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GRADE-LEVEL INCLUSION TEAM MEETINGS:
HOW DIALOGUE SHAPES TEACHER PROBLEM AND RESPONSE
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
I would first like to acknowledge the faculty and leadership of Hopewell
Elementary. Without their contributions, this work would not have been possible. I
would like to thank and acknowledge my committee members for their support and
encouragement. Dr. James McLeskey, my chair, has both encouraged and redirected my
spirited opinions about what is just and fair for children within our educational system.
Dr. Dorene Ross, my cochair, showed me during my undergraduate work what good
teaching looks like. Her just-right-for-me questions over the years have enabled me to
think more deeply about teaching and my research. To Dr. Elizabeth Bondy, I am deeply
grateful for her invitation to join her in her work at Hopewell Elementary. Whether she
was taking fifth-grade girls to be fitted for their graduation dresses or tutoring a small
group of students in math, her tireless energy and care were inspiring. I also want to
thank Dr. Mary Brownell for the opportunities she gave me while working at the Center
on Personnel Studies in Special Education. From those experiences I learned much.
To my husband, Joe, and my daughters, Caitlin and Jennifer, words can never
really express what their support has meant to me. They all made my dream their dream,
and for that and many other things, I will be forever grateful.
To my friend, Anna Langford, I am deeply grateful. She came out of retirement
after only a few days to carefully review all my transcripts for accuracy. To my dear
friends and colleagues-Dr. Tarcha Rentz, Dr. Karen Kuhel, Dr. Mirka Koro-Ljungberg,
Dr. Regina Bussing, Bonnie Sears, and Lisa Langley-they have inspired me and
encouraged me throughout this journey. Finally, I dedicate this work to two women who
are not here to celebrate with me, my grandmother, Mae Rogers, and my friend Linda
Wilson, the two wisest women I have ever known and loved.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................. ii
LIST OF TABLES ............ .............................. vi
ABSTRACT ......... ............................... .. .......... vii
1 INTRODUCTION ........................ ......... ... .......... 1
Background of the Problem .......................................... 5
Purpose of the Study ............. .................................. 6
Significance of the Study ............................... ............ 6
Definitions of Key Terms ........... .. ................... 7
2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE ......................... .......... 9
Educational Teams ................................. ........... 12
Communities of Practice ............................................ 37
Importance of the Study ............................................ 45
3 THEORETICAL ORIENTATION AND METHODOLOGY ................ 48
Theoretical Orientation ............... ............................. 49
Influence of the Theoretical Perspective on the Study ................... .. 51
Methodology ........... .........................................51
Study Design ........... ......................................... 56
Overview of the Dissertation ................ ...................... 71
4 PROBLEM AND RESPONSE CONSTRUCTIONS GENERATED IN
GRADE-LEVEL INCLUSION MEETINGS ............................. 72
Introduction ...................................... .................72
General Description of Inclusion Meetings ............................. 73
Student Problems Discussed/Addressed ............... .......... ... 76
Responses/Suggestions to Address Problems ............... ............ .85
Summary of Findings about Problems and Responses to Problems ............ 95
5 DISCOURSE ANALYSIS FINDINGS ............................... 97
Teacher Perceptions of the Value of Inclusion Meetings .................... 97
Discourse Analysis .................. .............................. 104
Summary of Unproductive and Productive Dialogic Strategies .............. 141
6 DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS .............................. 144
Problems Addressed/Described at Inclusion Meetings ..................... 148
Responses to Problems Described/Addressed at Inclusion Meetings .......... 151
Extending Existing Literature ................. ................. ... 162
Implications for Practice ............... ......................... 169
Implications for Research ............... ........................ 172
REFERENCES .............. ............................. 174
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................................ 181
LIST OF TABLES
3-1 Faculty's years of experience ................. ..................... 63
3-2 Summary of students' disability classification by grade level ................ 63
5-1 Exchange types, speech functions, and types of modality .................. 108
5-2 Semantic relations between sentences and clauses ..................... .. 109
5-3 Second grade inclusion team meeting .............................. 111
5-4 Resource inclusion team meeting ................. ................ 114
5-5 Success for all inclusion team meeting excerpt .......................... 119
5-6 Third grade inclusion team meeting ................. .............. 123
5-7 First grade inclusion team meeting ................ ................. 128
5-8 Kindergarten inclusion team meeting .............................. 132
5-9 Fourth-grade inclusion meeting .................................... 134
5-10 Fifth-grade inclusion team meeting ................. .............. 138
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
GRADE-LEVEL INCLUSION MEETINGS:
HOW DIALOGUE SHAPES TEACHER PROBLEM AND RESPONSE
Chair: James McLeskey
Cochair: Dorene Ross
Major Department: Special Education
The purpose of this study was to better understand what kinds of problems of
practice are presented at grade-level inclusion meetings, and how interactions during
these meetings influenced problem and response constructions. Teams were comprised of
general education teachers, special education teachers, leadership team members, and
other professional educators. Data included verbatim transcripts from eight inclusion
meetings and 21 follow-up teacher interviews. Two data analysis methods were used
including inductive analysis and discourse analysis. Research questions guiding this
study included the following: What kinds of problems are described at inclusion
meetings? What kinds of responses are developed by the group in response to problems
presented? What value do these meetings have for teachers? How does dialogue
constructed during inclusion meetings shape problem construction and group responses?
Two domains of student problems emerged: problems with academics and
problems with behavior. Teachers described two types of students with academic
problems: students who worked hard but were failing to progress and students who
exhibited inconsistent effort. Teachers described four kinds of challenging student
behaviors including attendance problems, behavior problems with academic problems,
persistent annoying small behaviors, and aggressive behaviors. Responses to these
problems from teams included responses at the family-level, classroom-level, and school-
Discourse analysis revealed two kinds of problem constructions: parallel problem
constructions in which inclusion meeting participants discussing the same student
constructed different problems, and coconstructed problems in which meeting
participants, through modalized exchanges, constructed the same problem.
Responses to problems were constructed in a variety of ways. Unproductive
responses were unfocused, tense, or generated ways to address problems that were
inconsistent with the problem itself, whereas productive responses were focused,
supportive, and matched the problem presented by the teacher with a concomitant
solution. Discourse features of unproductive dialogues included high numbers of
assertive and evaluative statements that were not modalized, whereas much of the
productive talk during inclusion meetings was highly modalized and tentative. In
addition, unproductive talk contained premature terminations of problem and solution
constructions, whereas productive talk brought problems and solutions to logical ends.
Implications for practice and future research are discussed.
The move toward including students with disabilities in general education
classrooms has been one of the more significant school reforms in recent history.
Empirical evidence from studies examining state-reported data from the Annual Report to
Congress on the Implementation of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
suggests that more students with high incidence disabilities were placed in general
education classrooms during the last decade than in previous years (Danielson &
Bellamy, 1989; Katsiyannis, Zhang, & Archwamety, 2002; McLeskey, Hoppey,
Williamson, & Rentz, 2004; Williamson, McLeskey, Hoppey, & Rentz, 2006). Mandates
in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) (2002), which require schools to ensure
the adequate yearly progress (AYP) of students as measured by state accountability
programs, will likely serve to continue trends toward inclusive placements in regular
education classrooms into the foreseeable future (Ysseldyke, Nelson, & Christenson,
2004). This leaves general education teachers with the challenge of learning how to meet
the academic and social needs of an increasingly diverse group of students.
Evidence suggests that teachers find it challenging to work with students with
disabilities in general education classrooms, as they often feel they lack specific
knowledge to do so effectively (Bondy & Williamson, 2006; Brownell, Yeager, Sindelar,
vanHover, & Riley, 2004; Chalfant, Pysh, & Moultrie, 1979; Vaughn, Schumm, Jallad,
Slusher, & Saumell, 1996). Professional development is certainly an important vehicle to
remedy this perceived gap in teacher knowledge (McLeskey & Waldron, 2002);
however, scholars have argued that teachers need more than short-term professional
development to meet the day-to-day challenges of diverse classrooms. For example,
Little (2003) argued that "conditions for teaching and learning are strengthened when
teachers collectively question ineffective teaching routines, examine new conceptions of
teaching and learning, find generative means to acknowledge and respond to difference
and conflict, and engage actively in supporting one another's professional growth"
(p. 913). Similarly, Supovitz (2002) asserted that interactions among small groups of
teachers (e.g., teams) "will not only maximize their collective knowledge and skills but
facilitate their curricular and pedagogical strategies and the influences of these efforts on
student learning" (p. 1592). Thus, teams may create ongoing opportunities conducive to
teacher learning and problem solving (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989; Darling Hammond &
Sykes, 1999; Little, 2003; Pugach & Johnson, 1989; Supovitz, 2002).
Teams have long been used to address problems in education such as reducing the
numbers of students referred for special education services (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Bahr, 1990;
Safran & Safran, 1996; Sindelar, Griffin, & Smith, 1992) and addressing the unique
needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students (Harris, 1995; Hoover & Collier,
1991). Further, teams have also been used to support teacher learning, for both preservice
or early career teachers (Brownell et al., 2004; Sutherland, Scanlon, & Sperring, 2005)
and in-service teachers (Englert & Rozendal, 2004; Little, 2003; Supovitz, 2002).
Evidence suggests that teachers have strongly endorsed the use of teams to assist with in-
classroom problems (Bahr, Whitten, Dieker, Kocarek, & Manson, 1999; Kruger, 1997;
Kruger, Struzziero, & Watts, 1995; Safran & Safran, 1996; Sindelar et al., 1992). In
addition to strongly endorsing the use of teams, a study of 161 teacher assistance teams
revealed that teacher satisfaction with collaborative problem solving was related to
teachers' perceived notion that they were helping themselves or their colleagues (Kruger
et al., 1995). This suggests that teachers appreciate the opportunity to help each other.
Some research evidence suggests that the support teachers receive through teams
may be instrumental to establishing contexts that engender teacher learning (Brownell et
al., 2004; Friend & Cook, 2003; Kruger, 1997; Kruger et al., 1995; Safran & Safran,
1996). Brownell and her colleagues (2004) found that teacher participants in teacher
learning cohorts benefited from both psychological and instructional support as they were
learning how to teach students with disabilities. Other studies have suggested that social
support is important (Kruger, 1997; Kruger et al., 1995). Social support can be defined as
"the extent to which organizational conditions help facilitate the implementation and
outcomes of an innovation" (Kruger et al., 1995, p. 204). Using surveys, Kruger (1997)
examined the relationships between the types of social support teachers experienced
when asking for help with challenging classroom dilemmas through teacher assistance
teams (Kruger, 1997). Evidence suggested that teachers felt the most efficacious with
respect to overall problem solving and planning in-class interventions when they
perceived the teams' appreciation for the worth of their efforts. This suggests that each
team member must feel valued by his or her colleagues. Thus, while these studies
identify important contextual information (i.e., the kinds of supports needed to facilitate
teacher learning), they offer little description of the kinds of learning opportunities
interactions among teachers afford.
Perhaps, most importantly, evidence suggests that when teachers participate in
teams that focus their efforts on student learning, changes in practice and improvement in
student achievement do occur (Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2006). However, evidence
suggests that when the focus of teams is not on student learning, student achievement is
unaffected (Supovitz, 2002). Thus, it is important to examine factors that enable that kind
Teachers have suggested that teams offer them chances to learn about teaching
(Snow-Gerono, 2005). However, current research sheds little light on what teachers learn
and the kinds of interactions that facilitate teacher learning. Little (2003) set out to
examine the contents of the "black box" (p. 915) of teacher interactions during team
meetings of high school teachers. Using discourse analysis, Little described how teachers
represented their classroom practice in out-of-classroom talk. She justified looking at
teacher-to-teacher interactions as a means for better understanding teacher learning,
noting that if these contexts create teacher learning, "it ought to be evident in the ongoing
encounters that teachers have with one another" (Little, p. 914).
Findings revealed that learning opportunities during meetings were influenced by
(a) the kinds of situations teachers brought to meetings, (b) the language teachers used
to talk about their work, and (c) group dynamics. Specifically, teachers used what
Little (2003) termed teacher shorthand to describe problems. Thus, language was highly
contextualized, loaded with meanings that only group members could fully apprehend. In
addition, hidden group dynamics allowed some problems to be fully explored, as others
were pushed aside. This led Little to conclude that "the force of tradition and the lure of
innovation seem simultaneously and complexly at play in the teachers' everyday talk"
Background of the Problem
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (2002) mandates that the performance of
all students with disabilities be assessed against general education standards and that all
Title 1 schools meet AYP for all subgroups of students, including students with
disabilities (U.S. Department of Education [USDE], 2001, 2003). This dissertation study
will be conducted at Hopewell Elementary School (a pseudonym), an urban school
located in a medium-sized school district in the southeastern United States. Students at
the school are largely African American (98%), with most students qualifying for free or
reduced lunch. Although Hopewell Elementary fared very well the last 2 years in meeting
state accountability standards, the school failed to meet national accountability standards
of AYP for students with disabilities as defined in NCLB. This failure likely spurred the
principal's decision to abandon all self-contained classrooms for students with
disabilities in favor of including all students with disabilities in general education
classrooms. Thus, professional development around the topic of inclusion became a
Professional development efforts during the 2004-2005 school year included a
year-long, rigorous professional development program tailored to meet the needs of
Hopewell Elementary through the collaboration of school faculty and a nearby university.
Existing school structures were also changed. For example, faculty meetings were
changed to best-practices meetings where teachers presented new ideas to colleagues
regarding what was working in their classrooms. In addition, the school began holding
grade-level inclusion meetings to discuss problems with individual students. A study at
the end of the school year regarding teacher perceptions of school efforts aimed at
including students with disabilities in general education classrooms revealed that teachers
wanted more opportunities to discuss problems of practice they were experiencing related
to inclusion. Thus, during the 2005-2006 school year, the year of this study, the school
continued team inclusion meetings to provide an opportunity for teachers to discuss
problems of practice with colleagues, members of the school's leadership team, and other
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to better understand what kinds of problems of
practice are presented at grade-level inclusion meetings, and how interactions during
these meetings influence teachers' problem and response constructions. This study
answers Little's (2003) call to extend her work with high school teams to other teaching
contexts (i.e., an urban, inclusive elementary school). Specifically, this study seeks to
address the following research questions:
* What kinds of problems are described at inclusion meetings?
* What kinds of responses are developed by the group in response to problems
* What value do these meetings have for teachers?
* How does dialogue constructed during inclusion meetings shape problem
construction and group responses?
Significance of the Study
There is a great need for professional development that enables teachers to learn
how to effectively work with students who struggle in classrooms. Many schools,
especially those serving the urban poor, are under increasing pressures to ensure students
with disabilities make AYP. Thus, research that illuminates how this is best achieved is
needed. Many scholars have suggested that professional development that is embedded in
the daily routines of teachers holds the most promise (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999;
McLeskey & Waldron, 2002). Although the literature suggests that teams may be well
equipped for this kind of professional development, little is known about how the
dialogue of these meetings achieves these ends (Little, 2003).
Specifically, we know that when teams focus on student learning, student
achievement improves. However, less is know about how dialogue during meetings
enables clear descriptions of problems of practice so that teams can generate meaningful
interventions for teachers and students. Thus, research that illuminates strategies to
improve the productive nature of dialogue during team meetings is needed.
In the chapters that follow, I describe the available literature on teams and
communities of practice that are relevant to this study, describe the methods used to
study inclusion team meeting dialogue, discuss the kinds of problems of practice and
responses these meeting create, discuss the ways in which dialogue shapes both these
constructions of problems and responses, and discuss the implications of this research for
the professional development of teachers.
Definitions of Key Terms
Inclusion Team Meetings
Inclusion team meetings are conceptualized as problem-solving meetings in which
grade-level teachers, along with special education teachers, leadership team members,
and other professional educators collaborate to recommend next steps for teachers to try
with students who are experiencing problems in classrooms.
Leadership Team Members
Leadership team members include the principal, behavior resource teacher,
curriculum resource teacher, the fine arts facilitator, the guidance counselor, and the
Other Professional Educators
Other professional educators include the school psychologist, the professor in
residence from a local university, and occasional staff members from the school district.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
Historically, school-based teams have been used as an alternative to traditional
professional development (Chalfant et al., 1979; Sindelar et al., 1992). Specifically, the
purpose of teams was to discuss students whom teachers found difficult to teach and
provide assistance to teachers. The special education literature suggests that teams
evolved according to two very different philosophies (Sindelar et al.). One kind of team
was modeled after the mental health conception of consultation (Sindelar et al.). This
approach was based on a conception of teacher learning as knowledge-for-practice
(Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Fuchs, Fuchs, & Bahr, 1990; McLeskey & Waldron,
2004), where teachers were taught to use expert-developed interventions for students they
were having difficulty teaching. The other branch of teams developed as a knowledge-in
practice conception (Chalfant et al., 1979; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; McLeskey &
Waldron, 2004). Teams of teachers were deemed qualified to solve the majority of their
pressing concerns through collaboration with their peers. When needed, teams would
solicit help from experts.
