Beginner Pre-Service Special Education Teachers’ Learning Experience During Practicum


ISSN 0827 3383

International Journal


Special Education


  • Beginner Pre-Service Special Education Teachers’ Learning Experience During Practicum

  • The Direct and Indirect effects of Environmental Factors on Nurturing Intellectual Giftedness

  • Teaching to Diversity: Creating Compassionate Learning Communities for Diverse Elementary School Students

  • Creating Success for Students with Learning Disabilities in Postsecondary Foreign Language Courses

  • Social Developmental Parameters in Primary Schools: Inclusive Settings’ and Gender Differences on Pupils’ Aggressive and Social Insecure Behaviour and their Attitudes Towards Disability

  • Let’s Have Fun! Teaching Social Skills Through Stories, Telecommunications, and Activities

  • Parents’ Perspectives on Inclusion and Schooling of Students with Angelman Syndrome: Suggestions for Educators

  • Enhancing Preservice Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy and Attitudes Toward School Diversity Through Preparation: A Case of One U.S. Inclusive Teacher Education Program

  • Professionalism and Institutionalization of Education of Speech and Language Impaired Children in an Inclusive System in Germany

  • School Culture for Students with Significant Support Needs: Belonging is Not Enough

  • Inclusive Education in Sweden: Responses, Challenges and Prospects

  • Special Education in Saudi Arabia: Challenges, Perspectives, Future Possibilities

  • Differentiated Accountability Policy and School Improvement Plans: A Look at Professional Development and Inclusive Practices for Exceptional Students

International Journal of Special Education


The International Journal of Special Education publishes original articles concerning special education. Experimental as well as theoretical articles are sought. Potential contributors are encouraged to submit reviews of research, historical, and philosophical studies, case studies and content analyses in addition to experimental correlation studies, surveys and reports of the effectiveness of innovative programs.

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Style: The content, organisation and style of articles should follow the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition. An article written in an obviously deviating style will be returned to the author for revision.

Abstracts: All articles will be preceded by an abstract of 100-200 words. Contributors are referred to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, Sixth Edition for assistance in preparing the abstract.

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Annotated and Indexed by the ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children for publication in the monthly print index Current Index to Journals of Special Education (CIJE) and the quarterly index, Exceptional Child Education Resources (ECER).

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OLUME 26 2011 NUMBER 2

Beginner Pre-Service Special Education Teachers’ Learning Experience During Practicum…………..1

Karen P. Nonis & Tan Sing Yee Jernice

The Direct and Indirect effects of Environmental Factors on Nurturing Intellectual Giftedness……….15

Ahmad Mohammad Al-Shabatat, Merza Abbas &Hairul Nizam Ismail

Teaching to Diversity: Creating Compassionate Learning Communities for Diverse

Elementary School Students……………………………………………………………………………..26

Jennifer Katz & Marion Porath

Creating Success for Students with Learning Disabilities in Postsecondary

Foreign Language Courses………………………………………………………………………………39

Michael E. Skinner & Allison T. Smith

Social Developmental Parameters in Primary Schools: Inclusive Settings’ and

Gender Differences on Pupils’ Aggressive and Social Insecure Behaviour and

their Attitudes Towards Disability………………………………………………………………………..55

Athina Arampatzi, Katerina Mouratidou, Christina Evaggelinou, Eirini Koidou, & Vassilis Barkoukis

Let’s Have Fun! Teaching Social Skills Through Stories, Telecommunications, and Activities……….67

Kaili Chen Zhang

Parents’ Perspectives on Inclusion and Schooling of Students with Angelman Syndrome:

Suggestions for Educators………………………………………………………………………………..76

Yona Leyser & Rea Kirk

Enhancing Preservice Teachers’ Sense of Efficacy and Attitudes Toward School

Diversity Through Preparation: A Case of One U.S. Inclusive

Teacher Education Program………………………………………………………………………………89

Wei Gao & Gerald Mager

Professionalism and Institutionalization of Education of Speech and Language

Impaired Children in an Inclusive System in Germany…………………………………………………………………………………………………105

Jörg Mussmann

School Culture for Students with Significant Support Needs: Belonging is Not Enough…………………………………………………………………………………………………..117

Diane Carroll, Connie Fulmer, Donna Sobel, Dorothy Garrison-Wade, Lorenso Aragon, & Lisa Coval

