Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Nowicki, Elizabeth A.


For this integrated-article dissertation, I interviewed three groups of participants, one group for each of three studies, to elicit their perspectives on the social inclusion of secondary school students with learning difficulties in school. The three participant groups were (a) secondary school students without learning difficulties, (b) secondary school students with learning difficulties, and (c) parents of secondary school students with learning difficulties. All participants were asked the following focus prompt “Are high school students with learning difficulties sometimes left out at school? Why or why not?” Following Trochim’s (1989) concept mapping methodology, all unique statements that answered the focus prompt were extracted from interview transcripts, and participants were asked to sort the statements into meaningful categories based on their perspectives. Participants then individually rated each of the statements. The sorting data for each participant group were analyzed using multidimensional scaling, which creates a two-dimensional point map of the participants' sorts, and hierarchical cluster analysis, which groups together statements based on their proximity on the point map. For the first study, 16 grade 12 students sorted a list of 94 statements generated from interviews with 20 grade 12 students. Themes included: social inclusion and exclusion, teacher behaviour, learning environment, hard time relating, behaviour and ability level of students, self-exclusion, negative stigma and attitudes, and physical and social separation. For the second study, I interviewed 12 parents of secondary school students with learning difficulties and extracted a list of 103 statements. Themes included: individual differences, parent influence, the importance of friendships, role of teachers, school board and policy issues, indirect forms of exclusion, mental health, sadness due to exclusion, and social-relational difficulties. For the third study, I interviewed 12 secondary school students with learning difficulties and extracted a list of 55 statements. Themes included: experiences with exclusion and social isolation, social and academic reasons for exclusion, friendships and supportive people, and positive experiences of inclusion. The results of this dissertation demonstrate the importance of including multiple perspectives on inclusion. These participant groups provide varied insider perspectives, which taken together, create a picture of the current state of social inclusion at the secondary school level and ways in which students still need support.