Student perspectives on secondary inclusion art classes: Aesthetics, production, and community

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Hope Irvine


Inclusion, Art, Aesthetics, Community

Subject Categories



This ethnographic study examined art students' perspectives in a single urban inclusive senior high school studio class. The principal issues studied were students' identifications of art, their ideas about ability, and membership in their art student community. Participant observation, individual interviews, and focus groups were the means of data collection. The data for this study were gathered during the 1995-97 school years from 1 art teacher, 3 teaching assistants, and 18 students, including those experiencing severe disabilities. The subjects represent great ethnic diversity and a relatively homogeneous socioeconomic population that experiences high degrees of transience.

Findings include students' definitions and descriptions of art, which came from personal observation of artworks and artistic behaviors. Students' process orientation to art production evidenced both cognitive and affective elements. The evaluation of student artworks considered didactic issues, distinctly from purely aesthetic concerns. The students stated they valued their projects and commented that the artwork of students with disabilities may indeed be finer than that of typical students' work.

Virtually everyone in the class previously knew someone who had a disability. Ability was described as "being able to do something," including art. Students stated that everyone has something that someone else wants. The ability to communicate and reciprocate was cited as being of primary importance in the formation and membership in their class art student community.

Students described a class community composed of individuals. They described a sense of belonging that encompassed tolerance, self-confidence, negotiating decisions, feeling relaxed, experiencing trust and acceptance, exploring mutual interests, and the ability to blend in. Students accepted diversity and difference while expecting conformity on certain social issues.

The implications of this study suggest further research on the study of interrelationships between art, ability and community. Classroom research to determine levels of comfort, relaxation, trust, and what students termed "blending in" appear warranted. Suggestions for curriculum, instruction, and policy development are offered.


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