. They found that the paraeducators tended to be in close proximity to the students on an ongoing basis. Eight subthemes emerged as being influenced by the proximity of the paraeducator: (1) interference with the ownership and responsibility of general educators, (2) separation of the student from his or her classmates, (3) the student's dependence on adults, (4) impact on peer interactions, (5) limitations on receiving competent instruction, (6) the student's loss of personal control, (7) the student's loss of gender identity, and (8) interference with the instruction of other students. The results of Giangreco et al.'s study, although not generalizable beyond the study group, provide compelling evidence for further investigation of the effect of services by paraeducators.
The use of paraeducators in the general education classroom can have both negative and positive impacts on students with visual impairments. Previous studies of students with special needs have shown that paraeducators can create dependence, reduce engagement with teachers, and reduce appropriate social interactions (Giangreco et al., 1997; Marks et al., 1999; Russotti & Shaw, 2001). Social and classroom interactions for students with visual impairments are an ongoing concern of professionals in the field, as evidenced by previous studies on the subject (Celeste, 2007; D'Allura, 2002; Erwin, 1993; Jindal-Snape, 2004; Kekelis & Sacks, 1992; Sacks & Wolffe, 1998; Wolffe & Sacks, 1997). However, the proximity of paraeducators can also have a positive impact. Students with visual impairments have unique needs in an inclusive setting. Much of the material presented in classes is presented visually, which often prohibits the students from being able to access materials. In addition, many students with visual impairments are unable to pick up on visual social cues from teachers and peers. The use of a paraeducator can be a great asset to a student for accessing information in the classroom, but to plan effective programs for students with visual impairments, it is necessary to understand the impact of the proximity of a paraeducator on all aspects of a student's learning and life.
The purpose of the study presented here was to examine the effects of the proximity of a one-on-one paraeducator of a student who is a braille reader in an inclusive general education setting on the student's interactions with peers and teachers. The research questions that guided the study were these:
1. What types of interactions occur between a student who is a braille reader and a paraeducator who is assigned to provide one-on-one assistance in an inclusive general education setting?
2. What percentage of interactions between paraeducators and students with visual impairments are student initiated in an inclusive general education setting?
4. When the paraeducator is closer, is there less interaction between the student and the classroom teacher or other students in an inclusive general education setting?
The study was a multiple case-study design that was conducted with the approval of the Human Subjects Institutional Review Board at the University of Arizona. Data were collected through classroom observations to explore the effect of paraeducators' proximity on the interactions of students with visual impairments in the general education classroom.
The participants consisted of four paraeducator-student dyads that were selected on the basis of the following criteria for the students:
* Identified as having a visual impairment based on the definitions from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
* Could have the following additional disabilities: specific learning disability, a health impairment, or a speech and language disability.
* Used braille.
* Received general education instruction for at least 40% of their day.
* Were in grades 1-8.
* Were assigned a paraeducator by the educational team.
The participants were selected on the basis of convenience without regard for ethnicity, gender, or characteristics other than those just listed. Informed written consent from the parents and paraeducators and assent from the children were obtained before the study began, as stipulated by the Institutional Review Board.
Recruitment began with the teachers of students with visual impairments from school districts in the state who were contacted to determine if they had any students who fit the criteria for participation as verified by the students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs). Five to seven participants were identified. Once possible participants were identified, I contacted the school districts and principals of the--schools to obtain permission to pursue the research. Once permission was received, written materials were then given to the classroom teachers and paraeducators that explained the study, detailed the criteria for eligibility, described the type of data that would be collected, and specified the time commitment that would be required of the paraeducators. Once consent was obtained from the paraeducators, a packet of information was sent home to the parents. If the parents gave their consent, I met with the students to obtain their assent for the observations. The paraeducatots received monetary compensation for their participation in the interview phase of the study. A total of four participants consented to participate in the study (Harris, 2009).
