VARIABILITY AND BARRIERS TO LEARNING: THE GENERAL EDUCATION TEACHERS’ PERSPECTIVES AND PRACTICES in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA)
Despite having disability rights and legislation, disabled students in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) experience insufficient special education and general support. A Guide for Ensuring Inclusion and Equity in Education (UNESCO, 2017) signifies learner variability and identification of the “barriers to learning” as foundational concepts to progress in inclusive practices that align with the Universal Design for Learning approach initiated by Rose and Meyer (2002). The present research explores the general perspectives of education teachers about these core concepts and how they address these issues in their daily practices and the existing inclusive teaching practices in the effectively running expatriate schools in the Kingdom. The study further examines the underlying mechanisms being used in inclusive teaching practices. Data was gathered from four elementary-middle school math teachers consisting of two different school districts indicating that addressing variability and barriers are related to the teachers’ beliefs and conceptual understanding of these concepts. The general education teachers showed in-depth theoretical knowledge and positive and malleable beliefs about variability and barriers and were found using flexible instructional approaches in their teaching practices and were more likely to establish a non-traditional model of teaching, compared to those who showed surface levels of understanding about these concepts. The study suggests that teachers in general education settings do not observe anticipation and intentional alignment across teaching components. It also suggests that participants in private international schools of KSA have strong foundations to initiate inclusive education models because several elements in the existing teaching practices in these schools are in line with the core inclusive practices found in the literature. Implications are suggested to private international schools and education policymakers to facilitate inclusive education in the Kingdom.
The concept of providing accessible education to all students was recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in the World Declaration on Education for All Meeting Basic Learning Needs that laid the foundation of inclusive education (All & Needs, 1990). During that period, the United Nations made efforts to establish the standard rules to encourage equality and full participation of individuals with disabilities in their social, academic, and employment opportunities (Weber & City, 2012). The aim was to ensure that all students with and without disabilities access education. Later, the World Conference in Spain on Special Needs Education presented The Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education in cooperation with UNESCO to inform international policy on education for all in 1994. The Statement says:
The fundamental principle of the inclusive school is that all children should learn together, wherever possible, regardless of any difficulties or differences they may have. Inclusive schools must recognize and respond to the diverse needs of their students, accommodating both different styles and rates of learning and ensuring quality education to all through appropriate curricula, organizational arrangements, teaching strategies, resource use, and partnerships with their communities (UNESCO, 1994, p. 11).
Although the public laws of education had established the movement of protecting the rights of students with disabilities (SWD) for instance, Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA) during 1975, teachers were not yet prepared to provide individualized support to the needs of all learners under a single roof, and this led to the SWD in self-contained classrooms. This took place because most staffing schools had insufficient expertise across all grade levels to offer the SWD with quality education. In 1990, the EAHCA was then replaced by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Turnbull III & Turnbull, 1998). The teachers were provided support to promote inclusive education in general classroom settings. The inclusive education rights for all were further protected by several national, federal, and international organizations, including the United Nations’ Declaration of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006), Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) (2012), and IDEA (2004) (Crevecouer, Sorenson, Mayorga, & Gonzalez, 2014).
Globally, inclusive education appeared to be well established, complex, and evolving over the last three decades (Potgieter-Groot, Visser, & Lubbe-de Beer, 2012). Inclusive educations solid-state in various nations differs extensively in schools. There are deep uncertainties regarding how educators can create inclusive environments. In other words, there is a gap between the formulation of inclusive education and its implementations. Evolution of the inclusive education began with the concept of mainstreaming or integration (within the European educational literature): the physical placement of the SWD with their typically growing peers in the least restricted environment (LRE) to get the maximum benefit in socialization and academic learning (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002). Later, the research identified that the SWD had limited access to education and socialization via mainstreaming (i.e., locational mainstreaming in which the SWD were placed in segregated classrooms for academic sessions, and social mainstreaming in which the SWD could participate only in the social activities with their conventional counterparts). The restricted access to educational and social integration, which has brought about social injustice and ethical issues about the educational access for the SWD, presented limitations in the functional combination of SWD to meet their requirements (Alquraini & Gut, 2012). In this regard, mainstreaming or inclusion was then recognized as an assimilationist process that required either the child to be conditioned and assimilated in full mainstreaming or the school policies to be changed. Then, the inclusive education concept was restructured by the introduction of accommodation according to the replacement of assimilation in mainstreaming (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002).
Both mainstreaming and inclusion have common grounds. For instance, they provide the LRE to the SWD and physically place them in regular general education classrooms. However, integration extends the concept of mainstreaming by giving access to the broad curriculum and socialization to the possible extent regardless of the disability severity and learning differences (Alquraini & Gut, 2012), and promotes the concept of equity in education by signifying social justice (UNESCO, 2017). Research indicates that inclusive classrooms do benefit not only the SWD but also the students without disabilities in improving their communication, academic, and social-emotional learning; furthermore, it does not hinder their learning process in diligently designed and structured classrooms (Katz, 2013). When inclusive education is well-practiced, all kinds of students can be part of their community and can develop a sense of belonging and be prepared for life in society. Over the past decade, besides serving SWD, the scope of the inclusive education has extended from disability to promote diversity within the general classroom settings; this has forced teachers to consider improving their teaching skills to meet the needs of diverse students. It implies that it promotes better learning opportunities for the students. Also, it has initiated a worldwide restructuring of preservice and in-service teachers’ training programs (Alquraini & Rao, 2018b; Katz, 2015).
Furthermore, evolving definitions of inclusion and inclusive education are recently debated in terms of using accepted and consistent definitions that appeared to be extensively differentiated due to the context of inclusive education and the scope of the research (Adhabi, 2018; UNESCO, 2017). Nevertheless, there is a need for highlighting opportunities via which exclusive and inclusive education can be utilized to fulfill the need for delivering quality education for all. Kilinc (2018) argues that inclusive education has been a part of the international educational policies. Thus, within local and international discourses, global ideas contributed to the changes in the meaning of this term. Several states and provinces within a country use varied definitions for inclusive education — variations are even found in the missions, visions, and policies of different educational institutions within the same region (Towle, 2015). For example, besides endorsing the physical access and learning environment in broader terms, diversity, and equity are integral parts of the inclusion policy of Ontario, Canada. The province of Ontario considers diversity that “includes, but not limited to, ancestry, culture, ethnicity gender, gender identity, gender expression, language, physical and intellectual ability, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status.” Ontario defines “Equity” as a condition or state of a fair, inclusive, and respectful treatment of all people. Equity implies equally treating all individuals, regardless of their differences (Towle, 2015, p. 43). The inclusion policy in Quebec, however, emphasizes more on the critical components of inclusive education (i.e., students’ membership, individualized support, and learning goals, and professional collaboration) and the process of obtaining full inclusion in the province (Towle, 2015). Adhabi (2018) contended that the inconsistencies between different definitions of inclusive might cause confusion and affect the research findings, hence causing the disconnection between the research and practice’ (p. 128).
Although diversity was an integral part of inclusive education in the past, the conceptual foundations of inclusive education were still being impacted by the gradual expansions in the meaning and scope of the concept of diversity itself in education over the years (Chamberlain, 2005; Herzig, 2005; Kirmani & Laster, 1999). Diversity used not to be an issue since the barriers to learning were many and varied. Additionally, international perspectives on inclusion contributed to the conceptual shift of the inclusive education discourse and practices to incorporate diversity with its broader meanings, alongside incorporating disabilities (Katz, 2013). The contribution of differentiated instruction paradigm (DI) (Tomlinson, 2000; Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006), the Center for Applied and Assistive Technology (CAST) as an originator in individualized instruction, and Universal Design for Learning framework (UDL) is also distinguished in this process of evolution. UDL is a learning approach that recognizes the learning differences within and between individuals with the learner variability. UDL resulted in learning and teaching that give all learners equal learning opportunities. With the UDL approach, teachers are responsible for preparing a learning environment with flexible materials, means, and methods that can meet the expectations of all students. It also describes ways in which barriers to learning can be eliminated by adopting multiple and flexible means of presenting learning content, acquiring, and expressing knowledge in the diverse classrooms, regardless of disabilities (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014; Rose & Meyer, 2000; Rose & Meyer, 2002). With the advancement of the UDL paradigm and differentiated instruction (Tomlinson, 2000), the term learner variability or student variance has gained popularity among the research (Venkatesh, 2015). The UDL researchers use these terms to address student diversity in the inclusive literature. According to Meyer and colleagues (2014), learner variability is a dynamic and ever-changing mix of strengths and challenges that makes up a learner, and every learner approaches tasks with his or her own set of strategies (p. 2, 17). This definition is used as an umbrella term to represent various related terms that are being used interchangeably in the literature given; the context and interest of the researchers include individual differences, learning styles, preferences, gender, linguistic, and cultural diversity (Felder & Brent, 2005; Kunzman, 2006; Pritchard, 2013).
Contrary to the discussion of learner variability, another term, “barriers to learning”, is used in the context of identifying and addressing factors that prevent learning, motivation, academic achievement, and teaching practices, regardless of inclusive and general education contexts (Adelman & Taylor, 1997; Fielding, 1999; Pritchard, 2013). Within the barrier of research in education, UDL advanced the concept that obstacles are not only limited to the individuals that hinder the learning process but also situated within the curriculum that requires to be fixed and should be given equal significance to acquire momentum in the teaching and learning system. The barrier debates further contributed to the extension of the scope of inclusive education from the physical placement of the SWD to their meaningful participation in the general education classrooms via their cognitive and affective access to curricula, along with the learning contents to minimize learning and achievement gaps in a way that students’ success will be achieved.
Consequently, by recognizing learner variability and barriers to learning, the international communities in inclusive education have been transformed in a way that diversity is included in its meanings, and obstacles are involved in their agenda as an addendum to disabilities. For example, UNESCO (2017), in a guide for ensuring inclusion and equity in education, considered diversity to be the differences of people concerning their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture, religion, mental and physical ability, class, and immigration status.” Inclusion is a process that assists teachers in overcoming barriers limiting the presence, participation, and achievement of learners.” On the other hand, inclusive Education is the process of strengthening the education system’s capacity to reach out to all students (p. 1). Thus, learner variability and barriers are endorsed to the inclusive education to ensure that every student access education.
Given the recent trends and scope of the inclusive education, the present research defines inclusive education as a philosophy and a vision of recognizing variability and addressing barriers to learning via the adoption of teaching practices that are core components of the inclusive education to encourage meaningful participation and success for all, regardless of disability, exceptionality, and marginalization. The present research is an effort to revisit the conceptual debate on the variability and the barriers within the framework of inclusive education by examining general teachers’ beliefs and comprehending these core concepts and how they address these issues in daily classroom practices in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In other words, the research aims to examine the beliefs and comprehend how patients affect the implementation of inclusive education in the kingdom.
