Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Examining the Schoolwide "Spread" of Research-Based Practices

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Examining the Schoolwide "Spread" of Research-Based Practices

Article excerpt

Abstract. We investigated what had transpired in two elementary schools four years after we first began supporting one of the schools' efforts to restructure its special education program and three years after we provided a year-long professional development program to eight elementary and special education teachers. We had continued providing ongoing informal support during the years since, and wished to determine the extent to which the practices had "spread" to other teachers in our original school and a second school. Furthermore, we wished to learn why teachers who had not been a part of the original professional development program chose to learn and sustain use of the practices. A secondary interest was to discern how and why teachers adapted the practices. We found that 93% of the 98 teachers in the two schools had tried at least one of the practices and more than half continued to use one or more of the practices on a regular basis.

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New programs or innovations that are implemented well eventually are regarded as a natural part of practitioners' repertoire of professional skills. They are also built into an organization's normal structure and practices. They become used almost out of habit. This, in turn, opens the door for still further learning, continued sharing, and routine upgrading of conceptual, and craft skills. (Guskey, 2000, p. 38)

Over the last few decades, numerous instructional practices have been designed for heterogeneous classrooms that include students with disabilities (Cunningham & Cunningham, 1992; Cunningham & Hall, 1994a, 1994b; Delquadri, Greenwood, Whorton, Carta, & Hall, 1986; Klingner, Vaughn, & Schumm, 1998; Mathes & Fuchs, 1993). Although these practices have been implemented with positive outcomes for students, the extent to which they have been sustained is an ongoing concern. Much discussion has focused on the presumed failure of the field of special education to "bridge the gap" between research and practice (Abbott, Walton, Tapia, & Greenwood, 1999; Carnine, 1997; Gersten, Vaughn, Deshler, & Schiller, 1997; Kauffman, 1993; Malouf & Schiller, 1995; National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1999; Richardson, 1996; Stanovich & Stanovich, 1997). Multiple explanations for this research-to-practice gap have been proposed, including that (a) the traditional "sit and get" professional development model does not lead directly to classroom implementation; (b) a top-down or linear research model does not sufficiently involve practitioners; (c) researchers have viewed teachers as "consumers" of their work rather than as "co-producers"; and (d) education as a field is still struggling to link new research knowledge to effective professional development systems whose criteria for success is measurable change in classroom practice and enhanced student outcomes (Abbot et al., 1999; National Joint Committee on Learning Disabilities, 1999).

Numerous suggestions have been offered for how the research-to-practice gap can be bridged. Many of these recommendations focus on professional development. A critical element in successful professional development models seems to be collaboration, defined as researchers working with practitioners to address their questions and needs, involving them in the research process, and providing support and feedback (Billups, 1997; Carnine, 1997; Gersten et al., 1997; Lloyd, Weintraub, & Safer, 1997; Sydoriak & Fields, 1997; Zahorik, 1984). Another critical element appears to be the length of time teachers are involved in learning a new instructional practice. More than a decade ago, Hord, Rutherford, Huling-Austin, and Fall (1987) noted that "one of the most common and serious mistakes made by ... leaders of a change process is to presume that once an innovation has been introduced and initial training has been completed the intended users (teachers) will put the innovation into practice" (p. …

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