|UFDC Home||myUFDC Home | Help|
This item has the following downloads:
ELEMENTARY INTERNS' KNOWLEDGE AND IMPLEMENTATION OF
ACCOMMODATIONS FOR DIVERSE LEARNERS
ALYSON J. ADAMS
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Alyson J. Adams
Mom, without your constant love, support, dedication, patience, help, and encouragement
none of this would be possible. This is for you.
I must admit that working on my dissertation has been a totally enjoyable
experience. In fact, my entire doctoral program has been an incredible journey, filled with
people who inspired me, pushed me, comforted me, laughed with me, schemed with me,
and relaxed with me. Every one of them should be aware of the impact they have had on
my life because I try to express my appreciation often. However, as I complete this leg of
the journey, I would like to express my gratitude to all of them again.
First, I would like to thank my committee members for being such wonderful
mentors and role models. My chairperson, Dr. Elizabeth Bondy, has shown me that it is
possible to become a researcher, teacher educator, and scholar, while working in schools
to make a difference in the lives of children. When we worked on different research
projects together, she always valued my perspective and treated me like a colleague,
which meant a lot to me. During the dissertation phase, she always had time to meet with
me, read my drafts, and talk through emerging findings, and I felt truly supported with
her guidance. Dr. Mary Brownell was instrumental in helping me refine my proposal and
offered much needed professional and emotional support throughout my program. Dr.
Dorene Ross is an incredibly gifted teacher educator and researcher, and I learn
something every time I talk with her. Dr. James McLeskey pushed me to question
research, and, although he does not know it, was the little voice inside my head as I was
I would also like to thank the Spencer Foundation for the financial and professional
support through the Pre-Dissertation Program. It was an honor to be recognized as a
beginning scholar, researcher, and professional. I want to thank Dr. Marleen Pugach, my
Spencer mentor, for her suggestions and her support during the proposal and pilot stage.
She helped shape my thinking about curriculum and accommodations in very important
ways. I also learned a lot about accommodations from my four participants. I want to
thank each of them for letting me into their classrooms during their busy internships, and
letting me into their thoughts as well.
My peer debriefing group members, Cindy McCallum, Lynne Stafford, and Rhonda
Nowak, were so much more than a professional support through this process. I thank
them for their unwavering support during our bi-weekly meetings. It meant more to me
than I could ever express here. They turned this journey into a caffeine-induced road trip.
To all my friends and family both in and out of the doctoral program, I offer my
sincere thanks for their support, enthusiasm, and patience. My FLITE colleagues and I
have taken turns being the lead goose, drafting behind each other in V-formation. I never
could have flown this far without them.
And finally, and most importantly, I thank the people whose love made this work
possible. Dawn was, and continues to be, my biggest cheerleader. Paul put balance in my
life and broadened my mind with esoteric puzzles and a world of birds. My father, Gerry,
inspired me to become an educator and showed me what passionate teaching looks like.
My daughter, Hannah, brought joy and laughter into my life I hope she loves learning
as much as I do. And my mother, Lois, really made this all possible. I will be thanking
her for the rest of my life.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
LIST OF TABLES ................................ .. ... ......... ........... .... .... x
ABSTRACT .............. ......................................... xi
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
Purpose of the Study ............... ............... .................................. .2
D elim itations.................................... ....................... .. ..... .... ......... 4
D definition of T erm s ................. ................................ ........ ........ .......... .......
2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ......................................................... ....................8
The N ature of A ccom m odations............................................................................. 8
Sorting O ut the D definition .......................................................................... ....
H ow to M ake A ccom m odations................................... .................................... 13
W hat is H happening in Practice?...................................................................... .. .... 16
A Critical Look at Current Practice ......................................... ...............17
Teachers' Explanations for Current Practices ................. ............................18
W hat is Happening in Teacher Education? ..................................... ............... 20
Sum m ing up the Situation ................................................ .............................. 23
Learning to Teach ................................................... ...... .......... .. ..24
Sum m ary ...................................... ................. ................. .......... 27
3 FRAMEWORK AND METHODOLOGY........................ ...................... 28
C o n c ep tu al L en s ................................................................................................... 2 8
Phenom enology .................................. ........ .. .... ...............28
Constructivism .......... ........... .................. .......................... 30
D design of the Stu dy ..............................................................3 1
P ilo t W o rk ..................................................................................................... 3 1
R research Q u estion s .............................. ........................ .. ........ .... ............32
Context of the Study .......... ...................... .... ........ .... ... .. ........ .... 34
P articip ants ....................................................................... 3 5
D description of Participants ........................................................... ..................... 37
D ata Collection ................................................... ..... .. ........ .... 40
Data Analysis......................................... 44
T rustw orthiness of the Study ................................................................... ......45
Presentation of Findings ......................................................... .............. 48
Conventions of Language........................................................ ............... 49
4 ACCOMMODATIONS: A RECONCEPTUALIZED APPROACH.........................51
Erica: "It's Just Part of Teaching" ............................................... .......... ...........52
Conception of Effective Instruction ................ ........................................52
Group alerting keeps the whole class tuned in..........................................53
Interactive instruction involves even reluctant learners.............................54
Instruction should be adapted to the needs of the individual ....................55
Erica's view of effective instruction in action .......................................... 56
Conception of Accommodation....................................... ...............57
Narrowing the focus from whole class to individual .................................58
Part of an on-going reflection cycle .................................. ............... 59
Alignment with goals and objectives ............................ ...............61
Conception of Diverse Learners...................................... ................................. 63
W ho are diverse learners? ........................................ ........................ 64
Who actually receives accommodations? ......................................... 65
Kelly: "Looking at the Kid as an Individual"................................................67
Conception of Effective Instruction ........... ........ ........................67
Emphasis on developing community ................................. ............... 68
Responsive to students' interests and skills ...........................................70
Examples and experiences, then one-on-one ............................................74
Kelly's view of effective instruction in action....... ..........................75
Conception of Accommodation .............. ........ ....................... 76
Individual support and encourage ent ................................ ............... 77
M multiple representations and routes .................................. ............... 80
A flexible process based on individual progress ................ .....................83
C onception of D iverse L earners................................... .................................... 85
W ho are diverse learners? ........................................ ........................ 86
W ho actually receives accommodations? ................................................. 87
Summary of the Cases: Reconceptualized Approaches to Accommodation .............89
5 ACCOMMODATIONS: A TRADITIONAL APPROACH.............. ...................91
A shley: "B ring A ll Students U p" .................................................... .....................91
Conception of Effective Instruction .......................................................... 92
Everyone deserves a challenging curriculum.............................................92
Student-centered instruction engages more students ...................................94
Teaching for mastery helps students truly understand.............. ...............95
Ashley's view of effective instruction in action...................................96
Conception of Accomm odation.................................................. ............... 98
Adapting for diverse learning styles.................................. ............... 98
Adapting for different achievement levels................................................100
Docum enting alteration of standards ............. ................. ....................105
Conception of Diverse Learners........... ................... ...................... ............... 108
W ho are diverse learners? ........................................ ....... ............... 109
Who actually receives accommodations? ...................... ...............110
Debra: "M ore Support ... Same W ork"............................................................ 112
Conception of Effective Instruction ..... ............. ... ......... ................ 116
Teacher control of behavior and instruction ............................................. 116
Formative evaluation to monitor progress ...........................................120
Debra's view of effective instruction in action ............... ...................122
Conception of Accomm odation.................................................. .............. 123
Offered to all students to avoid stigmatizing .......................................... 124
Different expectations for individuals............ ..... .................. 125
Different levels of support...... ..................... ...............128
Conception of Diverse Learners...... ...................... ...............131
W ho are diverse learners? ........................................ ....... ............... 131
Who actually receives accommodations? ......................... ...............132
Summary of the Cases: Traditional Approaches to Accommodation ....................133
6 ACCOMMODATION DILEMMAS: "GOING AROUND IN CIRCLES" ............136
D definition s of F airn ess.................................................................... ................ .. 137
Is It F air? .......... ... ...... ............................................. ............................138
It's Not Fair! ............ ...... ......... ................ 140
A ssessm ent/G reading ............. .... .................................... .... .......... .. ............ 142
Standardized vs. Flexible Grading ....................................... ............... 143
Appropriate Assessment Measures......... .......... ...... ..............149
Challenges of Providing Accommodations ................................................. 152
Constraints Related to Cooperating Teacher.............. .... ...............153
Constraints Related to School Culture ................................... ............... 155
Constraints Related to M management Issues................................................... 156
Influence of the Teacher Education Program on Dilemmas...................................158
Program m atic Them e ............................................... ............................. 159
C oursew ork ................................................................................................159
A assistance F rom O thers................... ... ...................................................... 16 1
Summary of the Influences of the Program on Intern Dilemmas.................... 162
7 CONCLUSIONS AND IMPLICATIONS .................................... ...............164
Extending Existing Literature ........... ........................................ ...... 166
Two Views of Accommodation........................... ...............167
Political Tactics of N negotiation .................................................... ............... 171
Adding Classroom Performance to Studies of Preservice Teacher Learning in
U unified P program s ............... .......................................... .......... ..................... 17 5
Im p licatio n s ................................................................................... 17 7
Implications for Teacher Educators .................. ......... ................................177
Implications for School-Based Personnel ............................... ............... .181
Implications for the Research Community................................... ............... 182
A INFORM ED CONSENT LETTERS............................................... ..................184
B PROGRAM M ATERIALS.......... .......................... .................. ............... 188
C DATA M ANAGEMENT LOG ............................................................ .................190
D INTERVIEW PROTOCOL FOR PARTICIPANTS ...............................................193
E INTERVIEW PROTOCOL FOR COOPERATING TEACHERS .......................... 196
F DOCUMENT SUMMARY FORM ..................................................197
L IST O F R E FE R E N C E S ......................................................................... ................... 198
BIOGRAPH ICAL SKETCH ...................................................... 207
LIST OF TABLES
1 Tim e spent with pilot participants................................ ......................... ........ 32
2 School and county demographics...................... .... ............................ 38
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
ELEMENTARY INTERNS' KNOWLEDGE AND IMPLEMENTATION OF
ACCOMMODATIONS FOR DIVERSE LEARNERS
Alyson J. Adams
Chair: Elizabeth Bondy
Major Department: School of Teaching and Learning
Students with a range of abilities and disabilities are being included in general
education classrooms in increasing numbers, and teachers need an extensive repertoire of
strategies and accommodations in order to meet the needs of all learners in a single
classroom. Unified general and special education teacher education programs have
emerged as one way to help preservice teachers learn how to meet the needs of diverse
learners. The purpose of this study was to investigate how four interns prepared in such a
program conceptualize and implement accommodations for diverse learners. Three
guiding questions framed this study:
1. How do elementary education interns prepared in a unified teacher education
a. conceptualize "diverse learners"?
b. conceptualize what it means to accommodate for diverse learners?
2. How do the interns accommodate for diverse learners during their internship
3. What factors influence the extent to which the interns are able to put their personal
conceptualizations into action?
Phenomenological research methodology was used to study 4 preservice teachers
during a 12-week internship placement. The participants were selected based on
recommendations that they were capable interns, placed with cooperating teachers that
allowed interns freedom to try new strategies in the classroom. Data sources for each
participant consisted of 7 classroom observations and reflective interviews, 2 semi-
structured interviews, a member check interview, and lesson plan artifacts. From these
data, 4 case studies were prepared to describe how each participant thought about
accommodations and then put that conception into action. A cross-case analysis was done
to identify dilemmas the interns faced as they implemented accommodations.
Each intern was able to articulate her knowledge and beliefs about diverse learners
and accommodations and had different approaches for putting these conceptions into
action. The approaches ranged from viewing accommodations largely in terms of
remediation for students who were not achieving to grade-level standards, to viewing
accommodation as a way to redesign curriculum so that students could interact with
content in ways that better met their needs. The interns identified dilemmas related to
definitions of fairness, grading and assessment, and implementation constraints that
affected the ways they approached accommodation.
With the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
in 1997, more and more students with disabilities are being served in general education
schools and classrooms (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). However, placement,
alone, does not guarantee participation and progression for these students (Pugach &
Warger, 2001). The new IDEA provisions suggest a focus on curriculum changes rather
than mere placement to allow access to the general education curriculum. Now, the
Individual Education Program (IEP) must specifically address how a student will gain
access to the general education curriculum. Intentional supports must be in place to help
students progress and make sense of the general education curriculum (Pugach &
Warger, 2001). This requirement calls for skilled general and special educators who can
collaborate to find ways to help students with diverse needs be successful in inclusive
Current research indicates that general education teachers may not be well prepared
to make the accommodations necessary to meet the needs of diverse learners (Schumm &
Vaughn, 1995; Whinnery, Fuchs, & Fuchs, 1991) nor do they seem to do so in practice
(Baker & Zigmond, 1990; Brown, Gable, Hendrickson, & Algozzine, 1991; Zigmond &
Baker, 1996). This is problematic because as more and more students with diverse needs
are being included in general education classes, teachers will need the skills and the
dispositions to meet the needs of all students.
Unified teacher preparation programs have evolved as one way to alleviate this gap
in knowledge and to improve practice. Winn and Blanton (1997) call for preparation of
general and special educators who can collaborate to meet the needs of diverse learners.
They suggest that this collaboration requires these educators to "share beliefs about
students, teaching, and learning; to have a rich knowledge base about curriculum and
instruction; and to know how to collaborate" (p. 11). Unified or collaborative programs
may be structured differently, but usually share the common goal that all teachers are
prepared together to meet the needs of all students (Villa, Thousand, & Chapple, 2000).
This goal requires a programmatic focus on disability and other forms of diversity and on
how to design instruction and set up classrooms to make all students successful.
Sometimes this is accomplished by cross-departmental planning of courses with infused
content, or by providing courses not traditionally taught in general education preservice
However, just as placement in inclusive classrooms cannot ensure that students'
needs are being met, preparation in a unified program does not ensure that preservice
teachers will be more capable of accommodating the diverse needs of students. Research
is needed to evaluate the effectiveness of these restructured programs (Griffin & Pugach,
1997) and more specifically the learning and understandings of program participants. Are
students prepared in these programs ready, willing, and able to meet the needs of all
Purpose of the Study
For teacher education programs to adequately prepare preservice teachers to work
in the schools of tomorrow, we must take a hard look at what we are doing today to effect
that change. This means not only summative assessment of restructured programs
(focused on graduates), but also formative assessment (focused on current students).
Teacher education has been described as a time for preservice teachers to clarify
and explicate their beliefs and assumptions so that these understandings can shape their
teaching as they learn from their experiences (Loughran & Russell, 1996). Unified
programs are based on the ultimate goal of preparing teachers for inclusion, which is
likely to be a new concept for preservice teachers educated in non-inclusive schools in
the 80's and 90's. Therefore, teacher education students are expected to think about
teaching in ways that may be radically different from the ways they were taught, which
may be a difficult, if not an impossible, obstacle to overcome (Kennedy, 1997; Pajares,
1992; Richardson, 1996).
Preservice teachers are also challenged by the structures of the student teaching
experience itself. They may be placed in a classroom that is noninclusive, and with a
teacher whose conception of effective teaching differs from that espoused in the teacher
education program. This raises questions about the resulting understandings and actions
interns are able to develop in teaching contexts that conflict with the goals of a unified
teacher education program.
This study is designed to take an in-depth look at the understandings and actions of
interns prepared in a unified teacher education program. The following questions will be
1. How do elementary education interns prepared in a unified teacher education
a. conceptualize "diverse learners"?
b. conceptualize what it means to accommodate for diverse learners?
2. How do the interns accommodate for diverse learners during their internship
3. What factors influence the extent to which the interns are able to put their personal
conceptualizations into action?
Understanding more about how students in a unified program are being prepared to deal
with the diverse needs of students they will inevitably serve will help teacher educators as
they continue to design and refine these programs. In addition, it will provide information
about factors that affect the implementation of accommodation to inform school-based
support personnel as they help novice teachers meet the needs of all learners.
This study will be conducted with participants enrolled in the Unified Elementary
and Special Education PROTEACH Program at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Participants volunteered from a purposefully selected pool of applicants according to
specific selection criteria outlined in the methodology chapter. Data collection took place
from August to December 2002.