Inclusive education is well established in theory and practices within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nations. However, it has recently caught the attention within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — the Arabic-speaking countries (Weber, 2012). Weber states that the situation in these countries is complicated due to the differences in their educational policies, fundamental beliefs, and cultural and traditional approaches towards disability, disabled, and their families. Also, there is no universal strategy for dealing with individuals with special needs within GCC. The lack of “coherent compliance procedure” and “standard to serve as a benchmark for inclusion” appeared to have separate educational systems and laws in dealing and serving the SWD in the Gulf countries (Brown, 2005, p. 254). Brown specified three types of inclusion in this region: proximity integration, which involves accessing other regular or general education programs, and social and academic integration. Social and educational integration has been described in the historical discussion on inclusive education.
Inclusive education practices are less common in GCC countries than in Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain. Nonetheless, the level of awareness about disabilities and inclusive education has increased within special education schools in other Arabian countries, including Saudi Arabia. This is because many SWD and their parents have been struggling to see that they get equal learning opportunities as those of students without disabilities. GCC countries are moving towards adopting the model of mainstreaming, but a fully inclusive education is not yet evident in the GCC states. There are three distinct types of educational systems in these countries: government-run elementary to high schools, privately running Arabic-speaking schools, and foreign international schools serving the needs of expatriate families (Brown, 2005; Weber, 2012). With the growing awareness about inclusive education within the global education communities, inclusion is emerging in the private international schools (Weber, 2012) since many parents with SWD prefer taking their children where they will be taken care of in spite of their disabilities. Brown (2005) states that the “evidence of [inclusive education] is found, primarily in the private international school sector and only for categories of the disabled who are least likely to be perceived as handicapped” (p. 255). Given the growing expatriates in these countries, the GCC states are now embracing the theoretical framework of education for all and expanding the scope of inclusion in the region (Weber, 2012).
Disability education emerged in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) during the late 1950s with the prime focus on the students with blindness. Later, during the period of the early 60s to late 70s, the Special Learning Department of the Kingdom supervised the establishment of learning institutions to serve the needs of students with deafness and intellectual disabilities (Afeafe, 2000; Aldabas, 2015). The first formal attempt to place the students with mild disabilities alongside their typical peers was initiated in 1984 (Alquraini & Gut, 2012). The country developed disability laws, which include the Legislation of Disabilities (1987), Disability code (2000), and Regulations of Special Education Programs and Institutions (RSEPI) (2001) (Alquraini, 2010; Alquraini & Gut, 2012). These organizations guaranteed disability rights, provided initial screening and assessment opportunities, defined disabilities, launched interventions, and built rehabilitation centers. These organizations were further responsible for providing free health care and educational services and introducing relevant teachers’ training programs in the Kingdom.
In KSA, in the general education system, students with hearing and visual impairments are accommodated. The students are also offered additional support. Students with mild to moderate learning disabilities are placed in separate classrooms, within the general education system, where they get help from the special education teacher. These students share an inclusive environment with their typically developing peers, only during non-academic activities, i.e., recess and lunchtime. Students with mild to moderate level disabilities attend elementary and middle school education until the age of 18 years. These students have an opportunity to acquire employment skills and vocational training (Alquraini, 2010; Alquraini, 2014; Weber & City, 2012). Students with severe intellectual disabilities, however, are placed in a separate and segregated learning system with exceptional educators. Researchers believe these types of practices to be false inclusion in the Kingdom (Alqahtani, 2017). Despite having disability rights, laws, and legislation, the students learning in the segregated environment do not get inclusive opportunities with their typically developing peers, at any level; this decreases the chances of them acquiring cognitive, communication and social-emotional skills because they feel as if they are neglected in school setups (Alquraini & Rao, 2018b).
Saudi Arabian schools rarely offer inclusive education in a general classroom. Schools lack speech-language pathologists, sign language interpreters, school psychologists, and co-teaching practices, where public education teachers can collaborate with support resources and special educators to offer inclusive education for all students (Alquraini, 2010; Alsalem, 2015). Hence, generally, the education system does not integrate many standard practices, including response to intervention, evidence-based practices (EBPs), and positive behavior support (PBS) (Alsalem, 2015). Restructuring of the university courses for pre-service teachers and continuous professional development training of in-service teachers with much focus on effective instructional designs, teaching strategies, and educational assistive technology is currently in a debate (Alquraini & Rao, 2018a; Alquraini & Rao, 2018b). The problems mentioned above impede the inclusive practices in the Kingdom that need systematic planning, professional training, and implementation of the current evidence-based educational practices with high-quality resources and collaboration with the international scholarly community.
The Ministry of Education is emphasizing on the educational research to restructure the existing curriculum aligned with the country’s needs per the effective educational frameworks being practiced worldwide. The Kingdom’s Tatweer project (2015) is one of such efforts made by the ministry that endorses inclusion to improve the special education and needs services, along with aiming to promote assistive technology in the classrooms (Alsalem, 2015). Despite fostering information communication technology systems and establishing smart schools as part of the Tatweer project, the project remained controversial, and such reforms have not benefited teachers and students. Tayan (2017) argues that this policy was economically driven and power-oriented to prepare a workforce (individuals with disabilities) to serve the kingdom and not to empower the teachers and the educational system. However, instead, these reforms depict that western policies were imposed on the current educational system in the Kingdom that was not yet ready for such changes by considering the teachers’ deep-rooted traditional and fundamental beliefs about disabilities. Aldabas (2015) states that the biggest obstacle facing inclusive education in the Kingdom is the teachers’ belief systems.
Currently, the collaborative efforts between the ministry, researchers, special and general educators, academic institutions, and practitioners towards change are encouraging. Recently, with the increasing number of doctoral research projects on the inclusive education in the Kingdom, and with the collaboration of the Ministry of Education, Saudi Arabia has revised the inclusive projects based on the 10-years plan to serve the needs of exceptionality, gender, disabilities, teachers’ training, involving the private education sector, and meeting the expectations of contemporary inclusive practices around the globe (Weber, 2012). There is now hope that students with disabilities can be incorporated in the general learning classroom. Additionally, the ministry is currently extending the scope of providing educational services to people with moderate and profound intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum, and physical disabilities within general and individual classrooms. Introducing UDL as an instructional framework, within the special classes, is another step towards adopting an inclusive approach in education (Alquraini & Rao, 2018a; Alsalem, 2015). However, the implementation of UDL is still at its early stage, and the related studies are majorly carried out in the city of Riyadh. These gaps in inclusive education are situated in research and practices and warrant further investigations in inclusive education within the other provinces of the Kingdom.
According to statistics that were carried out in 2018, the total population of Saudi Arabia is approximately 33 million. The Gulf News states that 11.1 million among the KSA population are employed as expats with or without families (Oct 28, 2018). Data on disability prevalence is now beginning to emerge. For example, a recent study conducted by Bindawas and Vennu (2018) to estimate the national and regional prevalence rates of disabilities, types, and severity in the Kindom based on the consensus of 2016, revealed that one in 30 citizens is disabled, and physical disability was the most frequently reported among others. Also, 2.7% of the total population had disabilities within the school-age range of 19 years and below. The official statistics, however, are not yet available to provide the accurate disability prevalence rate among the expats. Given the oil-rich industry in the Kingdom, these expats come from various parts of the world and spend several years serving in the Kingdom. Among them, many experience challenging situations in acquiring the appropriate services for their children with disabilities in mainstream schools, which can be due to lack of legal documents to allow their students to be accepted in mainstream schools. Although various international private schools are serving expat families, still these schools do not take students with severe levels of disabilities. Unlike government schools, private schools tend to hire more teachers who are professionals in teaching students with disabilities. There are some debates on the evidence of inclusive practices in the international schools in GCC (Brown, 2005; Weber, 2012); however, to the researchers’ knowledge, no study has formally explored the possibilities of inclusion and inclusive practices in the private international schools in the Kingdom. The present study aims to investigate if the international schools are accepting students with diverse learning needs, regardless of disability and severity.
UNESCO (2017) states
Integrating the principles of equity and inclusion into education policy requires … seeing differences as problems to be fixed but as opportunities for democratizing and enriching learning … recognizing the benefits of student diversity and how to live with and learn from difference … collecting and evaluating evidence on children’s barriers to education access, to participation and achievement, with particular attention to learners who may be most at risk of underachievement, marginalization, or exclusion … Children with disabilities are among the most marginalized and excluded groups of children; routinely, they are denied their right to quality education … Many factors can work either to facilitate or to inhibit inclusive and equitable practices within the education system. Some of these factors are teachers’ [believes], skills, and attitudes, infrastructure, pedagogical strategies, and curriculum … The system change requires a changed way of thinking (p. 13).
UNESCO underscores differences and diversity and views them as opportunities to enrich the learning process. It simultaneously accentuates barriers identification to minimize exclusion and to ensure participation of all. Differences and diversities are not regarded as barriers to education, but opportunities to advance learning in institutions. However, the significant component of achieving successful inclusive education is embedded in teachers’ inclusive belief systems, change of mindset, and readiness towards inclusion. Given the need of expanding the inclusive education practices in the Kingdom and bridging the gap at the conceptual level in the inclusive education, this qualitative research attempts to explore the possibilities of the inclusive education within the private international schools in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by adopting a systematic approach of unfolding the multiple layers of the inclusive education. First, it identifies the core components of inclusive education and then explores the underlying phenomena of recognizing variability and barriers that are entrenched in the core components of the inclusive education and manifest through teachers’ beliefs. Finally, it involves an evaluation of the presence or absence of anticipation and intentional alignment in the general education teachers’ practices. UDL researchers emphasize the concept of anticipating variability and barriers to learning and intentional curricular planning according to the needs of the learners, which are according to the UNESCO statement: “At its heart are the planned teaching and learning opportunities that are available in ordinary classrooms — the intended curricula effectively implemented” (p. 19).
Further details about these concepts are provided in the theoretical frameworks (Chapter 1) and the conceptual framework of the study (Chapter 2).
Broadly, the proposed qualitative inquiry aims to serve two primary purposes. The first purpose is exploratory, which seeks to identify the meanings of the concepts, variability and barriers from the general education classroom teachers’ perspective and beliefs. The second purpose is descriptive, which aims to document existing practices (Marshall & Rossman, 1999). Hence, it is serving multiple goals on the theoretical and practical grounds of inclusive education, such as:
- To extend the theoretical bases of the existing theory UDL and inclusive education by digging deeper into the significant concepts of learners’ variability and barriers to learning.
- To provide an opportunity for general education teachers to reflect on their existing beliefs and practices within the inclusive framework of teaching and learning.
- To offer a practical UDL-based blueprint to the teachers to facilitate inclusive practices in the classrooms by ensuring anticipation and intentional alignment across the teaching components/curricula.
- To explore and document existing levels of inclusive practices in private international schools in the Kingdom.
- To determine how UDL-based inclusive practices can be extended in the Kingdom by focusing on the teachers’ belief system and cooperative practices to fill the gaps in inclusive education.
