|dc.description.abstract||Australians on the autism spectrum experience poorer educational outcomes than their non-autistic peers, highlighting the ongoing area of need that is the effective teaching of this student cohort. In addition, Australian teachers report requiring greater knowledge and expertise to include and educate students on the spectrum effectively. These reports are symptomatic of the wide and ongoing research-to-practice gap in autism and education. Bridging this gap requires existing knowledge to be tailored and contextually specific products and/or tools to be created that translate this knowledge in ways that can easily be learnt and applied by classroom teachers. The present study aimed to develop a tool – the Early Years Model of Practice (EY-MoP) – that translated knowledge regarding foundational educational practices for teaching students on the spectrum by providing access to essential knowledge and supporting decision-making for mainstream early years teachers. The methodological approach taken, Educational Design Research, is characterised by the cyclical development of a practical solution to a problem of practice accompanied by the generation of usable knowledge. As a result, this study comprised two stages and encompassed the development of successive EY-MoP prototypes.
Stage 1 consisted of the development of a complete prototype of the EY-MoP. A structured identify-sort-refine process was used to generate a working set of 31 foundational practices (Prototype 1) drawn from the fields of autism, early childhood special education, and early childhood education. Five subject-matter experts deemed the practices to have content validity. The working set of 31 practices was refined in accordance with the experts’ feedback resulting in the construction of Prototype 2, which comprised 32 practices. Prototype 2 was evaluated via a survey of 129 early years teachers from Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. Results showed that more than 80% of teachers agreed that all 32 practices within Prototype 2 were recommended foundational practices for the teaching of young students on the spectrum, demonstrating the social validity of these practices. The working set of 32 practices was further refined, resulting in the construction of Prototype 3. This prototype comprised 29 empirically-supported and socially-validated practices each accompanied by a 2-page brief providing detail on the practices. Stage 1, therefore, resulted in the construction of a complete EY-MoP prototype comprising 29 practices with both content and social validity.
Stage 2 involved the trialling the EY-MoP to establish its local viability and to explore potential indicators of effectiveness through a convergent mixed methods design. The trial comprised the use of the practice model by 18 Prep/Kindergarten teachers from metropolitan areas of Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. Survey and interview data were collected pre- and post-use of the practice model. Of the 18 teachers, 8 used the model actively by working on a specific practice, 3 used the model superficially by reflecting on their current practice, 6 did not use the model, and 1 withdrew from the study. Non-users identified time, workload, and a lack of professional support as barriers to MoP use. Participating teachers were of the impression that the EY-MoP was familiar, user-friendly, and beneficial. Active users reported negligible non-statistically significant increases in their use of the practices within the EY-MoP. Together, active and superficial users reported statistically significant increases in their knowledge, confidence, and overall self-efficacy. These teachers felt MoP use affirmed or augmented their existing knowledge and influenced their perceived confidence and capability with regards to the effective education of students on the spectrum. Perceived knowledge, confidence, and sense of efficacy were, therefore, potential indicators of effectiveness. Also arising from these results were the findings that the EY-MoP was contextually relevant and locally viable.
This study resulted in the development of a novel model of practice for Australian educators teaching young school-aged students on the autism spectrum. The EY-MoP and the associated MoP design principles contribute to the future development and implementation of knowledge products to bridge research-to-practice gaps. Further research, however, is recommended to address the limitations of self-report and generalisability. Together, the findings and outputs of this study have implications for teacher practice and future knowledge translation activities. Finally, these outputs contribute to the provision of high-quality education to Australian students on the autism spectrum.||