Advancing collaboration among prospective teachers and speech language therapists to improve children's language and early literacy outcomes
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Ensuring teacher and speech and language therapists (SLTs) are prepared to work collaboratively together is an important goal towards meeting the diverse language and literacy learning needs of children. Inter-professional education (IPE) is a potentially effective approach for preparing prospective teachers and SLTs for this challenging task. Despite the potential benefits of IPE, investigation of applications for student SLTs and student teachers are scarce. The series of five studies in this thesis examined student SLTs’ and student teachers’ readiness for collaboration and investigated the effectiveness of novel IPE interventions designed to enhance these prospective professionals’ shared competencies for collaborative language and literacy instruction. The first study examined various aspects of student teachers’ and student SLTs’ collaborative competencies. An online survey was completed by 58 student primary school teachers and 37 student SLTs from multiple universities across New Zealand who were near completion of their professional study. The results indicated that these groups possessed limited understanding of each other’s expertise areas in literacy curriculum and spoken language concepts. Both groups also demonstrated limited understanding of linguistic concepts denoting the relationship between spoken and written language. Participants demonstrated an emerging sense of inter-dependent co-working as evidenced by acceptance of classroom-based co-work among SLTs and teachers. They were, however, less accepting of co-working models which demand a greater degree of collaboration between SLTs and teachers. Both groups also reported minimal experience with SLT-teacher collaboration during their pre-service education. The data suggested that IPE with a focus on children’s early literacy learning was warranted for student teachers and student SLTs. The second study investigated the efficacy of a 3-hour, course-based IPE initiative focused on explicit instruction in the language skills that underpin early reading and spelling acquisition. The combined programme incorporated student teachers and student SLTs working together on case-based instructional planning supplemented with structured opportunities for the groups to share their respective expertise in curriculum and linguistic knowledge. Student teachers (n=18) and student SLTs (n=27) were randomly assigned to this combined intervention or a comparison intervention that replaced the structured opportunities to share curriculum and linguistic knowledge with spending time together focused on non-language/literacy based activities. Before-and-after comparisons indicated that only the students in the combined condition increased their linguistic/curricular knowledge (p<0.05). However, neither of the interventions improved students’ case-based instructional planning for children’s literacy learning over and above what they could achieve working individually. In the third study, ten student SLTs and nine student teachers who participated in the course-based IPE were interviewed to examine their perceptions of the IPE. An inductive thematic analysis of interview data revealed that IPE participants developed a preliminary understanding of each other’s professional roles and gained an appreciation of the importance of inter-professional knowledge for collaborative co-working. Overall, participants valued the inter-professional interactions though some participants reported interactive learning was limited by students not yet developing adequate understanding of their own profession-specific expertise and by perceived differences in status. Interview analysis also revealed that students required more time to develop depth of understanding of each other’s professional roles and that embedding IPE into practical experience may enhance inter-professional learning. The results thus supported further investigation into the impact of IPE embedded within students’ professional practice placements. The fourth study employed a multiple case study design to examine the impact of placement-based IPE in which student SLTs (n=4) were paired with student teachers (n=4) to participate in shared professional practice placements in junior school classrooms. Student pairs co-worked to provide classroom-based instruction to foster children’s speech and phonological awareness development over a 3-week period. An inductive thematic analysis of interviews conducted with participants after the IPE was employed to explore their development of competencies in collaborative practice. Change in inter-disciplinary knowledge and perceptions over the IPE was evaluated via survey to further explore development of collaborative competencies. Integration of qualitative and quantitative findings suggested that most participants began to develop four broad areas of collaborative competency: understanding of professional roles and expertise, communication skills to support shared decision making, inter-dependency in supporting children’s learning, and flexibility to implement alternative instructional practices. Interview analysis also revealed factors related to the facilitators and learning contexts that supported and/or limited the collaboration between participants. The fifth study examined the impact of the placement-based IPE on the speech, phonological awareness and early literacy skills of the children with whom each of the four student pairs instructed. A multiple single-subject design with repeated measures was employed to examine the impact of the IPE on children’s development. Seven children who demonstrated difficulties with speech and/or phonological awareness participated in 3 weeks of classroom-based instruction, delivered by student SLT-teacher pairs, to target these areas of difficulty. Four out of seven children (who were each instructed by a different student pair) improved on at least one of the two goal areas. More specifically, two out of six children improved their production of trained and untrained speech targets. Three out of seven children also improved on phoneme segmentation of trained and untrained words. Further, these children’s improvement in phoneme awareness was also accompanied by improved letter-sound knowledge and spelling. Moreover, three out of the four children who demonstrated improved speech and/or phoneme awareness received a collaborative approach to instruction as suggested by student professionals’ instructional logs and the results presented in Study 4. The findings further supported the effectiveness of the placement-based IPE in that most of the students could learn to establish classroom-based collaboration which positively impacted children’s speech and early literacy outcomes. The findings from this thesis suggest a need for coordinated reform of the professional study of SLTs and teachers to ensure these professional groups develop shared competencies for collaborative instruction in children’s language and literacy learning. The potential benefits of IPE demonstrated in this thesis challenge the current practice of SLTs and teachers being educated in professional siloes which likely restrict the development of collaborative-ready practitioners. Given the novelty of IPE for prospective SLTs and teachers, improvements to the design of IPE models utilised in this thesis and directions for further research are also emphasised.