Given these purposes, the study defines its objectives as
- Identifying the level of the conceptual understanding of the teachers about the core components that set the foundation for inclusive practices.
- Examining if teachers are already addressing the core issues (variability and barriers) and what can potentially be suggested to extend inclusive practices
According to the UDL researchers, recognizing learner variability, differences, strengths, and weakness, along with patterns of how they prefer learning and express what they know is essential when it comes to developing lesson goals, implementing material, and assessment planning to promote proficient and expert learners, regardless of diversity and disabilities (Hall, Cohen, Vue, & Ganley, 2015; Winter, 2016). A teacher ought to consider students’ needs, their diversities, and disabilities, when designing the lesson plan. However, there is limited information regarding how teachers perceive the concepts of learner variability and barriers to learning and how they address these issues in their daily practices, using the curricula in the general classroom settings. Gaining insight into this area is vital in preventing unattended variability components from potentially generating unintended and unnecessary barriers to learning and decrease learning outcomes. Not unless the teacher realizes the unexpected and unnecessary barriers to learning, attaining the goals of education will remain to be a significant issue. Gaining in-depth insight into the teachers’ understanding of two different yet parallel issues via their beliefs and perspectives assist in the evaluation of teaching practices. Teachers’ thoughtful curricular planning is strongly related to their practices and should be aligned to the learning goals, learning needs, and targets of diverse students in the classroom. This study provides an opportunity for teachers to reflect on their beliefs and teaching practices within the inclusive framework. Luttrell (2010) states that research not only provides a chance for teachers to have a new experience where the participants are an integral part of the process of knowledge expansion but also opens new doors of self-discoveries for them. It is through this that some teachers will find it easier to start incorporating inclusive learning in their institutions.
The proposed research is anticipating to generate various hypothesis and future research questions, through the conceptual debate and in-depth thematic analysis and analytical alignment to the structured theory UDL and the core components of the inclusive education. Additionally, the theoretical debate on variability, barriers, anticipation, and intentional alignment is expected to extend the existing approaches in inclusive learning – specifically UDL. UDL is referenced in the central state initiatives in the United States Department of Education including ESSA (2012, 2015), IDEA (2004), and Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) (2008) that mandates that all students should get an equal ground for learning using the same state standards and accountability measures (Winter, 2016). The clear descriptions of the underlying concepts in the UDL can create accurate planning both for the inclusive education policies and practices for educators.
Specifically, within the Kingdom, the present research documents the recent status of the teaching practices in private international schools and investigates how such practices are in line with the inclusive education. The results are expected to promote the UDL-based targeted teachers’ training programs in the Eastern region of KSA. Also, it is expected to initiate a discussion on the inclusion of students with diverse physical and cognitive needs, marginalities, and disabilities within these schools. Furthermore, if the existing practices in these schools are found to be aligned with the inclusive education, a snowball effect is expected by using these schools as models, and by conducting interschool collaboration programs between the private and public schools of KSA for the inclusive education to be achieved in the Kingdom (UNESCO, 2017).
The constructivist approach stances that learners actively build knowledge via meaning-making and building upon the knowledge they already possess through interaction with new information (Carlile, Jordan & Stack, 2008; Maxwell, 2012). Therefore, the data being received by students assist in meaning-making. Epistemologically holding an interpretivist position, my research will be shaped by the educational implications of constructivism that emphasize the identification of the (a) learners’ learning styles, (b) learners’ strengths, (c) signifying curricular practices, (d) inclusivity, (e) innovations in teaching strategies, and (f) authentic assessment practices (Carlile et al., 2008). The following section builds on two paradigms (Constructive Alignment Theory and Universal Design for Learning) to advance the understanding of the proposed topics of discussion.
Constructive Alignment in Teaching System (CATS). Biggs (2003) and Biggs and Tang (2007) extend the constructivist approach by suggesting that learners ought to construct their knowledge via relevant activities, rather than just depending on what they receive from their teachers. However, the teachers’ important task is to create a learning environment that supports learning activities to optimize desired learning outcomes. This suggests that students can construct their knowledge when the learning environment can facilitate the desired learning outcomes. Biggs (2003) indicates that the intended learning outcomes are the composite of content knowledge, the level of the task understanding, engagement, and gaining mastery of the learning task. Biggs purports that learning increases when teaching strategies are in line with students’ learning needs (Sutton, 2003). Therefore, he emphasizes the precise alignment of all teaching components (intended learning outcome, instructions, and assessments) to receive optimized learning outcomes in the classroom setting of diverse learners. Biggs states that “the alignment in constructive alignment reflects the fact that the learning activity in the intended outcomes, expressed as verb, needs to be activated in the teaching if the outcome is to be achieved and in the assessment task to verify that the outcome has in fact been achieved” (Biggs & Tang, 2007, p. 52). He purports that if the teachers consider students’ learning needs before designing the assessment activity, the process is aligned. Otherwise, the unaligned process leads to poor learning outcomes; hence, reducing the learners’ cognitive access to the content. Also, the poor outcomes will be realized because it will generate the blame model, which involves students and teachers being blamed for undesired results: teachers will not succeed in attaining learning goals and meeting the needs of the students. These factors contribute to under-achievement in learning and limit the scope of inclusion in general education classrooms.
Felder and Brent (2005) later extended Biggs’ concept of constructive alignment in the teaching components to attain an in-depth approach to learning and to facilitate learners’ intellectual development. They suggested that teaching goals and expectations should be conveyed explicitly to the students; for instructions, teachers should adopt a student-centered approach to learning that is related to deep learning. Whatever that the teacher as far as learning is concerned, ought to be student-oriented. Therefore, teachers should offer a variety of choices in their teaching methods and constructive feedback that explicitly relates to the intended learning outcome. This approach is being applied to K-12 and higher education (Felder & Brent, 2005; Trigwell & Prosser, 2014; Trigwell, Prosser & Waterhouse, 1999). CATS’ theorists believe that teachers should adopt a “broker role” between the students and a learning environment to facilitate their independent and real learning. Although CATS addresses the learning differences in the classroom settings through ensuring constructive alignment among the teaching components, it does not offer much insight into the barriers to learning. Also, it lacks guiding principles across the teaching components, though it assists in ensuring that teachers are designing learning and teaching activities that support students in achieving desirable outcomes. The UDL framework addresses these limitations.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Rose and Myer (2002) state in their book, ‘Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’ state that “the concept of UDL is the intersection where all of our best initiatives—integrated units, multi-sensory teaching, multiple intelligences, differentiated instruction, use of computers in schools, performance-based assessment, and other—come together” (p. 7). The UDL is a combination of the best inclusive practices that focus on the strengths-based model of the individuals, not only to the persons with disabilities, it is inclusive to all forms of diversity and differences—”thus can be viewed as an inclusive education reform” (Katz, 2015; p. 3) that shifted the inclusive education discourse from the physical placement of the SWD to cognitive and effective access to the curriculum. It involves developing curriculum and instructional practices that are concerning the students’ needs.
UDL was first derived when CAST established the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum in 1999 (Spooner, Baker, Harris, Delzell, & Browder, 2007). CAST describes UDL as a blueprint for creating flexible learning goals, teaching methods, instructional materials, and assessment techniques to accommodate learning differences. According to Salend and Whittaker (2017), teachers who have been implementing the UDL are educational architects who can create learning structures to support the success of their students (p. 59). Initially, the roots of UDL resided in the architectural principles pioneered by Ronald Mace in 1997 that provided equal access to buildings for people with diverse physical needs (Parker, Robinson, & Hannafin, 2008). UDL expands on addressing different learning needs by providing cognitive and physical accommodations for the increasing learning experiences for students with and without disabilities. Classroom created by the UDL model is known for maintaining high expectations that are set by the provincial curriculum for both students with and without disabilities, as it supports the self-efficacy of teachers, in addition to reducing the workload of preparing and planning several learning programs.
However, during the same period, a few related approaches also emerged in education, i.e., Universal Design for Instructions (UDI) (Burgstahler, 2009) and Universal Instructional Design (UID) (Higbee & Goff, 2008), alongside UDL (Rose & Meyer, 2002). These approaches share common conceptual grounds, but with different foci (Black, Weinberg, & Brodwin, 2015; Higbee & Goff, 2008; Rao, Ok, & Bryant, 2014). For example, the commonalities among these educational models are the most salient—as the guidelines and principles aim to identify and reduce learning barriers (Black et al., 2015; Dolan, Hall, Banerjee, Chun, & Strangman, 2005; Hall et al., 2015), address learner variability (Ellen Mcguire-Schwartz & Arndt, 2007; Hall et al., 2015; Meyer et al., 2014), and suggest strategies and instructional designs (Kortering, McClannon, & Braziel, 2008; Rao, 2015; Schelly, Davies, & Spooner, 2011) that enhance learning outcomes via equal access and usability of resources for all learners (Burgstahler, 2009; Higbee & Goff, 2008; Meyer et al., 2014). Regarding the differences, the UDI and UID approaches are applied in higher education with a focus on the instructional design.
UDL is, however, rooted in neuroscience and education research. It emphasizes the flexible means of learning in the digital age via kindergarten to higher education. This learning approach recognizes the learning differences within and between individuals and eliminates barriers to learning, believing that “many students –not just students with disabilities–face barriers and impediments that interfere with their ability to make optimal progress” (Meyer et al., 2014, p. 3). Novak (2016) states that eliminating barriers means “proactively and deliberately planning curriculum” that provides embedded options that are relevant, accessible, and challenging for all in the learning environment (p. 14). This proactive planning is a part of the anticipation process that eventually reflects by aligning curriculum and teaching practices to the principles and guidelines suggested by the UDL. By curriculum, UDL means learning goals, teaching methods, materials, and means of assessment.
Contrary to the traditional approaches to learner variability who believe in the categorical labeling of “different kinds of learners as belonging to distinct groups” (Meyer et al., 2014, p. 49) and offer solutions according to those divisions (i.e., learning disabilities or gifted), the UDL’s stance on the systematic and predictable nature of variability is context-dependent., The UDL approach encourages the use of systematic curriculum planning to remove the unexpected difficulties that can be imposed on the students by considering the individual differences in abilities and skills; hence, resulting in academic disengagement. Similar to Biggs’ (2003) and Biggs and Tang (2007)’s stance, the actual problem is not with the student, instead with the teaching methods or inappropriate ways of assessment that sometimes are not aligned with the aims of variability anticipation in the classroom; thus, showing learners that they cannot attain the learning goals. UDL also believes that the curriculum can have some problems, i.e., unclear learning goals, poor teaching strategies, absence or inaccessibility of the learning materials, and unauthentic assessments, and this is far from the learners hindering themselves to become expert learners.