Some scholars have continued to argue that professional development for teachers
must be situated in practice (Buysse, Sparkman, & Wesley, 2003; Darling-Hammond &
McLaughlin, 1995; McLeskey & Waldron, 2002; Wilson & Beme, 1999). Fullan (2001)
suggested that teachers must be prepared "on the job for context-based solutions, which
by definition require local problem solving" (p. 269). Further, Darling-Hammond and
McLaughlin (1995) argued that "professional development today also means providing
occasions for teachers to reflect critically on their practice and to fashion new knowledge
and beliefs about content, pedagogy, and learners" (p. 597). This view suggests that
professional development for teachers should reflect a knowledge-in-practice orientation
of teacher learning (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; McLeskey & Waldron, 2004).
The knowledge-in-practice view of teacher learning values the practical
knowledge of teachers (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999). It suggests that "teachers learn
and become better teachers through experience, reflection on their practice, participation
in collaborative teacher groups, inquiry into their experiences in the classroom, the study
and discussion of cases, and the like" (McLeskey & Waldron, 2004, p.8). Other
professional educators are viewed as colleagues who work with teachers to improve
practice and ultimately student learning. Scholars have suggested that communities of
practice provide the context for such teacher learning (Buysse et al., 2003; DuFour, 2004;
Englert & Rozendal, 2004; Franey, 2002; Hollins, McIntyre, DeBose, Hollins, &
Towner, 2004; Hunt, 2000; Louis & Marks, 1998; Morris, Chrispeels, & Burke, 2003;
Snow-Gerono, 2005; Strahan, Carlone, Horn, Dallas, & Ware, 2003; Supovitz, 2002;
Vescio et al., 2006)
Many facets of teams have been well researched in the literature including team
effectiveness (Fleming & Monda-Amaya, 2001), the efficacy of prereferral intervention
teams (Safran & Safran, 1996; Sindelar et al., 1992; Welch, Brownell, & Sheridan,
1999), the efficacy of consultation teams (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Bahr, 1990; Fuchs, Fuchs, &
Gilman, 1990), team membership (Bums, 1999; Giangreco, Edelman, & Nelson, 1999),
and fidelity of team implementation (Kovaleski, Gickling, & Morrow, 1999). However,
only two studies (Knotek, 2003; Little, 2003) investigated the influence of collaborative
dialogue during problem-solving meetings.
Little's study looked at the efforts of high school teachers who worked together to
discuss pedagogical problems within their classrooms, such as how to improve feedback
given to high school English students. Knotek (2003) studied the dialogue of two
problem-solving teams located in southern, rural schools to look for bias inherent in the
talk of teachers. Thus, no studies have looked at how dialogue during problem-solving
meetings shapes possible learning opportunities of teachers.
The purpose of this study is to better understand what kinds of problems of
practice are presented at grade-level inclusion meetings, and how interactions during
these meetings influence teachers' problem and response constructions. Teacher learning
through teams is bounded in at least three ways. First, the kinds of problems presented at
team meetings influence what is discussed. If particular problems are never discussed
during team meetings, then teachers will not be able to learn about those things. In
addition, the kinds of responses to problems generated by the team members will be
limited by what team members know and share. Finally, the dialogue of the meetings
themselves influences how learning is shaped for participants. Certain ideas may be met
with resistance while others are not.
With this in mind, the purpose of this chapter is to review relevant literature on
teacher learning in school-based teams. In the first section, literature on teams will be
reviewed. This includes team development and types of teams. Next, empirical studies on
teams will be reviewed to address the following questions:
* What kinds of problems of practice did teachers address during team meetings?
* What kinds of responses did teams generate to help teachers with these problems?
* What value did meetings have for teachers?
* What do studies on teams reveal about the nature of dialogue within teams?
In the second section of this chapter, I will discuss literature related to
communities of practice. After describing the characteristics of communities of practice,
I will describe the empirical studies related to the nature of dialogue in communities of
practice. Specifically, I will address the influence of dialogue in communities of practice.
I conclude this chapter by situating my study in the context of the reviewed literature.
The concept of "team" has been described in numerous ways throughout the
literature. Abelson and Woodman (1983) suggested that a team was "two or more
individuals who work and communicate in a coordinated manner in order to reach an
agreed upon goalss" (p. 126). Friend and Cook (2003) offered a definition of an
educational team as "a set of interdependent individuals with unique skills and
perspectives who interact directly to achieve their mutual goal of providing students with
effective educational programs and services" (p. 124). Thus, common attributes of these
two definitions include the presence of two or more people who, through communication
with one another, work toward achieving a particular goal.
Teams progress through developmental stages as they work together on problems
of practice (Friend & Cook, 1997, 2003). Scholars have suggested different variations on
how teams progress developmentally. Friend and Cook (1997, 2003) suggested that
teams progress through five developmental stages: forming, storming, norming,
performing, and adjourning. This suggests that the work of teams eventually ends (i.e.,
adjourning). McFadzean (2002) developed a model that better represents the ongoing
nature of teams.
McFadzean's (2002) model suggested a five-level hierarchy, which included
descriptions of changes in team attention to the task, meeting process, team structure,
team dynamics, and team trust as teams progressed through the hierarchy. Level 1 teams
are "concerned with getting the job done" (p. 464). These teams lack congruence of
goals, which can result in teams being pulled in different directions based upon the goals
of individual team members. Level 2 teams were concerned with the tasks and meeting
processes. They utilize efficient process tools such as agendas or timelines; however,
McFadzean (2002) averred that strict adherence to task and process goals may create a
"trade off between time and depth of analysis/discussion" (p. 465). Thus, level 2 teams
may reach superficial conclusions or decisions.
Level 3 teams attend to task, process, and group characteristics. Specifically, they
understand the need to have individuals present to provide appropriate skills, knowledge,
expertise, and experience to accomplish requisite tasks. Level 4 teams attend to these and
also group dynamics. Some evidence suggests that "group members tend to be more
satisfied with their output if there is equality in participation if every member of the
team is allowed to participate in the process" (McFadzean, 2002, p. 465). Thus, level 4
teams tend to ensure that all members participate, even if this results in conflict.
McFadzean notes that conflict can be productive, if "it is undertaken in a positive and
constructive manner" (p. 465). Level 4 teams tend to generate continuous improvements
in terms of process. As problems arise, solutions are negotiated.
The difference between level 4 teams and level 5 teams is trust. Trust enables
team members to express their ideas or opinions without fear of ridicule (McFadzean,
2002). Trust may enhance the possibility that novel approaches might be embraced and
tried. Further, McFadzean envisioned level 5 teams as committed to their own
professional growth and that of their colleagues, an idea suggested by many scholars
(Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Pugach & Johnson, 1995). Thus, level 5 teams may be
more adept at generating new strategies and solving complex problems (McFadzean,
McFadzean's (2002) model of problem solving teams suggests creativity can "be
expressed as a continuum" (p. 471), ranging from ideas that preserve existing paradigms,
stretch existing paradigms, or break paradigms. When paradigms are preserved, the
boundaries of the problem do not change. Thus, problems may be examined in deeper
ways but not different ways. When paradigms are stretched, the boundaries of the
problem-solving space are widened thus creating opportunities for more varied problem
solving strategies. Finally, when paradigms are broken, there are no boundaries for
solving the problem.
Types of Teams
Friend and Cook (2003) described three types of teams found in schools related to
student performance, including (a) special education teams, (b) service delivery teams,
and (c) problem-solving teams. The use of special education teams is mandated in the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Friend & Cook, 2003). Student
study teams exist for the purposes of determining whether special education placement is
warranted for referred students and managing that placement if it is. These teams
typically include the input of parents and students. Thus, literature related to these kinds
of teams will be excluded from this review.
Service delivery teams "exist to plan and deliver education and related services to
students" (Friend & Cook, 2003, p. 136). Examples of service delivery teams include
coteaching teams, content teaching teams, and grade-level teams. Grade-level teams, as
Friend and Cook (2003) noted, have "not received wide attention in the professional
literature" (p. 136), even though these groups focus on many important aspects of
teaching such as planning curriculum, budgets, and scheduling. In practice, these
meetings often serve as a conduit for disseminating information, which may account for
the paucity of literature related to the study of grade-level teams. Scholars have
suggested that grade-level teams may have the capacity to study problems of practice,
particularly when multiple team members share the same students (Friend & Cook, 2003;
Morris et al., 2003). Unlike grade-level teams, problem-solving teams are widely cited in
the professional literature.
Problem solving teams. Sindelar and his colleagues (1992) noted that two
different team problem-solving models emerged for "difficult-to-teach students in regular
classrooms" (p. 246): consultation models that routinely include specialists (e.g., school
psychologists, special education teachers, speech-language pathologists) as part of the
team, and teacher assistance models that emphasize teachers' ownership of problems
inviting specialists to join general education teachers only as needed (Chalfant et al.,
1979; Safran & Safran, 1996; Sindelar et al., 1992). In addition to differences in team
membership, these two types of problem-solving teams differ greatly in underlying
Consultation models are referred to in the literature by many names including
prereferral teams, intervention assistance teams, functional behavior assessment teams,
and mainstream assistance teams. Initially, the primary purpose behind these teams was
to reduce the numbers of inappropriate referrals for special education services (Friend &
Cook, 2003; Safran & Safran, 1996); however, the role of these teams was later expanded
to include educational service delivery (Friend & Cook, 2003). Most consultation models
were created with the assumption that all resources available to schools should be
brought to bear on solving student problems in classrooms (Friend & Cook, 2003).
Perhaps most importantly, an underlying assumption of these models is that factors
within students cause problems in general education classrooms, and that teachers need
the assistance of experts to show them how to mediate those problems. Thus, problem-
solving efforts may be aimed at fixing the child more than fixing the environment for the
Teacher assistance team models. Teacher assistance teams were conceived of as
an alternative to traditional professional development (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989; Chalfant
et al., 1979; Sindelar et al., 1992). The goal of teacher assistance teams was to provide
classroom teachers with help solving problems of practice to better meet the needs of
students who were struggling. Teams were designed to be a forum "where classroom
teachers can meet and engage in a positive, productive, collaborative problem-solving
process to help students" by helping their teachers (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989, p. 50). Teams
emphasized teacher initiative, accountability, communication, and effective decision
making through collaborative group problem solving (Sindelar et al., 1992).
Although both of these models differ significantly in their approaches to solving
problems of practice, their general aims were the same. That is, teachers brought forward
their most pressing problems with particular students, and teams made recommendations
to mediate those problems. What follows is a review of the empirical evidence from both
kinds of teams regarding the kinds of problems teachers brought to team meetings and
the kinds of responses and interventions that resulted. In addition, available evidence of
the value of these meetings for teachers is reviewed. Finally, empirical evidence related
to dialogue in team meetings is explored.
What Empirical Studies Tell Us about Teams
Using multiple databases (i.e., Academic Search Premier, PsycInfo, First Search,
WilsonWeb) and search terms (i.e., teacher assistance teams, prereferral assistance teams,
mainstream assistance teams, intervention assistance teams, problem solving teams) 87
articles, books, and dissertations were located. Model descriptions, thought pieces, and
other work deemed not to be empirical were excluded, as were articles published earlier
than 1985. Further, studies were included in this review only if they reported information
about the kinds of problems teachers presented, the kinds of responses or interventions
recommended by teams, or if they reported on the value of team meetings to teachers. In
addition, articles were included if they described the influence of dialogue during team
The exception to this was a compilation of program effectiveness information on
teacher assistance teams. Although data included in this study were not collected as part
of a controlled research design study (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989), Sindelar and his
colleagues (1992) determined that the scope of this work was sufficient to warrant
inclusion in their literature review. Further, this paper reported details related to the focus
of this literature review. Thus, this study is included in this review.
Summaries of the remaining 13 studies are presented in Table 2-1. Six of the 13
studies are based upon surveys or questionnaires, 4 are mixed methods studies, and 3 use
qualitative methodologies. In addition, all studies but one (i.e., Chalfant & Psych, 1989)
were investigations of the consultative problem-solving team model. What follows are
descriptions of relevant studies. This section concludes with a summary of what these
studies suggest about the use of teams for solving problems in schools.
Table 2-1. Summary of team literature
Author(s) Purpose Method Participants Results related to literature review questions
Bahr et al.
impact of varying
evidence on the
680 professionals from
121 intervention teams
Respondents strongly endorsed teams as an effective
service delivery model.
Team follow-up was considered adequate.
96 first year teacher
assistance teams in five
Number of goals per student ranged from 2 to 4.9.
57% of the goals (n = 720) were related to non-academic
problems including work habits, classroom behaviors,
interpersonal behavior and attention.
22% of the goals (n = 275) were related to academics
including interventions written for reading, printing and
writing, arithmetic, and spelling.
88% of teachers' comments were positive (n = 351)
including comments that useful strategies were
recommended, moral support of colleagues, student
behaviors improved as a result of interventions,
facilitation of faculty communication, improvement of
skill in understanding classroom problems, expedition of
special education placement.
12% of teachers' comments were negative and included
problems with time, failure to generate useful strategies,
interference with special education referral process, lack
of faculty readiness to initiate a team, little or no impact
on student performance/behavior, too much paperwork,
and role confusion.
Table 2-1. Continued.
Author(s) Purpose Method Participants Results related to literature review questions
emphasis of the
use of prereferral
intervention at the
2 secondary level child
Team goals were unclear.
Teams displayed limited use of problem-solving.
High frequency of external interventions recommended
Limited preventive functioning.
extent to which
child study teams
14 team members
15 nonteam member
Students were referred for academic difficulties, social-
emotional behaviors, poor peer relations,
attendance/truancy, family issues, attending/focusing,
suspected special education needs, physical concerns,
community issues, drug use.
Interventions recommended included parent contact,
meet with student, collect more information,
classroom/behavior modifications, in-school social
programs, meet with teacher, provide a case manager,
tutoring/remedial assistance, psychoeducational testing,
retention, in-school counseling, refer to special
education, refer to court system, refer to physician.
Table 2-1. Continued.
Author(s) Purpose Method Participants Results related to literature review questions
Harrington & Examined teacher Survey
Gibson (1986) perceptions of
41 teachers who
referred students with
Teachers did not think recommendations were
successful in addressing the problem referred.
Teachers had mixed reactions as to whether teams
provided new intervention ideas or whether teams
explored a sufficient variety of intervention options.
Teachers tried most of modifications recommended by
teams prior to making team referrals (i.e., the 5 most
frequently reported modifications by teachers before
meetings included adapting materials, alternative
teaching approaches, behavior management, alternate
instructional materials used, and seating changes. Team
recommended modifications included adapting
materials, alternate instructional materials, behavior
management techniques, remedial reading, and
alternative teaching approaches).
Teachers wanted help developing modifications they
Table 2-1. Continued.
Author(s) Purpose Method Participants Results related to literature review questions
social processes in
the context of
support and self-
2 rural schools with 4
to 8 professionals
(African American and
27 teacher assistance
teams in elementary
schools including 125
team members and 129
teachers who made
The locus of described problems was within children.
High-status members (i.e., principal and those with
specialized degrees) swayed discussion at the problem
If the student presented with behavior problems,
interventions were designed to document rather than
correct behaviors. Further, academics were never
considered to be the antecedent of behaviors.
If students were from poor families, students tended to
be referred for after-school tutoring and special
Team members' perceptions that their skills and abilities
were appreciated by co-workers were more important
than the perception they could depend on co-workers for
Strong link between reassurance of worth and efficacy in
planning and evaluating interventions for students with
Table 2-1. Continued.
Author(s) Purpose Method Participants Results related to literature review questions
Meyers et al. Described typical
(1996) procedures and
processes used by
27 teacher assistance
teams in elementary
schools including 161
team members and 127
teachers who made
134 survey respondents
including 62 team
members and 72
91 interviews including
57 team members and
34 referring teachers
Team satisfaction was related to positive feedback from
teachers that recommendations were helping and
administrative support for release time to work with
Students were referred to teams for academic problems
(primarily reading difficulties), learning problems
(organizational skills, language skills), behavioral
problems (acting out, negative attitude, self-destructive
behaviors), family problems (lack of support, poor
attendance, chaotic home life)
Recommendations made by teams were focused on out-
of-classroom issues, including special education
placement, resource room placement, counseling, speech
and language intervention, family intervention.
