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First, I would like to thank Professor Krauchunas for giving me hope in Experimental I and Professor Mckenna for all of her help and energy during the initial stages of my thesis. Next, I have to thank Barbara for hunting down the published test, without her I would not have been able to begin my testing. Finally, I have to thank Professor Ossoff for her countless office visits...you must be sick of me!
I must also recognize the cooperation of the Superintendent, Principals, teachers, parents and students of the Whitman-Hanson Regional School District. Without their help I would not have been able to run my study. A special thanks goes to my mom for being so helpful when I worked in her classroom. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank the rest of my family and Shawn for all of their support and encouragement during this stressful time.
The current literature has shown that inclusive education is emerging in schools throughout the nation. The movement towards inclusive schooling is the latest controversy in an escalating debate focusing on the appropriate placement of students with special needs. This study focuses on the relationship between inclusion and the self-concept of preschoolers.
In spite of all of the literature that has looked at the academic and social effects of integration, researchers have yet to acknowledge the effect inclusion has on the self-esteem of children. Inclusion is the placement of students with mild disabilities (learning disabilities, behavior disorders, or mental retardation) in regular education classrooms with their peers. The current pilot study investigated the effects of inclusion on the self-esteem of preschoolers. Cognitions and feelings about oneself appear to be key factors in the well-being and successful functioning of the individual. Therefore, how we view ourselves, and how we view the world around us are two of the most important factors in our development. Children’s self-
esteem is affected by how positively they are viewed by their peers, teachers, and parents. Because the literature has shown that high self-esteem is so beneficial throughout one's entire lifetime, it is logical that it would be essential to develop this positive sense of self early in childhood. It was hypothesized that, with an efficient program, a child's self-esteem, whether he or she is regular or special education, will increase throughout the preschool year.
This study consisted of 15 children enrolled in 3 integrated preschool classrooms. The ages ranged from 3-5 years old. Among the 15 students, 10 of them were regular education, and 5 of them were special education. These children were tested twice using Susan Harter's "Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Acceptance for Young Children". The tests were issued one month apart. Paired samples t-tests revealed significant findings in several areas. Among all 15 children, the scores for the posttest were significantly higher on measures of physical and cognitive competence, as well as peer and maternal acceptance. These findings reveal that there is something about the inclusive environment that is enriching the overall self-concepts of these children. When looking solely at the special education children, their scores were significantly higher on the posttest measure of peer and
maternal acceptance. Again, this finding reveals that the inclusive environment is in some way nurturing relationships between the special education children, their mothers, and their peers. These findings were consistent with the hypothesis. Future implications of this study concern applying what is found about competence and acceptance to educational settings for preschool children. In addition, this study sheds empirical light on the debate surrounding inclusive classrooms.
Participants: The subjects of this experiment included 15 children enrolled in 3 integrated preschool classrooms. The ages ranged from 3-5 years old, the mean age was 4 years old. There were 8 males and 7 females in this study. Among these 15 students, 10 of them were regular education children, and 5 of them were special education students. These students came from middle class families living in small rural towns in Massachusetts. All of the children involved in this experiment were Caucasian Americans. Consent for this study was approved by the Superintendent of the school system, the principals of both schools, as well as all of the teachers involved, in full compliance with the American Psychological Association guidelines.
Materials: Each subject was required to verbally
complete Susan Harter’s (1984) “Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence
and Acceptance for Young Children" (see Appendix A). This test consists
of 24 sets of different pictures. The child was given a brief description
for each set of pictures from the experimenter. The description went
as follows: “This child is good at doing puzzles (experimenter then points
to one picture), this child isn’t very good at doing puzzles (experimenter
points to the other picture), which child is most like you?” At this
point, the child points to the picture that best describes him or her.
Next, the child points to the big circle if he or she is really good at
puzzles and to the small circle if he or she is really bad at puzzles (see
Appendix A). When the test is scored, it is scored in sub-scales.
Sub-scale reliabilities were rated using a cronbach alpha value.
