Yes, I Can! Empowering Paraprofessionals to Teach Learning Strategies
Keller, Cassandra L., Bucholz, Jessica, Brady, Michael P., Teaching Exceptional Children
Paraprofessionals are an important part of the instruclional team for students with disabilities. As recently as 10 to 20 years ago, a paraprofessional was often "just an aide." The primary job duties for most paraprofessionals included making copies, monitoring students during lunch, and taking attendance. The Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA 2004), emphasizes the importance of learnercentered instruction to meet the needs of children with diverse abilities and learning styles. As a result of this act, the roles and responsibilities of paraprofessionals began to change. Although paraprofessionals still perform routine housekeeping and clerical tasks, they also review and reinforce lessons.
Today, their jobs look more like those of teachers: Paraprofessionals help with instructional tasks and sometimes teach small groups of students. Paraprofessionals working in special education settings sometimes spend the entire school day providing support in a broad range of academic areas to a student with disabilities. They may support students who are members of a general education class in such subjects as language arts, biology, or history. As a result of the change in job duties, paraprofessionals' job titles have changed as well. Instead of teacher aides, they have become pamprofessionals-a term that reflects a position with more professional expectations. As paraprofessionals participate in more instructional roles in the classroom, the need for professional development to assist them in performing their very important duties has increased (see box, "What Does the Literature Say About the Need for Professional Development for Paraprofessionals?").
What Types of Professional Development Do Paraprofessionals Need?
The role of the paraprofessional in classroom instruction has become so important that researchers and professional organizations have distinguished the role of the paraprofessional from that of the teacher by identifying numerous areas in which paraprofessionals should receive specialized training. Lasater, Johnson, and Filzgerald (2000) identified the following areas in which paraprofessionals should receive training:
* Roles and responsibilities.
* Learner characteristics.
* Cultural diversity.
* Data collection.
* Behavioral and instructional strategies.
* Health-related issues and procedures.
In addition, Lasater and her colleagues (2000) also emphasize the need for paraprofessionals to have the opportunity to develop effective instructional and behavior improvement strategies. Professional development should be "an ongoing process, where paraeducators can return to discuss their experiences in implementing these strategies, explore the pros and cons of various strategies, and problem solve with partner teachers and other paraeducators" (Lasater et al, p. 48). Training and development for paraprofessionals has become so vital that such professional organizations as the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC, 2003) developed standards to guide the field. CEC identified 10 areas in which paraprofessionals should have basic knowledge and skills (see box, "Paraprofessional Knowledge and Skill Areas"), and many colleges and school districts are working diligently to implement these standards.
Why Do Paraprofessionals Need Professional Development in Learning Strategies?
Lasater et al. (2000) emphasized knowledge and skills about instructional strategies and learning strategies as an important area for paraprofessional training and development. A learning strategy is any approach to completing a task that an individual uses independently. Specifically, it is a way to organize and use a set of skills to accomplish a task more effectively and efficiently in academic and nonacademic settings (Deshler & Schumaker, 1986).
Three common types of learning strategies are rehearsal, elaboration, and organization. Rehearsal strategies include repeating information over and over or highlighting information in a book. Elaboration strategies add to or extend information. Examples oi elaboration strategies include singing a song to help remember information, using mnemonic devices, and making a picture from the new information. Grouping, chunking, and outlining information are all examples of organization strategies.
Learning strategies benefit all students by helping them retain information and by improving their attitudes and their motivation for learning. These strategies especially help low-achieving students and students with disabilities, who often do not take an active role in their own learning (Torgeson, 1977). The purpose of strategy instruction is to provide students with metacognitive tools that they can use on their own to become more independent learners (Swanson & De La Paz, 1998).
Paraprofessionals who assist lowachieving students and students with disabilities work closely (frequently one-on-one or in small groups) with these students to reinforce classroom learning. They are an ideal resource for teaching and reinforcing the use of learning strategies. Because paraprofessionals often supervise students in the hallways, lunchroom, and various other social situations, they can profit from developing, teaching, and reinforcing social learning strategies for the students whom they supervise. However, paraprofessionals often do not have the necessary knowledge and skills to use learning strategies with these students.
