04 SES 13 C, Empowering Student Voices In And Out Of The School Context
In line with the UN-CRPD, which states that State Parties shall ensure inclusive education (United Nations, 2006), supportive measures for students with special educational needs (SEN) have become increasingly important. In this context, learning and support assistants (LSAs), also called teacher assistants (Giangreco et al., 2014), play a vital role in engaging students with SEN in every aspect of education (Carter et al., 2009).
Learning and support assistants are of significant relevance for implementing inclusion, because without their support many children wouldn’t be able to attend regular schools. Recent studies devoted to LSAs’ roles and responsibilities identified divergent results: Support for students with SEN by LSAs’ was associated with positive effects on teachers’ job satisfaction, the reduction of their levels of stress and workloads (Webster et al., 2010). Moreover, studies showed that students with SEN are better included in classes when supported by LSAs’ (Dworschak, 2012) and a positive development of students with SEN was observed (Zauner & Zwosta, 2014). On the other side critical findings regarding LSAs’ support were revealed. One of those was the observation that with increasing support from LSAs the teachers tend to transfer their responsibility to them. The teacher-to-student-interactions decreased markedly and LSAs mostly interacted with students with SEN taking the role of their primary teacher. A negative relationship between LSAs’ support and students’ academic progress has also been noted. The authors suggested that different and potentially insufficient levels of LSAs’ qualifications may account for such findings. Due to this lack of qualification students with SEN often receive instructions from unqualified personnel instead of well-trained teachers. Another unintended consequence is that students with SEN often are supported outside their classroom, separated from teachers, classmates and the curricular activities. These factors enhance the risk that LSAs contribute to separation than to inclusion (Webster et al., 2010).
These studies commonly investigated the perspectives of LSAs and teachers. Studies including the voices of students with and without disabilities are very rare and often limited to individual case analyses (e.g.Böing & Köpfer, 2017). There are just a few comprehensive investigations focusing children’s views of LSAs’ contribution in inclusive education Fraser and Meadows (2008) showed that primary school children in England perceived their role as helpful. LSAs were seen as important members of the school-community. The majority of students perceived LSAs as supporting all children in class, not just focusing a single child. Further results indicated that LSAs’ roles have shifted from an ancillary-role to a teaching-role. Similar results have been reported by Broer and colleagues (2005). They asked 16 young adults with intellectual disabilities about their experiences with LSAs’ support. The respondents perceived their LSAs as primary teacher, partly as mother, friend and as protector from bullying.
As these studies indicate, children’s perspective provides a valuable insight on issues affecting their daily life in class. Children perceive their relationships and their environment in a differentiated way and articulate very specific needs and aspects. Since their daily life is affected by this support-system their views are primarily important. Therefore, this study explores students’ views addressing the following questions:
(1) How do the students see their learning in class?
(2) How do they perceive LSAs’ support? Here the difference between students with and without disabilities is especially important. This support can be concentrated on the child with disabilities alone or it can involve all children in class whenever needed. Furthermore, students with disabilities may see this support as too intrusive or influencing.
Furthermore, the impact on social interactions between students should be examined and ideas/wishes of students with and without disabilities for improving LSAs’ support for inclusive education should be elaborated.
The research described here is part of the Erasmus+ project IMAS II (Improving Assistance in Inclusive Educational Settings II, 2018-1-AT01-KA202-039302). Within this project five web-based knowledge boxes focusing on relevant topics of LSAs’ practical work were developed and evaluated (EASPD, 2018). The knowledge boxes are an open access online tool available in five languages for all assistants. The aim of the tool is to strengthen the professional development and the inclusive competences of LSAs. In order to offer students the opportunity to express their views, experiences, feelings and wishes regarding LSAs’ support and inclusive education we conducted participatory research with children with and without disabilities. The research has been conducted in February 2020. Data from 42 students (52% boys, 48% girls), aged 8-13, from two primary and two secondary schools in Austria were collected. Of these 42 students,7 students (17%) have a disability (5 boys, 2 girls). Thereby, there were two students with Down Syndrome, two students with ADHD, one student with Dyscalculia, one student with mild intellectual developmental disorders and one student with Disruptive Behaviour. The research was organized in two steps. In a first step, the students have been trained to become co-researchers. For this training evidence-based programs have been adapted and implemented (Messiou, 2013). We discussed our research questions with the students and formulated further research questions together they were interested in. Additionally, different methods were introduced to them, for example how to observe learning processes in class. Others capture how LSAs promote social interactions or how to do interviews with classmates. In a second step, child-centered interviews and focus groups have been conducted by using semi-structured interview-guidelines. Within these interviews we discussed the students’ observations and notes taken. All interviews have been audiotaped, transcribed and analysed by applying directed content analysis (Mayring & Fenzl, 2019). Based on the data, five categories have been defined and specific text passages have been assigned to these categories (and 20 subcategories). In order to allow a replication of the study, a coding protocol, including all categories as well as definitions, examples and rules for operationalizing the categories was created. Moreover, to meet the criteria for reliability, the coding process has been done by two independent researchers (Intercoder reliability: 79%). Finally, the coders compared their findings, discussed the sparse discrepancies in coding and reached a consensus.
