Making a Difference
Special Education program highlighted at Utah Consortium for Special Education
McKay School special education students learn to work with children dealing with difficulties such as learning disabilities, physical disabilities, and cognitive delays. Counseling Psychology and Special Education faculty members Michelle Marchant and Darlene Anderson recently presented at the Utah Consortium for Special Education. The McKay School of Education was invited to share how special education teachers are trained at BYU.
The consortia are quarterly meetings that bring together higher education, local districts, and state officials involved in the field of special education to discuss Utah’s critical issues. The meetings typically focus on what is going on in the schools. Marchant said school functions are important, “but there has to be that piece of preservice training and that’s what universities do.”
At the meeting, Marchant and Anderson presented data from a summer school program the McKay School supports in the Nebo and Alpine school districts. The program offers teacher candidates practicum experience working with students with mild to moderate and severe disabilities. The six week summer school program puts kids who need extra help into smaller group settings.
During the practicum, teacher candidates learn how to teach reading, math, social skills, and other skills, as well as how to manage behavior in the classroom for students with a variety of individual needs. The data Marchant and Anderson shared showed the children’s reading and math scores improved nearly 53 percent from the beginning to the end of the program.
“[It’s] pretty amazing if you think about it; that’s only six weeks and you see a significant improvement in their scores,” Marchant said. “We shared these data because the state wants to see the impact on kids, and what we’re saying is that what we are doing impacts kids, how we are training teachers makes a difference for kids, and we want to keep supporting that effort.”
Marchant attributes part of the program’s success to how teacher candidates deliver content to special education students. The McKay School trains teacher candidates in direct instruction, which is a very scripted, deliberate, and repetitive way of teaching that breaks work down into smaller, more guided tasks. “Kids with special needs struggle with exploratory, discovery type learning,” Marchant said. “They need a lot of guided direction in order to be successful.”
The special education program offers many other opportunities for students to get practical experience in schools. Teacher candidates interact with students in schools from their very first introduction to special education class. The special education faculty personally supervises their students in the school setting. “We want to help translate whatever we teach in the classroom into practice.”
July 10, 2012