The findings of this study are obviously context specific. I will describe the context
of the study in detail in the methodology chapter and will provide extensive quotes from
participants and anecdotes based on classroom observations to support the findings. This
will allow readers to draw their own conclusions about transferability to different
contexts based on shared characteristics (Creswell, 1998; Erlandson, Harris, Skipper, &
Definition of Terms
For the purposes of this study, it is helpful to have a shared understanding of
several terms that will be used. These definitions are presented for clarity, and should not
be viewed as definitive or authoritative, consistent with a Vygotskian view of
constructivism (Richardson, 1997).
An intern is a student in the master's year of a five-year teacher education program
who is engaging in a full-time field placement. The interns spent twelve weeks in the
classroom, from August 19 though November 8, 2002, and were expected to assume full
responsibility for teaching during their placements. This was their first and only full-time
placement, preceded by a 15-hour a week pre-internship and several other less time-
intensive placements. These interns were all working toward elementary education
certification in grades 1-6, and chose various specialization areas. They had one more
semester in the unified program after the internship, during which time they took
coursework related to their chosen area of specialization.
Unified program will be used to indicate a program in which elementary and
special education preservice teachers take common coursework that has been designed
through collaboration of all five departments in the college of education at the University
of Florida. In the literature, the terms collaborative program and dual certification
program are also used to describe this type of program, though differences exist in how
colleges of education structure these programs.
Since one of the purposes of this study is to understand how interns define
accommodations, I will refrain from presenting a definition here. However, I will
differentiate between accommodations and modifications by stating that accommodations
will refer to any change in how material is presented or approached, and modifications
will refer to a change in the content of that material. Adaptations will be used
synonymously with accommodations. The purpose of this study is not to differentiate
between these terms, but to find out in a more general way how the needs of students are
being met. For that purpose, the word accommodation is used in this dissertation in a
very broad, general manner.
Similarly, I will also refrain from offering a detailed description of diverse learners.
However, I will point out that the teacher education program in which these students
were enrolled has adopted a definition of diversity that includes ethnicity and race,
socioeconomic status, disability, sexual orientation, and gender. The idea of diversity is
imbedded in many of the courses offered throughout the five-year program, and is
strengthened by the collaboration of college faculty across departments in the design and
implementation of courses.
Since the purpose of this study is to examine preservice teacher thinking and
action, it is important to define some of the language used to refer to teacher thinking. In
the research questions, I use conceptualize to indicate the complex understandings
participants have regarding the topics of interest. These personal, idiosyncratic
understandings may be formed by beliefs and attitudes, experiences, and/or professional
knowledge. I use conceptualization in a manner similar to the use of knowledge by
Alexander, Schaller, and Hare (1991): "Knowledge encompasses all that a person knows
or believes to be true, whether or not it is verified as true in some objective or external
way" (p. 317).
However, the main purpose of this study is not to describe conceptualizations or
knowledge that individuals hold but to attempt to understand the personal practical
knowledge (Clandinin & Connelly, 1987) of interns regarding accommodations for
diverse learners. This type of knowledge is personal and contextual and emerges during
action (Yinger, 1979). Therefore, all three research questions will give insight into the
personal practical knowledge interns have of diverse learners and how to accommodate
for their instructional and behavioral needs.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
The purpose of this study was to examine how general education elementary
interns prepared in a unified elementary and special education teacher education program
conceptualize and implement instructional accommodations for diverse learners. In
particular, both the actions and the decision making processes were explored as interns
made accommodations for learners whose instructional needs differed. To understand
more about what is needed and what is possible regarding accommodations in inclusive
classrooms, a review of the literature was conducted.
There is a large body of research describing accommodations and modifications for
diverse learners, usually from the standpoint of a researcher or an expert who describes
the ideal way to meet the needs of all learners. Related to that is a body of research that
describes what actually happens in classrooms, both general and special education, to
meet the needs of all students. To parallel what is occurring in classrooms, I then looked
to the research on teacher preparation for inclusive education. When these three bodies of
literature are brought together, the result is an idealized picture of how to prepare general
education teachers to meet the needs of all students. However, to understand if this ideal
picture is in fact possible, I examined the literature on the development and learning of
The Nature of Accommodations
Information on accommodations and adaptations is plentiful. It is an essential
chapter in books on inclusion (e.g., Kochhar, West, & Taymans, 2000; Landers &
Weaver, 1997; Lombardi, 1999; Villa & Thousand, 1995) as well as recent books on
instructional strategies (e.g., Bos & Vaughn, 2002; Eggen & Kauchak, 2001). It is only
recently that scholars have called for a focus on curriculum rather than placement
(Pugach & Warger, 2001). In previous years, the emphasis was on philosophical, social,
and/or administrative issues, with less attention to matters of instruction and curriculum
(Joint Committee on Teacher Planning for Students with Disabilities, 1995).
Pugach and Warger (2001) stated that focusing on curriculum is critical because
inclusive placements put students back in the very environments where they were once
unsuccessful and subsequently labeled. Warger and Pugach (1996) called for a proactive
stance on this issue, which would allow troubleshooting of student difficulties and
preventive curriculum planning at the school and district levels.
While it may not have been the primary focus of early discussions on including
students in the mainstream, specific mention of accommodations and adaptations does
date back to 1982. Baumgart et al. (1982) discussed Principles of Partial Participation to
help students with severe disabilities be successful in general education settings. Since
then, and particularly within the last five or six years, accommodation has been a topic of
much research and publication (e.g., Janney & Snell, 2000; Stainback & Stainback, 1992;
Udvari-Solner, 1996; Warger & Pugach, 1996). Two areas in the literature on
accommodations address what they are and how to do them.
Sorting Out the Definition
There are different definitions of accommodations and modifications (e.g., Wang,
1989; Zigmond & Baker, 1996). Fisher and Frey (2001) offered the following:
An accommodation is a change made to the teaching or testing procedures in order
to provide a student with access to information and to create an equal opportunity
to demonstrate knowledge and skills. Accommodations do not change the
instructional level, content, or performance criteria for meeting the standards.
Examples of accommodations include enlarging the print, providing oral versions
of tests, and using calculators.
A modification is a change in what a student is expected to learn and/or
demonstrate. A student may be working on modified course content, but the subject
area remains the same as for the rest of the class. If the decision is made to modify
the curriculum, it is done in a variety of ways, for a variety of reasons, with a
variety of outcomes. Again, modifications vary according to the situation, lesson,
or activity. (p. 157)
The Florida Department of Education (1999) differentiated between the two by advising
that students who receive substantial modifications receive special diplomas, whereas
students who are provided with accommodations usually take the same tests, the same
courses, and receive a standard diploma.
Wang (1989) discussed the two in a more blended manner, in terms of two
components that she believed were critical for adaptive instruction. The first was
modification of the learning environment to accommodate the needs and learning styles
of individual learners. The second was providing direct, focused instruction to help
students progress with academic and/or social goals. Zigmond and Baker (1996) referred
to these as compensation and remediation, respectively.
Underlying assumptions. Despite differences in the definition of
accommodations, the underlying assumption is that meeting the needs of diverse learners
requires changes in traditional general education classrooms. Morsink (1984) identified
three areas that should be addressed when considering adaptations: environment,
instruction, and management. Hoover (1987) expanded this into four areas: content,
instructional strategies, instructional setting, and student behavior. More specifically,
accommodations may address difficulties students have in processing or understanding
coursework, attending to or engaging in instruction, relating to peers or adults,
participating in activities, or gaining access to content in alternative formats. However, as
Warger and Pugach (1996) pointed out, the bottom line should be a curriculum centered
focus that proactively questions how the student will interact with and gain access to the
general education curriculum.
Traditional vs. reconceptualized views of accommodation. Pugach and Warger
(1996) suggested that it is not enough to tinker with existing curriculum, making
accommodations and modifications to compensate for student deficits. They called for a
complete overhaul of the way we conceptualize teaching and learning, "rethinking the
curriculum itself not only for students with disabilities, but for all students" (p. 3). With
this in mind, these authors described accommodations not as remediation or
compensation, but instead as a necessary component in a redesigned curriculum-centered
approach to education. The difference between this method and other traditional methods
of accommodation is that the focus is now on areas of difficulty related to the curriculum
and how students deal with content, rather than on pre-identified student deficits that
Stainback and Stainback (1996) also called for a new perspective on curriculum
that is not based on the idea that curriculum is formalized knowledge that each student
must master to be successful. Different students should have different goals, thereby
placing students at the center of learning and making accommodation a necessary,
integrated, empowering aspect of learning, rather than a focus on deficit and weakness.
The traditional focus on deficit and accommodation as compensation was apparent
in a chapter in the Handbook ofResearch on Teaching (Coro & Snow, 1986): "The
implication is that teachers can circumvent learner inability by using techniques that
remove or take over some of the processing burden from less able learners" (p. 621).
A reconceptualized approach to accommodation could be inferred in a study by
Kliewer and Landis (1999). They interviewed and observed fourteen early childhood
teachers to understand their interpretation of curricular individualization for students with
moderate to severe disabilities and found differences related to teachers' conceptions of
individuality and disability. Some teachers thought of individualization in an
institutionalized manner: decontextualized, with universal assumptions about the students
with disabilities and their capabilities. Other teachers approached individualization in a
localized manner: context- and student-specific, with less emphasis on pigeonholing
students based on disability. Teachers in inclusive classrooms all had localized
approaches, more in line with a reconceptualized approach to accommodation, whereas
teachers in segregated classrooms often had institutionalized approaches. The authors
suggested that this approach was likely due to the structure and purpose of those settings,
to segregate students by need. This view is more consistent with a traditional approach to
Differences in the definition of accommodations, then, seem to stem from
differences in views of curriculum as well as views of diversity and ability. However,
there seems to be agreement that accommodation or individualization is necessary, with
the understanding that the teacher's underlying assumptions will affect the approach
taken toward making those accommodations.
How to Make Accommodations
In addition to sorting out differences in definitions of accommodations and
modifications, there has been much written about the process of making accommodations
(Arlen, Gable, & Hendrickson, 1996; Janney & Snell, 2000; Udvari-Solner, 1996).
Federal law enacted in 1975 known as the Education for All Handicapped Children
Act made it necessary to have an Individual Education Program (IEP) for each student
with a disability, to ensure that individual goals and objectives would be identified for
each student. However, as Smith and Simpson (1989) suggested, the IEP has become a
routinized document that holds little meaning and practical use. In an in-depth study of
three students with significant cognitive disabilities successfully included in a general
education setting, Fisher and Frey (2001) reported little connection between the
accommodations made and the goals on the IEP. Over the three-year study, they found
that IEP goals changed very little and were not part of the discussion of the teachers as
they planned for these students. Therefore, simply stating that accommodations will be
made as indicated on the IEP will likely not be enough to ensure that students' needs are
Every researcher and scholar seems to have his or her own approach or model for
making accommodations. However, some unifying themes exist and are described below.
Goal identification. Many approaches to accommodations begin with a focus on
identifying goals and objectives for students (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2000; Stainback,
Stainback, Stefanich, & Alper, 1996; Udvari-Solner, 1996). These objectives should be
flexible (Stainback et al., 1996) and specific to the curriculum (Warger & Pugach, 1996).
Students with severe disabilities may have goals and objectives that are not related to
traditional curriculum content (Stainback & Stainback, 1996), sometimes referred to as
functional goals, and therefore the goals should also be specific to the student.
Identifying potential difficulty. Areas of potential student difficulty in reaching
the goals and objectives should also be identified (Warger & Pugach, 1996), and
expectations for student performance clarified (Udvari-Solner, 1996). Tomlinson (1999)
suggests that teachers visualize what an activity will look like ideally to get an idea of
possible difficulties for which to plan.
Selection of accommodations. Another area to consider is how to ensure
participation of all students in the planned activity (Stainback et al., 1996). At this point,
adaptation could be "routine" (i.e., set in place to facilitate some ongoing type of
adaptation) or "specialized" (i.e., related to a specific student difficulty in light of
routines already in place) (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Bishop, 1992). Arlen et al. (1996) put this
step first, and suggested that educators create an array of accommodations and selection
criteria before making pupil-specific decisions in order to develop a more comprehensive
list. At some point, specific strategies or accommodations must be chosen and
implemented. When the approach to choosing accommodations is based on an identified
disability category, as Mastropieri and Scruggs (2000) described, it can be assumed that
the definition of accommodation is consistent with a more traditional approach as
Reynolds (1992) addressed selection of accommodations through a more general
framework defined by teaching tasks. She described teaching as a series of decisions that
are preactive, interactive, and postactive. Preactive tasks have to do with planning in
relation to what teachers know and understand about their students, while interactive
tasks have to do with implementation and delivery of instruction. Postactive tasks are
related to reflection and interaction with colleagues. Viewing accommodations through a
framework such as this draws attention to the task of teaching effectively, which is
consistent with a reconceptualized view of accommodation.
Evaluation. A final step in using accommodations should include evaluation of the
effectiveness of that accommodation (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2000; Tomlinson, 1999;
Udvari-Solner, 1996; Warger & Pugach, 1996), and then revision, maintenance, or
removal of the strategy based on results (Arlen et al., 1996). Tomlinson (1999) suggested
fine-tuning accommodations by conceptualizing a stereo equalizer with settings for nine
variables, each with a continuum of implementation levels. This equalizer can be set for
each child and allows for maximum individualization based on variables such as concrete
vs. abstract representation of ideas, complexity of problems and skills, amount of lesson
structure, level of independence, and pace of study. Tomlinson's approach could be
categorized as a reconceptualized view of accommodation.
Individual or collaborative? Udvari-Solner (1996) describes the process of
accommodation as part of a reflexive and reflective decision-making process that can be
approached through the teacher's internal, personal dialogue as he or she reflects on
practice. She suggested this based on research indicating that teachers find collaboration
difficult because of lack of a shared language and lack of time.
In contrast to Udvari-Solner's approach, collaboration is often cited as critical in
the process of making accommodations (Arlen et al., 1996; Warger & Pugach, 1996).
Warger and Pugach acknowledged that this collaboration will require redefinition of the
roles of special and general educators.
Despite differences in the approaches to making accommodations, the agreement
on the need for them is resounding. For students to be included in general education
classes, accommodations need to be made.
What is Happening in Practice?
Despite federal laws and a vast amount of literature touting the need for
accommodations to help students with disabilities be successful in general education
classrooms, very little accommodation is occurring in practice (Brown et al., 1991; Fuchs
et al., 1992; Vaughn, Moody, & Schumm, 1998; Zigmond & Baker, 1996).
In a study of inclusive classrooms, Zigmond and Baker (1996) observed very few
accommodations and little remedial instruction to enable students with learning
disabilities to make sense of the general education curriculum. In a related study, Baker
and Zigmond (1990) found that instruction during reading and math lessons was
undifferentiated and that the school had uniform expectations for all students. Vaughn et
al. (1998) found that even in pullout or resource rooms, whole group instruction was
often the norm, and teachers used undifferentiated resources and materials that were not
at students' individual ability levels.
In a study of general education teachers serving students identified with a learning
disability, Fuchs et al. (1992) found that 46 of 105 teachers reported using routine
adaptations for these students, and 13 of those 46 teachers reported making specialized
adaptations when those routines were not effective. However, an obvious limitation of
this study was that the actual classroom performance linked to these self-reported
adaptations was not documented. Despite the limitations of this study, the number of
teachers reporting no adaptations at all (69 out of 105) is staggering.
A Critical Look at Current Practice
The research summarized thus far suggests that accommodations are rarely made in
general education classrooms. Is this because the researchers were judging use of
accommodation with a view (traditional or reconceptualized) that was inconsistent with
that of the teachers? Do both views result in the use of accommodations that are equally
effective? Or more importantly, can having a rigid view of accommodations prevent
researchers from noticing potentially effective instruction because preconceptions and
expectations cloud judgment? This may have been the case in the Baker and Zigmond
(1990) study in which findings suggested that teachers did not differentiate materials and
taught mainly whole-group lessons. However, it is interesting to reinterpret these findings
with the knowledge that in a later study (Zigmond et al., 1995) these authors were part of
a team of researchers who concluded that general education settings produce undesirable
and unacceptable achievement outcomes for students with learning disabilities. In
contrast, Waldron and McLeskey (1998) found that students in inclusive placements do
make significant progress, and the authors raised questions about the design of the 1995
Zigmond et al. study.
