Skip to main content

Mixed-Methods Research: Exploring Pre-Service Teachers’ Perceptions of Students With Specific Learning DisabilitiesA Useful Tool in Systemic Inquiry?

Case
By: & Published: 2017 | Product: SAGE Research Methods Cases in Education
+- LessMore information
Search form
No results
Not Found
Download Case PDF

Abstract

The purpose of this mixed-methods research study was to explore the perceptions of pre-service teachers of students with learning disabilities. In addition, we examined the effectiveness of shifting perceptions through the use of various experiences within an undergraduate learning disabilities methods course. These activities included working with students with learning disabilities in public school classrooms, watching video vignettes of adults with learning disabilities, developing lesson plans, completing assigned readings, and participating in center-based instruction. We utilized a convergent, mixed-methods design comprising surveys, journals, and focus-group discussions to study pre-service teachers’ perceptions over the course of a 5-month semester.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this case students should be able to

  • Identify the essential components of mixed-methods research
  • Understand the complexity of each of the components
  • Recognize the depth and breadth of exploration associated with mixed-methods research
  • Identify the strengths of mixed-methods research
Situating the Mixed-Methods Research

In the United States, students with specific learning disabilities (LDs) make up the largest percentage of all students classified in special education (Individuals With Disabilities Education Act [IDEA], 2004). In light of that, there is an extremely high probability that pre-service teachers (PSTs) will work with students with LDs during the course of their career. Good and Brophy (2007) and Woodcock (2010) state that the way teachers perceive students with LDs has a significant bearing on the achievement of those students. In other words, the more positive the teacher’s perception, the greater the chance of success for a student with an LD.

At the time we conducted the research (see Greenfield, Mackey, & Nelson, 2016), there were no studies that explored PSTs’ perceptions toward working with students with LDs. The two studies that examined teachers’ attitudes included numerous categories of special education and both studies consisted entirely of survey data. The remaining research examined in-service teachers’ or PSTs’ feelings about students with disabilities in general or inclusive education, when students with and without disabilities were educated in the same classroom.

Research Purpose

Based on the facts described above, we felt that examining and, if necessary, improving the perceptions of PSTs before they begin their teaching careers was a worthwhile endeavor. The mixed-methods approach allowed us to gather comprehensive data on PSTs’ perceptions.

In addition, we intended to use the results of the study to improve our own teaching. We felt that if we did not examine this critical component of our teacher education program, we would only be providing a series of methods courses, without a critical examination of disability and perceptions. The goal of this research study was to improve PSTs’ learning and teacher education, which is why we also explored the effectiveness of the strategies and activities used in our specific LD methods course. Our research questions were as follows:

  • Quantitative Research Question
  • Research Question 1. How did PSTs’ perceptions of students with LDs change in response to an LD methods course?
  • Qualitative Research Question
  • Research Question 2. In what ways did PSTs’ perceptions of students with LDs change in response to an LD methods course?
  • Research Question 3. Which elements of an LD methods course impacted PSTs’ perceptions of students with LDs?
  • Mixed-Methods Research Question
  • Research Question 4. To what extent do quantitative and qualitative data converge? How and why?
The Ins and Outs of Mixed-Methods Research
Research Design Rationale and Phases

At the time the study was conducted, the use of mixed-methods research in education was just starting to gain traction and we were intrigued by the method. We knew what we wanted to explore and we had a general sense of what research methods we wanted to employ, but the final design took a while to finalize. We went through multiple design iterations before we ultimately determined that a mixed-methods approach would give us the breadth and depth of data we were seeking. This pilot study marked our first foray into the use of mixed-methods research design.

We opted to use a convergent parallel mixed-methods design (Creswell, 2014) (see Table 1).The main reason for choosing a convergent parallel mixed-methods design was because we felt that collecting both quantitative and qualitative data could help us better understand PSTs’ perceptions and what course elements may or may not have shifted their perceptions. One tenet of this design is to collect both kinds of data using the same construct. In other words, we wanted to measure perceptions—therefore, we did so quantitatively using a survey, and then we used focus groups to examine in-depth perspectives about perceptions. Another tenet of this design is that it may improve validity. Typically, data from convergent parallel mixed designs are interpreted by comparing both data and determining whether convergence or divergence exists. In this way, examining both types of data would allow for increased triangulation, or if divergence exists, opportunities to return to the analyses, collect further data, or determine limitations of the measures. Given these tenets, we were hopeful that this design would best support our research questions.

