Paraeducators in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Education

Appl, D. (2006). First-year early childhood special education teachers and their assistants: “Teaching along with her.” Teaching Exceptional Children. 38, 34-40.

Cathy, Kelly, and Lisa are early childhood special education (ECSE) teachers in inclusive, classroom-based programs. Each of them worked with assistant teachers during their first year as ECSE teachers, and that experience resulted in difficulties of varying degrees. For Cathy, those difficulties were most profound. During her first months of teaching, she expressed feelings of isolation in spite of having an assistant in her classroom. In a telephone interview (11/01/97), she said, “I’m by myself . . . It’s like [I] don’t have anyone to talk to.” When asked about her assistant, she replied, “When I am talking to her, I’m usually trying to explain things, not to get suggestions.”

Banerjee, R., Chopra, R. V., DiPalma, G. (2017). Early intervention paraprofessional standards: development and field validation. Journal of Early Intervention, 39(4), 359-370.

Personnel standards are the foundations for how states and nations approve a program, engage in systemic assessment, and provide effective professional development to its early childhood professionals. However, despite the extensive use of paraprofessionals in early intervention/early childhood special education programs, there is a lack of national- and state-level guidance for training paraprofessionals. This article presents the process followed for development and validation of statewide personnel standards for paraprofessionals who work in early intervention settings and the results of this validation study. The development and validation process for these new knowledge and skills competencies followed the process used by Division for Early Childhood and the Council for Exceptional Children for development and validation of personnel standards and K-12 special education paraeducator professional development standards. Challenges, limitations, and future directions are discussed.

Bolton, J., & Mayer, M. D. (2008). Promoting the generalization of paraprofessional discrete trial teaching skills. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 23 (2), 103-111.

This study investigated the effectiveness of a brief staff training procedure aimed at promoting the generalization of accurate implementation of discrete trial instruction from the training environment to the teaching environment. Three bachelor’s-level paraprofessionals received classroom training using a training package that included didactic instruction, modeling, general case instruction, and practice with specific performance feedback. Participants were required to meet performance criteria of 98% accuracy or better to exit training. After successfully completing the training program, participants were followed into the treatment environment and shown to maintain a high level of treatment integrity in implementing varied discrete trial programs with children in early intervention and school-age services for periods of up to 23 weeks.

Chopra, R., Banerjee, R., DiPalma, G., Merrill, L., & Ferguson, A. (2013). Colorado’s model for preparing paraprofessionals for rural early intervention programs. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 32 (1), 20-28.

Under the supervision of a licensed early intervention provider, paraprofessionals play an indispensable role in the implementation of home and community-based services to infants and toddlers with developmental delays or disabilities and their families in Colorado. This article shares an example of a statewide model of preparation and training for early intervention paraprofessionals. The outcomes achieved, lessons learned and next steps in the implementation of the model are also presented.

Douglas, S. N., Light, J. C., McNaughton, D. B (2013). Teaching paraeducators to support the communication of young children with complex communication needs. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 33(2), 91-101.

Paraeducators are frequent communication partners for young children with complex communication needs (CCN) in early childhood settings. This study examined the impact of instruction to paraeducators in two communication interaction strategies (IPLAN - Identify activities for communication, Provide means for communication, Locate and provide vocabulary, Arrange environment, use iNteraction strategies and MORE - Model AAC, Offer opportunities for communication, Respond to communication, Extend communication) on the number of communication opportunities provided by paraeducators during play activities with young children with CCN. Results of the study provide evidence that after 2 hr of one-on-one training, paraeducators increased the number of communication opportunities they provided for children with CCN, and children with CCN took an increased number of communication turns. In addition, paraeducators reported that they found the training beneficial, and the supervising teachers noted improvements in the communication support provided by the paraeducators. Limitations and future research directions are discussed.

Douglas, S. N., McNaughton, D. B, Light, J. C. (2014). Online training for paraeducators to support the communication of young children. Journal of Early Intervention, 35(3), 223-242.