Inclusive Education in Sweden: Responses, Challenges and Prospects………………………………………………………………………………………………...125

Girma Berhanu

Special Education in Saudi Arabia: Challenges, Perspectives, Future Possibilities……………………………………………………………………………………………...146

Turki Alquraini

Differentiated Accountability Policy and School Improvement Plans: A Look at

Professional Development and Inclusive Practices for Exceptional Students………………………………………………………………………………………………….157

Marsha Simon & William R. Black

Beginner Pre-Service Special Education Teachers’ Learning Experience during Practicum

Karen P. Nonis

Tan Sing Yee Jernice

Nanyang Technological University

In Singapore, training for pre-service special education (PSSE) teachers is supported by a ten-week special education teaching (SET) practicum process in special school setting. In the first four weeks of SET practicum PSSE teachers are familiarized with their pupils, class routines, school culture and administrative processes within the school. The PSSE teachers were guided in lesson preparation and delivery by way of written and face-to-face feedback. Following this handholding, the PSSE teachers are observed by supervisors and cooperating teachers in the school and the University supervisors and they are graded for their overall performance of the SET practicum. This study focuses on the learning experiences of the PSSE teachers during the ten-week SET practicum in their respective special schools. The PSSE teachers completed a survey the week following completion of their practicum experience in school. Thirty-three (Male = 3; Female = 30) PSSE teachers participated in the survey. The survey instrument used a 4-point Likert scale which included two sections: (a) Teachers’ Response to the Practicum Experience their Learning Experience and (b) The process of the SET Practicum. The overall findings indicate that the PSSE teachers had positive experiences. Although the majority of PSSE teachers indicated that they enjoyed the SET practicum, their reasons varied. They felt that their supervisors both within the school and the University understood and the SET practice process and also conveyed the correct SET practicum process to them. The findings of this study are discussed in the light of recommended improvements to the SET practicum process for the PSSE teachers in special schools.


A beginner teacher’s first experience in a classroom setting can be very daunting. It is for this reason that courses that offer foundation in education with a practicum component is valuable (Ogonor & Badmus, 2006). Studies on occupational stress have also revealed that teaching is one of the most stressful occupations (Boyle, Borg, Falzon & Baglioni Jr., 1995; Hui & Chan, 1996; Schonfeld, 2001. Teachers working in the field of Special Education experience stressful work situations (Antoniou, Polychroni & Kotroni, 2009; Emery & Vandenberg, 2010; Forlin, 2001; Willliams & Gersch, 2004). Practicum for pre-service special education (PSSE) teachers is especially important. Teaching practicum forms a critical part of the teacher training of the beginning teacher’s first experience in a real school setting. It is a time where pre-service teachers are able to test out new or different strategies and apply what they have learned in their lectures to classrooms situations. It could also be a time to experience and learn to cope with occupational stress while they are having practicum.

Studies have also suggested that for PSSE teachers in mainstream schools which include teaching children with special education needs (SEN), lectures and discussions are insufficient (Kraayenoord, 2003). Instead, teachers should be encouraged to reflect and discuss thoughts and new innovative ideas for inclusion would be most suitable in the classroom environment. While the literature on beginner teacher’s experiences in regular classrooms is well documented, that of beginner PSSE teachers in mainstream or special education classrooms is limited (Conderman, Katsiyannis & Franks, 2001; Conderman, Morin & Stephens, 2005; McIntyre, Bryd & Foxx, 1996).

The Value of the Practicum Experience

Practicum experience help beginner teachers remain in teaching, develop skills and competencies in classroom management and progress in their teaching profession (Cameron, Lovett & Berger, 2007; Heppner, 1994; Smith & Lev-Ari, 2005). Cameron et al. (2007) tracked teachers in both primary and secondary schools from their third year between the years 2005 and 2008. The authors wrote that quality leadership and organizational commitment and practices, collegial support and opportunities to continue to learn about teaching collectively assisted beginner teachers in their classrooms. Further, these factors kept teachers longer in the teaching profession. Specifically, at the class level, beginner teachers indicated that they were supported in classes with pupils of less behavioral challenges. In this way, beginner teachers, Cameron and colleagues (2007) said, could concentrate better on the teaching rather than managing the pupils’ behaviors. In addition, when beginner teachers taught in subject areas they were qualified in and having a lower number of subjects to teach added to the support they needed at the start of their careers in teaching.

