Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Jacqueline Specht



This qualitative study employs case study and narrative inquiry approaches to examine the beliefs, practices and experiences of elementary classroom teachers in Ontario, Canada, as they engage in the development of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for children with Intellectual Developmental Disability (IDD). The study focuses on IEP development for students in both regular education and special education classroom settings. Attention is given to the ways of thinking about disability, IDD, and special educational needs that impact on current practices related to IEP development. In that there is limited research that offers a theoretical explanation of the IEP process, this study applies the critical social theoretical perspectives of Pierre Bourdieu and theorists working in Disability Studies/Disability Studies in Education to the phenomenon of IEP development. Narrative data collected from interviews with fourteen teachers working in three school boards and from the review of educational documents as artifacts from the field were critically analyzed. Four major thematic areas were brought together to explain the narratives underpinning teachers’ thinking and practices. These include Knowledge and Conceptualizations, IEP Pedagogical Practices, Concentration of Individualized Curricula, and Relational Factors and Influences that involve the interplay of a number of factors impacting on IEP development such as classroom context, school and school board culture, and teacher self-efficacy and satisfaction. This research suggests that IEP development involves a dynamic labelling process through which the learning identities of students are constructed and reproduced based on deficit-based thinking about disability and special educational needs. As such, the IEP process may perpetuate notions of ableism within contemporary educational discourse that contribute to the marginalization and/or exclusion of students with disability in schools. Findings draw attention to key issues related to the IEP and to considerations for inclusive educational practice. Implications of the study extend to broader questions about the function of the IEP process, the meanings ascribed to disability and special educational needs through this process, and the powerful narratives used to position students with disabilities in classrooms across Ontario and elsewhere.

Keywords: Individual Education Plan (IEP), Intellectual Developmental Disability (IDD), Case Study, Narrative Inquiry, Critical Social Theory, Pierre Bourdieu, Disability Theory, Inclusive Education, Special Education