Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Goal Structure Effects on Social Interaction: Nondisabled and Disabled Elementary Students

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Goal Structure Effects on Social Interaction: Nondisabled and Disabled Elementary Students

Article excerpt

Goal Structure Effects on Social Interaction: Nondisabled and Disabled Elementary Students * Physical proximity, involving placing students with severe disabilities in a regular school with nondisabled peers, is often the first step toward integration. There is considerable evidence, however, that physical integration does not ensure social integration, which involves the opportunity for severely disabled individuals to participate fully in educational and community environments with nondisabled persons (Guralnick, 1980; Johnson, D. & Johnson, 1980; Meyer & Kishi, 1985).

Because integration is a valuable goal to attain, various features of integrated programming have been investigated (e.g., materials, group structures) as strategies to promote optimal outcomes. In particular, the effect of task structure on social interaction behavior enjoys a rich research history. This study builds on that existing empirical base.

Deutch (1949) conceptualized three different types of goal structures: competitive, individualistic, and cooperative. A competitive social situation is one in which a negative correlation exists among the goal attainments of the individual participants. A cooperative social situation is one which involves a positive correlation among the goals of the individuals. In an individualistic social situation, no correlation exists among the goal attainments of the participants.

Over the past 15 years, a multitude of research has demonstrated that cooperatively structured activities are more beneficial than individualistically structured activities in promoting more positive cross-ethnic and cross-handicap attitudes, as well as increased positive social interactions. These were discussed in a meta-analysis conducted by D. W. Johnson, Johnson, and Maruyama (1983). Two studies documented the benefits of a cooperative approach over an individualistic approach when adolescent students with moderate disabilities interacted with nondisabled students (Johnson, R., Rynders, Johnson, Schmidt, & Haider, 1979; Rynders, Johnson, Johnson, & Schmidt, 1980). Neither of these studies involved students with severe multiple handicaps. Other researchers have used the cooperative method with peer integration programs involving severely disabled and nondisabled students and have found this to be more beneficial than a nonstructured condition (Cole, 1986; Cole, Meyer, Vandercook, & McQuarter, 1986).

Thus far, several researchers have documented that without providing any specific strategies to promote generalization, positive results obtained during structured interactions generalized to unstructured free play settings (Johnson, D. W., Johnson, Warring, & Maruyama, 1986; Johnson, R., & Johnson, 1981; Johnson, R. T., & Johnson, 1982; Johnson, R. T., & Johnson, 1983; Martino & Johnson, 1979; Putnam, Rynders, Johnson, & Johnson, 1985). Only one of these studies, however, involved students with moderate and severe disabilities (Putnam, Rynders, Johnson, & Johnson, 1989).

Based on the limited research involving students with moderate and severe disbilities, we can conclude the following:

1. The cooperative goal-structured appraoch holds promise if the goal is to increase social interaction between students with severe disabilities and their nondisabled peers during structured recreational activities.

2. There is some evidence that generalization to unstructured settings occurs without specific efforts made to promote this generalization.


The purpose of this study is twofold. First, it examines whether the cooperative appraoch is more favorable than an individualistic approach when used with a younger population of severely disabled students, half of whom experience multiple handicapping conditions. Second, it notes whether the effects observed during the structured classroom activities carry over into free play settings. …

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