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Action Research: Special Education Students in Inclusion Settings

Kerry Bryan
December 16, 2013
Southwestern College Professional Studies
Submitted to Dr. Teresa San Martin


This action research study is focuses on special education in inclusionary settings.
It looks at the interactions between general education teachers and special education
students, as well as the effects of using visual schedules with students. It begins with a
reflection of the topic as well as a review of literature about inclusion. Next it goes into
the purpose of the study, the setting and participants, and the interventions that are used.
Information for data collection and the plan to increase validity follow. Lastly there are
projected results and conclusions of the study.


Research Focus
Inclusion is a reality in special education programs across the nations. Sometimes
students are only included in special education for a very limited time, but other students
spend much of their day in the general education classroom. Each student is unique with
distinctive needs and so appropriate accommodations are set for them. But what makes an
inclusion setting successful? As a special education teacher in a lower elementary
classroom, I want to learn more about what can make these environments most
successful. I believe that each student deserves the best individualized education possible
and this research should reveal best practices for parties involved in inclusion, including
administration, general and special education teachers, instructional assistants, and
support staff. By researching the purposes of inclusion, attitudes of those involved,
adapting instruction, impact on general education students, and communication, I hope to
learn more about what a positive picture of inclusion looks like. The research questions
are as follows: Which techniques do teachers use to produce proper behaviors for special
education students in inclusion settings? And In what ways do visual schedules help
special needs students while theyre in inclusion settings?
Search Process
I began with a broad search of inclusion in schools in the EBSCOhost website,
looking only for articles that were peer reviewed and provided full text options. After
those initial article results, I scanned to only see a few articles that I thought applied to
my study. I added the word success because I specifically wanted to learn about what
made a positive inclusion environment. I looked for grade levels or words that


particularly showed me that the articles were about elementary aged children, since that is
my focus. I was interested to find a few articles written in other countries. I included
these as I thought they would be helpful for diverse perspectives.
Literature Review
Inclusion comes from students in the United States having the right to their own
least restrictive environment in schools (Hammel, 2004). Special education students can
spend the day in the general education classroom with their peers if it is an appropriate
learning environment for them. Schools are required to provide proper support to help
students succeed in these settings. Not only does this help students academically, but also
it provides a major advantage for them in a social context. By interacting with students
their own age, they are apt to improve socially (Gibb, Tunbridge, Chua, & Frederickson,
Attitudes of school personnel (classroom and special education teachers,
instructional assistants, administration, and support staff) are crucial in the inclusion
process. Classroom teachers who are involved in inclusion often have a positive attitude,
and their attitudes rub off on their students. The discouragement from teachers comes
when teachers do not feel capable of meeting the needs of the students with special needs
(Minke & Bear, 1996). Principals, in general, seem to be supportive, and believed that in
order for inclusion to be successful; classroom teachers must have assistance (Idol, 2006).
Principals are not the only ones contemplating the effects of inclusion. Teachers
agree that in order for them to provide a decent education for the special needs students,
they need help. Teachers who are given proper support and resources have a better


attitude and more positive experience about inclusion (Batu, 2010). However, many
teachers did not feel prepared to adapt instruction for special needs kids on their own
(Smith & Smith, 2006), they need help. Best practices of inclusion were only shared in a
few articles. However, some researchers noted that visual displays prove to be helpful for
students with special needs (Batu, 2010) as well as activities that are hands on (Hammel,
Despite the struggles teachers may have in accommodating special needs children
in their general education classrooms, there are a lot of positive effects for the other
students in the classroom. Although some students seem to be unaffected by the presence
of a special education peer, most appear to benefit by the addition in the classroom (Idol,
2006). Gibb, Tunbridge, Chua, & Frederickson found that sometimes special needs kids
who are with general education peers can be more likely to be a target for bullying
(2007). However, if students start at a young age in inclusion classrooms, then general
education students are likely to become more accepting.
Communication is important in all aspects of our lives, and schools are no
exception. Special education students who are included in the general education
classroom have so many adults involved in their schooling that often communication falls
through the cracks. As a result, teachers seem unsure of their roles and how to best carry
them out (Idol, 2006). Also, as students move up to the next grade each year, there is
often poor communication between teachers (Fox, Farrell, & Davis, 2004). Unfortunately
this means that the positive techniques that teachers learn are not being passed on.