Paraeducators are frequent sources of support for young children with disabilities in early childhood settings. However, they typically have limited training in providing communication opportunities for children with complex communication needs (CCN). The impact was investigated of providing training in a communication interaction strategy to three paraeducators working with young children with diagnoses of autism and developmental delay. The training included interactive online components as well as opportunities to use and ask questions about the strategy, and reflection on strategy use. After participating in the training activities, the paraeducators were observed to provide a greater number of appropriate communication opportunities during play interactions with the young children. The children with CCN also showed increases in the number of communication acts performed. In addition, paraeducator responses (including comments on child behaviors) increased. Results of social validity and generalization measures are reported. Limitations of the study are also discussed.

Fiechtl B. J., Hager, K. D. (2019). A statewide early childhood alternative teacher preparation program delivered via synchronous video conference. Rural Special Education Quarterly, 38(4) 210–216.

This article describes a statewide online alternative teacher preparation program in early childhood special education. The history and evolution of the program is explained along with the programmatic changes that resulted from working with noncertified teachers with a wide variety of backgrounds in both rural and urban districts. Challenges and solutions for providing coursework and supervision via distance to all areas of a state will be presented.

Gray C. McCloy, S., Dunbar, C. (2007). Added value or a familiar face?: the impact of learning support assistants on young readers. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 5(3), 285-300.

As the number of learning support assistants (also referred to as classroom assistants, teaching aides, auxiliary support and paraeducators) employed in the primary sector continues to increase, questions concerning the contribution they make to raising standards of attainment remain to be answered. This article reports evidence from a small-scale study undertaken to evaluate the impact learning support assistants have on the reading attainment of young children taught in schools using a whole class systematic phonics approach. A matched sample test/retest approach was employed to examine differences in the reading performance of pupils who did and did not receive additional reading support. Whilst overall, pupils exposed to the whole class systematic phonics approach showed a significant improvement in reading performance, no added value was noted for pupils receiving learning support assistance. On the contrary, the results suggest that learning support may have a detrimental impact on lower ability readers. Contradictions between the empirical findings and the views of teachers are discussed here.

Hughes M. T., Valle-Riestra, D. M. (2008). Responsibilities, preparedness, and job satisfaction of paraprofessionals working with young children with disabilities. International Journal of Early Years Education, 16(2), 163-173.

To support teachers with their classroom responsibilities, schools have increasingly turned to paraprofessionals for assistance, with the largest numbers of paraprofessionals employed in the field of special education. Owing to this important role that paraprofessionals now perform in the education of children with disabilities in the USA, we set out to investigate the responsibilities that paraprofessionals working with young children with disabilities had. We were also interested in identifying how paraprofessionals and the teachers with whom they work alongside perceived the paraprofessionals’ level of preparedness for their roles and their job satisfaction. Fifty-two paraprofessionals and 59 teachers of young children with disabilities participated in the study. Overall, both paraprofessionals and teachers indicated that paraprofessionals were generally well prepared for activities they frequently engaged in and both viewed themselves as collaborative members of an educational team.

Inbar-Furst, H., Douglas, S. N., Meadan, M. (2020). Promoting caregiver coaching practices within early intervention: reflection and feedback. Early Childhood Education Journal, 48,(1), 21-27.

Family-centered practices are a hallmark of early intervention (EI). Early intervention service providers are expected to engage in practices that emphasize family strengths, promote family choice and control, and develop collaborative relationships between professionals and families. In 2014 the Division for Early Childhood of the Council for Exceptional Children released a series of revised recommended practices for the field of EI and early childhood special education. The seven topic strands include: assessment, environment, family, instruction, interaction, teaming and collaboration, and transition. This paper addresses practices under multiple topic strands including instruction and family. The purpose of this manuscript is to present strategies that: (a) encourage caregiver reflection—a critical, yet challenging, component of coaching, (b) guide service providers in providing feedback to the caregiver, and (c) enhance service providers use of self-reflection.

