|Online Training for Paraeducators to Improve Communication Supports for Young Children with Complex Communication Needs
|Michigan State University
|Early Intervention and Early Learning [Program Details]
|4 years (07/01/2018-06/30/2022)
|Development and Innovation
Co-Principal Investigator: Bowles, Ryan; Plavnick, Joshua
Purpose: The purpose of this project is to develop and pilot test an online training program, the POWR System, for paraeducators and their supervising special education teachers to improve the communication skills of young children with complex communication needs by supporting their use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems. Young children with complex communication needs, who are unable to use speech to express their needs, exchange information, or develop close relationships, are at risk for poor academic outcomes. These children frequently work directly with paraeducators in their early childhood programs, yet research-based training for paraeducators to support children's communication needs is lacking. This project aims to address this need by developing an online training for paraeducators and their supervising teachers to improve the communication skills of children with complex communication needs.
Project Activities: The research team will iteratively develop and test the POWR System across three phases. In Phase 1, the team will build upon and revise an existing paraeducator version of POWR (Paraeducator POWR) and develop the training for implementing the POWR model (POWR +)through an iterative process involving educator review and feedback as well as single-case studies. In Phase 2, the team will develop the POWR for supervising teachers (Teacher POWR) using similar methods as Phase 1. In Phase 3, the researchers will use a multiple-baseline single-case design study to determine the promise of the entire POWR System for improving children's communication outcomes.
Products: The products of this project will include a fully developed online training for paraeducators and their supervising teachers to provide support to children with complex communication needs, as well as publications and presentations.
Setting: The research will take place in early childhood centers in Michigan.
Sample: A total of 19 paraeducators, 19 special education teachers, and 19 children ages 3-6 with complex communication needs will participate in this project. To be eligible to participate, children must have significant expressive language delays, receive speech language pathologist services as part of their Individual Education Program, and have an established AAC system in place. During Phases 1 and 2, 10 paraeducators, 10 special education teachers, and 10 children will participate. During the Phase 3 pilot study, 9 paraeducator/teacher/child triads will participate.
Intervention: The intervention is an online training, the POWR System, for paraeducators and their supervising teachers to support children with complex communication needs. Paraeducator POWR will consist of two parts. The first will focus on POWR, a strategy for teaching communication skills — Prepare the activity and AAC, Offer opportunities for communication, Wait for the child's communication, and Respond to the child's communication. The second component, POWR +, will train paraeducators to model the use of AAC while implementing the POWR strategy. The Teacher POWR intervention will contain two parts. The first is a condensed version of Paraeducator POWR and POWR+ designed to familiarize teachers with the paraeducator training. The second part will provide training to help them supervise and support their paraeducators in implementing the strategies.
Research Design and Methods: In Phase 1, the research team will build upon the existing POWR System by developing an online portal for the Paraeducator POWR, collecting feedback on POWR training materials from a panel of educators, and creating the POWR + training. Researchers will also conduct single-case studies to examine whether paraeducators can implement the Paraeducator POWR and POWR + strategies with fidelity, and to assess their perceptions of usability. In Phase 2, the team will develop each part of the Teacher POWR using a strategy parallel to Phase 1. In Phase 3, the promise of the intervention will be tested using a multiple-baseline single-case design study with nine paraeducator/teacher/child triads. This pilot study will investigate the intervention's impact on paraeducators' fidelity of implementing the POWR strategy and children's communication outcomes (i.e., communication turns, AAC use, and message complexity). Additionally, the research team will collect pre- and post-test data on language skills to explore potential increases in these outcomes.
Control Condition: Participating paraeducators, teachers, and children will serve as their own controls during the baseline phase of the single-case design study. During this time, they will engage in business-as-usual instruction and communication support.
Key Measures: The Preschool Language Scales (PLS-5) will be used to screen children for eligibility and serve as a pre- and post-intervention measure of language skills in the Phase 3 pilot study. Children's communication outcomes (i.e., communication turns, AAC use, and message complexity) will be assessed from video recordings of educationally-relevant joint communication activities. Paraeducators' fidelity of implementing the POWR strategy will also be assessed from these video recordings. Fidelity of teacher supervision will be assessed from video recordings of feedback sessions between teachers and paraeducators and online feedback and communication between teachers and paraeducators. Fidelity of the online paraeducator and teacher trainings will be assessed using knowledge tests, fidelity checklists, and self-reflections of their knowledge. Paraeducators will complete the Usage Rating Profile to assess usability of the intervention and both paraeducators and teachers will complete satisfaction surveys.
Data Analytic Strategy: Phase 1 and 2 data related to fidelity and usability will be analyzed descriptively. Data from the video recordings of paraeducators and children during the single-case design study will be analyzed with visual analysis and calculation of effect sizes. The same data from the video recordings will be analyzed using multilevel interrupted time series to assess the statistical significance of the impact of the intervention in the pilot study. Changes in language skills measured through the standardized assessment will be examined with analysis of variance.