Literature Review Conclusion

Inclusion is a huge topic that educators are constantly learning more and more
about. Although I wanted to learn more about best practices, I found out that the research
is not available. Perhaps it is because of the ever-changing special education laws, or the
way that each school does things differently. However, learning about teachers
experiences and attitudes proved to be helpful to learn more about inclusion. Through
more research and my personal experiences I hope to find more ways of making inclusion
Purpose and Research
Inclusion is important for special needs students to grow socially and
academically. When it is appropriate for them, according to their IEP and determined
LRE, educators need to work hard to lead them toward success. Yet, sometimes
behaviors in the general education classroom can be a tough issue. The purpose of my
investigation is to find out some techniques that work for students in these settings. Of
course, every student is different so if a certain strategy works for one student, there is no
guarantee itd work for somebody else. The idea of this study is to find some common
techniques that can be used (or at least tried) for special education students in inclusion
Setting and Participants
The elementary school is in an affluent, suburban part of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
There are about 550 students in the school (kindergarten-grade five), with an average


class size of 22 students. Parents are very involved in the classrooms and helping with
outside activities. Last year eight students were suspended from the school and none
were expelled. In the district 15% of students receive free or reduced lunch. About 12%
of the students receive special education services. The group of participants is students in
kindergarten-grade three who are in the mild-moderate special education classes. They
are either on the autism spectrum or have Downs syndrome. These students spend a
variety of time in general education classrooms, according to their needs in their
individualized education programs. This ranges from only going to special classes (art,
music, physical education, and library) to spending almost the entire day in the general
education classroom. The special education students are offered the following support,
according to their needs: speech, occupational therapy, physical therapy, adaptive
physical education, and access to the sensory room.
The intervention will include giving students a picture schedule of what is
happening so they know what to expect next. When needed a reward can be put in the
schedule so the student has something to work towards during a time that is hard for
him/her. For many students a schedule with pictures will work best. That way they can
move the activity off of the schedule when theyve completed it. The student will also be
reminded verbally, First youll listen to the story then it will be recess time.
Data Collection Strategies
Data collection is a crucial step in any research project. First, baseline data is
definitely important in this study because Ill want to be able to see growth over the


weeks that Im observing. Ill need to know how students are reacting to teachers and
how students are doing without visual schedules at the beginning of the study. I will
begin with baseline data and track students for one grading period (nine weeks). I will
compile data at the end of each week to show the progress that has been made. I will use
a checklist to record interactions between the general education teacher and student to
show when proper behaviors are taking place. It will also specifically list behaviors
connected with visual schedules to show specific actions that students are participating
in. Field notes will help me to write specific phrases or techniques that teachers used to
take the student from misbehaving to proper behavior. Photographs are another type of
observational data that can help others to see varying environments and pictures of the
visual schedules.
Plan for Increasing Validity
Process validity will be an important type of validity in this study. Since the
amount of participants is small (eight students), nine weeks of daily study of each student
is a thorough amount of time to observe students in various settings and at a variety of
times throughout the school day. One quarter of the school year is plenty of time to
watch the growth and change of students. It also gives time to start new practices in the
final quarter of the school year.
It is crucial that results of the study are displayed in an honest, accurate way.
Neutrality/confirmability shows that this can be done by not only being aware of ones
own biases, but by being intentional throughout the study to show what actually
happened. Observations and field notes should help with the accuracy and the


compilation of data from checklists will prove to be straightforward. Presenting these in

a clear manner will be important to the validity of the study.
It is good to have someone who is not directly related to the study with whom you
can discuss and bounce ideas off of. A critical friend is helpful to provide truthful, honest
feedback and assist with direction and planning. Dialogic validity shows the power of
debriefing and having someone help with fact checking. This again helps with
identifying and eliminating possible biases and keeping information accurate.
Projected Results
I think the more general education teachers spend time with the special education
students in their classes, the better they will become at connecting with them. The
relationships should improve over time, and also show more positive student behavior. I
also think visual schedules would be helpful in the transitions for students during the day.
This is applicable both for going from one subject to another and also in moving from
general education to special education. Hopefully the data will be triangulated based on
the fact that I observed students in various settings and situations. If I had the actual
results of the study Id be able to present them with graphs and samples.
Special education students encounter a lot in every school day. Different teachers,
various environments, and changes in schedule make it hard for consistency. When
students can connect with their teachers (including general education teachers) and know
what to expect with a visual schedule, it can make their days much smoother. I think this

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is an important study because it aims to help both students and teachers. I hope that it
would be able to provide best practices for other teachers to learn from. Im confident
that it would be useful for students as well. It is important that we, as educators, continue
to strive to make inclusion settings the best they can be for our students.

