Teachers’ Perceptions about Inclusion of Students with Disabilities
In a Rural High School research methodology
Chapter 3: Methodology………………………………………………………………………………………. 52
Purpose and Study Questions…………………………………………………………………….. 52
Research Design………………………………………………………………………………………. 52
Research Design Appropriateness………………………………………………………………. 55
Strategies of Inquiry…………………………………………………………………………………. 57
Participants and Sampling Methods……………………………………………………………. 60
Data Collection Methods…………………………………………………………………………… 61
Informed Consent…………………………………………………………………………………….. 61
Data Management and Analysis…………………………………………………………………. 62
Study Reliability and Vitality…………………………………………………………………….. 63
The purpose of this study is to investigate teachers’ perceptions associated with inclusion of students with learning disabilities at the secondary level in a rural school district. According to the NCLB Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, inclusion is a means to meet the needs of special education students in the general education setting. Before planning and implementing inclusive classrooms, a few variables such as building relational capacity, shared planning time, and administrative support and training need to be put in place. Understanding these important components of inclusive classrooms can help teachers create, maintain, and sustain effective inclusive environments.
The methodological approach of the present study will be shaped in large part by the work of Creswell (2009) and his unique perspective on and enthusiasm for the observer-participant model. Creswell (2009) has had an especially formative effect on the researcher’s understanding of both the opportunities and limitations of long-term immersion and so-called thick description–unusually deep and comprehensive data collection achieved principally through a blend of creative and traditional techniques mixed to structure, rigor, and overall discipline. Creswell’s (2009) fundamental goal is always to locate and settle on the fine line been objective observation (and the rewards inherent to that approach) and subjective participation, which offers especially unique rewards in terms of recognition of subtle detail, understanding of study participants and their unique environments, and a larger sense of potentially significant intangibles that often escape the notice of the fully detached researcher. This researcher understands that the study itself and any actions associated with it will affect the experience of those within the system. The present study’s proposed methodology seeks to embrace, not dismiss, the influence of emotion and subjective perception and impression. However, these elements in and of themselves have little value without data that are recorded and interpreted using strict and consistent methods.
To answer the questions, a phenomenological research design using focus groups will be utilized. Phenomenology is a research design used to explore the perceptions, opinions, and feelings of participants based on their lived experiences with a particular phenomenon. The phenomenological design involves investigating the experiences of individuals in order to obtain “comprehensive descriptions that provide the basis for a reflective structural analysis that portrays the essences of the experience” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 13). Researchers use phenomenology to arrive at the essential meaning of lived experience as it pertains to a particular research focus. Specifically, the proposed study will use Moustakas’ (1994) modified van Kaam method of phenomenological induction.
Moustakas (1994) argued, “Phenomena are the building blocks of human science and the basis for all knowledge” (p. 26). Through the seven steps of phenomenological induction as outlined by Moustakas, the teachers’ responses to the open-ended interview questions can be coded and reduced to arrive at the essence of the participants’ experiences and opinions with regard to the central research focus. Phenomenology is useful because of the open nature of the analysis, which allows conclusions to be drawn from the responses of participants across the sample.
Phenomenology rejects rational objectivity and emphasizes the importance of subjective experience and contextual consciousness (Groenwald, 2004). Only those individuals experiencing a phenomenon constitute a reliable source of insight into reality and certainty (Moustakas, 1994). In phenomenology, reality is established through a process of uncovering the meaning of a specific phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). In this study, the meaning of reality was uncovered through a process of semi-structured interviews of participants who were chosen by purposive sampling.
Moustakas (1994) contended that every phenomenon is worthy of exploration. Phenomenology captures the essence of the phenomenon within the context of meaning for those experiencing the phenomenon, which signifies the uniqueness and subjective nature of the studied phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). For this study, the focus of the research is to uncover and understand the perceptions and experiences of school teachers with regard to inclusive practices. The researcher plans to investigate the co-teaching relationships and perceptions of secondary teachers. In addition, the researcher wants to determine the types of support and resources needed by the co-teachers. The overall impact of the study on co-teachers will be to design a comprehensive professional development system that will address teachers’ needs according to the study’s results for all stakeholders involved in supporting student achievement through the model of co-teaching and inclusion.
