Year

2008

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Faculty of Education

Abstract

The current study was conducted to investigate preservice teachers’ understandings and expectations of students with learning disabilities. Attributional responses that teachers construct result in differing teacher affect, evaluative feedback and expectation of future performance. Once these understandings and expectations are embedded they are less likely to change over the span of a teaching career. This study therefore examined preservice teachers’ attributional responses to boys with a learning disability who had failed a class test. Preservice teachers’ attitudes towards students with learning disabilities, and their teacher efficacy were also explored in relation to their attributional responses. The instructional strategies that preservice teachers report they would use for students with learning disabilities were also considered.

Six hundred-sixty-seven preservice primary and secondary school teachers within New South Wales were studied across four University Campuses. Five kinds of instruments were administered to the subjects of the study: a demographic questionnaire, an attributional vignettes questionnaire, an attitudes questionnaire, a teacher efficacy scale questionnaire, and, an instructional strategies questionnaire. Each University within New South Wales is required, by the Department of Education and Training (DET), to include a compulsory inclusive education subject within their course design. To investigate the influence that the compulsory inclusive education subject has on preservice teachers, the study included preservice teachers who had and had not completed the subject.

The results of the study showed that preservice teachers form a negative attribution cycle about students with a learning disability, which is in stark contrast to the positive attribution cycle that they form about students without a learning disability. The findings show that preservice teachers view students with a learning disability more from a medical model viewpoint that emphasises deficits. Thus, they are generally more positive towards students with a learning disability, less frustrated, more sympathetic, and have lower expectations of their future performances. Philosophically, their educational view towards students with a learning disability is driven by ability, rather than effort, which is in contrast to their view towards students without a learning disability. Preservice teachers also report they would use more teacher-centred instructional strategies for students with learning disabilities, in comparison to using higher cognitive level instructional strategies in a student-centred environment for students without a learning disability. The application of teacher efficacy to this study suggested that preservice teachers who believed, and were confident in their own teaching abilities, were more likely to have a greater academic focus on classroom instructional strategies and outcomes. Similarly, preservice teachers with a greater positive attitude towards students with a learning disability had higher expectations of these students and reported greater use of higher cognitive level instructional strategies in a student-centred environment.

Finally, the study suggests recommendations and implications for practice and future research in regards to understandings and expectations of students with learning disabilities.

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