Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching & Learning


This is a study of the thinking and reasoning underlying the teaching practices of early childhood and early childhood special educators. It provides an opportunity to better understand the nature of teaching in integrated classrooms by understanding the knowledge, beliefs, and thoughts that inform practices of individual teachers. The thinking of teachers was studied as they were interviewed about situations in integrated classrooms and as they reflected on their own teaching of children with and without disabilities. The questions guiding this study were (a) How do early childhood educators and early childhood special educators reason and think through issues of practice in integrated classrooms? (b) What differences and similarities exist in the language educators use to interpret situations and think through practices? and (c) Where differences do exist in language and reasoning, what might be the implications of those differences for practice and for collaboration?

Five early childhood and five early childhood special educators currently teaching in two upper midwest states were the subjects of this study. Each teacher was interviewed three times. The interviews focused on a case study which had three interlocking episodes, each describing common incidents and dilemmas found in integrated preschool classrooms. For each interview the teacher discussed an episode of the case study and explained how he or she interpreted and reasoned about the situations and characters portrayed in the story. The interviews were taped, transcribed, and studied by the investigator. The data resulting from 30 interviews were analyzed qualitatively by organizing excerpts into categories. The investigator searched for patterns within categories and for themes or connections between the various categories. Common themes regarding the ways in which teachers think through practices emerged as the data sets were compared and contrasted. Similarities and differences among early childhood and early childhood special educators were analyzed. Common themes and the teachers’ variations on them were then characterized in a narrative descriptive account.

This study revealed that knowledge of children, understanding of curriculum and instruction, and perspectives on the roles of colleagues form a conceptual framework for teacher thinking in integrated classrooms. Conflicting understandings of the meaning of sameness in children, purpose of choice, use of space, the intent of play, and the role of experts were identified as major points of tension between the language of practice of early childhood and early childhood special educators. The study supports the efforts to achieve a practical and theoretical blending of teaching practices of early childhood and early childhood special educators, but indicates the need to focus on more than the theoretical content of teacher knowledge.