Student engagement in learning environments has been linked to greater collaborative paradigms and self efficacy related to the educational process (Lee et al., 2015; Lee et al., 2014; Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). With the theoretical underpinning that inclusive based classrooms employing diverse cognitive need methods will have positive impacts on special needs and general education students, the following action based research study was formulated. In an effort to see how and to what extent student engagement can be increased in kindergarten students with special needs, two collaboration techniques that target different stakeholders in the special needs students’ life were evaluated. The selected research examined the following methods:
(1) collaborative team approaches that involves families, teachers, service staff and administration, and
(2) structured group activity circles to increase interaction between peers and students with special needs.
Each method was examined through an observational and performance based evaluative research tool. Implications on student engagement and self efficacy are considered discussed.
Key Words: special education, special needs students, least restrictive environment, academic self efficacy, neurodiversity, inclusion, kindergarten, student engagement
Review of the Literature
Purpose of Research
Provisions for students with special needs in mainstream schools across the United States are in a state of crisis (Dyson & Gains, 2018). While teachers with training in special education were found to be stronger advocates of inclusions regardless of their professional roles, the degree to which they are supported by key educational stakeholders varies greatly from one situation to the next (Lee et al., 2015; Lee et al., 2014). Kindergarten, however, is a critical time in establishing the foundations for student success at later intervals of the educational process. Lee and Bierman (2015) concluded that warm and supportive experiences with a kindergarten teacher fosters a feeling of security/safety in school, coping mechanisms and a more positive perspective on the learning process.
For special needs students, there is already a propensity to not be readily included by peers in academic and play activities that can facilitate alimentation (Schwab, 2017). According to Schwab (2017), the more contact in which students have with peers who are disabled the more positive attitudes they will have to working with them in a collaborative capacity. Increasing exposure for students with special needs and collaboration through specific classroom based actions, therefore, is theoretically linked to better outcomes for students with special needs in the short and long term.
The least restrictive environment (LRE) is part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). It legally established that students who receive special education have to be taught in the least restrictive environment possible for them. For many general education teachers, this means that students with special needs will be included in classrooms with general education learners. This action based research plan falls on the theoretical underpinning that LRE’s are advantageous to students with special needs as well as their non special needs counterparts. Though there are some critiques of inclusion, much of it is based on misunderstanding, unjustifiable attacks or problems with implementation rather than the legitimacy of the theory (Kauffman et al., 2018). For educators, “Teaching anything well requires understanding of diversity and patience with an understanding of students’ differences” (Kaufman, et al., 2018, p. 3). Disability of learning, however, is not like other types of diversity (Kauffman et al., 2018).
The way in which students view themselves has been linked to performance. Albert Bandura’s (1997) explanation of self efficacy frames the terminology as the judgment related to how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations. As a result, the degree to which one perceives them to be capable of doing something, the more likely they will be to actually accomplish it. Honicke and Broadbent (2016) found that academic self efficacy correlated with academic performance. With many special needs students having a negative view of education as a result of past failures or struggle, their early school experiences can impact the direction in which their entire education process takes.
For kindergarten teachers working with special needs students, making sure they have a favorable perception of their place in the education process is key to developing self efficacy thereby providing a foundation for special needs to students to potentially unlock their cognitive potential.
For included students, there are a number of evidence based benefits. One in particular is reflected in the Rojewski, Lee and Gregg (2015) research that illustrated those students who earn 80% or more of their academic credits in general education settings were twice as likely to enroll and persist in postsecondary education. Additionally, it was previously expressed that collaboration between multiple stakeholders in the special needs student’s life was linked to better educational outcomes.
Rich networks of human resources both inside and outside of schools that are drawn upon by educators have the potential to support the social, educational and emotional lives of neurodiverse students (Armstrong, 2012). When this is combined with Schwab (2017) who concluded that greater exposure to special needs students among the general education process was beneficial to both general education students and special needs students, the benefits of inclusion and LRE’s can be considered to be multifaceted. Not all inclusive settings are created equal. As a result, determining which action based strategies has the best outcomes for establishing efficacious LRE’s is of the utmost importance. Strong LRE’s can be accomplished through specific modifications (Armstrong, 2012).
