The SoTL Advocate

Supporting efforts to make public the reflection and study of teaching and learning at Illinois State University and beyond…

Two Instructional Approaches for Pre-Service Special Education Teachers: A SoTL Mini-Grant Report

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Written by Dr. Virginia L. Walker (Assistant Professor of Special Education, Illinois State University) and Dr. Kristin Lyon (University of Kansas, formerly faculty at ISU). Corresponding author: Virginia Walker (vlwalk2@ilstu.edu).

STATE_YourLearningDuring Spring 2017, my colleague, Dr. Kristin Lyon, and I conducted a study to investigate the effectiveness of two instructional approaches on the performance of undergraduate students enrolled in four sections of SED 362: Systematic Instruction for Leaners with Severe Disabilities. SED 362 is a required course for undergraduate students in the Special Education – Specialist in Learning and Behavior program (https://illinoisstate.edu/academics/specialist-learning-behavior/) and focuses on preparing pre-service special education teachers to develop and implement systematic instruction, an evidence-based practice (EBP) for students with severe disabilities (Browder, Wood, Thompson, & Ribuffo, 2014; Collins, 2012). Systematic instruction involves teaching skills through defined methods of prompting and feedback based on the principles and science of applied behavior analysis. Systematic instruction is effective in teaching a wide variety of skills to students with severe disabilities including academic, functional, communication, and social skills (Collins, 2012; Spooner, McKissick, & Knight, 2017). It is critical that pre-service special education teachers are competent in implementing systematic instruction procedures given the reliance on systematic instruction as an EBP for students with severe disabilities (Spooner et al., 2017). After teaching this particular course over multiple semesters, Dr. Lyon and I observed similar performance patterns across our students – a large number of students failed to implement the range of systematic instruction prompting systems with high levels of fidelity by the end of the semester. As a result, we designed and implemented a SoTL study to explore two instructional methods for improving our pre-service special education teachers’ implementation fidelity of systematic instruction: video performance feedback and self-monitoring checklists.

Within the SoTL literature on special education teacher preparation, performance feedback has been identified as an effective instructional practice for pre-service special education teachers, resulting in improved implementation of various EBPs (Cornelius & Nagro, 2014). Furthermore, coaching with video performance feedback also contributes to improved pre- and in-service teacher implementation of EBPs (Kretlow & Bartholomew, 2010).  Emerging evidence suggests that self-monitoring, specifically video self-monitoring, can improve pre-service teachers’ behavior (Alexander, Williams, & Nelson, 2012).  However, less is known about which of these two instructional methods leads to more pronounced outcomes among pre-service special education teachers.

To assess the effects of video performance feedback and self-monitoring checklists on our students’ implementation of various systematic instruction prompting systems, we utilized a quasi-experimental two-group pretest-posttest design to measure and analyze student performance before and after intervention. Prior to intervention, students received standard instructional procedures for teaching the range of prompting systems, including a lecture with a list of procedures, a video model, and group practice opportunities. Each student was required to submit videos demonstrating the prompting systems to document their baseline performance. During intervention, students were assigned to one of two instructional conditions: (a) video performance feedback or (b) self-monitoring checklist. Video performance feedback involved the course instructors embedding feedback related to implementation fidelity within students’ submitted videos using LiveText software, a program available to all students enrolled in the Special Education – Specialist in Learning and Behavior program. The self-monitoring checklist strategy required students to review submitted videos and complete a self-monitoring checklist to self-evaluate implementation fidelity. Using feedback from either the instructor or the self-monitoring checklist, students submitted new videos demonstrating the prompting system for the same tasks.

Over the course of Summer and Spring 2017, funding from the SoTL mini grant competition supported coding student performance videos and analyzing data within and across instructional conditions. Our preliminary analyses suggest that, overall, both instructional approaches contributed to improved student performance. In fact, there were statistically significant improvements across both instructional conditions in student implementation of prompting systems when students utilized systematic instruction to teach more complex skills. We also found that, within the self-monitoring group, there were significant improvements in implementation of one specific prompting system (constant time delay) when teaching less complex skills. However, when comparing the effectiveness of the video performance feedback and self-monitoring checklist approaches, we found no significant differences, suggesting that both approaches may be useful in teaching pre-service special education teachers to implement various systematic instruction prompting systems. There are several limitations to the current study that we hope to address during the Spring 2018 semester, as we continue to utilize SoTL research to answer an important question – “What are the most effective and efficient ways to prepare future special education teachers to implement EBPs for learners with severe disabilities?”

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