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Developing an inclusive curriculum: What can we learn from teachers’ inclusive pedagogy?

Written by: Eddy Li
2 min read

 In this paper, I demonstrate how much we can learn from teachers’ inclusive pedagogy and, in particular, its implications for developing an inclusive curriculum.

Inclusion comprises unending processes of increasing learning and participation for all students (Booth and Ainscow, 2002). One important aspect of ‘doing’ inclusion is to develop and teach the curriculum in ways that support our increasing diversity of learners (for example, children identified with different categorical learning needs). This a key pedagogical challenge facing many teachers worldwide (UNESCO, 2020).

To help address this barrier to the participation and progress of some learners, I have been researching with teachers in Hong Kong about their inclusive pedagogy. More specifically, I am exploring what teachers do in practice to support everyone’s learning, and what they believe about teaching a diversity of learners. This is usually through placing myself within the context of teachers’ work, in which I observe their lessons, reflect with them on their teaching and discuss their self-identified inclusive practices. Drawing as far as possible on an inclusive research approach (Nind, 2017), I have been careful to ensure that the problems are owned by the teachers. I have also given them some control over the processes and outcomes of our exploration where possible. Based on our collective ‘wisdom of practice’ (Shulman, 2004, p. 264), I am developing a more nuanced understanding of teachers’ inclusive doing and believing (Rouse, 2006). This offers some useful starting points for thinking backward (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) about the characteristic forms of an inclusive curriculum.

So, what can we learn about developing an inclusive curriculum from teachers’ inclusive practices? First, an inclusive curriculum shall provide ample opportunities for all children to participate in everyone’s learning. This assumption rests upon a key theoretical underpinning of inclusive pedagogy: that it is a collective responsibility shared between the teachers and all students. In practice, teachers usually support the diversity of learners through engaging everyone in their learning communities. For example, they invite children to participate in classroom decision-making, create meaningful opportunities for all children to work with one another and, more importantly, empower everyone with the knowledge and skills of how to collaborate. This principle of co-agency (Hart et al., 2014) is important to developing an inclusive curriculum, as it encourages teachers to consider strategies to increase the participation of all children (rather than, for example, using strategies that are suitable for most, alongside something different for those who may easily be marginalised).

Second, an inclusive curriculum shall support everyone – students, teachers and parents, as well as other stakeholders – to celebrate the many differences in learning and teaching. It needs to value the collective contribution that all members make to increase the learning and participation of all children. In practice, teachers with an inclusive mindset are more likely to expand their capacity for teaching a diversity of learners (see also my earlier discussion in Li, 2020). Many of them are able to draw upon all teachers and students as rich pedagogical resources to facilitate greater inclusion (vis-à-vis excluding some on the grounds that their presence will hold back the progress of others). These processes are usually through, for example, employing a variety of grouping strategies to support everyone’s learning, enabling all children to work at their own pace and working closely with other teachers in the form of communities of practice (Committee on Professional Development of Teachers and Principals, 2015; Wenger et al., 2002).

We can certainly learn much from teachers’ craft knowledge of their inclusive practices (Black-Hawkins, 2017; Black-Hawkins and Florian, 2012). Achieving so requires an ‘open and exploratory approach based on a deep respect for the work that teachers do’ (McIntyre, 2009, p. 609). This is also among the key methodological challenges of my empirical work (also see Shulman, 2004): what are some possible ways to understand teachers’ actions and reactions in the classroom from their perspective?

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