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Experiences of looping for students with learning disabilities: A phenomenological case study

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: Laura C Brown
Abstract:
The problem is the academic, social, and emotional needs of students with learning disabilities are not being met within the general classroom. Looping, the practice of a teacher staying with the same group of students for two or more years, has been suggested as an educational approach designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities. The purpose of this research project was to examine the experiences of looping for students with learning disabilities from the perspectives of the looping teacher, the students with learning disabilities, and their parents. Therefore, a phenomenological case study design was utilized. The methods of data collection included teacher and student interviews, a parental questionnaire, examination of student artifacts, and observations of everyday school activities. Examination of the research data revealed no significant improvement in the academic or speech performances of the students with learning disabilities; yet, their social skills and emotional competencies improved. Keywords : learning disabilities, looping, multi-age teaching, case study, teacher perspectives, Waldorf education, student perspectives, parent perspectives, interviews, phenomenological case study, questionnaire, third grade, fourth grade

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

................................ ................................ .......................

1

Background of the Problem

................................ ................................ ....................

2

Problem Statement

................................ ................................ ................................ ..

8

Purpose of t he Study

................................ ................................ ...............................

8

Professional Significance of the Study

................................ ................................ ...

9

Guiding Questions

................................ ................................ ................................

10

Key Terms

................................ ................................ ................................ .............

11

Summary

................................ ................................ ................................ ...............

12

CHAPTER 2: LITERATURE REVIEW

................................ ................................ ..........

13

Looping

................................ ................................ ................................ .................

13

Theoretical Framework

................................ ................................ .........................

14

History of Looping

................................ ................................ ................................

21

Benefits f or the General Classroom

................................ ................................ ......

25

Benefits for Exceptional Students

................................ ................................ .........

37

Challenges for Exceptional Students

................................ ................................ ....

42

Summary and Conclusion

................................ ................................ .....................

43

C HAPTER 3: METHODOLOGY

................................ ................................ ...................

47

Research Questions

................................ ................................ ...............................

48

Design Appropriateness

................................ ................................ ........................

48

Participants

................................ ................................ ................................ ............

50

The Setting

................................ ................................ ................................ ............

51

Procedures

................................ ................................ ................................ .............

52

Data Collection

................................ ................................ ................................ .....

54

Data Analysi s

................................ ................................ ................................ ........

61

Tier One: Themes for Each Individual Student

................................ ...................

67

Tier Two: Themes Among the Five Students

................................ ......................

68

Credibility, Dependability, Confirmability, Transferability

................................ .

70

Summary

................................ ................................ ................................ ...............

71

CHAPTER FOUR: RESULTS

................................ ................................ .........................

73

Introduction

................................ ................................ ................................ ...........

73

Tier One

................................ ................................ ................................ ................

74

Tier Two ................................ ................................ ................................ ................

96

CHAPTER FIVE: SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION

................................ ...................

100

Review of the Methodology ................................ ................................ ................

101

Summary of the Results

................................ ................................ ......................

102

Relationship of the Current Study to Previous Research

................................ ....

112

My Reflections

................................ ................................ ................................ ....

119

Limitations

................................ ................................ ................................ ..........

123

Implications for Practice

................................ ................................ .....................

124

vi

REFERENCES………………………… ………………………………… …………... 128

APPENDICES

A:

Permission Letter to School Principal

................................ .......................

141

B:

Student Binder

................................ ................................ ...........................

143

C:

Parent Consent for Child to Participate Form Student Who Looped from Third

Grade to Fourth Grade

................................ ................................ .....

145

D :

Parent Participant Consent Form

................................ ...............................

147

E :

Parent Looping Questionnaire

................................ ................................ ...

149

F :

Follow - Up Letter to Par ent

................................ ................................ ........

151

G :

Teacher Participant Consent Form

................................ ............................

153

H :

Teacher Interview Form

................................ ................................ .............

155

I :

Verbal Assent of Minors Form

................................ ................................ ..

157

J :

Student Interview Form

................................ ................................ .............

159

K :

Social Competence Checklist

................................ ................................ ....

161

L :

Table: STAR Reading and Math Scores

................................ ...................