Table 2-1. Continued.
Author(s) Purpose Method Participants Results related to literature review questions
Team process problems included insufficient
development of the problem, lack of data to make
decisions, no clear action plan for each case
Teachers felt they were not adequately involved, were
not respected, interventions were difficult to implement.
Explored how Mixed
teachers perceived methods
Rankin & Investigated
Aksamit (1994) perceptions of
teams by school
Survey of 154 teachers Teachers were involved in presenting their case.
30 teachers interviewed
563 educators including
coordinators, 219 team
members, 298 general
Interventions developed by teams were poor and
inadequate in mitigating problems.
Teachers were not taught prerequisite knowledge to
implement recommendations properly.
Teams were perceived as gatekeepers, not sources of
professional development for teachers.
Teachers at the secondary levels were less satisfied with
teacher assistance teams than were elementary teachers.
Teachers were satisfied based upon their comfort
referring students, support they felt, and the degree to
which they implemented team suggestions.
Table 2-1. Continued.
Author(s) Purpose Method Participants Results related to literature review questions
planning teams in
urban high schools
support students at
risk for failure
Truscott et al. Described state
(2005) departments of
and determined the
existing teams in
12 high school teams
Teams fluctuated over
time from 62 in year 1
to 117 by year 3.
Teams were composed
education teachers, and
department officials (n
4 randomly selected
educators per state
Teams that evolved into direct intervention groups
suggested solutions such as counseling, remedial
programs, parent and student conferencing, and
placements in alternative schools.
Some team members became mentors for troubled
Another team provided in-class counseling sessions in a
classroom where experienced teachers were having
difficulty with discipline.
Direct intervention teams attributed problems to within-
Teacher goals included helping classroom teachers,
matching student skill level with instructional strategies,
preventing problems in future students, and improving
Common interventions recommended by teams included
academic interventions (decrease amount of work, one-
on-one instruction, change curriculum), changes in
classroom structure (seat changes), and interdisciplinary
support (counseling, remedial programs).
Kinds of problems reported to teams. Three studies revealed information about
the kinds of problems teachers wanted assistance with in their classrooms (Chalfant &
Pysh, 1989; Eidle, Truscott, & Meyers, 1998; Meyers, Valentino, Meyers, Boretti, &
Brent, 1996). Using descriptive information gathered as part of the monitoring process
for teacher assistance teams, Chalfant and Pysh (1989) compiled data from 96 first-year
teacher assistance teams located throughout the United States. Although kinds of
problems brought to meetings by teachers were not specifically reported, the authors
noted that the kinds of student problems teams were designed to address included
learning and behavior difficulties, including students who might be described as
having poor work habits; social, conduct, and behavior problems; low self-
esteem; slow learning rates; poor motivation; language problems; inefficient
learning styles; experiential deprivation; or a mismatch between the curriculum
and the individual's style. (p. 49)
Two investigations collected evidence on the kinds of problems teachers cited in
referrals to problem-solving teams (Eidle et al., 1998; Meyers et al., 1996). Eidle and her
colleagues (1998) investigated elementary and secondary child study teams in a small
urban district with predominately white, middle class students. They identified two
primary reasons teachers made referrals to teams including socio-emotional problems,
which contributed approximately 40% of the referrals, and academic problems, which
contributed another 50% of all referrals. Remaining referrals were related to nondescript
Although the majority of referrals were for academic concerns, Eidle and her
colleagues (1998) were interested in socio-emotional concerns, and thus reported only
details about the nature of those referrals. Referrals for elementary students included
concerns about peer relations and attending/focusing whereas concerns for secondary
students included drug use/abuse and community delinquency issues.
Meyers and her colleagues (1996) investigated the implementation of prereferral
teams in a large, urban school district, which served a multiethnic population of students
including large proportions of students from Hispanic, African American, white,
Caribbean, eastern European, and Asian cultures. The socioeconomic status (SES) of
students ranged from low SES to middle class. Teachers made referrals to teams for
concerns, such as difficulties with academics (especially reading), learning
(organizational skills, language skills), behavioral issues (acting out, negative attitude,
self-destructive behaviors), and family issues (lack of support, poor attendance, chaotic
Of these studies, only Meyers and her colleagues (1996) reported about how
students were described during team meetings. Descriptions of students included prior
school records, grades and scores on academic assessments, and interventions that were
attempted by teachers prior to referrals. According to researchers, problem descriptions
based upon these data were often lacking. Specifically, problem descriptions rarely
included classroom data; absent were teacher descriptions and perceptions of student
problems. Researchers suggested that "this inhibited the problem-definition stage of the
collaboration process" (Meyers et al., 1996, p. 140).
Kinds of interventions suggested by teams. The majority of studies that
reported kinds of interventions recommended by teams were investigations of prereferral
teams. The purpose ofprereferral teams was to provide assistance to teachers so that
students were better served and inappropriate referrals to special education were reduced
(Truscott, Cohen, Sams, Sanborn, & Frank, 2005). Many investigators reported that the
majority of recommendations made by teams were external to classrooms (Eidle, 1998;
Meyers et al., 1996; Truscott et al., 2005) and focused on problems conceived of as being
within the student, rather than a mismatch of instruction to student needs (Knotek, 2003;
Rubinson, 2002; Truscott et al., 2005). Eight studies reported external classroom
interventions, including recommendations for additional special education services
(Eidle et al., 1998; Meyers et al., 1996; Pobst, 2001; Truscott et al., 2005), socio-
emotional services such as counseling and mentoring (Meyers et al., 1996; Rubinson,
2002), family interventions (Meyers et al., 1996; Rubinson, 2002), and remedial
programs (Rubinson, 2002).
Eidle (1998) used mixed methods to develop what she termed a thorough needs
assessment of two secondary prereferral teams. She examined school records of referred
students, interviewed team and nonteam members, observed team meetings, and
surveyed the entire faculty of both schools. Findings from this study suggested that teams
were recommending many more external interventions than in-classroom interventions.
In another study, Eidle and her colleagues (1998) examined the possibility for
teams to be used to prevent student problems. They collected data from surveys and
observations of team meetings and classified recommended interventions into two
groups: interventions that were focused on "treating" (p. 210) specific disorders and early
interventions aimed at ensuring problems did not become worse. Treating interventions
were primarily external to classrooms (i.e., referral for special education, counseling, and
court involvement), whereas early interventions included classroom behavior
modifications and meeting with teachers, but also a high number of external strategies
such as using in-school social programs, tutoring or remedial services, and other in-house
psychoeducational testing. Both treatment interventions and early interventions were
predominately external to classrooms, and thus unlikely to provide assistance to teachers
with day-to-day problems.
Rubinson (2002) studied the implementation of problem-solving teams in urban
high schools. Direct intervention teams, the most prevalent type of team that emerged,
"provided a venue for discussion of problem students that resulted in solutions such as
counseling, remedial programs, parent and student conferencing, and alternative
placements in other schools" (Rubinson, p. 198). In addition, she reported
recommendations for "novel" (p. 198) interventions including mentoring students
deemed at-risk and push-in counseling sessions in a classroom with a lot of challenging
Using surveys and interviews, Meyers and her colleagues (1996) wanted to
provide descriptions of typical procedures and collaborative problem-solving processes
used by prereferral intervention teams in urban schools. Recommendations included
special education placement changes, counseling, speech and language interventions, and
family interventions. In addition, teams recommended students spend time in resource
rooms without placement changes. Researchers concluded that "despite the stated goal
that these teams could help prevent problems associated with special education, most of
the observed recommendations were not designed to improve classroom instruction for
the child" (p. 140). Pobst (2001) reached similar conclusions in her study of urban
In addition to Eidle et al. (1998) reporting that teams recommended the use of
classroom behavior modification, two studies reported in-classroom interventions
including the use of academic accommodations (Truscott et al., 2005), and the use of
goals related to encouraging productive classroom behaviors (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989).
Truscott and his colleagues (2005) surveyed 200 educational professionals in elementary
schools (i.e., 4 elementary school educational professionals per state) to determine the
kinds of recommendations made to teachers by prereferral intervention teams to assist
students with difficulties in classrooms. The most frequent kinds of interventions
reported were out-of-classroom interventions including requests for additional special
education services and special education testing. Although suggested less frequently,
in-classroom interventions included decreasing the amount of work expected, one-on-one
instruction, and changes to curriculum. In addition, teams reported suggesting teachers
change seating arrangements in classrooms. Thus, these researchers concluded that
recommendations seldom requested substantive instructional modifications from
Chalfant and Pysh (1989) reported on their work with 96 first-year teacher
assistance teams. These teacher-led teams wrote goals to match problems presented by
teachers. The number of goals per student ranged from 2 to 4.9, with more than half of
all goals being written to address nonacademic behaviors, such as work habits
(i.e., completing assignments on time, working independently, making an effort to do the
work, following directions, organizing work, increasing the rate of work). Around a
fourth of the goals were written for classroom behaviors, with smaller numbers of goals
written for interpersonal behaviors, and attention problems. Interventions were designed
to primarily take place in classrooms.
Teacher perceptions of the value of teams. Empirical evidence from research
done on teams suggests there are benefits and problems associated with the work of
teams. Some studies revealed that teachers endorsed the use of teams for addressing
problems of practice (Bahr et al., 1999; Chalfant & Pysh, 1989; Kruger, 1997; Kruger et
al., 1995; Rankin & Aksamit, 1994). Factors positively associated with the endorsement
of teams for problem solving included support for teachers and intervention
effectiveness. Additional evidence suggested that problems associated with team-based
approaches included concerns related to time and lack of input from referring teachers
(Eidle, 1998; Harrington & Gibson, 1986; Knotek, 2003; Meyers et al., 1996; Pobst,
2001; Rubinson, 2002). In addition, teachers cited problems with the utility of
recommendations for intervention (Harrington & Gibson, 1986; Meyers et al., 1996;
Pobst, 2001; Rubinson, 2002; Truscott et al., 2005).
Support and intervention effectiveness were cited as reasons teachers endorsed
the use of teams. Studies suggested that support included many things, such as collegial
support, organizational support, administrative support, and support for learning. For
example, researchers reported that teacher participants in 96 first-year teacher assistance
teams valued the moral support of colleagues, and suggested that feelings of support
were linked to improved faculty communication, as well as professional development of
skills for problem solving (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989). Rankin and Aksamit (1994) found
that teachers were comfortable referring students to problem-solving teams and felt
supported in their work with students by team colleagues.
Kruger and his colleagues (1995) investigated the role of organizational support
in relationship to teacher assistance team satisfaction. Organizational support is the
extent to which organizations are supportive and ready for innovations. In this study,
organizational support included administrative support, social support, support for
perceived purposes, and training (i.e., for work on teacher assistance teams). They
surveyed 125 members of teacher assistance teams along with 129 general education
teachers who made referrals to teams. Findings suggested that organizational support,
particularly from administrators, was related to overall team satisfaction. Specifically,
positive feedback from administrators, as well as receiving release time for meetings,
was deemed important.
In a follow up study, Kruger (1997) investigated the relationship between
organizational support and satisfaction with collaborative problem solving teams. In this
study, he found that team members wanted to be perceived as being helpful, which he
interpreted as affirming self-worth. He found that reassurance of worth was related to
teams' efficacy in planning and evaluating interventions for students with behavior
problems. Thus, when teams were supported by administration and thought of as being
helpful to colleagues, teams were more efficacious and able to provide helpful
interventions for students and teachers.
Some investigations revealed that team suggestions for interventions to address
problems were helpful. Bahr and his colleagues (1999) investigated the practices of
school-based intervention teams in the midwest and found that teachers were satisfied
with interventions developed by teams. Chalfant and Pysh (1989) reported a similar
finding. In addition, evidence from their study suggested that interventions led to
improvements in student performance with the majority of interventions being deemed
"successful" (p. 52) by teachers (i.e., 133 of 200 students helped within the building).
Problems with team problem-solving approaches were also reported. Specifically,
team members reported concerns related to time and lack of input from referring
teachers, whereas referring teachers cited problems with the utility of recommendations
for intervention. Some participants in first-year problem solving teams reported that there
was insufficient time for team meetings and interaction (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989). Meyers
and her colleagues (1996) had similar findings. They suggested that this resulted in too
many cases being presented at meetings and led them to conclude that "most teams spent
too little time on the problem-definition stage, and, instead, chose to rush into
recommendations prematurely" (Meyers et al., p. 137).
Another related concern was that interventions developed by teams were not
useful to teachers. Some problem-solving teams generated interventions that had little or
no impact on student performance (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989; Harrington & Gibson, 1986).
Harrington and Gibson (1986) reported that the kinds of interventions suggested by teams
were very similar to what teachers had tried before coming to teams for assistance. For
example, the most frequent modifications recommended for use with struggling students
by both teachers and teams included adapting materials, using alternate instructional
materials, and using behavioral management techniques.
Other teachers suggested that prereferral teams were better gatekeepers than
resources for professional development (Pobst, 2001). Teachers reported they were not
provided with the necessary prerequisite skills to properly implement strategies
suggested by teams. Thus, teachers felt that recommended interventions were inadequate
and poorly developed.
Researchers reported that many interventions recommended by teams focused on
addressing problems perceived of as within the child (i.e., referrals to special education,
counseling) (Eidle, 1998; Eidle, Truscott, & Meyers, 1998; Knotek, 2003; Rubinson,
2002; Truscott et al., 2005). Researchers posited that interventions focused on within-
child differences left teachers wondering what to do in their classrooms (Meyers et al.,
1996; Rubinson, 2002; Truscott et al., 2005). Many researchers attributed this concern to
the fact that investigated teams lacked meaningful input from classroom teachers
(Harrington & Gibson, 1986; Meyers et al., 1996; Pobst, 2001; Rubinson, 2002; Truscott
et al., 2005). Specifically, team meetings were often held at times when referring teachers
could not attend (Meyers et al., 1996; Rubinson, 2002), or included teachers minimally.
For example, one study reported that teachers' participation in team discussions was
limited to describing the student being referred (Pobst, 2001). Thus, many researchers
suggested that if teachers were more involved in the process, emphasis might shift from
external interventions to more classroom-centered interventions (Eidle, Boyd et al., 1998;
Meyers et al., 1996; Rubinson, 2002).
Influence of dialogue in problem-solving teams. Only one study looked at the
influence of dialogue in problem-solving team discussions. Specifically, Knotek (2003)
was interested in looking for ethnic bias in problem-solving team discussions. Although
he concluded that there was no ethnic bias, evidence suggested the "social context of the
team produced bias in the problem solving process" (p. 2). Specifically, the "social
milieu" (p. 2) of the study team shaped the entire process from description of students
through conceptualizations of problems.
Knotek (2003) asserted that before meetings even began, teachers were positioned
to ascribe problem status to either themselves or their students. Knotek characterized this
as "an inherent bind" (p. 7), because teachers' performances were naturally evaluated
during multidisciplinary team meetings. Thus, Knotek suggested that it was not
surprising that students become the locus of the problem instead of teachers and their
Knotek (2003) noted that high-status members (i.e., persons of authority and
persons with advanced degrees conferring special status) differentially influenced
meeting dialogue. He suggested that these members used everyday terms to convey
specialized meanings to team members. For example, when the principal at a meeting
suggested that the student came from a backwards family, the team understood this to
carry a negative connotation that suggested the family was part of the problem. Further,
Knotek suggested that when a high-status member introduced a problem in a particular
way, the team continued to elaborate in kind. As an example, he cited a sample of
dialogue during which the principal used a light bulb analogy to describe a student.
Members of the team picked up on this language cue and continued to variously describe
the student as having "off and on" days, or days when the "bulb flickers" (Knotek, p. 9).
Knotek (2003) found that when students were characterized by teachers as having
behavior problems, "academic concerns were rarely conceived of as an antecedent to the
behaviors" (p. 10), and that "interventions [developed] were more concentrated on
affirming the initial diagnosis" (p. 10). He also suggested that when students came from
low SES backgrounds, there were two interventions "of choice" (Knotek, p. 10),
including giving the student a buddy and sending the student to after-school tutoring.
Thus, Knotek found that "when these factors [behavior problems and low SES] were
present, singly or together, the SST's [student study team] problem-solving process was
less reflective and more reflexive than it was for students who were referred primarily for
academic problems or who were from higher SES backgrounds" (p. 10).