How Do We Empower Paraprofessionak?
As part of a university/community college/district initiative to support paraprofessionals, we implemented a professional development series to teach them to use learning strategies. Because activity-based training can enhance the skills of paraprofessionals, especially when such training is combined with fieldwork (Blalock, 1991), our program combined these two elements. In a 2-day make-and-take workshop, 25 paraprofessionals learned how to develop and teach learning strategies to the students with whom they work.
On the first day, we defined learning strategies, reviewed several types, and discussed why they are important for students to learn and use. We then modeled creating an original learning strategy for a student and teaching it. We asked the paraprofessionals to identify a student or small group of students who could benefit from a strategy to learn a simple task or skill. We suggested that they consider students who repeatedly needed reminders to complete a task such as walking in line correctly or behaving appropriately in the lunchroom. Each paraprofessional then created an original strategy for the student or group of students by using the steps in a strategy we called CREATE (see box, "How to CREATE an Original Strategy").
The steps in the CREATE strategy are as follows:
* Choose a learning outcome or goal (for example, appropriate lunchroom behavior),
* Remember to task analyze. Break the task down into manageable steps.
* Eagerly put the steps in sequential order, which involves arranging the steps into a logical sequence for the students to follow.
* Always make it simple and easy to remember. In the lunchroom behavior example, the paraprofessional might choose the acronym LUNCH.
* Try to choose action words that match your title by using synonyms. The first words in each step should be action words. Paraprofessionals identify synonyms that match the title of their strategies. In the lunchroom example, for instance, "line up quietly" might be the first step of the LUNCH strategy}.
* Extend the learning by making a cue card for the student to use independently. This cue card should list all the steps and should include a catchy picture to help the students remember the strategy steps. Again using the LUNCH strategy as an example, the cue card might display a picture of a lunch tray.
After the paraprofessionals created a learning strategy, we presented the para professional s with the following model to teach learning strategies.
* Review the skills needed to perform the strategy and ensure that the students know how to perform them.
* Tell the students that they are going to learn a strategy that will help them with a new skill-for example, reading new words.
* Tell the students why the strategy is important to use, and tell them when to use it.
* Present the strategy to the students, and practice each step.
* Model how to use the strategy by using "thinkalouds," which are oral statements that describe what the person who is performing the strategy is thinking.
* Ask the students to practice using the new strategy several times, and provide feedback.
* When the students are ready, ask them to perform the skill on their own.
* Remind students to use the strategy each day.
For homework between the two training sessions, we asked the paraprofessionals to return to their classrooms, think of how often they helped their students perform the skill that their strategies addressed, and then jot that number down. Paraprofessionals then taught the strategy and encouraged their students to use it each day for the next 5 or 6 days. The paraprofessionals then counted the times they helped their students perform the skill at the end of the 5-to-6-day period and recorded that number, as well.
A week and a half after the initial workshop, the paraprofessionals returned with their homework assignments, as well as their data showing how often they helped the students perform the skill before and after implementing the strategy. The paraprofessionals then shared their original strategies with the group and described challenges that they faced while developing or implementing their ideas. As a result of their workshop participation and activities back at their schools, all the paraprofessionals created original learning strategies for their students. Several of them told inspirational stories describing how they taught their students to use the strategies that they had created.
Learning Strategies That the Paraprofessionals Created
All the paraprofessionals produced learning strategies that matched the criteria that we gave them. Table 1 highlights four of these original strategies.
One of the paraprofessionals, Shari, created a strategy with the acronym SOUND to help a sixth-grade student with developmental disabilities read unknown words.
* The first letter of Shari's strategy, S, stands for "Sound it out": the student phonetically sounded out the unknown word.
* The second step starts with O, which stands for "Open your eyes, and look at the pictures." This step asked the student to look for pictures in the reading passage to help her figure out the unknown word.
* The third letter, U, reminded the student to "Use context clues," such as rereading the sentence and selecting a word that made sense in the sentence.
* The student next used the step that begins with N, "Now chunk the word," by looking for smaller words or letter combinations to help her read the unknown word.
* Finally, the student used the step that began with the letter D, "Don't give up." This statement motivated the student to keep trying and not give up on reading the unknown word.
