Secondary Physical Education Teachers' Beliefs and Practices in Teaching Students with Severe Disabilities: A Descriptive Analysis

Article excerpt

The purpose was to describe the beliefs and practices of general physical education (GPE) teachers at the high school level on inclusion and teaching students with severe disabilities. Participants were two experienced GPE teachers at separate suburban high schools. The research paradigm was descriptive using a combination of naturalistic observation and interviewing (Fontana & Frey, 2000; Gay, 1996). Data were collected from eighteen lessons using field notes, wireless microphones, a video camera, an observation instrument, and interviews. Descriptive statistics and thematic narratives were used to present findings. The teachers mostly verbally interacted with those students who had severe disabilities. They varied in their teaching efficacy. Three recurring themes emerged from the data: (a) wavering beliefs, complexities of inclusion, and troubled confidence. Teachers must believe they are adequately prepared, well equipped, and supported to confidently exhibit effective inclusive GPE pedagogies.


Increasingly students with disabilities are being educated in general physical education (GPE) classes. To date, however, the extant literature on the efficacy of inclusion practice in GPE is sparse. Of note, Vogler, Koranda, and Romance (2000) evaluated the efficacy of a GPE program in which a people resource model (i.e., an adapted physical education [APE] specialist) was used to provide instruction for a child with severe cerebral palsy. They reported that this model was highly effective in time engagement and management. Moreover, the qualitative nature of inclusion was one of widespread social acceptance and successful motor participation.

Still today, there is limited research on the efficacy of inclusive practices. In contrast, the extant literature abounds in information on teacher effectiveness. For instance, scholars assert that effective GPE teachers: (a) demonstrate target skills and strategies for students, (b) provide multiple exemplars, (c) use guided and independent practice (Siedentop & Tannehill, 2000), and (d) reflect to inform their practice (Tsangaridou & O'Sullivan, 1997). It is reasonable to expect GPE teachers' teaching behaviors would be similar when teaching students with and without disabilities. But for teaching students with severe disabilities there would be more emphasis on adaptations, modifications, and supports (e.g., APE specialist, peer tutors) (Houston-Wilson, Dunn, van der Mars, & McCubbin, 1997; Vogler et al., 2000).

Theoretical Framework and Purpose

In addition to examining GPE teachers' efficacy-related behaviors, it is important to examine the beliefs that serve as the precursors to their behaviors. The theory of planned behavior (TPB) posits that three accessible belief aggregates (1) lead to the formation of a behavioral intention. The intent to perform various behaviors can be predicted from attitudes (Ajzen, 2001a, 2001b). If given sufficient control over the behavior, individuals are likely to carry out their intentions when presented with opportunities to do so (Ajzen, 2001a, 2001b).

Teachers' attitudes and how they are prepared for teaching students with varied disabilities are well-studied variables (Folsom-Meek, Nearing, Groteluschen, & Krampf, 1999; Hodge, Davis, Woodard, & Sherrill, 2002). We know far less about the behaviors of practicing GPE teachers who teach students with severe disabilities. Thus, the purpose of this study was to describe the beliefs and practices of two high school GPE teachers on inclusion and teaching students with severe disabilities. Implicit within that purpose is the question of teacher efficacy in teaching students with severe disabilities. TPB (Ajzen, 1991) was the theoretical framework for this study. Two research questions guided the study:

1. What were the behaviors of experienced high school GPE teachers toward students with severe disabilities in their classes? …


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