Table 1. Convergent parallel mixed-methods design (based on Creswell, 2014).

Phase I

Phase II

Phase III

Phase IV

Phase V

Phase VI

Collection and analysis of pre-course quantitative and qualitative data

14-week SLD methods course

Collection and analysis of post-course quantitative and qualitative data

Collection and analysis of additional post-course qualitative data

Data comparison

Interpretation of entire analysis

SLD: severe learning disability.

This design required six phases. During Phase I, we collected and analyzed pre-LD methods course quantitative and qualitative data. Phase II was the 5-month, semester-long LD methods course. For Phase III, we collected and analyzed post-course quantitative and qualitative data. During Phase IV, we collected and analyzed additional qualitative data. During Phase V, we compared data, and during Phase VI, we interpreted these data. We used the pre- and post-course surveys to quantitatively determine the impact of the methods course on the PSTs’ perceptions. We used pre- and post-course journal responses and post-course focus groups as qualitative measures. This mixed-methods design allowed us to triangulate and expound on results (Greene & Caracelli, 2003) while adding breadth to the study (Creswell, 2014).

Participant Selection and Voluntary Consent

All of the PSTs who participated in the research were undergraduate students in a specific LD methods course taught by the second author. Although course participation was mandatory, study participation was optional and a few students chose not to participate. Of the 17 students in the class, 15 opted into the study.

Quantitative Data Collection

Quantitative data were collected through a researcher-developed survey with input and feedback from special educators and teacher educators. We incorporated a Likert-type scale that allowed participants to select “strongly agree,” “agree,” “disagree,” or “strongly disagree” when presented with a statement about students with severe learning disabilities (SLDs). Survey statements explored areas such as preparation to teach students with SLDs, academic success for students with SLDs, motivation, and learning needs of students with SLDs. Some examples include the following: “It will be easy for me to support the academic needs of students with learning disabilities”; “When I work with students with learning disabilities, I think first think about what they can do”; and “I feel prepared to teach students with learning disabilities.

Qualitative Data Collection
Response Journals

Before the SLD methods course began, PSTs were asked to respond to the following journal prompts: When you hear the term “learning disability,” what comes to mind? How do students with LDs learn best? At the end of the semester, PSTs responded to the same prompts.

Focus Groups

At the conclusion of the semester, the PSTs participated in focus groups with us. There were three different 60-min focus-group sessions that consisted of five to six PSTs. During the focus-group discussion, we repeated the same questions PSTs responded to in their journals in order to see how they would respond in a focus-group setting, and to determine whether there was convergence among these data. In addition, we asked the following questions: When you think about your experiences in this course, do you think your perceptions about students with LDs have changed? If so, how? Were their experiences in this course that made you think differently about students with LDs? If so, what were they? During the focus groups, PSTs shared their individual responses in the group, and often extended ideas presented by other participants.

Member Check

In order to ensure that we were accurately representing the perspective of the PSTs, we engaged in member checking. We recorded each focus-group session, transcribed it, and then sent it to participants to review for accuracy and credibility. Participants were required to respond to the member check and all agreed that the transcription was an accurate reflection of their focus-group statements.

Analyzing and Making Sense of the Data
Quantitative Data Analysis

Since this was a pilot study, it was the first time we administered the survey, so we had to measure its internal consistency to determine whether it measured a single construct. Pre-course survey results revealed a high internal consistency of Α = .716-.706. After the post-course survey was completed, we used the SPSS predictive analytics software for quantitative data analyses. We examined a variety of descriptive statistics, including frequency counts and paired samples t test, to examine differences in pre- and post-course survey results. Table 2 shows the results of the analyses.

Table 2. Descriptive statistics.

M

SD

Language Attitudes of Teachers Scale Score (LATS)—pre

42.25

4.24

Language Attitudes of Teachers Scale Score (LATS)—post

40.19

3.95

N = 15.