When looking at each individual sub-scale the alpha values range from .50-.85.
However, when the sub-scales are combined by either competence or acceptance,
the reliabilities increase to .75-.89. The reliability of the total
scale, all 24 items, is in the mid to high .80s (Harter & Pike, 1984).
The ratings of the students are found to be valid because young children’s
beliefs of their abilities seem to be based on specific behavioral referents.
The experimenter also used a personally created questionnaire that consisted of four questions that aided in the evaluation of each child’s perceived classroom environment (see Appendix B).
Procedure: Before administering any testing to the children in the study, written consent forms were obtained from the children’s parents, principle, and teachers involved in the study (see Appendix C). These people were told that the experimenter was interested in investigating the preschool experience and its influence on a child’s sense of self. Directly before the testing the experimenter asked the child for his or her verbal assent. This study was done in two parts: a pre-test, and an identical post-test. Each participant was individually selected by the teacher to join the experimenter in a corner of the classroom that was quiet yet familiar. The child was told that he or she was going to look at a set of pictures that would help the experimenter find out how a preschooler viewed him/herself. The experimenter entered the classroom during the students’ free time so that the atmosphere was comfortable and relaxed for the children. Along with the experimenter, the teacher or the teacher’s aid was present in the classroom during the testing sessions in order to ensure familiarity for the child. The initial testing took place at the very beginning of the school year and again a month after school had been in session. After completion of the “Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Acceptance for Young Children”, each student was asked 4 questions which assisted in evaluating the child’s perception of his or her environment. When the child was done with the testing and questioning he or she was allowed to return to play.
The dependent measures for this study consist of the scores from the measures on the “Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Social Acceptance for young Children”. The test is broken up into several sub-scales which include cognitive competence (CC), peer acceptance (PA), physical competence (PC), and maternal acceptance (MA). These four sub-scales were further combined to produce the two sub-scales of: perceived competence (cognitive + physical (C+P)), and perceived acceptance (peer + maternal (P+M)).
A self-constructed measure entitled the Perceived Classroom Environment Questionnaire (PCEQ) was also issued. This small questionnaire was used to evaluate whether the child perceived his or her environment as positive or negative.
The data from the study was first analyzed through a Repeated Measure Analysis of Variance (ANOVA). Next, a series of Paired Sample T-tests compared the means of the pretest with the means of the posttest for each variable. Mean scores from the four sub-scales could range from 1, being the lowest to 4, being the highest. To analyze the results from the PCEQ several descriptive analyses were run.
Repeated Measures ANOVA
In order to investigate the possibility of an interaction, a 2(pre/posttest) X 2(regular/special education) Repeated Measures Analysis of Variance was run on the dependent variables of total competence and total acceptance. No interactions were found, which further strengthens the hypothesis. Finding no interactions reinforces the fact that there was something about the inclusive environment that had a significant effect on the children.
The first t-test included all of the participants. This t-test compared the means of the pretest to the means of the posttest for each of the four sub-scales (CC, PA, PC, MA). These analyses reveal a significant difference for peer acceptance, t(14)=-4.501, p?.01; and for physical competence, t(14)=-2.795, p?.01. No other significant differences were found. The means show that all of the children’s scores increased in all 4 sub-scales with a significant increase in the measures of PA and PC.
Next, the means of the pretest were compared to the means of the posttest on the two combined sub-scales (C+P) and (P+A) for all of the participants.The means reveal higher scores over time, as predicted. All children reported a significant increase in competence and acceptance between time 1 and time 2.
Next, two t-tests separately looked at the pre/posttest means of the regular education children and the means of the special education children on all 4 sub-scales. The t-test looking at special education children showed that there was a significant difference in maternal acceptance, t(14)=-1.328, p?.05 from the pretest to the posttest. These means indicate an increase in maternal acceptance from time 1 to time 2 of the testing. Although no significant differences were found when looking only at the regular education children, all of the means moved in the predicted direction which is again consistent with the hypothesis.