There are two primary approaches to phenomenology: interpretive and transcendental (Creswell, 2009). These two approaches are similar in philosophical foundation in that both rely on the subjective accounts of those that are studied (Brocki & Wearden, 2006). The difference between the two approaches is in the manner in which the data are processed by the researcher (Creswell, 2009). In interpretive phenomenology, the researcher clarifies and explains the experience of the phenomenon: “Joint reflections of both participant and researcher form the analytic account” (Brocki & Weardon, 2006, p. 88). In transcendental phenomenology, the researcher does not provide an explanation of the participant’s experience; the participant’s experience is recorded and described “just as we [researchers] see them” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 49). This study used a transcendental approach in which the meaning of the experience was based on the participants’ descriptions of the phenomenon. Phenomenological research cannot be conducted without participant interviews or focus groups (Moustakas, 1994). Focus groups will be used particularly for this study.
Focus grouping became a common interviewing technique around the 1920s and during the time when they were used to measure public morale during World War 2 (Basch, 1987). Focus group interviewing entails a group classed as focus, because they commonly engage in an activity. Using this technique of interviewing allows the researcher to observe the interaction between participants while simultaneously noting down their responses to the questions. It also allows for collective remembering, as illustrated by Kitzinger (1994) in his study of people’s experience with AIDS. He used participants who knew each other and observed how they talked about the disease surrounded by other participants with the same experience. Through the method, he was able to observe the interactions as they naturally would or as “naturally occurring data” (Kitzinger, 1994, p. 105). Therefore, focus groups are a vital tool for gathering data in the field of social sciences.
Research Design Appropriateness
The research design is dependent on the topic to be researched, how the topic is going to be approached, and the participant’s personal experiences. The research design is determined by the question being studied. Creswell (2005) stated that the research process for a study develops from the identification of the research problem over the review of the relevant literature, specifying a purpose for the research and moving towards a selection of the appropriate research design. Three distinctive types of research that are generally used include quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-method.
A quantitative research design is where the research is under the control of the researcher and the researcher dictates the flow of the study by asking specific questions and analyzes the data in an unbiased manner. Quantitative research is the first type of research used for topic evaluation. Qualitative research design, on the other hand, is a derivative of quantitative research and is where the outcome of the research is determined by the views and experiences of the participants being researched (Creswell, 2005). The object of the quantitative method is to measure objectively a controlled element of human behavior. A qualitative method, however, unlike quantitative research, seeks to unfold human meaning experiences and understanding by humans’ everyday interaction with the environment (Poggenpoel, Myburgh, & VanDer Linde, 2001). A mixed-methods research design is a combination of both qualitative and quantitative research methods.
Research designs stem from the research problem and the questions arose as a result of reviewing the literature (Creswell, 2005). Answering the research questions based on human perspective and experience necessitates a qualitative research design. The answers provide an understanding of the experiences of participants according to their perception of what is in their immediate surroundings and everyday life experiences. This form of inquiry, or analogy, does not lend itself to a quantitative examination of behavior. Qualitative research explores what people believe as a result of their human experiences related to the way people think they know, or the human experience, of something coming to being from the individual phenomenological, and humanistic perspective (Cascio & Aguinis, 2005).
Within the types of qualitative research designs, grounded theory research, ethnographic research, narrative research designs (Creswell, 2005), and phenomenology are common. Grounded theory designs use systematic procedures to formulate a general explanation for interactions among people. Ethnographic designs examine how people interact as a group. Narrative research designs tell the story of how one or two individuals live. Qualitative, phenomenological designs study experiences from the perspective of the individual being studied. The qualitative phenomenological design separates the subjective state of individuals from objective perceptions and explains the social context of phenomena as experienced by the individuals involved.
Phenomenology, as expressed by Eagleton (1983), was evidence that favors consciousness and self-preservation in single- or multilevel choices in everyday interactive experiences. Husserl, according to Eagleton (1983), developed a new philosophical research method that brought certainty to a civilization that was deteriorating. Husserl argued that the view of the world was an organization of objects that existed independently and that the human experience of the objects was a reliable experience. The human interactive experience, within their surroundings, enhanced the individual consciousness and created a reality that was treated as phenomena within the human perception of things. The individual consciousness was the basis and the absolute data for the beginning of the qualitative, phenomenological qualitative research (Eagleton, 1983).
Moustakas’ (1994) work and thinking is thus key to the present study’s tentative methodological approach in the importance it places on rigor, together with the concrete direction it provides in terms of handling data, working through data, and connecting data to overarching themes and concepts. This researcher fully accepts Moustakas’ central assertion that qualitative phenomenological research can, and indeed must, be fully receptive to tests of validity and reliability necessary to the broad acceptance of any serious quantitative study. It is thus safe to say that Creswell (2005, 2009) will serve as the overarching inspiration for the present study’s broad methodological approach, and Moustakas will inform the concrete processes that will help structure, interpret, and present data and reach sound, testable conclusions. In investigating particular phenomena, recognizing and exploring general themes, connecting themes to concepts and emerging data, thinking about how to think about the phenomena under investigation, and ultimately assessing and coming to conclusions about the phenomena under observation, Moustakas’ recommendations will serve as the study’s essential drivers.