The student participants ranged in age from 7 to 13 years and were in grades 1, 3, 5, and 7. One student was totally blind, and three students had light perception only. All the students were braille readers and writers. The proportion of time the students spent in general education classrooms ranged from 40% to 70%. Three students had no other disabilities, and the fourth student was receiving speech and language services in addition to vision services. The paraeducator participants ranged in age from 24 to 60 years, and their highest level of formal education ranged from some college to a Bachelor's of Science degree plus graduate courses. All the paraeducators had a number of years of experience, ranging from 3 to 19.5 (M = 9.125) years as a paraeducator in general and 3-6 (M = 3.875) years as a paraeducator for students with visual impairments.
The proximity of the paraeducator to the students was examined in four general education classrooms in which a student with a visual impairment was served by a one-on-one paraeducator. The classrooms were located in elementary and middle schools. Each paraeducator-student dyad was observed for a total of six hours. The observations occurred on different days at different hours of the school day. No more than three hours of observation occurred on any one day. Observations done in this manner allowed me to capture the true nature of the activities and interactions taking place in the classroom. Activities during these observations were categorized into three types: (1) unstructured class time with no instructional activity taking place (such as transition times); (2) semistructured class time that was instructional time, but not strictly instruction by the teachers (like a group activity or silent work time); and (3) structured class time with no peer interaction expected (for example, instruction by the teacher). A data collection sheet was used to record the types of interactions that occurred with the paraeducator, peer, or teacher. The form was used to record who initiated an interaction (the student, paraeducator, teacher, or peer) and with whom the student interacted (the paraeducator, teacher, or peer). It was also used to record the initial type of interaction, such as an academic or classroom-related question, comments or directive statements that were verbal or nonverbal in nature and were related to academic or classroom activities but did not include social statements, a request for assistance, redirection that could be verbal or nonverbal, and social comments that were unrelated to academics. In addition, the type of classroom activity (structured, semistructured, or unstructured) that occurred at the time of the interaction and the proximity (near or distant) of the paraeducator at the time of the interaction were also recorded. The paraeducator was considered near the student if he or she made physical contact, sat in a chair immediately next to the student, or stood or knelt next to the student's desk or table. The paraeducator was considered distant from the student for anything that was not considered near, including being out of the room (Hams, 2009).
To maintain reliability, each case study was conducted using the exact same procedures. Interobserver reliability is an important aspect of data collection. This process provides verification of the consistency of the data collection and reflects well-defined target behaviors to minimize researchers' biases and errors (Kazdin, 1982; Yin, 2009). All the observations were conducted prior to the interviews with the paraeducators to avoid paraeducator bias during the real-life context of the observations. For the observation aspect of the study, reliability data were collected using a second observer, a doctoral student in the special education program at the University of Arizona, who I trained to use the data collection sheet by using a coding system manual and practicing by observing in classrooms with no research participants. Data collection for the research began after I and the doctoral student reached an interrater reliability agreement of 80% or higher for three consecutive observation periods. Reliability was determined by dividing the total number of agreements by the total number of recorded interactions. To increase the reliability of the data that were collected, the second observer collected data on 30% of the observations. Data were entered into an Excel spreadsheet that I created. To verify the accuracy of the data that were entered, a person who was not involved in the study was recruited to double check the entries along with me.
Data analysis of multiple case studies consists of two phases (Merriam, 1998). In the first phase, called the within-case analysis, data are analyzed for each case by itself. In the second phase, called the cross-case analysis, the categories that were developed for each case study are then compared to determine common characteristics and to develop new categories encompassing all the data sets. The qualitative data obtained during the classroom observations were coded into numbers and then examined using nonparametric statistics. This type of analysis was determined to be the most appropriate statistic for use with the obtained nominal data. The data were analyzed using statistical analysis software and sorted by teams to determine the frequencies and percentages of each of the five observation variables. Chi-square values were then calculated for pairs of variables with effect sizes determined by the Cramer's V statistic. If a chi-square value was determined to be significant, meaning there was a nonrandom distribution, I examined the frequency table to determine which numbers contributed to the significance of chi-square. The percentages of the observed data from the frequency table were then reported in the results section of the study report. Each case study was analyzed separately using the qualitative and quantitative analysis processes. The data from the individual case studies were then combined and analyzed using the same procedures as used with the analysis of the individual case studies.