Accentuating the concept of the expert learner in UDL, Meyer et al. (2014), believe that expertise is a destination, which entails mastery of the content knowledge and skills, but a process of becoming more proficient on a continuum of development (p. 15). Furthermore, the process of expert learning is not limited to the students; instead, it extends to facilitate teachers to be expert learners and thus, leading to the establishment of an expert learning system. When the teacher becomes an expert learner, students can easily attain the desired learning outcomes since the teacher know what it takes for them to achieve them. The expert learners are strategic, resourceful and motivated; this insight is facilitated by the identification of three brain networks in the diverse learners (a) the affective network accounts for the feelings and emotions that enable learning attitude and strives to answer the “why” of learning; (b) the recognition network that identify and categorize the information and seeks to answer the “what” of learning; and (c) the strategic system deals with the planning, metacognition, monitoring, and mental-motor coordination and accounts for “how” of learning. Neuroscience research shows individual differences in brain networks in terms of learners’ ‘strengths, areas of need, and preferences-affecting the way they learn, engage, and respond’ (Meyer et al., 2014; Winter, 2016, p. 22).
Across these brain networks, UDL provides a lens of three guidelines, i.e., multiple means of (engagement, representation, and expression), nine principles i.e., options for (self-regulation, sustaining efforts, recruiting interest, comprehension, language, and symbols, perception, executive functions, expression, and physical actions), and thirty-one checkpoints to address learners’ variability and barriers to learning in the curriculum and the teaching components (see Figure 1) (CAST, 2018; Meyer et al., 2014; Winter, 2016). Recent research indicates the application of the UDL principles, guidelines, and checkpoints in general, special and inclusive classrooms settings in K-12 and higher education, relate to the improved academic skills, retention, academic engagement, social skills, motivation and collaboration among the students (Lieber, Horn, Palmer, & Fleming, 2008; Parker et al., 2008). UDL addresses within-individual variability, i.e., learning styles and preferences (Dolan et al., 2005) and between individual variability, i.e., language and cultural diversity (Black et al., 2015; Rao, 2015). However, the concepts of learner variability and addressing barriers to learning are yet to be explored in the UDL literature by documenting the perspectives of teachers in their daily practices in general classroom settings.
Anticipation: Anticipation can be defined as planning that clearly predicts, identifies and documents the possible variance in the learners and barriers that can get along with teaching and learning in the contemporary classrooms.
Accommodations: Providing variations in a standard course, location, test preparation, response time, expectations, scheduling, and learning materials to provide maximum access to the standard curriculum to the students with special learning needs (Alharbi, 2018).
Assistive technology (AT): AT can be defined as an item, equipment, product, system(s) acquired commercially or modified or customized that can be used to increase, maintain, or improve functional skills of the learners (Edyburn, 2004).
Barriers to learning: Factors that are considered problematic in learning, motivation, academic achievement, and classroom teaching practices (Adelman & Taylor, 1997).
Constructive Alignment in Teaching System (CATS): According to Biggs (2003) and Biggs and Tang (2007), learning increases when the teaching strategies are in line with students’ learning needs. Therefore, emphasizing the precise alignment of all teaching components (intended learning outcome, instructions, and assessments) is critical to receiving optimized learning outcomes in the classroom setting of diverse learners. One thing with CATS is that it can be used to give credits to the students; therefore, there is a need for applying it appropriately.
Co-teaching: A collaborative teaching model of service delivery where general education teachers share accountability and responsibility for teaching a group of students alongside the special education teachers (Alsalem, 2015).
Curricula: Teaching goals and lesson planning, intended learning outcomes, teaching methods and instructions, instructional material, and assessment are collectively considered as teaching components/curricula/lesson components (Biggs, 2003; Felder, 2005; Meyer et al., 2014; Rao & Meo, 2016; Winter, 2016).
Curricular infirmity: These are construct-irrelevant barriers to learning that are environmentally imposed (i.e., unclear learning goals, poor teaching strategies, absence or inaccessibility of the learning materials, and unauthentic assessments) that hinder the learning process (Dolan et al., 2005; Meyer & Rose, 2014).
Differentiated Instructions (DI): DI is a research-based responsive approach to instructions that enables teachers to ensure meaningful curriculum access to all students according to their interests, learning profiles, preferences, and readiness (Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006).
Disability: Disability can be “physical, cognitive, intellectual…developmental, or some combination of these that result in restrictions on an individual’s ability to participate in what is considered “normal” in their everyday society. A disability may be present from birth or occur during a person’s life. The term ‘disabilities’ is used as an umbrella term to cover impairments, activity limitations, and participation” and considered as an expression of individual differences (Al-Assaf, 2007, p.30).
Diversity: “People’s differences based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture, religion, mental and physical ability, class, and immigration status” (UNESCO, 2017, p. 1).
Equity: “Ensuring that there is a concern with fairness, such that the education of all learners is seen as being of equal importance” (UNESCO, 2017, p. 1).
Evidence-Based Practices (EBPs): “Refers to any interventions, teaching programs, instructional strategies, or implementations that provide consistent positive results in an experimental environment” (Alsalem, 2015).
Inclusion: “A process that helps to overcome barriers limiting the presence, participation, and achievement of learners” (UNESCO, 2017, p. 1).
Inclusive education: A philosophy and a vision of recognizing variability and addressing barriers to learning by adopting teaching practices that are core components of inclusive education to ensure meaningful participation and success for all, regardless of disability, exceptionality, and marginalization.
Inclusive practices: “An approach to teaching that recognizes the diversity of students, enabling all students to access course content, fully participate in learning activities, and demonstrate their knowledge and strengths at assessment” (Al-Assaf, 2007, p.31).
Individualized Education Plan (IEP): “Written plan/program with input from the parents that specifies the student’s academic goals and the methods to obtain these goals” (UNESCO, 2017, p. 1).
Individual Student Support Plan (ISSP): ISSP is based on the behavioral support plan that employs behavioral intervention to address the targeted behaviors of the student.
Instructional design: It is designing teaching content in multiple ways to support learning differences, including but not limited to technology.
Integration: “Learners labeled as having ‘special educational needs’ are placed in a mainstream education setting with some adaptations and resources, but on condition that they can fit in with preexisting structures, attitudes, and the unaltered environment” (UNESCO, 2017, p. 1).
Intentional alignment: The present research defines intentional alignment as mindful and proactive planning of the teaching components (learning goals, teaching methods, use of the learning material, and assessment procedure), in which the lesson plan anticipates and predicts variability and barrier issues, and the teaching components assure that they are in line with the core components of inclusive practices, including but not limited to the UDL guidelines and the state standards.
Learner variability: Meyers and colleagues (2014) define learner variability as “the dynamic and ever-changing mix of strengths and challenges that makes up each learner” [and] “every learner approaches tasks with his or her own set of strategies” (p. 2, 17).
Least Restrictive Environment: Learning environment where students with disabilities have opportunities to get an education with their typically developing peers to the greatest extent possible (Al-Assaf, 2007).
Mainstreaming: “This involves educating students with learning challenges in regular classes during specific periods based on their skills” (UNESCO, 2017, p. 1).
Modifications: Simplifying learning content, providing additional instructional support, designing alternatively, and adapting learning materials to ensure maximum opportunities to access learning content (Lieber, 2008).
Scaffolded instructions: An instructional technique in which teachers provide support for students learning new skills by systematically building on their experiences and knowledge until they can apply the new skills independently (IRIS, 2017).
Teaching components: These include teaching goals and lesson planning, intended learning outcomes, teaching methods and instructions, instructional material, and assessment (Biggs, 2003; Felder, 2005; Meyer et al., 2014; Rao & Meo, 2016; Winter, 2016).
Universal Design for Learning: UDL is a learning approach that recognizes learning differences within and between students in terms of learner variability; and describes ways through which barriers to learning can be eliminated by adopting multiple and flexible means of presenting learning content, acquiring, and expressing knowledge in the diverse classrooms regardless of disabilities (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014; Rose & Meyer, 2002).
In sum, the international education communities prioritize the need for inclusive education beyond the physical placement to provide cognitive and social-emotional access to the learning, regardless of differences and disabilities. Given the recent trends of inclusive education around the globe, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is restructuring the educational system to meet the requirements of students with and without disabilities in the country. The educational reforms and restructuring processes require additional research to investigate the potential of introducing and promoting inclusive education in different parts of the country. Adhering to the Universal Design for learning as an inclusive education perspective and Constructive Alignment theory, the current research explores and documents the recent practices of the private international schools in the Kingdom. There are several ways in which the UD and Constructive Alignment Theory impact the learning system in the kingdom. This research provides general education teachers’ beliefs and understanding about the core inclusive education components, i.e., learner variability and barriers to learning by investigating how teachers address these issues in their daily practices. These objectives are achieved by examining teachers’ thought processes and daily teaching practices in anticipating and intentionally aligning the teaching components in addressing variability and barrier issues in the classroom.
Chapter 2 provides a detailed description of the relevant literature. It is, then, followed by Chapter 3 that highlights the description of the methodological approaches and the procedures adopted to investigate the study topics and to make interpretations. Chapter 4 provides detailed information on the research findings independently for each case unit of the study, and the research ends with Chapter 5, that provides an in-depth discussion on research findings and implications.
This chapter summarizes and analyzes the existing literature on the inclusive education that was collected from a wide range of studies conducted internationally, including in the KSA. The chapter is divided into three sections. The first section provides an overview of the existing research on the benefits of inclusive education, teachers’ beliefs and attitudes towards inclusive practices, and teachers’ preparation and professional development programs. It explains different instances where the application of inclusive education was successful, despite having students with disabilities in the classroom. The second section provides an overview of the research base that informs the core components of inclusive education practices in the classroom. This section speaks about what is needed for the implementation of inclusive education to be effective in the general classroom. The last part provides the conceptual framework of the study that lays the foundations of the present research considering the reviewed literature, gaps in the literature, personal assumptions, and the theoretical frameworks.
Benefits of Inclusive Education. Researchers in inclusive education highlighted general and specific advantages of the inclusive practices for students with mild to moderate and severe types of disabilities (Alqahtani, 2017; Alquraini & Gut, 2012; Lieber et al., 2008; Rea, McLaughlin, & Walther-Thomas, 2002). Others specify the benefits of inclusive education, regardless of disability (Black et al., 2015; Dymond et al., 2006; Hall et al., 2015). Primarily, cognitive and social developments, in terms of social interaction and academic performance, have been the main advantages that the SWD can benefit from in inclusive education.
The current concept of inclusive education is expanded to incorporate students with diverse physical and cognitive learning needs, and multicultural and linguistic backgrounds. Inclusion not only provides an opportunity and early training to the typically developing students to comprehend their peers with special needs and reduce their negative perceptions about them but also prepares all students to merge in the diverse society in the later years of their life with openness and acceptance, regardless of disabilities or differences. It enables the teachers to gain skills that can assist them in handling both students with and without disabilities in their classrooms. Doyle and Giangreco (2013) reported that inclusive education helps to minimize the stigma associated with receiving special education services. Shogren et al. (2015) noted that inclusive education provides a learning environment where the sense of belonging is developed among diverse learners. This sense of belonging is associated with improving the feelings of self-worth of the SWD and the feelings that they are not being excluded and are an integral part of the community (Wormeli, 2007).
