Key Takeaway: DeVries, Knickenberg, and Trygger report complex relationships between student characteristics (ie. the presence of learning differences), and self-perceived inclusion and academic self-regard. Both the novel and supported results reveal a gap, even in inclusive classes, and the need for educator and administrator-implemented inclusion interventions for at-risk students. – Emmy Thamakaison

Jeffrey DeVries (TU Dortmund University), Margarita Knickenberg (University of Bielefeld), and Maria Trygger (Saltsjöbadens Samskolan) share their cross-sectional study examining the association between student characteristics (gender, grade-level, special-education needs (SEN) status, and self-identified academic difficulties) with academic self-concept and perceptions of socio-emotional inclusion among fifth and eighth-grade students in an inclusion school. Additionally, they test the validity of the Perception of Inclusion Questionnaire (PIQ) in measuring emotional inclusion, social inclusion, and academic self-concept. 

Academic self-concept, or the way an individual regards their academic abilities, has conventionally been believed to be lower among students with SEN (ie. cognitive difficulties, learning disabilities), regardless of their inclusive educational context. DeVries et al. find this is the case not only for students with SEN diagnoses (p = 0.004), but also for students with self-reported difficulties yet no formal diagnoses (p = 0.007).

  • Grade level in combination with gender can significantly influence students’ academic self-concept. Regardless of SEN status, lower levels of self-concept were found for female students in eighth grade compared with that of female students in fifth grade. Male students, however, did not display such differences. 
  • In explaining this decline in academic self-concept, the authors cite “a decrease in maths-specific self-concept” for general female students and “different interactions with teachers and classmates”1 and “self-efficacy”2 for females with SEN. 

In terms of social and emotional inclusion, SEN status and grade were found to play an important role in determining students’ relative levels. 

  • Along with lower levels of academic self-concept, students with SEN diagnoses experienced lower levels of emotional inclusion. This cross-sectional data contradict that of a longitudinal study, which demonstrates a “boost to both emotional inclusion and academic self-concept over time” among students with SEN.3 Taken together, this suggests that “effective techniques” that address “the extent of students’ social inclusion in their classes and emotional wellbeing” may alleviate “the effects of SEN on academic self-concept “ and “emotional inclusion” over time.4,5
  • Similar to students with SEN, students with undiagnosed difficulties experienced lower levels of emotional inclusion. Interestingly, they also reported experiencing reduced social inclusion as well—a finding not seen in the SEN population. DeVries et al. suggest that this may demonstrate the comparable “lack of some inclusive support” for students with undiagnosed difficulties. 
  • Additionally, children in eighth grade reported significantly lower levels of social inclusion (p = 0.041). No significant variations due to gender were found for both social and emotional inclusion. 

Fulfilling one of the main objectives of this study, the authors provided further validation for the PIQ as an effective and easily understood tool; this 3-factor model of social inclusion, emotional inclusion, and academic self-concept was described to “demonstrate good psychometric properties,” which included measurement invariance (the extent to which items measure equivalently across different groups) and reliability. 

Ultimately, DeVries et al.‘s research provides useful insights into the relationship between student characteristics and levels of perceived socio-emotional inclusion, or academic self-concept. Much of these results (ie. students with SEN experiencing lower levels of emotional inclusion and self-concept) are supported by pre-existing research and emphasize the importance of interventions in alleviating some of the effects described above. This study’s finding of children with self-reported difficulties feeling less emotionally and socially included, as well as having a lower academic self-concept, poses some novel implications and questions; though “more research is needed to examine the exact nature and causes of these differences,” educators and administrators should “work to ensure that such at-risk learners feel included within the classroom.” 