External validity or generalizability was addressed using multiple case studies and cross-case analysis. Using a cross-case analysis with multiple case studies provides a way to strengthen the results of the study. Even though generalizability is difficult because real-life situations have unique characteristics, Yin (1989) suggested that a multiple case study design provides the replication needed to prove or disprove a theory.
The results reported here are from the cross-case analysis, in which the categories developed for each case study were compared to determine common characteristics and develop new categories that encompass all data sets (Merriam, 1998). The specific research questions were answered through the cross-case analysis.
RESEARCH QUESTION 1
What types of interactions occur between a student who is a braille reader and a paraeducator who is assigned one on one in an inclusive general education setting? The total number of interactions between the students with visual impairments and the paraeducators were 558, which is 52.30% of the 1,067 total interactions that were recorded (see Table 1 for the details). An analysis of the frequency of the 558 interactions that occurred between the students and paraeducators, indicated that 64.87% of the observed interactions were directives or comments. Questions made up 29.93% of the interactions, followed by redirection (4.66%) and social interactions (.54%). No requests for help were made by the students to the paraeducators. In addition to the types of interactions, it is interesting to note who initiated the interactions. According to the observed data, the paraeducators more often initiated directive or comment interactions (42.51%) and questions (39.93%) than did the students (31.56% and 33.33%, respectively). However, the students more often initiated social interactions (43.9%) than did the paraeducators (7.32%).
RESEARCH QUESTION 2
What percentage of interactions between paraeducators and students with visual impairments are student initiated in an inclusive general education setting? In determining an answer to this question, I deemed that a chi-square statistic was inappropriate for use in determining a relationship between who initiated the interaction and who participated in the interaction because of the number of cells with structural zeros; however, the computed contingency table provided useful data for exploring what may have occurred in the classroom. As Table 2 shows, the students initiated 20.07% of the interactions with the paraeducators, and the paraeducators initiated 79.75% of the interactions. Also of note is that the classroom teachers were more likely to initiate interactions with the students (71.91%) than the students were to initiate interactions with the teachers (28.09%).
RESEARCH QUESTION 3
Did the paraeducators maintain different distances from the students with visual impairments across three different observational settings in an inclusive general education setting? To answer this question, I applied a chi-square test to the data for two variables: proximity and setting for the classroom activity. The observed data indicate that the paraeducators were more often near students during both structured activities (67.52%) and semistructured activities (64.21%) than were distant from them (32.48% and 35.79%, respectively). The paraeducators were more likely to be distant from the students during unstructured activities (52.27%). The chi-square test of the data from the four case studies showed no significance between proximity and setting for the classroom activity.
RESEARCH QUESTION 4
When the paraeducator is closer, is there less interaction between the student and the classroom teacher or other students in an inclusive general education setting? The classroom observation data included determining the proximity of the paraeducators during each interaction. To help determine if the proximity of paraeducators had any relationship to students' interactions with peers and teachers in the classroom, I applied a chi-square test. The relationship between proximity and the students' interaction was statistically significant, [chi square] (3, N = 1067) = 444.3226, p < .0001. As indexed by Cramer's statistic, the strength of the relationship was .6453, which indicates a strong relationship between proximity and who participated in an interaction. When the paraeducators were near the students, the teachers interacted with the students 19.15% of the time; however, they were more likely to interact with the students when the paraeducators were at a distance (80.85%). The data for peer interactions showed a similar trend, with peers more likely to interact with the students when the paraeducators were distant (57.14%) than when the paraeducators were near the students (42.86%).
