04 SES 08 B, What We Learned (And Will Learn) About Inclusion From The Pandemic
The promotion of the participation of the educational community (made up of pupils, teachers and parents) in learning processes and in the inclusion of subjects with Special Educational Needs (SEN) (UNESCO, 1994) as indicated in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,(UN, 2006), is one of the less obvious underlying objectives of the 21st century. Much is still to be done in terms of consultative participation in which teachers hear the adults’ and students’ opinions, but the didactic part is entirely in teachers’ hands (it is up to them to define contents and modality). All this becomes even more complex when we talk about using virtual learning environments with children and the inclusion of those presenting Special Educational Needs. We still notice lessons based on content and pre-defined activities while, instead, there is a need to create new and alternative approaches starting at primary school and in accordance with the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Guidelines (CAST, 2011). It is necessary to develop child-led participation practices (we prefer the term child-parent led participation), in which all students and parents find their own spaces and opportunities to identify problems, develop initiatives and express themselves and also to promote cultural and inclusive practices (Booth & Ainscow, 2011). It is equally important to work towards an awareness of knowledge with also a critical use of technologies, so the “screen time” of new generations must not correspond to passive consumption of them. In order to reach these objectives, not only it is necessary to have the teachers’ participation but also of parents as facilitators (Prensky, 2012). Only such involvement can lead to a civic and social change that is expressed in the inclusion of all the subjects of the community in the teaching-learning processes.
This is even more necessary if we take into account the pandemic phase that has highlighted the need to build a community around minors and develop inclusive perspectives. Children with disabilities have been mostly forgotten in this historical moment and this explorative research intends to consider the value of UDL and inclusive education through ITC during the pandemic. Furthermore, the main content of the intervention with children was to raise their awareness of covid-19 in order to help and allow them both to get through such a difficult moment and to become critical readers of the pandemic situation.
We created a board inside the WeSchool platform and we explored the following research questions: has this board increased children's knowledge and awareness of the virus? Did you include students with disabilities, giving them the possibility of expressing their thoughts? Did it increase the sense of agency and belonging to an educational community?
Considering the importance of centered-learner experience and the integration of formal and informal learning both in the home and school learning environments during the pandemic, this research shows how the construction of an online teaching-learning modality where UDL is used and aimed at connecting schools and families and bringing the whole community conduces to a real involvement in the teaching-learning processes. Children with special needs were included through technologies but more importantly, their classmates’ and families’ behaviors and attitudes facilitate their inclusive processes, enhancing differences and potentials of all students. Through this research, we aimed at exploring and mapping the community perception (students, teachers, and families) regarding the inclusive use (in terms of participation and appreciation of differences) of learning platforms and ICT tools. Specifically, we want this research to possibly become a common inclusive practice, adapting it to specific situations and individual contexts, and useful for other classes if situations similar to covid-19 ever emerge again.
The explorative research process naturally shifted from an observational to an emancipatory approach and involved 28 primary school children, their families and teachers. The class surveyed consisted of students with specific learning disabilities, autistic spectrum syndrome and minorities/disadvantaged foreigners. Our research that would have used a blended teaching-learning modalities was revised and became remote because of covid-19. Thus, the research design was completely redefined in these phases: • Reconstruction of the didactic action on the new platform (WeSchool). • Collection of students’ diaries. • Generation of a specific board (Covid-19) to move children from a consultative participation to a child-led one. • A video-recorded meeting where students and parents had to reflect on and view works and a final questionnaire were submitted. In this board, we adopted the UDL approach, a framework that proved to be useful in the field of special education for learners with different abilities and addressed the following principles: what of learning through multiple means of representation, how of learning through multiple means of action and expression, and why of learning through multiple means of engagement.
Our research is not limited to simple observation and detection of the data on the value of Universal Design for Learning and inclusive didactic through ICT during the pandemic, its aim is to define replicable and flexible practices that put all students (included SEN) in charge of their own learning, developing a sense of agency and motivation and to create alliance with their families and the educational community. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to extend this work (fully replicable) to other classes. Considering the relevance of the study, it could be useful in other emergencies.
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