Summary of the Research on Teams
The kinds of problems teachers addressed through problem-solving teams across
all studies were remarkably consistent. Teachers reported needing assistance with
students who had a wide range of issues, including problems related to academics, socio-
emotional factors, and family concerns. When comparisons were made, there were
greater numbers of academic problems reported than problems with behavior (Chalfant &
Pysh, 1989; Eidle, Boyd et al., 1998).
Responses to teachers' concerns were also consistent across studies, with many
studies suggesting that external interventions were differentially suggested over
classroom interventions. Although some of this would be expected as one function of
prereferral teams, the most prevalent type of team described in articles reviewed, was to
refer students for special education testing, when necessary. However, many researchers
suggested that this was cause for concern (Eidle, Truscott, & Meyers, 1998; Meyers et
al., 1996; Pobst, 2001; Truscott et al., 2005). For example, Meyers and her colleagues
noted that "despite the stated goal that these teams could help prevent problems
associated with special education, most of the observed recommendations were not
designed to improve classroom instruction for the child" (p. 140). Thus, providing
teachers with suggestions for classrooms was deemed important.
Many researchers recommended that teachers be more involved in problem-
solving discussions (Eidle, 1998; Meyers et al., 1996; Pobst, 2001; Rubinson, 2002;
Truscott et al., 2005). Many speculated that teacher involvement in problem-solving
meetings would mitigate the trend of generating predominantly external interventions
based upon within-child problem descriptions (Eidle, Truscott, & Meyers, 1998; Meyers
et al., 1996; Pobst, 2001; Rubinson, 2002; Truscott et al., 2005). Knotek's (2003) study
offers a provocative response to this call. His findings suggested that teachers were
inherently put in the position of having their performances evaluated, along with the
student's, during problem-solving meetings. Thus, his study suggested that teacher
involvement alone may exacerbate this concern rather than mitigate it. This suggests
problem-solving meetings should include teachers and be safe places where problems can
be discussed without fear of evaluation (Meyers et al., 1996).
Empirical evidence from research done on teams suggests there are benefits and
problems associated with the work of teams. Some studies revealed that teachers
endorsed the use of teams for addressing problems of practice (Bahr et al., 1999;
Chalfant & Pysh, 1989; Kruger, 1997; Kruger et al., 1995; Rankin & Aksamit, 1994).
Factors positively associated with the endorsement of teams for problem solving included
support for teachers and intervention effectiveness. Additional evidence suggested that
problems associated with team-based approaches included concerns related to time and
lack of input from referring teachers (Eidle, 1998; Harrington & Gibson, 1986; Knotek,
2003; Meyers et al., 1996; Pobst, 2001; Rubinson, 2002). In addition, teachers cited
problems with the utility of recommendations for intervention (Harrington & Gibson,
1986; Meyers et al., 1996; Pobst, 2001; Rubinson, 2002; Truscott et al., 2005).
Only one study of problem-solving teams looked at the role of dialogue.
Specifically, the dialogue of problem-solving meetings was examined to determine
whether conversations were racially biased (Knotek, 2003). Although no racial bias was
found, evidence suggested that discussions were influenced by high-status members.
Specifically, everyday terms uttered by high-status members acquired specialized
meanings within the group. In addition, evidence suggested bias in the kinds of
interventions recommended by the team for two groups of students: students with
behavior problems and students from low SES households. Interventions for students
with behavior problems were aimed at documenting rather than mitigating problems,
whereas students from low SES households were reflexively given the same
interventions each time (i.e., a buddy and afterschool programming).
Some evidence was found to suggest that teams necessarily provide opportunities
for teacher learning (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989). Additional evidence suggested that due to
structural elements in which teams were operating (i.e., meeting during teacher class
times, consultation models), teacher learning opportunities were diminished.
The literature on teams also suggests that teachers need a safe place where they
can discuss pressing problems of practice. Many scholars have suggested that
communities of practice provide safe, situated learning opportunities for teachers. Thus, I
turn to the literature on communities of practice.
Communities of Practice
Buysse and her colleagues (2003) define communities of practice as "a group of
professionals and other stakeholders in pursuit of a shared learning enterprise, commonly
focused on a particular topic" (p. 266). Communities of practice are also referred to as
professional learning communities (DuFour, 2004), critical friends groups (Bambino,
2002; Costa & Kallick, 1993; Dunne, Nave, & Lewis, 2000), teacher communities (Little,
2003), and teaching teams (DuFour, 2004). Buysse and her colleagues (2003) suggest
that there are two theoretical constructs underlying communities of practice. The first
underlying construct is the notion of situated learning. Situated learning suggests that
learning is local, grounded in the everyday lived experiences of people. This means that
learning occurs not in isolation, but through "social processes that require negotiation and
problem-solving with others" (Buysse et al., 2003, p. 267). Ideally, teachers and
researchers collaborate with one another in pursuit of shared goals. The other important
construct is reflection, which includes the "dialogic exploration of alternative ways to
solve problems in a professional situation" (Buysse et al., p. 268). Thus, talking about
problems of practice with colleagues is an important feature of communities of practice.
Some scholars have suggested that communities of practice are a powerful way to
mediate the problem of the research to practice gap (Buysse et al., 2003; Englert &
Rozendal, 2004; McLeskey & Waldron, 2004) by affording essential collaborations
between teachers and researchers to occur because, as Englert and Rozendal assert, "Both
teachers and researchers understand that research done in controlled contexts that limit
the variation found in regular classroom contexts has inherent limitations when results
are applied to classrooms" (p. 24). Other scholars highlight communities of practice as a
reform effort generated in response to the standards movement and efforts to
professionalize teaching (Wilson & Berne, 1999) and more recently high-stakes
accountability pressures (Vescio et al., 2006).
Regardless of the rationale, communities of practice afford opportunities for
educators and researchers to work together to coconstruct knowledge that continuously
improves teachers' practice and enhances student learning. In a review of the literature,
Vescio and her colleagues (2006) concluded that although there are few published studies
connecting communities of practice with student achievement, results from those studies
suggest that student achievement improves over time. Further, they conclude that
teaching practice is influenced in positive ways as school cultures change to become
more student centered and focused on continuous learning for teachers and students.
Creating cultures of collaboration that focus on student learning is important to these
DuFour (2004) notes that one of the "big ideas" of communities of practice is the
creation of "structures that promote a collaborative culture" (p. 9). He goes on to suggest
that "powerful collaboration" includes a systematic approach of teachers working
together "to analyze and improve their classroom practice" by working in "teams,
engaging in an on-going cycle of questions that promote deep team learning" (p. 9).
Implicit is the notion that this learning is achieved through dialogue. However, little is
known about the specific dialogic interactions that influence learning (Little, 2003). As
Snow-Gerono (2005) states, "The process of dialogue is an important aspect of
collaboration that is not represented simply by the notion of people or an expanded
community" (p. 251). In this next section, I will explore what the empirical literature on
learning communities reveals about dialogue.
Using multiple databases (i.e., Academic Search Premier, PsycInfo, First Search,
WilsonWeb) and multiple combinations of various search terms (i.e., communities of
practice, teach community, professional learning communities, critical friends groups)
with the qualifier of dialogue, five empirical studies were located that specifically
addressed the nature of dialogue as part of the studies' findings. Papers were excluded if
they disclosed nothing about the context or quality of dialogue (i.e., quantitative studies
using questionnaires). Of the five papers located, only 1 paper focused exclusively on
dialogue (Little, 2003). The use of dialogue has been studied by scholars using different
methods including (a) interview studies, (b) case studies, and (c) discourse analysis.
Studies are reviewed highlighting what each reveals about the nature of discourse in
Teacher perceptions of the value of dialogue. Strahan (2003) investigated the
dynamics important to learning communities at three low-income high-minority
population elementary schools where, over a 3-year period, student achievement
improved significantly. He wanted to better understand the contribution school culture
made to the schools' successes. His analysis of 79 teacher interviews suggested that data
directed dialogue and "purposeful conversations" (p. 127) were instrumental to the
schools' success. Strahan (2003) wrote that "participants stressed the importance of the
time they spent conversing in grade-level meetings, site-based staff development
sessions, mentoring discussions, and informal get-togethers" (p. 143). In particular,
during weekly grade-level meetings, teachers developed strategies to promote student
engagement in balanced literacy activities and discussed the progress of students using
various forms of assessment data. Teachers revealed that for them, this kind of dialogue
Snow-Gerono (2005) explored teachers' perceptions of the benefits of
professional learning communities at one professional development school. Opportunities
for collaborative dialogue at the school included team meetings, study group meetings,
teaching partners, as well as working with other education professionals across school
sites. Teachers reported they had "an appreciation for dialogue" (Snow-Gerono, p. 251),
suggesting they learned better through talking about practice.
In addition, teachers noted that dialogue created opportunities for teachers to
discuss "tensions inherent in education and ideological frameworks and embrace
problem-posing as a means for professional development" (Snow-Gerono, 2005, p. 251).
Teachers expressed a need for safety to enable open dialogue. Teachers noted that even
dialogue that was formed as dissent from others in the group was deemed valuable to the
learning experiences of these teachers. They explained that it was sometimes dissonant
voices that caused others in the group to stretch and grow as teachers.
Dialogue during inquiry. Hollins and her colleagues (2004) investigated the use
of a five-step structured study group approach aimed at "developing habits of mind"
(p. 247) necessary for improving the literacy acquisition of students attending a high-
poverty, low-performing elementary school. Researchers envisioned that "teachers would
rely on collaboration and within-group directed inquiry, for consistently improving
literacy acquisition" (Hollins et al., p. 255). Specifically, their model of a structured
dialogue approach included steps to (a) define challenges, (b) identify approaches to meet
the challenges, (c) select and implement an approach, (d) evaluate implementation, and
(e) formulate a theory to guide practice going forward. Qualitative data collected
included teacher interviews, meeting transcriptions from the study groups, recorded field
notes, and "informal conversations" (Hollins et al., p. 254).
In addition to teachers, the principal attended study groups. Although not the
original facilitator, the principal functioned to "refocus the teachers when they began to
digress from the purpose of the sessions, improving African American students' literacy"
(Hollins et al., 2004, p. 256). Ultimately, the principal stepped into the facilitator role,
something the researchers deemed "promising" (Hollins et al., p. 259) in terms of the
potential to sustain study groups as a permanent practice at the school. Researchers
reported that teachers'
dialogue during study-group meetings progressed from a focus on daily
challenges and defending their own practices to seeking insights from the
literature, sharing suggestions for instructional strategies, collaborating to develop
new approaches and expressing appreciation for time to dialogue and plan
together. (p. 260)
Thus, study groups offered an important opportunity for teachers and the principal to
approach learning differently by collaborating with one another.
Englert and Rozendal (2004) discussed the characteristics of a community of
practice where they were collaborators with elementary school teachers. The goal was to
accelerate progress of students deemed nonreaders and writers. They noted that several
"participatory mechanisms" (p. 31) for dialogue were created, including
teacher/researcher meetings and discussions about videotapes made of teacher
participants in their classrooms teaching.
Researchers noted that analysis of the transcripts from teacher/researcher
showed a flow of relevant conversation that featured the following key aspects:
focus provided by the senior research who functioned as the group leader,
clarification through questioning and teacher reflection, agreement and discussion
among teachers (with group problem solving and sharing central). (p. 32)
They noted that the group leader was responsible for maintaining group focus and timing.
Important dialogic features of videotape discussions included opportunities for reflection
on practice and brainstorming. In addition, researchers suggested that questions were
used to make clear teacher decisions and procedures represented in video tapes.
Problem-solving dialogue. Little's (2003) investigation was the only study
located that examined the ways dialogue found within communities of practice shaped
learning for teachers. Specifically, Little sought to study "what teacher learning
opportunities and dynamics of professional practice are evident in teacher-led groups that
consider themselves collaborative and innovative" (Little, p. 915). Primary data for this
study were audio- and videotaped recordings of teacher meetings among English teachers
and math teachers at two public high schools.
Using discourse analysis, Little (2003) found that teacher meetings posed unique
challenges for teacher learning opportunities. Challenges included concerns about time,
problem description, and group interaction patterns. Meetings in this study were
described as "both fleeting and incomplete" (p. 925). For example, only 30 minutes of a
90-minute meeting was dedicated to discussing problems. In another example, the
meeting check-in procedure took nearly half of the time allotted for the meeting; thus, it
was impossible for teachers to thoroughly discuss problems.
In addition, teachers used what Little (2003) described as teacher shorthand when
describing problems in classrooms. That is, meanings were situated and localized,
rendering it somewhat difficult to "unpack" (p. 936) all that was discussed. Although
learning opportunities might be embedded in this kind of talk, Little was concerned that
tension created between what she described as "getting things done" and "figuring things
out" (p. 931) impeded teacher learning. Further, Little suggested that when this shorthand
was used to "recontextualize" classroom dilemmas, many salient details were lost. Little
concluded that "teachers employed] talk about classrooms to justify themselves and their
choices to one another" (p. 937), which severely undermines possibilities for teachers to
Interaction problems noted by Little (2003) included movement of meeting topics
from one concern to another. She cited an example where the concerns of an intern took
up the group's time. She explained that, "moments for extended consideration of practice
are coconstructed in ways whose meaning and significance are not immediately
apparent" (p. 929). She also explained that for interactions to be truly meaningful,
teachers had to open themselves to being vulnerable by asking colleagues to critique
practice. Thus, both the teacher and interactions among team members either invited this
kind of introspection or not.
Summary of the Research on Dialogue in Communities of Practice
Both Strahan (2003) and Snow-Gerono (2005) stressed the value of dialogue to
their study participants. For example, Strahan (2003) concluded that the conversations
were "purposeful" for the faculties of these schools and that "this continuous dialogue
helped to cultivate collective efficacy at each school and provided a renewable source of
energy for participants" (p. 143). Similarly, Snow-Gerono (2005) concluded that people
and dialogue were important to the professional development of her participants.
Teachers needed to feel safe to open themselves to different possibilities. However, these
descriptions did not provide details on how this kind of dialogue was generated in
communities of practice, only that it was important to teachers.
Evidence from implementation studies (Englert & Rozendal, 2004; Hollins et al.,
2004) suggested that dialogue is most productive when it is focused by facilitators, such
as principals or researchers. The Hollins study suggests that using dialogic structures,
such as problem-solving steps, might be especially useful for new teams as they begin
collaborating. Thus, these studies provide insights into factors that facilitate productive
dialogue (i.e., strong facilitators, guiding dialogic structure), and the kinds of learning
that can occur in communities of practice (i.e., instructional strategies). They also suggest
a means to promote teacher reflection (i.e., review videotape recordings of teaching
Little's (2003) study of the dialogue of teacher meetings aimed at improving
practice revealed three challenges: time, problem descriptions, and group interaction
patterns. There was too little time during meetings for problems to be well defined.
Another challenge with problem descriptions was that they contained what Little termed
teacher shorthand. That is, words took on contextualized meanings known to the group.
Little suggested that this raised concerns about teachers' problem descriptions that in
repackaging talk so densely, fine-grained details apparent during the live interaction were
lost. Thus, perhaps unwittingly, teachers presented themselves in as favorable light
thereby limiting possibilities to truly improve practice. Finally, Little concluded that
while meetings may provide opportunities for learning, they can as easily make
opportunities dissipate with one conversational turn.
Importance of the Study
Evidence from this literature review suggests that the kinds of student problems
teachers ask teams for assistance with include academic concerns, socio-emotional
concerns, and family concerns. A consistent theme throughout the literature was that
problems within team contexts were often poorly defined. Notably absent were problem
descriptions related to problems with teaching. Several factors influenced problem
descriptions including lack of teacher input due to the structures of some problem-
solving teams and lack of adequate time to thoroughly explore problems. Moreover,
when teachers were included as members of problem-solving teams, studies suggested
that teachers were motivated to present themselves in the best possible light. This led
scholars to question whether or not team meetings can truly provide opportunities for
meaningful changes in practice.
Still, teacher reports suggest their strong endorsement of the use of teams for both
learning about practice through dialogue and addressing pressing problems of practice.
Thus, it is important to look for ways to improve the quality of problem descriptions so
that learning opportunities are enhanced for teachers, which ultimately will enhance
student learning. In addition, research that describes ways to bring focus to problem
discussions could potentially mitigate time constraints.
Evidence from the literature on responses to teacher concerns suggested a
differential reliance on interventions that were outside of classrooms. While some
evidence suggested that teachers were able to successfully use team-recommended
interventions, other evidence suggested that recommendations did little to mitigate
problems of practice. This may have been due, in part, to the notion that many
interventions suggested by teams for use in classrooms were things teachers had tried
before referring the student to teams for assistance.