In addition to a relationship between proximity and the participants' interaction, a significant relationship was also found between proximity and who initiated the interactions. The relationship between proximity and initiators of the interactions was statistically significant, [chi square] (4, N = 1067) = 342.3145,p < .0001. As indexed by Cramer's statistic, the strength of the relationship was .5664. When the paraeducators were at a distance, the students (50.59%), teachers (78.70%), and peers (58.18%) were more likely to initiate interactions. Thus the results indicate that the proximity of the paraeducators in general education classrooms had an effect on the interactions among students with visual impairments, peers, and teachers, with more interactions occurring when the paraeducators were distant.
Implications for practice
Several implications for practice can be derived from this research. Giangreco et al. (1997) surmised that general education teachers were more likely to hand over responsibility for a student to a paraeducator and that interactions between students who were deaf-blind and peers in the general education classroom occurred less often. The results of this study showed that both teachers and peers were more likely to interact with braille-reading students when paraeducators were at a distance, which can affect teachers' "ownership" of students' learning as well as the social interactions between students and peers.
One suggestion that has come out of past studies is the need for more specialized training to help paraeducators promote appropriate student-peer interactions (Causton-Theoharis & Malmgren, 2005). An interesting note in the current study, however, was that one paraeducator had received no specialized training in promoting social skills, yet the student and peers interacted (36.4%) more than twice as often as the students in the other case studies (Harris, 2009). Thus, other factors, such as students' characteristics, the learning environment, the type of activity, and the paraeducators' characteristics, could also affect the interactions that occur in the classroom.
Academic engagement can also be affected by the proximity of a paraeducator (Werts et al., 2001). There are times when paraeducators need to be in close proximity to students with visual impairments to help them access information in the classroom. A primary reason for employing a paraeducator is to promote the educational success, including support for IEP goals and objectives, of a student with a disability, and close proximity with a paraeducator may be necessary to fulfill this goal. However, such close proximity may conflict with the student's need for instruction in skills that are necessary for appropriate social interaction, independence, and self-determination (Huebner, Merk-Adam, Stryker, & Wolffe, 2004). The results of this study indicate that the close proximity of a paraeducator may decrease interactions among students with visual impairments, teachers, and peers, which, in turn, may affect the development of the student's social and independence skills.
Paraeducators are in a unique position to provide support and reinforce skills that are stated in the IEPs, as well as skills that are not specifically stated in the IEPs but are an important aspect of the education of students with visual impairments. An important implication of this and previous studies is that when teachers, administrators, and parents decide to use paraeducators for students with visual impairments, they need to define clearly why the paraeducators are needed and specifically indicate how the paraeducators will be used to meet the students' needs instead of using the general term of "student support."
Limitations of the study
Several limitations of the study may have affected the results. First, the small number of participants affected the ability to generalize the results. Even though the results cannot be generalized from one case to another, the multiple--case study design made it easier to generalize to "theoretical propositions" (Yin, 1989).
At times, I and the doctoral student had difficulty determining the type of interaction taking place and who initiated an interaction because the student and the paraeducator had their heads together to talk, so as not to disturb the rest of the class. Also, the data that were recorded were the frequency of interactions, not the duration of each interaction. Some of the interactions occurred over an extended period because of the activity that was occurring.
Third, the following factors that were not included in the study may have also affected the results. Classroom placement was not included in the data, but we observed that the students with visual impairments were often seated in an outside row either so the paraeducator could sit next to them or because the technology being used was next to the wall because of the location of the plug. Specific activities may have influenced interactions more than the structure of the classroom at the time. For instance, more interactions may need to occur during mathematics than during reading. The student's age could also have an effect on the number and type of interactions. Younger students may need more interaction with paraeducators than may older students to provide support for new skills. The level of the disability may affect the number and type of interaction as well. For students with additional disabilities, interaction with the paraeducators may increase. The study could be strengthened by observing a sighted general education student in the same classroom as the student with a visual impairment and recording the interactions that take place between that student and his or her peers and teachers. By determining whether the teacher is interacting more or less with the student with a visual impairment than with the sighted students, a better comparison of the effect the paraeducator has on interactions could be determined. The final limitation was the effect of explaining the purpose of the study completely to the paraeducators. This explanation may have influenced the paraeducatots' normal routines with the students, since the paraeducators knew that proximity was an issue being explored during the observations.