In the 1990 study, Baker and Zigmond produced a quantitative summary of the
breakdown of instructional behaviors to conclude that whole group instruction was the
norm. However, little description of the actual instruction was presented, apart from
conclusions that stated teachers generally used the textbook and taught to a large group
using established routines. In contradiction of these findings, the researchers reported that
students were largely on-task. Could it be that the whole group instruction, while not
individualized for specific disability categories (as in the traditional approach to
accommodations), was designed to meet the needs of students without additional
accommodation, and therefore kept them on-task?
In light of this critique, I am not suggesting that the findings be ignored. There is
enough evidence to suggest that teachers do not generally accommodate and many
students with exceptional needs are not succeeding in general education classes. And
clearly, we know enough about accommodations and student achievement to make
judgments about how well instruction meets the needs of learners with special needs.
However, tallying time spent in instructional grouping without a clear and rich
description of the nature of instruction presents a partial picture of instruction, further
confounded when interpreted and reported by researchers who have tacit assumptions
about the approach to accommodation.
Teachers' Explanations for Current Practices
Despite findings that suggest accommodations are rarely made in classrooms,
research indicates that teachers are willing to accept mainstreamed students (see Scruggs
& Mastropieri, 1996 for research synthesis) and willing to make accommodations
(Schumm & Vaughn, 1992). Why, then, do they not do so?
Accommodations stigmatize students. One factor that affects implementation of
accommodations is teacher beliefs about unintended and undesirable consequences of
providing accommodations. In the study sited above, Baker and Zigmond (1990) found
that schoolwide, "the mindset was conformity, not accommodation" (p. 525). This idea of
conformity, played out as whole group instruction, was often preferred by classroom
teachers because it did not separate or stigmatize students (Baker & Zigmond, 1990;
McIntosh, Vaughn, Schumm, Haager, & Lee, 1993; Vaughn et al., 1998). That is,
teachers perceived that providing specialized accommodations for students alienated
them from peers and caused more harm than good.
Accommodations are just not feasible. Teachers also find some accommodations
unrealistic or impossible to implement. Schumm and Vaughn (1991) surveyed teachers
about possible accommodations and found differences in teacher perception of the
feasibility of accommodations. Teachers thought almost all the listed accommodations
were desirable, yet not all were feasible. Those most feasible were accommodations
related to social/motivational well-being of students (e.g., establishing routines, or
providing reinforcement) and those which required little adjustment of curriculum (e.g.,
involving the student in whole class activities, using small group or paired arrangements,
or monitoring progress).
In a synthesis of findings from four major research projects, the Joint Committee
on Teacher Planning for Student with Disabilities (1995) found that teachers were willing
to make accommodations that fit within existing classroom routines and could be used for
all students because these types of accommodations did not add to the prevailing pressure
and accountability demands they faced. In other words, the accommodations they found
most feasible were whole group accommodations that fit within the existing classroom
Collaboration is viewed as overwhelming. A third factor is related to the
collaboration between special and general educators. Based on data from a three-year
study of the strategies general education and special education teachers used for included
students, Udvari-Solner (1996) found that the teachers involved had difficulties
collaborating to accommodate for their students because of lack of shared language, time
constraints, and ineffective modification. This was also supported by findings from the
Joint Committee on Teacher Planning for Students with Disabilities (1995), who reported
that teachers were expected to work alone, rarely had time to discuss instructional issues
with other teachers, and received little support from administration to do so.
Teachers are not prepared to make accommodations. A fourth factor is related
to teachers' perceptions of their preparation to make accommodations. The willingness of
teachers to make accommodations has been linked to the extent to which they feel
competent to do so (Whinnery et al., 1991). Several studies have indicated that teachers
did not feel prepared to meet the needs of diverse students (Coates, 1989; Lyon, Vaassen,
& Toomey, 1989; Semmel, Abernathy, Butera, & Lesar, 1991) nor were some education
programs providing adequate preparation (Kearney & Durand, 1992; Osborne &
This apparent gap in teacher preparation has begun to be addressed with the
development of teacher education programs that are unified or collaborative and focus on
meeting the needs of all students. How have colleges of education stepped forward to
alleviate this gap? A look at the literature on current practices in inclusive teacher
education will provide answers.
What is Happening in Teacher Education?
Until recently, special education and general education preservice teachers have
generally been educated separately, within separate departments, with separate
curriculum, modeling the separation of special education and general education students
and personnel in K-12 schools (Villa, Thousand, & Chapple, 1996). In fact, it may be the
universities themselves that cause this separation of personnel, indoctrinating students by
forcing them to choose one department over the other, rendering them conceptually and
legally unable to help the students from the other side (Sarason, 1982). With the move
toward inclusive schools, it is time to consider Fullan's (1993) recommendation that
universities should not advocate reform for public schools of which they are not capable
themselves. It is problematic that scholars lead the way in studying and promoting
innovation and reform, yet teacher education programs usually lag behind in modeling
those reforms (Pugach & Lilly, 1984). A simultaneous and parallel reform in teacher
education must occur that mirrors inclusive school reform (Sindelar, Pugach, Griffin, &
This parallel reform is happening around the country, and program descriptions are
being published (Blanton, Griffin, Winn, & Pugach, 1997; Heller, Spooner, Spooner, &
Algozzine, 1992; Lesar, Benner, Habel, & Coleman, 1997; Villa, Thousand, & Chapple,
1996, 2000). There have also been recommendations published for the kinds of topics
that should be addressed in inclusive teacher education programs (Voltz & Elliott, 1997;
Wigle & Wilcox, 1996).
However, little research exists to evaluate the impact of these redesigned programs.
Are graduates of these programs prepared for inclusive schools? Without this information
it is difficult to argue for the continuation of programs that go against the grain of
traditional programs to recreate "the basic culture of schools, colleges, and departments
of education within which teacher education takes place" (Pugach, 1992, p. 258).
The research that has been done has largely focused on perceptions of preparation,
rather than actual performance outcomes. One such study, conducted by Heller et al.
(1992), examined an alternative program aimed at helping general educators learn to
accommodate students with disabilities. It was designed as an intense summer program
with an associated field experience. At the end of the summer, students felt more
confident and more willing to help students with special needs and exhibited a greater
awareness of the individual needs of students. While this study indicated students may
have benefited from coursework and related field experience, we know little about how
their self-reports translate into classroom practice.
Another study looked at perceptions of students who graduated from two versions
of a traditional early childhood program (one general education and one special
education) and graduates of a redesigned unified program (Goodwin, Boone, & Wittmer,
1994). There were no significant differences in how the three types of graduates rated the
quality and relevance of their overall preparation and coursework. Additional questions
were asked of graduates in the redesigned program, with responses indicating that they
felt well prepared for their current positions. Current employers of the unified program
graduates also rated their knowledge and abilities between good and excellent (above a
four on a five-point scale). While these results indicated that this unified program may be
helping teachers feel prepared, we still have little understanding of their performance in
Lombardi and Hunka (2001) also evaluated their restructured teacher education
program but focused on current students rather than graduates. Using surveys and follow-
up telephone interviews, the researchers found that as students entered their fifth year of
preparation in a unified program, they felt more confident and capable to teach students
with disabilities than did students earlier in the program. However, 25% of the students
entering the fifth year still felt neither competent nor confident to work with students with
disabilities, and many expressed concern about limited exposure to special education
content. Explanations for their tentative feelings could be that they still had a year of
preparation and a full-time internship ahead of them, or that the program lacked adequate
attention to working with students with special needs. This study also did not address the
actual practice of preservice teachers.
These three studies suggest the benefit of unified or collaborative programs.
However, more research is needed that goes beyond perceptions of preservice teachers
and graduates to look at teacher quality and interaction with students. Corbett, Kilgore,
and Sindelar (1998) and Corbett (1996) reported on findings based on a grant-funded
project which became the model for the Unified Elementary and Special Education
PROTEACH Program at the University of Florida. They found that interns prepared in
this program not only talked about the need for accommodating for diverse learners but
actually designed materials and made accommodations for those students. Since these
findings were based on a grant-funded project that had yet to be institutionalized,
questions arise about whether similar results would be possible when taken to scale in a
large teacher education program.
Summing up the Situation
Whether or not the inclusion of students with disabilities becomes a reality in a
majority of schools, it is hard to dispute the idea that schools are becoming more and
more diverse. This will require teachers who are able to teach students with a wide range
of abilities and needs, and who are able to accommodate when those needs are not met.
However, not only does research suggest that those accommodations are not made in
practice, but general education teachers give a myriad of reasons for not doing so. One
compelling reason is that they simply do not know how. They have been taught in non-
inclusive K-12 schools, and they have received degrees from teacher education programs
that told them someone else was responsible for the education of students with special
needs. The outlook for diverse learners cannot improve until teacher education changes to
mirror the changes in systems of education. Although the development of unified or
collaborative programs has the potential to help, without analysis of the learning and
practice of preservice teachers in these programs, we cannot be sure of their value.
But are the goals of unified teacher preparation too lofty? Are these expectations
unrealistic in light of what we know about teacher development and the influences on
Learning to Teach
Learning how to serve students with disabilities while learning how to become a
teacher, with all the complexities inherent in each, is a monumental task. As Ford,
Pugach, and Otis-Wilborn (2001) asked, what is reasonable to expect at the preservice
level? This question leads to a look into the research on learning how to teach and the
literature on novice and expert teachers.
There is some disagreement in the literature about whether interns are
developmentally capable of considering individual student needs (and therefore,
accommodating for them). Early work in this area viewed teacher development in stages
that indicate novice teachers were mired in thoughts of self and survival, with little
attention to student need and student progress (Fuller, 1969). Concerns about teaching
and instruction emerged later, followed by concerns about pupils and the ability to focus
on student learning and achievement. Fuller and Bown (1975) expanded the stages as
1. Stage one: Identification with pupils in reality, and with teachers in fantasy. Here,
preservice teachers saw themselves as pupils and had yet to feel and act like
2. Stage two: Concerns related to survival (management and content). In this stage,
novice teachers struggled with maintaining control and keeping ahead of the
content they were teaching.
3. Stage three: Concerns about teaching performance, limitations, and frustrations. At
this stage, teachers were more able to analyze their practice.
4. Stage four: Concerns about the learning, social, and emotional needs of students,
and of their own ability to relate to students as individuals. Here, teachers were able
to focus on student learning at the individual level.
Based on stage theories of teacher development, it may be unrealistic to think that
interns, who are just beginning their development as teachers, could focus on
accommodations for diverse learners. In fact, Katz (1972) suggested that this stage is not
possible until about the second year of teaching. Berliner (1988) stated that teachers are
unable to comprehend the relevance and appropriateness of student actions until they are
in their own classrooms.
This idea is disputed in the literature, however. Sitter and Lanier (as cited in
Burden, 1990) stated that the array of previously identified developmental concerns are
present in student teachers and do not necessarily occur as distinct, sequential stages.
They suggested that student teaching, or internship, is the place where it all comes
together for developing teachers they must address and integrate all concerns related to
teaching and students.
Feiman-Nemser (2001) concurred with this perspective. Based on work with an
exemplary mentor teacher, she asserted that it is possible and necessary to infuse
information about student learning and concern for academic needs of students during
internship experiences, even if interns appear to be more focused on concerns about self
and teaching. Copeland and D'Emidio-Caston (1998) did research on preservice teachers
going through a five-year program and found that towards the end of the program, the
preservice teachers were able to focus on students as learners, and not just on behavior
and student participation.
The literature also offers some insight into how interns cope with the concerns they
face in their internship experiences. Hollingsworth (1989) found that interns needed to
establish managerial routines and have a handle on classroom management before they
could focus on content specific pedagogy. Furthermore, interns had to integrate
classroom management and subject knowledge and establish subject specific pedagogical
routines before they could focus on student learning. Five of the 14 interns in her study
were able to focus on individual student learning, as a function of both content and
context. Of the nine who did not achieve this understanding of student learning, six were
placed in settings that were either limited in diversity or had a cooperating teacher
unwilling to turn the entire range of students over to the interns.
The divide in the literature suggests that we do not know enough about what
preservice teachers understand and how they use that knowledge in their student teaching
or internship experiences. Wideen, Mayer-Smith, and Moon (1998) suggested that part of
the problem lies in the fact that teacher educators have assumptions and expectations for
field experiences that do not match those of preservice teachers. Teacher educators see
internship as a time to practice techniques learned in university coursework, whereas
preservice teachers view it as a time to explore and gain experience in school settings.
Research results are then affected by whose voices and whose expectations are being
heard (Wideen et al., 1998). In this study, I focused on the interns' conceptions of what it
means to accommodate for diverse learners, rather than judging their ideas and practices
based on my knowledge and expectations.
When taken together, these bodies of literature present a picture of promise:
Unified programs emerge as one way to reduce the knowledge gap for preservice
teachers and help them learn to make accommodations for the diverse needs of students.
From the literature presented, we have many definitions and interpretations of
accommodation and many suggestions on how to make them. We know that teachers
have many reasons for not accommodating in practice, one of which is inadequate
preparation. And we have some indication that preservice teachers should be
developmentally able to focus on student learning and therefore plan and accommodate
accordingly. The next step is to examine and evaluate how they actually approach this in
This study will add to our knowledge of how students prepared in a unified teacher
education program define accommodations for diverse learners, and then how they
actually serve those diverse learners in practice. It will also provide insight into the
factors that affect their implementation of accommodations.
FRAMEWORK AND METHODOLOGY
To gain in-depth understanding of how preservice teachers conceptualize
accommodations, both in thought and in action, phenomenological methodology was
used. In this chapter I describe the conceptual lens and the methods I employed in
conducting this study.
This study was framed using phenomenology and elements of constructivist
principles. These two theories guided study design and data analysis as well as the
presentation of findings as four distinct cases. Each theory will be explained below as it
relates to this study.
The purpose of phenomenology is to thoroughly describe the essence of a
phenomenon through intense and careful study (Moustakas, 1994). In this case the
phenomenon is how interns accommodate for diverse learners, which is in itself a
complex and multifaceted set of actions and decisions with many mitigating factors and
constraints that affect the extent to which interns can make the accommodations they talk
about. Phenomenology is an "attempt to accomplish the impossible: to construct a full
interpretive description of some aspect of the lifeworld, yet to remain aware that life is
always more complex than any explication of meaning can reveal" (Van Manen, 1990, p.
18). Qualitative methods will be used to allow a detailed, in-depth description of the
Phenomenology is a broad term with many facets. It is based on the work of
Edmund Husserl (1859 1938) and is used in psychology, nursing, and social sciences.
For the purposes of this study, the term phenomenology will be defined using roots of
existentialism and hermeneutics. Combining elements of existentialist and hermeneutic
phenomenology will produce a rich and thorough picture of how interns think about and
act in their interactions with students with diverse needs.
Existential phenomenology seeks not only to understand the lives and experiences
of others, but also how people react in those situations (Valle & King, 1978).
Accordingly, I conducted interviews to capture how the interns talked about and defined
accommodations for diverse learners, and I also observed them to see how they actually
put that knowledge into practice in the classroom. Some traditional phenomenologists
might stop at interviews to present a conceptualization of accommodations using the
words of participants. However, as Schutz (1972) has argued, a person's conduct is an
instance or example of their motives, goals, and attitudes, and can be represented as such
for practical purposes.
In addition, phenomenology is sometimes seen as pure description of the
experience, as opposed to hermeneutics, which is the interpretation of lived experiences.
However, as Moustakas (1994) has argued, there can really be no description that is
uninterpreted. Admitting up front that research is presented as interpretation and that the
researcher is an instrument of data collection is a hallmark of qualitative research.
Interpretation is not only recognized, but necessary (Alvesson & Skoldberg, 2000).
With the acknowledgment of interpretation comes the inevitable criticism of
subjectivity. For my interpretations to be as believable as possible, it is necessary to make
an active effort to contain personal feelings and beliefs and approach the phenomenon
with a fresh perspective. Husserl referred to this as "epoche" abstaining from judgment
to achieve a fresh look at data. Moustakas (1994) wrote that this was possible and even
beneficial because even though biases can be bracketed and set aside, a researcher's own
rooted ways of knowing and thinking do still seep in, requiring those preconceptions to
be explicitly examined.
