How To Engage Students Who Receive Special Education Accommodation to Ensure They Have Success in Classroom and Athletics

HowTo Engage Students Who Receive Special Education Accommodation toEnsure They Have Success in Classroom and Athletics



AnAction Research Proposal Presented to

TheGraduate Program in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements

Forthe Degree of Masters in Education

ConcordiaUniversity – Portland


HowTo Engage Students Who Receive Special Education Accommodation toEnsure They Have Success in Classroom and Athletics

Creatingequal learning opportunities for special needs students is criticalto their success in education and athletics. Special educationaccommodates students with behavioral and mental challenges thathinder them from participating effectively in either class orathletic activities. Therefore, teachers have to develop measures toencourage the participation of special needs students in theclassroom and field so that they achieve a holistic development.Cooper (2014) explains that classroom and athletics engagement is anactive process of responding positively to tasks by exhibiting afocused behavior, emotion, and cognition reaction. Duncan, Posny, &ampMusgrove (2011) assert that the Individual with DisabilitiesEducation Act (IDEA) requires all schools to provide playing andlearning equipment to ensure the creation of the least restrictiveenvironment for learning and athletics of students with specialneeds. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines forAmericans, children need a minimum of 60 minutes of physicalactivities in aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and bone-strengtheningexercises three times daily (Duncan et al., 2011). Therefore, toensure the health of students with special needs, every school isexpected to come up with appropriate varieties of sport, exercise,and recreational activities that engage all students. Exposure tophysical activities enhances the motor skills, which increases theengagement level of students. The research explores the need forbetter performance of students with special needs in their educationand athletics. The focuses on the role of teachers in creatingengaging classroom and physical education environment to ensure thesuccess of special needs students.


FactorsAssociated with Student Engagement

Teachersmust be willing to develop individualized strategies to overcome riskfactors associated with the mental and physical handicaps in specialeducation school. The risk factors include poor temperament,cognitive problems, learning disabilities, poverty, and mentalincapacities that usually diminish the effects of the common learningintervention strategies. Taylor &amp Parsons (2011) found out in astudy that 66% of students are already disengaged, and the biggestchallenge for teachers is to re-engage them.

Directparticipation of students with special needs is the best way to knowif they are engaged in the classroom and field activities. Cooper(2014) conducted a mixed-methods study of engagement and found outthat students’ interest to learn is influenced by the expectedlevel of enjoyment and interest to set tasks. Engagement in thisstudy was measured by using the sense of belonging and schoolattendance. Out of 275,000 students who participated in the surveyof student engagement since 2006 to 2009, 65% were bored in schoolabout once a day, 16% were bored in all the classes while 36% went toschool daily because they liked it. From this, three types ofengaging teaching practices were suggested by students during theanalysis they include connective instruction, lively teaching, andacademic rigor. It was established that connective instructionsuggests engagement seven times more than academic rigor or livelyteaching.

Willms(2003) states that engagement is the level to which students withspecial needs identify with the schooling outcomes associated withacademic and athletic schools activities.

Highsense of belonging leads to an average to top performance in bothacademics and athletics. The feeling of belonging for specialeducation students could increase by using divergent programs thatenhance student-student and student-teacher relations to ensure theyhave higher academic and athletics expectations. Willms (2003)analyzes literature on student engagement in the school environmentand reveals that an engaging environment influences the sense ofbelonging, which determines their level of participation in bothathletics and classroom activities. For example, Lee and Smith (1993)established modest effects of school restructuring such as teamteaching, heterogeneous grouping, and minimizing the extent t whichschools are structured by subject area department on students’engagement level. Further, Finn and Voelkl (1993) established thatschool attendance was less consistent, and vulnerable students weremore disengaged in school where rules were unfairly engaged. Specialneeds students develop a sense of belonging by engaging in goodrelations with their teachers and other students during play andclassroom activities.

