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Caribbean Discourse in Inclusive Education, Volume Two: Responding to Learner Diversity and Learning Difficulties

reviewed by Harriet Bessette - September 11, 2019

coverTitle: Caribbean Discourse in Inclusive Education, Volume Two: Responding to Learner Diversity and Learning Difficulties
Author(s): Dennis Conrad & Stacey Blackman (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641133325, Pages: 460, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com

Responding to Learner Diversity and Learning Difficulties, edited by Dennis A. Conrad and Stacey N. J. Blackman, is a collection of research and discussion papers whose aim is to assist educators in responding to the needs of diverse learners. The editors define diversity as inclusive of students from “different races, ethnicities, cultures, sexual orientations, individual differences, learning styles and preferences, socioeconomic status, religious backgrounds, disabilities, and languages” (p. xiii). They frame this text as a companion reader for graduate and undergraduate students, higher education professionals, and practitioners who teach in diverse educational settings. The editors are well-matched to this line of inquiry in terms of their background, experience, research interests, and scholarship.


This anthology of 19 chapters, the second volume in the series Caribbean Discourse in Inclusive Education, focuses on four major areas of interest: “Responding to Children, Youth, and Students with Disabilities and Learning Difficulties”; “Responding to Curriculum Challenges”; “Teachers’ and Students’ Responses to Diversity”; and “Responsive Leadership and Advocacy.” The contributors to this volume are largely academicians with interests and prior publications in the areas of leadership, technology-mediated instruction, culturally sustaining and responsive teaching, contemporary inclusive practices, curricula reform, cross-cultural competency, English and early learner language and literacy, and the intersection of power, privilege, and social justice across a variety of educational contexts.


In the first section, “Responding to Children, Youth, and Students with Disabilities and Learning Difficulties,” the authors investigate the impact that students’ learning and social-emotional differences, uninspired teaching, gaps in previous learning, and unresponsive pedagogy have on vulnerable and at-risk learners, and the challenges that classroom teachers face in creating inspiring curriculum to meet the social and academic needs of students from both majority and non-majority cultures. The authors note empirical evidence (i.e., case studies) that demonstrates how teacher preparation programs can be called to action in preparing pre-service teachers. In Chapter One, novice teachers are provided professional development to understand the importance of diversity, to value plurilingual approaches to teaching, and to be inculcated to the world of cultural diversity. Similarly, in Chapter Two, teacher preparation is reimagined by incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the classroom in an effort to enhance neophyte teachers’ recognition and appreciation of the wide array of students they will meet in their future classrooms. Regional significance as a factor in understanding the characteristics of students with EBD and challenging behavior issues is explored in Chapter Five, where recommendations for strategies to address students’ challenging behavior range from including problem-posing strategies, goal-setting, and technology-mediated instruction to valuing all students’ cultural capital, also known as funds of knowledge.


The second section, Responding to Curriculum Challenges, presents a look at culturally responsive and sustaining approaches to teaching in primary and secondary educational settings. Both international and Caribbean contexts are investigated for major curriculum challenges to supporting the learning needs of students who have been traditionally left behind or marginalized as a result of their disability, socioeconomic station, individual social, behavioral, or learning differences, and low or non-visibility in the classroom. Recommendations for connecting students’ language and culture to educational content (Chapter Seven), exploring culturally diverse books to improve literacy (Chapter Eight), and implementing cooperative learning with students from various pedagogical contexts to leverage students’ acquisition of skills and application of innovative content (Chapter Nine) are noteworthy in that they establish the bedrock for culturally sustaining and responsive pedagogy to thrive in inclusive learning contexts.


In Chapters Twelve through Fifteen, the authors focus on “Teachers’ and Students’ Responses to Diversity,” providing stories in which teachers deliberate on their practice, reflect on their beliefs, and offer descriptions of the ways in which they utilize culturally responsive practices. Teacher-researchers discuss how they engage in culturally sustaining pedagogy in their teaching contexts and reveal the challenges they face in facilitating academic success for their students. Chapter Fifteen offers strategies for special education teachers and mathematics teachers who incorporate Universal Design for Learning (UDL), rounding out this section dedicated to responsive and responsible pedagogy.