As with problem descriptions, responses to problems described in the literature
were influenced by structural factors of teams studied, such as the absence of meaningful
participation of referring teachers. In addition, the function of teams investigated
necessarily skewed interventions toward out-of-classroom suggestions (i.e., prereferral
teams function, in part, to refer students for special education testing). Thus, better
understandings of contextualized responses to problems where teachers are active
participants in generating responses instead of passive recipients of interventions would
illuminate the possibilities teams have for suggesting meaningful interventions for
pressing problems of practice.
Literature that examined dialogue within the context of teacher problem-solving
meetings suggested many concerns related to the possibility that teachers might learn to
improve practice through meetings. Researchers suggested that teacher problem
descriptions inherently presented teachers in favorable ways. Further, language used to
describe problems was often localized and embedded in the social contexts of meetings.
Thus, these studies lacked suggestions on how dialogue used during meetings could
improve the quality of learning opportunities for teachers, and indirectly, the students
This current study is important for three reasons. First, this study seeks to
elaborate on the influence of teachers' participation in problem-solving discussions. In
particular, this study will examine whether or not problem descriptions are sufficiently
articulated to allow opportunities for teachers to learn new things about practice. Second,
this study seeks to contribute to the literature the kinds of responses generated to
problems of practice when grade-level teachers, special education teachers, leadership
team members, and other professional educators work together collaboratively as part of
grade-level inclusion teams.
Perhaps most importantly, this study seeks to better understand how dialogue
influences both problem and solution constructions. In particular, using discourse
analysis at the clause level of speech will produce insights into how statements and
questions shape learning opportunities. Through this fine-grained analysis, strategies to
improve the quality and power of team meetings for teacher learning will be revealed.
THEORETICAL ORIENTATION AND METHODOLOGY
Scholars have suggested that teacher development opportunities exist within the
ordinary work of teachers (Little, 2003). The purpose of this study is to better understand
what kinds of problems of practice are presented at grade-level inclusion meetings, and
how interactions during these meetings influence teacher problem and response
constructions. There are three influences on what might be available for teachers to learn
during inclusion meetings.
First, possible learning opportunities are bounded by the kinds of problems
discussed during meetings. Thus, in order to understand what kinds of learning
opportunities exist at meetings, it is important to better understand the kinds of problems
teachers are discussing at inclusion meetings. Second, learning opportunities are bounded
by the kinds of knowledge and experiences meeting participants hold. If meeting
participants are unaware of particularly helpful strategies, they cannot suggest them.
Thus, it is important to understand what kinds of suggestions are made at these meetings.
Finally, the actual dialogue among participants may shape the ways problems and
suggested solutions to those problems are constructed. Thus, in order to understand how
dialogue shapes problem and response constructions during inclusion meetings, this
study seeks to address the following research questions:
* What kinds of problems are described at inclusion meetings?
* What kinds of responses are developed by the group in response to problems
* What value do these meetings have for teachers?
* How does dialogue constructed during inclusion meetings shape problem
construction and group responses?
Since meetings are inherently socially constructed dialogue, this study was
conducted primarily through a social constructionist lens. Social constructionist
epistemologies typically draw upon the work of constructivists, believing that objects do
not possess meaning until human consciousness interacts with them (Crotty, 1998;
Schwandt, 2000). Thus, instead of discovering new knowledge, knowledge is constructed
within situated realities as we interact with objects. Furthermore, social constructionists,
in particular, posit that these constructed realities occur "against the backdrop of shared
understandings, practices, language, and so forth" (Schwandt, p. 197).
Social constructionists believe that humans are born into particular cultures
through which we are gradually socialized (Berger & Luckman, 1966; Crotty, 1998). We
depend upon culture to guide and direct our behavior; it enables us to see particular
things while ignoring others (Crotty). Culture includes socially constructed institutions
such as governments and schools. Culture and institutions are created and recreated
through language, habits of action, and legitimation.
As a system of signs, language is the means by which everyday life is shared with
others (Berger & Luckman, 1966). Berger and Luckman consider face-to-face
interactions to be prototypical for all language. Through interactions, multiple realties are
constructed by individuals. However, "there is an ongoing correspondence between my
meanings and [others'] meanings in the world" (Berger & Luckman, p. 23). As
individuals interact, individual subjectivities are made available through both verbal and
nonverbal exchanges. What we know about others in face-to-face interactions is
prereflective and continuous as we experience the interaction. Thus, it is possible for us
to interpret events differently when we reflect upon them than we did during actual lived
Language is coercive and inherently constrains possible interactions (Berger &
Luckman, 1966). For example, both grammar and pragmatics influence speech
production. Further, our historical use of language shapes our future use of language. For
example, all interactions are influenced by typificatory or classification schemes that
have been constructed over time. Others with whom we interact are apprehended as the
players of particular societal roles, which thereby affects our dialogic interactions with
them (Berger & Luckman). A principal may be apprehended by her faculty as "a school
leader," "an African American," and "a woman," simultaneously. Her faculty will
interact with her based upon their own typficatory schemes related to these roles.
Typificatory schemes are reciprocal. In other words, the school leader holds typificatory
schemes about her faculty as well.
Importantly, face-to-face interactions are fluid and "whatever patterns are
introduced will be continuously modified through the exceedingly variegated and subtle
interchange of subjective meanings" (Berger & Luckman, 1966). These schemes will
continue, unless actions occur to change them and "will determine [our] actions in the
situation" (Berger & Luckman, p. 31). In addition to typificatory schemes, habitulization
is important to the creation and recreation of culture.
Actions repeated often enough become habitualized and "habitualization carries
with it the important psychological gain that choices are narrowed" (Berger & Luckman,
1966, p. 53). Although this can lead to "deliberation and innovation," it can also lead to
reification (Berger & Luckman, p. 53). Thus, while there may be multiple ways to solve
problems of practice, the habit of solving problems in particular ways can result in the
limitation of possibilities.
According to social constructionists, knowledge is socially distributed (Berger &
Luckman, 1966). This "social stock of knowledge" is differentiated based upon "degrees
of familiarity" (Berger & Luckman, p. 43). It is from this stock of knowledge that
typification schemes are drawn, as well as "recipes" for solving problems are available
and taken for granted "until a problem arises that cannot be solved in terms of [the
recipe]" (Berger & Luckman, p. 44). As novel problems are resolved, new meanings are
Influence of the Theoretical Perspective on the Study
The epistemological stance, theoretical perspective, methodology, and methods
"inform one another," thereby limiting choices that can be made during the research
process (Crotty, 1996, p. 4). Since the theoretical stance for this work is social
constructionist based upon constructivism, it follows that data collected must be socially
constructed. Thus, primary data were collected during inclusion team meetings as
participants socially constructed their realities with problems of practice. Berger and
Luckman (1966) explained that through reflection, we have "better knowledge" (p. 29) of
ourselves. Thus, secondary data were collected in the form of follow-up teacher
interviews to better understand how participants constructed their experiences of these
Two analysis methods were used for this study-inductive analysis and discourse
analysis. I selected Hatch's (2002) method for three reasons. First, although Hatch's
iteration of inductive analysis draws heavily on the methods of others (Spradley, 1979;
Strauss & Corbin, 1998), his version is adaptable to paradigms outside of postpostivist
assumptions, such as constructivism and social constructionism. Second, I was trying to
better understand knowledge embedded in the context of inclusion meetings.
Specifically, I wanted to better understand the kinds of problems of practice and the
kinds of responses to those problems that were socially constructed by inclusion team
members at an urban elementary school, and how those problems and responses were
legitimized. Inductive analysis allowed the possibility for the story to emerge from the
data. Third, I needed a method suitable for a large qualitative data set as I ended up with
over 400 pages of single-spaced transcripts. Thus, Hatch's method of inductive analysis
was a natural fit, as he suggested that it was "well suited for studies that emphasize the
discovery of cultural meaning from large data sets" (p. 179).
In addition to addressing the content of problems and responses to those problems
constructed by inclusion teams, I was also interested in understanding ways the dialogue
of inclusion meetings shaped the construction of problems and responses to those
problems. Specifically, I was interested in better understanding how questions and
statements influenced both the construction of the problems by teachers, and the
concomitant suggestions for action, thereby influencing possible learning opportunities
for teachers. In addition, I wanted to find a discourse analysis method that was
compatible for use with other methods.
Importantly, Fairclough (2003) asserted that the language of texts, including
spoken words, have causal effects that "can bring about changes in our knowledge (we
can learn things from them), our beliefs, our attitudes, values and so forth," which are
"mediated by meaning-making" (p. 8). In addition, he noted that "it often makes sense to
use discourse analysis in conjunction with other forms of analysis" (Fairclough, p. 2), as
it is best "applied to samples of research material rather than large bodies of text"
(Fairclough, p. 6). Finally, Fairclough suggested that inductive analysis is a method
compatible with his form of discourse analysis. Thus, Fairclough's method of discourse
analysis was selected.
Key Concepts Related to Inductive Analysis
In this section, I will discuss and define key concepts associated with Hatch's
(2002) inductive analysis method. Terms and concepts will be defined and described. In
addition, the purpose behind each concept will be explored.
Inductive analysis. Inductive analysis leads from the particular to the general
(Hatch, 2002; Spradley, 1979). It pulls particular pieces of evidence together to construct
a meaningful whole. The purpose of inductive analysis is to enable the analysis to emerge
from the data rather than imposing a classification scheme upon the data. Data are
examined for patterns of meaning which are then used to construct general explanatory
statements regarding what was happening in the data. This allows for multiple,
contextualized possibilities to emerge from the data.
Frames of analysis. Frames of analysis are selected by the research after a close
reading of the data, as they must be established "with a solid sense of what is included in
the data set" (Hatch, 2002, p. 162). Frames of analysis can be thought of as conceptual
categories and can range from framing analysis around particular words to "blocking off
complete interchanges between interactants" (Hatch, p. 163). They can also be related to
"comments on specific topics" (Hatch, p. 163). Importantly, framing decisions must
encompass all of the dimensions to be explored. Frames may shift throughout the process
Frames of analysis serve three important purposes. First, they reduce the quantity
of data by limiting intense analysis to data which are relevant to answering posed
research questions; otherwise, as Hatch (2002) concludes, "there will be no way to begin
to search for meaning in a mass of data" (p. 164). Second, frames of analysis provide the
researcher with a way to begin looking closely at the data. Finally, they enable
researchers to "move to the next step of creating domains" (Hatch, p. 164).
Domains. Domains are large units of cultural knowledge (Spradley, 1979). The
purpose of domain analysis is to "develop a set of categories of meaning ... that reflects
relationships represented in the data" (Hatch, 2002, p. 104). Domains provide insights
into typifications held by participants. Domains are organized around semantic
relationships. Spradley identified nine domains useful to researchers including inclusion
(X is a kind of Y), spatial (X is a place in Y), cause-effect (X is a result of Y), rationale
(X is a reason for doing Y), location action (X is a place for doing Y), function (X is used
for Y), means-end (X is a way to do Y), and attribution (X is a kind of Y).
Subdomains. Subdomains, or cover terms (Spradley, 1979), are simply the names
of particular categories. Their purpose is to provide an overview of what is included in
Included terms. Included terms are codes that are subsumed within each
subdomain. They represent smaller chunks of meaningful data. Included terms must be
semantically related to other included terms within a particular domain. They serve the
purpose of fragmenting data for analysis.
Negative examples. Negative examples are those bits of data that serve as
disconfirming evidence. Researchers must deductively search for them throughout the
analytical process. They serve the purpose of ensuring the researcher is alert to any
necessary shifts in analysis away from interpretations that are not supported by the data.
Key Terms of Discourse Analysis
Next, key terms of Fairclough's (2003) method of discourse will be defined. All
definitions are attributed to him.
Clause. Clauses are simple sentences and are made of three parts: (a) processes,
usually verbs, (b) participants, or objects, and (c) circumstances, commonly adverbs.
Dialogue. Dialogues are a particular genre of text, and meetings are a subset of
that genre (Fairclough, 2003). During a dialogue, speakers are expected to take turns and
use those turns in various ways to ask questions, make requests, complain, etc. They are
also expected to speak without interruption, select and change topics, and offer
interpretations or summaries of what has been said during dialogue.
Evaluation. Evaluations are portions of text that have to do with values,
including explicit statements (e.g., the student is struggling) and value assumptions,
which are generally implicit. For example, there are many value assumptions that might
accompany "the student is struggling."
Exchange types. An exchange in discourse terms is a "sequence of two or more
conversation 'turns' or 'moves' with alternating speakers where the occurrence of move
1 leads to the expectation of move 2, and so forth-with the proviso that what is
'expected' does not always occur" (Fairclough, 2003, p. 106). Two primary kinds of
exchanges in dialogue include knowledge exchanges and activity exchanges. Knowledge
exchanges focus upon the exchange of information, such as asking for and giving
information, making claims, stating facts, and so forth. Knowledge exchanges can be
initiated by both the knower and the person who wants to know. The focus of activity
exchanges is on people doing things or getting others to do things. Activity exchanges
typically do not involve just talk; they are action based.
Grammatical mood. Grammatical mood is the difference between declarative,
interrogative, and imperative sentences.
Modality. "The modality of a clause or sentence is the relationship it sets up
between the author and representations" (Fairclough, 2003, p. 219). Specifically, for
activity exchanges, modality characterizes how committed the speaker is the obligation
or necessity of the action. For knowledge exchanges, it characterizes how committed the
speaker is to truth. In both cases, modalized speech hedges the speaker's motives. For
example, if I say, "He may have learning disabilities," I am holding out the notion that he
may have learning disabilities or he may not.
Speech functions. There are four primary speech functions including
(a) demands, (b) offers, (c) questions, and (d) statements. All terms except questions will
defined briefly, as questions are self evident. Speech demands include polite demands
such as requests. In addition, demands include such things as order, requesting, etc.
Offers include such things as promising, threatening, apologizing, thanking, etc. There
are three primary kinds of statements including (a) statements of fact (e.g., what is, was,
has been the case), (b), irrealis statements (i.e., predictions and hypothetical statements),
and (c) evaluations (e.g., should and other judgmental forms).
This next section will explain how this study was designed. Specifically, I will
describe the context of the study, including the selection of study participants.
Importantly, since I have been involved with the school where this study was conducted
for 3 years, my personal subjectivity statement includes details of this involvement. I will
also describe data collection and analysis procedures, in addition to methods used to
ensure the trustworthiness of the representations contained in this report. Finally, I will
describe the methodological weaknesses of this dissertation study.
Although I will dutifully exercise all manner of techniques to ensure the
credibility of my data representations, I do so knowing fully that it is impossible to
divorce one's self from the research process. Thus, it is important to recognize how
participants' realities differ from my own. By examining my own subjective realities
around the topic of problem solving and related teaching practices, both my readers and I
will be more equipped to understand what may influence my interpretations of data.
Having worked in the field of human resources for nearly 13 years, I came to the
realization that I wanted to become a teacher while volunteering in my oldest daughter's
kindergarten classroom. I was amazed by what I saw-children who could not hold a
pencil next to my daughter who entered kindergarten reading-the contrast was startling.
Soon thereafter, my family and I started a journey that began with me reentering the
University of Florida to first finish my bachelor's degree and then my master's degree.
Being a parent made me take my education very seriously. After all, I wanted the best
teachers for my own children, and I reasoned that other families would expect the same
for their children.
One semester before finishing my master's degree, I accepted a position as a first-
grade general education teacher in a cotaught, inclusive classroom. In this classroom,
students with varying labels including mental retardation and autism were educated
alongside typically developing peers for half of the school day. Having done my
internship at that school with that class's buddy readers, I had a little experience with the
children I would soon be teaching. This experience left me with the impression that
students with disabilities were like many other children I knew. They had distinct
personalities and families who loved them.
My coteacher was a veteran special education teacher. She noticed such a
difference in what her students could do from spending only a short amount of time with
typically developing first graders during a weekly, classroom scouting experience that
she, along with the teacher I replaced, went to the principal to create an inclusive
program the following year. They successfully completed one year as coteachers when
the first grade teacher moved, and I was hired to fill her very big shoes. We were well
supported, having two full-time paraprofessionals to help.
We had a wonderful year together as we worked through one practical dilemma
after another. We had to develop a classroom community where everyone was respected.
