04 SES 07 D, Speechless: Alternatives Methods Of Investigating Inclusive Education
In recent years new understandings of the body not drawn from a Cartesian perspective of mind–body separation have emerged (Lakoff and Johnson, 1999; Turner, 2002, etc.). In the context of schooling however, the body has continued to remain largely overlooked as a means for learning (Chodakowski and Egan, 2008; O’Loughlin, 2006; Phillips, 2003). In education, bodily movement is often viewed as relatively insignificant, construed as a primitive step on route to the more valued pursuits of reading and communicating through writing (Phillips, 2003). Textocentrism (the privileging of written knowledge) (Singhal and Rattine-Flaherty, 2006) can be problematic for students whose aptitudes lie in other forms of thinking and communication. For this narrow construction of intellect, potentially excludes learners who thrive when offered opportunities to explore and develop their understanding through varied forms of literacy (such as movement and illustration) (Eisner, 1988). Moreover, textocentrism denies all students such opportunities.
An embodied pedagogy which includes the body in the learning process is based on the premise that knowledge and truth are not the realm of disembodied thought, but rather the body is fundamental to our knowing (Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002). All cognitions are sustained by communication with the world as embodiment (Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002), consciousness and perception are embodied in the lived experience of being-in-the-world (Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002). Metaphorically one might describe the body as having intentional threads that run outward to the world, these invisible threads grasp the environment connecting the body to the places to which it is familiar (O’Loughlin, 2006).
Working with trainee teachers as researchers, this project involved taking a risk and exploring the uncertainty of teaching children of all abilities using an embodied pedagogy. The themes drawn from the data refer to the following research question: What is the nature of the experience of teaching using an inclusive embodied approach? Analysis of the data revealed five key themes explicated below.
The application of an embodied pedagogy points to the importance of understanding bodily reciprocity (Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002). This requires the teacher to attune to their own bodily experience in order to connect with the lesson they planned, their own body as they teach, and the children’s experiences (Svendler-Nielsen, 2009).
A bodily point of view
Teaching using an embodied pedagogy involves an appreciation that everyone (non-disabled and disabled) has an individual embodied perspective derived from their own unique place in the world (Iwakuma, 2002; Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002). This theme addresses critiques concerning the disembodied nature of the social model of disability (Hughes and Patterson, 1997), and links with Norwich’s (2014) unique differences position.
Learning with the entirety of your body all at once
Individuals know the world through the entirety of the body all at once, their senses working seamlessly together to provide a richness in understanding (Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002) and a means for learning (Chodakowski and Egan, 2008). Understanding something about this bodily syntax is supportive of teaching using an embodied pedagogy.
Being beyond the skin
An embodied pedagogy involves understanding the extended body which goes beyond the boundaries of the skin and into the world beyond (Iwakuma, 2002; O’Loughlin, 2006; Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002). For example, a child’s body can extend into an object they are holding, or give meaning to the place they occupy.
Being on the paper
The fleeting nature of embodied experiences can be usefully captured through illustration or representation. These illustrations can be classified as enactive, iconic and symbolic representations (Bruner, 1964).
The purpose of this paper is to discuss the experience of teaching using an inclusive embodied pedagogy, and to generate conversation which questions and challenges the nature of this approach.
Established as a co-operative research enquiry (involving Initial Teacher Education (ITE) students and myself), this research explored the experience of teaching using an inclusive embodied pedagogy. Focussed on interpreting and understanding the lived experience, this research drew on hermeneutic phenomenology as a methodology. The first challenge for anyone wishing to apply hermeneutic phenomenology as a research approach is to establish a methodological coherence, for this does not occur simply. Rather it requires careful consideration, for phenomenology is not one thing, it has multiple orientations: ethical, existential, experiential, linguistic, transcendental, and hermeneutic. To bring together hermeneutics (the interpretation of human action, (Ricoeur, 1986/2008)) and phenomenology (the examination of experience (Husserl, 1913/1969)) requires the establishment of a nexus between these two separate traditions; for this I turn to Ricoeur (1981). Arguing that hermeneutics and phenomenology are inextricably linked, Ricoeur (1981) points out, that without experience (i.e. phenomenology) there is nothing to interpret, and without interpretation (i.e. hermeneutics) there are only descriptions without meaning. Aiming to be attentive to both elements of the methodology, the group engaged in both the experience of teaching using an embodied pedagogy, and the interpretation of these experiences. A challenge for anyone wishing to interpret an experience is their inevitable separation from it. One cannot explain an experience as it occurs, for the action of explaining will inevitably alter the experience (van Manen, 1990). The phenomenologist needs therefore to become comfortable describing an event after it has happened; the separation providing space to hold one’s gaze on a phenomenon for longer, setting into relief that which is noted (van Manen, 1990). Thus, after each teaching session in school researchers wrote a phenomenological description of the experience. Following which researchers shared their phenomenological descriptions with one another, discussing their interpretations as part of a focus group. Both the phenomenological descriptions and focus group transcripts were utilised as the data for this research. In total over an eighteen-month period the project involved fifteen researchers (fourteen ITE students and myself). We gathered data in approximately twenty schools, over half of which were special schools (schools for children with a label of special educational need). During this period over a hundred phenomenological descriptions were written and six focus groups conducted. The ethical implications of this project were explored with all those taking part; they have given their consent for this research to be disseminated in this way.
Synthesising the themes of this research, teaching using an inclusive embodied pedagogy seems to require teachers to develop the skill of reading movement. This reading is multifaceted, involving teachers in the reading of their own body, and their attunement to the unique embodied positions of the learners around them (Iwakuma, 2002; Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002; Svendler-Nielsen, 2009). This form of reading benefits from a recognition of the nature of the body (Chodakowski and Egan, 2008; Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002) and the unique ways individuals are in the world (Iwakuma, 2002; Merleau-Ponty, 1945/2002; O’Loughlin, 2006). Such recognition might be described as reading the syntax of the body including the way the body connects with the world around it. As a strategy the approach might be viewed as part of a universal design for learning (CAST, 2018) which recognises the unique difference position (Norwich, 2014) and works within the framework of the affirmation model of disability (Swain and French, 2004). Analysis of the focus group discussions conducted as part of this research point toward the time it takes to develop the skill of reading movement. This way of being-a-teacher seeming far removed from the group’s own experiences in school (both as pupils and teachers). A follow up discussion with the students involved in this research, revealed however a transformation in their teacherly thinking about the role of the body in the classroom. Whilst most in the group described themselves as initially sceptical or confused about the construct of an inclusive embodied pedagogy, following involvement in the research the majority spoke of instances where they had recently drawn on the pedagogical approach. The longer-term impact of this research on the viewpoints and practices of the researchers involved in this project does however require additional longitudinal investigation.
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