164

M :

Example: Theme Document for Each Student

................................ ..........

166

N :

Example: Themes among the Students Document

................................ ....

168

vii

List of Tables

Table 4.1: STAR Reading and Math Grade Equivalent Scores: Student A ....................

74

Table 4.2: STAR Reading and Math Grade Equivalent Scores: Student B

....................

78

Table 4.3: STAR Reading and Math Grade Equivalent Scores: Student C

....................

81

Table 4.4: STAR Reading and Math Grade Equivalent Scores: Student D ....................

8 6

Table 4.5: STAR Reading and Math Grade Equivalent Scores: Student E

....................

89

1

CHAP T ER 1: INTRODUCTION

According to the stipulations of the Individuals with

Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) and the objectives of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), students with disabilities are to receive a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment (Hallahan & Kaufman, 2006; U.S. Dep artment of Education, 200 2 ; 2004). Therefore, it is not uncommon to find students with learning disabilities partially or fully included in any given regular public school classroom .

Because of their disability and a variety of other extraneous issues, s tudents with learning disabilities are often academically below grade - level, socially

in ept, and emotionally insecure (Elliott & Capp, 2003; Forsten, Grant, Johnson, & Richardson, 1997; Newberg, 1995).

In order for teachers to provide students with learn ing disabilities a successful educational experience , they must address and overcome additional obstacles he or she would not encounter if students with learning disabilities were not present within the classroom. However, it has been suggested that when students with disabilities participate in an educational approach called looping, many of the challenges faced by the teacher, the students with disabilities, and their parents can be alleviated to some degree (Bafile, 200 3 ; Elliott & Capp, 2003; Kenney, 2 007).

To illustrate how looping is utilized in an educational setting, Grant, Johnson, and Richardson (1996) stated a

looped classroom occurs when a teacher moves with his or her class to the next grade for one or more years. The extra year or more wit h the students provides opportunities for the teacher to understand in - depth the students’ individual needs. This allows the teacher to implement

a variety of educational techniques to aid in the academic success of the students (Gaustad, 1998). In addit ion,

2

when children are placed within a consistent classroom environment, their sense of security can be enhanced and their social interactions with both the teacher and their classmates can be approached with greater confidence (Kenney, 2007; Mazzuchi &

Br ooks, 1992).

While looping is a fairly novel educational technique in America, the belief that a teacher should remain with the same group of students for more than one academic year began in Germany at a Waldorf School in 1919 (Reinsmith, 1989; Uhrmacher,

1993). This approach has been used in various forms by a number of school systems around the world (Reynolds, Barnhart, & Martin, 1999). In recent years, th e concept of looping has occurred

in different formats and at all grade levels in school distric ts a c ross the United States . All are attempts to provide students with a positive, developmentally appropriate education where the teacher is familiar with each student’s needs, personalities, learning styles, and developmental readiness and where the students can experience a secure, supportive learning community (Grant, Johns on

et al. ,

1996).

This chapter contains

the

background of the problem : the academic, social, and emotional challenges encountered by students with learning disabilities during their education experience. The problem statement and the purpose of the stud y, to determine if looping provides a solution to address the academic, social, and emotional needs of students with learning disabilities ,

is

also highlighted. Additionally, t he professional significance of this study, the guiding questions to be address ed, and the terms

germane to this study

are

described.

Background of the Problem

Similar to students

without learning disabilities , students with learning disabilities are moved to a different classroom and placed with a different teacher year after year.

3

This poses several challenges for these students, their parents, and their teachers. For example , background information and IEP

goals for each student must be reviewed at the beginning of every year and communication between parents and teachers must be established

(Bafile, 2003). In addition , various reports describe d

the academic, social, and emotional challenges students with learning disabilities experience at school and how th ese challenges

are interrelated

( Bowen , 1998 ;

Hallahan & Kauffman, 2006; Meadan &

Monda - Amaya , 2008) .

Academic challenges

for students with learning disabilities. Of all pupils with disabilities served within the public education system of the United States, s tudents with learning disabilities represent the largest group. The percentage of those served from 1976 - 1977 to 2007 - 2008 rose

from 1.8 %

to 5.2 %

percent (U . S .

