Learning to Teach Inclusively: Student Teachers’ Classroom Inquiries
reviewed by Barbara B. Levin - November 06, 2006
Title: Learning to Teach Inclusively: Student Teachers’ Classroom Inquiries
Author(s): Celia Oyler and the Preservice Inclusion Study Group
Publisher: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Mahwah, NJ
ISBN: 0805854312 , Pages: 176, Year: 2006
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This book is about much more than its title indicates. It is about the experiences of five student teachers learning to teach in inclusive settings; but it is even more than that. It is about many of the big questions that surround learning and teaching in inclusive settings: What counts as inclusion? What are the roles and responsibilities of teachers in inclusion classrooms? What dispositions and supports are needed to sustain effective teaching in inclusive classrooms? How can I plan to teach all children in an inclusion setting? In what ways can the university supervisor foster critical thinking in student teachers by helping them look at and understand their teaching through various lenses? These questions are raised, examined honestly, and addressed from a social justice perspective by six authors with Celia Oyler as their guide and mentor. These questions and others are just some of what the reader is invited to think about while reading this book. However, using this book as a catalyst for talking about such questions with other teachers, teacher educators, and with novice teachers or teacher candidates is even more worthwhile than just reading it alone.
The authors of this book are a university teacher educator, five graduate-level pre-service teachers, and a university supervisor who participated in a pre-service inclusion study group as a part of the teacher education program at Teachers College. At the heart of this book are the very personaland often poignantnarratives written by the five pre-service teachers. These prospective teachers reveal their personal experiences and perspectives on learning to teach inclusively by describing their student teaching placements and sharing their trials and tribulations in a variety of inclusive settings in the New York City area. Their narratives are framed by chapters written by Celia Oyler exclusively, as well as with Britt Hamre, their field supervisor. The autobiographical stories crafted by Carine Allaf, Scott Howard, Leslie Gore, Jennifer Lee, and Barbara Wang are powerful and complex reflections about and answers to their burning questions and passions as prospective teachers of all children:
How and why can inclusion be enacted so differently in diverse classrooms and schools and how does this affect the children, the school, and me as a student teacher?
What is the role of the teacher in fostering peer relationships and constructing a classroom community in an inclusive setting?
What is the relationship between needing to know how to manage a classroom and needing to know about and be able to meet the needs of all the students in my classroom?
How can I design instruction that is accessible for all students and what does it take to teach inclusively?
What structures are needed for schools to create inclusive practices, and what is the role of the (student or novice) teacher in inclusion schools?
In the opening chapter, Celia Oyler describes the goals and purposes of facilitating the pre-service inclusion study group, which met weekly for a school year to share and discuss their experiences with and understandings of working with children in inclusive settings. As part of their teacher education program, these prospective teachers developed inquiry projects around their questions about teaching students with disabilities in general education classrooms. This book is the result of the work of this small, discussion/study group community of educators. By sharing their questions and passionately investigated answers with us, Oyler and the pre-service inclusion study group have provided other pre-service teachers, active and prospective teacher educators, and even policy makers with much food for thought about teaching in inclusive settings. Others will be encouraged to read and discuss this book in similar settings, and will benefit from discussing the questions posed at the end of each chapter, even if they arent actually engaged in teaching in inclusion settings themselves.
Following an overview of and important background about the context of the pre-service inclusion study group at Teachers College, each of the student teachers shares their own story with passion, skepticism, serious contemplation, and grace. They are extremely honest about themselves, their successes and failures, their questions and concerns about their student teaching placements, and the tentative nature of their emerging understandings. They dont provide answers to all their questions, but they do share their understanding of what they learned about themselves and their roles and responsibilities as educators by reflecting on their personal experiences, conducting their own inquiry projects, and reading and discussing research and theory together. What they learn about children, teaching, learning, curriculum, schools, and society is revealed in different ways by each student teacher, but each story addresses very important concerns that all new teachers grapple with as they decide whether to teach in inclusion settings or not: Are they in the right placement for learning to teach the way they envision? Are they going to learn ways to teach in the ways that they hope and dream about? How can they address the needs of all their students? How can they build a true classroom community that promotes justice and equity for all? Will they be able to manage their classrooms effectively? What exactly is their role in class and in the school?
We also see their strengths and their struggles from the perspective of their university supervisor, herself an experienced inclusion teacher and doctoral candidate. As Britt Hamre shares the goals and purposes that guide her supervision, we learn more about each student teachers concerns from a compassionate mentor who always asks her student teachers Why? with the goal of helping them better understand their learning to teach experiences. This chapter on its own would be a great catalyst for discussion by any groups of supervisors or mentors. As at the end of every chapter, the questions suggested for discussion and reflection at the end of this chapter are quite thought provoking.
This book concludes with an analysis by Oyler and Hamre of the student teachers inquiry projects based on additional information about the history of inclusion and from a position of advocacy for viewing inclusion from a social justice perspective. The authors concluding remarks advocate teachers, including pre-service teachers, taking a stance and making use of inquiry, questioning, reflection, and advocacy to advance their roles in inclusion settingssomething that I believe the pre-service teachers writing in this book learned how to do in the process of authoring narratives about their inquiry projects for this book.
In my opinion, this book is a good read for any educatornovice or experienced. Each chapter could easily be used as a case to address problems and issues that surround adjusting to the role of student teacher, building classroom community, undertaking classroom management, planning for instruction, and understanding the supports and constraints that teachers face in their schools and communities. However, taken as a whole, all the chapters in this book are much more than just the inquiries of student teachers learning to teach in inclusion settings.