As a faculty of action based research and increasing student with special needs engagement in kindergarten, the following research plan evaluates two evidence based techniques to increase engagement within the aforementioned frameworks: (1) collaborative team approaches that involves families, teachers, service staff and administration and (2) structured group activity circles to increase interaction between peers and students with special needs. Implications based on observational data collected by the researcher will be considered.
The collaborative team approach extends beyond the typical IEP plan paradigm. True collaboration necessitates construction of a plan, consistent communication, adaptation of strategies, monitoring and a generalized circle of support. Rather than top down communication, which is typical of the teacher centered conventional drill and practice lecture based environment, collaborative teaching methods emphasize 360 degree communication. While the collaborative team approach engages the student, educators and care providers, the structured group activity focuses on special needs student interaction with peers to accomplish tasks in the classroom. This method is theoretically designed to increase exposure of special needs students to general education students.
It is hypothesized by the researcher that the stakeholder collaboration planning and monitoring system will have positive outcomes for student achievement and it will be looked upon favorably by all stakeholders in a perceptual capacity. Further, it is estimated that the favorable perspective will empower special needs students to look at the educational process with a more proactive or favorable lens. It is additionally hypothesized by the researcher that the circle activity group related collaboration method will increase exposure of special needs students to general education students thereby creating a classroom that is more inclusive of diverse learners.
It is further anticipated that this will increase the degree to which special needs students and general students interact and it will facilitate a more enriching learning environment that is beneficial to all students. As with the stakeholder collaboration plan/monitoring method, this too is projected to favorably impact special need student perceptions of education. Perception, in the form of self efficacy, has been linked to greater performance.
The utmost importance to the overall efficacy of the educational system is how all students are engaged. When one child is left behind or falls through the proverbial cracks, this is a lost opportunity that can have immense negative repercussions for education, the student, and society. In terms of LRE’s and inclusion, the way in which students are engaged and the degrees to which they are engaged in inclusive environments has great variation from one teacher to the next. Knowing what works and what does not work can help teachers design more effective lessons that will facilitate greater engagement. More engaged special needs students will be more equitable to better performing special needs students.
Research Study Outline
Part I of the research study examines the topic and outlines the significant characteristics to rationalize the need for examination.
Part II of the study presents the literature reviewed for framing the study based on academic and peer reviewed research on the subject and related elements.
Part III is an overview of the methods employed for collecting and evaluating the data collected.
Part IV established the findings of the study and Part V discusses the findings as they relate to what is known and not known about the subject.
The final section, Part VI, draws from the discussion and presents recommendations based on the data found. Additional appendices (as needed) will follow as well as a complete list of reference cited for the research.
Review of the Literature
The following review of literature examined selected peer-reviewed publications and studies related to inclusion and ways to maximize the benefits of inclusion. In doing so, it will identify weaknesses and deficiencies in the current system with attention to how those weaknesses have been overcome in an evidence-based manner. The intent of the literature review is to establish that which is evidence-based rather than just that which is accepted as conventional wisdom. The selected sources are by no means exhaustive; however, they are sufficiently of scope to articulate reoccurring themes in a greater expanse of literature consulted. Particular emphasis has been placed on those studies that have been published within the last five years.
A summary of the findings has been illustrated in the conclusions section of the literature review. Thematically, the section is divided into: inclusion/school reform/challenges, special needs students and helping teachers achieve strategic aims. The selected methodologies for the study have been created as a result of evidence presented and gathered from the literature examined.
Inclusion, School Reform and Challenges
Inclusion is a part of the modern school reform movement that has enhanced the quality of instruction for all learners (Obiakor et al., 2012). As stated in the theoretical framework, inclusion is established as been effective, important and legally necessary for modern school districts. This is important for compliance as well as for achieving peak potential student outcomes. Special need students are not separate entities from general education students; instead, they are key members of the school community and should be considered as such in all decision making.
