04 SES 10 A, Predicting And Identifying Factors Related To Inclusion In School
Since the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UN, 2006), there are many questions at all levels of the school system on how to successfully organize and implement inclusive education. In the last few years, several empirical studies have revealed that the success of inclusive education mainly depends on student’s participation in social activities within and outside the classroom (e.g., Schwab, 2019). Following Koster, Nakken, Pijl, and van Houten (2009, p. 134), social participation is characterized by the quantity and the quality of students’ friendships and relationships, positive contacts and social interactions between students with and without special educational needs (SEN), positive self-perceptions of students with SEN in the classroom, and the acceptance of students with SEN by their classmates. Unfortunately, students with learning disabilities experience a much lower social participation in the classroom than their peers without or with more overt disabilities (e.g., physical disabilities). Consequently, students with learning disabilities have fewer social interactions and less friendships with their classmates, and experience more social exclusion (Avramidis, Avgeri, & Strogilos, 2018).
In recent years, primary school students’ attitudes towards peers with SEN have been investigated to gain insights into possibilities to foster the social participation of children with SEN in inclusive education (Schwab, 2019). According to Eagly and Chaiken (1993), an attitude is defined as “a psychological tendency that is expressed by evaluating a particular entity with some degree of favor or disfavor” (p. 1). Several empirical studies (e.g., Freer, 2021) have already proved that primary school students hold significantly lower attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities than towards peers with more overt disabilities. Unfortunately, explanations for students’ lower pronounced attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities are still pending. Due to the fact that mostly all of students’ social activities take place within the school environment – where teachers are students’ primary caregivers and role models (Wentzel, 2010) – it is reasonable that teachers have a high impact on the development of students’ attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities. This phenomenon is called “social referencing” (Feinman, 1992) and means that young children take over attitudes and behaviours of primary caregivers they trust and value (e.g., parents, teachers). Thus, it is obvious that teachers act as social role models in the classroom for the development of students’ attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities. According to Feinman (1992), the extent of teachers’ impact on students’ attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities thereby depends on students’ perceptions of the quality of student-teacher relationships in the classroom. Thus, if primary school students perceive a higher quality of the student-teacher relationship, they orient their attitudes towards their teachers’ behaviour to a greater extend and vice versa. Until now, empirical findings for the importance of teachers’ role model behaviour and students’ perceptions of the quality of student-teacher relationships for their attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities are mostly pending. Actually, there is just some empirical evidence for significant relationships between teachers’ role model behaviour and students’ social acceptance of classmates with learning disabilities (Hendrickx, Mainhard, Oudman, Boor-Klip, & Brekelmans, 2017; van der Sande, Hendrickx, Boor-Klip, & Mainhard, 2018). Especially the role of students’ perceptions of the quality of student-teacher relationships in social referencing processes is still unclear.
Therefore, the aim of our study is to examine whether primary school students’ attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities can be explained by their perceived teacher behaviour and their perceptions of the student-teacher relationship quality. Additionally, we investigate if the relationship between students’ perceived teacher behaviour and their attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities is mediated by their perceptions of the student-teacher relationship quality.
In our study, N = 753 third and fourth grade primary school students (358 girls and 385 boys) from 48 classes in 24 German schools (M = 8.95 years; SD = 0.80 years; range: 7–11 years) filled in a “paper and pencil”-questionnaire on their perceptions of the quality of the student-teacher relationship in the classroom, their attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities, and their perceived teacher behaviour towards children with learning disabilities. To assess primary school students’ attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities, participating students received a “child-friendly” and “easy to understand” case vignette with a brief description of a child with learning disabilities: “Susanne/Markus has just moved to your town and attends the same class as you. Susanne/Markus faces severe problems in reading, writing, and calculating. She/He needs more time than other students of their age to complete schoolwork” (de Boer, Pijl, Minnaert, & Post, 2014; Schwab, 2015). After the students had carefully read the presented case description, we asked them to fill in a ten-item version of the Chedoke-McMaster Attitudes Towards Children with Handicaps scale (CATCH; Rosenbaum, Armstrong, & King, 1986) and link their answers to the description in the vignette (e.g., “I would feel good about working on a school project with Susanne/Markus.”; M = 3.98; SD = 0.78; Min = 1.00; Max = 5.00; α = .90). Furthermore, we assessed students’ perceived teacher behaviour towards children with learning disabilities by means of an eight-item scale that we had developed on the basis of the CATCH-scale (Rosenbaum et al., 1986): e.g., “My teacher would be pleased if Susanne/Markus attends my class.”; M = 4.34; SD = 0.67; Min = 1.00; Max = 5.00; α = .87. Again, we asked the students to link their answers about their perceived teacher behaviour towards children with learning disabilities to the presented case description. Finally, we applied an adapted version of a scale from Gehlbach, Brinkworth, and Harris (2011) in order to examine students’ perceptions of the quality of the student-teacher relationship in the classroom (6 items; e.g., “My teacher takes great care of me.”; M = 4.34; SD = 0.77; Min = 1.33; Max = 5.00; α = .86). For each item of the three questionnaire scales we applied a five-point Likert scale (1 = totally disagree to 5 = totally agree).
For the evaluation of our research hypotheses, we calculated a structural equation analysis in Mplus in order to investigate whether and to what extent primary school students’ attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities can be explained by their perceived teacher behaviour in classroom interactions with students with learning disabilities and their perceptions of the quality of the student-teacher relationship. Furthermore, we investigated if the relationship between students’ perceived teacher behaviour and their attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities is mediated by their perceptions of the student-teacher relationship quality. The results of our structural equation analysis (χ2 = 492.56; p ≤ .001; df = 249; CFI = .96; TLI = .95; RMSEA = .04 [CI = .03–.04]; pclose = 1.00) indicate that primary school students’ attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities can significantly be explained by their perceived teacher behaviour (β = .38; p ≤ .001) and their perceptions of the quality of the student-teacher relationship in the classroom (β = .13; p ≤ .05). Moreover, the effect of primary school students’ perceived teacher behaviour on their attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities is significantly mediated by students’ perceptions of the quality of the student-teacher relationship in the classroom (Total effect: β = .43; p ≤ .001; Indirect effect: β = .05; p ≤ .05). Thus, the results of our study reveal that primary school students orient their attitudes towards teachers’ behaviour to a greater extend, if they perceive a higher quality of the student-teacher relationship. As consequences for school practice, teachers should be aware that their exemplified behaviour in interactions with peers with learning disabilities can have a huge impact on their students’ attitudes towards peers with learning disabilities – which might sustainably influence the social participation of children with learning disabilities within and outside the inclusive classroom.
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