Onthe contrary, students who feel alienated from the school academicsand athletics programs lack attachment with their peers, teachers,and hate the school environment. Willms (2003) asserts that studentsthat are exposed to a consistent negative feeling of inadequacy areleast likely to secure any positive reinforcing behavior in both theclassroom and during co-curriculum activities, which in effecthinders their participation and engagement. Willms constructed twoindicators of student engagement in school. Students were regarded tohave a low sense of belonging if they hit below 3.0 on the senses ofbelonging scale. Such students responded ‘disagree’ or ‘stronglydisagree’ more often than they did for ‘agree’ or ‘stronglyagree’ on the six measure items administered in the scale. Theperformance of students who identify positively with their teachersand peers is much higher since their engagement is higher compared toalienated special needs learners.

ActivitiesThat Improve Student Engagement

Cooper(2014) reviews primary sources and claims that the application of theconnective instruction as a teaching practice improves the level ofstudent engagement since it motivates them to experience meaningfulrelationships at school. The connective instruction requires teachersto consider the diverse needs of students through their particularinterests, points of view, and personalities, to create anindividualized experience.

Challengesof Student Athletes

Christopher(2008) is concerned with whether student athletes are unique. In hisstudy, he accessed the rate of engagement of student athletes. Hefound out that student athletes spend significant time in sports andfind it difficult to balance between academics and athletics. Thestudents are usually alienated or sidelined as unable to performacademically. In fact, participation in sporting activities is seenas a sign of failure in academics. However, student athletes are notunique, and the negative stereotype associated with them is the onethat affects their academic performance.

Simons,Bosworth, Fujita &amp Jensen, (2007) assert that there is a stigmaassociated with athlete students. In their study which involved 538collegiate athletes, the participants were asked to describe how theywere perceived and treated by non-athlete students and faculty. 33percent of participants said that they were viewed negatively byfaculty and 59.1% by other students with only 15% reporting positiveperceptions. When asking for accommodation for athletics, 61.5% saidthat they were denied or given a hard time. Besides, an incredible62.1% reported having received negative comments from the faculty,with 370 athletic students reporting specific comments made on themby the faculty or non-athletic students. For example, oneparticipant in the study pointed that when their professor gives outan easy assignment, he insists that it is so cheap that athletestudents can manage. The author suggests that to improve the academicperformance of student athletes, teachers, parents and peers shouldbe ready to support them. They have pressure to perform both in classto achieve academically as well as in the field to meet expectationsof their coaches whose livelihood solely depends on the success ofthese students in the field.

Specialneeds students athletes also have challenges that can significantlyreduce their performance or participation in class. Comeaux &ampHarrison (2011) in their study concerning the success for Division Istudent-athletes developed a theoretical model to comprehend andexplain the cumulative characteristics and processes of thesestudents. In their work, they found that students who engage insports activities within the school tend to have a negative attitudetowards teachers and other peers and may concentrate more onathletics at the expense of class work. Teachers’ failure tounderstand this may create a conflict that may even push the studentto drop out of school. Thus, there is a need for a special needsteacher to be able to identify all the necessary support that isneeded to enhance the performance of such students in the classroom.

Duncan,Posny, &amp Musgrove (2011) recommend that the use of differentiatedinstructional design strategies ensure engagement of students bycreating specialist athletics programs that apply the principles ofuniversal design for learning (UDL). UDL is an evidence-basedframework that guides teachers in planning learning to meet thevarying and diverse needs of all students. Students whose engagementin a classroom is inhibited by cognitive and speech challenges needprofessionals like speech-language pathologists to aid them to remainanchored to the school system. UDL advocated for inclusive teachingstyles that require differentiation of curriculum content based onthe individual special needs of the students to increase theirparticipation and engagement. Management of behavior in the classroomis much easier than the field where complex interactions take placeas argued by Duncan, Posny, &amp Musgrove (2011). This is achievedby identifying and reducing obstacles to learning hence increaseflexibility and effectiveness of the learning environment for everystudent. Management of athletics needs a coach with strong behaviormanagement skills to counter inconsistent behavior exhibited bystudents with special needs. While typical students play by the rulesas team members, students with special needs may not conform tostandards of athletic activities.

