Yes, I Can! Empowering Paraprofessionals to Teach Learning Strategies

Article excerpt

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. …