The school experiences of a learning disabled student
Gaffney, J. Michael D.
Within the disciplines of disability studies and childhood studies there has been increasing interest in disabled students’ experiences of school. This thesis builds on that work by drawing on: sociocultural theory, in particular the framework of communities of practice; the social model of disability; and the sociology of childhood. Using an ethnographic case study methodology, informed by sociocultural theory, this thesis explores the experiences, and therefore classroom engagement, of one male learning disabled student as he moves through Years 7-9 within the ‘mainstream’ New Zealand school system. The aim is to understand the contribution of disability and impairment to this student’s schooling experiences. Sociocultural theory was used to develop substantive theories and then they were refined using the constant comparative method. The analysis focuses on three significant areas of explanation for the student’s experiences: the interaction of impairment and disability, embodied within the curricular environment; the learning environment that was being provided for all students; and lastly, his peer interactions and relationships with adults. Understanding how each of these areas of experience interacts together within the student’s engagement in the classroom as a community of practice affords significant insights. First, the place of impairment and disability within the student’s experiences is understood as being ‘called forth’ by the context at the same time that impairment/disability is contributing to, but not dominating, the student’s identity as a learner. Secondly, the student’s development as a reader and writer is strongly influenced by the complex social and cultural processes that make up ‘literacy’ in the classroom. Finally, analysis suggests that classroom practices, inclusive of curriculum and literacy, are relational. They are sustained and held in place by peers and adults, both within and external to the classroom. By using the dispositional elements of ready, willing and able to understand the learner’s engagement, there is much to be gained by analysing the context with respect to: What overall learning messages are promoted at school? What opportunities are offered during the day to engage the student in learning?How are skills scaffolded to increase the sophistication of participation? This broader framework provides a means for understanding the construction and embodiment of impairment and disability. The case study student found his disability/impairment was emphasized in a school context that valued the social enterprise of reading and writing. The student had a strong inclination to participate in the regular literacy classroom practices like all other students. With support, mainly in the form of Teacher Aides, he was able to engage in literacy activities, despite the level of frustration and tiredness (impairment effects) it generated. Over the three years of observation, the student was observed to have quite different friendship experiences, which seemed to be a reflection of the different peer groups that made up his classes. One outcome of analysis is a framework for understanding and evaluating engagement and inclusion in the classroom. The thesis concludes by discussing the implications of the findings in relation to understanding disability, childhood, sociocultural theory and classroom practice. It highlights that asking questions about knowing why, where and when, and how is more important than the current New Zealand special education policy that focuses on resourcing. A similar criticism is leveled at the current assessment policy (National Standards) that narrows competence to ability, without recognizing contribution and citizenship.
Advisor: Smith, Anne B.; Burrows, Lisette
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: College of Education
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: disability; learning impairment; schooling; New Zealand; childhood studies; sociocultural theory; ethnography; communities of practice
Research Type: Thesis