Team-teaching for inclusive learning: Purposes, practices and perceptions of a team-teaching initiative in Irish post-primary schools

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Ó Murchú, Finn
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University College Cork
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Background. Schools unequivocally privilege solo-teaching. This research seeks to enhance our understanding of team-teaching by examining how two teachers, working in the same classroom at the same time, might or might not contribute to the promotion of inclusive learning. There are well-established policy statements that encourage change and moves towards the use of team-teaching to promote greater inclusion of students with special educational needs in mainstream schools and mainstream classrooms. What is not so well established is the practice of team-teaching in post-primary settings, with little research conducted to date on how it can be initiated and sustained, and a dearth of knowledge on how it impacts upon the students and teachers involved. Research questions and aims. In light of the paucity and inconclusive nature of the research on team-teaching to date (Hattie, 2009), the orientating question in this study asks ‘To what extent, can the introduction of a formal team-teaching initiative enhance the quality of inclusive student learning and teachers’ learning at post-primary level?’ The framing of this question emerges from ongoing political, legal and educational efforts to promote inclusive education. The study has three main aims. The first aim of this study is to gather and represent the voices and experiences of those most closely involved in the introduction of team-teaching; students, teachers, principals and administrators. The second aim is to generate a theory-informed understanding of such collaborative practices and how they may best be implemented in the future. The third aim is to advance our understandings regarding the day-to-day, and moment-to-moment interactions, between teachers and students which enable or inhibit inclusive learning. Sample. In total, 20 team-teaching dyads were formed across seven project schools. The study participants were from two of the seven project schools, Ash and Oak. It involved eight teachers and 53 students, whose age ranged from 12-16 years old, with 4 teachers forming two dyads per school. In Oak there was a class of first years (n=11) with one dyad and a class of transition year students (n=24) with the other dyad. In Ash one class group (n=18) had two dyads. The subjects in which the dyads engaged were English and Mathematics. Method. This research adopted an interpretive paradigm. The duration of the fieldwork was from April 2007 to June 2008. Research methodologies included semi-structured interviews (n=44), classroom observation (n=20), attendance at monthly teacher meetings (n=6), questionnaires and other data gathering practices which included school documentation, assessment findings and joint examination of student work samples (n=4). Results. Team-teaching involves changing normative practices, and involves placing both demands and opportunities before those who occupy classrooms (teachers and students) and before those who determine who should occupy these classrooms (principals and district administrators). This research shows how team-teaching has the potential to promote inclusive learning, and when implemented appropriately, can impact positively upon the learning experiences of both teachers and students. The results are outlined in two chapters. In chapter four, Social Capital Theory is used in framing the data, the change process of bonding, bridging and linking, and in capturing what the collaborative action of team-teaching means, asks and offers teachers; within classes, between classes, between schools and within the wider educational community. In chapter five, Positioning Theory deductively assists in revealing the moment-to-moment, dynamic and inclusive learning opportunities, that are made available to students through team-teaching. In this chapter a number of vignettes are chosen to illustrate such learning opportunities. These two theories help to reveal the counter-narrative that team-teaching offers, regarding how both teachers and students teach and learn. This counter-narrative can extend beyond the field of special education and include alternatives to the manner in which professional development is understood, implemented, and sustained in schools and classrooms. Team-teaching repositions teachers and students to engage with one another in an atmosphere that capitalises upon and builds relational trust and shared cognition. However, as this research study has found, it is wise that the purposes, processes and perceptions of team-teaching are clear to all so that team-teaching can be undertaken by those who are increasingly consciously competent and not merely accidentally adequate. Conclusions. The findings are discussed in the context of the promotion of effective inclusive practices in mainstream settings. I believe that such promotion requires more nuanced understandings of what is being asked of, and offered to, teachers and students. Team-teaching has, and I argue will increasingly have, its place in the repertoire of responses that support effective inclusive learning. To capture and extend such practice requires theoretical frameworks that facilitate iterative journeys between research, policy and practice. Research to date on team-teaching has been too focused on outcomes over short timeframes and not focused enough on the process that is team-teaching. As a consequence team-teaching has been under-used, under-valued, under-theorised and generally not very well understood. Moving from classroom to staff room and district board room, theoretical frameworks used in this research help to travel with, and understand, the initiation, engagement and early consequences of team-teaching within and across the educational landscape. Therefore, conclusions from this study have implications for the triad of research, practice and policy development where efforts to change normative practices can be matched by understandings associated with what it means to try something new/anew, and what it means to say it made a positive difference.
Team-teaching , Inclusive learning , Post-primary schools , Socio-cultural
Ó Murchú, F., 2011. Team-teaching for inclusive learning: Purposes, practices and perceptions of a team-teaching initiative in Irish post-primary schools. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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