Killoran J., Templeman, T. P., Peters, J., & Udell, T. (2001). Identifying paraprofessional competencies for early intervention and early childhood special education. Teaching Exceptional Children, 31(1), 68-73.

This article identifies competencies needed by paraprofessionals working in early childhood special education including ways to document various mastery levels. It describes use of the competencies in Oregon’s early childhood special education personnel development program. It explains the process used to identify needed competencies and also reports on a survey of 64 paraprofessionals of their perceived training needs. (Contains references.) (DB)

Lane, K.L., Fletcher, T., Carter, E., Dejud, & Delorenzo, J. (2007). Paraprofessional-led phonological awareness training with youngsters at-risk for reading and behavioral concerns. Remedial and Special Education, 28 (5), 266-276.

This study examined the efficacy of a paraprofessional-led supplemental early intervention for first-grade students with poor early literacy skills and behavioral concerns. The goal was to determine if (a) the relatively brief intervention was effective in improving phonological skills, and (b) improvements in academic skills would be accompanied by behavioral and social improvements. The results indicated that the students in the treatment condition experienced significant, lasting increases in phonological awareness and moderate improvement in word attack skills. However, significant collateral effects on social and behavioral performance were not observed. Limitations and directions for future investigation are offered.

Major, S.O., Seabra-Santos, M.J., Gaspar, M.F. (2018). Preschool teachers and classroom aides: Same context, similar perceptions of children’s behaviors? Psychology in the Schools, 55(7), 801-814.

This study explored the correspondence and differences between school staff perceptions of preschool children’s social skills and behavior problems. One hundred preschoolers were assessed by 14 pairs of teachers and classroom aides with the Preschool and Kindergarten Behavior Scales – 2nd Edition (PKBS‐2 Portuguese version). Indexes of agreement and disagreement were calculated. Risk levels and item analyses of PKBS‐2 scores according to both informants’ ratings were compared. A higher level of agreement was obtained for social skills scores than for behavior problems (mean correlation of .62). No statistically significant differences between informants were obtained for the risk levels, and item analyses revealed a similar pattern of behaviors that were most and least rated by both informants. Results indicate that the classroom aides’ perspective on preschool assessment represents a reliable input, which justifies that they network with teachers in addressing preschoolers’ social‐emotional and behavioral challenges.

Nelson J.R. Sanders, E.A., Gonzalez, J (2009). The efficacy of supplemental early literacy instruction by community-based tutors for preschoolers enrolled in Head Start. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 3(1), 1-25.

The purpose of the current study was to test the efficacy of a supplemental phonological awareness focused intervention delivered by community-based paraeducators with preschool children (M = 4.73 years) in eight Head Start classrooms in the rural Midwest. Participating children were randomly assigned to small groups within classrooms, which were in turn were randomly assigned to receive either treatment or control (vocabulary-focused storybook reading) instruction in small groups for 20 min/day, 5 days/week, for 10 weeks (February–April). All instruction was delivered by community-based paraeducator tutors. At posttest, treatment students (n = 41) outperformed controls (n = 47) on measures of alphabetic knowledge (d = 1.22) and phonological awareness (d = .62). No significant differences between conditions were detected on print awareness or vocabulary. Overall, the results demonstrate that at-risk preschoolers benefit from community-based paraeducator implemented supplemental phonological awareness and alphabetic knowledge instruction.

Paris, R., & Bronson, M., (2006). A home-based intervention for immigrant and refugee trauma survivors: Paraprofessionals working with high-risk mothers and infants. Zero to Three, 27(2), 37-45.