Interestingly, Cameron et al. (2007) reported that beginner teachers had Provisionally Registered Teacher (PRT) time allowance which protected the time of the teachers from covering duties such as teacher absences and or the kitchen manager. Although the authors did not provide an explanation as to the role of the kitchen manager, one would assume this would mean duties other than classroom teaching. Creatively, beginner teachers were encouraged to use their PRT time to locate resources and increase their awareness of their school and community and observe other teachers in classroom teaching (Cameron et al., 2007).

The School Culture as Support to the Practicum Experience

Beginnings in any new job can be stressful; some take it at their stride while others have problems settling in. The teaching profession, in particular has been ranked as a high stress occupation by many researchers (Beer & Beer, 1992; Borg, Riding & Falzon, 1991). Practicum forms part of the most stressful component in teaching and managing pupils’ behavior as this is one area where beginner teachers are challenged (Kyriacou & Stephens, 1999). Managing challenging pupils’ behaviors not only affects beginner teachers but even qualified teachers tend to feel stressed as well (Head, Hill & McGuire, 1996). Toren and Iliyan’s (2008) study of 146 beginner teachers, five mentors and five advisors using open-ended questions and semi-structured interviews, reported that beginner teachers faced adjustment to the schools’ culture, overload with work and individual differences amongst pupils.

In Lee, Walker and Bodycott’s study (2000) exploring the perceptions and expectations of Principals, pre-service teachers did not expect to receive assistance from their Principals during their first month of teaching. However, some of these pre-service teachers expected their Principals to be receptive and supportive to innovative teaching. The study further revealed that the pre-service teachers either wished for more support from their teaching colleagues or they believed that they should depend on themselves during their teaching practicum (Lee et al., 2000). Adding to this, Cameron et al.’s study (2007) reported that beginner teachers felt better when the school understood that it was not easy for a new teacher to adjust to a new environment. Consequently, irrespective of the type of profession, a positive, warm, welcoming and supportive environment combined with collegiality certainly help settle beginner PSSE teachers a little better.

Mentoring forms a critical part of the practicum process which could also affect the level of stress of a beginner PSSE teacher. However, this would depend on the experience and ability of the mentors (Roehrig, Bohn, Turner & Pressley, 2008). The authors wrote that experienced mentors had more to offer to their mentees and that effective beginner teachers communicated more with their mentors (Roehrig et al., 2008). Good mentorship is reflected in mentor ability to work with beginning teachers, developing strong and positive interactions with openness to discussions between mentor and mentees and teaching competence of the mentor (Evertson & Smithey, 2000). Mentors feedback to beginner student teachers during practicum has shown to affect their performance (Heppner, 1994). Heppner’s study (1994) involving five doctoral student teachers (four male, one female) found that the self-efficacy beliefs of these five student teachers were significantly enhanced under a structured teaching practicum system. This was seen through pre and post test ratings of prospective faculty of teaching whereby these five student teachers achieved significant differences in 21 out of 22 learning objectives during the course of the practicum. Some of these significant findings included learning objectives such as how to set the norms and expectations for my class, how to use learning objectives to guide my teaching strategies, developmental issues college students go through, factors to consider in leading a discussion, how to conduct a peer consultation and how to develop a teaching portfolio (Heppner, 1994, p. 503).

In addition, Heppner’s (1994) study also emphasized the need to have more varied forms of feedback for the student teachers to maximize the development of prospective faculty members’ self-efficacy. Typically, the common form of feedback from the instructor to the student teachers was through standard teaching evaluation questionnaires administered at the end of the semester. As Heppner’s (1994) study suggests, feedback can come in different forms such as instructor or peer observations, videotaping, peer consultation, or more traditional teaching evaluations. Further, the student teachers could also be introduced to a variety of activities during the teaching practicum such as peer support, discussion in teaching methods and techniques.