For the typically developing children, this meant fostering understandings of when to
help and when to simply encourage. We had to develop optimal learning environments
for all of our children. As it turned out, I had several "typical" students who benefited
from the special education teacher's instruction, while a student with mental retardation
joined one of my reading groups. We had to generate buy-in from parents who
questioned whether our program would meet the needs of their children. The parent of
one child identified for the gifted program was especially concerned. After one
observation in our classroom, she went on to become our room parent and one of our
biggest allies. Unfortunately, I, like my predecessor, ended up moving at the end of the
My second teaching position was in a private school in California. I was attracted
to the school as it espoused a philosophy of educating the whole child. Unlike most
private schools in that area, children were not admitted to the school on the basis of high
test scores. Rather, families were interviewed and children were admitted to the school if
their families were committed to the values of the school (i.e., educating the whole child,
deemphasis on labeling and passing standardized tests). Families who could not afford
the tuition were offered generous scholarships. Thus, the school was quite diverse, and
although there were no labels allowed at school, I taught children whom I am sure would
have been labeled with a disability in another setting. In addition to teaching language
arts and world cultures to sixth graders, I functioned as the elementary reading resource
teacher. I pushed in to many classrooms to assist during reading instruction. After one
year in California, we ended up moving home to Florida.
Fortunately for me, the first school I worked at had an opening for a coteacher in
fifth grade. Since our school was departmentalized for fourth and fifth grades, I was hired
to teach language arts to two groups of students and to teach social studies to my
homeroom students. Students with specific learning disabilities were included in the
general education classroom. My coteacher, a long-term veteran of the school system,
had been coteaching this class for a few years. His assignment changed that year to
include coteaching a fourth-grade class in addition to the fifth-grade class. While I had
the students for the entire period, my coteacher and his paraprofessional joined us for
only half of the scheduled periods for language arts. This year was full of very different
dilemmas and solutions than those I had experienced in first grade. Building community
was more challenging because students changed classes. Further, by virtue of the age of
the students, there was a greater emphasis on content instruction. Through educated trial
and error, it ended up being a very productive year for us all.
My teaching experiences greatly influenced my attitudes toward inclusion. It was
clear to me that the needs of all students could be met, with hard work and problem
solving skills. The emphasis my coteachers and I placed on problem-solving skills was
especially important. We were never content to let a less than optimal system go
unchanged. We searched out and found the resources we needed, including changing
desks for large tables and securing multiple copies of high-interest, low vocabulary books
on topics of study. We varied our instructional methods and used a mixture of
instructional groupings including whole-group and small-group instruction. We infused
technology and research skills into units of study, thereby exposing students with
disabilities to valuable skills they would need in middle school. In short, we were
inventive and flexible, and our students were successful. It was very hard work.
As I entered my Ph.D. program, I did so thinking I could share some of the
lessons I learned through experience, thus helping others miss some of the bumps in the
road I encountered. As my program progressed, however, it became clear to me that
instead of developing prescribed programs for teachers, I was more comfortable with
examining structures to facilitate teacher learning. I believe that in most cases, teachers
may be in the best position to work through their own dilemmas, much as I had during
my teaching experiences. Thus, I am a proponent of developing professional teachers
instead of developing programs that can be implemented with fidelity. After all, it is
teachers who teach children, not programs.
Importantly, I have worked on two studies conducted at the school where I did
my dissertation study. Although this study was not a direct extension of these previous
studies, my participation on those projects inspired the conception of this project. During
the first study, I was brought in to help analyze qualitative data collected by others on the
practices of two exemplary teachers (Williamson, Bondy, Langley, & Mayne, 2005).
Thus, I had few direct interactions with the school's faculty and staff during this study.
During the second project, I had far more contact with faculty and staff. The
principal, under pressure for not meeting adequate yearly progress for students with
disabilities, decided to abandon the pull-out classrooms historically used at the school in
favor of including students with disabilities in general education classrooms. Much of my
role was behind the scenes, working directly with the professor-in-residence from a local
university who had worked at the school for 6 years. I played a minor role assisting in the
facilitation of monthly professional development workshops where topics of study
centered on inclusion.
In addition, as part of this project I participated in one full round of team
inclusion meetings. Inclusion meetings were new to the school that year and were
designed to address the academic or social needs of particular students. During those
meetings, I occasionally asked questions or offered suggestions to teachers. As a follow-
up to this professional development work, the professor in residence and I conducted a
study designed to explore the perceptions of this group of educators as they developed an
inclusive program using focus groups and one-on-one interviews as data collection
methods. Focus groups were facilitated by the teachers themselves; however, I conducted
seven interviews with school faculty. Even though I have spent what might be considered
an extended period of time working with this school, I would still characterize my
presence there as somewhat of an outsider.
As a professional development school long affiliated with the University,
educators at the school would claim they have been fortunate to have a professor in
residence at the school for many years. As such, the professor in residence has forged
meaningful, long-lasting relationships with faculty and staff. Although she presented me
as a person with some experience doing inclusion at another school in the community,
and as a co-researcher on our most recent project, I believe these educators saw me more
as a helper to the professor in residence than as an expert who might be able to help them
with the problems they were experiencing with inclusion. My interactions were
professional and cordial with faculty, and even friendly at times. However, I was not
afforded insider status at this school; I was afforded privileged outsider status. As a
privileged outsider, faculty perceived me as a trustworthy person with whom they could
share their stories. This afforded me the unique position of researcher-learner (Glesne,
1999), a position somewhere between objective observer and subjective coparticipant.
Importantly, although I spoke briefly at two of the meetings, my dialogue from those two
meetings was not included as data for study purposes.
The study was conducted at Hopewell Elementary School (a pseudonym), a
school whose faculty is composed of 23 general education classroom teachers, three
Success for All (Klingner, Cramer, & Harry, 2006) reading tutors, seven resource
teachers (i.e., physical education, media, art, music, and dance), three special education
teachers, and an administrative team comprised of the principal, assistant principal,
guidance counselor, fine arts facilitator, reading coach, and curriculum resource teacher.
As shown in Table 3-1, teachers ranged in years of experience from 1 year to more than
30. All teachers were "highly qualified," as defined in the No Child Left Behind Act of
2001 (U.S. Department of Education, 2001) and thus were certified in the areas in which
they taught. Of the 42 educators at the school 23 were white, 17 had African origins (i.e.,
African American and islanders), 1 was Hispanic, and 1 was a Pacific Islander.
Table 3-1. Faculty's years of experience
Years of Service
Area of responsibility 0 -3 3 10 More than 10 Total
Classroom teachers 11 6 6 23
Reading tutors 2 0 1 3
Resource teachers 1 3 3 7
Special education teachers 2 0 1 3
Leadership team 0 0 6 6
Total 16 9 17 42
Student enrollment was more than 400, with African American students being the
predominant ethnic group represented at the school. The vast majority of students were
eligible for free or fee reduced lunch (90.9%). Many new students became members of
the Hopewell school community the previous year. In addition to gaining new students
through the district's recent school rezoning, the school board named Hopewell a magnet
program for the arts for the first time last year. Table 3-2 presents a summary of student
disability classifications by grade level, including the numbers of gifted students. Thus,
new students, along with the new school policy to include students with disabilities in
general education classrooms, combined to create a challenging work environment for
Table 3-2. Summary of students' disability classification by grade level
Disability K 1 2 3 4 5 Total
Speech impaired 2 4 2 1 1 1 11
Language impaired 6 6 2 4 6 4 28
Specific learning disability 1 1 1 14 11 9 37
Emh 1 1 0 1 1 0 4
Emotionally handicapped 1 0 1 1 2 1 6
Deaf or hard of hearing 0 0 1 0 0 0 0
Orthopedically impaired 0 0 0 0 2 0 2
Occupational therapy 2 2 0 1 5 1 11
Autistic 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Gifted 0 0 1 3 1 2 7
Other health impaired 1 0 1 0 2 0 4
Total 14 15 9 25 31 18 112
University collaboration. To help educators with all of these changes, the school
enjoyed continued participation in a professional development program for a second year
developed through the local university. Topics of study during the 2004-2005 school year
included selected articles on inclusion, functional behavior assessments,
accommodations, behavior management, and other useful information for educators
experiencing the inclusion of students with disabilities for the first time.
Inclusion team meetings. Importantly, grade-level inclusion meetings were
created to address the academic and social needs of particular students. Evidence
suggested that teachers found these meetings to be invaluable, with teachers consistently
agreeing that more of these meetings were needed (Bondy & Williamson, 2006). These
meetings continued for a second year, the year in which data were collected for this
Inclusion team meetings were held within grade-level or department-level teams
(i.e., resources, Success for All) with one team meeting per week. Thus, meetings with
each of the eight teams were held approximately every other month. Meetings were
scheduled after school and were supposed to last for one hour. In addition to the grade-
level or department-level team members, inclusion meeting participants included varying
members of the school's administrative team (e.g., principal, behavior resource teacher,
curriculum resource teacher, school guidance counselor, reading coach), the special
education teacher responsible for that grade level, the district's school psychologist, and
the professor in residence from the local university. Importantly, not all of the
administrative team was present during each meeting. This study is situated within the
context of these meetings.
The general aims of data collection for an inductive study are to achieve
maximum variation. This need for variation influences both participant selection and data
Study participants. All faculty, administrative staff, the district's school
psychologist, and the professor in residence were invited to participate in this study.
Informed consent of participants, as required by the University of Florida's Institution
Review Board (IRB) and the school district, were obtained from all participants.
Specifically, 27 general education teachers, 3 special education teachers, all 5 members
of the administration team, the district's school psychologist, and the professor in
residence participated in the study. This represents almost all faculty members from the
school. The only faculty who did not participate were those who were absent from their
teams' inclusion meeting on the day data were collected. Five participants were men. To
protect their identity, all participants were given female pseudonyms.
Data sources. A total of eight inclusion meetings occurring from November 2005
through February 2006, one for all six grade levels as well as the extra departments, were
audio-taped and transcribed verbatim by me. Half of the meetings lasted about 60
minutes, with the other half lasting about 90 minutes The numbers of participants at each
meeting ranged from 5 to 12 (i.e., kindergarten = 10, first = 5, second = 9, third = 12,
fourth = 5, fifth = 11, success for all = 5, resources = 10). This resulted in 287 pages of
In addition, 21 follow up interviews were conducted with faculty, with at least
two or three teachers from each inclusion team represented. In addition to being varied
by grade and subject taught, teachers who were interviewed represented the full range of
teaching experience from early career teachers to veteran teachers. When possible, I
interviewed a veteran teacher and an early career teacher from each team. This was not
possible for all teams in that some teams were composed entirely of veteran teachers. All
interviews were transcribed verbatim by a paid transcriptionist and were checked for
validity by a retired community college faculty member and personal friend of mine.
Interviews were semi-structured (Kvale, 1996) and lasted from 15 to 30 minutes, with the
vast majority lasting closer to 30 minutes. Interviews resulted in 152 pages of data.
Data analysis. As noted earlier, two analysis methods were used including
inductive analysis (Hatch, 2002) and discourse analysis (Fairclough, 2003). I will
describe the inductive analysis methods used and then the discourse analysis methods
To begin the analysis process, all transcripts were read in their entirety as "all
inductive analysis must begin with a solid sense of what is included in the data set"
(Hatch, 2002, p. 162). Next, I included an additional step of open coding all transcripts
(Strauss & Corbin, 1998). I added this step to make doubly sure that I was clear on
exactly what was included in my data set. Frames of analysis were identified for each of
my research questions. Frames for question one included all talk related to problem
descriptions including student attributes, what had already been tried to resolve the
problem, and problem interpretations. Frames for question two included all talk aimed at
offering solutions and responses that were not necessarily solutions to problems that were
raised. Frames of analysis for the third question included all talk related to the value of
meetings for teachers. Finally, frames for the fourth question included sections of
transcripts where teachers and other meeting participants co-constructed the problem and
response to the problems.
Next, domains were created using the data marked off as frames of analysis;
semantic relationships were identified. Salient domains germane to answering research
questions were identified and other domains were set aside. I then reread all data
inductively, looking for negative cases that would dispute my constructed domains. As a
result of this process, I moved from one subdomain to a different domain. In addition,
two subdomains were subsumed within another subdomain. Next, a master outline for
each subdomain was created. Data excerpts for each subdomain were identified.
To begin my discourse analysis, I needed some way to select relevant samples of
data for my detailed analysis (Fairclough, 2003). Inductive analyses suggested that the
value teachers derived from inclusion meetings varied. Criteria were established for
selecting positive and negative samples of discourse using findings from inductive
analyses of teacher interviews. Specifically, positive samples were selected if they
provided evidence of (a) social support, (b) learning opportunities, or (c) practical
support. In addition, positive samples were selected if the moved teachers toward
classroom-level solutions. Inductive analyses of teacher interviews suggested that
meetings were unproductive if they failed to generate solutions. Thus, samples of
dialogue were selected if they failed to generate classroom-level solutions that were
acceptable to the teacher. Thus, four positive examples and four negative examples were
selected, with one sample from each of the eight meetings.
Excerpts were broken into clauses for further analysis with one clause displayed
per line in a table. Next, excerpts were read in their entirety and salient text was marked
and preserved. Extraneous dialogue deemed minimally related or unrelated to problem
and response constructions were replaced with content summaries denoted by brackets
within the excerpt.
Next, speech functions and modalities were identified throughout each excerpt.
As noted in the definitions section of this chapter, two main speech functions were
identified: activity exchange and knowledge exchange. Activity exchanges are composed
of two parts: the demand and the offer (Fairclough, 2003). Importantly, the term demand,
as a linguistical term, is any number of verbs from request to open. For example, "I
requested that the parent conduct a classroom observation" is a demand.
The other part of an activity exchange is offer. This might be thought of as the
response to a request. Importantly, both demands and offers can be modulated. The
degree of modulation suggests the degree to which the actors are committed to the
obligation or necessity of the demand or offer. Specifically, a demand can be modulated
in three ways. It can be (a) prescriptive (e.g., sit down), (b) modulated (e.g., you could sit
down), or (c) proscriptive (e.g., don't sit down). As noted earlier, the modality chosen by
actors portends their level of commitment to their demand. Similarly, the offer or
response can be modulated. The offer can be (a) undertaken (e.g., I'll open the window),
(b) modulated (e.g., I may open the window), or (c) refused (I won't open the window)
(Fairclough, 2003). Offers and demands were identified and labeled.
The other kind of speech function is a knowledge exchange or exchange of
information. Knowledge exchanges are made up of two parts: statements and questions.
Statements can be (a) statements of fact about what is, was, or has been regarding the
case (e.g., he has problems reading), (b) predictions of what might happen in the future
including hypothetical (e.g., he will make a one on the standardized test), and (c)
evaluations (e.g., he is trying hard). In addition, statements are modulated, thus providing
insights into the actor's commitment to the truth he or she is espousing. Statements can
be (a) asserted as true (e.g., he is failing in math), (b) modulated (e.g., he may be failing
in math), and (c) denials (e.g., he is not failing math) (Fairclough, 2003). Statement types
and modalities were identified.
The other part of knowledge exchanges is questions. Questions "elicit other's
commitment to truth" (Fairclough, 2003, p. 167). As with statements, questions can be
(a) nonmodalized positive (e.g., is the student passing), (b) modalized (e.g., could the
student be passing), or (c) nonmodalized negative (isn't the student passing)
(Fairclough). After speech functions and modalities were identified, statement (i.e., fact,
irrealis, evaluation) and question types (i.e., yes/no interrogative and 'wh' interrogative)
were labeled. Once these analyses were completed, interpretations were written.
Trustworthiness. Although the trustworthiness of a study is ultimately judged
from the eyes of the reader, I used multiple tools to enhance the possibility that my
readers will judge it so. The techniques I used to improve this possibility included
(a) prolonged engagement, (b) peer debriefing, (c) multiple data source triangulation, and
(d) member checking. In addition, study reports should represent the entire data set as
much as possible (Hatch, 2003). To enable readers to interpret how well this was
accomplished, data labels were constructed as follows. First, as noted earlier, all
participants were given female pseudonyms to protect the anonymity of male
participants, which were consistently applied throughout this report. Since participant
roles are an important facet of this report, teacher data tags were coded with a T,
leadership team member tags were coded with an L, and other professional educators
were coded with OPE. Data quotes included in Chapter 4 come exclusively from
inclusion meetings. Data quotes regarding the value teachers found in inclusion meetings
come exclusively from teacher interviews. Thus, there is no special notation to attribute
data to interviews or meetings. Finally, the date applicable data were collected is noted.
