Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Inclusive Pedagogy & Bell Curve Thinking

Inclusive pedagogy is a contentious concept as there is no agreement that all children can be educated together and where there is agreement there is still a discussion on how this can be done (Florian, 2015). As countries and cultures have different concepts, there is some confusion about the use and meaning of inclusion in educational settings. Different definitions have resulted in different practices (Makoelle, 2014). There is the widespread perception (or rather fear) that the inclusion of pupils with difficulties in learning will hold back the progress of pupils without difficulties in learning. Inclusive education, however, results in benefits for all learners (Spratt & Florian, 2013).

Inclusive pedagogy rejects so-called ability labelling, it does not limit the expectations of teachers and pupils and by focusing on the perceived "potential" reproduce social inequalities.
Labelling children as those having "special needs" means that teachers differentiate work based on their perception of ability which again places "a ceiling on the learning opportunities of those thought to be less able". Disrupting these practices and replacing them with participatory approaches to both teaching and learning is what educational (and social) inclusion is about.
Inclusion is not passive, it is not "being done to" certain groups but a dynamic process that involves all children (Spratt & Florian, 2013).
"The notion of inclusive pedagogy is not a call for a return to a model of whole class teaching where equality is notionally addressed by providing identical experiences for all. Instead it advocates an approach whereby the teacher provides a range of options which are available to everybody. Human diversity is seen within the model of inclusive pedagogy as a strength, rather than a problem, as children work together, sharing ideas and learning from their interactions with each other. The inclusive pedagogical approach fosters an open-ended view of each child’s potential to learn."
Spratt & Florian (2013)

Bell curve thinking means that positions at the centre of a normal distribution are seen as ideal while those outside are regarded as marginalised learners who require something additional, different or "special".
"Because schools are organised by grouping pupils according to commonly agreed categories, and the utilitarian principle of the greatest good for the greatest number, what is ordinarily provided will meet the needs of most learners, while some may require something ‘additional’ to or ‘different’ from that which is ordinarily available. A bell curve model of distribution, which assumes ‘that most phenomena occur around a middle point while a few occur at either high or low extreme ends’ (Fendler and Muzaffar, 2008, p 63) underpins many educational practices and is widely used as an organisational principle. Sorting students by ability is one example of how this model operates; the use of norm-referenced tests is another. Both of these practices are part of the pathway by which judgements about students’ learning capacity are determined and by which some students become eligible for additional support. As a structural feature of the school system, these sorting practices often set the points at which individual students’ educational needs are defined as ‘additional’ or ‘special’. Consequently the idea that some students will need something ‘different from’ or ‘additional to’ that which is generally available to others of similar age is taken for granted. In other words it has become normalised in educational thinking and is accepted without question. Indeed it guides the definition of additional support in many countries."
(Florian, 2015)

Having additional or special needs is being assigned membership to a group and starting to believe that one has the attributes of the group. Often, it also implies that teachers lower their expectations about what the student can achieve (Florian, 2015).

Once a child is labelled, the label is likely to stay throughout the school years. Having special needs means being different, can create stigma and low self-esteem (via). Inclusive pedagogy does not provide something different or additional but "seeks to extend what is ordinarily available to everybody" (via).

- Florian, L. (2015). Inclusive Pedagogy: A transformative approach to individual differences but can it help reduce educational inequalities? Scottish Educational Review, 47(1), 5-14
- Makoelle, T. M. (2014). Pedagogy of Inclusion: A Quest for Inclusive Teaching and Learning. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 5(20), 1259-1267.
- Spratt, J. & Florian, L. (2013). Applying the principles of inclusive pedagogy in initial teacher education: from university based course to classroom action. Revista de Investigación en Education, 11(3), 133-140.
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