Future Reflections                                                                                                      Fall 2001

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Include Peer Interaction Goals for Your Students with Disabilities

These three preschoolers have a teacher who encourages active peer interaction among all students in the classroom
These three preschoolers have a teacher who encourages active peer interaction among all students in the classroom.

Editor’s Note: This little article has been making the rounds. I found it in the MCIE Update, a publication of the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education, and before that it had been published in Inclusive Education Programs, Volume 5, Issue 12. It is a nice companion piece to the discussion of social skills in two other articles in this issue: “Please Pass the Manners” by Barbara Pierce, and “Developing Skills for Social Success” by Ann Hicks.

The full text of the study, “IEP-Specified Peer Interaction Needs: Accurate but Ignored,” was published in Exceptional Children, Volume 65, No. 1. Lynn M. Glezheiser and Robert M. Pruzek of the State University of New York at Albany, Margaret McLane of the College of Saint Rose, and Joel Myers of Georgia State University conducted the study.

         Providing explicit opportunities for social interaction for students with disabilities in your general education classroom can help them improve their communication levels with their peers, according to a recent study. The study evaluated how well instruction in inclusive classrooms fostered the peer interaction skills of students with disabilities.

The study had several purposes. One was to determine if social skill levels of students with disabilities were correctly assessed before their goals for social competence were written into their IEPs. The second goal was to evaluate teaching practices that may enhance peer interactions for the students and how they were used. The study also sought to find which classroom interventions worked best to foster peer interactions, and whether teachers in inclusive setting used teaching activities that worked toward peer intervention IEP goals.

Results

According to this study, some basic factors seems to surround the success and failure of students with disabilities to make peer connections in inclusive settings. Teachers and the rest of the IEP team can consider several measures to ensure better social interaction for students with disabilities:

1. Minimize the presence of one-to-one aides.

This does not mean eliminate them entirely, the researchers stressed. Rather, if a student requires a one-to-one aide, it is up to the student’s teachers to find activities that the students can participate in without the aide. Enlist the aide and especially the student’s family members to figure out what school activities the student is most comfortable doing alone. For example, does the student love music, or is he or she capable of participating in group music class independently, or with another student’s assistance? Does the student have many friends to meet with during lunch period? If so, it might be possible to give the student time without the aide, to interact on his or her peers’ level. In many instances, the presence of an aide with a student with disabilities hindered other students for getting to know the student better, the study concluded.

2. Review students’ IEPs for their goals on social interaction.

Every student will have different goals for their social growth and peer interactions. Review carefully what types of social interaction goals are spelled out on each IEP. Some students might be outgoing, but require more social settings to interact with their peers. Some students have access to peer group interaction often, but are more introverted or withdrawn, and have to be encouraged to participate. These details should be identified in each student’s IEP, so that reaching social interaction goals is easier.

3. Remember that it is participation in activities, not just a presence in the general classroom, which creates peer interaction.

Many students whose IEPs identified peer interaction needs didn’t necessarily receive greater access to teaching activities that afforded the interaction, the study found. Make it a point to include students, who show a greater need for peer interaction, in your classroom activities which foster group work. Don’t create a “special treatment” for students with disabilities, like special seating arrangements or letting those students do their work privately, when you engage the class in a group work opportunity. If the student is isolated, yet doing the same activity as the other students in the class, it does not mean he or she is receiving the peer benefits your class activity offers.

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