Department of Education, National Ce nter for Education Statistics , 2010). “Academic deficits are the hallmark of learning disabilities,” state d

Hallahan and

Kauffman (2006 , p. 183 ). Students with learning disabilities experience challenges in one or more of four academic a reas: (a) reading,

(b) written language, (c) spoken language, and (d) math.

In regard to students who have a learning disability in reading, this particular disability is the most difficult as it involves three areas of the reading process (Hallahan, Lloyd, Kauffman, Wei ss, & Martinez, 2005). Specifically, students encounter problems with decoding due to challenges with phonological and phonemic awareness.

These aforementioned challenges affect the

students ’

ability to read fluently, which, in turn, impacts

their ability to comprehend what they have read .

Students who have a written language disability face obstacles with handwriting, spelling, and composition

(Hallahan & Kauffman, 2006) .

Challenges in handwriting can include very slow writing and illegib le work. The inability to spell correctly is a result of

4

their difficulty in understanding the correspondence between sounds and letters. Furthermore, s tudents with written language disabilities have difficulties in the more creative aspects of compositi on .

They use less complex sentence structures, include fewer types of words, write paragraphs that are less well organized, include fewer ideas in their writings, and write stories that have fewer important components, such as introducing main characters and setting scenes (Hallahan et al., 2005 ; Montague & Graves, 1992). Last, using correct s yntax, semantics, phonology, and pragmatics

are the problems students with spoken language disabilities encounter

(Hallahan et al.) .

Research found learning disab ilities in the area of m ath to be

the second highest

problem for stu dents with learning disabilities (Hallahan & Kauffman, 2006). Cawley, Parmar, Yan ,

and Miller (1998) found students with math learning disabilities perform several grade levels below thei r general education peers. These students may struggle with the

computation of math facts and with word problems (Cawley et al. ;

Woodward & Baxter ,

1997).

Social challenges

in relation to academic problems for students with learning disabilities . Meeting the academic needs of students with learning

disabilities is often the primary concern for school administrators and teachers , whereas their social adju stment needs are neglected ( Meadan &

Monda - Amaya , 2008). In fact, Ring and Travers (2005) found

when students with severe learning disabilities are included in the general classroom, meeting their curriculum needs is

not difficult; social inclusion is

the greater challenge. Bowen ( 1998) stated , “ W hile students with disabilities may have received re mediation in terms of learning skills or may be functioning at or near grade level, they may not be ready emotionally or socially for regular classroom placement” (p. 17).

5

N ot only do children with learning disabilities experience academic challenges withi n the general classroom, but research also revealed achievement deficits relate to social problems (Bursuck & Asher, 1986). Gresham and

MacMillan (1997) stated, “In addition to deficits in the cognitive domain such as general intelligence and academic ach ievement, these students are at risk for repeated episodes of school failure” (p. 400). These experiences, in turn, often have unfortunate effects on the students’

self - concept, teacher - student relationships, and peer relationships. Consequently, the res ults of these studies suggested that the classroom environment should seek to accommodate the students with disabilities social adjustment ,

along with meeting their academic needs (Meadan & Monda - Amaya, 2008).

Social c hallenges for s tudents with d isabilities . In contrast to their non - disabled peers, m any students

with learning d isabilities run a greater risk o f having significant social problems

(Bryan, Burstein, & Ergul, 2004; Hallahan & Kauffman, 2006) .

For instance, s ome students with learning

disabilities can have social cognition

deficits as evidenced by their misinterpretation of other’s emotions and feelings and their inability to read social cues . They sometimes act as if they are oblivious to the effect their behavior has on their peers and also have difficulty understanding the perspectives of others. Consequently , they often experience rejection by their classmates. As a result, M eadon and Monda - Amaya (2008) promote d

that

“ teachers need to be attuned to their students’ levels of socia l adjustment, have an awareness of how students process social information, and know what specific social skills are needed for students to develop greater levels of social competence” (p. 160).