Therefore, for the purpose of this study, the term phenomenology will be used to
mean the study of someone else's reality as seen through a researcher's eyes. In this case,
I will present a thorough description of how interns conceptualize accommodations for
diverse learners and then act on their personal knowledge with the understanding that
findings are mediated by my interpretations.
Even more so than the definition of phenomenology, the definition of
constructivism lacks consistency and shared understanding. There is little agreement
beyond the idea that constructivism involves the individual creation of meaning based on
the interaction of prior experiences and current understandings (Richardson, 1997).
Richardson simplifies the disagreement into differences based on the works of two
learning theorists, Piaget and Vygotsky.
Piagetian psychological constructivism. The goal of this type of constructivism is
to lead students toward higher levels of understanding as they create meaning by
reconstructing and restructuring current understanding. An underlying assumption in this
approach is that there exists formal knowledge, and the teacher guides or facilitates
discovery of this knowledge.
Vygotskian constructivism. This approach is also called social constructivism
because of the role of the social environment as well as the individual in the construction
of knowledge. In this view, learning and action cannot be separated, and there is no
privileged view of knowledge (Richardson, 1997). Rather, formal knowledge is a tool to
be used in social interaction in the construction of meaning.
This study was conceptualized using concepts from Vygotskian constructivism. I
was not interested in measuring the interns' use of accommodations on a preconceived
scale derived from formal knowledge about accommodations. Instead, I wanted to
validate each intern's knowledge and actions related to meeting the needs of diverse
learners in a general education classroom. I believe that personal practical knowledge
develops as a result of learner interaction with curriculum, experiences, instructors, and
peers in a construction of meaning filtered through previous and current experiences.
Related to teacher education, this might explain differences in understanding or learning
as being related to the situations in which that learning occurs and is later enacted. It also
may suggest the influence of classroom context on the understandings and actions of
interns. Therefore, using constructivist principles as part of the conceptual lens
necessitates exploration of preservice teachers' knowledge about and previous experience
with diverse learners, accommodations, and inclusion because those factors impact how
interns actually accommodate when they are faced with specific teaching contexts.
Design of the Study
In spring, 2002, a pilot study was conducted. Institutional Review Board (IRB)
approval was obtained for the pilot study and the dissertation, with the understanding that
any changes made to the study be approved by the IRB prior to dissertation data
collection in Fall, 2002. Two participants, Anne and Marla, were selected for an
abbreviated version of the study, with observations and interviews, and a third
participant, Marian, was added for the sole purpose of interview protocol development.
All participants were selected based on recommendations from previous instructors and
current placement coordinators that these were "exceptional interns" (selection criteria
explained in a later section on participants). Informed consent was obtained for all
participants (see Appendix A for sample copy), and pseudonyms were assigned. Time
spent with each participant is reported in Table 1.
Table 1. Time spent with pilot participants
Participant Logged Observation Time Logged Interview Time
Anne 10.5 hours 130 minutes
Marla 7.5 hours 155 minutes
Marian n/a 60 minutes
Pilot work helped to refine three areas of the study: research questions and focus,
participant selection criteria, and interview protocol. The particular impact in each of
these three areas will be discussed specifically in the relevant methodology sections.
During pilot work, I also met with Dr. Marleen Pugach, who has done extensive
work in the area of unified teacher education and accommodations for diverse learners.
Dr. Pugach agreed to be my mentor through the AERA/Spencer Pre-dissertation
Fellowship program, an award I received for the 2001-2002 school year. We
communicated via email and met in person twice to discuss study conceptualization and
The purpose of this study was to examine how interns conceptualize
accommodations for diverse learners and how they put their personal knowledge into
action in the classroom. The development of the research questions changed with
examination of the literature and insights gained from pilot work.
In their review of literature on learning to teach, Wideen et al. (1998) concluded
that "what we learn from studying the process of learning to teach depends on whose
voices are being heard" (p. 156). They suggest that conflicting expectations of those
involved contribute to this problem. For example, in looking at a field experience as a
vehicle for learning to teach, teacher educators approach it as a chance for interns to
practice and apply what they assume has already been learned in their programs, an
assumption that is not often challenged. Interns, however, seem to approach field
experiences as a chance to gain experience and practice teaching, with survival a top
priority, balanced with desire to get a good grade and minimize risk taking. With this in
mind, I was determined to find out how interns conceptualize "accommodation" in order
to understand how they actually attempt accommodations in practice.
Prior to pilot work, my focus was on how the interns accommodated learners with
special needs, but I quickly realized that I had come into the situation with a
preconceived notion (from the literature and from our teacher education program) about
accommodations, and I judged their teaching based on my definition. I realized that I had
failed to take into account how they thought about accommodations. From a
constructivist viewpoint, an individual constructs meaning based on knowledge and
experiences, which in this case includes the knowledge gained through the unified
teacher education program, as well as every other life experience of these interns. Talking
with my pilot participants and watching two of them teach helped me realize that even
though they were educated in the same teacher education program, the knowledge they
held was different, and very interesting. On top of that, their placements and their
supervising teachers had direct influence on the extent to which they were able to put
their knowledge into action. I realized that I had to examine interns' conceptualizations
before I could begin to understand how they accommodated for diverse learners.
The following questions guided my interaction with the participants:
1. How do elementary education interns prepared in a unified teacher education
a. conceptualize "diverse learners"?
b. conceptualize what it means to accommodate for diverse learners?
2. How do the interns accommodate for diverse learners during their internship
3. What factors influence the extent to which the interns are able to put their personal
conceptualizations into action?
Context of the Study
The Unified Elementary and Special Education PROTEACH Program (hereafter
referred to as PROTEACH) began in Fall 1999 at the University of Florida, located in
Gainesville, Florida. The purpose of the program is to prepare teachers who can create
and maintain supportive and productive classrooms for diverse student populations and
work collaboratively to educate all children, including those who have traditionally been
labeled hard-to-teach, hard-to-manage, and linguistically diverse (Ross, McCallum, &
Graduates of this five-year program are recommended for elementary certification
in Grades 1-6 with an endorsement for teaching students who are English Speakers of
Other Languages (ESOL). In the final year of the program, students select a
specialization area, including content areas, literacy, children's literature, special
education, or educational technology. Those choosing special education are eligible for
dual certification in elementary education and Varying Exceptionalities (VE), a cross-
categorical, mild disabilities certification that is common in the state of Florida.
Courses are collaboratively designed and planned by faculty from the five
departments in the college of education. Students are grouped into cohorts and take a
block of courses each semester. The program of courses is approved by the state and
aligned with the Florida Accomplished Practices, which are performance outcomes
linked to effective teaching practices.
Students enter PROTEACH as juniors and complete a course of study (Appendix
B) that has imbedded themes of democratic values and knowledge of content and
inclusive pedagogy (Ross, McCallum, & Lane, forthcoming). This land-grant, Research I
institution prepares approximately 200 students per year, with about 118 of those
continuing on in the fifth year elementary option, and 40 selecting the special education
option. The remaining students leave the institution after the fourth year, often for
teaching positions, and are not recommended for certification by the University of
Florida without satisfying additional requirements.
Four participants were selected. They were all Masters-level interns in the fifth-
year of the PROTEACH program who elected one of the elementary education
specialization areas and were completing the internship in a local school district.
Participants were selected using a combination of criterion sampling (Creswell,
1998) and extreme case sampling (Patton, 1990). As is the case with most qualitative
research, sampling was purposeful rather than random in order to obtain information-rich
cases. In phenomenological studies, it is necessary to ensure that participants experience
the phenomenon being studied. Therefore, only participants meeting selection criteria
were chosen. In addition, extreme case sampling was used to focus on cases that were
unusual and interesting and not necessarily typical. As Patton has suggested, the use of
extreme cases may add more information about the conditions necessary to sustain
excellence. In this study, I believed more would be learned through taking an intensive
look at interns identified as exemplary who had been placed in internship sites also
identified as exemplary. Pilot work completed prior to this study suggested that even
interns identified as stellar (extreme case sampling) who were placed in restrictive
settings could not enact the conceptualizations of accommodations they articulated. To
more fully understand how interns think about and then act on their knowledge of
accommodations, it was necessary to select participants and sites where that phenomenon
was most likely to occur (criterion sampling).
Intern supervisors, instructors, and/or placement coordinators were contacted to
gain insight into both participant nomination and site selection. Two criteria were used to
1. Participants were identified as stellar students, meaning that they put forth superb
effort in coursework and previous field placements and excelled in both areas.
These students were those most likely to have benefited from their teacher
2. Only interns placed in sites identified as exceptional were invited to participate.
Exceptional sites were those where school culture and cooperating teacher
philosophy allow for maximum intern freedom and flexibility. Since part of the
research question inquired into how interns enact the definition they articulate,
interns needed the freedom to make accommodations and modifications they
deemed necessary. This decision was supported by Goodman (1988) who
suggested that placement with cooperating teachers who support an experimental
approach to student teaching and who welcome an open exchange of ideas may
encourage the development of reflective, active preservice teachers.
Intern placement coordinators, instructors, and supervisors were contacted at the
end of the Spring 2002 semester, and a list was generated of eleven exceptional students.
Once placements were finalized, sites were matched up with the eleven interns. The list
of schools and cooperating teachers was evaluated by two placement coordinators, three
intern supervisors, two colleagues with extensive experience in the school district, and
the program administrative staff member to whom students often turn to discuss
placement dilemmas. Two field placements were eliminated as potentially not adhering to
the second selection criterion. Nine interns were contacted in July 2002, through an email
solicitation letter and invited to participate. Permission to conduct research was requested
through the school board for each school to which the nine interns were assigned.
Cooperating teachers were contacted via telephone for the five interns who (a) expressed
an interest in participating, and (b) had principals that were willing to allow me to
conduct research at their schools. Four participants were chosen based on perceived
willingness of the cooperating teachers to have this research conducted in their
classrooms. The participants and schools were assigned pseudonyms: Erica (Ellis
Elementary), Kelly (Kinsey Elementary), Ashley (Amblin Elementary), and Debra
(Denton Elementary). An overview of participants and classroom placements is provided
Description of Participants
All four participants were Caucasian females of traditional college age, three of
whom I knew in some capacity prior to the study: Ashley and Debra were students in a
course I co-taught in Spring, 2001. Kelly was the co-teaching partner of a student taking
part in a longitudinal research study in which I am involved, but I had no direct contact
with her prior to this study. Incidentally, Ashley and Debra were also roommates at the
time of data collection.
Each participant's classroom placement is described below. Pseudonyms were
assigned for all participants, schools, cooperating teachers, and students. Overall school
and county demographics are provided in Table 2. These data were collected from reports
to the school advisory council for school year 2000-2001, the most recent data available.
Table 2. School and county demographics
% Free/ % % % %
Reduced Size White Black Other Disabilities
Ellis 55.9 465 61.9 31.8 6.3 17.8
Amblin 23.4 881 67.9 17.6 14.5 15.2
Kinsey 41.3 545 45.1 25.3 29.6 11.2
Denton 75.2 355 40.6 47.3 12.1 21.7
COUNTY 56.2 13326 50 39.8 10.1 16.6
Erica. Erica was placed in a third-grade classroom at Ellis Elementary, a rural
elementary school. Of the 23 students in Erica's classroom, one was labeled as
Emotionally Handicapped (EH), one was formally labeled as ADHD with a 504
Education Plan, and two were labeled as gifted. Incidentally, an additional student was
labeled as EH after Erica completed her internship. Six students were African American
and the rest were Caucasian. All students received the majority of their instruction in the
general education classroom with the following exceptions: (a) gifted students were
pulled out during science and social studies for supplemental instruction, (b) several
students with low reading scores on the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test
(FCAT) were pulled for a "double dose" of reading instruction during science and social
studies, and (c) the student labeled as EH was pulled out for approximately 30 minutes
several times a week for social skills instruction and counseling.
Kelly. Kelly was placed in a second-grade classroom at Kinsey Elementary where a
majority of the children were not native English speakers. Kelly's classroom had 23
students, 14 of whom were placed in the English for Speakers of Other Languages
(ESOL) program for reading, writing, and language arts instruction. Five students were
labeled as gifted and received reading instruction outside the classroom. Mid-semester,
one student identified with CHARGE syndrome (a low-incidence disability characterized
by a variety of physical and cognitive manifestations) joined the class but received math,
reading, and language arts instruction in a resource room setting. There were seven
Caucasian students, four African American students, four Asian students, and eight
Hispanic students in this classroom.
Ashley. Ashley was placed in a first-grade classroom at Amblin Elementary, one of
the higher SES schools in the county. Amblin Elementary also had an ESOL program,
but in Ashley's classroom there were only two students who had recently graduated from
the program and received all instruction in the general education classroom. Of the
remaining students, five were labeled as gifted and one was labeled with learning
disabilities (LD) with identified goals in reading. The gifted students were pulled out of
the classroom for 45 minutes a day during science and social studies, and the student with
LD was pulled for 30 minutes a day at the start of math instruction for a "double dose" of
reading instruction. Of the 22 students in Ashley's class, three were Asian American and
the remaining students were Caucasian.
Debra. Debra was placed in a second-grade classroom at Denton Elementary, the
lowest SES school of the four represented in this study. Denton is the least inclusive
school of those represented, with school-wide ability grouping for reading instruction,
and math and reading instruction delivered in resource rooms for students with identified
disabilities. Debra's class of 21 students consisted of two gifted students, three students
with learning disabilities in math and reading, one with Attention Deficit Disorder
(ADD), one ESOL student who arrived speaking no English, and two students on
behavior contracts with the Behavior Resource Teacher but not formally labeled. There
were nine African American students, one Hispanic student, and 11 Caucasian students in
Data were collected largely during fall semester, 2002, with the exception of
member check interviews with participants, which occurred early in the following
semester. I conducted all observations and interviews and collected formal observation
data from intern supervisors as data source triangulation. In addition, artifacts related to
the interns' planning and implementation of a unit of instruction were collected at the end
of the semester. All data were recorded on a data management log to keep track of the
multiple sources of data and time spent with each participant (see Appendix C). Data
sources will be explained further below.
Observations. Participants were observed on seven occasions during their Master's
level internships, beginning in the third week of the placement. Observations were
scheduled ahead of time and lasted approximately one hour each. Observations were
scheduled at the participants' convenience, across all subject areas and times of day.
Field notes were collected during observation. Researcher reflection or analysis was
coded immediately in the margins as RR (Researcher Reflections) or noted on the
document summary sheet to differentiate observation data from interpretation and
Initially, my role was observer as participant rather than participant observer
(Merriam, 1998). It was my intent to have a more peripheral role to allow me to observe
how the interns interacted with students. Adler and Adler (1994) have suggested that this
role allows researchers to "observe and interact closely enough with members to establish
an insider's identity without participating in those activities constituting the core of group
membership" (p. 380). I discussed this role with participants prior to the first observation,
and also told them that I would not be giving them feedback on their instruction related to
accommodations. However, as the semester progressed, and my relationship with each
participant grew, some of them asked for feedback about specific elements of their
instruction. I provided this feedback when their questions did not require judgment on my
part related to their use of accommodations for diverse learners. In addition, I found it
difficult to remain in the back of the classroom, removed from students and from
instruction, especially while the interns were circulating to offer assistance. During these
times, I circulated with the interns, often interacting with students but not offering them
supplemental instruction. I found this informative and useful, especially when talking to
interns in the post-observation interviews.
Interviews with participants. Three types of interviews were conducted with each
participant: context-building, post-observation, and follow-up member check. A context-
building interview, lasting approximately one hour, was conducted with each intern at the
beginning of the semester to describe the classroom context, probing specifically for rich
descriptions of the different types of learners and instruction provided in the classroom.
In addition, information was gathered related to preliminary conceptions of diverse
learners and accommodations.
Post-observation interviews, lasting 45-60 minutes each, were conducted as soon as
possible after each observation. On three occasions, it was not possible to hold a post-
observation interview directly after a lesson, due to scheduling or time conflicts. For two
of those instances, questions were asked via email, and on another occasion, additional
questions were asked during a subsequent post-observation interview.
