The SoTL Advocate

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


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

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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Student Teaching in Eastbourne, England: A SoTL Small Grant Project Grant One Year Later

Written by: Erin Mikulec and Jill Donnel, School of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University

globalThe College of Education and the University of Brighton have worked in partnership for over 25 years to provide ISU students with the opportunity to complete half of their 16-week student teaching experience in schools in Eastbourne, England. However, to date, there has been no longitudinal research using multiple measures of data to investigate the impact(s) of the program. To that end, we proposed a study to examine the personal and professional learning outcomes of students who complete half of their student teaching in Eastbourne, England.

We began with a pilot study in October 2015 with five students participating in the program and collected the first iteration of data with a group of 18 students in February 2016. The students represented three different majors in the School of Teaching and Learning: Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education and Middle Level Education. Prior to leaving for England, the students had completed eight weeks of student teaching in schools in Illinois.

The study included multiple measures of data over the course of the students’ 8-week experience in England:

  • Students completed pre-departure modules to help prepare them for living in England and to familiarize them with the English school system, the National Curriculum, and classroom management practices.
  • We then traveled with the students for the first week of their experience, where we participated in their induction and orientation activities, and accompanied them to their schools to meet their cooperating teachers. We held a focus group discussion after the school visit in which the students discussed their first day at school, their decision to participate in the program, and their expectations for their student teaching experiences.
  • Over the course of the semester, students completed weekly reflections. This allowed us as the researchers to observe growth and development over the course of the experience, rather than at a fixed point in time. Each reflection provided guided questions focusing on different aspects of teaching and also allowed for making comparisons between student teaching experiences in Illinois and England. Site supervisors from the University of Brighton visited and evaluated the students twice during the program. These reports were also collected as data and provided an external perspective on the students’ teaching practices.
  • At the end of the 8-week student teaching program, students completed a final reflection in which they discussed how they believed the experience had changed them personally and professionally, their challenges and successes, what they will take with them from the experience into their future classrooms, and their preparation to return home to the United States.

Although we are now in the final stage of collecting our third iteration of data, we have identified several emerging themes from looking at our first two cohorts of data. Our initial findings indicate that there were personal and professional learning outcomes across all three majors, within each major, and even several shared between two majors.  For instance, the data revealed that the experience led to increased self-confidence both personally and professionally, as well as an increase in cultural awareness, in and out of the classroom for all three majors. In terms of themes shared between two majors, Early Childhood Education and Elementary Education students reported that the experience helped them to practice differentiation in instruction, and to see the value of student choice in the classroom. Data from Elementary and Middle Level Education students indicated that their experience helped them to work with diverse student populations and to negotiate classroom management strategies that are different from what they had experienced during their student teaching placement in Illinois.

Across all program areas, the participants identified ways in which they believed that the English school system exemplified certain aspects of teaching that they had not seen in a similar manner in their Illinois placements. Overall, the initial findings indicate that the student teaching experience in Eastbourne provided participants with a hands-on opportunity to compare and contrast the U.S. and the U.K. educational systems. By finishing the remainder of their student teaching in England, the students were able to recognize differences in practices and how they could use this practical experience improve upon their own in their future classrooms.

With the third and final iteration of data concluding, we look forward to analyzing the remaining data and completing the project. We presented our initial findings at the ISSoTL conference in October, 2016 in Los Angeles, as well as at ISU’s University-Wide Teaching and Learning Symposium in January, 2017. Both presentations yielded constructive and positive feedback. In addition to submitting a manuscript for publication, the results from this study will also be used to inform practice in the School of Teaching and Learning’s student teaching program, both in Illinois and England.


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Historians and History Teachers: Collaborative Conversations

Post written by Richard Hughes (rhughes@ilstu.edu), Associate Professor in the Department of History at Illinois State University. This post reports on a project funded by a SoTL Grant funded by the Cross Chair in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at Illinois State University.

As a faculty member in the Department of History, I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in both history education and traditional content in U.S. history. My teaching responsibilities and research interests mean that I am especially well situated to appreciate the persistent divide in higher education between historical content and the burgeoning research on the learning of history, especially in the area of historical cognition. Illinois State remains one of the largest producers of secondary history teachers in the nation and yet many of our students struggle to forge a teaching philosophy and pedagogy that reflect the provocative SoTL research in the discipline.

Working with a colleague from another university (Sarah D. Brown-Ball State University) and a graduate student, I am in the middle of a semester long research project based on the premise that what future history teachers need is not simply additional courses in the discipline but rather different approaches to teaching and learning about the past. Consequently, my current course on U.S. history in the twentieth century is distinctly different than both traditional content courses and required courses in teaching methods within the department or the College of Education. Instruction, readings, and assignments combine traditional historical content (ie. the American experience during the Great Depression) with research in history education to explore the following question: “How do students’ disciplinary understandings affect the emerging conceptualization of discipline-specific teaching?”

In this project the relevant data comes from an array of assignments that measure student progress in both content knowledge and understanding of the discipline in terms of teaching and learning. For example, the course (History 309) begin with students, who have all had numerous undergraduate courses in the discipline, writing a narrative of American history in the twentieth century and concludes with a final project in which students create a virtual museum exhibit on the same topic. In between, students also play the role of researchers into history and history education as they design interviews or “Think Alouds” with high school and college students to explore how individuals think about history and historical evidence. These and other assignments all aim to make visible the historical thinking and other discipline-specific methodology that so often remain invisible in traditional history courses, teaching methods, and in public history.

While the project is ongoing, the implications of our work may be significant for history departments and beyond. First, the data may suggest the importance of revising the training of secondary history teachers to include explicit attention to the intersection between content and research in history education. Second, departments across campus and throughout the nation offer traditional content courses in many disciplines while also training future teachers. The study may point to the value of changing curricula in both areas to provide future teachers, regardless of subject, with a better understanding of what happens when their students engage their discipline.