For example, the label Linda (L) 12.05.05 would mean that the quote is attributed to a
leadership team member with the pseudonym of Linda and was uttered on December 5,
Work is considered more trustworthy if there is evidence of prolonged
engagement (Hatch, 2003). I have been involved with this school for 3 years. Thus, my
presence at the school had likely become less intrusive. Although there is evidence in
meeting transcripts that participants were aware of and in some cases spoke to the tape
recorder, my earlier participation in these meetings before the onset of my study assures
me that the meetings I observed and recorded were typical. In addition to prolonged
engagement, peer debriefing was an import tool for ensuring the trustworthiness of this
As noted earlier, the professor in residence and I have collaborated on multiple
research projects at this school. Thus, it was only natural for me to discuss my work on
this project with her. Specifically, by phone and in person, we have discussed this project
from data collection through data analysis. Her contribution has been invaluable. In
addition to peer debriefing, as will be seen in the analysis chapters, I took care to
triangulate as many findings as was possible between the inclusion meeting transcripts
and teacher interviews. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I did member checking
with my participants.
Member checking was done in two ways. First, preliminary findings were
presented at a faculty meeting where most of my participants gave me feedback. In
addition, at that meeting I asked for volunteers who would be willing to continue to
check my findings with me by email. Four volunteers signed up to do this. Thus,
whenever I wanted to check something out, I did so by mailing one or more of these
Limitations. As with any study, this study had multiple limitations. First, this
study was conducted at one urban elementary school in the southeastern United States.
Thus, readers will ultimately decide whether or not findings here are generalizable to
other settings (Glesne, 1999). Second, much of this work is interpretive; thus, others
looking at the same transcripts might construct different and equally valid interpretations.
Finally, since data were collected during naturally occurring meetings, I did not
feel comfortable directing participants to behave differently than they normally would.
Thus, unlike focus groups where ground rules can suggest what might help preserve
every word of data (e.g., no overlapping talk, no sidebars, limited numbers of
participants), teachers behaved normally during meetings. Consequently, there were
multiple sidebars occurring simultaneously and lots and lots of overlapping talk. In the
case of one meeting, talk was obliterated by the cutting out of dinosaurs from paper for
an impending play. Thus, even though I transcribed the tapes myself and worked very
hard to get every word verbatim, there were sections of meeting tapes that were not
discernable. This was far less of a problem with the interview tapes, for obvious reasons.
Overview of the Dissertation
In Chapter 4, findings from inductive analyses of grade-level inclusion meetings
are presented. Specifically, the kinds of problems and responses to those problems are
described. To begin Chapter 5, results from teacher interviews are presented to address
how these meetings were valued by teachers. Once this foundation is established, results
from discourse analyses are presented. Finally, Chapter 6 concludes with an overview of
the findings of this study, implications for practice, and recommendations for future
PROBLEM AND RESPONSE CONSTRUCTIONS GENERATED IN GRADE-LEVEL
Since scholars have suggested, based upon teacher reports, that problem-solving
meetings are helpful for teachers to learn new ways of working (Buysse, Sparkman, &
Wesley, 2003; Chalfant & Pysh, 1989), it is important to examine the possible learning
opportunities teachers have during meetings. Teacher learning during inclusion meetings
is influenced by three factors. First, possible learning opportunities are bounded by the
kinds of problems discussed during meetings. Specifically, if particular problems are not
discussed at meetings, opportunities to learn new things related to those problems would
not exist. Thus, in order to understand what kinds of learning opportunities exist at
meetings, it is important to better understand the kinds of problems teachers are
discussing at inclusion meetings.
Second, learning opportunities are bounded by the kinds of knowledge and
experiences meeting participants hold. Thus, understanding the kinds of responses
inclusion team members offer in response to problems provides insight into members'
knowledge and experiences. Finally, learning opportunities can be influenced by how
discussions unfold. For example, if discussions remain focused on problems within the
student, problems within the classroom might not be discussed. The purpose of this study
was to better understand the "black box" (Little, 2003, p. 915) of inclusion meetings as a
means for the professional development of teachers at an urban elementary school by
understanding the kinds of learning opportunities these meetings afford. Three research
questions guided this study:
* What kinds of problems are described at inclusion meetings?
* What kinds of responses are developed by the group in response to problems
* What value do these meetings have for teachers?
* How does dialogue constructed during inclusion meetings shape problem
construction and group responses?
What follows in Chapter 4 is a background description of inclusion meetings
including the purpose behind the meetings as well as the procedures used to facilitate
meetings. Next, in response to my first two research questions, is a typology of the kinds
of problems and responses to those problems discussed at eight inclusion meetings held
at Hopewell Elementary School during the 2005-2006 school year. These findings helped
establish a foundation for Chapter 5, which addresses my third question.
Specifically, Chapter 5 addresses how the dialogue of these meetings shaped both
the construction of problems and the responses to those problems using discourse
analysis (Fairclough, 2003). Using results from inductive analyses (Hatch, 2002), as well
as teacher reports about the value of inclusion meetings discussed during teacher
interviews, samples of discourse were selected to illustrate the influence of dialogue in
constructing problems and responses to those problems during inclusion meetings.
General Description of Inclusion Meetings
Inclusion meetings were held at Hopewell Elementary to assist teachers as they
included students with disabilities in regular education classrooms in response to the
school's failure to meet adequate yearly progress for this segment of the school's
population. Talk about high-stakes testing permeated almost every conversation, as
exemplified in this quote from a member of the leadership team: "All children will be
encouraged to do their utmost on the exam ... it's a high stakes test-do I need to say
more?" (Andra [L] 11.29.05). Thus, meetings were focused on helping students pass
standardized exams, so they could progress to the next grade level. Exemplary student
performance on exams would, in turn, help the school shed its label as a school in need of
improvement under No Child Left Behind requirements.
Participants typically included grade-level teaching faculty, members from the
leadership team, special education faculty, and other professional educators (OPE), the
professor in residence, and the school psychologist. Meetings were held after student
dismissal and lasted from an hour to an hour and a half. Notably, half of the meetings
were longer than an hour and exceeded the normal teacher workday.
Purpose of Meetings
Out of eight meeting transcripts, there were five references to the purpose of these
meetings. Meeting purposes were variously described by Andra, a leadership team
member and meeting facilitator, as meeting to "talk about students who need extra
support," students "who have flared up," and to "address teacher concerns." The most
explicit purpose statement found was uttered by Meg, an OPE, during one meeting: "the
whole purpose is to get everybody's wisdom all in one place at one time to help figure
out what's up with a kid and what to do." The "what to do" was constructed as next steps
for students being discussed. Importantly, it was not strictly defined as solving the
Most inclusion meetings followed a similar procedure. Generally, meetings began
with the naming of students who were discussed at previous meetings by the facilitator
(i.e., principal or the assistant principal). Next, updates on students were provided by
homeroom teachers, or in the case of the two teams that were grouped by department, by
the teacher with the concern. Updates generally included information on academic
progress including reading levels and performance on recent formal and informal
assessments, as well as personal histories of students including disability status, retention
status, family considerations, and health status. As updates were provided, teachers
described the kinds of problems of practice they were experiencing with students.
Typically, these descriptions were socially constructed with input from all
members of the team with whom the student had contact. This coconstruction of
problems was made possible due to structural factors at the school, which facilitated
student contact with multiple faculty members. Structural factors included the Success
for All School (Klingner et al., 2006) reading model, the fine arts school model providing
two resource periods daily to all students, and the departmentalization of classes by
subject at the intermediate-grade levels. Further, various responsibilities of leadership
team members brought them into regular contact with many of the students discussed
during meetings (e.g., lunch duty, disciplinary processes, special education referrals).
During inclusion meetings, team members variously posed questions and offered
suggestions to presenting teachers. These exchanges sometimes took on characteristics of
a brainstorming session. Overlapping talk was common. In most cases but certainly not
in all as noted above, problem descriptions were met with "short-term actions" (Meg
[OPE] 1.24.06) that would be taken to mediate the problem. Occasionally, logistical
concerns such as getting students to tutoring on time or facilitating an aide's schedule
ruptured predominantly student-centered talk. Finally, time permitting, new challenges
faced by teachers were discussed.
Student Problems Discussed/Addressed
During inclusion meetings, teachers discussed two kinds of students about whom
they were concerned-students who were failing to progress academically and students
with challenging behaviors. Since a few students were discussed at more than one
meeting, problems were used as the unit of analysis. A little more than half of the
problems discussed were related to academics, with slightly less than half being related
to behaviors. These were highly personalized accounts. Often, multiple inclusion team
members knew much about the students they were discussing. Importantly, there was
some overlap between the problems of these students, which will be described in more
detail below; however, based upon teacher problem descriptions, behavior issues, when
present, were usually viewed as the primary issue to be resolved. Thus for analytical
purposes, students described as having both academic problems and behavior problems
were described under behavior problems.
In addition, during the initial analysis, two additional categories emerged that are
not presented here. Because those categories contained so few problems (i.e., one student
problem each), I went back to the original data to determine whether or not they were
substantively different from the other categories; in both cases, categories were
subsumed into other categories. Thus, the descriptions presented here represent only
those problems wherein a substantive number of students with those problems (i.e., more
than five) were discussed.
Many studies have suggested that teachers seek assistance with academic
problems experienced by their students (Chalfant & Pysh, 1989; Eidle et al., 1998;
Meyers et al., 1996). However, findings from this study provide more contextualized
accounts of these problems. Descriptions of two kinds of students characterized as failing
to progress academically emerged during inclusion meeting discussions including
students who exhibited high effort coupled with low performance and students who
exhibited inconsistent performance. What follows is a description of how meeting
participants described these particular students and their problems, including evidence
teachers cited to justify their concerns.
High Effort Coupled with Low Performance
One group of students about whom teachers were concerned was described as
trying hard academically without success. Generally, students within this category either
qualified for special education services under high-incidence categories such as specific
learning disabilities, mild mental retardation, or speech and language impairments, or
were students whom teachers believed needed special education testing and services.
Most of these problems were brought up by third-grade teachers, the year students faced
mandatory retention policies. For example, Jenni described her student noting, "I know
she's going to be tested into the ESE program, and she's probably going to go right in"
(11.20.05). Teachers (i.e., Carrie, Carmen, Jordis) and Corey, an OPE, occasionally
discussed children they described as "borderline." These were students who were tested
and did not qualify for special educational services. In addition to describing student's
disability status, teachers typically reported on the student's history of retention or the
possibility of being retained in the future. A history of retention added to the sense of
urgency to help students, as noted by Jordis: "Adam has been retained in first grade, and I
think his foresight [assessment] was unscorable. It's so bad" (11.30.05).
Students showing little or no progress were often described during inclusion team
meetings in terms of particular academic tasks that were challenging for them. For
example, Jenni described two students whose reading "comprehension is very low right
now and their fluency ... math is low too" (11.30.05). Similarly, Aisha described a
student with reading comprehension problems noting, "I'll ask her a question" about her
reading, and her response will "be related to the topic, but unrelated to the reading"
(11.30.05). In addition, teachers described memory and generalizing difficulties
experienced by these students. For example, Cori described her student's problem
remembering words when she read
Even from one sentence to the next, she would be reading along, and she would
... go through the [decoding] process, and the word would come up again in the
next sentence, and she would have to go through the entire [decoding] process; it
was like she had never seen the word before. (2.7.06)
Discussions about students always included statements about student effort.
Carrie explained her student's effort this way: "She tries, it's not like she's not trying.
She's trying but the progress just isn't coming, the growth just isn't coming" (11.30.05).
Of another student, Jordis averred, "Bless her heart, she tries" (11.30.05). In addition to
describing these students as hard working, they were often described as being very
likeable by teachers. "He has the cutest personality, cutest. I mean it's just adorable"
(Jeni [T] 11.30.05). Thus, these were likeable students who were described in terms of
skill deficits alongside effort.
Teachers justified their lack-of-progress claims by discussing how students failed
to respond to supports and interventions provided. Typical supports and interventions
described by teachers included moving students to lower reading groups, intensive
academic instruction, and curricular modifications. For example, Jenni noted that
students she considered to be struggling academically "are now in tutoring, and we're not
seeing much progress with them" (11.30.05). In addition to discussing how students
failed to respond to supports and interventions, teachers also shared evidence of
academic classroom struggles.
Teachers presented evidence from assessments and class work that suggested
students were struggling. For example, students at Hopewell were required to participate
in simulations of impending state assessments. Results from simulations were frequently
mentioned as teams discussed student progress. In particular, teachers discussed
differences in the raw scores from one testing point to the next (e.g., "she scored a 34,
which is low, but I mean she's definitely making progress, cause that's not an easy test,
and to make a 55 [during the second simulation], that's 21 points" [Olga [L] 11.29.05]).
In addition to these more formal kinds of assessments, it was not uncommon for seasoned
teachers to use their own judgments as evidence of concern. This is typified by a
statement made by Jenni, a third-grade teacher. "She's a very hard worker, but I foresee
her making ones [the lowest score on the state's exam] on both the reading and the math
Inconsistent Academic Performance
Students described as having inconsistent academic performance were
characterized by their ability to do very well at times and very poorly at other times.
Unlike students described as working hard but not making progress, these students were
perceived as being capable but lacking effort. Teachers described students as "lazy"
(Paula [T] 11.29.05), "off-task" (Jordis [T] 11.30.05), and "spacey" (Jasmine [T]
11.29.05). Medication also came up as a topic of discussion regarding these students.
Candace described her student as follows:
I really do believe he is very capable, 'cause I've sat down with him one-on-one,
listened to him read, had him go back into the article to pick the right answers,
and he did it; but then he'll sit there and be lazy when you don't push him.
Inconsistent performance also was noted among subjects. For example, Bonnie described
one of her students this way:
He comes to reading, he's prepared, he's ready to go, every once in awhile he'll
daydream and I have to snap my fingers to get him back, but he does the work, he
does the Pause Strategy [a reading comprehension strategy], he Proves everything
[a reading comprehension strategy], he does what he's supposed to. Then he goes
math then he comes to science, I don't know what his problem is in science,
it's the weirdest thing. (11.29.05)
Students also were described as "tired all the time" (Olga [L] 11.29.05) or dragging;
however, even this behavior was inconsistent: "He's not tired when he wants to clown
with his friends" (Jasmine [T] 11.29.05). Thus, students were characterized as capable,
but often off-task and inconsistent performers.
Since there were fewer data points (i.e., failing test scores) to substantiate
problem claims for students described as having inconsistent performance, teachers relied
more on professional judgment across multiple teachers to justify the existence of
problems. For example, a fifth-grade student had three teachers making the same kinds of
comments about him, while a third-grade student had two teachers expressing concern. In
addition, the only objective data point described by teachers was frequency of absences.
Finally, the disability status of one of the students was noted by teachers: "He's staffed
for only social/emotional" (Candace [T] 11.30.05).
Findings from this study were consistent with existing studies suggesting that
teachers reported needing assistance with students with a wide range of behavior
concerns, or what some studies termed socio-emotional concerns (Chalfant & Pysh,
1989; Eidle et al., 1998; Meyers et al., 1996). Unlike previous studies, findings described
here provide salient details about characteristics of reported problems, as classification
schemes often lose meaning (Berger & Luckman, 1966). In addition, findings shared here
illuminate how teachers justified the concerns they brought forward at meetings.
Teachers described four kinds of challenging student behaviors including (a) attendance
problems, (b) behavior problems and low academic performance, (c) persistent annoying
small behaviors, and (d) aggressive behaviors.
Absences. Attendance was especially concerning for teachers because of the
high-stakes testing environment, as is suggested by the comments of Jenni:
She's been out three days this week and ... I don't want anybody saying to me at
the end of the year that I didn't-you know what I mean [did not do everything
possible]. Like she's absent so much, there's no way she'd pass the [state's high-
stakes exam]. (11.30.05)
Problems were described and justified in terms of the numbers of absences and
interventions already tried. For example, while discussing the problem of a fifth-grade
student who often came to school but left early after slipping to the clinic to call his
mom, a member of the leadership team met with the mom to ask for her help. She
reported that the mother said, "I don't want the children to be out. They complain a lot,
and I'm going to stop coming at the drop of a hat but apparently, she's still
continuing to do that" (Andra [L] 11.30.05). Teachers reported sending the truancy
officer to check on another student with high rates of absenteeism. Bonnie reported using
praise to reinforce her student's attendance. "I actually paid him a compliment. Oh, Jon,
it's nice to see you again. This is getting better, I like this. See, it's nice when you're
here, I really appreciate it" (11.29.05). Finally, teachers noted that these students had
missed so much school that they were failing many of their subjects.
Behavior problems and low academics. Salient characteristics of these students
included the presence of serious problems coupled with behavior and academic problems.