The final set of t-tests separately looked at the means of the regular education children and the means of the special education children on the two combined sub-scales (C+P) and (P+M).
The t-test that looked at special education children found a significant difference in total acceptance, t(14)=-3.068, p?.05, such that there was a significant increase in means from time 1 to time 2 of the testing. No significant differences were found when looking only at the regular education children, however, all of the means were still moving in the predicted direction, which is again consistent with the hypothesis.
A series of descriptive analyses were run on the PCEQ. The percent of children who said that they were happy at school was 93.3%. When asked whether their teachers smile at them a lot or a little, 90% of the children chose a lot. When asked whether their teachers smile at their friends a lot or a little, 75% of the children chose a lot. These findings reveal that well over the majority of children perceive their environment as positive. When asked who was their favorite friend to play with in the class, only 2 out of the 15 children chose a special needs child. This finding reveals that most children prefer regular education children to play with, which is consistent with the literature.
This study has revealed significant results supporting the hypothesis. Each of the significant results found could lead to future research in this field. The hypothesis of this study proposed that with an efficient program a child’s self-esteem, regardless of whether he or she is regular or special education, will increase throughout the preschool school year. This discussion will consist primarily of the results concerning the relationship between inclusion and the preschool environment.
As reported in the results section, the major statistical analyses consisted of paired samples t-tests. Each analysis revealed important findings.
The t-test analysis revealed that as the school year passes, preschool children enrolled in an integrated environment have a significant increase in areas of physical and cognitive competence, as well as in peer and maternal acceptance. These findings show that there is something about the inclusive environment that is enriching the overall self-concepts of these children.
These findings were consistent with the study conducted by Odom (1984). Odom found that both regular and special education children made significant gains on different measures of intelligence throughout the school year. Although, until this point research had not yet looked at how children’s self-concepts are affected by being in a preschool environment, it is not surprising that there were also significant gains in this area, in this age group. It is logical that as children gain experience in academic areas, and their intelligence increases, so too would their self-esteem.
The t-test results also revealed that aside from benefiting the children as a whole, the special education children alone had significant gains in the area of peer and maternal competence. Once more, this finding shows that the inclusive environment is in some way nurturing relationships between the special education children, their mothers, and their peers.
This increase in acceptance may be explained by the study conducted by Brown (1995). He states the ways by which teachers can promote children’s social interactions in the inclusive environment. It was found that through peer-mediated and naturalistic interventions special education children are encouraged to initiate and respond to their regular education peers. The combination of interactions between peers and teachers may be the key factors that allowed the special education children to feel more accepted, both at home and in the preschool setting.
These findings were also consistent with the study conducted by Jenkins, Odom, and Speltz (1989). They found that when special education students interacted with their regular education peers, the development of language and social competence was facilitated. Therefore, close proximity and interaction of special education children with regular education children nurtures a more productive environment for development to occur.
The PCEQ found that the vast majority of children, whether regular or special education, preferred regular education playmates. This finding is not surprising considering the research done by Donahue (1994). He found that students with disabilities who are challenged both academically and socially are affected by the emphasis on ability as a prerequisite for group membership. Therefore, one can suggest that it is critical that integrated preschool teachers take full advantage of the strategies presented by Brown (1995) to help promote their children’s social interactions.
The PCEQ also found that overall, the children were happy and viewed their environment as positive. The preschool program that was the focus of the present study was one that is accredited by the state. The program receives all of the money and supplies necessary to provide an enriching classroom environment. The teachers involved must have a sufficient amount of experience before they are hired and are carefully chosen for the job. Therefore, it is not surprising that these children saw their environment as a positive one.
In addition to analyzing the results from the current study it is important to review and critique the methodology of the study. Although this study yielded positive results, one must remember that it was only a pilot study. More research must be done over a longer period of time before the results are generalized to the preschool population as a whole. Evaluating the methodology of this study brings to light issues that could improve the current study, as well as future studies. Slight alterations involving the participants and instruments would increase the reliability and validity of the study.
