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Remembering Memories about Students with Disabilities

Article excerpt

Preservice general education classroom teachers in an inclusion course were asked to describe their own earliest memories of students with disabilities in school. Substantial literature links early memories to subsequent thoughts and attitudes. Subjects also completed the Opinions Relative to Integration of Students with Disabilities attitude scale, and memories were studied for differences between those who scored higher and lower on this attitude scale. Differences are reported in the themes of initial reactions to the student with a disability, types of assistance needed by that student, types of contact they had with that student, explanation of the disability provided, and specific characteristics subjects described. Provisions for using these memories in the inclusion course are provided.

Early memories are recognized for their potential of having life-long impacts on the ones remembering them. It is likely, then, that effects of early memories about special education students can be seen as the rememberer gets older. In fact, that effect may well have continuing influence on prospective teachers and their current feelings about students with disabilities. This can be shown in prospective teachers' attitudes toward including students with disabilities in their own classrooms in the future.

Although many universities now include a course preparing future general education teachers for the students with disabilities who will be included in their classrooms, there has been surprisingly little investigation of those courses. These courses do serve essential purposes in future teachers' preparation (Martinez, 2003). However, the evidence for their effect is scant. There are mixed views on how even to design the courses (Garriott, Miller, & Snyder, 2003). Courses must be ap propriately designed to prepare new teachers for what, to them, may be roles previously not thought of (Martinez, 2003; Van Laarhaven, Munk, Bosma, & Rouse, 2007). The research one does find for these courses usually focuses on attitudes and attitude change (Richards & Clough, 2004). It is presumed that teachers with more positive attitudes toward inclusion will be more receptive to having these students in their classrooms (Sharma, Forlin, & Loreman, 2008). The limited research which has been conducted has shown these students' initial attitudes to be negative (Garriott, Miller, & Snyder). Although some studies have shown such courses to have positive effects on attitude (Shade & Stewart, 2001), other studies have not shown that effect (Martinez), or, even, results have been decreases in attitude (Van Laarhaven, Munk, Bosma, & Rouse, 2007).

There has been no investigation of where these prospective teachers' attitudes come from. Although they may be based on the individuals' own experiences, that is not known, for certain. A way to inquire about the sources of their attitudes could be to ask these prospective teachers to search their own memories about special education students-- students with disabilities--in their own school experiences.

Early memories, or early recollections, and their lingering effects have long been studied. Adler (1931) believed that early recollections reflected the inner-consistency that connects all aspects of behavior (Elliott, Amerikaner,& Swank, 1987; Kasler, & Nevo, 2005). Adler (1980, 74) noted: "Events remembered from childhood must be very near to the main interest of the individual; and if we know his [sic] main interest, we know his goal and his style of life." He pointed out that there could be effects even on decisions about vocation. Further, studies have revealed relationships between early recollections and a variety of personality characteristics (Barrett, 1983). That is, early memories can be predictors of later interpersonal behavior.

Early memories which can be collected are just that--memories as the rememberer relates them. …