04 SES 12 B, Shaping a More Inclusive Educational Environment: Developing effective practices
Inclusion is an unending process of increasing learning and participation for all children, reducing all exclusionary pressures and supporting educational settings to become more responsive to the diversity of children's backgrounds, interests, experience, knowledge and skills (Armstrong, Armstrong & Spandagou, 2009). The focus on children and their needs is fundamental for creating high-quality educational systems, that provide equality of opportunity and high achievement for all. After more than forty years of social and health policies oriented to the full inclusion, Italian school has to deal with two important challenges: the first concerns the knowledge and the assessment of students with disabilities/SEN and the second refers to the application of school inclusive strategies. Referring to the first point, an important step was the introduction of World Health Organization’s ICF, the International Classification of Function-ing, Disability and Health, occurred in 2001. The ICF anthropological model, as a comprehensive bio-psycho-social conceptualization of health and functioning, examines the relationships among bodily, structural and functional di-mensions, personal activity areas, environmental and personal (psychological, motivational, emotional, etc.) factors. Regarding the second point, there is currently general agreement in identifying two important areas in order to design effective inclusive strategies: the implementation of an effective assessment system for measuring the quality of inclu-sion, and the education of support teachers.
This research falls into the processes of reform of the National System of Education and Training according to the Law of 13 July 2015, n. 107 which enriches the inclusive dimension of the Italian school (Ianes, Canevaro, 2015), no longer limited only to students with disabilities, but considered as ethic value and educational purpose in school and society. The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development, among its objectives, puts explicit attention to the dignity of life for all without leaving anyone behind.
The aim of the study is the evaluation of the processes related to the quality of school inclusion, by identifying strengths and weaknesses, as well as the critical issues in promoting inclusive cultures, policies and practices at school (Booth & Ainscow, 2002).
Linking professional training and reflection on practice, the research has the dual purpose of promoting the professional empowerment of future support teachers (Forlin, 2010) through processes of knowledge, direct observation and reflection about the school inclusion, and also highlighting the complexity and variety of existing representations of inclusion at school (Dovigo, 2007). The study is based on the hypothesis that a full inclusion is possible only starting from a monitoring of the inclusive processes that are realized in the contexts of common experience (Rossini, Zappatore, Loi-acono, 2015).
In this direction, all the teachers, and in particular support teachers, have to acquire a set of observation and assessment skills useful to describe and bring out the real needs of inclusive education, in the direction of an effective improvement of the whole school system.
The research is based on a quantitative and qualitative study of multiple cases. For each case, specific data were collected through the analysis of the School Self-Evaluation Reports (Rapporto di Auto Valutazione) with particular attention to the section dedicated to inclusion: "Strategies adopted by the school for the promotion of inclusion processes and respect for diversity, guidance of the teaching and learning processes to the training needs of each student in the classroom work and in other educational situations ". In this first part of the study, we took over the strengths and weaknesses that emerged from the self-assessment, through the analysis of the judgment assigned in the area "Quality indicators: The school takes care of the inclusion of students with special educational needs, enhances cultural differences, adapts the teaching each student's training needs through recovery and reinforcement courses", and other measures and related sources. We paid a special attention to the adaptation of the educational strategies to the different students’ needs (students with disabilities and learn-ing disabilities, immigrant students, but also gifted students). For each school, the measures used were along a range 0 = "very critical situation" and 7= "excellent situation." The analysis of the Self-Evaluation Reports was compared to direct observation in the classroom through the Index questionnaire and other methodologies (protocol analysis). In particular, we administered a questionnaire drown by the Index for Inclusion to a two groups of perspective support teachers who participated to a course of teaching specialization organized by the University of Bari (90 teachers) and the University of Foggia (109 teachers) in 2017. The study has involved 84 Apulian preschools and primary schools accredited for the training activities of teachers. For the respective schools where they did the internship, teachers have considered the three Index dimensions of cultures, policies and practices, using a Likert scale to specify their level of agreement or disagreement for a series of statements about inclusion. A very important section of the questionnaire was the one referred the priority for an inclusive school development.
This study highlights the need to improve self-assessment practices to promote more structured and shared practices in the field of inclusive education. Among the main evidences it emerges that the geographic location of the schools involved in the research is a very important characteristic that differentiates the student population in each school and, consequently, the inclusive actions that the schools propose to activate. The main weaknesses are the lack of funds, human resources and adequate learning spaces. Among the strengths, the results demonstrated a great commitment to implement projects related to disability and diversity. However, although all schools seem to be very sensitive and attentive to the themes of inclusion, direct observation brings out a more fragile reality. These discrepancies may be due to the fact that what constitutes quality in classrooms is possibly more multifaceted than what current measures describe. So, we have to enhance an inclusive assessment systems for specific educational results: academic and functional literacy, physical health, responsibility and independence, citizenship skills, personal and social well-being, satisfaction. Considering the differences between preschools and primary schools, the results show a higher level of positive relationships among the children in the preschool. Another interesting finding is that preschool teachers are more available and used to collaborating. In primary school, the complexity of the curriculum causes difficulties in the application of a real and effective personalized education. In particular, the results highlight the need to pay more attention to the early identification of learning difficulties and disabilities and consequently to carry out early intervention, starting from the preschool. These results demonstrate the need of a specific teachers’ training on observation and assessment, to avoid the risk of a narcissistic mirroring or of a lazy resignation to a reality that needs to be helped to change in any case.
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