Article: McGrath, A., & Hughes, M. (2018). Students with learning disabilities in inquiry-based science classrooms: A cross-case analysis. Learning Disability Quarterly, 41(3), 131-14.
Phase 1 (Summary)
Students with learning disabilities (LD) are often included in a general science classroom setting. However, many general science classrooms are now an using inquiry-based learning approach. Therefore, McGrath and Hughes (2018) were interested in examining the effectiveness of inquiry-based learning environment, in relation to students with LD, based on how they process scientific knowledge.
The study included three research questions. The first research question focused on how well students with LD acquire scientific knowledge (e.g. asking questions, defining problems, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data). The second research question focused on student engagement in relation to scientific processes, as well as scientific content. The last research question focused on the strategies used by students and teachers to interpret the scientific knowledge being learned.
This study was carried out through a cross-case analysis over 9 weeks through a unit on ecology. The study took place in a suburban middle school outside a large Midwestern city. The participants included six students from grade 6, as well as four science teachers. In addition, paraprofessionals were present during the science classes to provide help to students with disabilities.
Throughout the duration of study, five classroom observations were taken place. The observers used qualitative methods to measure and to document data. Each student participated in a total of three interviews throughout week three, week six and week nine on the unit of ecology. In addition, the teachers along with the paraprofessionals went through two audiotaped interviews.
The results of the study demonstrated that students with LD’s had difficulty to understand scientific knowledge and processes, to interpret and engage with scientific vocabulary and teacher and student strategies may have affected the learning environment, such as peer support, the strategies used by teachers and student advocacy.
The authors concluded that inquiry based learning in science is important, however students with LD still struggled to effectively grasp scientific knowledge through this learning environment. There were several causes to these results, such as the content was too abstract for students with LD, characteristics of LD’s (e.g. reading and math skills) hindered students ability to fully engage and not all teachers provided proper support with students on individualized education programs (IEP’s). In light of this, the authors further concluded that the findings in this study demonstrate the possibility of improving science teachings in the general education classroom through peer tutoring and better training for educators teaching in inquiry based settings, as well as for students with LD’s.