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IEP development as a function of pedagogical experience in special education teachers
Gavins, Marva Velyn
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The overarching goal of this study was to examine performance during development of the individualized educational plan (IEP) for students with disabilities as a function of pedagogical experience among special education teachers. Qualitative methods were used to describe how special education teachers, categorized as more experienced and less experienced, differed in developing goals and objectives and how their differences aligned with the stages of expertise development proposed in the Model of Domain Learning. Specifically, three more and three less experienced special education teachers who serviced students with disabilities in resource room settings, participated in a one-hour verbal protocol procedure while engaging in the explicit task of developing an IEP for a simulated student profile. Data sources included questionnaires, direct observations and recordings of participant verbalizations during the task of IEP development, follow up interviews, and permanent products. Data codes were based on the preliminary findings from a pilot study and heavily informed by existing literature related to expertise development, pedagogical knowledge of special educators, and IEP development. Findings highlighted specific differences in the demonstrated knowledge and strategic processing of the participants across experience levels. The demonstrated foundational knowledge and use of surface level strategic processing by the less experienced special education teachers was consistent with learner behaviors described in the acclimation stage of development in the Model of Domain Learning. The more experienced participants exhibited early, middle, and late characterizations consistent with the competency stage of development. There were marked similarities between the written IEP goal and objectives between the less experienced participants and two of the more experienced participants. Several issues emerged as possible factors for these similarities: a) training on goal development, b) problematic implementation of IEP development strategies, and c) participant perceptions of the significance of the IEP goals and objectives. Specifically, the following conclusions were drawn: a) developing IEP goals and objectives that are instructionally relevant and technically adequate continues to be problematic, b) there is not a consistent direct relationship between years of experience and the procedural integrity of the developed IEP goals and objectives, and c) interventions based on models of development that offer a well conceptualized understanding of how domain expertise emerges and provides a full description of expected behaviors across a trajectory of development would be beneficial to both preservice and inservice special education teachers.