School Roles: A Way to Investigate Participation

Jacqueline A. Specht, Gillian A. King, Michelle Servais, Marilyn Kertoy, Terry Spencer


Students who are more engaged in school have higher academic achievement, lower dropout rates, and increased involvement in activities during early adulthood. Unfortunately, children with disabilities participate less than children without disabilities, thus increasing their risk for depression and anxiety. This study investigated the lack of school participation from a roles perspective. Roles refer to clusters of meaningful activities that are expected of, and assumed by, individuals in various contexts of their lives. Fifteen teachers from Southern Ontario, Canada, were interviewed about the roles in which children participate in school and 24 students in grades 4 through 7 were observed in order to determine the roles in which they engaged. Overall, students with disabilities engaged in less positive roles (Challenged Learner; Victim; Bully), while students without disabilities engaged in more positive roles (Independent Learner; Nurturer; Friend). Ideas for improving participation through role identity and engagement are discussed.

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