Follow-up interviews were conducted with each participant after the internship
ended. Initially, one interview of approximately one-hour was planned for the following
purposes: (a) to revisit conceptions of diverse learners and accommodations, (b) to gather
data related to the overall experience, and (c) to bring back preliminary findings to the
participants as a member check to ensure that the perceptions of the participants were
faithfully represented. This interview was broken into two sessions because the
interviews were both longer than expected, and I wanted more time to produce longer
summaries as a member check. The second half of the follow-up interview was
conducted in January, 2003. Each participant was given a five- to seven-page summary of
her thoughts and actions over the course of the study. During this portion of the
interview, participants were given the summary to read and asked to comment any time
they wished and to stop at designated points to clarify my remaining questions. The
interview was an extended discussion using questions eight and nine from the original
protocol from interview two.
All interviews were semi-structured, meaning that I began with a series of
questions and probes, with the understanding that additional unplanned questions or
probes would be asked as needed during an interview. All interviews were audiotape
recorded and transcribed to ensure that participants' words were represented verbatim.
Interview questions were developed and then piloted (Glesne, 1999) with three
interns during the pilot study in the semester prior to data collection. Participants were
invited to collaborate in creating and revising questions. Interview protocols were
developed with a non-judgmental approach to discussing accommodations. Instead of
asking, "I noticed that you made accommodation for (student) ... the question
was revised to ask, "What accommodations did you make during this lesson?" This
question was more in line with a phenomenological perspective in that I was seeking to
understand what they did and why, not telling them what I did or did not see. Therefore,
participants were able to reveal their conceptions of accommodations rather than respond
to my definition.
Interview protocols for the three types of semi-structured interviews were finalized
and approved by IRB. Interview protocols are presented in Appendix D.
Interviews with cooperating teachers. I also conducted interviews with each
intern's cooperating teacher since research suggests that one of the most powerful
influences on intern's practice is the cooperating teacher (Goodman, 1988). The purpose
of this interview was to provide additional insight into why the intern may have made
some of the classroom decisions that she did. Topics covered in this interview included
context and background information as well as insights into the teachers' views of
diverse learners and accommodations. Permission to conduct the interview was requested
from both the cooperating teacher and each intern participant. To minimize perceived
threat to the participants, the interviews were conducted after the interns' grades and
evaluations were completed. Interviews were semi-structured and piloted with a
practicing teacher who was not associated with the study. IRB approved protocol is
included in Appendix E.
Secondary observation data. Field supervisors formally observed each intern four
times a semester. With permission from the interns, the data collected by the supervisor
were obtained as data triangulation. Unobtrusive measures such as these can provide
additional perspectives and depth on the phenomenon of interest (Marshall & Rossman,
1999). These data, collected as soon as possible after each scheduled observation,
consisted of a series of forms based on the PATHWISE observation system: pre-
observation form, instructional plan, class profile, post-observation reflections, and
summary form. These forms helped provide additional insight into how the interns
thought about students with diverse needs, how they planned to accommodate for those
students, and how they reflected on what happened during the lesson.
Unit plan. For a course they were taking related to the internship placement, each
intern was required to create and implement a unit plan for approximately two weeks of
instruction on a thematic topic of their choosing. With their permission, I collected a copy
of this unit from each one, along with their narrative reflections and their written analyses
of student achievement. Confidentiality of students was protected as per the IRB
guidelines and my agreement with the participants.
Data were analyzed in three stages. First, a document summary sheet (Miles &
Huberman, 1994) was completed and attached to the front of each set of field notes and
each interview transcription (see Appendix F). This allowed for quick summarization of
the data as well as preliminary researcher reflections.
Second, data were analyzed according to a process described by Creswell (1998) as
adapted from Moustakas (1994). Notes were taken in the margins of each data source and
initial codes developed. Then a list of significant statements was compiled for each
participant that showed evidence of how they defined diverse learners and
accommodations. The listing of statements was refined until it was non-repetitive and
non-overlapping. Next, the statements were grouped into "meaning units" (Creswell,
1998, p. 150) or themes, and a summative description of the phenomenon was compiled
for each participant to represent the essence of the experience. This essence, or summary,
was provided to each participant during the member check interview in January, 2003.
Themes were then analyzed across all four participants to identify similarities and
differences. Original data were recorded to find confirming and disconfirming evidence of
these identified themes.
Trustworthiness of the Study
Several techniques were employed in this study to enhance trustworthiness or
credibility of the findings: clarifying researcher position; prolonged
engagement/persistent observation; triangulation of data sources; peer debriefing;
member checks; negative case analysis; and rich, thick description. These strategies are a
combination of those suggested by Creswell (1998) and Guba and Lincoln (1982). Each
will be described below as it relates to this study.
Clarifying researcher position. Because interpretation is essential in qualitative
research, it is crucial to clarify researcher position or bias. I am a strong advocate for
unified programs. I believe that elementary and special education teachers should be
educated together through a program designed to help them learn to teach all students.
Ideally, teachers prepared in this type of program would be ready, willing, and able to
meet the needs of all students. These teachers would assess student needs in their
classroom and plan curriculum modifications and accommodations before, during, and
after instruction. Optimally, their lessons would require few accommodations because of
being designed to effectively reach and challenge the widest range of learners possible.
I am also a strong advocate for inclusion. I taught elementary and middle school for
five years in general education classrooms where special education students were
included. I value collaboration with special educators and always taught, planned, and
evaluated students with a co-teacher.
At the time of this research, I was a doctoral student at the University of Florida, in
a unified doctoral program with courses in both special education and instruction and
curriculum. For the previous two years I taught a course called Core Teaching Strategies
in the second semester of the PROTEACH program. I was also a member of the
PROTEACH Coordination Committee for two years, and we met to discuss unified
program design issues. I participated in three qualitative studies of different elements of
the PROTEACH program, one of which is an on-going longitudinal study. These
experiences gave me insider information about the program that provided insight into
how my participants were prepared. However, they also gave me information and
preconceptions that had to be bracketed so that researcher biases did not drive data
analysis and findings.
These biases are not fatal flaws in a qualitative study, but they must be confronted
directly and explicitly. Bracketing is a term used to describe the process where
researchers lay out their preconceived ideas and values so that those biases can be
transcended during research (Hutchinson, 1988). During data collection and analysis, I
kept a researcher's journal to articulate my personal thoughts and feelings in an attempt
to confront my own biases. This was especially important in this study because I did not
want to use my knowledge of accommodations to lead the participants in revealing their
knowledge and use of accommodations. However, my knowledge about accommodations
was beneficial as I observed and then probed the interns for what was and was not
happening in the classroom.
Prolonged engagement/persistent observation. These two techniques provide
scope and depth, respectively. Scope and depth in a study add to the credibility by
providing a range of examples over time that helps clarify the relevance or irrelevance of
observed events (Erlandson, 1993). I conducted this study over the course of one
semester, meeting with participants weekly and collecting an extensive amount of data to
ensure that findings were supported by numerous sources of evidence.
Triangulation. Observation data and artifacts were collected from intern
supervisors as previously discussed to provide additional support or disconfirming
evidence from an alternative source. In addition, the use of a combination of observations
and interviews allowed for overlapping, supported constructions of themes that
illuminated different vantage points (Erlandson, 1993) of the personal practical
knowledge of the interns.
Peer debriefing. During data collection, analysis, and presentation of results, I met
biweekly with a team of three peers to discuss preliminary findings and to problem solve
any difficulties encountered. This technique, called peer debriefing (Lincoln & Guba,
1985) or peer examination (Merriam, 1998), provided an external outlet to further protect
against researcher bias. This team assisted me by asking probing questions and
suggesting rival theories. The confidentiality of study participants was protected at all
Member checks. As mentioned previously, member check interviews were
conducted with participants to ensure their words and meanings were being faithfully
represented (See third interview protocol, Appendix D). Each participant was provided
with the result from phase one of analysis, a written presentation of the essence of each
participant's conceptualization of diverse learners and accommodations. This five- to
seven-page summary was presented to each of them for verification. In each case, minor
modifications were made in order to expand or clarify a participant's views or to add
information. In one case, the intern and I negotiated a more positive way to depict a
comment she made about her cooperating teacher. All four participants expressed
satisfaction that I had adequately conveyed their understandings and actions regarding
Negative case analysis. During data analysis, a search for disconfirming evidence
was conducted to ensure that researcher bias and preconceptions were not leading
analysis (Adler & Adler, 1994; Hutchinson, 1988). In addition, peer debriefers were
asked to play the role of devil's advocate on several occasions to help illuminate
Rich, thick description. For readers to determine for themselves the transferability
(Lincoln & Guba, 1985) of my study, often referred to as generalizability in quantitative
studies, I have thoroughly described the context and provided numerous quotes and
anecdotes. This will allow readers to determine which findings can be transferred to other
contexts due to shared characteristics (Creswell, 1998; Erlandson, 1993).
Presentation of Findings
Cook (1984) has called for a combination of interpretation, praxis, and prediction
in social science research to give a more complete understanding of the world around us.
In this study, I used the intersection of interpretation (as I describe interns' definitions of
accommodations) and praxis (how they enact accommodations), to make implications
that lean toward prediction (Do unified programs prepare interns that are willing and able
to make accommodations during their internship placements?)
Extensive descriptions of the interns and their placements are presented, with as
much information as possible about the classrooms and school contexts. In Chapters Four
and Five I present the four distinct cases, using data to explain each intern's conceptions
and practices regarding accommodations for diverse learners. The four cases are divided
between two chapters to highlight similarities and differences in the ways the interns
approached accommodation. In Chapter Six I present a cross-case analysis of various
dilemmas the interns faced related to their implementation of accommodations.
Implications for researchers and practitioners, as well as a discussion relating the findings
to current literature is presented in Chapter Seven.
Data are presented from a variety of sources, with specific data sources referenced
with the following codes: Formal Interviews (I); Observations (0); Post-observation
Reflective Interviews (RI); Member Check Interview (MC); Cooperating Teacher
Interview (CT); Supervisor's PATHWISE lesson plan forms (PW); and Unit Plan (U).
After each source code, a number will indicate which piece of datum was used.
Information about students with identified disabilities is included in parentheses after
their names, when applicable, to provide information about the type of students receiving
Conventions of Language
In each case I will present an intern's conceptualizations of accommodations and
how she put those thoughts into action in the classroom. In doing so, I will be mixing the
presentation of abiding beliefs and supporting actions, which creates confusing verb tense
usage. For that reason, the conventions of language used in the findings chapters are
1. Abiding beliefs and knowledge that can be assumed to prevail beyond data
collection will be written in present tense. Examples:
a. Erica believes that good teaching consists of captivating instruction that takes
both whole group and individual needs into consideration.
b. For Erica, accommodations are just part of a teacher's job.
2. Interview and observation data will be written in past tense, because they were
captured in a moment in time. Examples:
a. When asked who is entitled to accommodations, Erica responded,
b. Erica contacted the occupational therapist to inquire about assistive devices.
3. Participants' verb usage generally reflects similar conventions (abiding beliefs in
present tense, actions in past tense), but will be presented verbatim regardless of
ACCOMMODATIONS: A RECONCEPTUALIZED APPROACH
Chapters Four and Five are organized into cases to present data related to the first
two research questions:
1. How do elementary education interns prepared in a unified teacher education
a. conceptualize "diverse learners"?
b. conceptualize what it means to accommodate for diverse learners?
2. How do the interns accommodate for diverse learners during their internship
The four interns had different understandings about what accommodations were and how
to implement them. However, their conceptions about accommodation were all
influenced by overriding conceptions about effective instruction. In other words, the
interns all designed and implemented accommodations based on their overarching beliefs
about how to teach effectively.
Within this overarching framework of effective instruction, two of the interns had
approaches to accommodation that were in line with a reconceptualized approach. As
explained in Chapter Two, a reconceptualized approach is curriculum-centered, and
accommodations become contextualized as teachers examine ways in which the
curriculum can be adjusted to meet students' needs. Erica and Kelly approached
instruction and curriculum as the foci of their efforts to accommodate, and they
proactively designed instruction to ensure that more students were able to interact with
content. Alternatively, Ashley and Debra had approaches to accommodation that were
more traditional in nature. They had fairly standardized views of what students should
learn, and they viewed accommodation largely as remediation to give struggling students
opportunities to catch up with their peers. None of the cases is a pure example of one
approach or the other, and each case has elements of both approaches. However, there
was enough evidence in each case to suggest a trend toward one approach or the other.
The cases are organized in a similar format. Overarching conceptions about
effective instruction are presented first, followed by conceptions about accommodation
and then conceptions about diverse learners. The case descriptions of Erica and Kelly are
presented in this chapter, and Ashley and Debra are presented in Chapter Five.
Erica: "It's Just Part of Teaching"
Erica was placed in a third grade classroom at Ellis Elementary School. For Erica,
accommodations are a vital and essential part of a teacher's job. They are not an
afterthought or an added extra, but rather, just part of effective teaching. She explained:
That's the teacher's job to teach kids. Not to teach them your way, but to teach
them their way. You know, the way that they learn best. So yeah, I think you have
to accommodate. I don't see how you could NOT, unless you just decided to
[ignore] the way kids learn. It's just part of teaching. They go hand in hand.
There's not a separation. (MC: 177-181)
Erica's conception of accommodation was guided by her student-centered beliefs about
effective instruction. These beliefs served as a foundation for how she talked about both
accommodations and diverse learners.
Conception of Effective Instruction
Erica's conception of accommodations is strongly tied to her beliefs about
instruction and what causes students to struggle. For Erica, effective instruction is
captivating and engaging because these qualities keep students on task. She believes that
when students are not engaged, they miss foundational knowledge and begin a downward
spiral that manifests itself as behavior problems and/or low academic achievement. When
asked why some learners struggle more than others, she responded:
Well, one area they have a problem with is staying on task. Because if they aren't
on task, when it comes to the assignments that they have, and they haven't had the
instruction because they weren't on task in that area, then it's a chain link because
they don't understand what they are doing, and they are raising their hands, asking
their neighbor, or they find something else to occupy their attention, and then they
are getting in trouble for behavior. So every area suffers from not being attentive.
For Erica, preventing this downward spiral begins with well-planned instruction that (a)
keeps the whole class engaged, (b) involves reluctant learners, and (c) is adapted to meet
the needs of individuals. Each of these components is described below.
Group alerting keeps the whole class tuned in
Erica said that it is important not only to design instruction around students'
interests, but to have techniques to capture their attention during a lesson. She explained:
When you trigger their interests, like when I sang for them, everybody was quiet,
everybody was listening. There are little things you can do you still have your
rituals for instruction but there are things you can do to mix it up in a way that
keeps the students' attention. (Ii: 314-317)
Erica had many such techniques she used on the spot to get students' attention. During
many transitions she would tell students to be finished with a task by the time she was
finished singing a familiar song. Students would sing with her and be ready when she
asked (O 1, 3, 4, 6). She also varied the tone of her voice to maintain their attention and
make them focus on what she was saying. During a vocabulary lesson, when student
interest was waning by word three, she cued students to listen carefully, then mouthed the
word and then whispered it twice, successively louder until the majority of the students
were raising their hands to define the word (O 5). She told me that sometimes she has
them repeat vocabulary words after her as if they were "echoing in a canyon" (RI 6).
Vocabulary practice was important to Erica, and she searched for ways to maintain
student attention beyond group alerting. She designed lessons that gave students new
ways to respond to standard listing of definitions. In a vocabulary lesson I observed, she
had a bag taped to each grouping of desks in which students could store their vocabulary
index cards, inside an envelope marked with each student's name (O 6). She also
developed actions to represent each word to get students excited about studying the
words. Students were highly engaged in this lesson in part because of the creative way
she captured their attention.
