Lori Peterson on Conducting Focus Groups with High School Students with Disabilities
I am Lori Peterson an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern Colorado. Recently, I worked on a project conducting a series of focus groups with high school students with disabilities. I wanted to share tips and lessons learned from this experience.
- Feed them and they will come! High school students love food. We conducted the focus groups near lunch time and gave each group free pizza. We had almost 100% attendance.
- Know the school calendar. We had an issue conducting focus groups on senior skip day!
- Conduct focus groups on location. If you can work with the school and conduct focus groups on site, this eliminates the need for transportation. Students with disabilities may not drive, so this can increase the likelihood of participation.
- Conduct focus groups during school hours. This offers the additional perk that some students enjoy ‘getting out of class’. There is a drawback though; you are limited to one class period. For many high schools this means you will only have 45-50 minutes to conduct the focus group.
- Carefully consider how you group participants. Different group arrangements may inhibit student participation. Developmentally and cognitively, some participants may not be ready to open up and share information. The addition of a disability may confound disclosure of sensitive information. If you are collecting data from students with disabilities, be prepared to address the student’s comfort level related to their disability and skills.
- Provide an Advanced Organizer. Many students with disabilities thrive in a structured setting and benefit from a schedule of events. Advanced Organizers help prepare participants for what is to come. Give options for written or visual format. Be careful not to deviate from the schedule or you may increase anxiety levels.
- Provide multiple modes of data collection. Our most successful focus group for data collection allowed the students to fill out a short survey which they kept with them. This helped them communicate more effectively during the focus group.
- Plan ahead for unanticipated needs. We had an unexpected Deaf participant who needed an interpreter, a guest to our focus group. Be ready to let the ‘guest’ know ‘the rules’ of your data collection. A handout listing the expectations will be helpful, e.g. please only interpret exact words, do not answer for the participant even if you disagree, do not interrupt the flow of conversation.
- Provide multiple ways to state a question. A variety of skills and abilities may be represented. On several occasions in our focus groups, the moderator needed to provide alternate definitions and descriptions. Preparing for these will enhance consistency across groups.
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