StudentMotivation and Engagement

Theengagement of special needs students is affected by their individualmotivation to learn. Even though most motivation comes from theindividual student, teachers play an important role in engagingstudents through assignments that they give (Brewster &amp Fager,2000). Brown &amp Walberg (1993) found out that motivationinfluences the engagement of students to learn both in the classroomand during extra-curricular activities since it means that anindividual is fully engaged to succeed in all school activities.Brewster &amp Fager (2000) points out in an analysis of primarysources that, students’ motivation can enhance students’engagement. Equally, Weiser (2014) claims, that students withlearning disabilities are ready to learn and acquire skills in aself-directed manner if engaged by curriculum content. Engagementrequires teachers to work to diminish the sense of inadequacy that isassociated with the student with learning disabilities to help themto develop intrinsic motivation.

Weiser(2014) explains that teachers can increase special student’sengagement by assessing their feedback levels in classroom andathletics. Feedback concerning the processing of the task givesinformation on the consistency of a student in understanding anacademic or athletic assignment. A teacher can use the data to informthe student about the quality of the work. Feedback about student’sself-regulation is intended to keep track of the process of learningand completion of a class or athletic tasks according to instruction.

Weiser(2014) reveals that self-regulation in classroom and athleticsmeasures the self-monitoring capacities of each student to engage inappropriate behaviors that encourage performance. Self-regulationinfluences the engagement of a special needs student to tackleclassroom and field activities Ames (1992) examined the relationshipbetween classroom learning environment and achievement. Classroomsetting can which include, sitting arrangement, display of teachingmaterials, as well as general appearance of a classroom, determinethe level of motivation in a student to achieve at different levels.This is in line with the motivation theory. As such, establishingtask, evaluation and acknowledgment and authority aspects ofclassrooms are some of the examples of structures which teachers canemphasize to influence orientation of children towards variousachievements. Lastly, feedback on self as a person is critical inrevealing the weaknesses and strengths of a student with specialneeds. Feedback on the memory, challenges and advancement of astudent is essential in informing them about their capacities.

Roleof Community in Student Engagement

Huml,Svensson, &amp Hancock (2014) claim that students’ commitment totheir communities is affected by their engagement with the communityduring early development years. Encouraging engagement with localcommunities helps students with special needs to embrace tolerance asthey identify with them. Contrastingly, students that fail to engagein community service were limited to their cognitive development andlacked social skills (Huml, Svensson, &amp Hancock, 2014).Communication skills are gained as students interact with theircommunity members through co-curricular and social activities thatreinforce their identity. Consequently, children with special needsalso participate or become part of a school community throughinteraction with peers. It is important that teachers create anenvironment where all children interact.

Inclusionof Students with Special Needs

Boutot(2007) carried out a study to determine how acceptance of studentswith autism spectrum disorder (ASD) influences their engagement. Hefound out that, for students with ASD to find acceptance and tocreate friendships, like those of normal peers, they have to bepresented with an opportunity to do so. The author suggests thatappropriate planning and support be provided to ensure that inclusiveclassrooms provide opportunities for children with ASD like they dofor ordinary children. It is, therefore, the role of teacherstogether with parents to create inclusive classrooms that enhanceacceptance and friendship among students regardless of their physicalor mental abilities. This will increase participation and enhanceengagement in school activities both in class and outdoor. This ideais supported by Salend &amp Duhaney (1999) who look at theimportance of inclusion of students with and without disabilities inclass and athletic activities. The authors point out that, whenstudents are included by their peers and educators in the variousactivities, it stands to enhance the confidence of the students asthey feel accepted. This, in turn, enhances their achievement bothacademically and in sports.