These techniques were integrated into Erica's instruction purposefully as more than
just cute attention grabbers because Erica believes that keeping students engaged is the
key to helping them grasp the content. Even though the techniques described above were
used for the whole class, Erica considered them a form of proactive accommodation
because in designing instruction this way, "a lot of the problems will be eliminated" (I1:
Interactive instruction involves even reluctant learners
Erica said it is important to always be "moving [students] around, getting them out
of their seats. Kids want to talk, they don't want to just sit there and have you instruct
them. You should let them interact with one another, move around, use manipulatives"
(I: 317-319). She used a variety of techniques to involve students on the seven occasions
I observed her: students wrote on the board for her, tallied responses on the board, acted
out vocabulary words, mimicked cutting with scissors when they did a math shortcut, and
completed a vocabulary sentence about inherited traits in round-robin fashion. Erica
wants instruction to be interactive and enticing, but she also wants to ensure student
participation through the use of strategies to get every student involved. "I use strategies
to get them to answer questions, like [putting their names on] popsicle sticks, or tapping
them on the head, or whispering to a neighbor" (11: 129-130). In each of the seven
lessons I observed, she had specific techniques such as these for systematically involving
all students. In one lesson she planned ahead by sticking post-it notes below students'
desks on which they could write a concept they had learned as a formative assessment at
a mid-point in the lesson (O 2). She told me that when she realized some students had
misconceptions, she had the eight students with the best responses come up and read their
answers. Then she called on the students with incorrect responses, and they self-
corrected. "It was nice to have the students explain to their peers and teach them, too" (RI
2). This technique required each student to interact with the content and also gave Erica
some idea about students having difficulty so that she could tailor her instruction for
specific individuals, the next component in Erica's conception of effective teaching.
Instruction should be adapted to the needs of the individual
Erica planned activities to involve all students and used specific techniques geared
to certain students based on their needs. Erica indicated to me that many of her students
seemed to have problems paying attention and she talked about her plan for keeping them
Well, for the students that have attention problems, like Tony [EH], I try to get
them involved. But other students pick up on that, when I always use Tony or
Tawanda as helpers, or using John [ADHD] a lot to write on the overhead.
Sometimes I try to do it subtly, like just having them pull a [popsicle] stick for me,
because for them it's a big deal and then they are with me [in the lesson] .... Or
sometimes I'll try to call on a certain student before I ask the question, like with
Rusty and Carrie when I called them up to the board first, then asked the question,
so that they know ahead of time and they can prepare to really pay attention to what
I'm asking them to do. And then for my higher learners, like Chris and Sandy [both
gifted], I try to keep them challenged and find out their process of thinking. ... It
lets them celebrate something they've learned. I sometimes ask them to explain
how they got an answer to show the ones who can't do it what an expert does to
solve the problem. (RI 3)
She also contacted the school occupational therapist to get some assistive devices for
students when these techniques were not sufficient. She got a seat cushion wedge for
Tony (EH) to encourage him to stay seated and a squishy ball for Rusty to manipulate to
keep his hands occupied during lessons. She reported that these were highly effective,
and my observations support her conclusions (O 5, 6, 7).
She also modified materials for students when they were unable to respond in the
given format. For one student she customized a worksheet by enlarging and altering it to
give him more space to respond because of his poor fine motor skills (O 5). For another
student working on fine motor skills, she copied half of each vocabulary sentence off the
board for him and let him complete the sentence (RI 4). Another student was allowed to
dictate short answers on an assignment rather than write each response (RI 6, 7). She did
not consider changing this material to be unusual, but instead, something that all teachers
should do to ensure that students with exceptional needs can learn.
Erica's view of effective instruction in action
The first lesson I observed in early September demonstrated how Erica put each of
these three components into action simultaneously (O 1). Her lesson was based on a
scripted math lesson using the Saxon curriculum. During the beginning portion of the
lesson, she reviewed previously taught skills, including some problem solving skills.
Although the script simply required calling on various students to answer math problems,
Erica departed from the script and used the following techniques to maintain student
attention and ensure that all students achieved the lesson objectives:
* She had a cup with a popsicle stick for each student. During the lesson, she called
on each student once by randomly pulling out popsicle sticks. However, she also
called on students with and without their hands raised. Sometimes students knew
ahead of time that they were going to have to answer, and sometimes they did not.
* She wrote a math problem on the board and chose three students to figure out the
answer and whisper it in her ear.
* Prior to the lesson, she taped a folded piece of paper to the board that had the
answer to one math problem written on it. She called this the "secret answer."
* She varied the methods for responding to review problems. She asked some
students to stand, some to write the answer on the whiteboard, some to whisper the
answer to a neighbor, and some to come up front and stand in a line. She also asked
for choral response on occasion.
* She chose Tony (EH) as her helper to use the pointer during the calendar section of
the lesson. He led the class in finding the solution to this problem and participated
in the majority of the lesson.
* During one portion of the lesson students were given the opportunity to create a
number sentence with the answer "nine." This open-ended problem resulted in
responses of 8+1, (-2) + 11, 6+3, and 1000-991 from the four students called on to
respond. By structuring the task this way, Erica enabled students to respond at their
individual ability levels.
Most of these techniques allowed more than one student at a time to actively
respond to each problem. The whole class was engaged during the entire lesson and Erica
was satisfied that they achieved the lesson objectives when I interviewed her after the
lesson (RI 1). Erica used similar techniques in another math lesson I observed two weeks
after this one (O 3), and the cooperating teacher (CT) agreed that this type of instruction
was typical for Erica (CT-E).
Conception of Accommodation
Erica's ideas about accommodations are clearly related to her beliefs about
effective practice. She believes that accommodations are (a) any type of assistance given
to students that continue to struggle despite lessons designed to meet their needs, (b) part
of an on-going process, and (c) designed to help students reach lesson objectives.
Narrowing the focus from whole class to individual
Erica's ideas about accommodations began with effective instruction but developed
into more intensive assistance for students who continued to struggle. In this way, she
gradually narrowed her focus from whole class to individuals.
She began with a focus on the whole class, based on the three components of
effective instruction described above. She planned instruction with built-in
accommodation in the form of techniques to organize content and maximize memory and
attention. She then planned student-specific accommodations for those students likely to
have the most difficulty. Sometimes as Erica thought about specific accommodations she
could do for certain students, she realized that all students could benefit from them. She
referred to this kind of accommodation as a "blanket" accommodation (RI 4), such as
providing a checklist to help students stay organized. She also used teacher think-alouds
(O 1), mnemonic techniques (O 5, 6), graphic organizers (04), and reconstructive
elaboration (O 4, 5) because she felt that these aided memory and were "helpful to
students at all levels" (RI 1).
Other times, she realized that struggling learners needed something a little more
intensive. This type of accommodation was student specific and included such techniques
as dictating responses (O 6), altered materials (O 4, 5), assistive devices (O 5, 6, 7), and
alternative assignments (O 6). Although these techniques were sometimes obvious
because they were provided only for certain students, Erica also told me that she uses
some strategies that are not as obvious, such as involving Tony as her helper as a
proactive measure to keep him involved. She told me that sometimes accommodations
are so subtle and individual-specific that they are not visible to outsiders unfamiliar with
students' needs. She explained:
It might be that you have four students who are usually antsy, so you are going to
have to move them around more and that is accommodating for them. But an
outsider looking in would never know that you planned your lesson the way you
did because of those students. (I1: 437-440)
Because Erica viewed accommodations in this way, it was important to get her to
explain her reasoning behind the seemingly typical things she did, such as calling on
certain students at certain points in the lesson. She even mentioned that she was glad to
have someone to talk to about these planned accommodations, someone who "realizes I
planned that, or that I'm working hard to do that" (12: 462).
Part of an on-going reflection cycle
According to Erica, keeping students on task also means reflecting and taking
responsibility when things are not working. She explained, "If you think they aren't
learning or they aren't paying attention, take it as personal motivation to do something
different so that they are learning and they are doing it" (12: 430-432). Reflection is in
fact an essential component in Erica's conceptions of accommodation. At the end of the
study, Erica reported that she felt ready and able to make accommodations, but noted that
teachers can never truly know all they need to know because it is a never-ending process:
I think I'm still learning. I feel like it's just an on-going process. You have to figure
out what works for a particular child-trial and error. Sometimes I think something
is going to help them and it really doesn't end up helping them. Then, once you
find something that is helping them, you can't do it forever, so it's just an on-going
process. ... I'm constantly thinking about my students, every student that has
special needs, and it's my job to help them. (12: 44-51)
Two essential pieces of this process include making changes when the accommodation is
no longer successful, and gently removing support so that students do not get overly
Adapting the accommodation. Erica put a great deal of thought into what she
could do to make students more successful in the lessons she taught. In one lesson she
gave a student a modified worksheet to give him more space to write. Watching him use
the form incorrectly, she realized he was trying to use a new line for each definition,
rather than taking more room as she intended. She let him continue, not wanting to
confuse him further, but told me what she would do differently in the next lesson:
Next time I may just give him a copy of it all done, and he can highlight them when
we go over it so that he's following along. Because it's not major that he HAS to
write it down to know it. I mean, it's not that he only understands if he writes it
down. I like it when they write it, but for him, I think it's hindering more than it's
helping. (RI 6)
Erica accepted responsibility for the failure of this accommodation and had a plan for the
next lesson that more specifically addressed the difficulties this student faced.
Removing scaffolding. Erica believes it is necessary to wean students off
accommodations so that they do not become dependent on the support. When I asked her
if accommodations could make some students lazy, she replied that it would not "if you
are constantly modifying the accommodation, working them towards independence or a
less intense accommodation. [In other words] you are scaffolding" (I1: 394-396).
She described to me a process of scaffolding accommodations that seemed to
combine her understanding of Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development with her
understanding of special education and least restrictive environment:
If you underestimate what a child can do and you are expecting less of them, then I
do think it's wrong. I can't say, "Oh, Tony can't write so I'll just give him all the
notes all the time," and then I just hand them to him. But you could make him be
more active by making him highlight certain key words that you go over, or you
leave blanks in parts of it and have him fill in key words. So you want to have the
least restrictive environment. You want to give them help, but not just completely
giving it to them because they have to do it on their own eventually. In society they
have to be functional. They are not always going to have people that are constantly
giving them the extra help. (12: 273-282)
For Erica, it was important to reach children where they were currently functioning
and then guide them toward more independent learning. She related this to the idea of
least restrictive environment because she felt that you must be careful not to give the
students too much support, but instead, to find just the right balance of support and
independence. She believed that too much support could be restrictive, confining and
disempowering, just as she believed some resource room placements to be (12).
These two components adapting and scaffolding accommodations were
essential in the ongoing process of providing accommodations. This process, she told me,
takes time. Even though she talked about accommodations she would put into place
during our first interview in August, I observed few specific individual accommodations
(as she defined them) until the fourth observation in early October (RI 4). In addition, she
did not describe specific instances of weaning students off specific accommodations for a
few weeks after that (RI 7). In October when I asked her about the disparity between
what she said was important and what I observed, she said:
I think right now I'm just trying to figure out what students need and introduce it to
them .... I'm just feeling out what exactly the kids' needs are and trying to make
sure I'm accommodating those needs. Right now I am just implementing it, rather
than thinking about how to take them away. (RI 4)
Alignment with goals and objectives
For Erica, the bottom line in providing accommodations for students is to help
them achieve lesson objectives. In fact, Erica said that it is unfair to students to merely
eliminate parts of an assignment so they can get finished early because this altered the
goals or objectives for them in a way that cheated them out of learning what was needed:
If you go beyond simplifying or changing the lesson to a certain degree it is unfair
to the student because they aren't able to learn what they should be learning. You
shouldn't go in with [lowered expectations]. You should still have them do
things, but do them in a way that make them more achievable for them. They
should be learning the same things that other students are learning. They are just
doing them in a different way (I1: 512-517).
She said it was important to her not to eliminate concepts or standards, but instead
to change her approach to how they were learning the concept or standard. An example
she gave me early on demonstrates what she means by a different approach to learning a
concept. During the first interview, Erica told me she noticed some of her students were
not completing the morning Daily Oral Language assignment where they copy down and
then correct sentences written incorrectly on the board. She said, "They are just being left
behind. ... It could be so much more effective .... That is not helping them at all. ...
They aren't learning any grammar, and that's the purpose of this assignment" (I1: 355-
358). She brought up several alternatives to her CT: working with the students in small
groups; modifying the assignment as a standardized sheet to bubble in corrections; giving
them a sheet with the incorrect sentences printed out for them to edit with editing marks;
or shortening the assignment. Erica said her CT rejected those options because she said
she wanted to keep the standards high. Erica disagreed, but deferred. She said:
So I think not all students need that, but I think to achieve [the lesson] objective,
which is to have them learn to have sentences written correctly, some students can
do it in a different way, and it's just frustrating for them right now. Maybe once
they were getting it down, you could back off where they get one written for them
and have to only copy one sentence. After a while, you get them to do it
independently. (I1: 369-374)
As the semester progressed, Erica was able to make accommodations such as the
ones she suggested in August. While the exact reasons the CT rejected these ideas is not
known, it could stem from a difference in perceptions of how much support to provide. In
the interview with Erica's CT, I learned that she believes it is important for students to all
work toward the same goal and learn the same concepts, but with more teacher assistance
and encouragement for struggling students (CT-E). It could be that she regarded the types
of assistance Erica suggested as altering the objective too drastically. As mentioned
previously, however, as Erica took over responsibility in the classroom, her CT allowed
her the freedom to make accommodations she deemed necessary, regardless of any
differences in opinion they may have had.
Even though Erica was able to talk about the ideal of letting students have different
ways to meet objectives, she was still learning how this translated in practice. In her
Communities unit, she planned for students to write a thank you letter using a frame she
provided. During the lesson, she found that some students were not able to do this,
despite being able to express their ideas to her verbally. She made a grading
accommodation for them by giving them credit for completion and effort, rather than a
letter grade using the rubric she created. She did not plan in advance for alternatives for
these students or others with deficits in writing, but she was able to make changes in how
she assessed their products. With this lesson, as with another in her unit, Erica noted in
her reflective report, "The problem with the assessment I chose [for the objective] was
that it required specific writing criteria. Thus the students who struggle with writing are
penalized" (U-E). She said that next time she would plan ahead with alternatives for
those with limited writing skills. Even though she was still learning how to help students
reach lesson objectives in different ways, the fact that she recognized it as a weakness in
her unit and reflected on ways to improve suggests that this is an important aspect of her
conception of accommodation.
Conception of Diverse Learners
Erica primarily thought about diverse learners in terms of differences in the way
students learn and attend to instruction. These differences influence student achievement
because they affect what students get out of instruction. She did not consider only
struggling learners or students with identified disabilities to be diverse, but all students.
She realized that certain children need more help than others but did not limit her
assistance to students with disabilities. In the following section, Erica's conceptions
about diverse learners and her actions in the classroom related to those conceptions are
Who are diverse learners?
Everybody is a diverse learner because everybody is different, has different prior
knowledge, different experiences, best ways that they learn, materials. Everyone
has different needs and comes from different backgrounds. So I think everyone is a
diverse learner, even the students on grade level who don't show visible signs of
needing assistance because they learn something best one way, or have some
things that are helpful to them in learning. (I1)
Erica's conceptions of diverse learners remained stable over the course of the study
and were consistent with her ideas about accommodations. It was important to her to
target all students by attending to different learning styles, multiple intelligence, and
different ways to demonstrate acquisition of knowledge (U-E). She believed that all her
students were able to do well in school "Every single one of them is capable and they
come to school to learn" (12) and that it was her responsibility to meet their needs (U-
Erica did describe her class originally according to racial, ethnic, and
socioeconomic factors (II), but she did not discuss these factors as part of her discussion
of diverse learners. Her focus was instead on cognitive factors that affect learning,
stripped of sociocultural influences. She focused on ways she could help them learn
through different approaches to content and varied strategies. She focused on individual
differences in her students, rather than group differences that could be attributed to SES,
culture, gender, or linguistic background.
Who actually receives accommodations?
Erica provided accommodations to students regardless of whether they had been
formally identified with specific needs. She did not put accommodations in place just
because students were labeled with a specific disability. Instead, she identified a learning
difficulty in a student then she adapted instruction or used strategies to address the
specific learning need.
Erica often made accommodations to help John (ADHD) and Tony (EH) stay
focused (O 1, 3, 5, 6, 7), but I also observed similar accommodations she made for Chris,
Steve, Rusty, and Tawanda (O 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7). These were four general education
students that both Erica and her CT identified as students with difficulty focusing (I1; RI
2; CT-E). In fact, both Erica and her CT discussed the unusually large number of students
in this classroom who had difficulty focusing. The CT attributed this to undiagnosed
emotional handicaps and said besides Tony (EH) and Tawanda, whom was labeled EH
after the study ended, there were five other children who she considered emotionally
handicapped (CT-E). Neither the CT nor Erica differentiated between students that had
and had not been officially diagnosed when they discussed accommodations they made.
