Positive Learning Environment and the Inclusion Model

by Godfrey Stokes, NYU student, 2018

The Web Blog

A web blog was created for this research project (http://www. valuedlearners.com).

Purpose

This web blog aims to provide information from a research study designed to evaluate eighth-grade classroom learning environments in an urban school district.  More specifically, this study follows academic progress of a group of fourteen students diagnosed with a variety of learning disabilities as they navigate throughout the day in general education classrooms for entire school year. What is being evaluated is their ability to learn with the general education students in urban classroom environment.  The theoretical position posit is that learning in safe and positive learning environments support academic success and the students’ academic scoring will reflect on that.  There are some assumptions being made in this study one being that the data gathered from the respondents is not political motivated and the researchers did remain unbiased in their discoveries.

Methodology & Approach:

This project uses the PAR (Participatory Action Research) methodology to:

  • Diagnose a situation.
  • Act to improve it.
  • Measure or evaluate the effectiveness of the actions, and
  • Reflect on what was learned and plan the next step.

The Approach:

  1. Identified individuals for the PAR project.
    1. In this study a group of students with learning disabilities are followed into inclusion classrooms. Each student has his or her own special challenges to learning and socializing in the school, the community, and at home.  The other contributing group are the general education students in the same classes.
  2. Current problems that exist and type of corrective actions taken to effect change.
    1. It is not unheard of that teachers in urban schools face complex challenges from a diverse culture of students. These teachers are “expected to know content and pedagogy, develop engaging lessons that meet the needs of diverse learners, and use a variety of instructional strategies that will boost student achievement while they simultaneously develop positive relationships with, on average, 120 students each day who are experiencing the personal, social, and cognitive challenges and opportunities of early adolescence (Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, 1995; Schmakel, 2008).
    2. “Teaching is complex and cannot be reduced to discrete tasks that can be mastered one at a time” (Beaty-O’Ferrall, M. E., Green, A., Hanna). Teaching is a symphony of exercises that must be orchestrated simultaneously.  The students will disengage if they feel they are not learning.
    3. Teachers must “win their students’ hearts while getting inside their students’ heads” (Wolk, 2003, p. 14). As Haberman (1995) suggested, this winning of the hearts occurs through very personal interactions, one student at a time” (Beaty-O’Ferrall, M. E., Green, A., Hanna).
    4. One common resource that can provide solutions is to use a co-teaching model having at least two teachers in the classroom in the inclusion model. The teachers share in providing the elements for a productive learning environment.  Elements to be considered are the delivery and execution (pedagogy) of the lesson, classroom management, student support in comprehension of the lessons, differentiation of the lesson plan as needed.
  3. Change the culture of working groups, institutions, and society.
    1. Students must feel safe, respected, engaged, connected and supported to establish a positive learning environment. There cannot be too many distractions from delivering the lesson.
    2. The study group is comprised of both SWDs and general education students. These students have been working together the entire year.  We have been adapting classroom strategies throughout the year, we have been addressing issues, coming up with approachable solutions, reviewing the results, and customizing our delivery approach.   The students formed a trust with us once they saw the benefits of being community minded.  They have been providing constructive feedback on the discoveries.
  4. Act and Reflect on results.
    1. We have tried many strategies throughout the year. We learned that one solution cannot be applied in every situation and that there are many variances that must be interpreted in each situation. As such, there were many iterations followed up by reflections.  In each iteration cycle the requirements are accessed and solutions evolve through collaboration by all that are involved.
  5. Unifying the Intellectual and Practical Ideas.
    1. We identified the reoccurring problems that take-a-way from the classroom environment, try some solutions and reflect on the results. We act deliberately, though remaining open to surprises and responsive to opportunities.
  6. Knowledge Production
    1. The information gathered through the iteration process builds on the knowledge base. The results are shared with other teachers, and explanations were provided to all students in attendance. Collaboration comes from the researchers and those being researched.
  7. Research Action Evaluated
    1. Surveys are taken, assessments data is gathered where critical analyses of the results are needed. Information gathered during the iterations was gathered from all stakeholders coming from different demographics, as such political views did vary.  The stakeholders in this project were consistently reminded that there at least one common problem and together they will discover solutions.
  8. Work Justification
    1. We provided reasoned justification for this project in a form of statistics. There is no direct correlation between the result of this study and the statistics provided, however, it does provide justification for finding ways to improve academic performance.  Because of the commitment to the project by all including hashing out viable solutions with participants with varying interpretations of the problems is worth sharing the data and results with others in the field of education.  This entire process is about heightening awareness and increasing knowledge.

Potential Problems with PAR approach:

  • Small scale representation- may make it difficult to generalize problems and solutions. Problems and solutions must be applicable in large scale applications.
  • Researchers are participants in the project- as such their objectivity may be skewed from their individual backgrounds, experiences, and their desire to see specific outcomes may alter the effectiveness of the iteration processes.
  • Practical constraints- time, limitations in resources, and accessibility.

The focus on the pedagogy can limit the potential of the research.

Findings

The final results of this project are documented on this web blog to be shared with stakeholders in the field of education, however, this document provides a second source of information from the research project.

Originality/value

Most of the information in this study comes from field observations, interviews, surveys, and scholarly writings.  This web blog is intended to be a direct and concise guide summarizing the findings in one urban middle school and one group of eighth-graders with learning disabilities.

 


References

Beaty-O’Ferrall, M. E., Green, A., Hanna, F. (n.d.) Promoting Change through Relationships. Classroom Management Strategies for Difficult Students. (AMLE) Association for Middle Level Education. Retrieved on May 29, 2018. From https://www.amle.org/BrowsebyTopic/WhatsNew/WNDet/TabId/270/ArtMID/888/ArticleID/129/Classroom-Management-Strategies-for-Difficult-Students.aspx

Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development. (1995). Great transitions: Preparing adolescents for a new century. Waldorf, MD: Carnegie Corporation of New York.

McTaggart, R. (1991).  Principles for participatory action research.  Adult Education Quarterly, 41(3), 168-187. https://getit.library.nyu.edu/go/9430492