Theliterature review looked at the various views on how engagingstudents with special needs may improve their performance in school.Most of the researchers are in unison that when these students arepositively engaged, they are likely to perform well. Willms (2003)and Cooper (2014) both agree that students with a special need willget a sense of belonging when they are appropriately engaged, andthis will promote their performance in school. Most of the works thatwere reviewed were all in unison of this remark.

Inthe reviewing, the techniques of engaging these students, onetechnique that strongly came out are the application of theconnective instruction as a teaching practice. The technique enablesthese students to establish a helpful relationship that makes themfeel accepted, a sense of belonging. Some of the literature reviewsidentified a common argument that these students need to be motivatedat the individual level so as to enhance their performance. Weiser(2014) and Brown &amp Walberg (1993) agree that motivating thestudents will help in doing away with the inadequacy brought about bythe disability, and this would result in an improved performance bothin class work and in co-curriculum activities. Boutot (2007) andSalend &amp Duhaney (1999) also found at that engagement byincluding the students with special needs also improve their sense ofbelonging.


Inconclusion, students’ engagement is important in determining theirsuccess in academics and athletics. Students with special needs areparticularly vulnerable and require motivation to be able toparticipate actively in class and athletics. Teachers play asignificant role in enhancing student engagement. From the literaturereview, it can also be concluded that the community also plays animportant role in engaging the students with special needs, as such,engagement should not only happen at school but home too. Engagementis all about including the students with special needs in the normalactivities so that they also feel normal and accepted in theenvironment in which they interact.

DemographicData for the Proposed Research

Theresearch will be conducted in a big metropolitan institution situatedin the central region of Indiana. This school was selected since theurban population will provide diverse sources of information thatwill help with the research of the project.

Thestudents come from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and have no parentsor guardians to rely on for help when it comes to their educationalor athletic success. The reason why these students cannot receiveassistance from their loved ones is that most of the people aroundthem lack formal education and the proper training in handling thestudents’ issues. Thus, the places where these young learners comefrom display a clear disadvantage to their formal school developmentand athletic prowess. The statistics gotten from this backgroundinformation will help develop a comprehensive detail and culture ofthe area where the research will be carried out (Orr, 2003).


Thedirect participants are special education students that are in Grade9-12 with IEP’s and participate in athletics. The participants are100% male with 96% of them being the enrollment of the minoritygroups. Because the highest percentage of the students is from aminority group (African American), the target for this research isthe students that come from such backgrounds.


Thebaseline data that will provide sufficient support for the focus ofthis research will be gotten from components of involvement. Thissystem evaluates the occurrence of absenteeism among these studentseither in classes or in field events. The rate of absence determineswhether the student has a sense of belonging or lacks it. Typically,students that excel in one area but fail in another tend to feel leftout. Thus, for a student to have the sense that they are fullyaccepted, they have to be good both in their classwork and theirsporting activities (Willams, 2003). When using academic performanceas a dependent variable and socioeconomic background as theindependent variable data shows a positive correlation of 0.33. Also,using academic performance as a dependent and athletic skills as theindependent variable, a negative correlation was obtained depictingthat athlete students were finding it hard to handle their classwork(Reynolds et al., 2012). The reason is that the number of athletesthat were graduating from college was much fewer than those AfricanAmerican students that did not involve themselves in any sportingactivity.

Thebaseline data shows that the socioeconomic factors play a significantpart in influencing the educational performance of a student. Thepositive correlation shows that these students tend to perform inclasses better if they come from families that can provide for theirbasic needs. A greater percentage of athletes, about 60%, show atendency to disregard their classwork since the more they excel inthe field, the more their academic performance deteriorates. Thestudy aims to determine whether it is true that the socioeconomicfactors play a role in influencing educational performance or not.The study also aims at determining the most appropriate ways ofengaging these students who receive a special education so as toensure their success that they not only succeed in athletics, butalso in education.


Theresearch proposes the various ways of engaging students with specialneeds, which include application of the connective instruction,motivation, as well as assessing the feedback of the students.