Yet the responsiveness built into the proposed study’s methodology, its basic flexibility in response to quickly-shifting context and circumstance and the cascading effect of responses-to-responses, can be determined in large measure by the work of Lewin (1943, 1946, 1947). Lewin viewed action science as a comparative approach to the conditions and effects of diverse forms of social action, as well as research leading to social action. Of crucial importance in the context of the present study’s possible approach, Lewin (1946) proposed responses akin to “a spiral of steps constructed out of a blend of planning, action, and fact-finding, all derived from the results of the initial action” (pp. 34-36). Lewin’s (1946) fervent belief that direct involvement of a study’s subjects in the study itself, which he asserted can have a profound and largely beneficial impact on shaping data and subsequent conclusions, will provide a foundation for the present study’s methodological approach to data collection, particularly data gleaned from focus groups discussions and participant observation in the classroom. The feedback collected from the teachers may prove enlightening and shift the researcher’s thinking and the nature of any conclusions eventually reached. Above all, Lewin’s (1946) concrete belief that any good qualitative study should be rooted in an exploration of practical issues in specific contexts serves to justify the present study’s object of inquiry and its larger purpose.
Moustakas (1994) and Lewin (1943, 1946, 1947) thus sit comfortably within the larger framework established by Creswell (2005, 2009). Creswell’s (2005, 2009) recommendations suit the proposed study to a remarkable degree because the study site is home to social processes that lend themselves well to both observation and participation, informed as they are by the unique, virtually innumerable experiences of individuals who contribute to those processes both consciously and unconsciously. This researcher concurs with Creswell’s (2005, 2009) view that the central goal of a good, verifiable qualitative study is to help make sense of meanings others have about the world. Creswell’s (2005, 2009) belief in the fundamental efficacy and value of the observer-participant model, lent credibility by structure and a disciplined approach, should work in perfect tandem with Moustakas’ (1994) emphasis on step-by-step procedures and the ideas of both researchers served as the inspiration for the study’s proposed data collection methods.
This researcher also accepts Hodder’s (1994) conviction that material culture (particularly, in the context of the present study, student writing samples) “. . . is often a medium in which alternative and often muted voices can be expressed” (p. 401). Nevertheless, material culture is highly contextualized and demands flexible, yet patient and rigorous attention on the part of the researcher, an approach fully congruent with Moustakas’ (1994) ideas. Moustakas’ approach should prove especially fruitful in conducting, recording, and analyzing focus group interviews; recognizing general, observable themes; and subsequently linking those themes to a conceptual framework.
Moustakas (1994) offered a model for connecting theory to classroom observation and lends authority to my determination to query study participants directly about the nature and quality of their experiences. This researcher was particularly impressed with Moustakas’ deep-seated conviction that a researcher, to achieve desired results, must be continually aware of prevailing context involving all manner of situations and interactions (however superficially unimportant) and make extensive notes whenever possible.
The ideas of both Moustakas (1994) and Creswell (2005, 2009) will thus serve as the foundation for the proposed study’s methodological approach, ensuring a healthy balance between flexibility and exactitude and helping to construct a receptive yet rigorous and defensible theoretical framework that supports conclusions rooted in empirically sound facts. It must be noted, however, that no qualitative study can ever be reproduced perfectly. Indeed, virtually endless phenomenological variability is one of the chief reasons why qualitative investigation exists in the first place. Toma (2011) contended, for example, that there is little validity in the notion that quantitative studies are inherently more rigorous than qualitative studies and suggested that qualitative researchers take advantage of their greater relative freedom to develop more creative ways of ensuring rigor. Imagination, Toma suggested, can be channeled to ensure greater validity and reliability instead of serving, as some critics suggest, promoting fuzziness and inexactitude. This researcher will work diligently to ensure rigor through a variety of methods, particularly intensive triangulation.
Participants and Sampling Methods
The researcher plans to investigate the co-teaching relationships and perceptions of secondary school teachers with regard to inclusive practices. Further, the researcher wants to determine the types of support and resources needed by the co-teachers. The overall impact of the study on co-teachers will be to design a comprehensive professional development system that will address teachers’ needs according to the study’s results for all stakeholders involved in supporting student achievement through the model of co-teaching and inclusion. Secondary teachers involved in inclusion practices and co-teaching will be invited
Prior to beginning data collection of any sort, the researcher will obtain IRB approval. He will proceed to contact the superintendent’s office to obtain formal school district approval and will then contact the school principal to gain his or her formal consent to begin the study. The participants will be contacted by regular mail and sent the informed consent form. Participants will be made up of those who agreed to the study and returned the forms.