Qualitative Data Analysis

To analyze the qualitative data, we used consensual qualitative research analysis (CQR) (Hill et al., 2005; Rhodes, Hill, Thompson, & Elliott, 1994). CQR is used extensively in the field of psychology but is beginning to be used more frequently in other fields such as education (Greenfield, Rinaldi, Proctor, & Cardarelli, 2010). In order to adhere to the fundamental principles of CQR, including a team-based approach to analyzing data, we recruited a third researcher to work with us. Each of us coded the pre- and post-course journals independently, and then came together as a group to reach a consensus on themes and outcomes from these data. Then, we compared these data across all participants, or cases. In order to operationalize the frequency of outcomes across the cases, we generated three designations, including general outcomes (evident in 14-15 of the cases), typical outcomes (evident in 7-13 of the cases), and variant outcomes (evident in 2-6 of the cases). The outcomes from this cross-analysis of 15 PSTs are shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Outcomes from the cross-analysis of pre- and post-course journals of 15 pre-service teachers.

Themes

Outcomes

Pre-Course Journal Cases (Type of Outcome)

Post-Course Journal Cases (Type of Outcome)

Language

Specific appropriate language (person-first, strength-based)

10/15 (Typical)

12/15 (Typical)

Specific definition of a learning disability

3/15 (Variant)

7/15 (Typical)

Instruction

Sensory (VAKT)

8/15 (Typical)

11/15 (Typical)

Lesson structure (explicit instruction, modeling, scaffolding, guided practice)

6/15 (Variant)

8/15 (Typical)

Differentiated (person-first, individual-specific, using assessment results, relevant to background/previous knowledge)

10/15 (Typical)

13/15 (Typical)

Accommodations and/or modifications

0

7/15 (Typical)

Note. VAKT: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactile.

General: 14-15; Typical: 7-13; Variant: 2-6.

During the cross-case analysis of the journals, the team identified the need for focus-group interviews. The team felt the interviews would provide more details and understanding to better understand and contextualize the journal data. Once we member checked the focus-group transcriptions, the team repeated the process of independent coding of data followed by team-based consensus to identify themes and outcomes. Table 4 shows the themes and outcomes of the focus-group interviews. Similar to the journal data, the team identified general and typical outcomes across the 15 cases.

Table 4. Outcomes from the cross-analysis of focus groups of 15 pre-service teachers.

Themes

General Outcomes (14 or 15 Cases)

Typical Outcomes (7-13 Cases)

Language

Specific appropriate language (person-first, strength-based)

14/15

Specific definition of a learning disability

11/15

Instruction

Differentiated (person-first, individual-specific, using assessment results, relevant to background/previous knowledge)

11/15

Lesson structure (explicit instruction, modeling, scaffolding, guided practice)

10/15

Accommodations and/or modifications

10/15

Sensory (VAKT)

7/15

Note. VAKT: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactile.

General: 14-15; Typical: 7-13; Variant: 2-6.

The next step was to examine which specific course elements and assignments the PSTs identified as having an impact on their perceptions of students with LDs. In 14 or 15 cases, the PSTs identified the use of video vignettes and the overall course experience as course elements impacting their perceptions. Typical outcomes included fieldwork and the use of centers during class meetings, identified by 10 PSTs. Reading the Dyslexic Advantage, making coursework connections, and writing lesson plans were variant outcomes across cases. These data are depicted in Table 5.

Table 5. Course elements from the cross-analysis of focus groups of 15 pre-service teachers.

Course Element

General Outcomes (14 or 15 Cases)

Typical Outcomes (7-13 Cases)

Variant Outcomes (2-6 Cases)

Video vignettes

15/15

The overall course experience

14/15

Fieldwork

10/15

Center/Stations

10/15

Dyslexic advantage (book)

6/15

Coursework connections

4/15

Lesson planning

2/15

Note. General: 14-15; Typical: 7-13; Variant: 2-6.

Data Convergence

The final phase of the research allowed us to collectively examine the quantitative and qualitative data to determine where there was a convergence and divergence between and among these data. Table 6 displays the data based on themes and outcomes when we examined qualitative data from the focus groups and journals, while Table 7 is a joint display of data which identifies areas of convergence and areas of divergence across all quantitative and qualitative data.

Table 6. Convergent outcomes from the cross-analysis of focus groups and journals of 15 pre-service teachers.

