Positive Learning Environment and the Inclusion Model

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 taken 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 discovery.

Methodology & Approach: This project uses the PAR (Participatory Action Research) which attempts to:

  • Diagnose a situation
  • Act to improve it
  • Measure or evaluate their effectiveness, and
  • Reflect on their learning and plan the next step

The Approach:

  1. Identified individuals for the collective project.
    1. In this study a group of students with learning disabilities are followed into inclusionary classroom.  Each student has his or her own special challenges to learning and socializing in school, community, and at home.  The other contributing group are the general education students in the same classrooms.
  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. 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, 125 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.
    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.  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, support students in grasping the lesson,  differentiation as needed.
  3. Change the culture of working groups, institutions, and society.
    1. Students must feel safe, respected, engaged, connected and supported in order to establish a positive learning environment.  There cannot be too many distractions from delivering the lesson.
    2. The study group is comprised of both special education 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 have formed a cohesive bond once they see the benefits of being community minded.  They have been providing constructive feedback on the formulated decisions.
  4. Take Action 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 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 Project- As you go through each iteration not everyone will be in agreement to the evolving solutions.  In school stakeholders (students, teachers, administration) must act deliberately, though remaining open to surprises and responsive to opportunities.
  6. Knowledge Production– from the workers, shared by group participants, and from academics.
    1. The information gathered through the iteration process must be collaborative even thou some of it comes from the researchers and those being researched.  When it is disseminated there should not be any distinction of ownership.  As the data was collected, charts were formulated with new questions and proposed solutions with no distinction of sources.
  7. Engaging the Politics of Research Action– PAR “involves people in making critical analyses of the situations (projects, programs, systems) in which they work” (McTaggart).  Information gathered during the iterations is gathered from stakeholders coming from different demographics, as such political views will vary.  The stakeholders in this project were consistently reminded that there at least one common problem and that together they will discover solutions.
  8. Methodological Resources– Information is collected in the usual naturalistic research ways” seeking “understanding of people’s subjective experience of their institutional situation and at the same time try to give working accounts of the contexts in which meanings are constituted” (McTaggart).  Researchers were reminded that they must remain objective even thou they are a part of the subjective environment being evaluated.
  9. Creating the Theory of the Work– PAR “allows and requires participants to give a reasoned justification of their social and educational work to others” (McTaggart) through self-reflection “because they can show how the evidence they have gathered and the critical reflection they have done have helped them to create a developed, tested, and critically-examined rationale for what they are doing” (McTaggart).  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 that can affect the PAR project results:

  • 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 with 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.

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 (Huntington K-12 Middle School in Syracuse, N.Y.).


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