Before Shari taught the SOUND strategy, she had to remind her student five times during reading to sound out the word and look at the pictures. After Shari taught SOUND, she only had to remind the student once to use the strategy (see Figure 1). Shari reported that she really enjoyed teaching the SOUND strategy because it saved her from having to repeat the steps to her student. Even more important to Shari was that the student was able to use the SOUND strategy on her own.
Lucile, a paraprofessional working with an eighth-grade student with developmental delays, devised a strategy called MANNERS to help her student use proper manners in the classroom.
* The first step, "Maintain quiet," reminded the student to stay quiet while the teacher was talking.
* The next step, "Able to work," reminded the student that if he remained quiet, he would be better able to complete his work.
* The third step, "Never touch your friends' supplies," told him to keep his hands to himself and only touch his own belongings.
* The fourth step, "Need to pay attention," prompted him to look at the teacher and listen carefully.
* The fifth step, "Enjoy your class activities," told the student to have fun while learning.
* The sixth step, "Raise your hand to talk," reminded the student to raise his hand before asking the teacher for help.
* The final step "Sit properly," helped the student remember to complete his work at his desk and to sit straight with his head up.
Before she taught MANNERS, Lucile had to remind the student to be quiet and pay attention at least Io times each period. After she taught him MANNERS, she only had to remind him five times to use the strategy (see Figure 1). Lucile stated that she enjoyed teaching the strategy because she was "helping with the students' behavior and good manners."
Maribelle, a paraprofessional working with first-grade students, developed a strategy that she called SOUP to help her class use appropriate behavior in the cafeteria.
* The first step, "Stay in your seat and raise your hand," reminded the students to remain in their lunchroom seats and raise their hands if they had questions or needed assistance with their meals.
* The second step in SOUP, "Obey the adults, and follow directions, " prompted the students to follow adults' requests and directions in the cafeteria.
* The third step, "Use your inside voice," helped students remember to use a quiet voice when talking in the cafeteria.
* The final step, "Pick up after yourself," told the students to pick up their napkins, silverware, and lunch trays and bring them to the proper place.
Before Maribelle developed and taught the SOUP strategy, she had to remind the students to raise their hands, stay in their seats, and use their inside voices many times during lunch. She remarked that the class had fun with the SOUP strategy and that most of the students followed the steps. Mirabelle mentioned that the students even reminded one another to use the strategy.
Sammy, a paraprofessionai working one-on-one with a fourth-grade student with cerebral palsy, developed and taught the final example, BACKUP. She designed the BACKUP strategy to help her student remember to sit up in his wheelchair.
* The firs! letter, B, stood for "Be sure to keep your bead up" and prompted the student to hold his head up while sitting in his chair.
* The second step was "Always lean back," a reminder to lean back in his wheelchair so that he did not slide out of it.
* The third step "Clasp your hands together on your desk," asked the student to keep his hands still instead of playing with things on his desk (a habit that became increasingly annoying to students working around him).
* The fourth step, "Keep your feet on the floor," told him to keep his feet on the floor to help him maintain balance in his chair.
* The fifth letter, U, stood for "Use good posture" and was another reminder to sit up straight in the wheelchair.
* The final letter used in this strategy was P, for "Praise yourself for sitting up straight." This statement prompted the student to reward himself for using the strategy.
Before Sammy taught BACKUP, she had to remind the student to sit up, lean back, and keep his feet on the floor several times an hour. After she taught him the BACKUP strategy, he remembered to use the strategy when she showed him the cue card. Sammy stated, "After teaching him the BACKUP strategy, he was able to correct his posture by himself as soon as he saw me showing him the card."
Paraprofessionals are indispensable members of a special education team and can give significant support to the classroom teacher and to students with special needs. Providing paraprofessionals with useful professional development demonstrates to these individuals that they are valued and vital members of the instructional team. Teachers and administrators can use the steps given in the box "How to CREATE an Original Strategy" to help paraprofessionals develop and use learning strategies with their students and to empower them to take on important instructional roles with students.