Themes

General Outcomes (14 or 15 Cases)

Typical Outcomes (7-13 Cases)

Focus Groups

Post-Course Journals

Focus Groups

Post-Course Journals

Language

Person-first, strength-based language

14/15

Person-first, strength-based language

12/15

Specific definition of a learning disability

11/15

7/15

Instruction

Differentiated (person-first, individual-specific, using assessment results, relevant to background/previous knowledge)

11/15

13/15

Lesson structure (explicit instruction, modeling, scaffolding, guided practice)

10/15

8/15

Accommodations and/or modifications

10/15

7/15

Sensory (VAKT)

7/15

11/15

Note. VAKT: Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, and Tactile.

General: 14-15; Typical: 7-13; Variant: 2-6.

Table 7. Joint display of data.

Themes

Quantitative

Qualitative

Convergence/Divergence

General perceptions

Did a LD methods course change PSTs’ perceptions of students with LDs?

Yes

Yes

Convergence

Upon completion of a LD methods course, did PSTs feel prepared to teach students with LDs?

Yes

Yes

Convergence

Language

Upon completion of a LD methods course, did PSTs use strength-based, person-first language?

Yes

Yes

Convergence

Upon completion of a LD methods course, did PSTs provide a specific definition of a learning disability?

Yes

Yes

Convergence

Instruction

Upon completion of a LD methods course, did PSTs report that students with LDs require differentiated methods?

Yes

Yes

Convergence

Upon completion of a LD methods course, did PSTs report that students with LDs require specific lesson structures?

Yes

Yes

Convergence

Upon completion of a LD methods course, did PSTs report that students with LDs require accommodations and/or modifications?

Yes

Upon completion of a LD methods course, did PSTs report that students with LDs require multisensory teaching?

Yes

The mixed-methods study design allowed us to examine the data in a variety of ways, triangulate it, and determine areas of convergence or divergence. This provided a more in-depth exploration of PSTs’ perceptions of students with LDs and pushed us to reflect on the use of specific activities in our LD methods courses.

Ethical Considerations

Since this study was conducted with students while they were taking our LD methods course, it was imperative that we be clear about the separation between the course and the study. We brought in another education faculty member to speak to the class regarding participation or non-participation in the study, highlighting that participation would have no bearing on their performance in the LD methods course. Only after hearing from, and asking questions of, this faculty member were students asked whether they would like to voluntarily participate in the study. At that time, we provided participants with a Human Subjects Consent Form, which disclosed all information pertaining to the study, including any possible risk. Throughout the semester, we reminded the students that their study participation or non-participation had no impact on their course grade. Confidentiality of information about participants was maintained through the use of a pseudonym for each participant and in all data records. Participants were free to withdraw their consent and discontinue their participation at any time without prejudice; however, none of the participants chose to withdraw their consent.

Exercises and Discussion Questions
  • What are the benefits of using a consensual qualitative research method to analyze data? What are the drawbacks of using this method?
  • How might the responses have been different if we had interviewed each participant individually instead of in a focus-group format?
  • How would the responses in the focus groups change if we had shared the questions ahead of time?
  • Why is it necessary to look at both how data can converge and diverge from each other?
  • What other kinds of data could we have collected to help answer our research questions?
References
Creswell, J. W. (2014). Research designs: Qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approach (
4th ed.
). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Good, T., & Brophy, J. (2007). Looking into classrooms. Ramsey, NJ: Allyn & Bacon.
Greene, J. C., & Caracelli, V. J. (Eds.). (1997). Advances in mixed-method evaluation: The challenges and benefits of integrating diverse paradigms (New Directions for Evaluation, No. 74). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Greenfield, R., Mackey, M., & Nelson, G. (2016). Preservice teachers’ perceptions of students with learning disabilities: Using mixed methods to examine effectiveness of special education coursework. The Qualitative Report, 21, Article 10.
Greenfield, R., Rinaldi, C., Proctor, C. P., & Cardarelli, A. (2010). Teachers’ perceptions of RTI reform in an urban elementary school: A consensual qualitative analysis. The Journal of Disability Policy Studies, 21, 4763.
Hill, C. H., Knox, S., Thompson, B. J., Williams, E. N., Hess, S. A., & Ladany, N. (2005). Consensual qualitative analysis: An update. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 52, 196205.
Rhodes, R. H., Hill, C. E., Thompson, B. J., & Elliott, R. (1994). Client retrospective recall of resolved and unresolved misunderstanding events. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 41, 473483.
Woodcock, S. (2010). Diagnosing the potential of learning disabilities: Understanding and expectations of students with learning disabilities. Saarbrücken, Germany: Lambert Academic Publishing.

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website