Teaching Information Skills to Students with Disabilities: What Works?

Article excerpt

A school library program can make an important contribution to the education of students with disabilities, especially in teaching them information skills that will give them lifelong support in accessing information that may be important to their daily living. As more students with disabilities are included in mainstream schools, school librarians need to gather information and knowledge about the most effective ways of teaching information skills to this group. Earlier literature on this topic is reviewed, and examples and approaches that were found in schools that participated in an Australian study on school library services for students with disabilities are discussed.

Background

As in other countries worldwide, many disabled children in Australia attend their local school (De Lemos, 1994; Murray, 2000a) as a result of inclusion policies in education. The school library program can contribute immensely to the education of disabled students, and one area where there can be an impact is in the acquisition of information skills. For students with disabilities, acquiring skills that will enable them to access information that affects their lives is of the utmost importance. If students are to become information-literate, access to an information skills program administered by a professional librarian is essential.

An Australian study (Murray, 2000a), which evaluated school library services for students with disabilities attending mainstream schools, investigated the acquisition of information skills by these students. This article' summarizes the literature relating to the context and findings of the study regarding the acquisition of information skills by students with disabilities. Thus the literature review considers the changing role of the special education teacher that leads to more collaboration with other teachers and professionals in their school; the development of information-skills teaching and cooperative curriculum planning and teaching (CCPT); and the teaching of information skills to students with disabilities. Data and examples from the Australian study are then discussed in order to identify possible approaches and strategies to use in teaching information skills effectively to students with disabilities.

The Transition to Inclusive Education

Developments in special education over the last two decades have had an impact on the role of special education teachers. Ware (1995) commented that "the need for collaboration between general and special educators has been recognized as the key barrier to improved delivery of services for students with special needs in mainstream settings" (p. 127). Dyson (1992) sees a need for special educators to reflect on their own practices and redefine their roles in their school. Clark, Dyson, and Millward (1995) observed that some schools in the United Kingdom are seeking to reconceptualize the role of the special educator as a "teaching and learning coordinator" who assists teachers in increasing learning outcomes for all students.

Lipsky and Gartner (1997), in discussing school reform, identify a change in the role of the teacher generally to becoming a coach and facilitator rather than an instructor, and working collaboratively with other professionals rather than in isolation. In an inclusive setting this will involve working with teacher aides, professionals, and paraprofessionals concerned with the educational provision for a student with a disability. Walther-Thomas, Bryant, and Land (1996) describe teaching and planning models that facilitate the support of disabled students in mainstream classes. They find one of the most successful approaches to be co-teaching, which is based on "ongoing classroom participation by supporting colleagues" (p. 256). It involves teachers working together as partners in planning and delivering an educational program for a particular group of students. But for co-teaching to be successful, staff development and time for planning must be provided. …