Teachers’ Perceptions of Learning Disabilities

Abstract

The study investigates the teachers’ perception of students with learning disabilities in the United Arab Emirates schools. Research made it clear that the teachers of different grade levels have different perceptions of their students with learning impairments: some instructors positively perceive them while others have negative perceptions. The future detailed investigation of the topic is of great importance because, nowadays, there is a lack of findings related to the research in the geographical region of interest, and especially in the United Arab Emirates. The analysis of teachers’ perceptions may help to improve the teaching and learning processes in the education of disabled students in mainstream schools. The tendency for the combination of the special and mainstream educational pattern is still very new to the schooling context, and the consideration of teachers’ thus may help to comprehend the aspects of academic and professional performance that can make education efficient.

Introduction

The purpose of the paper is the evaluation of teachers’ perceptions of students with learning disabilities in the United Arab Emirates schools. It is observed that teachers’ perceptions of their students play an essential role in the learning and teaching processes and define the efficiency and effectiveness of developmental outcomes in children (Alghazo, 2005). When people have a perception of something, it has a great impact on the outcome of what they have perceived. Thus, the positive or negative perceptions may have a significant impact on the overall outcome in the educational context.

The paper investigates the multiple aspects of teachers’ perceptions of their disabled students in the United Arab Emirates schools. At the current stage of the educational system development, the findings in this area of knowledge are still scarce in the Arab world context, and the issues of the disabled students’ education were not exposed to in-depth research due to the lack of inclusion programs in schools. The inclusive teaching phenomenon is new to professionals in education since previously it wasn’t considered to have a positive impact on the students with special needs, and the minimal or no services were available for the disabled students in schools.

However, the tendency for shifting the students with special needs from special schools to mainstream inclusion education is of increasing interest. The movement continues to gather pace rapidly, but the researchers didn’t have a chance to look deeply into the effects of school inclusion programs so far (Lopes, Monteiro, Sil, Rutherford & Mary, 2004).

The Inclusion programs are regarded as a process that is quite complicated and time-consuming as it requires considering multiple educational aspects to achieve significant success and developmental progress in students. All members of the community including parents, teachers, and students should take part in the planning phase as they are the major participants and consumers of educational programs within the school context (Haines, Gross, Blue-Banning, Francis, & Turnbull, 2015).

When schools start to implement the inclusion programs, they usually have a high expectation of the positive educational outcomes and a broad range of acquired abilities and achievements. The school administration needs to understand how to remove the barriers to effective learning and should be able to promote a positive appreciation of the diversity in the school community (Dukmak, 2013). The research of inclusion programs about the teachers’ perceptions may help to evaluate the potential threats to the program implementation success and find ways for the enhancement of educational processes in classes with the disabled students.

Literature Review

Several studies have focused on teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion. For example, Vaz and colleagues (2015) found that teachers have any concerns about how to implement inclusion in their classrooms. The study used three instruments for their data collection: interviews and questionnaires aimed to accumulate information about the opinions related to the integration of students with disabilities (Vaz et al., 2015).

The assessment scales and individual interviews specifically measured teachers’ attitudes towards the integration of students with disabilities in regular educational settings. School and teacher characteristics were based on teacher’s report details about the students’ demographic backgrounds and social history that glimpsed during the educational processes; the reports also covered various elements and features of training, and the general characteristics of schools. The major instrument that this study used was the Bandura’s Teacher Efficacy Scale. It focused on the teachers’ ability to accommodate different types of learning difficulties, which lead to the increase of time consumption provoked by the necessity of creating individual tasks.

Some other research studies focused on the evaluation of the teacher-child relationship as the context of child development (Pasta, Mendola, Prino, Longobardi, & Gastaldi, 2013). They also looked at the scholastic adaptation which was a form of protection to reduce the risk factors provoking the negative effects on the child’s development and also factors that increase this risk (Woodcock & Vialle, 2011).

The aim of their research was the evaluation of the teacher-pupil relationships and teachers’ perceptions’ effects on the child’s development. During the period of attending primary school, the students experience significant cognitive, emotional, and psychological development and shape the self-identity and representations of themselves as learners – it is the period when pupils consolidate competencies that are important for success (Pasta et al., 2013). In the quantitative research studies, the major instruments implemented by the researchers were the surveys, and questionnaires (Alghazo, 2005). For example, for the assessment of study variables in the sample of 36 teachers and 109 students in the study by Pasta and colleagues (2013), the researchers used the instrument called Student-Teacher Relationship Scale.

According to Kurth, Lyon, and Shogren, (2015), who looked at the ways to accommodate students with the severe disabilities in the inclusion programs, the teachers should have teaching arrangements where they would be able to provide the appropriate instructions that are much easy to follow through, and which could be accommodative but not pushing the students towards the limits of their cognitive and psychological capabilities.