The fourth and final section, “Responsive Leadership and Advocacy,” examines the prospects for both teacher and principal leadership where advocacy, responsive leadership, parental partnerships, and visionary leadership can transform schools into places of passion, participation, and purpose. In Chapter Sixteen, Sewer and Gillum investigate parent involvement in the education process, and in Chapter Seventeen, Blackman, Williams, Conrad, and Abodeeb-Gentile explore the deficit model, exposing the consequences of this model among diverse students who deserve to be valued and celebrated. Similarly, in Chapter Eighteen, Blackman, Conrad, and Philip investigate the barriers to inclusion and participation for students in higher education in Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, barriers that transcend context and geographical setting. Themes identified in their study include equality of opportunity, institutional barriers, educator awareness, and the influence of psychosocial factors that affect student performance. The authors provide substantive evidence that could be utilized by teachers, college instructors, and educational preparation providers alike to improve their practice and the educational outcomes of students in a variety of settings.

Conrad’s and Blackman’s book would best be used in higher education as a supplemental text in either a curriculum or special education course, or in any course that explores the social and cultural foundations of education at either the graduate or undergraduate level. It would be particularly useful paired with a special education text to show the common denominators that diversity and difference share. While this book might be strengthened by reexamining the titles and descriptors for each section (some chapters appear to fit in more than one section, blurring the foci of the major areas), it may not need sections at all. The most remarkable aspect of this book is its ability to juxtapose diversity and difference, showing how key principles, strategies, and recommendations for reaching and respecting all students transcend time and place while also piquing awareness among those who never realized they needed to envisage culturally sustaining and responsive learning environments in their own workplace in the first place.  


This book highlights a critical need for educators to examine the core of their moral fiber from a social justice perspective. Its message is universal, calling for educators to advocate for sociocultural learning, diversity awareness, and teacher effectiveness in an effort to counter the devastating effects of roadblocks to student learning. Responsible educators must ask, Do our students feel prepared to respond to students who are diverse? Do our students possess the voice, the legitimacy, to advocate for their students of color, students with disabilities, and students who are not among the majority of learners? Educators in higher education must ask whether teacher candidates identify as self-efficacious in terms of working with diverse students and those with learning differences.

It is well-documented that educational opportunities in the diaspora vary widely based on awareness, values, resources, opportunity, sociocultural norms, and epistemologies that historically empower or privilege one group over another, one culture over another, one ability over another. The content within this book illustrates the inherently inequitable practices that schools employ to inhibit the growth and success of diverse learners. It unmasks how learning opportunities are less equitable, less responsive, and less (or not) present for large portions of diverse students the world over. Its sterling contribution assuredly rests in its power to help educators become inquirers, deliberators, and perhaps even provocateurs who will dare to transform their own practice and that of others.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 11, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23091, Date Accessed: 1/22/2022 2:53:34 AM

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About the Author
  • Harriet Bessette
    Kennesaw State University
    E-mail Author
    HARRIET BESSETTE is a professor of special education in the Inclusive Education Department in the Bagwell College of Education at Kennesaw State University. Her current research and national and international publications reflect her interests in the historical dimensions and impacts of special education, Vygotskian theory application, and visual research methodology. She has published a number of manuscripts in national and international venues. Her most recent publications, "Using Visual and Textual Metaphors to Explore Teachersí Professional Roles and Identities"; "Supporting High Quality Teacher Preparation: Developing a Mentoring Program for New and Early Career Special Education Faculty"; and "Tracing Special Education Researchís Impact on Policy and Practice Since IDEA" are emblematic of her commitment to improving the lives of diverse learners and those who are dedicated to their learning. Dr. Bessette is currently working on an edited book for researchers who seek innovative visual methodologies for investigating diverse and equitable learning contexts.
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