Enabling teachers to solve learning & behavior problems

Elementary schools have various strategies for helping teachers work with students who are having learning or behavior problems.

Marleen C. Pugach (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and Lawrence J. Johnson (University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa) studied the types of interventions schools use before referrals are made to special education. They found that these “prereferral strategies” often involve committees made up of administrators and specialists who assume responsibility for those children having difficulty. These committees then direct the teacher in handling the problem. In contrast to this type of approach, Pugach and Johnson advocate a strategy which enables teachers to solve many of the learning and behavior problems themselves.

Pugach and Johnson believe that prereferral intervention is the responsibility of the regular education staff since such intervention improves the quality of regular education for students. Effective intervention at this stage can be a means to reduce or limit the number of students needing special education. To be successful, prereferral intervention should draw on the expertise of teachers. With the help of their colleagues, teachers are capable of analyzing problems in their classrooms.

Pugach and Johnson state that all professionals within a school need to view themselves as consultants for one another. Currently, special educators and other specialists generally function as consultants for regular education teachers. Most existing prereferral committees do not take full advantage of teacher expertise.

In order to develop and utilize their problem-solving skills, Pugach and Johnson submit that teachers need a trusting and supportive environment in which to question their management and instructional practices. Teacher-directed teams and teacher-to-teacher collaboration will lead teachers to assume more responsibility for solving learning and behavior problems. However, in order to achieve this, organizational conditions in schools need to allow time for teachers to engage in this reflective process and to collaborate with their peers.

In conclusion, Pugach and Johnson suggest that new teams be formed by each teacher as he/she experiences a problem. The core team might consist of only the principal and the referring teacher, whose first task is to decide which school personnel would be most helpful in solving a particular problem. Problems and their solutions would remain the responsibility of the referring teacher.

“Prereferral Interventions: Progress, Problems and Challenges” Exceptional Children, Nov. 1989, Volume 56, No. 3, p. 217-226.

Published in ERN January/February 1990 Volume 3 Number 1

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