Literature indicates that UDL appeared to positively impact interpersonal relationships and academic engagement in learning in inclusive classrooms. Dymond et al. (2006) noted that after restructuring the curriculum based on the UDL framework for inclusive practices, the SWD in the classes improved, in terms of their social skills and interpersonal relationships. Students without disabilities, on the other hand, depicted personal responsibilities and improved academic scores. The results of Dymond et al. (2006) are in line with the previous studies in inclusive settings, for example, Cole and Meyer (1991) identified the progress of students with severe developmental disabilities in the inclusive classrooms on a measure of social competence compared to the peers in segregated classroom settings. Feelings of belonging, improved self-worth, and positive interpersonal relationships and education serve as precursors and collectively facilitate students’ motivation and engagement to learning. Similarly, Katz (2013) implemented the Three-Block Model of UDL in an inclusive Canadian school with students with 60 languages and mild to moderate disabilities. She found significantly high engaged behavior in learning tasks among the treatment groups. The Three-Block Model of UDL in Katz’s study was based on the core inclusive practices and the UDL principles.
Communication skills are considered vital in establishing social and academic skills for learners, regardless of disabilities. However, studies indicate that students with profound disabilities develop better communication skills via interaction with typically developing peers, compared to placing them in self-contained classrooms (Foreman, Arthur-Kelly, Pascoe, & King, 2004). Research indicates that inclusive classrooms increase expectations for both the teachers and the students, in addition to improving motivation in the learning tasks (Alqahtani, 2017). Additionally, the academic achievements of the SWD increase with their interactions with typically developing peers in inclusive classrooms (Cole, Waldron, & Majd, 2004). Such an improvement has been achieved because parents and communities are supporting the rights of children in a way that they are allowed to grow, develop, and learn in their early years. Cole and colleagues identified that the math and reading achievement test scores of the SWD in general classroom settings were higher than that of the SWD in the special classrooms.
Besides reporting the benefits for the students with and without disabilities, inclusive education literature values diversity and variability in the classrooms (UNESCO, 2017). It is through this that the contributions of each student and parents can be incorporated in learning. However, to attain the goals of meeting the needs of the increasingly diverse student population in inclusive classrooms, it is crucial to know the teachers’ perspectives and attitudes about inclusive education.
Teachers’ Beliefs and Attitudes toward Inclusive Practices. A growing body of international research in inclusive education indicates that teachers’ positive beliefs and attitudes towards inclusion are vital in governing the success of an inclusive model of education (Adhabi, 2018; Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; McGhie-Richmond et al., 2013). Beliefs and attitudes about inclusion vary between general and special education teachers (McGhie-Richmond et al., 2013), because of some factors associated with teachers’ experiences with the SWD and lack of resources. The variations have caused several people to be confused since they do not know whether it is appropriate or inappropriate to use inclusive learning in the general classroom. Special education teachers, for instance, due to specialized training and exposure with the SWD, emphasize positive perspectives about the abilities of children with special needs, thus show more positive attitudes towards inclusion than general education teachers (Alqahtani, 2017; Woolfson, Grant, & Campbell, 2007). The general education teachers’ negative beliefs and attitudes towards inclusive practices exist due to several reasons, such as classroom distractions caused by the presence of students with different types of disabilities and teachers having less effective classroom management techniques (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; Kilinc, 2018). Besides, the study of Tiwari, Das, and Sharma (2015) shows that the general education teachers in inclusive classrooms do not consider the SWD their responsibility; hence, depending more on the special education teacher, in terms of students’ academic support and behavior management.
Furthermore, general education teachers complain about additional training, extending instructions preparation time, and the provision of resources (Katz, 2015). It indicates that resistance of teachers to inclusion is among the challenging aspects associated with the implementation of the inclusive policy. Typically, literature reporting teachers’ beliefs and attitudes show a positive attitude towards integration with no evidence of full support nor ‘zero-reject approach’ (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002, p. 129).
In their review on the international literature on teachers’ attitudes towards integration and inclusion, Avramidis and Norwich (2002) came up with a range of research indicating teacher-related, student-related (needs, type, and severity level of the disability), and school system-related (resources and physical support) factors that impact teachers’ beliefs and attitudes. Specifically, teacher-related variables included inconsistent evidence of gender differences towards inclusive views, supportive attitudes of young teachers towards integration, and positive attitudes of high school teachers towards integration compared to the elementary teachers. American studies included in the review; however, revealed converse findings; elementary teachers reported positive attitudes, unlike their secondary counterparts. Worldwide variations in the adoption of the inclusive education model, its definition, and ways of model implementation, and differences in the teachers’ preparation programs, provision of the resources, and social support might account for such variations. McGhie-Richmond et al. (2013), for instance, found that despite a reputation of a Canadian school district in inclusive practices, not all teachers expressed positive attitudes towards inclusion, and both elementary and secondary teachers reported negative attitudes with complaints of insufficient resources and difficulties in classroom management. Similarly, the work of Fuchs (2010) identified some problems general education teachers encounter in inclusive classrooms, i.e., unable to meet the demands and expectations, insufficient training during their teacher preparation programs on inclusive education, and inadequate support provided by the school district. Also, some teachers negative outlook and attitudes towards inclusive education and students with disabilities.
Despite variations in the adoption of the inclusive education model, there are socio-cultural differences among teachers’ belief systems in shaping their practices about inclusive education. Some teachers come from cultures that consider students with disabilities to be outcasts. As a result, a teacher who did not go through special training cannot adequately handle such students. To examine teachers’ conceptualization and experiences of inclusive education for the SWD in Turkey, Kilinc (2018) identified the injustices based on the misdistribution of learning opportunities for the SWD in general education classrooms. Kilinc accentuated that the teachers’ expectations regarding being ‘able to fit’ and predetermined ideology about being ‘normal or average’ are grounded in teachers’ belief systems that are associated with their decisions for the inclusion and exclusion of the students in the general education classrooms (p. 15). Similarly, Tiwari et al. (2015) reported that the socio-cultural ideologies about the SWD and systematic institutional barriers limit inclusive education only at the theoretical level and deprive teachers to implement inclusive practices in their classrooms despite having policies to promote and implement inclusive education systems in India. They purported that the more favorable attitudes towards disability traits and learning outcomes lead to higher perceived control regarding the implementation of inclusive education that eventually guides teachers’ intentions to perform inclusive practices in the classroom—these were found lacking in their study, and the teachers were found overall dissatisfied with their existing inclusive education practices.
In the Saudi Arabian context, most of the studies investigating teachers’ beliefs and attitudes about inclusive education are in line with the international literature discussed above. The study of Alquraini (2012) examined teachers’ perspectives on the inclusion of students with intellectual disabilities (ID). The quantitative analysis of the study indicated that teachers showed slightly negative attitudes regarding the inclusion of students with ID. Additionally, the teaching position, previous teaching experience with students with any disability, and gender were significant factors impacting teachers’ perceptions towards inclusive education. The experience in teaching students with disabilities determines how effective a teacher will implement inclusive education in the general classroom.
Stemming from the work of Alsalem (2015), there is a line of research investigating the implementation, use, and efficacy of the UDL for general and special education teachers in Saudi Arabia (i.e., Al-Assaf, 2017; Alquraini & Rao, 2018a). Al-Assaf (2017) measured teachers’ beliefs in the use of UDL in general and special education classroom, the significance of inclusive practices, and teachers’ attitude and expectation towards students’ learning and engagement in the pilot schools (teachers with inclusive education and UDL training) and public schools (teachers without training) in Riyadh. The quantitative analysis showed that the groups of general and special education teachers with comprehensive education training showed favorable attitudes towards the implementation of inclusive education. Such teachers understand how to incorporate students with disabilities in their classrooms. However, the younger teachers showed more positive attitudes towards inclusion; this can be because of the integration of the inclusive training programs that they went through. Conversely, the quantitative analysis of Alqahtani’s (2017) study in Riyadh indicated that the older teachers had more positive attitudes about inclusive education for students with learning disabilities. The study also revealed that the teachers’ level of education (master’s degree), years of teaching experience, and gender (specifically, males) showed positive attitudes towards integration.
Adhabi (2018) investigated the perception of 402 elementary school special and general education teachers about the full inclusion of students with an autism spectrum disorder in Jazan, KSA. This quantitative study investigated four areas, i.e., the benefits of full integration, inclusive classroom management, ability to teach students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and special versus inclusive general education. Mixed perceptions of the teachers were found regarding full inclusion. The results show that general education teachers do not have sufficient training to teach students with ASD. Contrary to the previous research, Adhabi’s study does not confirm that the teachers’ age, level of education, gender, year of experience, position type, and the course they took on disability are related to teachers’ perceptions of the benefits of full inclusion.
Furthermore, they found weak relationships between the mentioned factors with teachers’ perceptions of general classroom management. Alshehri (2018) conducted another similar study in Jeddah with 314 middle and high school teachers to investigate their attitudes about including students with autism. The quantitative analysis indicated that the teachers showed a less negative attitude towards the inclusion of students with autism in general education classrooms. Also, gender and level of education did not have significance in the integration, though teachers with less than five years of teaching experience had a more positive attitude about the inclusion of students with autism. It can be due to the inclusive teaching programs offered in the most recent learning institutions.
Given the teachers’ overall reluctant beliefs and attitudes towards inclusive education, it is essential to identify research that offers a solution to the teachers’ reported challenges in inclusive classrooms. Many studies indicate that teachers working in inclusive education settings are not certified to manage classroom behavior and to engage diverse learners in academic activities (Potgieter-Groot et al., 2012). Research on in-service and pre-service teacher training, professional development programs, and administrative support that significantly improve teachers’ curriculum planning, lesson delivery, and the classroom management skills within inclusive education is reviewed in the next section.
Teachers’ Preparation and UDL-based Professional Development Programs. The vision of improving and restructuring the inclusive education has expanded over the last decade. The worldwide push towards inclusive education to address students’ diverse learning needs places a high value on the redesigned competencies-based teachers’ training programs (Alquraini & Rao, 2018b). The Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) is the largest international professional organization for teachers specializing in disabilities and marginalized and exceptional needs of learners. The CEC programs emphasize standards in the preparation of special education professionals and specifically underscores “foundations, development and characteristics of learners, individual learning differences, instructional strategies, learning environments and social interactions, language, instructional planning, assessment, professional and ethical practices, and collaboration” (Alquraini & Rao, 2018b, p. 111; Children, 2009). The work of Alquraini and Rao (2017) on investigating the competencies in teachers’ preparation programs in 30 Saudi Arabian colleges and universities is a step towards adopting an inclusive approach in education. They investigated four observable behavioral capabilities, along with 27 different knowledge and skills, adapted from the CEC (2008) that are currently in practice at KSA teachers’ preparation programs. They found that the new programs in the Kingdom are offering updated courses compared to the programs started 15 years ago. However, faculty members with foreign qualifications perceive that the current programs need improvements in many areas, i.e., professional development, fieldwork, and practicum experience.