When the emphasis on heterogeneity of student learning levels is combined with growth of cultural diversity, this facilitates a greater challenge for educators and it further alters the teacher’s role as a learning facilitator (Obiakor et al., 2012). What teachers do and their changing role in education in the modern paradigm of mass communications, diversity and high stakes testing additionally impacts the way in which educators view themselves (Obiakor, et al, 2012). Honicke and Broadbent (2016) expressed that academic self-efficacy correlated with academic performance and the same extension is true of teachers. Those educators who see themselves with high self-efficacy and in a favorable position in the school education process will outperform their counterparts who do not (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). Despite the advantages of inclusion, which will be explored further in this review of literature, it is still a widely discussed and debated phenomenon. Walsh (2018) established inclusive education as meaning that all students regardless of their strengths and weaknesses are part of the school community and should be treated as such with the lowest degree of isolation.
There is a generalized perception among general education teachers, however, that do not see inclusion as being positive in practice (Walsh, 2018). This is not necessarily a disagreement with theory, but one over how it looks in practice. In this capacity, studies show that general education teachers do in fact want students with special needs in their classrooms; however, they do not feel fully prepared for addressing their educational needs (Walsh, 2018; Hyunjeong, et al., 2014). This perspective is additionally backed by research According to Paju, Pirttimaa and Kontu (2016), professional training received by general educators does not adequately prepare them to properly implement inclusion based practices. Both knowledge levels related to special education and effective teaching methods were both cited by educators as being barriers to their inclusive setting teacher self-efficacy (Paju, Pirttimaa & Kontu, 2016).
Jordan, Schwartz and McGhie-Richmond (2009) argued that “Effective teaching skills consist of high levels of student engagement based on good classroom and time management skills” (p. 53). Holistically, teachers want to engage special needs students and all students using methods that are evidence-based in nature (Jordan, Schwartz & McGhie-Richmond, 2009). To engage these students, however, requires a greater understanding of the special needs student.
Special Needs Students
Buli-Holmberg and Jeyaprathaban (2016) examined a variety of methods for effective practice in inclusive settings. According to the authors, each one analyzed had strengths and weaknesses with none being infallible or sufficiently robust to accommodate all types of learners and situations. In the one-on-one support dimensions, students received the practice and support they needed in the learning process (Buli-Holmberg & Jeyaprathaban, 2016). On the other hand, the teacher only has a limited amount of time to spend with a singular student and when that student is engaged privately, the other students are not being engaged.
Additionally, in this setting the special needs student is not interacting with peers. In small group practice, the students had more support and closer interactions and thereby combined peer interaction and teacher interaction, but not teacher interaction that was as meaningful as the one-on-one setting (Buli-Holmberg & Jeyaprathaban, 2016). The large group dynamic had the most peer interaction, but also had the highest tendency for the special needs student to be ignored (Buli-Holmberg & Jeyaprathaban, 2016). Collaboration with multiple stakeholders was deemed to be very important for special need student success (Buli-Holmberg & Jeyaprathaban, 2016).
Carter, et al. (2015 ) stated, “When supported well, participation in inclusive classrooms can increase access to interesting and relevant curricular content, shared learning opportunities, new peer relationships, and raised expectations” (p. 9). To overcome some of the interaction size barriers presented in Buli-Holmberg and Jeyaprathaban (2016), Scruggs, Mastropieri and McDuffie (2007) concluded that co-teaching can provide positive outcomes. It adds another teacher to manage large groups and to provide support at the same time for special needs students. Traditional classrooms are characterized by one teacher, one assist, this allows for two teachers (Scruggs, Mastropieri & McDuffie, 2007). The most common form of this was the special education teacher playing a subordinate role in the instructive process (Scruggs, Mastropieri & McDuffie, 2007).
This could also be facilitated with a teacher aid. For many teachers, though effective, this is simply not an option because the schools do not have the resources in order to make this a realistic method of instruction. Overall, however, the most commonly articulated techniques for working with special needs students included peer mediation, strategy instruction, mnemonics, training of study skills, self-advocacy skills and self-monitoring skills (Scruggs, Mastropieri & McDuffie, 2007).