Many aspects of the model for using paraeducators to support students with visual impairments need to be explored. Teachers, parents, and administrators commented throughout the study that they were concerned about the current model of providing paraeducator support. This study focused on observing interactions in the general education classroom and the effect of paraeducators' proximity on those interactions.
The information obtained adds to the literature for determining the most efficient way to use paraeducators in the educational programming of students with visual impairments. By exploring what is actually occurring between paraeducators and students in the general education classroom and the effect it is having on the students, the educational community can develop better training, mentoring, and supervision for the development of a paraeducator services model that is effective in helping students with visual impairments learn.
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Beth A. Harris, Ph.D., assistant professor and coordinator of the Visual Impairment Training Program, North Carolina Central University, H. M. Michaux, Jr., School of Education, 700 Cecil Street, Durham, NC 27707; e-mail:
The research on which this article was based was funded by the National Center for Leadership in Visual Impairment, U.S. Office of Special Education, Cooperative Agreement H325U040001.
Table 1 Percentage of interactions and paraeducators' proximity across cases (numbers in parentheses). Total interactions % Proximity: Proximity: Variable (1,067) near distant Setting Structured 10.97 (117) 67.52 (79) 32.48 (38) Semistructured 72.54 (774) 64.21 (497) 35.79 (277) Unstructured 16.49 (176) 47.73 (84) 52.27 (92) Interaction participant Teacher 22.02 (235) 19.15 (45) 80.85 (190) Peer 20.34 (217) 42.86 (93) 57.14 (124) Paraeducator 52.30 (558) 90.86 (507) 9.14 (51) Other 5.34 (57) 26.32 (15) 73.68 (42) Interaction Initiator Student 31.68 (338) 49.41 (167) 50.59 (171) Teacher 15.84 (169) 21.30 (36) 78.70 (133) Peer 10.31 (110) 41.82 (46) 58.18 (64) Paraeducator 41.71 (445) 92.36 (411) 7.64 (34) Other 0.47 (5) -- 100.00 (5) Type Question 28.04 (303) 63.04 (191) 36.96 (112) Comment or directive 65.04 (694) 62.25 (432) 37.75 (262) Request for help 0.09 (1) -- 100.00 (1) Redirection 2.62 (28) 92.86 (26) 7.14 (2) Social 3.84 (41) 26.83 (11) 73.17 (30) Proximity Near 61.86 (660) Distant 38.14 (407) Note: Dashes indicate no observed data. Blank cells indicate no expected data. Table 2 Interaction participant by interaction initiator: Contingency table across cases (percentage). Interaction initiator Interaction Student Teacher Peer participant (n = 338) (n = 169) (n = 110) Teacher (n = 235) Row 28.09 71.91 Column 19.53 100.00 Peer (n = 217) Row 50.23 49.77 Column 32.25 98.18 Paraeducator (n = 58) Row 20.07 0.18 Column 33.14 0.91 Other (n = 57) Row 89.47 1.75 Column 15.09 0.91 Total 100.00 100.00 100.00 Interaction initiator Interaction Paraeducator Other participant (n = 445) (n = 5) Total Teacher (n = 235) Row 100.00 Column Peer (n = 217) Row 100.00 Column Paraeducator (n = 58) Row 79.75 100.00 Column 100.00 Other (n = 57) Row 8.77 100.00 Column 100.00 Total 100.00 100.00 Note: Blank cells indicate no expected data.
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