Severalpapers have reported that when students with special needs aremotivated, they tend to perform well. There are various forms ofmotivation, ranging from the usual acknowledgement of theirperformance as well as giving these students awards for variousachievement. Motivation could also be mental by encouraging them tointeract with fellow students, some of whom may not be disabled. Whenan environment is created where the special needs students are ableto interact freely with the normal students, they will feel acceptedand this will boost their morale both in class and in the field,during co-curriculum activities. Students with special needs shouldnot only be engaged in school but also at the community level, whenthey are at home. The community also need to make the students feelaccepted in school.



What to focus on when conducting the research

#1 Date Source

#2 Data Source

#3 Data Source


Observations to be made

School Records

Interviews to be conducted

Inanswering the research question, I will be looking at the activenessof the students while in school. Activeness in this context willentail the mood of the students as well as how the students will beengaging in various activities in the school. The activeness willalso entail the attentiveness of the students as well as theirperformance. During the interviews, the researchers will be observingthe body language and how the students carry themselves in the wholeprocess.

Questionnaires(Appendix A and B) will be administered to the students during thestudy, to help in assessing their progress. Also the teachers will beinterviewed. The first set of questions (appendix A) will help inassessing how the activeness of the student changed. The second set(appendix B) will give a general view of how the activeness wasinfluenced by the engagement approaches used. The third wet ofquestions (Appendix C) are the interview questions that will beadministered to the teachers to determine if they noticed any changesat the end of the study.

Thedata sources that will be used include the records of the teacher orthose available to the school, the referrals to the principal, classattendance data, classroom behaviors (talk outs/negative behaviors),the detentions that are given for every student, the counts ofsuspensions for every student and the student work portfolio. Theobservation data that will be used include photographs, videotapes,diaries, logs, journals and the rating scales/rubrics. In choosingthe data sources, some of the factors under consideration includedreliability and accessibility. In addition to this, a datatriangulation matrix has to be created so that it can be used fordata validation after the data has been collected. The last factorthat makes the data collection instrument relevant is the languagebeing used. The language or questions being used here should beunderstandable for every party who will be involved in the research.With all these factors in place, the data-gathering instrumentbecomes adequate in the gathering of data.

Inthe creation of this educational action research, three data sourcesshall be used. The first source of data is the student journals thatare collected weekly for three weeks. Next data source that shallalso be used is the grade checks that are also collected weekly. Thelast data sources that shall be used are the pre and post surveysthat shall be given out.

Datatriangulation matrix shall also be used to help in the validation ofthe data collected at the end of the research (Sagor, 2002). Some ofthe parameters that shall be included are the relationship betweenstudent enjoyment of writing and quality of their editing isproviding students with marking rubrics make an impact on the qualityof their papers and will the quality of their paper be affected ifthey are paired with peer editors?

Thelanguage that will be used should also be simple enough that everyonecan understand (, 2002). When the language is made verysimple, the research will not have to keep on explaining to therespondents or the part involved, what is expected of them in thequestions that have been asked.

Ideasfor Sharing

Theresearch will add to already conducted studies, all of which arechanneled towards the welfare of students with special needs. Thereare so many teachers who are facing the challenge of trying to engagestudents with special needs. I will share these finding with suchteachers so as to help them understand and invent novel ways ofengaging with the students with special needs. The findings will beshared with my colleges who will help with providing new insightsbased on the findings. I also plan to publish the report and make itaccessible to the general public, so that everyone can be in unisonwith these ways of engaging with students with special needs.


Ames,C. (1992). Classrooms: Goals, structures, and student motivation.Journalof educational psychology,84(3),261.

Boutot,E. A. (2007). Fitting In Tips for Promoting Acceptance andFriendships for Students With Autism Spectrum Disorders in InclusiveClassrooms. Interventionin School and Clinic,42(3),156-161.