Expanding upon the theme of social challenges for students with disabilities, William Bursuck (1989) utilized peer, teacher, and self - rating scales to examine the

6

social differences between elementary school students with learning disabilities and other low achieving and higher achieving children. The results ind icated children with learning disabilities are less accepted, have fewer friends, have less pro - social behaviors ,

and are perceived by their peers and teachers as exhibiting more negative behaviors. Swanson and Malone’s (1992) study revealed similar resul ts

as the authors found

s tudents with learning disabilities score d

lower in peer acceptance and were

more socially rejected than their non - disabled peers.

In addition, Kavale and Forness (1996) discovered 75% of 152 students with a learning disability were

less socially competent than their non - learning disabled peers. In a study conducted with adolescents in contrived social situations such as role - plays, students with learning disabilities perform fewer social skills than their non - disabled peers; y et , the students interact ed

equally as much during informal settings, but participate d

less in formally scheduled

or arranged social activities (Schumaker, 1992).

Conversely, in regard to

the social integration o f students with learning disabilities, Cobe n and Zigmond (1986) suggested social status problems of learning disabled students have much to do with how well they are known. These authors stated

if non - learning disabled students have more opportunity to become acquainted with their learning disable d peers, the social status problems of the students with learning disabilities would improve.

Estell, Jones, Pearl, and Van Acker (2009) investigate d elementary students and their best friend relationships. They discovered students with learning disabil ities were

as likely to have best friend relationships and to have as many best friends as their typically achieving peers. On the other hand,

these students retain ed

fewer friendships over time, and were

more likely to have friends who also had learning disabilities.

7

Additionally, Gresham and MacMillan (1997) stated not only do students with mild disabilities have difficulties with peer relationships, but they also encounter challenges in relating effectively with their teachers.

In reference to langu age disorders, Benasich, Curtiss, and Talla (1993) learned girls diagnosed at age four with expressive language impairments are significantly more socially withdrawn at age eight when compared with other non - disabled children. Additionally, Gualtieri, Ko riath, Van Bourgondien, and Saleeby (1983) stated the development of personality and a child’s sense of competence in social situations are likely to rest squarely on the development of language.

Emotional c hallenges for s tudents with d isabilities . Bowen

(1998) outlined areas of emotional weakness for students with disabilities: (a)

attribution of successes on external factors, (b) low self - concept, (c) anxiety, (d) poor self - confidence, and (d) depression. Specifically, Gresham and MacMillan (1997) cite d studies that discussed

how students with learning disabilities ha d

lower academic self - concepts than non - learning disabled students. Regarding

their general self - concept, Chapman (1988) suggested approximately 70% of students with a learning disability experience d

a lower general self - concept.

Similar to the relationship that exists between academic achievement and social competence, there also is a connection between a student’s self - concept and his or her

academic achievement.

Bow en (1998) stressed

t hat

self - esteem contributes significantly to the relationship between test performance and anxiety and how students who demonstrate low levels of self - esteem report high test anxiety and generally obtain lower scores on general information exams.

8

Problem

Statement

The problem is the academic, social, and emotional needs of students with learning disabilities are not being met within the general classroom

(Bowen, 1998; Bryan et al., 2004; Cawley et al., 1998;

Ring &

Travers ,

2005 ) . According to the Interst ate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (InTASC, 2010), “The teacher understands how children learn and develop, recognizes that patterns of learning and development vary individually within and across the cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, an d physical areas, and designs and implements developmentally appropriate and challenging learning experiences” (Standard #1). For this reason , it is the duty of the teacher to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of students with disabilities wh o are partially or fully included in the general classroom.

This phenomenological case

study investigated the experiences of students with learning disabilities who looped from third

grade to fourth

grade. Incorporated into the study were the viewpoints of the students with learning disabilities ,

the parents of the students with learning disabilities , and the teacher who looped from third grade to fourth grade . Data collection included

a variety of qualitative methodologies: (a) interviews, ( b) questionnaires, (c) examination of student artifacts, and (d) observations. This information provided insights into how

looping affect ed

students with learning disabilities academically, socially, and emotionally.

Purpose of th e

Study

The purpose of thi s phenomenological case

study was

to analyze the academic, social, and emotional experiences of students with learning disabilities who

participated in a looped class. This study’s goal was to determine if looping, as an educational approach, addressed the

academic, social, and emotional needs of students with learning

9

disabilities.