Watkins, et al. (2015) examined evidence related to peer mediation as a social intervention for special needs students in inclusive settings. According to the researchers, peer mediated interventions can be characterized through evidence as a promising treatment for special needs students in inclusive settings as evidence states that have positive generalization, maintenance and social validity outcomes (Watkins, et al., 2015). These findings were particularly true for special needs students who were on the autistic spectrum (Watkins, et al., 2015). While many special needs students have constant adult supervision in the form of a paraprofessional following them to included settings, this can create additional complications with peer interaction. Carer et al. (2015) found that the constant presence of an adult can inadvertently limit the social interactions and engagements of special needs students.
Peer support arrangements can be a “practical and promising” alternative to only relying on paraprofessional support (Carter, et al., 2015, p. 9). While there were positive associations, the type of social deficits demonstrated by the special needs student could alter the efficacy and the necessary course of action that would produce the greatest outcomes in peer mediated interventions (Watkins, et al., 2015). Flexibility, therefore, is necessary for effective interventions even among evidence-based interventions (Buli-Holberg & Jeyaprathaban, 2016). Social support was further established by Cai and Richdale (2016) as being important for individuals with special needs. Even in situations where family support and teacher support was present, peak efficacy among special needs interventions could not be fully realized without substantial student support on the social spectrum levels (Cai & Richdale, 2016).
For special needs students in inclusive settings, facilitating peer interaction can come in the form of modeling and structured engagement. In a study conducted by Kourassanis, Jones and Fienup (2015), remediation of social deficits in children with autism was examined through the intervention of games like Duck Duck Goose. As a game that targets motor behavior in an interactive small group setting, the researchers measured gross motor behaviors among students with special needs. The result was positive increases in social games thereby illustrating their potential as a social engagement activity (Kourassanis, Jones & Fineup, 2015). Supportive experiences, both in the context of peers and students, have been associated with a more positive perspective on the learning process and school in general in the formative years of early school like kindergarten (Lee & Bierman, 2015).
Since unstructured activities can often result in special needs students being not included by peers, guided academic and play activities have been illustrated to positively increase interaction between students and special needs students (Schwab, 2017). Carter, et al. (2016) compared peer supplemented interactions in learning groups and adult delivered support only in 48 special need students. In this study, the students that engaged in increased peer interaction has better academic engagement, more progress on individualized social goals, increased social participations and a greater number of new friendships (Carter, et al., 2016).
When there is collaboration between students with special needs and general education students, there are better learning outcomes for the special needs students and better social outcomes recorded for the general education students making it a win-win paradigm (Schwab, 2017). The more general education students are exposed to students with special needs, research illustrates that more positive attitude toward those students manifest (Schwab, 2017). Much of the negative associations between students and even teachers with special needs students are based on lack of understanding (Kaufman, et al., 2018).
As school progresses, special needs students typically get a negative view of education as a result of past failures (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). By facilitating positive experiences in early education, this paradigm can be mitigated by establishing positive associations with teachers, peers and with individual success (Honicke & Broadbent, 2016). Student success is linked to networks of human resources both inside and outside of school and the same is true of special needs students (Armstrong, 2012). Activities and actions that support social, education and emotional lives are the ones that are most impacting on students (Armstrong, 2012).
An emphasis on individualized education plans (IEP) is necessary because LRE’s can only be accomplished legally and effectively through specific modifications relevant to the special needs student (Armstrong, 2012). While special education is a blanketed term, it does not mean that all special needs students are the same as others with IEP’s. Generalizations can be problematic. For example, a student with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) would have different support needs in an inclusive setting than a student with mild cognitive impairment who has been diagnosed with ADD.
Peer interaction has been linked in the selected research to positive outcomes for special needs students, however, it is important to monitor and facilitate the types of interaction because not all interactions are created equal. Hartley, et al. (2015) examined self-reported victimization among 3,305 students and found that students in special education reported more physical and emotional harm as well as more psychological distress related to their victimization. Though the rates of verbal victimization were similar among special and general education students, physical victimization was reported more often among students in special education (Hartley, et al., 2015).