Other studies have supported the importance of having a mentorship programme during practicum (Boz & Boz, 2006, Hastings & Squires, 2002; Smith & Lev-Ari, 2005). For example, in Boz and Boz’s (2006) study, student teachers indicated that they either did not like the teachers they were attached to or felt that they did not get enough practice in their teaching experience. Smith and Lev-Ari (2005) study of 480 student teachers with a 68 closed-item questionnaire on their evaluation of various components of teacher education programmes indentified University supervisors as providing the strongest support next to their peers and school-based mentors during practicum. In Hastings and Squires’ (2002) study in which the role of mentorship was tasked to an experienced school-based teacher educator over a three-week period (rather than to the University Supervisor), the authors suggested that such new teaching practicum model allow opportunities for more collaboration which could potentially benefit every stakeholder in the practicum process. Examples of collaborative opportunities include sharing of ideas and understanding of ideal models of effective teaching among the different stakeholders and recognizing the new teaching practicum as a discussion platform for University mentor/supervisors and school-based mentors to develop the university course material incorporating their practical professional knowledge (Hastings & Squires, 2002).

Others studies have reinforced the need for teaching institutes to take a larger role in fostering and enhancing communication between mentors and student teachers while also providing on-going support to mentors while in the practicum process (Bradbury & Koballa Jr., 2008). Bradbury & Koballa Jr. (2008) explored the tensions between two pairs of mentor student teachers using border crossing as a theoretical framework. In this study, tension is defined as a strain or source of anxiety in the relationship. Border crossing framework involves a negotiation channel of transitions and expectations between mentors and the student teachers in order to develop a successful working relationship. This study revealed that the tensions between mentors and student teachers include different perceptions of mentoring, difficulty in communication and relationship development and different beliefs in teaching.

Conderman et al. (2005) surveyed faculty members of special education programme from 100 institutions in the United States of which one of the surveyed areas included supervision practices. The authors reported that between 94% and 98% of special education University supervisors provide feedback either verbally or written to their student teachers (i.e. PSSE teachers). Further, that 80% of University supervisors made four visits for student teachers on a quarter system while 33% and 28% made four and six visits to student teachers on a semester system respectively. The duration of the visits varied for supervisors as well. For example, 60% of each visit lasted between 30 to 60 minutes, 32% of each visit lasted for 30 minutes or less , 6% of each visit lasted between 60 and 90 minutes, and 2% of each visit lasted for over 90 minutes (Conderman et al., 2005). When the respondents (i.e. PSSE teachers) were asked to specify what were the most student teaching challenges, the top three most frequent responses were getting appropriate and adequate resources in terms of time, travel and other university resources (Respondents: 29%), selecting and retaining qualified cooperating teachers who shared same teaching philosophy of teacher preparation programme (Respondents: 25%) and finding appropriate teaching placements for student teachers (Respondents: 19%, Conderman et al., 2005). Finding appropriate teaching placements was especially an important factor influencing the learning experiences during SET practicum (Conderman et al., 2005). Although not part of the most significant factors, 7% of faculty members of special education programme of various institutions indicated that the student teachers (i.e. PSSE teachers) themselves were the greatest teaching challenge. The PSSE teachers were socially and emotionally unprepared to teach and had the impression that they would receive an A grade from their mentors or that they would be posted out to schools in their home districts for SET practicum (Conderman et al., 2005).

Lewis, Hatcher and William (2005) study investigated 263 pre-doctoral psychology graduate students through a survey on their practicum experience. The study highlighted problems in communication between practicum sites and education programme taken by student teachers and that they hoped to have more information about the practicum. Similarly, Tarquin and Truscott (2006) surveyed a national sample of 139 school psychology students to better understand their practicum experiences. Although these students were generally satisfied with their practicum experiences and their supervisors, many knew little about the whole range of activities which they were supposed to do after they graduated. The authors suggested that training should be provided to supervisors to set clear expectations to provide appropriate activities for practicum students and to ensure that practicum students be exposed to a range of potential professional functions. In addition, supervisors should understand the importance of modelling as these practicum students may look to them as role models. Thus, supervisors should also be aware of the specific strategies they can use to provide support, feedback, and apprentice-type learning opportunities.

Caires and Almeida (2007) explored the student teachers’ perception about their practicum. Specifically, Caires and Almeida (2007) conducted a survey based on the reflections of 224 student teachers about their cooperative teacher’s and university supervisor’s performance. Generally, the study concluded the way supervisors interacted with their supervisors in terms of involvement, proximity, respect and support contributed to a positive practicum experience. Further, the study also emphasized that the university supervisors’ interpersonal skills was crucial to the student teachers’ positive practicum experiences. Rajuan, Beijard & Verloop (2008) study involving 10 cooperating teachers and 20 undergraduate student teachers of an Israeli academic teachers’ college reported that student teachers can learn about personal characteristics essential for creating positive teacher-pupil relationships through the interpersonal relationships between student teachers and cooperating teachers. In general, student teachers viewed the practicum experience as the most significant aspect of learning to teach of which they regarded the relationship with their cooperating teachers as the most important part of the fieldwork experience. In another words, the supervisory relationships are important to the personal and professional development of the prospective teachers (Caires & Almeida, 2007). A view shared by other researchers (Rajuan, et al., 2008).

