Helping or Hovering?

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Helping or Hovering?
Effects of Instructional Assistants Proximity
On Students with Disabilities

Across Canada, increasing emphasis has been placed on including students with disabilities in regular classrooms. Typically, schools assign an Educational Assistant to support them in the classroom. Recent research into this model has pointed to potential damage to students when schools rely too much on Educational Assistants. Several studies have suggested that too much of a good thing (EA support) can have far-reaching effects. One study completed was published in the Exceptional Children magazine, by Michael F. Giangreco, et al, called “Helping or Hovering? Effects of Instructional Assistant Proximity on Students with Disabilities” (Vol. 64, No. 1, pp.7-18. 1997 The Council for Exceptional Children), the results were very informative and interesting. The purpose of the study was to present data on the effects of the proximity of instructional assistants on students with multiple disabilities who are placed in general education classrooms. The nature of these findings hold important implications for evaluating how we use, train, and supervise instructional assistants so that their work can be supportive of valued educational outcomes for students with disabilities and their peers without disabilities in general education classrooms.

This study was conducted throughout 1994-96 school years in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Utah, and Vermont. Data was collected in 16 classrooms in 11 public schools where students with multiple disabilities were educated in general education classrooms. The grade levels included preschool (with students without disabilities), kindergarten, and Grades 1,2,3,5 and 11 (Grade 11 was primarily education within integrated community and vocational settings.) Primary study participants included students with disabilities and the adults who supported their education in these general education classes. The seven female and four male students with disabilities all were identified as deaf-blind, though each had some residual hearing and or vision. The students ranged in age from four through twenty years. All of these students were reported to have significant cognitive delays and additional disabilities such as orthopaedic impairments, health impairments, and behavioural impairments.

A total of 134 educational team members participated in this study, including 123 females and 11 males. This number does not include the many special area teachers, other school personnel or volunteers, and classmates encountered in the course of the observation. Thirty-four of the team members were related services providers which included, speech/language pathologists, physical therapists, nurses, occupational therapists, intinerant teachers of the blind and visually impaired and deaf and hearing impaired, deaf-blind specialists, orientation and mobility specialist, employment specialist, and family support consultant. The remaining respondents included 20 special educators, 17 instructional assistants, 16 general education teachers, 15 parents, and 9 school administrators. In all but one classroom, one or more instructional assistants were assigned to support the student with disabilities. Four of the instructional assistants had completed a bachelor’s degree, 12 had graduated from high school, and one had not completed high school.

Data collection during this qualitative research study relied primarily on extensive classroom observations of the students with disabilities and their teams, averaging two to three hours each. Observation consisted of typical school day activities such as large and small groups with peers who did not have disabilities, individual and community-based activities, lunch, recess, class transitions, and individual therapy sessions. Field notes were collected using laptop computers by the five-person research team. Semi structured interviews were conducted with team members in an effort...
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