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Thursday, July 4 • 10:45am - 11:25am
Semantic weaving to develop inclusive teaching practices

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Classrooms are increasingly complexified by a diverse student population, including those vulnerable to marginalisation and exclusion. Newly qualified teachers must be able to teach inclusively to ensure that these children realise their right to inclusive education. To this end, Initial Teacher Education (ITE) programmes in many countries include some coursework content on inclusive education, and then expect further learning about inclusive teaching during field experiences. One of the big problems in university-based teacher education is the disconnection between field experience and coursework. This is a particular challenge in inclusive education where it has been noted that ITE ‘programmes lack an organised approach linking courses and field experiences within a conceptual framework’ (European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, 2010, p. 35). We frame this challenge as the need for cumulative knowledge-building as part of developing inclusive teaching as a knowledge-based practice and suggest how ‘semantic waves’ from Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) enables an understanding of this challenge, and a way to address it.

The Semantics dimension of Legitimation Code Theory provides a conceptual repertoire that assists teacher educators to identify what is required to prepare teachers to be both theoretically informed and contextually responsive to the demands of inclusive classrooms. The competencies involved in inclusive teaching demand both stronger semantic density (SD+) and stronger semantic gravity (SG+). Knowledge that embodies stronger semantic density (rhizomatic code: SG–, SD+) is achieved as pre-service teachers are introduced to theories and meta-theories that might inform their professional judgment in practice. This usually takes place in Higher Education Institutions and involves systematic engagement with a range of ideas in structured coursework. In contrast, knowledge that exhibits stronger semantic gravity (prosaic code: SG+, SD–) would emphasise experience and reflection, be context-specific and focus on the acquisition of practical skills. This knowledge is usually acquired during field experiences in the complexity of classroom life. Neither university-based coursework nor field experiences alone are sufficient to enable prospective teachers to develop the worldly code (SD+ and SG+ knowledge) needed for inclusive teaching.

Many teacher education programmes combine coursework and fieldwork in some way to develop competencies for inclusive teaching. We identify instances where ITE programmes add field experiences specific to the concerns of special or inclusive education to the coursework. In this approach, learning through coursework focusing on abstract ideas and organising principles alternates with learning in the realities of classroom life, resulting in alternating high and low semantic flatlines. Connections between the two flatlines are likely to be incidental and highly dependent on the capacity of individual pre-service teachers themselves to make the links necessary for cumulative knowledge building. Intentional linking of coursework with field experiences is advocated to overcome the shortcomings of the additive model. We identify ‘down escalator’ profiles in examples of this intentional linking, as programmes expect coursework principles to be systematically applied to classroom practices. ‘Up escalator’ profiles are also evident, as other programmes advocate a practice to theory approach. We identify the limitations in both linking approaches, and argue for a curriculum design that organises intentional semantic weaving to build the knowledge needed for inclusive teaching.

We offer suggestions for knowledge-building for inclusive education with a focus on requirements and assessment of pre-service teachers during field experiences. We present a series of critical questions developed to guide pre-service teachers to move iteratively between what they have learnt in coursework and what they learn in the classroom, showing how the questions might promote semantic weaving. We conclude that LCT provides a framework for teacher educators to enable pre-service teachers to make explicit connections between their conceptual learning from university-based coursework, and their pedagogical decision making in the context of the lessons they teach.

Thursday July 4, 2019 10:45am - 11:25am SAST
Room B48

Attendees (6)