Research-to-Practice in Inclusive Early Childhood Education

Article excerpt

Early childhood education is changing. Inclusion is expanding the roles of both general and special educators in meeting the needs of all young children (Wolery et al., 1993).

Fortunately, over the past several years, researchers have provided helpful information for practitioners on including children with disabilities in inclusive early childhood programs. But are educators making use of this research? As Fullan & Stiegelbaur (1991) noted, translating research knowledge into classroom practice is rare in any area of education (Fullan, 1991).

This article provides links from research to practice in several key areas of inclusive early childhood education: teachers' knowledge base and beliefs; communication, physical environment, activities and materials, social interactions, and curriculum and instruction.

The Foundation: Educators' Knowledge Base and Beliefs

Both special and general educators have a responsibility to continually increase their knowledge about early childhood education-and examine their beliefs and attitudes.

Acquisition and Dissemination of Knowledge. Early childhood special educators must take responsibility for sharing information with their colleagues in general education. The changing role of the early childhood special educator includes the ability to create, advise, and provide resources for the inclusion of young children with disabilities.

These specialists also have the opportunity to read, synthesize, and disseminate valuable research to colleagues. The Council for Exceptional Children's Division of Early Childhood (DEC) recommended that early childhood special educators have the ability "to access, read, and understand current literature and research related to young children with disabilities and their families" (Task Force, 1993, p. 114). As consumers of the wealth of information published in books and journals, special educators can serve as a valuable link between research and practice (see Figure 1) while providing an avenue for collaboration and two-way exchanges of information.

Examining Beliefs and Attitudes. The research on inclusion consistently emphasizes the teacher's role in supporting positive inclusive experiences for children. Of primary importance, and an overriding factor in all the areas we discuss here, is what teachers know and believe about disabilities and teaching children with disabilities. These beliefs are a constant influence on teachers' actions and the foundation on which the other characteristics influencing positive inclusive classroom experiences are generated.

An attitude that reflects acceptance of diversity is critical to communicating the willingness to educate all children and work collaboratively with others on behalf of children. The teacher's ability to respond to the individual needs of children with disabilities by offering additional support as necessary during classroom activities reflects a positive and accepting attitude about disabilities.

Beyond attitude, however, other characteristics extracted from the research literature are valuable to the success of including young children. The first of these has to be communication. (Table 1, page 59, provides a summary of these areas, along with a sampling of references for further information.)

Communication

Manner and style of communication reflect the teacher's attitudes and beliefs about disability.

With children: When the teacher approaches a child at eye level, there is a sense that the teacher is ready to communicate with the child-not to the child. Communication may be useful in providing additional instructions for completing a task, direct instruction, or positive feedback regarding the child's accomplishments.

Wt With colleagues: Teachers with good communication skills enhance collaboration through relaying and receiving information from a variety of sources supporting the child and the educational program. …