The purpose was to describe the beliefs and practices of general physical education (GPE) teachers at the high school level on inclusion and teaching students with severe disabilities. Participants were two experienced GPE teachers at separate suburban high schools. The research paradigm was descriptive using a combination of naturalistic observation and interviewing (Fontana & Frey, 2000; Gay, 1996). Data were collected from eighteen lessons using field notes, wireless microphones, a video camera, an observation instrument, and interviews. Descriptive statistics and thematic narratives were used to present findings. The teachers mostly verbally interacted with those students who had severe disabilities. They varied in their teaching efficacy. Three recurring themes emerged from the data: (a) wavering beliefs, complexities of inclusion, and troubled confidence. Teachers must believe they are adequately prepared, well equipped, and supported to confidently exhibit effective inclusive GPE pedagogies.
Increasingly students with disabilities are being educated in general physical education (GPE) classes. To date, however, the extant literature on the efficacy of inclusion practice in GPE is sparse. Of note, Vogler, Koranda, and Romance (2000) evaluated the efficacy of a GPE program in which a people resource model (i.e., an adapted physical education [APE] specialist) was used to provide instruction for a child with severe cerebral palsy. They reported that this model was highly effective in time engagement and management. Moreover, the qualitative nature of inclusion was one of widespread social acceptance and successful motor participation.
Still today, there is limited research on the efficacy of inclusive practices. In contrast, the extant literature abounds in information on teacher effectiveness. For instance, scholars assert that effective GPE teachers: (a) demonstrate target skills and strategies for students, (b) provide multiple exemplars, (c) use guided and independent practice (Siedentop & Tannehill, 2000), and (d) reflect to inform their practice (Tsangaridou & O'Sullivan, 1997). It is reasonable to expect GPE teachers' teaching behaviors would be similar when teaching students with and without disabilities. But for teaching students with severe disabilities there would be more emphasis on adaptations, modifications, and supports (e.g., APE specialist, peer tutors) (Houston-Wilson, Dunn, van der Mars, & McCubbin, 1997; Vogler et al., 2000).
Theoretical Framework and Purpose
In addition to examining GPE teachers' efficacy-related behaviors, it is important to examine the beliefs that serve as the precursors to their behaviors. The theory of planned behavior (TPB) posits that three accessible belief aggregates (1) lead to the formation of a behavioral intention. The intent to perform various behaviors can be predicted from attitudes (Ajzen, 2001a, 2001b). If given sufficient control over the behavior, individuals are likely to carry out their intentions when presented with opportunities to do so (Ajzen, 2001a, 2001b).
Teachers' attitudes and how they are prepared for teaching students with varied disabilities are well-studied variables (Folsom-Meek, Nearing, Groteluschen, & Krampf, 1999; Hodge, Davis, Woodard, & Sherrill, 2002). We know far less about the behaviors of practicing GPE teachers who teach students with severe disabilities. Thus, the purpose of this study was to describe the beliefs and practices of two high school GPE teachers on inclusion and teaching students with severe disabilities. Implicit within that purpose is the question of teacher efficacy in teaching students with severe disabilities. TPB (Ajzen, 1991) was the theoretical framework for this study. Two research questions guided the study:
1. What were the behaviors of experienced high school GPE teachers toward students with severe disabilities in their classes?
2. What were the beliefs of experienced high school GPE teachers on inclusion and teaching students with severe disabilities?
In this study, beliefs refer to accessible beliefs (Ajzen, 1991) expressed by GPE teachers about teaching students with severe disabilities based on their knowledge, newly acquired knowledge, and experiences with such students in their classes. A student with severe disability was defined as a youth with a chronic disabling condition, which attributed to an emotional disturbance, mental or physical impairment or a combination of conditions. This youth's condition cause substantial functional limits in: (a) building or maintaining satisfactory interpersonal relationships; (b) exhibiting stable or appropriate types of behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances; and/or (c) mobility (e.g., due to partial or incomplete paralysis), self-care, learning, receptive/expressive language, and/or capacity for independent self-directed behaviors (Jansma, 1999; Sherrill, 1998).
The research paradigm was qualitative descriptive using a combination of naturalistic observation (Gay, 1996) and interviewing (Fontana & Frey, 2000). The aim of naturalistic observation is to examine behavior within the normal context for which it occurs (Gay, 1996). Gay (1996) argued that, for example, "classroom behavior--behavior of the teacher, behavior of the student, and the interactions between teacher and student--can best be studied through naturalistic observation" (p. 265). Our interviews involved individual, face-to-face verbal interchange with the teachers under study. This combined approach of observing and interviewing allowed the researchers to determine and describe the beliefs and behaviors of experienced high school GPE teachers in the normal context of their inclusion practices.
Sampling: Participants and Setting
We used purposeful intensity sampling (Patton, 1990) in selecting two GPE teachers at two suburban high schools. Selection of these teachers was based on five criteria. First, the individual teachers taught in separate school districts located within a 50-mile radius of the researchers. This criterion ensured the feasibility of data collection. Second, the teachers had experience teaching GPE at the high school level. Third, both teachers had more than five years of experience teaching in their respective schools. This criterion was used to ensure that the teachers had progressed to the Maturity stage of development (Katz, 1972). At this stage "teachers begin to ask questions of themselves and their teaching that focus on their insights, perspectives, and beliefs regarding teaching and children" (Stroot, 1996, p. 342). We sampled teachers to reflect meaningfully on their beliefs about inclusion practice. Fourth, research shows that male physical educators tend to express less favorable beliefs about teaching students with disabilities than their female peers (Folsom-Meek et al., 1999). To which, we decided to examine the beliefs and behaviors of male teachers. Lastly, the teachers taught classes containing students without disabilities and at least one or more students with severe disabilities (SwSD).
More specifically, we studied two experienced high school GPE teachers. Mr. Eli and Mr. Mora (pseudonyms), both White American males, provided informed consent to participate in this study. Although classes under study had students with varied mild to severe disabilities, only SwSD were selected at random (i.e., 2 SwSD were selected at random from both teachers' classes). Specifically studied was Mr. Eli's combined class of freshman and sophomores that included 20 students without disabilities and 4 SwSD. Three of these students had severe mental retardation (MR) and a 4th student had multiple sclerosis (MS). Of these students, Juliet (a girl with severe MS) and Frank (a boy with severe MR) were randomly selected. Also studied was Mr. Mora's freshman GPE class. A total of 17 students were in this 50-min (minute) class, including 6 students with mild to severe disabilities (i.e., learning disabilities [LD], MR, and severe emotional disabilities [SED]). Of these students, Tina and Alice (both had SED) were randomly selected. …