In order to find out how much teachers have been told about disabilities, it would perhaps be best to interview a few to see if there were differences in their training. This may depend on where they were first taught. I would ask if they were aware of disabilities when they first started teaching and if they had become more familiar with types of children’s disabilities over the years. The results would tell me if more information about disabilities should be provided for teachers. Asking the questions: “how easy is it to spot disabilities?” and “how have you noticed disabilities in the past?” would give me varying results, because it comes down to each individual teacher and how observant they are. The answers would be helpful in working out what teachers could do to notice students with disabilities. Then, from the pupils they noticed that had signs of a disability, how did they ensure that the correct support was provided for them? Was it a simple change in their own teaching, someone coming in to work with the child or was the child taught separately from the class? There can be many different support methods. Schools may simply go for the most cost effective route rather than the most supportive. Taking into account the “Response to Instruction” that Gerber (2005) writes about would be very expensive for schools and there is no way of seeing how effective the trials could be in identifying disabilities since it has not been used on a large scale. Most schools would probably go without, as this would save them money and time that would involve changing the school for Response to Instruction needs, i.e. more staff, rooms and pupils leaving classes for trials.
I could attempt observing a classroom of pupils to see if spotting problems is a difficult task and to see how much observation is needed. I could do this through general observation of the class behaviour and the work of the pupils. I could also try out the two checklists in Martin’s book (2000) to see how effective they are, as they are designed to help beginner teachers to become more observant of their pupils. The first checklist looks at the class as a whole and the second one looks closely at how individual pupils interact and work. I would then write up my results to see if someone else who is familiar with learning disabilities needs to come into the schools to view a classroom while the children are working rather than taking them out of class. This would make it easier on the teachers and should hopefully be cheaper than Response to Instruction trials.
Both of these research methods could go wrong. The first issue I may face could be that teachers might not be willing to speak to me. I feel those that would speak to me for the interviews would not be honest with their answers because they may feel the need to ‘gloss over’ their answers and I would have no way of knowing if what they would be saying would be what they think they are expected to say. I also may not be able to gain a true experience of observing a class. The class pupils may feel uncomfortable with my presence and not work efficiently. If I, instead of the class teacher, were to identify a pupil that may have problems it could make the teacher look bad. Even though it can be good to get an outside view, I would also not be able to notice issues that do not appear straight away. In this case I would have to get to know many pupils and observe their work over a long time. Another main problem is that parents may not give permission to get their child’s work observed.
Practically all of these problems are unavoidable and there would not be a way of getting useful results without using the methods I have mentioned. There is no way of knowing in advance if this would work or not, but by changing the way interview questions are asked obvious and expected answers may be avoided. I would have to make sure to ask indirect questions to avoid leading the subject. This way the teachers I interviewed would be able to provide more realistic responses. Also, taking the teachers out of their school environment may make a difference in what they say.
I think researching the issue of how to detect children with disabilities would be hard to do because the research methods are most likely not to work. Every school, pupil and teacher is different so any information I find out from one school would not be the same for another. This would make it very difficult to see if any improvements are needed within schools. The only way to get good results would be to gain a larger sample of results by going to many schools and talking to many teachers. This could be time consuming, expensive due to the travel involved and pointless if I were to get no useful information. I would only be able to look into this area for official purposes.
Gerber, M., (2005), Teachers are still the test: limitations of response to instruction strategies for identifying children with learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities. 38 (6) 516-524.
Martin, D., (2000), Teaching children with speech and learning difficulties. London: David Fulton Publishers Ltd.