04 SES 09 D, Inside the Inclusive Classroom: Analysing teachers’ roles and practices
My finalized PhD research project deals with adjustments in teaching practices at general schools, triggered by changes in Germany’s educational policies that intend to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. From a legal perspective, the implementation of inclusive schooling in the German education system means, that students with special educational needs now have to attend general schools. Only in exceptional cases, these students are allowed to attend special education schools.
The aim of this research project is to capture the concrete teaching practices that take place in the recently established ‘inclusive classes’ in general schools, where students with and without special education needs are taught together. The main research questions are: (1) How do general schools adopt the educational policies on inclusion in their classroom? (2) What type of concepts of inclusive education concepts do they develop in their teaching practices? (3) What differentiations and differences between students are produced by the teachers’ practices in the classroom? (4) What role does differentiation play in teaching?
Theoretically, the study builds on practice theory according to Schatzki (1996, 2001) and Reckwitz (2002) to analyse what students and teachers actually do in the classroom. From this theoretical standpoint, I examine ‘doing difference’ practices (West & Fenstermaker 1995) and the differences these practices create between students. Furthermore, the research project is based on poststructuralist theories, drawing from Butler (1997), to reconstruct these ‘doing difference’ practices as ongoing performative processes of subjectivation (Reh/Ricken 2012) and to analyse these practices as interwoven with discourses.
Methodologically, it is necessary to observe lessons in order to examine how teachers actually teach in an class with and without students with special educational needs. For this reason, the study can be described as an educational ethnography. In fact, I conducted participant observations in four classes at three different secondary schools in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. All schools describe themselves, or at least the observed classes, as ‘inclusive’. I observed each class for 4 to 6 months with 1-2 observation days per week. During the fieldwork, I focused on differentiations between students that teachers perform in their lessons. I analysed these as ‘doing difference’ practices. Furthermore, I collected artefacts and conducted problem-centred interviews with the respective teachers at the end of each observation to contextualize the situated accomplishments of differences (West & Fenstermaker 1995) and to develop a better understanding of the implicit practical logic of the differentiations. The research process and data analysis is based on the Grounded Theory Methodology (Charmaz 2006).
The analytical reconstructions show that teachers repeatedly attribute to some students insufficient abilities to fully attend the classes, and therefore either let students participate under reduced requirements or temporarily release them from the requirements of the lesson. For example, certain students are allowed to leave the class for an additional break during the ongoing lesson when a teacher ascribes them the status of being unable to concentrate on the tasks (Herzmann & Merl 2017). This kind of participation is not to be confused with a time-out as a form of punishment for wrong behaviour. It is rather a legitimate but deviant way of participating in the inclusive classes. Students may participate legitimately under reduced demands if teachers assign them insufficient abilities for the demands. This form of participation, on the one hand, ensures the legally guaranteed permanent membership in inclusive schools and decouples it from school ability expectations. On the other hand, it is a form of participation that can be understood as a negative deviation in the general schools. Thus, the reconstructed practices create the subject position of being an insufficiently capable but legitimately participating student in German inclusive school classes. A contextualization of this reconstructed subject position with the concept of ‘special educational needs’ and discourses on disability (Goodley 2014) leads to the conclusion that these differentiations in teaching are constitutively related to disability. Consequently, it can be said that the observed ongoing participation under reduced demands for some students in the lessons functions as a performative production of (learning) disability (see Waldschmidt 2017 for the underlying cultural model of disability). At the same time, this practice can only be comprehensively understood against the background of implicit ability expectations for students (Campbell 2009), because the expected abilities are an essential condition for the attribution of insufficient abilities.
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