More recently, special educators are making efforts to promote inclusive practices by introducing and adopting the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework in the Kingdom (Al-Assaf, 2017; Alquraini & Rao, 2018a; Alsalem, 2015). Alsalem (2015) introduced UDL in the professional development training of teachers for students with hearing impairments and deafness in the city of Riyadh. He found that the teachers in the Kingdom are interested in adopting a UDL approach. However, they have insufficient resources and collaboration among the educational community. He recommended UDL-based research to be conducted in different parts of the country, professional learning communities (PLCs) to be developed, and UDL introduced to general schools in K-12. When the UDL-based research is done in different sets, its effectiveness can be attained because it becomes easier to detect how it impacts learning where students and teachers have varied perspectives about students with and without disabilities.
Alquraini and Rao (2018a) investigated special education teachers’ readiness, perceived UDL-based knowledge, and needs to implement UDL. The results are congruent with the previous research at KSA that indicates a lack of flexible resources, collaboration and planning; language barriers; and personnel shortage in the academic institutions. The authors suggested that targeted teachers’ training programs, access to the current UDL-based research, and theoretical and practical knowledge on the instructional strategies are required to improve the current status of inclusive education in the KSA.
The US Department of Education provides grants to incorporate UDL in the Teacher Quality Enhancement program for the special and general education pre-service teachers to ensure UDL-based instructional training and lesson planning (Winter, 2016). Vitelli (2015), in a quantitative inquiry conducted in the US, with 580 instructors from 58 general education teacher preparation programs in 22 states, was interested in identifying if the UDL model was practiced in the general education preservice coursework. Out of 580 survey participants, 350 indicated that they were aware of the UDL, 353 reflected basic knowledge about the UDL, and only 140 participant instructors mentioned that they taught UDL in their preservice teacher courses. Research indicates that the UDL-based preservice and in-service training enables teachers to effectively plan the curriculum according to the diverse needs of the learners in inclusive classrooms (Ammons, 2015; Winter, 2016). Courey et al. (2013), in their quantitative study, examined the effectiveness of a 3-hour UDL training session to help special education credential candidates to learn how to incorporate the UDL principles in the lesson planning by showing innovative, and novel ways of delivering contents, engaging learners and assessing the learning. Since this is a new concept to most teachers, the results indicate that the credential candidates struggled to implement activities that adequately addressed the learning objectives in real middle school mathematics classrooms—the UDL training, however, maintained over time, and teachers benefited through the UDL-based training.
Winter (2016) provided UDL-based in-service professional development training to teachers to evaluate the improvement in their lesson planning—before training, right after the training, and following up after two months. The quantitative analysis showed significant improvement in the lesson planning in pre-to-post tests. Also, the learning was sustained, and the teachers enhanced their skills to design a lesson for a wide range of students in inclusive classrooms. The study of Spooner et al. (2007) and the study of Goldthwait-Fowles (2015) indicated that one-hour UDL-based professional development with the in-service teachers led to the development of lesson plans that integrated UDL principles in pre to post-test scores. However, Goldthwait-Fowles identified that a transfer of learning occurred to show gain differences in the scores from the pretest and intervention condition; this component was not identified by Spooner and colleagues (2007).
Spooner et al. (2007) noted that the UDL principles not only rely on the use of technology but also special and general education teachers to replace traditional instructions with alternative and innovative teaching techniques that adhere to the UDL guidelines. Using the UDL guidelines and special education teachers, students with disabilities can be embraced into the general education classroom. Smith Canter, King, Williams, Metcalf, and Myrick Potts (2017) investigated a professional development program’s effect on general and special education teachers’ perceptions, conceptualization, and implementation of UDL principles in elementary to high school inclusive classrooms. The participants reported that the intervention of the professional development program provided familiarity with the UDL, sufficient training, and increased understanding in implementing the UDL approach in teaching. Teachers, however, relied more on technology and innovative planning procedures and identified challenges that make them hard in adopting flexible, creative, and new ways of designing lessons. These challenges include limited time, lack of workdays, larger caseloads, and high demands and expectations from the general classroom teachers. Another study conducted by Anstead (2016), investigating teachers’ perceptions of barriers to UDL, reported that the PLCs provide a platform to develop, share, exchange, and facilitate innovative course planning. They stated that the UDL- based professional development that occurs during PLCs gives teachers sufficient time to think, reflect on the shared ideas, and collaborate to replace the traditional ways of teaching and learning to meet the diverse learning needs in inclusive classrooms. Avramidis and Norwich (2002) concluded in their review that initially, teachers depicted resistance to any innovative policy regarding inclusion, but collectively exhibited a positive change in their perspectives following the training sessions.
In sum, the reviewed literature in this section identifies the advantages of inclusive education for students with diverse learning needs included, but not limited to the SWD. The review also recognized the commonly reported factors that either positively or negatively contribute to teachers’ beliefs, perspectives, and attitudes towards inclusive education. The common factors are student-related (disability type and severity) and teachers-related (grade level, background experience with SWD, socio-cultural factor, level of qualification, age, and years of teaching). The review of Saudi Arabian studies identifies explicitly a gap in theoretical discussions about teachers’ formulation of a belief system that is grounded in their conceptual understanding about disabilities and inclusive education, and significantly influenced by the unique cultural and traditional education system of the country. Such theoretical discussions should be initiated with the recent adoption of advanced policies and initiatives taken in the Kingdom within the framework of inclusion. These initiatives include teachers’ professional development, in-service and pre-service teachers training programs, collaborative teaching, and introducing assistive technology to facilitate inclusive education in the Kingdom (Alquraini & Rao, 2018a; Alquraini & Rao, 2018b; Alsalem, 2015). The following section sheds light on the identification and discussion of the foundational components underlying inclusive education.
Over the years, efforts have been made to identify the components that make the educational, personal, and social life of the students and that are considered critical and require attention to achieve the maximum benefits from the inclusive education system. In this regard, the main emphasis has been given to the SWD within inclusive education research. Alquraini and Gut (2012), for instance, identified an array of components after reviewing 72 studies conducted within the US between the years (2000-2010). These components are grouped as accommodations (modifications and curriculum adaptation), instructional strategies (cooperative learning, inquiry learning, UDL, response prompting, embedded instruction), assistive technology (augmentative and alternative communication, switches, alternative keyboards, touch screens), pre-service/in-service professional developments (teachers’ training and PLCs), collaborations (professional, para-educators, and administrative support), and support groups (family and typically developing peers). UDL advocates, however, believe that the benefits of the core components are not limited to the SWD, but they can be extended to other students with diverse needs. The effectiveness of the core components exists in the way teachers understand and implement them. Recognizing variability in the classroom and identifying and addressing barriers are considered fundamental to the core components of inclusive education in the UDL stance. Concerning the UDL framework, the following discussion highlights studies of the following core components: recognizing learners’ variability, removing barriers to learning, learning environment, and the teaching components.
Recognizing Learners Variability. Historically, researchers have been interested in identifying and addressing individual differences and learning styles of students to optimize their learning experiences. Learning styles refer to ways in which an individual “concentrates on processes, internalizes, and remembers difficult academic information or skills” (Shaughnessy, 1998; p. 141). Although emerging from the various disciplines of learning sciences, learning style research, however, has deep roots in the constructs of psychology literature, i.e., personality and individualistic traits. Commonly, learning style researchers use various terminologies to refer to the learning style concept, such as learning strategies (Riding & Sadler‐Smith, 1997), cognitive styles (Cuthbert, 2005; Sadler-Smith, 2001), and learning preferences (Loo*, 2004; Sadler‐Smith, 1997), emphasizing on a range of personal differences (Keefe, 1979; Perry, 1985), and contextual differences (Lee, Williams, & Kilaberia, 2012; Pritchard, 2013) in the discussion of the variations in the ways students approach learning (Cassidy*, 2004; Felder & Brent, 2005) and how they have been acquiring information.
There exist conceptual variations among researchers in using the terms. These variations are (a) due to the loose distinctions between the terms, i.e., learning styles, differences, strategies, preferences, and cognitive techniques (b) due to the wide variations in the scale and the scope of learning (Curry, 1990). The fact that some people cannot appropriately distinguish the terms, they can be used in the wrong context; hence, bring about false interpretation. The interchangeable use of various terminologies sometimes appears with overlapping concepts and sometimes with distinct definitions in the learning style literature (Cassidy*, 2004). For example, Keefe (1979) defines learning styles as “characteristics, cognitive, affective and psychological behaviors that serve as relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment” (Felder & Brent, 2005, p. 58). The term individual differences also referred to the “relatively stable characteristics of a person, such as academic ability, special talents or disabilities, or the more esoteric dispositions called learning style” (Perry, 1985, p. 1), whereas Pritchard (2013) defines learning preferences as “the conditions, encompassing environmental, emotional, sociological and physical, that an individual learner chooses if [he/she is] in a position to choose” (p. 42). The origins of cognitive styles share the same roots with those of individual differences and learning techniques research in the field of psychology. However, Riding (1997) and Saddler-Smith (2001) referred to cognitive styles as inbuilt “ways of gathering, processing, and storing information and experiences.” They are a fusion of particular methods of thinking and personality that is acquired at a young age and considered as pervasive and fixed (Cuthbert, 2005, p. 236).
The concepts of individual differences and learning styles appear controversial in the teaching and learning literature and are not universally accepted (Curry, 1990; Felder & Brent, 2005) because they encourage positivistic and individualistic perspectives of researchers on learning (Cuthbert, 2005). Ridding (1997) warned about the possibility of confusing the term styles with the term ability and suggested not to consider learning techniques as “fixed” traits and isolated from the context because it is “habitual” and influenced by the background of the individuals (Cuthbert, 2005, p.236). The learning style ought to be defined appropriately for its purpose to be attained. Furthermore, Reynolds (1997) criticized learning style research by citing that it encourages labeling, stereotyping, and ignores individuals’ historical and learning context: thus, promoting the idea of decontextualization. Decontextualization helps teachers in omitting details in their teaching that they feel are less significant to make it possible for the learner to comprehend particular ideas and concepts. Sadler-Smith (2001) further extended this debate rejecting the notion of de-contextualization by pointing out related terminologies as mutually exclusive that causes misunderstanding at the conceptual level for practitioners.