The focus group discussions will shape the findings, conclusions, and recommendations. Focus groups should have their own section in this chapter, including a protocol. Focus groups will respond to 10 predetermined primary questions and three alternate follow-up questions linked to each of the 10 primary questions.
Groenwald (2004) outlined the importance of informed consent for participants of research studies. The provision of informed consent allows participants to fully contribute to the study and increase the likelihood of honest and open responses during the interview process (Creswell, 2009). For this study, potential participants will be provided with a brief overview of the study and a provision for their voluntary participation in the interviews in a consent form that was mailed to them. Groenwald posited that informed consent can be accomplished by having each potential participant sign a consent letter that explains the key components of participation in the study.
According to Groenwald (2004), the informed consent form should present the purpose of the study and the procedures of participant involvement in the interviews so that the participants were fully informed of the research in which they were participating. For this study, participants will be informed that although there will not be any remuneration for their participation, only minimal risks exist if they participate in the research and they would be contributing to a deeper understanding of the issue (Groenwald, 2004). The informed consent form contains information to describe that participation is voluntary, and that participants have the right to stop the research at any time without risk of harm or repercussions (Groenwald, 2004). The procedures to protect confidentiality will also be included on the consent form, and the participants will be informed that they might be asked to participate in a follow-up contact after the interview to clarify their responses (Groenwald, 2004). Each research participant will acknowledge participation by signing the consent form. Through the informed consent form, the participants will give their assent to join focus group discussions and also allow the researcher to make observations on their class activities.
After gathering the information from the focus groups, the researcher proposes to employ Ryan and Bernard’s (2003) cutting-and-sorting method, along with word lists and close attention to both key words and word co-occurrence. It seems likely that coding on the basis of superficial terminology will give rise to deeper, more fundamental and revealing categories that seek to capture underlying motivations, beliefs, behaviors and prejudices.
Study Reliability and Validity
A number of factors clearly introduce real and potential elements of bias and distortion. Most important of all, the researcher’s limited experience and only partial knowledge of the teachers who might participate in the proposed study, have at least the potential to compromise elements of the study and influence its overall findings. On the whole, however, the study data and all findings, discussion, conclusions, and recommendations they help to generate will be valid, reliable, and broadly testable either through a reproduction of the study itself or by additional studies performed by other researchers. All possible biases can be taken into account and every reasonable effort to adjust for those biases can be made. The proposed methodological approach is appropriate and will serve as the foundation for a reliable study with valid results.
The limitations of the study include the number of teacher names given to the researcher by the school administrators or principals as well as the number of surveys that are returned. The researcher cannot guarantee responses from all school administrators, and this could impact the number of teachers included in the study. However, the researcher will secure that the schools chosen for this study will be systematically and randomly chosen. If the chosen schools do not agree to participate in the study, the researcher will randomly pick other academic institutions. Similarly, school teachers who do not agree to participate in the survey will also be replaced using systematic random sampling. The number of participants will vary; however, the researcher cannot predict how many teachers will actually complete and return the survey to get an accurate description on the needs of co-teachers.
The delimitations of the study are contact with school administrators or principals and the population chosen. The first delimitation is contact and response from the school administrators. The researcher plans on contacting the school administrators via email, and the delimitation is that the administrators will respond by sending the information requested. Next, the researcher chose 10 middle schools to survey because of the convenience. The next delimitation is selecting general and special education middle school teachers as participants of this study.
In the interest of achieving the ends pursuant of the proposed study, a phenomenological study design has been selected. The choice for an appropriate research design is an integral part of the research process. The research design determines the process of data collection, the analysis and interpretation of the collected data, and finally the reporting and evaluation of the research. The study that allows for a better understanding of experiences and behavioral relationships is achieved through a phenomenological analysis of qualitative research, according to Creswell (2005), was a means for bringing societal change. Therefore, the phenomenological research design is appropriate for the proposed study. Observations will focus on relationships and perceptions of secondary school teachers with regard to inclusive practices. Further, the researcher wants to determine the types of support and resources needed by the co-teachers that provide the students with learning disabilities. The overall impact of the study on co-teachers will be to design a comprehensive professional development system that will address teachers’ needs according to the study’s results for all stakeholders involved in supporting student achievement through the model of co-teaching and inclusion. The study is intended to help illustrate perceptions associated with inclusion of students with learning disabilities at the secondary level in a rural school district and in the end, help the teachers in creating, maintaining, and sustaining effective inclusive environment.
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