This article describes how the Visiting Moms Program in Chelsea, Massachusetts, has taken the paraprofessional model one step further to respond to the needs of refugee and immigrant new mothers, by employing paraprofessional home visitors who are also immigrants or refugees themselves from countries in Central America, South America, and Africa (e.g., Brazil, El Salvador, Sudan, Somalia, and Morocco). This home visiting intervention, located at the Massachusetts General Hospital Chelsea HealthCare Center, demonstrates how paraprofessionals who are also mothers and closely connected to their communities can work effectively with families with multiple risk factors, including trauma. With extensive training and close supervision by a senior clinician and program administrator, the resources of a well-coordinated community health team and outstanding health center, these multilingual/bicultural home visitors provide emotional support, client advocacy within the service system, and education on child development for low income, high-risk immigrant/refugee families.

Rayer S.A. Hester, P., Michalek, A.M.P., Cho, D., Anthony, N. (2013). Impact of an activity mini-schedule on the inattention of preschoolers with cochlear implants during a group activity. Education and Treatment of Children, 36(2), 15-32.

This pilot study evaluated the effectiveness of using an activity mini-schedule which divided a circle time activity into four sub-activities with four preschoolers who were deaf and had received cochlear implants. Often preschoolers with cochlear implants display difficulty directing attention to appropriate stimuli during large group activities (Chute & Nevins, 2003). It was hypothesized that the use of an activity mini-schedule would decrease inattention. Using a multiple baseline design across participants, an activity mini-schedule was introduced to each participant sequentially by a paraeducator who sat behind the children during circle time. Participants’ behaviors were videotaped and coded. The introduction of an activity mini-schedule decreased inattention in all participants, yet individual outcomes varied. Although this study offers some evidence that activity mini-schedules may positively impact attention in young children, more research is needed.

Rosenberg, S. A., Robinson, C., & Fryer, E. G. (2002). Evaluation of paraprofessional home visiting services for children with special needs and their families. Teacher Education and Special Education, 22(3), 158-168.

This study evaluated the impact of supportive paraprofessional home visiting on mothers and their young children who had or were at risk for developmental disabilities and who were at risk for receiving inadequate parenting. Families were randomly assigned to intervention and comparison groups. Upon exit, mothers in the intervention group rated services as more helpful and demonstrated moderately better mental health than did mothers in the comparison group. Children in the intervention group were more likely to have received an Individualized Family Service Plan. The two groups did not differ in the quality of their home environments, service utilization, or child outcomes. The results of these findings are discussed in terms of the need for direct training of parents and the characteristics of families who can benefit most from the services that paraprofessionals provide.

Serna R.W., Foran, M.M., Cooke, C., Hurd, K.E., Tello, A.J., Vangapalli, R., & Hamad, C.D. (2016). Teaching discrete trial training: the effects of asynchronous computer-based instruction on live implementation. Journal of Special Education Technology, 31(1), 39-49.

The present study asked whether naive learners would accurately implement discrete trial training (DTT) methods in a live setting following asynchronous training delivered entirely via computer. Seven naive adult participants received training from portions of a previously developed online program that were relevant to DTT implementation. A unique feature of the training was the use of simulated interaction exercises with an on-screen virtual child. The dependent measure was the accuracy with which participants taught simple skills to an experimental confederate using DTT. A multiple baseline across participants design showed that the computer-based training resulted in accurate live DTT implementation for all participants. Most participants also demonstrated accurate DTT teaching with a novel task. The implications of the study results are discussed in terms of their potential impact on the shortage of trained practitioners of early behavioral intervention methods.

Vadasy P.F. Nelson, R.J., Sanders, E.A. (2013). Longer term effects of a tier 2 kindergarten vocabulary intervention for English learners. Remedial and Special Education, 34(2), 91-101.

This study examines the longer term effectiveness of a standard protocol, Tier 2 supplemental vocabulary intervention for kindergarten English learners, designed to develop root word vocabulary knowledge and reinforce beginning word reading skills. Participating students in the original study (n = 93 treatment, 92 control) received 20 weeks of small group instruction from paraeducator tutors during kindergarten. After attrition, students (n = 74 treatment, 66 control) were followed up midyear Grade 1 on English measures of proximal and distal vocabulary as well as word reading. At 6 months post intervention, the treatment benefits were maintained on all three outcomes, and furthermore, there was no evidence to suggest that early receptive vocabulary knowledge moderated longer term treatment effects. Results also showed kindergarten intervention year gains in proximal (i.e., root word) vocabulary uniquely predicted midyear Grade 1 distal vocabulary above and beyond kindergarten gains in distal vocabulary. Implications for English learner early intervention are discussed.

