Taking an inquiry approach for professional learning in support of inclusive education is both pragmatic and powerful, although it has certainly not been the norm throughout much of teacher education in North America. Much research in inclusive education has focused on teacher beliefs and practices, school structures, and service delivery models, and such foci often position teachers as technicians, implementing outside experts’ ideas about “best practices,” thus marginalizing educators as mere consumers of research and methods, rather than developers, designers, and architects of inclusive practices. To foster full participation and membership of all learners in their classrooms, teachers often engage in trial and error, puzzle solving, and creativity, to build productive and participatory communities of learning. Although consciousness, criticality, and questioning are the foundation of an inclusive stance, awareness alone does not necessarily generate practices of critical inclusivity. The work of moving recursively from framings (ideological and affective) to specific, embodied practices requires continuous action and reflection, which is well supported by practitioner inquiry. The practice of inquiry requires that teachers engage in persistent, reflective work; take risks; and use failures as points of departure for new learning and teaching approaches. The content of the inquiry, when focused on capacity and inclusivity, has the potential to work against the dominant discourses that marginalize and exclude particular students and populations, whereas the process of inquiry can position teachers as creative, intellectual problem-solvers, thus working against the dominant discourse of teachers as technicians. Inquiry for inclusivity is most often taken up as a collaborative practice, supporting educators to make their problem-solving public, gaining both friendly critique and affirmation. The collaborative inquiry group can also serve as a space for ideological and affective clarification, as striving to design teaching and learning for inclusion involves challenging many of the norms of schooling, including individualism; meritocracy; competition; and sorting, leveling, and ranking students.
Sarah Schlessinger and Celia Oyler
Missy Morton and Annie Guerin
Sociocultural perspectives on curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment support teachers in developing and implementing inclusive pedagogies. Sociocultural assessment approaches disregard impairment as an identity in itself, privileging the strengths and knowledge evident in observed interactions. A sociocultural approach to assessment recognizes the dynamic interaction between teaching, learning, and assessment, spread across people, places, and time. Where traditional forms of curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment focus on a decontextualized individual, a sociocultural perspective pays close attention to contexts. Teachers’ practices, expectations, and understandings of learning and diversity form a key part of the contexts. In culturally responsive paradigms, learning is recognized as sociocultural—being informed through interactions with others. All students are recognized and valued as people who gain experiences and knowledge across many contexts. Multiple perspectives are valued as shared understandings and constructions of learning are developed in response to observations and interactions in a community of learners—where students and teachers learn with and from each other. Teachers who recognize themselves as capable of teaching everyone in the class are more likely to recognize everyone as a learner, to think critically about their positioning and understanding of disability, and to plan teaching, learning, and assessment in inclusive ways of working.
Art is a significant source of expression for people with a disability and it also represents them in important ways. The work of artists with a disability can augment viewer’s feelings about them, or, to put this another way, the work of artists with a disability can create social change. Not all of the artwork made by artists with a disability is “about” disability, and this separation between being an artist with a disability who makes art, and making artwork examining disability, is often a crucial distinction to make for those involved in the development of disability arts as a social movement. In light of this distinction, art of all kinds can provide us with powerful knowledge about disability, while also facilitating an important professional career trajectory. When art is made by an artist with a disability, and is about disability-related issues, the work created is usually called disability arts. When the work is made by someone with a disability but is not about disability, it may not necessarily be considered disability arts. This collection of work that is less concerned with identity politics is important, and is also worthy of independent consideration.
Schools, teachers, and students are increasingly able to access and apply assistive technology to enhance inclusion within mainstream classrooms. To ensure that a classroom is truly inclusive, the teacher and other professionals involved in supporting children with disability using assistive technology require appropriate knowledge and skills to bring potential to reality. There are many successful examples of assistive technology successfully embedding into the practices of inclusive setting, but there is still some way to go to ensure this is a seamless approach. There are many benefits and difficulties associated with adopting assistive technology to support students with disability, particularly in developing countries. While the challenges may be great, the potential for assistive technology to impact significantly on the educational, social, and recreational outcomes for students with disability in inclusive classrooms is immense.
It is important to consider inclusive and effective teacher practices in secondary classrooms as distinct from other schooling levels and settings. Many years of inclusive education reforms have brought about increases in the numbers of students with disabilities who are educated in the regular school system. However, progress has been slower for secondary school students with disabilities, who remain more likely to be segregated from their peers and to receive a poorer-quality education, when compared to their primary school counterparts. This is because many barriers to student inclusion remain entrenched in the structure and organization of secondary schooling systems. These barriers often arise from seeing difficulties in learning and participating through a medical model and thus requiring diagnostic verification and specialist support, instead of seeing student difficulties in learning as arising from a social model of disability, in which student participation and progress are hampered by poor design or inflexibility in teaching practices and a lack of access to support. A large body of research exists to support the case for using a range of school-wide organization as well as classroom-based practices that effectively overcome these barriers, and provide high-quality and equitable academic and social supports to all students in the secondary school classroom. Those that foster collaboration and effective relationships between professionals and students, and that provide access to support on the basis of need rather than diagnosis, have been found to produce supportive environments in which diversity is valued, equity is maximized for all students, and social and academic outcomes are improved for all students.
A number of different pedagogical approaches have been presented as being helpful for teachers working with students in inclusive learning environments. These approaches were developed in the late 20th century and were largely derived from models of special education. Many of them are still evident in classrooms around the world today. Based on approaches that appear to have been effective, a set of principles for the development and implementation of inclusive education pedagogy, as identified in the academic literature, can be discerned. These principles, however, are best viewed through a critical lens that highlights cautions for teachers engaged in inclusive teaching. Examples of inclusive approaches that align with some basic principles of inclusive pedagogy include but are not limited to Differentiated Instruction, Universal Design for Learning, and Florian and Spratt’s (2013) Inclusive Pedagogical Approach in Action framework.
Differentiated instruction encompasses a wide range of responsive pedagogies, including individualized types and levels of curricula, teaching methods, materials, and assessment strategies. It has at its roots the impetus for effective inclusive schooling, providing supports directly within general education classrooms for students with the full range of exceptionalities (both significant disabilities and giftedness) and other diverse educational characteristics such as cultural and linguistic background and socioeconomic status. To effectively include students with higher levels of need, comparable levels of supports follow the student from the special education setting to the general education classroom. This enriched level of support in the general education classroom benefits not only students with disabilities, but the class as a whole. The legal and ethical bases for inclusive schooling are connected with various civil rights movements (including race, disability, culture and language, gender); it can be viewed as a response to segregated schooling (and denial of schooling altogether). Schools frequently remove students when traditional educational programs fail, adding on separate programs rather than rectifying the existing system. Such special programs have been routinely promulgated without substantial evidence of their effectiveness over supportive general education classrooms (either for segregated students or for their unlabeled general education peers). Important aspects of differentiated instruction and inclusive schooling include multilevel instruction; authentic and culturally responsive curricula, methods, and assessment; universal design for learning; assistive and instructional technologies; positive behavioral supports; and a collaborative team approach to instructional decision-making and delivery. Differentiated instruction and effective inclusive schooling are vital for equitable access to educational opportunities, bringing more responsive curricula, methods, and perspectives to increasingly diverse classrooms and schools.