What the language used (in schools and public policies) tells us about inclusive practices for children with specific educational needs
Paper in a Symposium (Symp)
10:51 AM, Vendredi 1 Sep 2017 (27 minutes)
Convention Center - 205 A
Developed within Socio-Cultural-Historical studies, and bearing in mind the means by which this area connects with other areas of knowledge production, more specifically: Critical Applied Linguistics (Pennycook, 2001), Critical Theory (Heller, 1996) and Critical Pedagogy (Freire, 1970), this investigation aimed at looking into the language that is employed either to include or exclude participants in educational contexts in Brazil. It was carried out in schools since it is in school organizations that this dichotomy is mostly seen, both historically speaking and in the microgenesis of each lesson that is taught (Fidalgo, 2005, 2006). The former will be shown through the analysis of educational laws and public policies that have traditionally been prescribing the work developed within the public school environment; the latter through classroom observation and video recorded lesson excerpts, as well as field notes. The paper will discuss school inclusion, a rather popular, yet controversial policy in Brazil at present, due to the way it has been practiced throughout history and more precisely in the last few years, when the term has actually been educationally defined, and an attempt is being made to implement it. The focus on the language employed is to verify if, by what means and in which instances the project of school inclusion has been successful and has led to social inclusion. Whilst analyzing the policies of inclusion, we also analyze the dichotomy found in the inclusion-exclusion of educators (who lack teacher education), sometimes resulting in further exclusion for students. The actual picture may be described as follows: sometimes, in one class, we might find more than one child with specific need: one might be dyslexic, another, deaf; and so on. Most public school classes are overcrowded – with between 40 and 60 students for state schools and between 30 and 40 for local, municipal schools. There is only one teacher per class, in the case of the state school; in the case of the local school, there may be a teacher and a Sign Language instructor where deaf students are enrolled. I said “may be” because this is a legal right, but whether or not the deaf children will have their right respected depends if there are professionals available, and there are not many instructors with sign language proficiency in São Paulo yet. Sometimes, Sign language interpreters are hired for the job, but these are not teachers. The teachers themselves, as I have stated, have little, if any, education on special needs. Most have none. I speak from the social place of an Applied Linguist, which means that I believe that it is through language that we can maintain or challenge the status quo. I prefer to question and make room for others to question too. This allows for empowering. The research that I will briefly discuss here was carried out in my research groups: ILCAE and GEICS. The first stands for Language Inclusion in Educational Activities Scenarios. The second, a Study Group on Deaf Identity and Culture. (Fidalgo, 2016) Theoretically speaking the paper is based on the dialogical understanding of language; one that looks at language as “a field of conflict” (Bakhtin/Volochinov, 1929); a teaching-learning perspective that focuses on the triad conflict-negotiation-transformation (Vygotsky, 1930); besides sociocultural-historical concepts of ‘defectology’, especially that of compensation (Vygotsky, 1993) – term that is in need of much discussion - zone of proximal development, mediation. We also bear in mind the concept of higher mental functions – since this seems to have been Vygotsky’s chore concern in his discussion about students with specific needs and their learning-development. Methodologically, the paper is based on the critical research of collaboration (Magalhães, 2006, Magalhães and Fidalgo, 2007, 2010), which also assumes that every interaction will be based on conflict and negotiation – which leads to knowledge production. This methodology takes the collaborative events that take place in the zone of proximal development as an instrument and result (Newman & Holzman, 1993 ) par excellence for the transformation of senses and meanings (Vygotsky, 1930) that participants bring to the lesson, or to a teacher education meeting, or any other place/instance where participants gather with the intent of teaching-learning and producing knowledge. Teacher education is a complex area of work, and this intricacy may be thus explained – albeit in very general terms: each teacher has a different set of senses by which they understand the world (and their classrooms, their work, the public policies that they have to implement). Confrontation that occurs in the meetings requires “the questioning of socio-cultural issues that historically have organized the uses of language and the division of labor, as well as their political meaning” (Magalhães & Fidalgo, 2010), and – for those using collaborative methodology - it must take place in a way that joint consideration of the many interests and needs of the participants involved are equally considered, voiced and discussed. This takes time and requires sensitivity. The work that will be presented was developed as part of a joint project involving public schools and a public university in Guarulhos, the largest city in the outskirts of Sao Paulo. It was carried out by undergraduate and graduate students and a senior researcher as part of an Extramural Program in which we implemented an intervention project of teacher education for teachers working with elementary school students that present specific educational needs. Initial results indicated that most teachers could not identify what special needs the students in their class had, let alone work with them. Therefore, many young people were/are going through the system without receiving any quality education. After the initial result had been analyzed, the team organized extramural courses with the teachers. Data from two of these courses will be used in this presentation: (1) a course in which participants (always including the school teachers) work with deaf children. This is set up in a way that (a) allows participants to read and discuss texts pertaining to the education of deaf children: Brazilian sign language, written Portuguese as a second language, among other aspects. As a result, the team has concluded that the methodology currently being used with students in the mainstream schools for teaching Portuguese is not resulting in learning. For this reason, the group is implementing and testing a new second language teaching-learning methodology with the children. (2) a course in which participants present the difficulties they have been able to identify in their students with specific need; the group researches in order to find out what special need this is and reads about it; after considerable reading and discussion, participants adapt a part of the curriculum for that specific child. This is then implemented and tested with feedback being presented to the team (Fidalgo, 2016). The projects are ongoing, but their initial results now show that teachers feel more confident to initially identify the needs they have in the class (the final identification and report is evidently left to such professionals as psychologists, physicians, neurologists, among others). This initial identification, however, as well as being able to develop the tools they feel necessary, and having the group support, allows teachers to plan their lessons for each child or group of children accordingly.