Results showed that all students were aware that according to the Styrian legal regulations of assistance services, LSAs are assigned to support a specific student with SEN. However, most of the students stated that LSAs support every student in class, not only those with SEN. In this context, various roles of LSAs have been identified. All students see the main task of LSAs in supporting students learning. Additionally, all students with SEN expressed that LSAs are an important support for learning successfully. In contrast, some students expressed that they disapprove when LSAs take on the role of a teacher, because they feel observed by LSAs or they receive too much support, while they don’t need it. In line with Broer and colleagues (2005) further roles of LSAs became visible. Students perceive LSAs as friends because they can turn to them in personal matters. It was also mentioned that LSAs offer support in conflict situations, which Broer et al. (2005) relate to LSAs’ role as a protector from bullying. Moreover, primary school students compared LSAs’ tasks to those of a mother. They stated that LSAs provide emotional support and take care of them. The findings emphasise the vital role of LSAs in supporting students, particularly those with SEN, in every aspect of education, in supporting their learning and their social interactions. While most of the students perceive the role of LSAs as helpful, it became apparent that students with SEN are often isolated from their classmates and teachers and in some cases, they feel patronized by LSAs. Closely linked to the instructional role of LSAs, our findings highlight the need for LSAs to receive a specific training to effectively support students’ learning, social interactions and their independence and thus, to promote inclusive education.
Böing, U., & Köpfer, A. (2017). Schulassistenz aus der Sicht von Schülerinnen und Schüler mit Assistenzerfahrung. In M. Laubner, B. Lindmeier, & A. Lübeck (Eds.), Schulbegleitung in der inklusiven Schule. Grundlagen und Praxishilfen (pp. 127–136). Beltz. Broer, S. M., Doyle, M. B., & Giangreco, M. F. (2005). Perspectives of Students With Intellectual Disabilities About Their Experiences With Paraprofessional Support. Exceptional Children, 71(4), 415–430. Carter, E., O’Rourke, L., Sisco, L. G., & Pelsue, D. (2009). Knowledge, Responsibilities, and Training Needs of Paraprofessionals in Elementary and Secondary Schools. Remedial and Special Education, 30(6), 344–359. Dworschak, W. (2012). Bildungsbiografische Aspekte der Schülerschaft mit dem Förderschwerpunkt geistige Entwicklung. In W. Dworschak, S. Kannewischer, C. Ratz, & M. Wagner (Eds.), Schülerschaft mit dem Förderschwerpunkt geistige Entwicklung (SFGE.Eine empirische Studie: Vols. 25 SV-2 (2. überarb, pp. 49-57 M4-Citavi). Athena. EASPD. (2018). IMAS II - Improving Assistance in Inclusive Educational Settings. https://www.easpd.eu/en/content/imas-ii-improving-assistance-inclusive-educational-settings Fraser, C., & Meadows, S. (2008). Children’s views of Teaching Assistants in primary schools. Education 3-13, 36(4), 351–363. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004270701754219 Giangreco, M. F., Doyle, M. B., & Suter, J. C. (2014). Teacher Assistants in Inclusive Classrooms. In L. Florian (Ed.), The SAGE Handbook of Special Education. Volume 2 (2nd Editio, pp. 691–702). Sage Publications Ltd. Mayring, P., & Fenzl, T. (2019). Qualitative Inhaltsanalyse. In N. Baur & J. Blasius (Eds.), Handbuch Methoden der empirischen Sozialforschung (2., pp. 633–648). Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-21308-4 Messiou, K. (2013). Working with students as co-researchers in schools. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 18(6), 601–613. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2013.802028 United Nations. (2006). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol. http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf Webster, R., Blatchford, P., Bassett, P., Brown, P., Martin, C., & Russell, A. (2010). Double Standards and first principles: framing teaching assistant support for pupils with special educational needs. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 25(4), 319–336. Zauner, M., & Zwosta, M. (2014). Effektstudie zu Schulbegleitung. OTH Ostbayrische Technische Hochschule Regensburg.
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