Teachers suggested that behaviors influenced poor academics and vice versa. Behaviors
were often interpreted by teachers as ways for students to escape academic instruction.
For example, while the team was discussing how one student threw a chair during class,
Mildred noted "that's his way of escaping" work ([T] 12.13.05).
Students were described as "lacking self-control" (Lexa [T] 1.31.06), with some
teachers reporting that these students often displayed aggressive behaviors. Teachers
noted that many problems occurred during transitions and large-group teacher
presentations. Aggressive behaviors in younger students included "biting" (Nicole [T]
1.24.06) and "kicking" (Cait [L] 1.24.06) and for older students included "throwing
things" (Lexa [T] 1.31.06) and being generally disruptive. Thus, students had frequent
encounters with the front office for behavior referrals, and in some cases, suspensions.
Teachers also mentioned problems with peer relations. For example, a primary
teacher said of one of her students, "I've been asked to keep [this student away] from
several of my other students by parents of my other students [in] my centers" (Mandy [T]
1.10.06). Finally, teachers also mentioned that often these students had low verbal
abilities, with one student being described as "nonverbal with adults" (Meg [OPE]
Academically, students were described as reluctant to engage in tasks. For
example, Lexa reported, "I'm having the most challenge being successful with Carl. It is
just... he avoids and avoids and avoids" (1.31.06). Another teacher observed that a
student wanted to go to the bathroom when work was too challenging. In addition,
teachers noticed very little academic progress. For example, Mandy explained, "I just
tested him again today um and there's not a lot of progress in reading-he's pretty much
Multiple kinds of support were given to these students including peer support,
tutoring, and academic modifications, such as breaking academic tasks into smaller
pieces. However, teachers characterized academic supports as ineffective in helping
students, as noted by a fourth-grade teacher:
This child is absolutely not functioning in the classroom. There is nothing he can
do on his own, and even with him sitting one-to-one with [the special education
teacher], he barely, and I'm not exaggerating, can write his name; he's a fourth
grade student who's supposed to be in fifth grade, and I just really like our
inclusion model, but we are not meeting his needs; we are not even coming close
to meeting this child's needs. (Debra [T] 12.13.05)
Notably, the only intervention for behavior described by teachers other than referrals,
suspensions, and timeouts was seeing the guidance counselor on a limited basis.
Annoying and persistent small behaviors. Students with annoying and
persistent behaviors were described by teachers as "easily distracted" (Bonnie [T]
11.29.05; Jane [T] 12.13.05) and "disruptive" (Mandy [T] 1.10.06). Academically,
students were described as working at grade level or above. Common teacher complaints
included calling out and talking out of turn. Teachers noted younger students had
difficulties keeping their hands to themselves and running in the classroom, whereas
older students were described as avoiding responsibility for their own behaviors. Lexa
described a recent incident with one of her students this way:
He'll hop up and run go get scissors 'cause he'll want to cut his painting up or
something you know he just... it's not too hard to keep on top of that... I don't
usually get him in trouble I say, "Oh, no no no, that's not for this project.
Remember, for this project we're just using these materials." (1.31.06)
They were also typified based on things they did not do-they were not
aggressive students, although they often had difficulties with peers. One teacher
described her student as follows, "The reason you don't see discipline referrals is that it's
not like necessarily disrespectful all the time or aggressive, nasty behavior, it's just
constant" (Debra 12.13.05). Jane put it this way, "It's not like he's hurting somebody or
doing anything terrible, but it's the accumulation of it all" (12.13.05). Thus, these
students were considered a problem on the basis of the accumulation of small but
As with other kinds of student problems, the fact that the student was
experiencing difficulties in multiple settings was of concern for teachers. For example,
during the fourth grade meeting, both classroom teachers present made similar comments
about one student. In addition, teachers noted that some of these students had been
formally diagnosed with ADHD.
Since the school had far fewer accommodations and supports for students
experiencing behavior problems than for academic problems, families were perceived as
the best source of help for teachers with these kinds of problem behaviors. Teachers,
however, reported being frustrated with family interactions. For example, one parent was
described as blaming the school for problems, suggesting that her son was acting out
because he was not being challenged. Most parents did acknowledge the problems of
their children. Notably, that did not improve the quality of teacher/parent interactions.
For example, a kindergarten teacher expressed frustration that her student's mother
missed four scheduled meetings. Debra, a fourth-grade teacher cited her encounter with
the parent of one of these children thusly:
Not too long ago, I had an hour conference on a Friday with his mother, we've
made repeated phone calls, there's no reading homework coming in, I mean they
seem like conscientious parents, they give you the right words, but there's no
follow through. (12.13.05)
Finally, at the mid-point of the school year, teachers reported that a parent said she
continued to have difficulty finding a doctor to seek treatment for her son's ADHD and
had therefore not been able to help.
Aggressive behaviors. Teachers described problems with students who displayed
significant behavior problems, who were also on grade level academically. Teachers also
noticed that once these students were actively engaged in work, there were fewer
It was the severe behaviors, however, that teacher found most troubling. For
example, one teacher described a student as "making unsafe trouble" (Jane [T] 12.13.05).
Unsafe trouble included such things as "hurting people" (Debra [T] 12.13.05) and
"throwing things" (Mildred [T] 12.13.05). Teachers felt they had to keep a watchful eye
on these students at all times. Behaviors were often categorized as being "aggressive"
(Debra [T] 12.13.05) or "defiant" (Linda [L] 1.31.06). Frequency of disciplinary
problems was discussed by teachers with the behaviors of one student deemed severe
enough for teachers to recommend that the student be evaluated for special education
placement in the district's separate school for students with severe emotional
Teachers justified their concerns about these students by describing parental
acknowledgment of aggression problems. The fact that one student had been diagnosed
with ADHD and was taken off the medication added to the perceived veracity of the
claim that there was indeed a problem with this student. Finally, the presence of student
difficulties in multiple classrooms was another way teachers justified their concerns.
Responses/Suggestions to Address Problems
Responses or suggestions to problems with students discussed during inclusion
meetings included (a) family-level responses, (b) classroom-level responses, (c) school-
level responses, and (d) responses that suggested no changes for students. Family-level
responses and classroom-level responses were discussed far more frequently than school-
level responses and responses that suggested no changes. What follows is a description of
each kind of response. Descriptions include details about the responses, the kinds of
problems that were being addressed, and how teams supported or justified their particular
Faculty at the school considered families to be important to the overall success of
students. Thus, in response to teacher concerns about students, it was common for
inclusion teams to suggest involving families directly in the educational process of their
children. Involving families was recommended for all student-problem types. Teams
suggested involving families by (a) providing families with additional materials to help
their child at home, (b) convening a family solutions team meeting (FSTM), and (c)
using the home/school liaison to gain access to families.
One recommendation made by inclusion team members for students who were
struggling academically was to send materials for families to use to work with their
children at home. Suggested materials included laminated sight word cards, sight word
lists, and reading packages. For example, during one meeting, a member of the leadership
team suggested sending home sight word lists multiple times: "Take you a ream of paper,
and um send it home as a packet for the holidays. Put it on red paper, if you have to or
green paper .. just send it in a different format" (Andra [L] 12.06.05). In addition, there
was discussion at two inclusion meetings about creating parent workshops to help parents
learn how to better help their children. Teachers' experiences enlisting parent support
inspired these suggestions.
Teachers at Hopewell frequently asked families to assist their children at home
with school work with some success. Thus, sending home materials for families to use
with their children was not a novel suggestion to address academic concerns for students.
For example, Carrie's report of how she involved a parent exemplifies this:
I have been working with mom since the first day of school, sending extra
materials home, this is what we do in class, teaching, you know, showing mom
how we do it in class. Giving her more reading stuff, giving her, you know, the
vocabulary list, um. Sending things home that she's done in class for mom to go
over with her outside of class um I've sent home extra reading books so that she
can be ahead of what Carmen's doing for the reading class and she can go over
vocabulary with her mom and reread stories to practice the fluency on the words
out loud. (11.30.05)
In addition to securing parental assistance at home, inclusion team members frequently
suggested involving families in problem solving meetings referred to as Family Solutions
Team Meetings (FSTMs).
Convening FSTMs was the most frequent family-level response. FSTMs were
recommended for a variety of student-problem types including (a) students with
inconsistent academic performance, (b) absences, and (c) persistent annoying behaviors.
Guidelines for FSTMs were generated at the beginning of the school year and were
available for teachers in a "packet" and in the "handbook" (Linda [L] 12.06.05). Stated
purposes for these meetings included discussion with families about student problems
with academics, behavior, and attendance. Meetings were intended to include family
members, all teachers who had direct contact with the student, as well as school
administrators. FSTMs were designed to be precursors to EPTs, although as noted by
Linda, a leadership team member, "not every Family Solutions will result in an EPT
referral and then testing" (12.06.05).
Often, teams suggested convening these meetings when problems at school could
only be handled from home (e.g., behavior related to medication issues, absences). There
were, however, other occasions when FSTMs were recommended for challenging
classroom behaviors such as moving around during class and calling out because, as
Linda pointed out, "behavior is one of the things that the family solutions team can take a
lead on; and we need to sit with all of the stakeholders and come up with strategies to
help this child be successful" (12.13.05). Arguably, the "stakeholders" for help with
classroom instruction (i.e., reading teacher, math teacher, school counselor, behavior
resource teacher) were already at the table during the inclusion team meeting. Thus, this
recommendation may have prolonged the amount of time needed to find ways to best
mitigate the problem.
The final suggestion to involve parents was for the home/school liaison to visit
the parent on behalf of the school. This recommendation to seek the assistance of the
home/school liaison to bring family members to school was made to address a
kindergarten teacher's concern that a parent did not show up for a meeting with teachers
on four occasions. In particular, teachers were concerned about the student's behavior.
This problem was complicated by teacher turnover; thus, it was reasoned that this
meeting would also give the new teacher an opportunity to speak directly with the parent.
Classroom-level responses included suggestions or responses to (a) consider how
the student was functioning in the classroom, (b) change teaching methods to better
address student needs, and (c) influence student motivation. These suggestions were
made for students with all types of problems except absences.
Recommendations to consider how the student was functioning in the classroom
emerged in two ways. First, a more formal route to establishing student functioning was
discussed for students already labeled with disabilities. For a student with low academics
and behavior problems, the team recommended the district's behavior specialist come
into the classroom and observe, thinking that "she might have pointers" (Linda [L]
12.13.05) for ways to improve problems with both behavior and academics in classroom.
The team also discussed the possibility of doing an Individual Educational Plan update so
that a formal functional behavior assessment (FBA) could be done. By design, FBAs
define the conditions under which undesirable behaviors occur, which is the first step
toward establishing ways to better help the student behave acceptably in the classroom.
The second way this occurred was through teachers responding to questions about
the student's behavior in the classroom posed by various team members. For example,
one of the resource teachers made the following observation about a student with
persistent annoying behaviors in response to inclusion team members' questions: "I do
have movement problems with him um the first 5 or 10 minutes of class time during my
direct instruction" (Lexa [T] 1.31.06). She went on to suggest that "maybe it's just the
way it's [class] structured or something that he has trouble handling it" (Lexa [T]
1.31.06). A bit later in the discussion, she remembered that students were coming to her
after the intensive 90-minute reading block. This led to the team brainstorming ways to
allow all students to move (e.g., marching, stretching) before she began giving directions.
In another example, by answering the question "when does your student work
best" (Meg [OPE] 1.31.06), one of the resource teachers decided that her student needed
simplified tasks and directions given one at a time for the student to be most successful.
Another teacher realized that her student performed best when she set the tone for class
early by greeting him at the door, as well as when she put extra effort forward in offering
him pats on the back and praise. Thus, instead of relying on an outside observer to assist
with defining optimal learning environments for students, teachers determined their own
answers through discussion and reflection. In addition to matching classroom interactions
to student needs through discussion, inclusion teams made recommendations to use
different teaching methods.
During several inclusion meetings, teachers brought forward particular concerns
about problems with students' reading comprehension. Thus, a lot of talk was constructed
around different ways to improve students' reading comprehension. Sometimes, teachers
shared ways of teaching particular things. After hearing the concerns from an early career
teacher about a student who was struggling with reading comprehension, a teacher with
more experience made the following suggestion:
I didn't start with the textbook with my kids because to me, a 20-page story is
discouraging. I remember I was a struggling reader when I was a kid. It took me
3 hours to read 17 pages in a basal reader. I'll never forget that. So I didn't start
that way, and I started with the articles on paper. Keisha and Gary [two students]
were saying that once I get down to the bottom of the page, [they] can't remember
what the top of the page said. So we stopped, and we covered up the bottom of
the page, and we read one paragraph. I have them tell me what that paragraph
said, in their own words, or they could write it down in the margins what the
paragraph said, and then once they understood that paragraph, then we moved on
to the next paragraph. And it wasn't like we were tackling the whole thing at
once, we were tackling little bit by little bit. (Carrie [T] 1.30.05)
Another example occurred during a second grade inclusion meeting where it was
recommended that teachers use big books and word banks to make words more
meaningful for word-calling students. In other meetings, technology was suggested as a
potential help for students with reading problems including the use of specialized
computer reading programs, as well as older technology such as reading masters, which
say the word printed on a specialized card via a magnetic strip. Thus, teachers often
shared particular ways of teaching with their colleagues during inclusion meetings.
Other important classroom-level suggestions were related to finding ways to
motivate students. For example, Carrie found that reading guides were both useful and
motivating for her students:
They have .. lines, two white lines on the top and this translucent bright yellow
high-lighted strip. To see my kids get so excited, my 10 reading kids, and boy,
they were following along and they knew where their partner was, and they were
so on-task, just to see this yellow strip over one word, and they could follow
along with each other, they knew that their partner was on the right thing, um. To
see the enthusiasm with those kids today, with just this new tool, was amazing.
In another example, when an intermediate teacher noted that one of her students enjoyed
"clowning" with his friends instead of working, it was suggested that student might need
to work with peers to better maintain his engagement. Finally, another response to
teacher concerns was to suggest teachers use reinforcement for academic performance.
For example, one of the reading tutors described a student who decided "to read stories
He's a child that is capable of reading and I don't know what has transpired
because I know that the first semester he was doing really well ... [He] will
sound out a word ... and he's made the correct sounds ... [now] he will just stick
any word in. The next thing that I know, he's just making up the story. (Rosemary
The team agreed with the teacher's own suggestion that using extrinsic reinforcement
(i.e., M & Ms), in addition to letting this student write creative stories, might help the
Importantly, classroom conditions cannot always be changed, such as the need for
teachers to give directions. Thus, the team often made suggestions to help the student
make changes in his or her behavior. For example, it was suggested during a meeting that
for one student identified as having trouble listening to teacher directions that the teacher
bargain with the student. The bargain would clarify for the student what was coming
next, and what the student needed to do to participate. Meg, an OPE, suggested model
language for the bargain as follows:
Say we're going to do this [name the task] and I want you to be able to do this
with everybody. Are you going to be able to-and you know, name a few specific
things you need to have him do. Do you think this is going to work? (1.31.06)
Finally, it was recommended that serious attention be given to establishing
relationships with students; especially with students who displayed aggressive behaviors.
For example, teachers at the meeting described how problems with aggression in their
classrooms diminished once they reached out to the student on a more personal level.
Ruth explained how she did it:
I've been going to see him about twice a week in the mornings. I just sit down
and we talk ... I just check in and ask ... do you play football, you know, what
are you doing, can I sit, can I watch the news with you, that kind of thing. Now
he's like when he does come to me it's special, and I made him a leader of a team,
and um he's doing great for me. He smiles, and he's happy when I see him.
Thus, the recommendation was to simply get to know the child better and give him or her
extra, more positive attention.
Occasionally, inclusion team members recommended changes in placements. In
particular, placement changes were recommended for students who were struggling
academically with and without behavior problems. In addition, inclusion team members
suggested changes in placement for students who were deemed overly aggressive.
First, when teachers expressed concerns that students were not progressing
academically, inclusion team members suggested that EPT meetings be called to begin
the special education referral process. This recommendation was made multiple times
during a meeting with second-grade teachers, the year before students were subject to
retention for failing to pass the state exam. With the exception of one teacher,
second-grade teachers were not in the habit of referring students for special education;
thus by third grade, there was a backlog of students needing to be tested. This prompted a
leadership team member to cajole teachers to "get the referrals in early, go on-I would
want you all to go on and do your referrals, do not have them stacking up so that we have
20 or more sitting right now sitting in the third grade hopper" (Andra [L] 12.06.05).