As Woodstock and Vialle (2011) claim, the teachers should provide these students with a positive classroom environment where the impaired individuals could be supported by peers and other teachers, where the activities would be appropriate for the type of disability and would not be too challenging. It is important for the disabled students to having the non-instructional interactions with different people that the students are surrounded with, and have the opportunities of choice when it is necessary (Kurth, Lyon, & Shogren, 2015).

The research methods applied in the mentioned studies are the varied scales to measure things such as perception, school facilities and much more. The study by Pasta and colleagues (2013) implied low numbers of pupils with certified diagnoses making the number of teachers less. Another implication that the study of Lopes and colleagues (2004) faced was that they only took a sample of regular teachers and special education teachers as having similar perceptions considering that it was only a sample of teachers.

Further implications were faced by Gebhardt, Schwab, Krammer, and Gegenfurtner (2015) who argued that teachers and school policy required the individual educational planning to be implemented, monitored and evaluated in a careful way. They agreed that the guidance and advice for practicing teachers would be very desirable. Other methods used in the study by Cambridge-Johnson, Hunter-Johnson, and Newton (2014) included interviews. The participants completed a demographic sheet followed by the interview and the other person which was the interview note taker.

Silverman, Hdong, and Trepanier (2010) examined the collaborative efforts among the members of the Early Childhood Teacher Education Program and the Child Disability Health Care Program to be able to include a trans-disciplinary model in the preparation of early childhood teachers in inclusive practice. According to Ko and Boswell (2013), “learning to teach is an ongoing practice,” and a teacher needs to be constantly engaged in the process of self-education and competence increase to provide the students with the opportunity to achieve greater academic achievements (p. 225).

The preparation of the professional training programs and teachers’ participation in the programs should be supported by multiple organization and institutions that can assist in the promotion of the positive image of the inclusive education in public, provide the family-centered approach, and facilitate the collaboration and relationship building (Silverman, Hdong, & Trepanier, 2010).

There are no gaps in approaches to this topic that hasn’t been investigated or remained unexplored in the study conducted by La Placa and Carlyon (2014). The aim of this paper was the review of the current evidence base on the barriers to the inclusion and successful engagement of parents in the mainstream preventive services. It is primarily focused on the different areas of barriers to the inclusion, structural barriers, social and cultural barriers, as well as the suspicion and stereotypes acting as obstacles to the effective application of the programs.

There are no remaining issues that haven’t been addressed as the study by Shogren and colleagues (2015) focused on the different areas of considerations such as classroom level consideration, student-level consideration, and school-wide consideration. Moreover, this topic of teacher’s perception of students with learning impairments wasn’t the major one in the study that was done by Saft and Pianta (2001) who looked mainly on the teacher’s perceptions of their relationship with young students that was done on a quite big sample of 840 students.

Discussion

The inclusion of disabled students into the mainstream educational environments contributes to the formation of their social identity and helps them to acquire skills of social interrelations (Senicar & Grum, 2012). At the same time, the literature review revealed that teachers’ perceptions largely influence the developmental outcomes in children. The negative perceptions of the disabled students may lead to the provision of the unequal and inappropriate instructional practices while the positive perceptions are correspondent with the professional practice conducted in compliance with multiple educational standards (Kurth, Lyon, & Shogren, 2015).

In the context of the United Arab Emirates and with a new push towards inclusive education, there is a need for a better understanding of teacher’s perceptions of inclusive education. The understanding of the teachers’ perceptions, their effects on the classroom environment, curriculum design, selection of instructional practices and activities, as well as the overall learning and developmental efficiency of the disabled students, may help to elaborate the teaching strategies that would support the educational equality and achieve significant academic improvement.

According to the multiple educational principles and standards, the teachers’ level of competence may be defined not merely by their content knowledge but by the understanding of students’ needs (psychological, social, emotional, and cognitive), and the ability to implement this knowledge in practice and selection of teaching methodology. Moreover, teachers’ professional success largely depends on the ability to create a classroom environment in which each student would feel comfortable, accepted, and supported.

And it is important to investigate the teachers’ perceptions of disabled students about the support of classroom equality, compliance with professional standards, and students’ perceptions of their interrelations with teachers in different educational settings. Future research may help to reveal the dynamics of interrelations between the teachers’ perceptions and conduct, and may allow the identification of the extent of their impacts on the educational outcomes for children with learning disabilities.

The inclusion programs have significant social and ethical implications as they are aimed to support the social diversity, and provide the disabled individuals with equal opportunities to become the valuable members of the community. Nowadays, professionals in the field of education face multiple difficulties in the attempts to adopt the programs and efficiently include disabled students in mainstream classroom environments. The research of the topic and evaluation of various aspects of academic performance may help to increase the programs’ effectiveness and assist in the adaptation of students to the new educational environments.

References

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