Researchers Awarded $1.4M Grant Supporting Teachers in Their Work with Students with Disabilities

Audrey Breen

The research team is developing a set of resources to help teachers create positive engagement and academic achievement for K-12 students with disabilities.

With $1.4M from the Institute for Education Sciences’ National Center for Special Education Research, Michael Kennedy, associate professor at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education and Human Development, is leading a team of researchers to develop a set of resources for teacher preparation programs. The project aims to expand pre-service teachers’ ability to effectively address student behavior problems, with a particular focus on students with disabilities.

Many general and special education teachers begin their teaching careers without adequate preparation to support the behavior-related needs of all students. These teachers are entering the profession at a time when almost all classrooms across the country include students with identified disabilities.

“There are a lot of complexities in addressing unwanted student behavior, and it leads to a heavy load on the shoulders of teachers,” said Kennedy. “Some students may display behaviors that are merely disruptive, for example, calling out answers and getting out of their seat at inappropriate times. Others may engage in more dangerous behaviors, such as hitting other students or teachers. Teachers need help in establishing and maintaining a positive and respectful learning environment that prevents or at least minimizes these types of challenging behaviors before they occur.”

According to Kennedy, newly minted teachers can arrive in the classroom unprepared for many reasons, including limited access to coursework during teacher training. In addition, that limited coursework may be disconnected from students’ training experience(s).

The research team also includes Curry School professors Catherine Bradshaw and Peter Youngs, Curry School alumna Shanna Hirsch, an assistant professor at Clemson University, and Sarah Nagro, an assistant professor at George Mason University. With the grant funding, the team will develop and test a multimedia, multicomponent instructional approach called Feedback, Reflection and Multimedia to Teach Evidence-Based Practices for Effective Classroom Management, or FRaME.

The FRaME project is intended to provide teacher education faculty with a scalable and sustainable process for helping future teachers successfully meet the various behavioral needs of students with and without disabilities.

“Teachers need a toolkit of evidence-based practices to respond to unwanted behaviors that are also sensitive to students’ unique needs based on their disability and/or individual background,” said Kennedy. “No one practice will address the challenging behavior in every situation. But through FRaME, teachers can develop a deeper understanding of the range of evidence-based practices that might be appropriate to address the concern, and how to use information about the student and the situation to make an informed choice about how to react.”

FRaME will include three core components to support this level of competency in new teachers. First, it will use multimedia vignettes to promote key practices. Kennedy and colleagues will develop a series of Content Acquisition Podcasts with Embedded Modeling Videos (CAP-TVs) covering evidence-based practices. After watching CAP-TVs, preservice teachers will teach lessons incorporating key practices learned from the CAP-TVs then receive data-driven coaching using the Classroom Teaching (CT) Scan.

The CT Scan is an observation tool that allows an observer to meticulously document each move made by the teacher and generate a data-driven record of the lesson free of quality scores or other rankings. Finally, preservice teachers will use data from the CT Scan to complete an innovative approach to self-reflection following teaching. The focus of the self-reflections is on the extent to which the evidence-based practices were implemented with fidelity and the dosage needed to support student needs. The team will test FRaME in teacher preparation programs with teacher candidates drawn from 35 universities around the country. 

“Our aim is for this intervention sequence to help teachers create positive engagement and academic achievement for K-12 students with disabilities,” Kennedy said.

The study will begin this fall and will run for four years.