The definitions mentioned above, among several others, show discrepancies in featuring personal learning predispositions and environmental interaction in the learning experience. Some researchers argued on commonalities and differences among various associated concepts related to learning styles about the construct validity threats to learning style assessment tools (see Sadler-Smith, 2001), while others discussed the distinctions and similarities between the learning styles constructs and the learning style approaches (Cuthbert, 2005). The main focus, however, remained on the different approaches to learning and related measuring instruments with a little emphasis on the teachers’ understanding of these concepts in the classroom practices. These conceptual variations can misguide teachers; they should have a clear understanding of the related topics/terminologies mentioned above to prepare and provide appropriate instructions to the students (Pritchard, 2013). Research indicates that focusing on the specific learning styles of the students and in return, adopting a particular teaching approach produces successful results in some students but causes disengagement in others (Curry, 1990; Pritchard, 2013). Therefore, the researchers suggested frugal ways of addressing this problem via adopting flexible approaches to instruction by focusing on the dynamic characteristics of the learners (Curry, 1990; Meyer et al., 2014) because, in the classroom, students have varied learning styles.
Traditionally, learning style and individual differences research focused on the categorization of learners into groupings depending on predispositions, strengths, disabilities, and preferences. Such classifications triggered research on learning styles to increase student success in classrooms by providing instructions that matched with their learning styles, and that promoted standardized personality testing (Curry, 1990; Meyer et al., 2014; Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2008). Reynolds (1997) pointed out flaws in the learning style categorization theory that placed and confined individuals with dynamic characteristics in distinct groupings: “those who fit the model and those who deviate from them need remedial action” (Cuthbert, 2005, p. 242). The term “model” in Cuthbert’s perspective refers to the standards of normality that enable individuals to be placed in the group of “normal”; otherwise, grouping among those who are deviating the model is considered as deficient. Further, research indicates that the categorization oversimplifies learner differences and fails to accurately represent the diversity of today’s classrooms (Meo, 2008, p. 21). Classification can be unkind in addition to damaging the morale of students to attain the intended learning goals. Nevertheless, others believe that the categorization partially addressed variability issues in classrooms by providing targeted support and treating learners as individual cases (i.e., relying only on the Individualized Education Practices) (Meyer et al., 2014), and shows a need for identifying holistic ways of addressing variability issues for all learners.
With the advancement of brain research, identification of the brain networks, multiple intelligence theory (Gardner, 2000), and growth mindset approach (Dweck, 2015), differentiation (Tomlinson, 2000) and the UDL framework (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014; Rose & Meyer, 2002), the terms “learners variability” and “student variance” have gained popularity in research (i.e., Venkatesh, 2015). These paradigms agree on the malleability of individual learning traits and consider learning behavior as a product of the interaction of environmental agents with distinctive traits. Contrary to the traditional stance to learning style research, UDL researchers believe that every learner is unique because they have different background knowledge, sets of expertise, languages and cultures, preferences, and choices in the process of learning (see table 1 for more comparisons) (Black et al., 2015).
Comparison between the Traditional Literature on Learning Differences and UDL-Based Research
|Traditional literature||UDL/Non-traditional literature|
|Concepts and terminologies
|Frequent conceptual variations among varied terminologies and definitions, i.e., learning styles, learning strategies, cognitive styles, learning preferences, individual differences.||Consistent use of the terminology “learner variability/student variance” that encompasses individual and personal traits of learning differences, ethnic and cultural diversity, linguistic variations, learning/cognitive styles, and disabilities.
|Nature of the traits||Fixed, static.||Malleable, dynamic.|
|Learner disposition||Categorical labeling and distinct grouping of individuals.||Systematic, predictable and context-dependent.|
|Instructional approaches||The targeted group of individuals, targeted skills, targeted support.||Universally designed approach for all regardless of individual strengths and weaknesses.|
|Addressing learning differences
|Partial solutions.||Maximized solutions.|
|Academic implications||Elementary to high school — mainly Post-secondary focused.||K-12 and higher education.
|Related research||Learning style, assessment tools, approaches to learning.||Inclusive education, instructional planning, digital learning environment, UDL implementation, teachers training, and professional development programs.
The concepts of learner variability and student variance share common theoretical and conceptual grounds in the UDL framework and DI, respectively. Meyer and colleagues (2014) believe that the “individual varies over time and responses across individuals to the same environment also varies” (p. 45). How students respond to their learning environment is not the same. They define learner’s variability as “the dynamic and ever-changing mix of strengths and challenges that makes up each learner” (p. 2, 17). Thus, UDL research addresses the needs of a range of learners through the use of guidelines and principles (Ellen Mcguire-Schwartz & Arndt, 2007; Meyer et al., 2014) and shows promising results in promoting motivated, resourceful, and goal-directed learners. The concept of student variance in the differentiated instruction framework relates to the UDL concept of variability in terms of the temporal, experiential, and contextual components (Tomlinson, 2000). UDL researchers, however, use the term learner variability to incorporate individual and personal attributes of the students, and multiple ways of accessing, processing, and internalizing information (Rao & Meo, 2016). Representing the non-traditional educational framework, Tomlinson (2006) grouped diverse factors of student variance across categories of biological characteristics, the degree of privilege, positioning for learning, and preferences. The list provides a comprehensive overview of learner variability/student variance with some suggestions on how to use individual differences as students’ learning strengths in the classroom. Thus, the list extends and complements the concept of learner variability in the teaching practice.
The term learner variability is associated with inclusive education and inclusive teaching practices. Therefore, besides encompassing the traditional concepts of differences and styles, the scope of the term learner variability is now expanding with the global variations in the definitions of the inclusive education to serve students with vast differences (Salend & Whittaker, 2017) and diversity on cultural, linguistic, (Bennett, 2001; Chamberlain, 2005; Herzig, 2005; Modiba & Van Rensburg, 2009; Rao, 2015) and religious grounds (Kunzman, 2006). Thus, UDL researchers consider a broad spectrum of student variations, including but not limited to disabilities, marginalization, exceptionality, multi-ethnicity, linguistic diversity, learning preferences, age and grade level, and the level of content understanding (see Table 2). Through incorporating a wide range of individual differences (personal traits) and environmental differences (cultural and linguistic variations), the UDL research endorses a developmentally appropriate set of practices applied in various settings to serve the needs of a diverse group of learning individual in general, inclusive and special education classrooms. Given the variations in defining inclusive education throughout the literature due to the context and interest of the researchers (Adhabi, 2018), there is a need to clarify the underlying concepts, which are linked with inclusive education. Precisely, learner variability, to avoid confusion for educational practitioners and to broaden the scope of teaching practices to the wide variety of learners in today’s diversified classrooms. Gaining deep insight into the underlying concepts in inclusive education is one of the primary goals of the present research adhering to the UDL paradigm—because no study has precisely identified teachers’ perspectives on learner variability in UDL and inclusive education research. Recognizing variability is an essential component in the inclusive classrooms, particularly for teachers to make decisions in restructuring and redesigning curriculum and in the lesson planning for diverse learners with different levels of strengths, through anticipating differences, as Rao and Meo (2016) state that, “UDL-based lesson development does not compel the teacher to develop unique paths for each student’s needs. Because learner variability is both systematic and predictable, teachers can reasonably predict some of how their students will vary and include flexible options that will support a range of learners in any given class” (p. 1).
In conclusion, UDL researchers believe that recognizing variability is particularly important for teachers in inclusive classrooms when it comes to predicting strengths and learning trends. Predicting variability is related explicitly to teachers’ proactive planning of classroom instruction to obtain an inclusive learning environment in which students will benefit regardless of whether they have disabilities or not. Proactive planning, according to the needs of diverse learners, is then related to the teachers’ understanding of these concepts since their beliefs, and predetermined perspectives shape their practices. Thus, the current research intends to identify these relationships and to unveil the thinking patterns and attitudes of teachers in general education classrooms. Further discussion on these topics is carried out in the conceptual framework of this study. The next section provides information on identification and planning to remove barriers to learning, which is a core component of inclusive education.
Recognizing Barriers to Learning. Contrary to the discussion of learner variability, ‘barriers to learning’ is another term used in the context of identifying and addressing factors that are problematic in learning, motivation, academic achievement, and classroom teaching practices (Adelman & Taylor, 1997; Fielding, 1999; Pritchard, 2013). These are factors that prevent active learning in classrooms. Traditionally, in the teaching and learning literature, there are three perspectives of barriers to learning: (a) environment-oriented that focuses on external factors (racial community, family conflicts, economic conditions or lack of family support, poorly structured school programs, and high-risk peer influence); (b) person-oriented internal factors (individual differences; vulnerability; disabilities; learning deficiencies and internal weakness) (Montgomery, 2006; Nelson & Soli, 2000); and (c) transactional view that emphasizes on the “reciprocal interplay of the environment and individual” (Adelman & Taylor, 1997, p. 8). Specifically, person-oriented research that emphasizes on the student-related components show learning and individual differences as barriers within the classroom context and deals with them through labeling and grouping of learners based on their learning needs and assessment reports (i.e., students with special needs or gifted learners) (Fielding, 1999; Pritchard, 2013). Through this, teachers can quickly identify students based on their needs. UDL researchers, however, consider learner variability as a strength, “not a liability within and between individuals” (Meyer et al., 2014, p. 45) and since they know and understand the individual needs of the students, they suggest multiple ways to address variability that is otherwise considered as a barrier to learning in general and inclusive classrooms.
Barriers experienced by students with disabilities are frequently reported in the literature from elementary through higher education (Black et al., 2015; Dolan et al., 2005; Hall et al., 2015). Within an inclusive classroom context, a discussion on barriers to learning is usually associated with the terms “special needs and disabilities.” Traditionally, the medical model of disability defines the person as inheriting the problems and challenges, while the social model of disability defines how a person’s experience of disability is shaped by the surroundings and context (Towle, 2015). For the educators to appropriately identify special needs and disabilities of students, the medical model must be consulted in the “person-oriented” barrier research (Fielding, 1999; Pritchard, 2013; Adelman & Tylor, 1994). Based on the person-oriented approach, “student-related” barriers can be classified as (a) physical barriers (physical impairment, sensory and motor deficiencies including a wide range of disabilities) (Black et al., 2015; Dolan et al., 2005; Fuller*, Healey, Bradley, & Hall, 2004; Nelson & Soli, 2000; Pritchard, 2013), (b) cognitive barriers (information integration and memory output related deficiencies, i.e., learning and developmental disabilities) (Montgomery, 2006; Pritchard, 2013), and (c) affective barriers (emotional, behavioral, attentional, organizational, engagement and motivational problems) (Fielding, 1999; Potgieter-Groot et al., 2012). In general classroom settings, however, cognitive and affective barriers are broadly are problematic and are obstacles to learning (Black et al., 2015; Kortering et al., 2008). Literature shows student-related challenges to learning are supported majorly via disability identification and provision of accommodations, along with the use of individualized, personalized, and differentiated teaching instructions appropriate to the learner’s needs (Heald, 2016; Tomlinson, 2000; Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006).