The site for data collection was

an elementary school located

within a rural district in

the State of Virginia.

The participants were

five students with learning disabilities who looped with their class from third grade to fourth grade. The parents of the students with disabilities and their teacher were

additional participants.

The methods of data collection include d :

(a) interviews of the students wit h learning disabilities

who looped , (b) interviews of the teacher

who looped , (c) a questionnaire completed by the parents of the students with learning disabilities

who looped , (d) examination of the looped students’ IEPs , (e) examination of the

STAR Read ing and Math reports

for the students with learning disabilities , and (f) observations of everyday school activities.

Professional Significance of the Study

Many recent reports on looping are written from personal experience. These anecdotal writings st ate d

the experience of looping provides further support and instruction to aid in the academic success, social adeptness, and emotional security for students with special needs (Gaustad, 1998; Kenney, 2007; Newberg, 1995). In addition, most discoveries on

looping based upon empirical

research focus ed

only upon the general classroom.

The

anecdotal, editorial, and experimental

studies cover ed

a variety of topics related to looping ,

such as the history of looping, the grade levels at which looping has been attempted, and the benefits and challenges of looping (Burke, 1996; Grant , Johnson,

et al . , 1996; Kenney, 2007; Mazzuchi & Brooks, 1992). E ducators have also researched and descri bed the academic, social, and emotional experiences of students with learning disabilities within the general classroom (Bowen, 1998; Bursuck, 1989; Gresham & MacMillan, 1997 ; Hallahan & Kauffman, 2006 ).

Yet, t he abovementioned studies did not connect

th e educational practice of

10

looping to the academic, social, and emotional experiences

for

students with learning disabilities in a

qualitative

context . Therefore, t his phenomenological case study’s goal was to assess the academic, social, and emotional exp eriences of students with learning disabilities who participated in a looped class via qualitative

research .

T he

e mpirical data

of

this study explain s

the academic, social, and emotional experiences of students with learning disabilities who participated

in a looped classroom; thus ,

confirming or in validating previous reports on looping for students with learning disabilities. Consequently, the data collected from this study could find that looping is an effective strategy to address the academic, social , and emotional needs of

students with learning disabilities .

Guiding Questions

The viewpoints from three groups of participants , data from student artifacts, and surveillance of everyday school activities offer ed

common themes

of how looping affect ed

students with learning disabilities academically, socially, and emotionally. The following questions guide d

the research:

Guiding question 1.

How do the goals

of the 20 10 - 201 1

Individual Educational Plans reveal

the academic, social, and emotional expe riences for

students

with learning disabilities who looped ?

Guiding question 2 .

What are the academic, social, and emotional experiences of looping for students with learning disabilities, according to their parents?

Guiding question

3.

According to the looping teacher, what are the academic, social, and emotional experiences of looping for students with learning disabilities?

Guiding question 4.

According to the students with learning disabilities, what are their academic, social, and emotional experiences of looping?

11

Guiding question 5.

What are the academic, social , and emotional

experiences of looping for students with learning disabilities as observed within everyday school activities?

Gu iding question 6.

What are the academic performances for students with learning disabilities who have looped as revealed in the students’ STAR Reading and Math reports?

Key Terms

For the purpose of this study, the phrase student with a disability

involve s

any student with a learning disability. As defined by IDEA, a learning disability

is

a disorder in one o r

more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, which disorder may manifest itself in a n imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations (U SDOE , 2004).

Academic experience refers to grades or scores received by the students in any subject area, accommodations received by the students

for any subject area , the students’ participation in class, and the students’ study habits. The term academic experience

also refer s

to the annual scores received by the students on the STAR Reading and Math assessments . STAR

represents the Standardized Testing and Reporting assessment designed by the California Department of Education in 1997. T he acronym IEP

represent s

the Individual Education Plan for each student with a disability. The term social experience

refer s

to sk ills or behaviors deemed desirable or necessary to effectively interact with others, and the term emotional experience

entail s

feelings about oneself, a situation, a person, or objects that involve changes in physiological arousal and cognitions (AllPsych Online, The Virtual Psychology Classroom, n.d.).

