Preservice Teachers' Understanding of Inclusive Education
Despite the often-claimed purpose of equity, inclusive education has been defined and interpreted in different ways that paradoxically marginalize students. Teachers play a primary role in enacting inclusion, their concept of inclusion is, therefore, critical to inclusive practices and outcomes. This qualitative case study explored the impact of dialogue on preservice teachers’ understanding of inclusive education, using three major research questions: a) How do five preservice teachers conceptualize inclusive education before and after participating in a series of group dialogue? b) How do preservice teachers negotiate meanings of, perspectives on, and beliefs toward inclusion during the group dialogues when they face challenges around the concept and practice?, and c) How do facilitations—content/topics, guiding/follow-up questions, and supplementary materials and activities—mediate those negotiations?The participants were five female under-/graduate students in a teacher education program at a private Catholic University in the Northeastern United States, who were completing practicum at the time of the study. Data were collected from multiple sources, including surveys, follow-up conversations, pre/post-dialogue journal entries, individual semi-structured interviews, six group discussion sessions and accompanying artifacts (mind-maps and self-reflections), and field notes. For the first research question, qualitative content analysis and pre/post comparisons of individual participants’ journals and interviews were examined, to identify how the pre-service teachers changed their conceptualizations of inclusive education through their participation in the dialogue series. The commonalities and variations in their conceptualizations following the dialogue series were synthesized through cross-case analysis. For the second and third research questions, discussion segments and post-dialogue interviews were analyzed via constructivist grounded theory along with review of the supplementary artifacts. The findings suggested that group dialogues provided a learning space for the preservice teachers to deepen their understandings of inclusive education. A synthesis of the five single case studies revealed that, after the dialogue series, the preservice teachers conceptualized inclusion as a) a channel to prepare students for transition from the classroom/school to society, and b) a means to empower marginalized students under the rhetoric “for all,” as well as c) viewed teachers as a mechanism of inclusive action/enactment. Five themes emerged, revealing the ways in which the preservice teachers negotiated meanings of, perspectives on, and beliefs toward inclusion as they addressed challenges around the concept and practice through interactions, as well as the ways in which the facilitation mediated their negotiations. The five themes included: a) Convergence, b) Expansion Through Convergence, c) Divergence, d) Inconclusiveness, and e) Multiple Patterns. Further, the facilitation set the context where the preservice teachers could think through concrete examples in practice, provoked them to develop new ideas and perspectives and to (re)think about the issues critically enriching the discussions, and fostered their collective and individual sense-making. This study adds to knowledge on inclusive education and teacher dialogue as a learning tool, providing in-depth descriptions of how pre-service teachers developed a deeper understanding of inclusive education through facilitated group discussions that problematized taken-for-granted notions and practices of inclusion. It also provides a new instructional method of research that elucidates preservice teachers’ negotiation processes in dialogues.