This qualitative study examines the impact
of a ten-week adapted physical activity (APA) program on the attitudes of 64
Irish pre-service teachers (PSTs) towards teaching children with disabilities
(CWD) in the physical education setting. Aiming to inform teacher education
practice to insure that Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programming implement in
Ireland is both comprehensive and impactful; researchers strive to deepen the
inclusionary vision of Ireland’s educational structure.
Participants included 64 pre-service
teachers (PSTs; ages 19-25) in their 3rd year of a physical
education initial teacher education (PE-ITE) program at a university within
Ireland. PSTs assisted 45 children and young adults (ages 5 to 21) with various
disabilities, as they participated in a weekly 1-hour APA programme. Over the
course of ten weeks, children engaged in different physical activities such as
dance, games, and health-related activity (HRA).
Data was collected from the PSTs through weekly
reflective logs completed over the course of the programme. Through these logs,
PSTs were to address two specific questions relating to their attitudes: ‘Am I
changing?’ And ‘What is causing me to change? PSTs then constructed one final
reflection exploring if and how attitudes towards children with disabilities
may have or have not changed as a result of participating in the APA programme.
Data was analyzed qualitatively through reading and rereading the
data sources identifying similarities and differences, themes, and patterns. Results from this analysis uncovered
three themes under each of the two questions posed. Themes for ‘change’ included
a) increased comfort b) increased confidence, and c) increased expectations.
Themes for ‘causation’ of aforementioned changes included a) increased
understanding, b) improved communication, and c) opportunities for observation.
Overall reflections produced by each PST at the end of their ten-week
experience express their summary of the experience. The overall reflections
showed positive change in attitude toward working with students with
disabilities and an increase in PSTs’ levels of confidence in their skills as
physical educators working with children with disabilities.
The results of this research supports the
continued implementation and evolution of this current program in its’ efforts
to expose Irish pre-service teachers to children with disabilities. Changes in
attitude and linkage to elements of programming and experience that influenced them
have been recorded through the reflections of the third year PSTs and
henceforth, teacher education best practice should utilize these themes to
inform teacher education programming.