Brewster,C., &amp Fager, J. (2000). Increasingstudent engagement and motivation: From time-on-task to homework.Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

Brown,S. M., &amp Walberg, H. J. (1993). Motivational effects on testscores of elementary students. TheJournal of Educational Research. 86(3),133-136.

ChristopherJolly, J. (2008). Raising the question# 9 is the student-athletepopulation unique? And why should we care?. CommunicationEducation,57(1),145-151.

Clark,M., &amp Parette, P. (2002). Student athletes with learningdisabilities: A model for effective supports. CollegeStudent Journal,36(1),47-62.

Comeaux,E., &amp Harrison, C. K. (2011). A conceptual model of academicsuccess for student–athletes. EducationalResearcher,40(5),235-245.

Cooper,K. S. (2014). Eliciting engagement in the high school classroom: Amixed-methods examination of teaching practices. AmericanEducational Research Journal,51 (2), 363-402.

Duncan,A., Posny, A., &amp Musgrove, M. (2011). Creating equalopportunities for children and youth with disabilities to participatein physical education and extracurricular athletics. U.S.Departmentof Education.

Finn,J. D., &amp Voelkl, K. E. (1993). School characteristics related tostudent engagement. TheJournal of Negro Education,62(3),249-268.

Glossaryof key terms in evaluation and results based management. DevelopmentCo-operation Directorate, OECD Publications, Paris, 2002. Retrievedfrom

Huml,M. R., Svensson, P. G., Hancock, M. G. (2014). Exploring the role ofeducational institutions in student-athlete community engagement.Journalof Issues in Intercollegiate athletics,7, 224-244.

Orr,A. J. (2003). Black-white differences in achievement: The importanceof wealth.&nbspSociologyof Education,281-304.

Reynolds,L. Fisher, D. &amp J. Kenyatta Cavil. (2012). Impact of DemographicVariables on African-American Student Athletes’ AcademicPerformance. Educational Foundations.

Sailes,G. (2000). The African American athlete: Social myths andstereotypes. In D. Brooks &amp R. Althouse (Eds.), Racism in collegeathletics: The African American athlete’s experience (2nd ed.) (pp.53-64). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology

Lee,V. E., &amp Smith, J. B. (1993). Effects of school restructuring onthe achievement and engagement of middle-grade students. Sociologyof Education,164-187.

Sagor,R. (2002). Guiding school improvement through action research.Alexandria, VA: ASCD. pp. 8-16.

Salend,S. J., &amp Duhaney, L. M. G. (1999). The impact of inclusion onstudents with and without disabilities and their educators. Remedialand special education,20(2),114-126.

Simons,H. D., Bosworth, C., Fujita, S., &amp Jensen, M. (2007). The athletestigma in higher education. CollegeStudent Journal,41(2),251.

Taylor,L. &amp Parsons, J. (2011). Improving student engagement. CurrentIssues in Education,14 (1), 1-33.

Weiser,B. (2014). Academic diversity: Ways to motivate and engage studentswith learning disabilities. SouthernMethodist University.

Willms,J. D. (2003). Student engagement at school: A sense of belonging andparticipation results from PISA 2000. OECDOrganization.







How often to you answer questions in class?

How often do you ask questions, when something is not clear during the lecture?

How often do you perform the tasks you are given by the teachers?

How often do you revise the test papers, once they are marked?

How often do you participate in discussions?


StudentSurvey on the Engagement Approaches



Does motivation give you a sense of belonging?

Does the use of connective instruction boosts your performance in school?

Does the motivation push you to redo the questions you failed in in the test?

Does the interaction with fellow students give you a sense of belonging?



  1. Have you noticed any improvement in the performance of the students?

  2. Do you believe that these approaches are helpful in engaging with these students?

  3. What are some of the challenges you faced while applying these approaches?

  4. Diu you feel that the students should be motivated so as to improve their performance?

  5. What needs to be added to the approaches to make them more effective?

  6. How did this experience prepare you in dealing with these students in future?