Summarized Article:

DeVries, J. M., Knickenberg, M., & Trygger, M. (2021). Academic self-concept, perceptions of inclusion, special needs and gender: evidence from inclusive classes in Sweden. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2021.1911523

Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison—Emmy is a recent high school graduate attending Stanford University and is an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Oga-Baldwin, W. L. Q., & Nakata, Y. (2017). Engagement, gender, and motivation: A predictive model for Japanese young language learners. System, 65, 151–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2017.01.011
  2. Huang, C. (2012). Gender differences in academic self-efficacy: a meta-analysis. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(1), 1–35. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-011-0097-y
  3. DeVries, J. M., Voß, S., & Gebhardt, M. (2018). Do learners with special education needs really feel included? Evidence from the Perception of Inclusion Questionnaire and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 83, 28–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2018.07.007
  4. Haeberlin, U., U. Moser, G. Bless, and R. Klaghofer (1989). Questionnaire for Assessing Dimensions of Integration of Students. Integration in Die Schulklasse. Fragebogen Zur Erfassung Von Dimensionen Der Integration Von Schülern FDI 4–6
  5. Hascher, T., and G. Hagenauer (2011). Schulisches Wohlbefinden Im Jugendalter– Verläufe Und Einflussfaktoren. Jahrbuch Jugendforschung: 10, 15–45.

Key Takeaway: High expectations play a vital role in developing future success in students. For learners, frequent educational and vocational discussions with friends, family, and teachers during adolescence can be incredibly important in fostering their aspirations and transforming them into reality. —Emmy Thamakaison

Lynette Vernon (Edith Cowan University) and Catherine Drane (Curtin University) share their retrospective, cross-sectional study examining the association between student characteristics (ie. socio-economic status (SES), gender) alongside discussions with influential figures (ie. family members, friends, teachers) and expectations to attend university, receive vocational/technical education, or go into full-time employment after secondary school.

SES’s contributions to the development of future aspirations have long been debated, in particular, the suggested relationship between lower SES and lower educational and vocational aspirations. Vernon and Drane present their arguments against this as their results revealed that “career and educational aspirations for students, predominantly from low SES background were high” but found that often “the missing element is the knowledge of how to make these aspirations concrete and obtainable.”1 

  • Compared to students with higher SES, those with lower SES tend to engage more frequently in Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) discussions and less frequently in university discussions. 
  • Students discuss their aspirations with their parents and peers more than their teachers and counsellors. Therefore, it is vital for these high-impact influencers to “have the necessary up-to-date knowledge and skills to provide the relevant information around educational opportunities.” However, parents of students of lower SES may lack the prerequisite knowledge as they may not have experience with university and/or TAFE/VET pathways. Thus, informative parental support and discussions with multiple influencers may be beneficial to maintaining high aspirations. 

Apart from SES, other factors such as gender, academic year level, and first-in-family (to attend university) status are considered “important predictors” for students’ vocational and higher education expectations. 

  • University discussions affected female students more significantly in terms of their expectations to receive higher education.
  • Those with first-in-family statuses engaged in discussions about university more frequently than those whose family members have attended university, indicating “their capabilities of resilience, motivation, and tenacity to explore university pathways.” However, first-in-family status was not associated with TAFE/VET expectations.
  • Vernon and Drane found that year level (grade level) indirectly contributed to the pathways between discussions on university, TAFE-VET, or full-time employment expectations.

Regardless of individual characteristics, frequent discussions about students’ futures allows the maintenance of their aspirations and sets them on the path to reaching their potential. 

  • As one of the main confidantes for a student, parents are encouraged to “provide the reality context for their children around their educational desires” in the discussions. 
  • Teachers remain largely untapped for valuable aspirational discussions. Prioritizing career education in a school setting and promoting teachers as a “positive, knowledgeable, and accessible resource” can therefore go a long way in “empowering [students] to pursue their desired education and career pathways”. 

Ultimately, this research encourages policy-makers, teachers, and influencers to recognize the importance of discussions around educational and vocational pathways. Adolescence is a critical transitional period as students decide what they will pursue beyond secondary school. While individual factors influence future expectations differently, increasing the frequency of quality discussions with influential figures can “provide the opportunity for all students to practice and develop their capacity to aspire and meet their career [and educational] expectations.”

Summarized Article:

Vernon, L., & Drane, C. F. (2021). Influencers: the importance of discussions with parents, teachers and friends to support vocational and university pathways. International Journal of Training Research, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/14480220.2020.1864442

Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison — Emmy is a recent high school graduate attending Stanford University and is an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.

Research author Lynette Vernon, Ph.D., was involved in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. St. Clair, R., Kintrea, K., & Houston, M. (2013). Silver bullet or red herring? New evidence on the place of aspirations in education. Oxford Review of Education, 39(6), 719–738. https://doi.org/10.1080/03054985.2013.854201