04 SES 11 D, Different Learners, Teaching Practices, and the Curriculum
Inclusive education - in its many understandings – has the intention of focusing on all learners, including learners who carry differences in culture, religion, ability, gender and thinking processes. In practical terms in classrooms and schools, however, the scope and degree of inclusive education seems to draw lines between who is eligible for inclusion and who is not, who will be situated in a mainstream classroom and who will not.
Inclusive education uses the conceptualization and mechanisms of exclusion to achieve its intention of inclusion. In schooling practice then, inclusive education may manifest itself differently to the aspiration of social inclusion even though the planning and decision-making markers of inclusion are present (Allan & Slee, 2008; Slee, 2008). Thus formal schooling has a problem: it can have the physical appearance of social inclusion but perhaps not the practice.
This presentation reports findings from a study that aimed to develop an understanding of education that is inclusive of the curriculum-imagined learner on the one hand, and the context-specific learner on the other. There were four research questions: (1) how is the learner imagined? (2) what are the characteristics of the context-specific learner? (3) what is the relationship between the curriculum-imagined learner and the context-specific learner? (4) what constitutes education dis/advantage in contemporary times?
It begins with Rita’s story, a contextual and conceptual metaphor illustrating this problem and introducing a Bakhtinian (1986,1994) conceptualization of dialogue together with that of Vygotsky (1962) for his work on conceptual development and Bourdieu’s work on complex contexts and implications for education (Grenfell & James, 1998). In this study concepts, context and dialogue were considered to be dynamically inseparable in the development of knowledge and thinking process and therefore in the development of learning.
Reindal (2010) rejects the two most common explanations of difference in learners as either deviance from a standardised norm (i.e. the premise of medical diagnoses of difference), or as a post-modernist cause for celebration of the diversity of humanity. Both approaches can inadvertently abandon the on-the-ground and within-context needs and interests of the learner who learns differently (i.e. differently to some predetermined or diminished norm). It follows then that equality and quality of life for learners who learn differently might be enhanced if educational planning, materials and delivery were to include relevance to or connection with the learner and the free pursuit of their needs and interests: in this way, inclusive education (or education in general) becomes a pragmatic consideration investigating what and how this pursuit may be supported. Creating capabilities for learners who learn differently to a pre-established norm seems well-suited to contribute to a somewhat modified understanding of inclusive education and special education: equitable assets and access to education that supports the pursuit of the learner’s needs and interests in education rather than the completion of learning outcomes devised for an imagined learner.
A qualitatively oriented approach incorporated location-specific secondary data available in the public domain location-specific professional conversations among educators, and data-driven thematic analysis. Secondary data (Vartanian, 2010) used were location-specific statistical data for 6 communities in New South Wales, Australia that were in the public domain: Australian Early Development Census, 2015; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011 & 2014; Dropping off the Edge Report, 2015; MySchool webstite 2011-2016; HealthStats NSW, 2011-2014; NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics & Research Crime Map website, 2011-2015; the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage, 2016. These data were used to build a generalised profile of the location-specific learner. The arbitrarily chosen norm document, General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum, was used as it is considered to be the most likely to be consistently available to all Australian schools. The purpose of this textual analysis was to arrive at a profile of the imagined learner. Interview transcripts with three professional conversations with educators provided member-checking interpretations of initial data analysis outcomes. The rationale for this purposive selection of sites, data sources and types was to investigate other ways of understanding learner difference than those already documented in inclusive education literature. The analytical methods and processes used within and between data sets were thematic (coding, categorizing), diagrammatic, and comparative Demographic data was initially organized into location-specific data grids (a separate Grid for each of the 6 locations containing numerical / statistical data relevant to each of the locations). The data included was that which was considered to be relevant either to the environment or the development of the learner in each of those locations, knowing that both environment and development of the learner may contribute or disadvantage a learner’s prospects in school-based learning. The data grids were then used to build 6 location-specific Categories Matrices (CM) Numerical data were systematically translated into descriptor categories (e.g. health risks in >2 areas of health), while other categories were directly drawn from those already present in the secondary data sources (e.g. developmental risk: communication). In order of investigation, the 6 locations considered across NSW were Brewarrina, Cobar, Condobolin, Lake Munmorah, Lithgow and Ulladulla. This approach to thematic analysis followed Braun and Clarke’s (2016) understanding of theme analysis: that it is not so much uncovering a theme from data but building a theme from processing the elements which constitute it.
Four themes were found to contribute to understanding the relationship of lack thereof between the learner as imagined in a curriculum document versus the characteristics of the learner in context-specific settings in which that curriculum is enacted: ((1) stacked disadvantage, (2) social geographic isolation, (3) fading and (4) conceptual poverty. Conceptual poverty suggests that in contemporary times, social geographic location combines with socio-economic and conceptual disadvantage which is multi-layered or stacked such that learners fade from the markers of learning; they are no longer in the public data view as learners. Together, these findings profiled the contextually-specific learner and theorized the contradictions with the curriculum-imagined learner. The contextually generated capabilities of the learner in out-of-the box settings are quite diverse in comparison to the general capabilities imagined of the learner as outlined in a national curriculum framework, for instance the General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum. Analysis showed this document imagined learners as Homogenous, existing in a socio-contextual vacuum. The explicit foundational capabilities of learners – the origins of their questions, interests and attachments – are absent from the Australian Curriculum and so, too easily absent from the imagination of the practitioners and the place of practice of formal schooling. What learners already know, or learn coincidentally along the way of their time in formal schooling, appears to find no expression in formal documentation that guides the process of formal schooling, and finds little expression in practitioners utterances. The within learner characteristics are not included in the deliberations, reflections and motivations of those who think most about inclusion in formal education: the curriculum authors, schools, teachers, and educational authorities. The learner is almost compelled by the educational deliberations, reflections and motivations to either collude in being silent and invisible, or to disappear in fact while being physically present in the educational system.
Allan, J. & Slee, R. (2008). Doing inclusive education research. In S. L. Gabel & S. Danforth (Eds.), Disability and the politics of education: An international reader (pp. 141- 159). Pieterlen, Switzerland: Peter Lang – International Academic Publishers. Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). The problem of speech genres. In Speech genres and other late essays (C. Emerson & M. Holquist (Eds) pp. 60-102). Austin: University of Texas Press. Bakhtin, M. M. (1994, reprint 2004). In The Bakhtin reader: Selected writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev and Voloshinov (P. Morris (Ed) pp. ). London: Arnold, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2016). (Mis)conceptualising themes, thematic analysis and other problems with Fugard and Potts’ (2015) sample-size tool for thematic analysis. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 19 (6), pp.739-743. Grenfell, M., James, D. (1998). Bourdieu and education: acts of practical theory. London: The Falmer Press. Reindal, S. M. (2010). What is the purpose? reflections on inclusion and special education from a capability perspective. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 25(1), pp. 1-12. Slee, R. (2008). Beyond special and regular schooling? An inclusive education reform agenda. International Studies in Sociology of Education, 18(2), 99-116. Vartanian, T. P. (2010). Secondary data analysis. Oxford University Press. Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and language (ed. & trans. E. Hanfmann, G. Vakar, A. Kozulin). Cambridge, MA & London: The MIT Press.
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