Vadasy P.F. Sanders, E.Z. (2010). Efficacy of supplemental phonics-based instruction for low-skilled kindergarteners in the context of language minority status and classroom phonics instruction. Journal of Educational Psychology, 102(4), 786-803.

This study tested the efficacy of supplemental phonics instruction for 84 low-skilled language minority (LM) kindergarteners and 64 non-LM kindergarteners at 10 urban public schools. Paraeducators were trained to provide the 18-week (January–May) intervention. Students performing in the bottom half of their classroom language group (LM and non-LM) were randomly assigned either to individual supplemental instruction (treatment) or to classroom instruction only (control). Irrespective of their language status, treatment students ( n = 67) significantly outperformed controls (n = 81) at post-test in alphabetics, word reading, spelling, passage reading fluency, and comprehension (average treatment d = 0.83); nevertheless, LM students tended to have lower posttest performance than non-LM students (average LM d = −0.30) and were significantly less responsive to treatment on word reading. When we examined the contribution of classroom phonics time to student outcomes, we found that the treatment effect on spelling was greater for students in lower phonics classrooms, whereas the treatment effect on comprehension was greater for those in higher phonics classrooms. Finally, when we examined LM students alone, we found that pre-test English receptive vocabulary positively predicted most post-tests and interacted with treatment only on phonological awareness. In general, pretest vocabulary did not moderate kindergarten LM treatment response.

Vadasy P.F., Sanders. E.A. & Peyton, J.A. (2006). Paraeducator-supplemented instruction in structural analysis with text reading practice for second and third graders at risk for reading problems. Remedial and Special Education, 27(6), 365-378.

Two studies—one quasi-experimental and one randomized experiment—were designed to evaluate the effectiveness of supplemental instruction in structural analysis and oral reading practice for second- and third-grade students with below-average word reading skills. Individual instruction was provided by trained paraeducators in single- and multiletter phoneme—grapheme correspondences; structural analysis of inflected, affixed, and multi-syllable words; exception word reading; and scaffolded oral reading practice. Both studies revealed short-term word level and fluency effects.

Waters, C. L. (2019). Covering the bases: pairing sign with spoken word in early childhood settings. Young Exceptional Children.

Mrs. Gaines, who holds a dual credential in early childhood and early childhood special education, teaches in an inclusive preschool classroom serving children and families from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. At the beginning of the school year, all 15 children in Mrs. Gaines’ classroom sit around a large oval rug as she leads the morning circle time routine by singing familiar songs and clapping to the rhythm. One paraeducator, Mr. Lopez, writes observations, while another paraeducator, Ms. Wilson, models circle time expectations. Most children follow along with Mrs. Gaines’ singing and clapping, while some children engage in other ways. For example, Min Joon voices the beginning sounds of familiar lyrics and rocks his body back and forth. Another child, Julieta, remains silent as her hands rest in her lap and she gazes at peers. A third child, Draymond, listens carefully to the song lyrics as he leans toward Mrs. Gaines, cupping his left hand behind his ear.

After circle time, Mrs. Gaines, Mr. Lopez, and Ms. Wilson discuss their observations. Mr. Lopez expresses concern that some children, including Min Joon, Julieta, and Draymond, may not understand the circle time routine. The team identifies that spoken communication may limit opportunities for all children to fully participate in circle time, as well as other parts of the daily routine. Mrs. Gaines then calls the speech therapist, Mrs. Yamada, and invites her to observe during afternoon circle time. After lunch, the children find their seats on the oval rug and begin the afternoon circle time routine, and Mrs. Yamada comes into the classroom to observe in hopes to identify strategies the team can implement to support participation for all children.