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Margaret Linn

Visiting Assoc Prof - PT


  2. Phone: (610) 957-6383
  3. Office: Pearson 110A
Margie Linn

Research and Teaching Interests 

The field of special education is demanding and dynamic, and I have been fortunate to have been a part of its early beginnings in the US, its continual evolution, and, through my teaching and research, its future growth. As an elementary school teacher, I saw the field as my way of learning how best to include students with a range of learning styles and emotional needs in my general education classroom. Following the passage of the historical legislation (IDEA) that ensures all children a free and appropriate public education, it seemed natural for me to join the ranks of special educators to provide that appropriate education to the 1,000,000 students who had been previously denied access to public school because of disabilities. And, now, as a professor supporting students to understand and work with students who have special needs, I still have some of the same concerns that I did when I first started teaching.

As a young educator in an urban setting, I was committed to teaching each student in my class to read, to do math and to find their place in the wider society, but I had been trained to use a narrow lens when working with the child with special needs. This meant teaching from a clinical, prescriptive perspective – one that imposed a teacher-directed curriculum on each child as a way to meet required performance norms. In contrast, the pedagogical focus for the typical learner at that time placed the emphasis on teaching to the whole child using supportive, child-driven methods. Finding a productive and caring balance of the objective-driven model with the holistic, child-centered approach has been the central focus of my 40 years of work in the field.

As a special education teacher, I was caught between the demands of a pre-set and required curriculum and my commitment to respecting the needs and interests of each child in my classroom. Later, as a certified school psychologist, I was required by law to assess, categorize and quantify each child’s abilities to ensure them access to necessary services. Missing was any opportunity for a nuanced, multi-faceted description of the child that I felt would be most useful to the parents and classroom teacher. Today, as a professor of educational studies, I face the same tension now, to be sure that my students meet State requirements for working with children with special needs, but, importantly, also come to appreciate the privilege and responsibility of working with students with disabilities.

My classes examine the bio/psycho/social functioning of students with disabilities, and then discuss the development, implementation and assessment of caring and effective classroom interventions. Across history, both the narrow issues of diagnosis and intervention, and the wider perspectives of representation, privilege, and participation, have shifted. In class, we consider State requirements within the broader context of community and culture, examine the disability rights movement as an issue of social justice, and question a society’s need to fit individuals with disabilities into the culture’s definition of “normal”.

My published works have explored the concept of disability from a socio-cultural perspective and traced its implications for the teaching of children with special needs. With the support of a Fulbright Award to Portugal, my focus now includes cross-cultural comparisons of the inclusion of students with special needs in the general education classroom, as conditioned by a culture's understanding of disability.

I believe the real work of educators is to develop a teaching practice that is both effective and reflective. Balancing multiple demands and perspectives, shifting the lens when appropriate and recognizing the tension between narrow standards-driven instruction and a broader approach is essential when working with all students, and even more so when their academic and behavioral needs are atypical.


Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania
M.Ed., B.S., University of Pittsburgh

Selected Publications


Linn, M.I. (2011). Inclusion in two languages: A cross-cultural comparison of special education practice in Portugal and the United States.   Phi Delta Kappan, May, 58-60.

Wagner, M., Spiker, D., Linn, M.I., Gerlach-Downie, S. & Hernandez, F. (2003).  Dimensions of parental engagement in home visiting programs: An exploratory study. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 23, 171-187.

Linn, M.I. (2001). An American educator reflects on the meaning of the Reggio Experience.  Phi Delta Kappan, December, 332-334.  [Reprinted in Annual Editions: Multicultural Education, Spring, 2003, McGraw-Hill/Dushkin].

Linn, M.I., Goodman, J.F., & Lender, W.L. (2000).  Played out? Passive behavior in children with Down syndrome during unstructured play. Journal of Early Intervention, 23, 264-278.

Book Reviews

Linn, M. (2005).  Down syndrome: Move, play, grow.  Pediatric Rehabilitation.

Linn, M. (2000). The DSM as a Second Language for the School Psychologist: A Guide to Translation.  Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 20, 637-641.

Ongoing Project

Linn, M.I., Coelho da Silva, J. & Griggs, S.   A comparison of American and Portuguese teacher attitudes towards inclusion of students with moderate disabilities in the general education classroom.


EDUC 023A - Special education: Adolescent Attachment

EDUC 026/PSYC 026 - Special education: Issues and Practice

EDUC 042 - Teaching the Diverse Young Learner: Typical learners, special needs learners, non- mainstream culture learners, economically disadvantaged learners, and English language learners