Effects of classroom social structure and disability on engagement
Children with disabilities have been found to be engaged for less time and at lower levels than children without disabilities. The purpose of this study was to examine further the effects of disability as well as age grouping and adult involvement on engagement, with developmental age serving as a covariate. Thirty-two children without disabilities and 16 children with disabilities were observed in four free-play sessions and four sessions with adult involvement. All observations occurred during regularly scheduled classroom activities. Children with disabilities were found to spend less time interactively engaged with adults, attentionally engaged with peers, and in mastery-level engagement with materials than did children without disabilities; they spent more time passively nonengaged. One finding supported mixed-age groups for less attentional engagement with peers among all children when adults were involved, whereas another finding supported same-age groups for less attentional engagement with adults among children with disabilities. Two phenomena previously not reported were discovered. First, there were differences in engagement between children with and children without disabilities, even when controlling for developmental age. Second, at different developmental ages, the qualitative difference between the two groups of children changed. The complex nature of engagement is discussed as it identifies differences associated with disability when controlling for developmental age.