04 SES 01 E, Improving Inclusive Teaching and Learning: Reflections from the Classroom
“The paths that teachers travel as they learn to think inclusively about teaching practice is under-addressed in educational research” (Baglieri 2008, 601). Whilst this quote is a decade old, the assertion still holds true today. Inclusive education has received attention by researchers, policy makers and practitioners around the world and there seems to be a consensus on the importance of inclusion in education (e.g. CRPD). A plethora of studies have stressed teacher education as being vital to the development and success of inclusive education and engaged in measuring and describing (often isolated) factors that impact on inclusive attitudes and competencies of teachers and students in relation to curriculum design, teacher training and/or organizational factors (European Agency 2010). Very few studies have taken a reconstructive approach in trying to figure out how beliefs and skills for inclusion develop in real time.
We understand pedagogical work in heterogeneous settings – be it in classrooms or other educational settings – as environments that are characterized by a high degree of social and emergent complexity (Osberg & Biesta 2010). A growing body of research (Brownlee et al., 2011) shows how personal epistemologies, understood as a relatively stable but potentially transformable set of attitudes and beliefs about the nature of ability, the nature of knowledge, and learning in general (Schwartz & Jordan, 2011), impact on students learning and educational practitioners’ sense of agency to work in complex settings. Within this research tradition several studies have shown that teachers’ epistemological beliefs can transform and become more sophisticated through reflection about teaching and learning (Jordan et al. 2009). Yet this body of research has remained largely disconnected from parallel efforts in the field of transformative learning (Taylor & Cranton, 2012), which positions the transformation of epistemological “frames of reference” (Mezirow, 2000) as the corner stone of adult education in times of increasing personal demands and complexity as holds true for (inclusive) educational practices.
In following Weisser’s (2012) performative theory of disability we understand inclusive settings as potential sites of learning, where moments of irritations (of prior expectations) trigger individual, often immediate actions. Actions are embedded in social practices and are aimed at maintaining or restoring an individual’s sense of (professional) agency. A key aspect of the practice of “doing inclusion” in educational settings thereby refers to the skills and competences of professionals in handling irritations that often stem from perceived differences among students/participants and potentially challenge existing epistemological beliefs.
Being confronted with an irritation of expectations – e.g. a child with a severe attention deficit which undermines a teacher’s perceived ability to teach an abstract concept to the whole class – one teacher, drawing upon discursive and institutionally legitimate (inclusive) practices, might send the student to be taught in a separate room during “academic” lessons to better support the student’s learning. At the same time he/she subjectively restores the disturbed professional self with often unintended biographical consequences for the student (Pfahl 2011). Another teacher might take a similar incident as an occasion to engage into a deeper reflection of his/her teaching objectives, guiding assumptions and practices, draw upon wider systemic support resources and/or inquire into the different perspectives involved. Thus, he/she maybe not just arrives at a new set of practices but also influence and transform individual and institutional discourses and practices rather than merely reproducing the status quo. As both teachers might refer to their practice as being inclusive, we want to inquire in this paper, how those two teachers come to such distinct understandings and practices of inclusive education, given the fact that they may as well have graduated from the exact same teacher training?
The specific research question that will be addressed is whether university based learning formats, that by design redirect students attention onto their own learning processes, in order to make explicit implicit beliefs, by utilizing different structured reflective exercises, can lead to a widening of epistemological beliefs and thus impact on individual understandings of inclusion, their role and responsibility in relation to inclusion, their perceived sense of agency, and the confidence to address complex, irritating situations in more inclusive ways. To approach this question students’ learning process during two university seminars (one at bachelor and one at master level) will be reconstructed. The seminars deal with different topics within the same curriculum at the Department of Education of the University of Vienna. The first seminar will employ an integral lens (Esbjorn-Hargens 2010) on the topics of Disability, Inclusion and Self and will be, in itself, structured as an inclusive learning environment. The second seminar will focus on intercultural understandings of inclusive education and disability from an international perspective and will rely on students working with academic texts. While using different teaching strategies, we will collect comparable data over the course of one semester. As a structured reflection exercises participants will fill in an adapted version of Brookfield`s (1995) critical incident questionnaire between every seminar and together with a learning partner engage in a process of double loop reflection, in the sense of acknowledging and probing more deeply into some aspects of the partner`s response. Furthermore students will produce narrative writing assignments to elicit epistemological beliefs with respect to inclusion before and after the seminar. Additionally the collected data will be compared to student`s reflections that have been collected in a variety of inclusive university seminars in the past semesters. Using transformative learning theory as analytic framework the collected materials will be analysed based on the following questions: (i) What concepts of learning and inclusive practices do students refer to when writing about their learning experiences? (ii) Can, and if so which, transformations in epistemologies be reconstructed during the learning process? (iii) What are potentially observable links between the teaching strategies and the actual (transformative) learning process? (iv) What institutional discourses and practices around questions of inclusion does the learning process refer to and potentially transform? Informed Consent will be collected from all participating students to use their learning diaries and materials for the purpose of the described research.
Through our research, we want to start closing the gap between three related fields of research that uphold the potential for synergetic theoretical and practical contributions: inclusive education, research on personal epistemologies and their impact on teacher education and agency, and transformative learning theory. To work inclusively in heterogeneous settings stresses the ability to handle complex situations involving interacting epistemologies related to the concept of inclusive education and learning in general, to critically reflect on and challenge institutional discourses and practices, and to occasionally develop new sets of practices. In this sense we hope to elaborate evidence to suggest that the students’ ability to self-reflect on pedagogical practices and personal epistemologies, together with acquiring knowledge and developing practical skills for working with children and adults in heterogeneous settings conducted in a supportive context, is linked to an increase in educational practitioners’ sense of agency to influence and widen institutional discourses and practices on inclusion.
Baglieri, S. (2008). ‘I connected’: reflection and biography in teacher learning toward inclusion. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 12(5–6), 585–604. Brookfield, D. (1995): Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco: Jossey Bass Brownlee, J., Schraw, G. J., & Berthelsen, D. (Eds.). (2011). Personal epistemology and teacher education. New York: Routledge. Esbjorn-Hargens, S. (Ed.) (2010): Integral Education. New directions for higher learning. New York: State University of New York Press European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education (2010): Teacher Education for Inclusion. International Literature Review. Odense, Denmark: European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education Jordan, A.; Schwartz, E. & McGhie-Richmond, D. (2009): Preparing teachers for inclusive classrooms. In: Teaching and Teacher Education 25 (2009) 535–542 Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation: critical perspectives on a theory in progress (1st ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Osberg, D. & Biesta, G. (Eds.) (2010): Complexity Theory and the Politics of Education. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers Pfahl, L. (2011). Techniken der Behinderung: der deutsche Lernbehinderungsdiskurs, die Sonderschule und ihre Auswirkungen auf Bildungsbiografien. Bielefeld: Transcript. Schwartz, E., & Jordan, A. (2011). Teachers’ Epistemological Beliefs and Practices with Students with Disabilities and At-Risk in Inclusive Classrooms. In J. Brownlee, G. J. Schraw, & D. Berthelsen (Eds.), Personal epistemology and teacher education (pp. 210–226). New York: Routledge. Taylor, E. W., & Cranton, P. (Eds.). (2012). The handbook of transformative learning: theory, research, and practice (1st ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Taylor, M. (2011). Emergent learning for wisdom. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. Weisser, J. (2012). Für eine klinische Wissenschaft des pädagogischen Feldes. In K. Rathgeb (Ed.), Disability Studies. Kritische Perspektiven für die Arbeit am Sozialen (pp. 105–117). Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.
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