In other words, any student they perceived as having difficulty focusing was given
assistance, not only those for whom an Individual Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan
dictated they do so.
Besides identifying students with attention or behavior problems, Erica also
discussed and accommodated students with different achievement levels. The student
population of this particular classroom did not include any students with identified
learning disabilities or cognitive difficulties, but they did represent a range of
achievement levels. The CT supported this and talked about students as being below, on,
and above grade level (CT-E) whereas Erica described students at different levels by
referring to their reading levels. Erica accommodated for students at different reading
levels through the use of flexible reading groups for a portion of her reading skills
instruction. After being dissatisfied with a whole-group approach to reading, Erica
designed reading groups for skill practice based on reading levels, and tailored instruction
at centers for groups at each reading level. She had higher groups create fill-in-the-blank
vocabulary sentences for each other on index cards to practice word use, and she had
lower groups complete vocabulary worksheets provided by the reading series that were
written in the same style as the comprehension test so that they could practice in a format
similar to the test the school required her to use (O 6, RI 6). She also discussed high
achievers in her Communities unit and said she challenged them by identifying higher
order thinking skills as lesson objectives (U-E).
As previously described, Erica said that she accommodates for students with
different math achievement levels by providing opportunities for them to respond to
open-ended problems (O 1, 3) or giving a student part of a number sentence and having
him or her complete it (O 3). Any students having difficulty, not only those identified
with disabilities, were able to receive similar accommodations. Erica did discuss gifted
students specifically as she reflected on math lessons (RI 1, 3), but also discussed other
high achievers and did similar accommodations for them (O 1, 3).
To summarize Erica's conceptions of diverse learners, she focuses on cognitive and
attention difficulties or strengths, and considers every student diverse because of
difference in learning styles and preferences. Every student is entitled to
Kelly: "Looking at the Kid as an Individual"
Kelly was placed in a second grade classroom at Kinsey Elementary School. Kelly
thought the most effective instruction was focused on the "whole child" (I1). To her, this
meant that children were valued as individuals with different cultures, learning styles,
personalities, likes, dislikes, strengths, and needs. To effectively teach students to value
their differences, Kelly said, "I always want to be looking at the kid as an individual and
seeing what they need. I just do it. I don't always think of it as special or different,
just what the student needs" (12: 250 ... 557-558).
Consequently, Kelly planned instruction that was responsive to student interests,
gave students a lot of choices, and helped them interact with the content through
experiential learning. This respect for individual differences translated into an approach
to accommodations that took more than just ability into account. She acknowledged the
abilities of students when they arrived in her classroom and did not compare students to
one another to assess growth according to a set standard. Instead, she wanted each student
to make a year's growth according to his or her entry-level knowledge and ability. She
developed child-centered instruction as a result of these beliefs.
It is important to understand Kelly's ideas about accommodation and effective
instruction in relation to the students in her classroom. Out of the twenty-three children in
her class, fourteen were in the ESOL program, and three of those students spoke little to
no English when they arrived in August. Kelly often referred to the class composition as
an influence on her decision-making about accommodations and effective instruction.
Conception of Effective Instruction
Kelly's conception of effective instruction included an emphasis on community
building, student choice, and experiential learning combined with individualized help.
Emphasis on developing community
To Kelly, a safe and warm environment in which each child is valued is key to
learning: "If you aren't comfortable with your surroundings, if you are feeling all tense,
then you aren't going to be learning" (RI 6). When asked about her goals for students,
I want them to respect each other and all that goes with that person you know, the
culture, what they believe everything about that person, as well as respect for
themselves, of course, that's first. But to build a nice, respectful community. (RI 5)
To do this, Kelly planned to incorporate students' cultures into the classroom, build
classroom community through Morning Meeting for example, and have them practice
speaking and sharing about themselves in order to learn about each other (I1).
Kelly taught students to help each other, work together, and be kind to one another.
During several observations, I found children asking each other if they needed help (O 1,
2), or translating for those less proficient in the English language (O 2, 4, 5, 6). She
frequently commented to me that she noticed students were helping each other, and that
she enjoyed this (RI 2, 4; 12). In one lesson Denissa changed seats three times during
seatwork, and Kelly said that was because she loves to help and was moving back and
forth between Ricky and Maria (ESOL). She said children do this "almost automatically
now. They are very willing to help people .... [Denissa] loves to help and to add to the
conversation. I love that" (RI 2).
A lot of the community building was done during Morning Meeting, where the
purpose was to
give them a chance to express themselves by sharing and participating, talking,
conversations, and to just follow directions. It's an easy going way to realize how
to treat others, listening to people, speaking when it's your turn, stuff like that.
Community building was also done at the start of each day when the class said the Pledge
of Allegiance and then the Classroom Pledge: "I pledge to show my respect by listening
to others, using my hands for helping, caring about others' feelings, and being
responsible for what I say and do" (O 3). The Classroom Pledge was taped to the comer
of each child's desk and referred to occasionally during lessons (O 3, 6; CT-K).
The feeling of community was represented both visually and through the words and
actions of everyone in the room. On the bulletin boards were displays celebrating each
child with personal pictures from home or self-portraits, and displays of students from a
variety of ethnic backgrounds. Every time I observed, Kelly was soft-spoken, gentle, and
animated. She listened to children when they talked, and she responded to them
personally. This was reflected in student interaction as well. The children were friendly
and kind to one another and offered each other emotional support. When one girl,
Vanessa, had head lice for the second time and returned from lunch with her father with
her long red hair totally shaved, the entire class wore hats with Vanessa for several weeks
until her hair began to grow back (RI 4).
Morning Meeting was an important part of each day. At least 30 minutes per day
were spent on Morning Meeting, and math, the first academic subject of the day, did not
usually begin until 9:00 a.m., 75 minutes after the tardy bell. When I observed, there was
never a rush to get to academics, but Kelly told me in our last interview that she was
sometimes concerned that the day ended and she had not done much in the way of
traditional academic schoolwork. However, she felt that the students were progressing
adequately and would make a year's growth by the end of the school year. Kelly was not
sure what level reading book her students were working in, but she was impressed that
they had completed two units by the end of September. She was satisfied with the pace of
their progress through the county math curriculum as well. She also noted that even
though the format of assessment in her classroom was different from traditional
standardized testing, she felt the students would perform well on the end-of-year
standardized assessment (12).
The goal of community building was clearly a goal for the cooperating teacher as
well, who told me she wanted her students to love school and to be kind to others (CT-
K). Both Mrs. Klaussen and Kelly talked about how similarly they approached teaching
(CT-K; RI 5). However, it was also apparent that Kelly came into her internship with
these ideas and was not merely replicating her CT's practices. Kelly requested a
classroom that had a mix of ethnicities and that focused on classroom community (RI 5),
and her CT told me that Kelly entered the classroom with her child-centered beliefs (CT-
K). Kelly said that being with Mrs. Klaussen helped her learn how to put her own ideas
into action (RI 7).
Responsive to students' interests and skills
Kelly had a lot of confidence in students' abilities to direct their own learning and
offered a lot of student choice during instruction. In fact, she viewed student choice as an
accommodation, taking student interest and preference to a level beyond motivation.
Kelly told me that she let them suggest options because "I like to hear what they are
thinking their reasoning. If there's no reason behind it, and they are just trying to be
silly, well, then no. But if it makes sense, all right" (RI 3). Sometimes options are
planned, such as offering students a choice of whether to illustrate or create sentences for
spelling words (03, 6). Other times, a student may suggest an alternative, such as
creating an acrostic poem rather than writing a story (RI 7). Kelly told me that some
children frequently complete both options when she gives a choice, but it was neither
mandatory not expected for them to do so (RI 3, 7). If a student was making choices that
were not challenging enough and did not help him or her reach potential, Kelly said she
would talk to the student and parents and put it out in the open, as she had to do with one
student in her internship (12).
In addition to allowing students to choose between assignments, she also planned
open-ended response assignments to enable them to respond at their own levels. For
instance, in a fill-in-the-blank sentence starter worksheet (O 1), children filled in the
blanks with whatever they could: one ESOL student just filled it with "she" and another
student put a whole phrase with descriptive words. Kelly did not push children to do
more she accepted whatever they produced. However, during the reflective interview
she told me she was concerned that the open-ended worksheet, like most of the morning
seat work, was too difficult for some of the ESOL children who could neither speak nor
write English, and she talked to the ESOL teacher to obtain more appropriate materials
geared toward their levels of English proficiency. As a result, Juan, Maria, Marcus, and
Ally often completed vocabulary or sight word practice instead, and Anna had
worksheets with items labeled in Korean and English to practice her language skills and
to teach Kelly Korean words (12).
In addition to offering open-ended assignments, Kelly also felt it was important to
recognize the different ways that students interpret content. In a math lesson, she called
on various students to explain the strategies they each used for solving math word
problems (O 7). She also validated their individual understandings on a class constructed
concept map by listing their responses verbatim on the board (O 4). These strategies
allowed her to recognize their thoughts as valid and worthy, which was very important to
Kelly (RI 5).
Students were also allowed to control the direction and pace of lessons. During one
reading lesson, I observed that several times students diverted the discussion, and Kelly
let them explore the topic for a while before linking it back to what they were originally
discussing (03). For example, when she asked them to define "theme," students talked
about theme parks they had been to, but then she brought them back by asking for the
theme of each park. Then, after reading the story called "The Enormous Turnip," Denissa
left the group and went to look at the plants growing on the windowsill. Kelly asked her
to bring one over, and they measured it to make comparisons to the size of the turnip in
the story. Then they discussed the things plants needed to grow from a recent science
lesson on plants, and finally Kelly brought the discussion back to the turnip story by
linking it to the current day's math lesson on ordering: who pulled the turnip first,
second, third, and last. Much of this discussion appeared to be impromptu, guided by
what the students found interesting in the story and how it related to recent lessons, but
Kelly told me that she saw the connections when planning, and wanted to make sure
students saw them as well (RI 3).
Sometimes student choice went as far as allowing students to choose whether or not
to participate in class activities. One child, Juan, often refused to participate in any
classroom activity when I observed (01, 2, 6, 7), but both the CT and Kelly said that he
did do work in class and they were not overly concerned yet. Kelly said that one way she
would encourage him to participate would be to plan more cooperative activities, putting
him with people he felt comfortable with, and then giving him a role to ensure that his
participation was necessary for group success (RI 6). After taking more coursework in
ESOL, Kelly told me that she felt better about his frequent periods of non-participation
because she learned that English Language Learners (ELLs) often go through a silent
period when they just take in information and do not speak, and she felt that Juan was in
that stage during her internship (MC). In any case, students like Juan had a lot of control
over their daily work, sometimes choosing not to participate at all, and that was
acceptable to both the CT and Kelly (RI 2, 4; CT-K).
Another way that Kelly was responsive to her students was that she created lessons
that appealed to them. She was not bound by the county-mandated curriculum, but
instead used it as a springboard to go more deeply into topics that she or the students
found interesting (MC). Her CT also noted that she took the teacher manuals and adapted
the lessons for this particular group of students (CT-K). In addition, the lessons she chose
to have a supervisor observe support this element of her conception of effective
instruction: She read a David Wiesner book and had students write creative stories in the
same style (PW 2), held a Morning Meeting based on giving compliments to each other
(PW 1), and created an introductory science lesson on bones and muscles to assess prior
knowledge before teaching the unit (PW 4).
Letting students have control of their own learning in the ways outlined in this
section was one way that Kelly responded to students' knowledge, interests, and skills.
She valued what each child added to the class, academically as well as socially. In the
next section, her ideas about the structure for teaching lessons in this manner are
Examples and experiences, then one-on-one
Kelly generally taught lessons in a modified direct instruction approach (O 2, 4, 5,
6). She provided an introduction that made the lesson relevant to the students and
introduced the topic. Then she modeled and guided students through several examples.
She skipped a more formal guided practice stage, and instead moved directly into
independent seatwork. However, the structure of this seatwork was more like individual
guided practice for students because she and several student translators immediately went
to the students with the most difficulty in English and worked with them until they
understood the concept. Kelly's CT reinforced that this was a typical lesson format that
Kelly used, and she thought it was a great way to meet the needs of struggling students
Kelly explained that in this way, she begins with the whole class, then targets a
group having difficulty and works with them more, then progresses to one-on-one help
with students still having trouble (RI 4, 5). Kelly told me it was important to design
lessons this way because many students were not having difficulty with the concepts,
only the English translation, and she needed to work with some of them on understanding
the language without slowing the rest of the class when they were ready to move on to
independent work (RI 6). She circulated continuously, beginning with the newer ESOL
students and then getting to any other students needing assistance. Some students asked
neighbors for help if they needed it, but most of them did seem ready to move on to
independent work. As a result, Kelly and the CT were very pleased with the class's
academic performance as a whole. They did not have academic concerns about any
students (RI 7; CT-K).
Kelly's lessons were usually centered on letting students experience content first
hand because she felt that helped students understand concepts (12). During an
introductory lesson on the digestive system she gave students cookies and asked them to
observe and write about what happened to the cookie as they slowly ate it (06). She also
incorporated a role-play element to several lessons, where she asked students to stand up
to act out ideas, such as abstract concepts in math (02, 7) or ways to show feelings (05).
Although Kelly believed that these techniques worked well for all students, she
recognized that they were especially important when teaching students with limited
English proficiency (RI 5).
Kelly's view of effective instruction in action
In mid-September I observed a Morning Meeting and a math lesson on the concepts
of odd and even (02). Morning Meeting lasted 30 minutes and consisted of student
volunteers, alternating boy-girl, sharing stories or objects they brought from home. Lin
(ESOL) brought in a Chinese fan that her father bought when she was one, and other
students shared toys or stories. Both Kelly and the students responded to the speakers
with questions, and Kelly gently reminded them of the rules when talk became too
enthusiastic and loud.
In math, Kelly began using the manual to introduce the concept of odd and even,
but she also added an interactive component for students to visualize the concept of
numbers that did not group evenly. She considered this an accommodation because she
felt that some learners, and especially those with difficulty in English, would benefit from
a more active picture of the concepts (RI 2). She reviewed the concept of patterns, did
several examples on the board, had students stand up and group themselves in different
sets (to review a concept many had difficulty with previously), and then had students
grouped to show odd and even combinations. During the grouping activity, Juan (ESOL)
refused to participate. Kelly tried to coax him into participating, saying that the class
really needed him, but eventually, she let him sit and watch.
Kelly assigned three workbooks pages and told students that they should finish as
much as they could and not worry if they did not finish. Then she circulated to provide
assistance, beginning with students with limited English skills. To help Maria (ESOL),
Kelly read the math problem aloud, had her draw the math problem in the workspace,
reminded her of the hundreds chart on the wall, and prompted her to remember the active
grouping activity. In addition, Hector (ESOL) came over and explained something to
Maria in Spanish. Maria and two other ESOL students did not complete all three
worksheets in the time allotted, but Kelly told me that from what those students had done,
she could tell they were getting the concepts (RI 2).
During the seatwork, one student, Paulo (ESOL), was working ahead in his math
workbook and came back to ask me a question about the page he was doing, quite a bit
beyond the pages the class was working on. He told me he was moving back to Brazil
and his teachers said he could finish the book before he left. I noticed that he had been
participating in the discussion and activities but was working ahead during the seatwork
portion of the lesson, without any assistance.
As this lesson illustrates, Kelly believes it is important to build community through
the use of Morning Meeting and sharing; to respond to student interest, ability, and self-
direction of learning; and to provide activities to let students experience content.
Conception of Accommodation
Kelly viewed accommodation as a restructured approach to curriculum, rather than
a list of strategies to implement. She said:
I just feel like you can't just have certain modifications set up. It's going to be a
whole different approach basically. It would be like writing a whole different
lesson plan in a way. You don't just have a whole list of little things you can
just plug in when students need them. It's more of a big change in the way you
approach content or present it. (I1: 292-302)
Kelly's basic definition of accommodation was "support or extra help, or even a different
way of going about something like a topic or a skill when a student is struggling and
needs extra help" (12: 171-172). She also felt strongly that accommodations had to take
into account "different outcomes for every student" (12: 175). To Kelly, this meant that it
was important to measure student progress individually, rather than through the use of
grade-level expectations. Therefore, her conception of accommodation had these three
components: individual support, multiple representations and routes, and individual
progress. Each of these components of accommodations is expanded in the next section.