Two issues exist concerning the participants of the study that need to be addressed. The first is related to the attempt to examine the differences and similarities between regular and special education children. To more accurately analyze the similarities and differences between these two groups, an equal and larger number of regular and special education children are needed. This study consisted of 5 special education children and 10 regular education children. In addition to an uneven number of regular and special education children, the conclusions from this study can only be generalized to a specific population. This is the second issue of concern with the participants.
The participants were representative of a population of white, middle-class children living in two small rural towns in Massachusetts. If the research had been conducted with participants from a lower socioeconomic class, the results may not have been so promising. For example, children living in a lower socioeconomic class area of large city would not have access to the same environment that children living in a small middle-class town do. Large cities have higher student to teacher ratios and less money to spend on supplies that would enhance the preschool environment. Therefore, a change in these variables could have a significant impact on future results.
Two issues concerning instrumentation also need to be addressed. The first concerns the appropriateness of the instrument for preschool children. Although the test was made specifically for children of this age, the researcher found several questions that seemed to be geared towards children older than preschool age. For example, two of the questions asked how often the child ate over a friend’s house, or slept over a friend’s house. It seems that preschoolers may be too young to be involving themselves in those particular activities. Second, one of the scales on the test measured maternal acceptance. In today’s society, the father is playing more of a role in child rearing. The instrument did not assess the father’s role. Several times, when the researcher asked the children if their mom did something, their reply was, “no, my dad does”. Therefore, perhaps a paternal portion should either be added to or combined with the maternal acceptance scale. The test scores would prove to be more valid if this was done.
A final concern is with the actual implementation of the testing. The study was conducted over the short time span of a month. If there had been a longer time period between the pretest and posttest measures, it appears that the study would have produced even more significant results. The hypothesis of the study proposed that over an entire preschool year the self-esteem of the enrolled children would increase. It is logical that the longer children are exposed to a self-esteem enriching environment, the more their self-concepts will increase. Therefore, if the test was issued first at the beginning of the school year and again at the end of the school year the children may have exhibited greater differences in self-esteem between the pretest and the posttest.
Although this was only a pilot study, the results appear to be promising. The results of this study can be applied to a broader range of situations. Self-esteem plays a major role in the development of psychologically happy and healthy individuals (Rahhal, 1993). Studies that contribute to the understanding of self-esteem can be utilized to increase people's self-esteem. Because self-esteem is so critical to individual development, it is important to develop early in life. An instrumental way of applying findings on self-esteem for children is to find methods that work within the school system. Schools can be used as vehicles to implement programs to aid in awareness of issues and make changes in our society (Gelinas, 1998). From this study, it appears that inclusive classrooms are a good place to start. Here, children are introduced to an environment that enriches self-esteem at a very young age.
Dramatic improvements in our understanding of the concept and practice if inclusion have occurred in the past decade. This process is continually encouraging the emergence of framework and service systems for young handicapped children and their families. We should not expect inclusion to be successful unless there is a widespread agreement as to the fundamental nature and influences of its practices and principles (Guralnick, 1990). The current study is helping to move us closer to this agreement because it sheds empirical light on the debate surrounding inclusive classrooms.
This study does not have to remain within the confines of a school system. Because self-esteem pervades almost every aspect of our lives, it is essential to develop in the household also. Parents can use the results of this study to construct their own strategies for enhancing their children’s self-concepts at home. With the cooperation of both parents and teachers, self-esteem is a personal quality that may continually be improved.
If inclusion continues to be the educational choice for the majority of special education children, we must persist in studying the effects it has on all of the children and families involved. The overall challenge for the next decade is to assure that the needs of more and more special education children and their families are met and addressed in the early childhood school system. The special knowledge and skills provided by specialists working with handicapped children must become an integral part of the overall early childhood network (Guralnick, 1990). Continued research, much like that of the current study, and program development in important areas including friendship formation, policy issues, and curriculum development in the area of peer and social competence, all will be of value.
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