Supportive Learning Environments: Week 1

So the practice is established, I am aiming to write a single blog post per week, per course as part of my studies to become a teacher. This post if for week 1 of the supportive learning environments course.

Managing diversity

The first 6 topics are around this topic. Everyone is different, the teachers job is “maximise learning gains for all your students” (sounds like what would be a very TFA sentiment), but it’s the task of other professionals to diagnose and treat. It appears the focus here is on gaining an in-depth understanding of one form of diversity.

Rights and responsibilities

Topic 1 is rights and responsibilities. Oh look, it’s a Word document.

Rights as in, who has a right to an education? What type of an education? Responsible, as in Who is responsible for providing that education?

My thoughts

Yet another course that starts with asking me what I think. I recognise that this is meant to be activating and making concrete my current knowledge about this topic. Just like good constructivists are meant to do. However, I do wonder about the efficiency and efficacy of this approach.

Are there academics reading our responses to ascertain how knowledge level in order to customise the course and its teaching? I doubt it. Will we be asked to reflect back on our answers at a later stage in the course? We’ll wait and see.

At least in this course, I feel they’ve done enough to briefly introduce the subject so that when we do answer, we are at least vaguely in the right ball park.

The questions

  1. Does everyone have the right to a primary education? A secondary education? Post-secondary?
    In general yes, but I’m sure folk can find examples where most people would be leaning towards now. e.g. does a serial killer have the right to a post-secondary education?
  2. Do students with high support needs because of physical and/or intellectual impairment have the right to be included in mainstream education?
    My initial thought would be now. They have a right to education. But whether that means being included in mainstream education, that should probably depend on the specifics. Then why am I somewhat troubled by that?
  3. Do students with gifts or talents have the right to be catered for in the education system or should parents seek private tuition?
    Again, they have a right to an education. What right they have to a state supported education is another question. But again it comes down to specifics.
  4. Do students in educational settings have the right to learn without interruption from disruptive students?
    To some extent yes, but that depends on the definition and source of disruption.

Am wondering if these are educational or political questions? There are always going to practical limits.

An introduction

Some Powerpoints – with notes – to give an overview.

Ahh, I see your going into academic definitional distinctions

  • Outcome right – essential to maintain a reasonable quality of life.
  • Opportunity right – a desired outcome, but not essential.

So, the Australian policy is primary and secondary as a right for all.

This is an interesting quote from Reid (1995, p14)

social justice in our society depends upon significant changes being made to the social and political structures that create and maintain injustice

in terms of there almost certainly being some interesting alternate perspectives on what structure do or don’t maintain justice and how to change it.

So, they have a right to education, but what type? Current intent is an inclusive education

Inclusion relates to the provision of appropriate educational experiences to meet the needs of all students in regular schools and classes

All students should have the right to feel accepted and valued by peers. That troubles me somewhat, is this regardless of their actions? Not who they are, but what they do. Perhaps this will be balanced by the responsibilities side of things.


  • Teachers (learning managers in the terminology adopted by the program) are responsible for: managing diversity and adopting positive classroom management strategies.
    Why does the term “manage” bother me in this context? There is a network of support to enable this.
  • Students – need to be expressed in terms of school and class rules.

Here’s a point that interests me

Research shows that middle class families form more proactive relationships with schools that those who are socially disadvantaged (Ashman & Elkins, 2005).

There is a strong chance (I hope) that I’ll be working in a school with a significant proportion of students from households from a lower socio-economic grouping. I see the role of parents as essential, how do/should a teacher connect with these parents?

Ashman and Elkins

There’s a first. I’m actually being directed to read one of the set texts by the course guide. Oh, it’s actually 2 chapters (60 pages) I have to read.

p96-97 argues that what the teacher does in a classroom is almost the bottom of a necessary “hierarchy”. The broader school and societal context, policies etc need to be conducive. The advice on inclusive teaching sounds very much like the constructivist advice, i.e. : engage with diversity of students; encourage active involvement; use assessment practices that target achievement of all; encourage mutual respect. Easy to say.

A few pages talking about what is available, then we get onto resources, including websites:

Discussion about how curriculum frameworks can be modified for student cohorts – e.g. indigenous, ESL etc.

So, the questions were meant to reflect upon

  • What definition of inclusion would you give?
    p6 “inclusion is about belonging, about being rightly placed within a group of people, and having the rights and qualities that characterise members of that particular group”.

    An inclusive school on the other-hand (p92) “bring together the human, physical, technological and education resources that provide opportunities that enable all students to achieve positive learning outcomes”.

  • What impacts arise from “positive discrimination”?
    Mmm, doesn’t seem to be mentioned in the chapter, not in the index….