Individual support and encouragement
Kelly viewed accommodations as a form of scaffolding to move students toward
independence: "It's like scaffolding: You are helping them, but you are letting them build
their own ability along the way, so you are kind of like building them up so they can do a
task on their own eventually" (12: 148-150).
The support she provided had academic and social aspects. It was part academic
assistance and part encouragement and praise, but she considered both to be
accommodations. For example, she told me that Nathan had such terrible fine motor
skills that he could not even read his own writing aloud sometimes. She took a story he
wrote and typed it in a large font in a format that looked like a book so that he could
share it with the class:
I said, "Look, you wrote a book!" and he was so proud. He practiced with me
before he got up to read it in front of the class, then we put it in the class library.
And now the kids sit there and read it. ... It's great. (12: 365-369)
Students were given many opportunities to speak and share, and Kelly viewed the
assistance and encouragement she provided to be an accommodation. To get students
with less proficient skills in English ready to speak in front of the class, Kelly practiced
with them before school or during morning seatwork (O 1, 4), and she always stood by
each child and encouraged them while they were presenting to the class. She incorporated
one daily classroom activity to give all students the chance to practice oral speaking
skills. She sent the class pet (a stuffed animal) home every night with a different child,
who returned the pet the next day with a completed worksheet saying what the pet did,
who he met, and his new nickname. The child then read the responses aloud to the class.
On one occasion I observed Juan (ESOL) telling the class about his evening with the
class pet. Juan was a child who frequently did not participate in class activities. He was a
native Spanish speaker with very limited English proficiency. To help Juan be successful,
Kelly had the ESOL teacher help her write a letter in Spanish to Juan's mother, who
assisted him with the worksheet at home. In class, I observed Juan reading his responses
aloud, not quite confidently, but with more enthusiasm than I had ever seen him display
toward classwork before. As Juan approached a difficult word, Kelly whispered it in his
ear and had him echo it aloud. He teased Kelly that she could not correctly pronounce the
nickname he created for the pet Emmanuel and she joked with him and encouraged
him to add more details about the pet. He was reluctant to step down from the sharing
stool at the front of the room, seemingly enjoying the spotlight (O 4), quite a change for a
child who had refused to participate in two previous lessons I observed (O 1, 2). In fact,
during the lesson that followed his sharing of the class pet, Juan participated in a
discussion of goal setting at a level equal to the native English speakers in his class.
Participation was, in fact, one area of some concern for Kelly, but less so for her
cooperating teacher (CT-K). Kelly mentioned wanting to encourage the uninvolved
students by asking them what was wrong and what they wanted to do instead. After one
lesson, Kelly said she was concerned that some of the ESOL children were not
participating as much as she would like. She said she would plan some strategies to get
them to share, but that some students might need to be alerted ahead of time that they
would be sharing so that they could practice speaking with her beforehand (RI 2). Her
approaches were positive rather than punitive, relying on encouragement and support
rather than discipline. She called this type of support an accommodation, but it was more
social than academic in nature.
Kelly also extended this encouragement and support to a child with more severe
disabilities. Halfway through the semester a new student, Ally, arrived, diagnosed with
CHARGE syndrome, a low-incidence disability characterized by a variety of both
physical and cognitive manifestations. Ally had a cleft palate, visual and hearing
impairments, mild mental retardation, and was also a Spanish speaker in the ESOL
program. Both Kelly and the CT spoke to me about how most students immediately
accepted her into the classroom community, with a few exceptions that they had to
address immediately (12, MC, CT-K). Ally received special services for English, reading,
and math, but stayed in the classroom for Morning Meeting and for science and social
studies, and participated in the same activities and sharing experiences as other students
during those subjects. Kelly told me:
I treat her as I would any student that is learning English. She is often on task and
seems to be understanding what is going on. I have called on her several times to
come in front of the class and share. We don't understand her, but she is confident
in what she is saying and doing, so we applaud when she is finished, and I
encourage her to share when appropriate. (RI 4)
She also considered seating assignment to be an accommodation. She put students
with the weakest English skills in the front of the room or near a student translator to
provide them quick help during whole-group activities (RI 1). Students were allowed and
even expected to help each other, and they did it naturally, even by the third week of
school, the first time I observed in the classroom. The support for these students was
often academic and social in nature, either provided by Kelly or by their peers.
Multiple representations and routes
Another important component of Kelly's conception of accommodation was related
to providing different ways for students to understand and gain access to content. In other
words, she often provided multiple representations or routes to a singular objective (I1:
271). Kelly said that this type of accommodation takes time to put in place because you
have to really get to know how your students learn and what they need. Kelly said that
one way to learn these things about students is by:
offering lots of alternatives, or different centers about the content, as a way to
figure out, ok, this child is leaning toward this kind of center so maybe that's what
kind of learner they are and that's what they need. (Ii: 311-313)
If that did not work, she said she would talk to the student about it and elicit his or her
help in determining what would be a better way to learn.
One way that Kelly provided different approaches to content was to ensure that
students were seeing, hearing, and experiencing content. Kelly said this was important
because teaching in only one way might fail to reach some students:
If it was all one type of learning, like lecture, and you have a hands-on student, that
student is going to really fall behind. They are not getting what they need or
reaching their potential because you're not reaching them. (1: 199-202)
She read or had students read word problems aloud, drew representations on the board,
and had children come up to draw or draw on their own paper (O 1, 3). When giving
directions, Kelly told the page number, wrote it on the board, held up a book opened to
the correct page, and praised students for getting there quickly (O 2). Many directions
and concepts were reinforced orally, in writing, and modeled (O 1, 2, 3, 6).
Kelly also used a lot of interactive discussions in her lessons. The majority of
students who participated in these discussions were English speakers, but Kelly also
made it a point to call on the more proficient ELL students to gauge their understandings
as well. In addition to planning interactive discussions, she also told me that she
frequently plans some examples for the students to act out because she wanted them to
have a physical experience to think back on during seatwork (RI 2, 3). In a lesson on the
digestive system, she introduced the lesson by letting them eat a cookie and describe
what happened to the cookie, showed them pictures of a real stomach, had two ESOL
students share facts from a book they brought in, and related the size of the intestines in
terms of how many Abduls (ESOL) that would make lying down end to end (O 6).
Students were interested, engaged, and participating, possibly due to the multiple ways in
which Kelly presented the subject matter and made it relevant to her students.
She told me she considers repetition and integration of subjects a type of
accommodation (RI 3) because it reinforces content in numerous ways and in different
contexts for the students that do not always understand a concept the first time it is
presented. She identified two non-ESOL students, Brian and Nathan, as students who
benefit from this type of accommodation (RI 3), in addition to recognizing that all
students learning English can benefit from this support as well (RI 1, 2). Kelly's CT said
that Kelly was one of the best interns she had had in twenty-two years, and one of her
strengths was meeting the needs of individuals by presenting and reinforcing content in a
variety of ways:
She could easily explain whatever the concept was, in such a way that they could
understand it. And if they didn't, she didn't give up. She'd just quickly find another
way to show them and explain it, and then bring in the concept in other subjects to
reinforce it. ... I think she's a natural. (CT-K)
Another way that Kelly provided different ways to access content was through her
use of centers, though she admitted that she did not use them as much or as well as she
wanted to. She set up a math store to reinforce her unit on money, and often had listening
centers with books related to science concepts or to help students learn each other's
languages (RI 4). However, when I observed, the centers were supplemental in nature,
not an integral part of the curriculum, mainly used by students completing work early.
Therefore, the students benefiting from this accommodation, as she referred to it, were
not necessarily those students having difficulty with concepts.
Kelly mentioned that in addition to using centers more explicitly in instruction, she
would have also liked to incorporate more cooperative learning activities. However, she
felt constrained by a small room and a warped floor, which made it difficult to organize
the room any other way except into three long rows of connected desks. She frequently
expressed her displeasure in seating the students this way (I 1, 2; RI 3, 6; MC) but felt
that a change was not possible for safety reasons.
The activities she designed for her unit plan supported her emphasis on creative and
varied ways to present content: Students made a class book of feelings, wrote poetry or
short stories, created Venn diagrams with a partner showing how they were alike and
different as people, did group presentations of posters they created, created a personal
goal and took notes of their progress in achieving their goal, and they completed two
teacher-made worksheets. The activities indicated that Kelly values students as
individuals and wants to give them different ways to interact with and respond to the
A flexible process based on individual progress
Kelly's conception of accommodation also contained a component that focused on
the capabilities and potential of each student because she felt it was important to gauge
each student's progress without comparing him or her to other students. She said,
"Obviously you have a set objective for the lesson, but you kind of have to give and take
for each student because you know what they are able to do" (12: 176-177).
Determining individual progress was therefore part of the on-going process of
making accommodations. Kelly believes that it is important to remember
where you are beginning with each student. If a student is really behind another
student, and they perform at a certain level, or even if one student performed at a
higher level, I wouldn't compare the two. I would keep their individual goals
separate. (12: 180-182)
Kelly admitted that this is difficult to do: "I try to look at each student as an individual. I
try to remember where they started with me and what progress they've made, and it's
hard" (12: 191-193).
Reflecting on student progress and how she contributed to that progress was an
important part of this process. Kelly identified a few students that were not doing as well
as she thought they should, and often took much of the blame for not providing them the
type of accommodation they needed. For example, Kelly determined that because of her
limited English proficiency, Anna (ESOL) needed more one-on-one assistance to
understand how to monitor her goal during the personal health unit, and Kelly said she
would not penalize Anna's grade because of that (RI 7; U-K). In addition, once Kelly
began her last ESOL course after the internship ended, she expressed regret that she did
not have all the knowledge she needed during her internship: "I should have had this
knowledge beforehand. I was responsible for these children and should have had the full
Learning about children was part of the on-going process of assessing student
progress. Kelly believed that teachers are constantly learning how to make
accommodations because it is not possible to experience every potential difference in
children that could occur in a classroom. She said, "it takes a while to get to know your
students individually, and what's normal for them, what's not normal, so you can decide
what each one needs help with" (12: 25-27). Kelly said that having different experiences
with many students with different disabilities and different learning styles helps, and she
felt confident in her ability to learn about her students in order to meet their needs.
However, she recognized that meeting students' needs is a never-ending process: "It's
important to be always learning new things and expanding. It will be constant, and I'm
prepared for that. I don't think you can ever know everything, or have a strategy that'll
work 100% of the time" (MC).
Another component of this flexible process related to the idea that accommodations
and students' response to them should be monitored. She believes the process of
providing accommodation is on-going and continuous because students will always need
different strategies for different subjects and topics. She said this is because "[the
students] are developing, too, and they are changing, so I think the things they need in
order to succeed will change, too" (I1: 342-343).
Sometimes accommodations should be removed when a student no longer requires
that level of support. For example, Nathan was struggling in spelling so he received extra
study time with a volunteer tutor on Friday mornings. He was then allowed to take the
spelling test, individually, with the CT, immediately upon returning to class (RI 3). Kelly
told me that after about six weeks of this accommodation, Nathan did not seem to need it
anymore, so she discontinued letting him take the spelling tests early. He continued
getting A's on his spelling tests.
To Kelly, another part of the on-going process was allowing a child to work on
something and correct it until he or she mastered the objective. She believed that
artificially imposing a date, marked by a test or assignment, for students to demonstrate
mastery of a skill did not accommodate students who worked at a different pace. She told
me, "I'm not one to say, you got a bad grade on this, oh well. Put it away. Move on. I'd
rather they learn it and meet the objectives" (RI 5). Although I did not observe any
students redoing work or continuing with a previously taught skill while others moved
on, Kelly told me that either she or the CT worked with students having difficulties in the
morning, before school. She said that currently only Juan was a little behind in math, and
most of their assistance was purely rephrasing because of Juan's limited English
proficiency (RI 7). She also told me that they let students redo tests or portions of tests
after receiving more instruction (RI 7).
Conception of Diverse Learners
Kelly wanted to focus on individual children as she developed instruction and
created her classroom environment. She did not want to compare children, but instead, to
respect the individual differences of each child. Therefore, she viewed all children as
diverse learners. Despite this very broad definition of diverse learners, she really focused
on diversity as cultural difference, probably in part because her internship placement had
a majority of students who came from other countries. As she talked about ways to
accommodate her students, she almost always began with ways to help the students who
were not native English speakers. Her ideas about diverse learners and her patterns of
offering accommodations are discussed below.
Who are diverse learners?
Kelly's first response to ideas related to diversity was always rooted in cultural
differences and ethnicity. She described her internship classroom as extremely diverse
because, of the 23 children in the class, 14 came from other countries such as Brazil,
Colombia, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Korea, Japan, China, and Saudi Arabia. When she talked
about these students, she maintained their cultural heritage without lumping them into the
larger categories of Asian or Hispanic. Her definition of diversity did not include African
American children who were born in America and were native English speakers.
When probed specifically for information about other ways to define diversity and
diverse learners, Kelly added an element related to ability level. She said that six students
were labeled as gifted and were pulled out for reading, writing, and language arts every
day, a policy with which she disagreed because of the effect on classroom community (I
1, 2). She maintained throughout the semester that the remaining students who were
neither ESOL nor gifted were all performing at similar ability levels. Rarely did Kelly
mention Ally (CHARGE) as an example of a student with diverse needs, though she was
arguably the student with the most severe physical and mental disabilities in any of the
four classrooms involved in this study.
She also defined diverse learners as students who learn in a specific style: "visual
learners, hands-on learners, learners who relate best to mathematics, just different ways
that they learn best" (11: 191-193). She added that diverse learners may have different
interests, personalities, and different families and ways of communicating in those
Kelly considered her internship classroom very diverse, but she described her pre-
internship classroom as lacking any diversity at all (RI 6), when in fact, it was a racially
diverse school, with students representing a range of SES levels, and a policy of
including students with disabilities. Therefore, despite the fact that she described a range
of ways to define diversity, it was apparent that her first thought was related to ethnic and
linguistic diversity, which was not present in her pre-internship classroom of American-
born English-speakers. She reinforced this by saying that she loved her internship school,
Kinsey Elementary, because "you can just see all the diversity" (I1: 20).
Who actually receives accommodations?
Kelly planned instruction that she felt met the needs of all her students because she
was responsive to their interests, knowledge levels, and skills. Kelly believed that the
changes she made in her approach to curriculum and instruction would benefit all
students, leaving very few that would need additional assistance, which she (or student
peers) readily provided during seatwork. Therefore, since the majority of
accommodations, as she defined them, were changes made for the whole group, she
believed that all students received accommodations (12).
Kelly did not have any students with disabilities in her class for instruction in the
core content areas, and she even had ESOL students pulled out for language and reading
instruction. Because these students did not receive math or reading content instruction
from Kelly, it was unclear whether she felt the need to make more intense
accommodations for students with identified disabilities that moved beyond what she
considered to be a redesigned approach to curriculum.
When asked early in the semester how she planned to accommodate for the
students in her room, Kelly said language was the main hurdle she would have to plan
for, as well as being sure to remain sensitive to differences in cultures and home life. At
that point, she did not articulate other ways in which students could be different and have
different needs. However, looking at her approach to accommodations for the students in
her class, it appears that she was thinking about student differences, especially in terms of
how students with different levels of English proficiency need to be taught. For example,
she altered morning work for students based on their levels of English proficiency, and
graded ESOL students based on her perception of what they were able to achieve
However, very few of the non-ESOL students received individualized
accommodations that were geared to specific deficits. Kelly perceived that all the non-
ESOL students were performing at similar levels of achievement, so she saw little need to
make specialized accommodations for them (RI 3, 7). Even though Kelly typically did
not target specific students for individualized accommodations, she never denied
assistance or accommodation if students needed help. For example, Nathan was targeted
for a specific accommodation when his spelling test scores began dropping. He received
extra spelling assistance with a volunteer and took spelling tests privately with the
Kelly's ideas about providing accommodations seemed to differ with respect to her
ESOL and non-ESOL students. Kelly repeatedly insisted that her non-ESOL students