Inclusion 11
Batu, E. (2010). Factors for the success of early childhood inclusion & related studies in
turkey. International Journal Of Early Childhood Special Education, 2(1), 57- 71.
Fox, S., Farrell, P., & Davis, P. (2004). Factors associated with the effective inclusion of
primary-aged pupils with down's syndrome. British Journal Of Special Education,
31(4), 184-190.
Gibb, K., Tunbridge, D., Chua, A., & Frederickson, N. (2007). Pathways to inclusion:
Moving from special school to mainstream. Educational Psychology In Practice,
23(2), 109-127.
Hammel, A. M. (2004). Inclusion strategies that work. Music Educators Journal, 90(5),
Idol, L. (2006). Toward inclusion of special education students in general education: A
program evaluation of eight Schools. Remedial And Special Education, 27(2), 7794.
Minke, K. M., & Bear, G. G. (1996). Teachers' experiences with inclusive classrooms:
Implications for special education reform. Journal Of Special Education, 30(2),
Smith, M.K., Smith K. E. (2000). I believe in inclusion, but...: Regular education early
childhood teachers perceptions of successful inclusion. Journal of Research in
Childhood Education, 14(2).

Inclusion 12
Wiebe Berry, R.,A. (2006). Inclusion, power, and community: Teachers and students
interpret the language of community in an inclusion classroom. American
Educational Research Journal, 43(3), 489-529.

Inclusion 13
Appendix A: Checklist
-One checklist is used per lesson/observational period (math lesson, music class,
lunchtime, recess, etc.
-Multiple checkmarks are put for repeated behaviors
-Student is the special needs student in the classroom. Teacher refers to the general
education teacher.
Student Name_______________________________ Date________________________
Observational period__________________________Time________________________

Student responds positively to reinforcement from teacher.

Student ignores reinforcement from teacher.
Student follows whole class directions.
Student needs redirection.
Student uses clues from peers to follow directions.
Student does not stay with the group.
Student shows disruptive behavior.
Student receives discipline from teacher.
Student interacts with general education peers.
Student initiates contact with general education peers.
Student initiates contact with general education teacher.
Student initiates contact with instructional assistant.
Student asks for visual schedule.
Student calms down after seeing visual schedule.
Student struggles with changes that were not shown on visual schedule.
Student repeats information learned from visual schedule.
Student has a rough transition from one activity/lesson to another.

Teacher calls on student to participate.

Teacher redirects student.
Teacher affirms student.
Teacher calls on student for participation.
Teacher disciplines student.
Teacher gives special directions (different than the rest of the class) to student.

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Appendix B: Informed Consent Form
Authorization for a Minor to Serve as a Research Participant
Dear Parents,
I will be conducting a study in our school (at various times throughout the day including
lunch, recess, special classes and times in general education classrooms) to determine the
best techniques that teachers can you to effectively work with students. I will also be
researching the impact of visual schedules have on students. Students will not be
completing extra work or assignments for this study. This has been approved by the
principal, but is voluntary for your students. If you have questions, you may contact me
at any time.
The goal of the study is to better serve students at our school by learning about effective
means of behavior management and the usefulness of visual schedules. It will take place
at Eel River Elementary for nine weeks, from on January 6, 2014 March 7, 2014 (third
quarter). I will collect data mostly through the means of observation, but also checklists
of student behaviors. I will use photographs as evidence of which visual schedules
worked (or didnt work) for particular students.
This study can benefit your child because it will give me a deeper look at how I can best
serve him/her. Emily Ring, the special education teacher, and I will be the only ones able
to interact the data from the study. I will be the only one with access to anything
associated with your childs name/identity.
Use of your childs data is completely voluntary. If at any time you wish not to have your
childs data included in the study, please contact me and Ill be more than happy to
Please check the appropriate box and sign below.
My childs data may be used in this study. I understand I will receive a copy of this
form. I have read and understand this form.
My childs data may not be used in this study.
Childs name_______________________________________
Signature of parent/guardian______________________________ Date______________
Adapted from Figure 4.2: Informed consent template for minors

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Appendix C: Timeline
October 15-20

Begin reflection of action research. Review other action research


October 21-27

Begin researching topics and narrow down ideas for action

research project.

Oct. 28-Nov. 1

Review literature about inclusion

November 1-8

Contact Eel River school principal and Northwest Allen County

Schools for permission of the study.

November 9-16

Contact Southwestern University Institutional Review Board for

permission to conduct study.

November 17-24

Seek permission from parents of participants to be involved in the


Nov. 25-Dec. 20

Collect baseline data from students (observations, checklists, etc.)

January 6-24

Begin collecting of data and compile first three weeks worth of

information. (Data can be broken apart to show week-by-week
growth later.)

Jan. 27-Feb. 14

Compile next three weeks worth of observations, field notes, and


Feb. 17-Mar. 7

Collect final three weeks of data.

March 10-21

Data analysis and compilation of results

Mar. 24-April 4

Write action research paper

April 7-18

Edit action research paper

Begin to use information learned to create a more effective