12

Summary

Students with disabilities face academic, social, and emotional challenges during their educational journey (Bowen, 1998; Bursuck, 1989; Gresham & MacMillan, 1997 ;

Meadan &

Monda - Amaya , 2008 ). Due

to recent governmental mandates (USDOE, 2004) and the standards of InTASC (2010), general classroom teachers are responsible for meeting the academic, social, and emotional needs of students with learning disabilities. Looping, where a teacher moves with

his or her class to the next grade, has been recommend ed as an educational approach that is designed to meet

the needs of these students (Gaustad, 1998; Kenney, 2007; Newberg, 1995).

The purpose of this project was

to collect empirical, qualitative data by examining the academic, social, and emotional experiences of five students with learning disabilities who looped from third to fourth grade. Data was

collected through qualitative methodologies: (a) interviews, (b) questionnaires, (c) examination of student artifacts, and (d) observations. This research determine d

if looping assist ed

in addressing the problem of meeting the academic, social, and emotional needs of students with learning disabilities.

In chapter two , various topics related to looping as discussed within current literature

are highlighted . Contemporary writings include the following: (a) the basic definition of looping, (b) the alternative names for looping, (c) the theories upon which looping is based, (d) the history of looping in the United States and other countries, (e) the various academic levels at which looping has been attempted, and (f) the advantages and challenges of looping for both general classroom students and exceptional s tudents.

13

CHAPTER 2: LITERATUR E REVIEW

This phenomenological case study

analyze d

the experiences of students with learning disabilities who looped from third

grade to fourth

grade. The purpose of this study was

to determine if looping can aid the general classro om teacher in meeting

the academic, social, and emotional needs of students with learning disabilities. Within c ontemporary writings ,

th e academic, social, and emotional challenges of students with disabilities

are noted (Bowen, 1998; Bursuck, 1989; Gresham & MacMillan, 1997; Meadan & Monda - Amaya, 2008) .

For looping, t he majority of the empirically based research discusse d

the experiences of looping for students without disabilities.

F ew studies examined the impact of looping on exceptional students

in general.

Therefore, this phenomenological case

study s ought

to fill a gap in current research by describing the experiences of students with learning disabilities who participated in a looped classroom via a thorough ,

qualitative analysis.

The follo wing literature review outlines topics related to looping as discussed within current literature. This chapter begins with the basic definition of looping and the alternative

term s for looping. Numerous theories promoted by a variety of educators and the orists are presented to form a theoretical framework upon which looping can be based. The history of looping in the United States and other countries, the various academic levels at which looping has been attempted, and the advantages and challenges of lo oping for both general classroom students and exceptional students are described.

Looping

Simply defined, looping is the practice of a teacher staying with the same group of

students for two or more years (Grant , Johnson

et al., 1996). Several variations are

14

found within the realm

of education. Some institutions form heterogeneous groups in the first grade and the students remain together for the next four or eight years ( Wynne & Walberg, 1994 ;

Zahorik & Dichanz, 1994). A second format

of looping group s

85 - 90 students who are taug ht for a six - year period by a t e a m of six to eight teachers

Full document contains 177 pages
Abstract: The problem is the academic, social, and emotional needs of students with learning disabilities are not being met within the general classroom. Looping, the practice of a teacher staying with the same group of students for two or more years, has been suggested as an educational approach designed to meet the needs of students with disabilities. The purpose of this research project was to examine the experiences of looping for students with learning disabilities from the perspectives of the looping teacher, the students with learning disabilities, and their parents. Therefore, a phenomenological case study design was utilized. The methods of data collection included teacher and student interviews, a parental questionnaire, examination of student artifacts, and observations of everyday school activities. Examination of the research data revealed no significant improvement in the academic or speech performances of the students with learning disabilities; yet, their social skills and emotional competencies improved. Keywords : learning disabilities, looping, multi-age teaching, case study, teacher perspectives, Waldorf education, student perspectives, parent perspectives, interviews, phenomenological case study, questionnaire, third grade, fourth grade