The Practicum Process for Pre-Service Special School Teachers (PSSE) in the 1990s to 2004

In the past, the PSSE teachers in special schools underwent a two-year part-time Diploma in Special Education (DISE) at the National Institute of Education (NIE), Singapore’s teacher training hub for all teachers in both mainstream and special schools. At the time, the training involved two teaching practicums over a two-year period, Teaching practicum I (TP I) – which was seven weeks and Teaching Practicum II (TP II) – over a ten-week period. During both TP I and TP II, the PSSE teachers returned to their respective special schools that sponsored their teaching training for their SET practicum experience (Quah & Jones, 1996). The processes for TP I and TP II required a strong partnership between the NIE, the School and the PSSE teachers in training. The TP I was equated to that of the handholding session in which the teachers learned about the school environment, the pupils in the class, the culture of the school (the administrative processes) while observing other teachers in classrooms and learning to prepare and deliver lessons. The uniqueness of the special schools was that most of the PSSE teachers were experienced in working with pupils with special needs without formal training as they had on-the-job training and or in-house training. Annecdotal observations indicated that in the years from 1990 to 2004, majority of the PSSE teachers had at least three years and up to ten years of formal teaching in special schools.

Consequently, while the initial TP I allowed the PSSE teachers the time to get to know their special school, majority of the PSSE teachers were well established in their schools. The PSSE teachers were observed in both TP I and TP II but TP II carried a greater weight on the final grade and which the PSSE teachers had to pass in order to graduate as fully-trained special education teachers (Quah & Jones, 1996). The TP I handholding session served as a means of identifying and counseling the PSSE teachers at risk whereby measures were taken to assist them further into TP II. Further, it was at TP I where the PSSE teachers’ negative attitudes would also be addressed with the PSSE teachers prior to the TP II. In the more serious cases, the PSSE teachers would be recommended to repeat the TP I.

The New Practicum Process for Pre-Service Special School Teachers (PSSE) from 2005 to Present

Beginning in 2003, a taskforce was formed within the NIE, Early Childhood and Special Needs Education Academic Group (ECSEAG) to review the DISE programme for PSSE teachers in training. The taskforce recommended changes for the two-year part-time DISE to be reduced to a one-year full-time programme for the DISE. Inclusive in this change was the SET Practicum process which would be aligned to that of pre-service teachers in mainstream teacher training. With the two-year part-time compressed into a one year, the SET practicum was compacted to a ten-week practicum. Unlike the earlier TP process, TP I and TP II which comprised of a total of 17 weeks (spread over the two years) was now a ten-week SET practicum (see Figure 1). The PSSE teachers completed all their courses in the DISE prior to the SET Practicum. The new SET practicum for special schools comprised of the School Coordinating Mentor (SCM) and the Cooperating Teacher (CT) and the University Supervisors. The Principal (P), Vice-Principal (VP) and or Programme Level Leader (PLL) could be the SCM in the schools while the teacher working with the PSSE teacher on a day-to-day basis in classroom planning and delivery of lessons and co-teaching was usually the CT.

Given that both handholding and graded SET Practicum was compressed into one ten-week period, the rationale was to have handholding session within the new ten-week SET Practicum for special schools. The process of ten-week SET practicum for the PSSE teachers was further divided into TP I and TP II. In TP I, the SCM, CT and University Supervisors had to complete one observation each within the first four weeks of the start of the practicum with the submission of a Summary Interim report (see Figure 1). However, in cases where there were weak PSSE teachers, an additional observation could be done after discussions between all partners in the process. The Interim Report is unique to the SET practicum process and transparent to the PSSE teachers involved in the process prior to entry to the second phase of the TP II. The Interim Report would highlight a summary of the either a PSSE teacher at risk of failing and or with a negative attitude towards teaching and or a potential A grader in the SET practicum.

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