In a surprising dimension, Hartely et al. (2015) also found that adult teachers and staff were more likely to verbally, relationally and physically bully students in special education. This study was limited to perceptual bias, however, in that the results were completely based on the perception of students examined. What it does illustrate is that peer interactions need to be monitored and scaffolded so they are facilitating positive experiences for both the special education student and the general education student. Monitoring can come in observational, discussion and performance related evaluations. With the elements of inclusion and special needs students having been illustrated, helping teachers achieve strategic aims in the next realm that requires examination of related literature.
Helping Teachers Achieve Strategic Aims
According to teachers, for special needs students to fully benefit from inclusive placements, all stakeholders in the process need to fully understand the disability of the student, differentiation and social support strategies (Able, et al., 2015). Like their special needs and student counterparts, teachers too can benefit from collaborative environments. Able, et al. (2015) concluded that one way to facilitate the needs of a positive included environment is to increase collaboration between general and special educators. When teachers and schools have better quality collaboration, there are better student achievement levels in math and reading (Ronfeldt et al., 2015).
Additionally, better collaborative educational environments were equitable to correlations with better social outcomes for students (Ronfeldt, et al., 2015). Furthermore, Ronfeld, et al. (2015) concluded that teachers improve at greater rates when they work in schools with better collaboration quality. With an already identified gap in teacher efficacy with special needs students in inclusive settings, having collaborative environments will help teachers be better at what they do.
Pajua, et al. (2016) stated, “Pedagogical and practical knowledge, as well as collaborative skills in teaching SEN pupils, is focused on special educators” (p. 801). It would benefit general education instructors to have more in service training and more effective cooperation between special education teachers (Pajua, et al., 2016). Not only does collaboration and education increase what the teachers do and how they engage special needs students, it also impacts their beliefs about disability. Jordan, Schwarts and McGhie-Richmond (2009) concluded that a teacher’s beliefs about disability and their responsibilities for their students with disabilities and special needs are demonstrative of a broader set of attitudes about the school and the nature of knowledge itself.
Adams, Harris and Jones (2018) stated that the collaborative team approach has emerged as a model for addressing the curricular needs of all children in one classroom. It helps with efficacy in decision making and it has been proven to produce high quality student outcomes (Adams, Harris & Jones, 2018). Overall, the communicative paradigm is such that it has to come from multiple stakeholders. Often the teacher/collaboration context is considered to be among educational professionals only, at this leaves out key components of the student’s microsystem.
Studies from around the globe suggest that collaboration between parents and teachers is necessary to help with peak student educational experience (Adams, Harris & Jones, 2018). Despite these benefits, this often does not occur. According to Kraft and Rogers (2015), parents state that they received little communication from teachers. When communication between parents and teachers is open, students perform better. For example, when parents and teachers collaborate, there is a reduced percentage of students who failed summer courses from 16% to 9%, which is a statistically significant figure (Kraft & Rogers, 2015).
Additionally, a 41% reduction in failure rates overall and dismal rates were found to correlate with increased communication between care givers and teachers (Kraft & Rogers, 2015). In terms of communication types, those messages that emphasize student behaviors had the largest impact in the Kraft and Rogers (2015) study. Statistically, significant improvements come even after simple one sentence teacher to parent messaging thereby making the communication paradigm one that takes little time and can be easily integrated into the educational process (Kraft & Rogers, 2015).
This method is additionally cost-effective with typical cost per credit variables being reduced in this paradigm due to fewer students having to retake courses due to failure (Kraft & Rogers, 2015). Overall, parent-to-teacher and teacher-to-parent communication empowers (Kraft & Rogers, 2015).
Within the diversity perspective, Harry, Allen and McClaughlin (1995) examined African American parental involvement with special education teachers. The researchers found that there is a disillusionment and separation present among African American urban populations and teachers (Harry, Allen & McClaughlin, 1995). These relationships should be facilitated and move from disillusionment and compliance to actual true communication (Harry, Allen & McClaughlin, 1995). With mass communications, the ability to quickly interact with parents has never been easier. Bastiani (2018) concluded that this is a opportune but still challenging time for making more effective relationships between families and schools. Politicians, parents and professionals should all be collaborating and working together because when they do, the student benefits (Bastinia, 2018).