Onto chapter 3, thinking about these questions

  • What is collaboration based upon?
  • Who else can provide assistance?
  • Why do some parents assume a position of subordination?
  • How essential is parental involvement in education?

Haven’t come across much on the questions yet, but the discussion about the evolution of systems from “special” schools through mainstreaming through to inclusion is troubling in that at no stage does it address the fact that they year-based progression factory model on which formal education is based is completely at odds with the type of flexibility and responsiveness that is required to provide “access for all”.

Well, I couldn’t find anything in chapter 3 that connected with those questions. Mmm.

Knowing names

And now to read

Dixon, M. & Sanjakdar, F. (2004). Holding the gaze: Teachers noticing and naming students. in Mary Dixon et al. (Eds.). Invitations and inspirations: Pathways to successful teaching. Carlton, VIC: Curriculum Corporation.

Knowing names is one of those tasks I fear I’ll be bad at. Should be interesting to read. Of course, it appears to be focused on a more abstract vision of naming (i.e. linked to labelling). The practical losing out to the theoretical?

This reading is to be framed in the context of the following questions

  • Why do we use labels?
    Without having read the reading, I would answer that to some extent it is human nature. It is my understanding that we are pattern-matching intelligences. i.e. we don’t see all the details we recognise patterns. Labels are largely identifiers of patterns. We respond based on what patterns we perceive. It helps deal with the complexity of the world.
  • What are the potentially negative effects of labelling?
    The authors argue that such labels “tell us little about the individual student and their learning abilities”. Agreed. It’s a drawback of categorisation/generalisation that you gain benefits from grouping many objects into the one group, but at the same time you ignore the specifics. Any abstraction (e.g. a map) tends to lose information, that loss of that information can have significant negative effects.

    From the authors, such categories “lower our sight, misdirect our vision and mislead out intentions. Labels are limiting”. The suggestion is that there are multiple ways of seeing a child, labels prevent employing those multiple ways.

  • What can be learned from Clarissa’s story?
    The danger of labels. The value of getting to know the student(s), questioning assumptions and engaging with their differences/interests.
  • What challenges and opportunities are implied in the notion of discovering the individuality of the students?
    Opportunities from above, challenges might include: the inherent diversity, the difficulty/workload this entails, the constraints of the system…

What do Ashman and Elkins say about labelling? – well, where did they say it? This question is not connected to anything we’ve done. It’s defined in chapter 6 (according to the Index) and the limitations in chapter 7. THey define it as the categorisation of people on the basis of a disability or impairment. Disadvantages include

  • it is divisive
  • Issues around people missing out on categorisation and hence support
  • student failure prior to categorisation
  • a focus on a deficit approach

There is more to do, but have decided to skip it as I need to get onto other work.

2 thoughts on “Supportive Learning Environments: Week 1

  1. Hi David,
    “Are there academics reading our responses to ascertain how knowledge level in order to customise the course and its teaching? I doubt it.” I have subscribed to you blog, and so am interested in your thoughts. Your questions about managing diversity, rights and responsibility are common on the menus of vocational and adult education, and in your case, school education. Stereotyping and labelling as you shared could hinder our support to our learners. Would our assumptions often be borne out of our intuitions, especially when we don’t quite understand the background of our learners at the start? I have taken similar pathways back in the 80s and 90s (when I did my Grad Dip in VET at UTS), so my views on rights and responsibilities were based on the “constructivist” views. However, would these rights and responsibilities be different under a connectivist views? I do reckon these might sound differently, especially when learners are taking part of the role of teachers on their journey of learning. In your teaching environment, to what extent would you like your learners take up such a role? How about the parents? What are their roles and expectations? Would these questions be answered? May be, if you set up a blog post invitation or a wiki for them to respond to you quest. But I haven’t tried these myself, as my learners are all adults, and the responses from them were based on standard surveys.
    Hope you would enjoy your exciting journey of teaching in school.

    1. G’day John,

      Thanks for the comments. Much to agree with.

      I think you’re right that our assumptions are borne out of our institutions, our experiences and it can be difficult to escape from those. Theories of learning are part of that.

      Constructivism is still a big part, perhaps the main part, of what we’re being told about. Connectivism is mentioned, but isn’t the primary perspective.

      Your questions around what this would mean from a connectivist perpective is one that interests me. Especially the role of the parents and how you can appropriately involve them.

      One of the schools I’m hoping to do a prac at is considered low-socio economic. The parents of students in such as school are labelled as being non-participative in their children’s education, as not valuing education. If this is true, how you find it out and how you work with it are questions at the forefront of my mind.

      The journey has me interested so far, I find I’m engaging far more than I expected.


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