Giving a strategy to a student often enables him or her to function more independently. This, in turn, can make the jobs of both teachers and paraprofessionals easier and more enjoyable. Most of the paraprofessionals at the workshop indicated that they were very enthusiastic about developing and teaching learning strategies. Their new skills and knowledge helped their students and the teachers with whom these paraprofessionals worked (see box, "How Did Teachers Respond to This Professional Development Experience?").
Paraprofessionals are a valuable resource for meeting the needs of students with special needs. Training can enable paraprofessionals to implement various educational techniques, including learning strategies, with their students. When they implement these techniques, paraprofessionals can help students expand their potential while the students become more independent learners.
What Does the Literature Say About the Need for Professional Development for Paraprofessionals?
Many paraprofessionais who assist with instructional tasks do not receive the training that they need so that they can be successful at these tasks (Killoran, Templeman, Peters, & Udeil, 2001J. Furthermore, the training that they receive is often infrequent, may not be part of a thorough professional development system, and often is not competency-based (Pickett, Likins, & Wallace, 2003).
The development of paraprofessionals has become a focus for school districts primarily because of the "highly qualified" requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB, 2002) and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Improvement Act which was reauthorized in 2004. To be highly qualified, a paraprofessional must have earned at least 60 credit hours beyond a high school diploma or pass a state-identified assessment process (Likins, 2003). Although the requirements for highly qualified status may lead people to believe that paraprofessionals are receiving training to do their jobs, that is often not the case (Johnson, Lasater, & Fitzgerald, 1997; Riggs, 2001). Paraprofessionals need professional development that does not exist just to give them something called professionaf development but that instead strives to teach them to perform their specific jobs.
Paraprofessional Knowledge and Skill Areas
The Council tor Exceptional Children (2004) has identified the following paraprofessional knowledge and skill areas:
* Foundations of special education.
* Development and characteristics of learners.
* Individual learning differences.
* Instructional strategies.
* Learning environments and social interactions.
* Instructional planning.
* Professional and ethical practice.
How to CREATC an Original Strategy
Choose a learning outcome or goal.
Remember to task analyze.
Eagerly put the steps in sequential order.
Always make it simple and easy to remember.
Try to choose action words that match your title by using synonyms.
Extend iearning by making a cue card tor students to use independently.
Several of them told inspirational stories describing how they taught their students to use the strategies that they had created.
How Did Teachers Respond to This Professional Development Experience?
Many of the paraprofessionals who participated in this initiative shared their successes during the follow-up session.
* One of the paraprofessionals, Monica, stated, "I got him [her student] to talk less during class" when asked what went well with the strategy she created. When asked what the teacher with whom she worked thought about her strategy, Monica reported that her teacher felt "great, because she did not have to stop the lesson as often as she used to because of [the student's] behavior."
* When we asked Sammy, the paraprofessional who created BACKUP, how the teacher responded to the strategy. Sammy declared, "She gave me the opportunity to try this strategy with confidence."
* We also asked Lucile, who created MANNERS, what the teacher thought about the strategy. Lucy replied that the teacher was "happy, because I'm helping with the student's behavior and good manners."
Paraprofessionals are indispensable members of a special education team and can give significant support to the classroom teacher and to students with special needs.
This article describes one initiative in which paraprofessionals were taught to develop and deliver learning strategies for the students in their classes. Each of the participants developed original learning strategies and then implemented these strategies in their own classes.
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Cassandra L. Keller, Assistant Professor. Ross College of Education, Lynn University, Boca Raton, Florida. Jessica Bucholz, Project Coordinator; Michael P. Brady, Professor & Department Chair, Department of Exceptional Student Education, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton.
Address correspondence to Cassandra L. Keller, Ross College of Education, Lynn University, 3601 North Military Trail, Boca Raton, FL 33431 (email@example.com).
TEACHING Exceptional Children, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp. 18-23.
Copyright 2007 CEC.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Yes, I Can! Empowering Paraprofessionals to Teach Learning Strategies. Contributors: Keller, Cassandra L. - Author, Bucholz, Jessica - Author, Brady, Michael P. - Author. Magazine title: Teaching Exceptional Children. Volume: 39. Issue: 3 Publication date: January/February 2007. Page number: 18+. © Council for Exceptional Children Jan/Feb 2009. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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