The purpose of this study was to compare the perceptions of challenging behavior in preservice physical educators following a five-week practicum experience working at an institution that serves learners with severe disabilities. Because many undergraduate physical education programs utilize contact experiences, the impact of working with children who have disabilities on teacher perceptions needs to be studied. In this regard the nature of perceptions found in preservice teachers following contact with persons who have severe disabilities is of interest. The interest lies in what are believed to be contrasting perceptions that may affect a teacher's ability to work with a child who is aggressive or displays inappropriate stereotypical behaviors during physical education programming. The perspectives of interest refer to biomedical (behaviors of the child are related to his/her disability) and learned positive (learned behaviors aimed at gaining something desirable). In this initial investigation of preservice teacher perceptions, three groups were studied and significant differences were noted in the learned positive behavior subscale (Hastings, 1997a) between an experimental group, which received training/field experience, and a control group that received no training or field experiences (F(2, 38) = 3.32, p <.05, [Eta.sup.2] = .15). Furthermore, significant group differences were found in the biomedical subscale (Hastings, 1997a) between a second comparison group that received field experiences without training and the control group that received no field or training (F(2, 38) = 5.16, p = .01, [Eta.sup.2] =.21).
One assumption when providing pre-service physical educators contact experiences with individuals with disabilities is that future teachers develop positive perceptions and/or attitudes towards learners with disabilities. Positive perceptions refer to those feelings that learners with disabilities are able to learn rather than perceptions that challenging behaviors are solely related to disability factors and therefore cannot be eliminated. For the purpose of the current study it is important to operationally definition "challenging behaviors". Challenging behaviors refer to any number of behaviors that can affect instruction in physical education such as aggression, self-injury, and stereotyped actions (Hastings, 1997b). In pre-service teachers, perception development is important since initial ideas towards learners with disabilities may form lasting opinions affecting future programming in either a positive or negative way. This is especially important in the curricular area of physical education where most states fail to require advanced training for adapted physical educators (beyond that required for a regular physical educator) (Kelly, 1995).
Perceptions of challenging behavior refer to rationales that pre-service educators provide for why a learner with a disability behaves in a certain way. Rationales can range from disability related factors (referred to as biomedical), where a child behaves a certain way because he or she cannot help it; to a child behaving a certain way because he or she has learned that this challenging behavior will lead to a desired outcome (referred to as learned positive) (Hastings, 1997a). This later rationale for inappropriate behavior is related to teacher behaviors and specifically teacher control of behavior. If a child can learn an inappropriate manner to gain a desired effect, he or she can learn a more appropriate way to act (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 1987). Furthermore, an important aspect for teacher educators is that training for future program providers may compliment practicum experiences and lead to positive perceptions such as learned positive rationales versus simple field hours without training that may lead to negative perceptions towards learners with disabilities (all behavior is related to biomedical factors alone) if the experience is tainted with problems. …