These benefits are even more pronounced for special needs students (Bastinia, 2018). The benefits of student/teacher/school collaboration through communication have benefits that can be statistically and perceptually substantiated in both short and long term contexts thereby making them key issues for all educational stakeholders (Bastinia, 2018). Teacher-parent collaboration is more difficult to promote and maintain if teachers and parents are working as separate units (Adams, Harris & Jones, 2018; Braley, 2012).
Based on the evidence presented in the review of literature, there first is established a benefit of inclusion in those settings where inclusion is employed properly. Perceptually, however, teachers view themselves as being ill equipped to fully understand and deal with special needs students in general education classes. This hurts their self-efficacy and additionally, the presented research shows that they are in fact underprepared. Better preparation will have better outcomes. Beyond the self-efficacy of staff in included environments, the research additionally shows that included and general education students both benefit from peer collaboration.
Working together in groups guided but not controlled by adults has positive team building, social and academic outcomes. It additionally helps reduce bullying and other negative interactions between students. Special education students who have more peer interactions that are positive, additionally have better perceived views of education. When this is established at early phases in education, it creates a foundation on which a more positive school experience can be built in the long term. Also illustrated in the literature is the importance of collaboration. Collaboration between all educational stakeholders is important for inclusion to work properly. Though often overlooked, parent/school and parent/teacher collaboration is very important in the outcomes of special needs students. This has to extend beyond a yearly IEP meeting and into regular weekly communicative paradigms (Bastinia, 2018).
The proposed action research method structure is mixed methods in nature. In this capacity, there will be both a quantitative and qualitative component of data collection and analysis. The study data will be composed of:
(1) instructor observations
(2) student achievement and
(3) parental perceptual data at the conclusion of the process.
The approach is designed to see how and to what extent student engagement can be increased in kindergarten students with special needs, two collaboration techniques that target different stakeholders in the special needs students’ life were evaluated. The selected research examined the following methods:
(1) collaborative team approaches that involves families, teachers, service staff & administration, and
(2) structured group activity circles to increase interaction between peers and students with special needs.
Each method was examined through an observational and performance based evaluative research tool. All of the methods employed are ongoing. The collaborative team approaches were used throughout the semester and the group circle activities were employed in lesson plans at least once a week for the duration of the study, which was one quarter in the school year. The observational patterns and the perceptual patterns of the parents are qualitative data that will be used to establish engagement levels.
The setting for the study is Garfield Elementary School in Revere, Massachusetts (Suffolk County). The class size is 25 students, of which 13 are boys and 11 are girls. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (2018) the following characteristics of the setting are applicable: the school is PK – 5th grade, the total students are 803, the student to teacher ratio is 14.53 and the school is characterized as being a large suburb. The race/ethnicity breakdown of the school is 59 Asian, 22 Black, 468 Hispanic, 1 Native/Pacific Islander, 241 White and 12 students classified as two or more races (NCES, 2018). There are 405 male students and 398 female students (NCES, 2018). The proficiency of student math is 71%, which is higher than the Massachusetts state average and the student proficiency of reading/language arts is 64%, which is lower than the state average (NCES, 2018). Overall, the district places in the bottom 50% of schools in Massachusetts for overall test scores. The setting has a higher student to teacher ratio than the Massachusetts average and a higher than state average minority enrollment at 69% versus 37% (NCES, 2018).
There are four children in the class with IEPs. Two are speech related, one has ADHD with a learning disability and the other is classified on the Autistic Spectrum (high functioning). While all students in the class will be participating in the group activities, it is these four participants who will be the targets of the interventions. They are classified with the following profiles:
Student A). IEP related to speech. Has highly engaged parents of Hispanic descent and is male. This student is more social with classmates than the other students but still seems to have fewer friends than most of his general education counterparts. Student A has few behavioral problems.
