Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Efficacy of Teachers Training Paraprofessionals to Implement Peer Support Arrangements

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Efficacy of Teachers Training Paraprofessionals to Implement Peer Support Arrangements

Article excerpt

General education classrooms represent an especially important context for middle school students with severe disabilities (i.e., students with intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder who are eligible for alternate assessment) to build social competence and connections with peers. Outside of their involvement in general education classrooms, middle and high school students with severe disabilities typically have few opportunities to interact with their peers without disabilities (Wagner, Cadwallader, Garz, & Cameto, 2004). However, physical presence in general education classrooms alone--without well-planned and implemented supports--rarely results in improved social outcomes for students with severe disabilities. Descriptive studies have shown that without well-planned supports, adolescents with severe disabilities who attend general education classes rarely interact with their peers (e.g., Chung, Carter, & Sisco, 2012). When peer interactions do occur, they may be inappropriate or negative (Humphrey & Symes, 2011). As a result, researchers have focused growing attention on exploring how best to support the successful social and academic engagement of students with severe disabilities within inclusive classrooms (for a review, see Carter, Sisco, Chung, & Stanton-Chapman, 2010).

One promising strategy for promoting social outcomes in general education classrooms is peer support arrangements (Carter, Moss, Hoffman, Chung, & Sisco, 2011; Carter, Sisco, Melekoglu, & Kurkowski, 2007; Shukla, Kennedy, & Cushing, 1998, 1999). Peer support arrangements involve one or more peers without disabilities providing ongoing social and academic support to classmates with disabilities in a general education classroom. A paraprofessional facilitates the peer support arrangement by inviting one or more peers to provide support to a student with a severe disability, orienting peers to their new roles, and identifying specific ways they might provide needed supports. Peers might provide support in a variety of ways, depending on the characteristic of the student with a disability and the activities taking place within the classroom. Examples of common peer roles include encouraging a student to ask questions or contribute to class discussions, scribing verbal answers or responses provided through augmentative and alternative communication, supporting involvement in small-group activities, and summarizing key ideas from lectures. As students gain confidence working together, paraprofessionals shift to a facilitative role by coaching, supervising, and providing feedback to peers who provide support (Carter et al., 2011). As emphasized elsewhere in the literature (Giangreco, 2010), any paraprofessional-implemented support strategy--including peer support arrangements--should be supplemental to primary instruction as well as closely supervised by highly qualified teachers.

Four single-case design studies have shown that paraprofessionals can assist in implementing peer support arrangements in ways that improve outcomes for middle and high school students with severe disabilities by increasing peer interaction without negatively affecting academic engagement. In two studies using a reversal design, Shukla et al. (1998, 1999) investigated the effects of peer support arrangements for five middle school students with moderate or severe intellectual disability. Compared to paraprofessional direct support, both studies showed peer support arrangements resulted in more frequent and longer interactions with peers and similar or slightly increased levels of engagement in class activities. In two studies using a multiple-baseline-across-participants design, Carter and colleagues (Carter et al., 2007, 2011) studied the effects of peer support arrangements for seven high school students with moderate or severe intellectual disability. In both studies, peer support resulted in more frequent social interactions with peers compared to an exclusive reliance on adult-directed support. …

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