I Learn Stuff: An Ethnographic Case Study of Disabled Senior Secondary Students' School Experiences.
"I learn stuff" explores the school experiences of a group of four senior secondary students who have funding from the Ongoing Reviewable Resource Scheme (ORRS). This thesis is based on a broad definition of student school experience, viewing it as a „way of talking about‟ what is important for the participants. It also allows for an examination of the multiple dimensions found within a classroom including relationships, subject material, and how the students interact with these. By using such a definition of experience it positions students as experts with agency in their own lives. I begin by examining the social (relational) model of disability as it provides the language and framework of barriers to doing and barriers to being, which I use throughout. It then proceeds to examine human rights frameworks, and finally the New Zealand education and disability policy and legislative context. By drawing on the literature of both Childhood Studies and Disability Studies the thesis benefits from the insights of each discipline and builds a bridge between them. To explore the overarching research question of “what are the school experiences of senior secondary ORRS funded students?” an ethnographic case study approach was taken in conjunction with a social constructionist methodological rationale. The ethical challenges in gaining and recognising student voice and experiences shaped this thesis, and as such they are reviewed as a part of the methodology as well as being integral to the findings. Observations were conducted in a single site over two school terms, using semi-structured interviews which were conducted with four self-selected student participants and three student-selected staff. The findings are organised into two parts. The first part examines the research ethics issues of: informed consent without parental proxies, gaining access to the student participants in a school setting, the role of the researcher and broken assistive technology. These impacted on and shaped this thesis, but they also make visible the barriers to doing. The second part examines the school experiences of the students within the emergent themes of subjects and activities, and relationships. This served as a framework in which to explore the voices and experiences of the participants. Firstly, the students provided a context for their school day by describing a “typical day”. All of the students described getting up and coming to school. Three out of four described what they did after school or what they liked to do in their spare time. From their experiences came the emergent theme of subjects (e.g. Maths) and activities, the students described liking all of their iii classes at some point in the interview process. The students also described activities they participated in both on and off the school campus. This theme revealed the difficulties students have in accessing and participating in these activities, but also their enjoyment in participating in the classroom. Their school experiences also informed their aspirations for the future. Two of the students discussed what they wanted to do both in the near future (the following year) and when they leave school, these were based on subjects they liked or what they thought was going to be a practical job. The second emergent theme relationships, was the most dominant theme discussed by the students and the student selected adults. Within this theme, four types or categories of relationships became evident: Teacher-teacher aide, student-teacher aide, student- teacher and peer relationships. The comments made by the students and the selected adults, revealed the complexities and barriers that students face in interacting with teachers and teacher aides while still maintaining friendships. These of course are experienced at different levels by the students. From the wealth of data generated by the participants, the discussion focuses on how the barriers to doing and being impact on the students. Finally, the significance of this research is reflected in the hope that disabled students will be recognised as having the same rights and the same agency as their peers, and that they can and do participate in meaningful ways in both research and school environments. Recognising this may open the doors to further research with disabled students whilst also providing an insight into this group of disabled students‟ school experiences. This thesis helps to redress the lack of disability research in New Zealand. Future research could include an expansion of this study as well as undertaking increasingly participatory approaches with such students.
Advisor: Gaffney, Michael; Rutherford, Gill
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Centre for Research on Children and Families
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: disability; secondary school
Research Type: Thesis