Student B). IEP related to speech. Has more detached parents and is of White decent and female. This student is detached from the classmates, interacts with peers infrequently and has occasional problems with behavior.
Student C). ADHD and learning disabled. The student is of Hispanic descent and has detached parents. Student C is male and Hispanic. Student C is disengaged from classmates. He frequently appears agitated by classmates and also agitates fellow classmates. He additionally has frequent behavior problems that often necessitate intervention on behalf of the special education teacher and principal.
Student D). Highly functioning autistic spectrum. The student is white and has highly engaged parents. The student is male. This student is highly detached from peers and usually does not display discipline related issues. There have been some instances where the student has lashed out due to frustration.
The level of parental engagement prior to the intervention was accessed related to how often they contact the teacher and how receptive they are to information at the time of contact. This assessment was based on informal observation and experience with the parents in the first two quarters. All of the students are typically less engaged in classroom activities than their general education counterparts as estimated by the researcher’s observations in the first semester of school.
Procedure and Timeline of Data Collection
The timeline for the data collection will be throughout the third quarter of the school year. At the conclusion of the third quarter, the data collected will be analyzed so the degree of engagement, the degree of performance and the perceptions of the parents can be established. The procedure for the study will first be established by grouping the four students. Two students have been recorded as having engaged parents and two have been recorded as having less engaged parents. Parents is being employed as a blanket term for caregiver(s). No notation of single parent homes or caregivers that are not biological have been made for this study. Collaborative engagement level at the time of the study is the only element being identified. Student to teacher collaboration will be divided into two groups.
Group (A) will be highly collaborative with the parents helping plan and having weekly communication with the teacher.
Group (B) will be a low collaborative situation where parents are informed of the direction for the semester and will be given one way communication bi monthly rather than weekly.
Both group A and group B will have a parent that was identified as being highly engaged and one of low engagement. This split will allow the results of collaborative highly engaged communication to be compared with lower levels of communication engagement between the parents.
Student performance will be accessed using grades from the previous semester to compare with grades from the experimental semester. Quantitative differences will be recorded. The qualitative observational data will be generated throughout the semester as the researcher observes how the students behave and are engaged in the guided group circle activities that will be employed at least one time per week. At the conclusion of the quarter, an interview will all of the parents will be conducted and recorded to gain their insight into how the semester went and to judge how well they think their child is performing academically, socially and perceptually.
The following data sets will be examined: Special Education Student Engagement and Attitudes, General Student Engagement and Attitudes, Parental Perception (post study interview) and Special Education Student Performance.
The special education student engagement will be accessed with observational data that will be recorded in journals by the researcher. At the conclusion of each activity, the degree to which the student was or was not engaged will be noted along with relevant dimensions. At the conclusion of the study, reoccurring themes will be highlighted in a thematic matrix for ease of analysis. General student engagement and attitudes will be accessed with the same observational methods reported for the special education students. These will not be targeted for each general education student, but for the group at large.
Reoccurring themes will again be noted along with relevant dimensions in a thematic matrix. Parental perception will be consulted in an informal interview that will take place and be recorded at the conclusion of the semester. The parental perceptions of those who engaged in collaboration teams with the teacher will be compared to those parents who did not engage in a collaboration team. Similarities and differences will be noted. Student performance will be quantitative in nature because it will compare their grade performance from the first quarters with the experimental quarter (2nd). If the interventions are successful on the academic performance levels, there will statistically significant changes in their grades at the conclusion of the third semester.
For the protection of the students, the actual names of the parents and the special education students will be classified only as their corresponding letter. Only parents, the researcher and special education instructor will be aware of which child is which in regards to the data presented. All of the interventions being employed are ethical in that they represent proven evidence based practice. The only differences in the groups are the degree to which their parents are collaborating in the education process. The students will not be aware that any study is taking place and it will be presented as school as usual.
At any time if there is an adverse reaction to the interventions that is hindering the student learning process or social process, the student will be removed from the process and new approaches will be established with the collaborative effort of the special education teacher and the respective parents. Additionally, if for some reason the circle activities are producing negative outcomes for students, the study will also be stopped accordingly.
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