Physical inaccessibility of classrooms for students using wheelchairs got popular as barriers to learning in the late twentieth century when Ronald Mace came up with the concept of designing the universally designed (UD) buildings to provide equal access to people with diverse physical needs in 1997 (Parker et al., 2008). UDL was introduced in K-12 and higher education to eliminate physical and cognitive barriers to learning and to serve the diverse learning needs of students. UDL research shows promising results in providing physical access to learning and in addressing cognitive and affective barriers in inclusive and general classroom settings in K-12 and postsecondary education (Browder, Mims, Spooner, Ahlgrim-Delzell, & Lee, 2008; Dymond et al., 2006; Kennedy, Thomas, Meyer, Alves, & Lloyd, 2014; King-Sears et al., 2015; Lieber et al., 2008; Rao, Edelen-Smith, & Wailehua, 2015; Rao & Meo, 2016).
UDL researchers emphasize cognitive access to address cognitive barriers to learning. In their article, Meyer et al. (2014) stated that contrary to generating physical access in education that enables environmental admittance (space and equipment), cognitive access relates to the learning networks in the brain (affective, recognition, and strategic) that cause problems in comprehending information and core ideas in learning. Using multiple representation options and cognitive tools in education provide ways of creating cognitive access via various modalities to address learner variability and reducing barriers to learning. For example, using voice recognition software, as a tool of note-taking, will help a learner to focus more on critical thinking, instead of focusing attention on diverting tasks (i.e., writing, memorizing information) (Marino, 2009). In a study, Kennedy and colleagues (2014) used Content Acquisition Podcasts (CAPs) for vocabulary instruction with the high school students with and without disabilities as a cognitive access tool. Based on the results, there were significant learning differences for vocabulary and science concepts in the SWD who were instructed through CAPs. These students learned vocabulary, terms, and concepts faster, unlike the comparison group.
Through utilizing electronic devices and programs as cognitive tools, the Universally Designed Science Notebook (UDSN) was developed via a progressive refinement process using a design-based research methodology for the middle school students to have an in-depth understanding of science concepts (Rappolt-Schlichtmann et al., 2013). The UDSN significantly contributed to the improvement of science content learning outcomes, as compared to traditional paper-and-pencil science notebooks for learners with various reading and writing proficiencies and motivation levels. Similarly, the results of Hall et al. (2015) indicated that middle school students with learning disabilities gained significantly higher scores on a reading assessment, unlike their conventional counterparts after using a strategic reading tool in online condition compared to their offline condition fellows. In other words, students with learning disabilities gained more from the online digital environment compared to the regular education students exposed to the digital environment in an offline condition. However, the effectiveness of the cognitive tools on the learning outcomes is based on multiple factors, such as individual needs, type of tool, academic contents, and implementation instructions.
The studies mentioned above emphasize students’ academic achievement in various areas after cognitive barriers were identified and addressed. However, research indicates that success is related to academic engagement, reengagement, intrinsic motivation, self-regulation, and social-emotional components (Adelman & Taylor, 1997; Skinner, Kindermann, Connell, & Wellborn, 2009). Thus, these components are critical in addressing affective barriers. Duffy and Elwood (2013) identified disengaged students’ perspectives on a lack of motivation and barriers to learning within the classroom context. The thematic scheme indicates that relationships with teachers, lack of personalization, feelings of being labeled, lack of belongingness, and poor peer relationships, and teaching styles are barriers to learning. In another study, according to Potgieter-Groot et al. (2012), weak interaction between teaching strategies and learners cause emotional and behavioral barriers to learning at multiple levels within inclusive education settings. They concluded that many in-service teachers in inclusive classrooms are not trained enough to deal with the emotional and behavioral barriers. They, therefore, need specific knowledge and skills to remove barriers caused by poor teaching and lack of classroom management skills. They also need to attend inclusive teaching programs and awareness to assist in developing skills that can enable them to remove emotional and behavioral barriers.
Rappolt-Schlichtmann et al. (2013) consider academic engagement as an emotional and cognitive skill that can be attained via the application of developmentally appropriate challenges that are calibrated to the learners’ specific strengths and weaknesses. In their study, once they reduced unnecessary barriers, using embedded support through UDSN, they introduced a concept of ‘desired difficulty,’ to shape a purposeful learning design that could challenge students’ levels of expertise in related science concepts (p. 1221). This strategy appeared highly involving and engaging for the students to meet the new challenging tasks, which required them to master such tasks. Considering self-regulation, a key component of motivation in learners, Rappolt -Schlichtmann and colleagues identified four essential constructs at the elementary level, i.e., self-efficacy, interest, desire for challenge, and social behavior. These constructs can be discussed within the context of affective barriers in classrooms.
Moreover, Dymond and colleagues (2006) reported that teachers observed a powerful impact of UDL on relationships and interactions among students with disabilities (SWD) and typically developing students. SWD developed social skills, learned appropriate means for interacting with others; they wanted to communicate more with their peers and improve their interpersonal relationships. Students without disabilities learned to effectively collaborate, regardless of groupings with students with or without disabilities. Also, they grew in socialization and friendships because they were exposed to the structured opportunities that allowed them to work in teams during the class. They started developing their sense of belong in addition to improving their academic performances.
In their article, Coleman and Webber (2002) referred to Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model (2005) in viewing behavior as “disturbing rather than inherently disturbed, and the emphasis is placed not only on the child but also on the interaction with factors in the child’s ecosystem” (p. 135). Within this perspective, besides addressing physical, cognitive and affective barriers in various fields of education research, UDL theorists emphasized the concept of environmentally-generated unintended barriers or construct-irrelevant barriers to learning (Dolan et al., 2005; Meyer et al., 2014; Salend & Whittaker, 2017). Delays in providing accommodations and alternative format textbooks based on individual needs in elementary through postsecondary education are regarded as environmentally imposed unintentional barriers. These curricular infirmities add on more obstacles to learning, because retrofitting is sometimes considered to be expensive, time-consuming, and ineffective (Black et al., 2015; Meyer et al., 2014); and it needs advanced planning to get fixed during the curriculum designing phase, instead of retrofitting later on (Dolan et al., 2005; Spooner et al., 2007). Moreover, administering a traditional paper-and-pencil assessment appeared as a curricular infirmity to the students’ content knowledge (Rappolt-Schlichtmann et al., 2013). For instance, presenting long descriptive questions to students who have reading difficulties and administering a paper-pencil test to students with motor and physical challenges are examples of curricular infirmity (Dolan et al., 2005). These roadblocks reduce engagement and curiosity of learning in students and induce feelings of incompetence, discouragement, and disengagement, and as a result, it becomes impossible to attain learning goals and objectives.
In conclusion, UDL research provides promising results in addressing student-related barriers and curricular infirmities in the inclusive classrooms by applying and practicing three principles, guidelines, and checkpoints to the curriculum and teaching instructions and by suggesting various ways of presenting learning materials (i.e digital and smart technology) that provide options for self-regulation, comprehension, and sustaining effort to enhance classroom engagement, motivation and academic success. The researchers need to restructure the scope of barriers to learning with the curricular infirmities alongside addressing the student-related barriers in education in mind. The next section showcases the learning environment as another core component of inclusive practices.
Learning Environment. The concept of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is discussed frequently in the inclusive and special education literature (Alquraini & Gut, 2012). Since 1975 this concept is recognized by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (Al-Assaf, 2017). IDEA (2004) states that the SWD should be placed with typically-developing students. Also, IDEA (2004) indicated that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment should occur only when the nature or severity of the disability is in such way that education in the regular classes and use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactory (Al-Assaf, 2017, p. 38). Separation of students with disabilities should be the last option. The first part of the condition of the federal law about LRE opens the doors for the physical placement of students with diverse learning needs in the mainstream classrooms. The second part provides an option of removal to teachers, who appear to apply this condition to prevent unfavorable classroom conditions that have been raising questions on the fidelity of the inclusive practices. Towel (2015) stated that “as long as an option for alternative programs and segregated classrooms are available, school staff can place the students with disabilities into these classrooms, especially when an educator believes that the support that they are providing is inadequate (p. 39). The fact that there are insufficient supports for students with disabilities makes it difficult for them to be incorporated in the general education classroom.
Recently, the concept of a modern learning environment or the innovative learning environment (ILE) is replacing the idea of LRE (Mitchell, 2018). Considering the diverse learning needs and variability in the classrooms, ILE suggests flexibility, openness, and access to resources. The flexibility and openness components ensure that the physical structure of the classroom is different from the traditional classroom settings, where tables and chairs face the teacher who is lecturing. Instead, it should be accessible to both teachers and learners with diverse physical, cognitive, and emotional needs by using various types of sitting and learning arrangements. The openness characteristic allows learners to share their learning place with other classes, which also facilitates co-teaching practices and collaboration with educational professionals and volunteers.
Furthermore, these components provide real-time opportunities for teachers to adopt effective practices from their colleagues. By using different means of engagements for students (for technological resources) and teacher (for continuous professional development), access to resources featured in ILE ensures break-out space for a variety of learning opportunities. ILE concepts align with the UDL-based learning environment that suggests physical and cognitive access to learning to meet the needs in diverse classrooms. UNESCO’s (2017) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 4) on education also calls for the upgraded building structures of education facilities that should be child and disability sensitive in addition to providing a safe and productive learning environment.
Beyond the physical characteristics of the learning environment, the role of the teacher as facilitator and moderator minimizes the power threats in the classroom and is critical for overcoming barriers to learning and establishing caring, supportive, and safe learning environment (Adelman &Taylor, 1997; Pedersen & Liu, 2003). Further, classroom restructuring in terms of the physical placement of students and innovative lesson restructuring also serve variability and barrier issues in the inclusive classrooms (Basham, Israel, Graden, Poth, & Winston, 2010; Basham, Meyer, & Perry, 2010; Browder et al., 2008; Kortering et al., 2008). In their research, Pedersen and Liu (2003) provided similar arguments on the student and teacher-centered learning, teachers’ roles, assessment, and student interaction. They concluded that the teachers’ supervised student-centered learning environment appeared beneficial to learners with diverse needs. A variety of approaches fit underneath the broad umbrella of student-centered learning, such as case-based, goal-based learning by design, project-based, and problem-based learning (Pedersen & Liu, 2003).
For the design of learning environments that disengage learners from being identified, Turner (2011) described four approaches to learning in his review. These learning approaches are knowledge-centered, learner-centered, assessment-centered, and community-centered. Daniels, Kalkman, and McCombs (2001) investigated students’ perceptions of the teaching practices and learning in the learner-centered and non-learner-centered elementary classrooms. Regardless of the grade levels and classroom contexts, students reported that excellent teaching characteristics are being caring, responsive, and stimulating. Additionally, students perceived teachers in the non-learner-centered classrooms as being non-supportive; thus, they depicted decreased interest in learning. Some non-learner-centered classes do not have resources and support that encourage active learning. However, in addition to the mentioned approaches to teaching diverse learners in inclusive and mainstream settings, several other instructional strategies are significant for inclusive education. These instructional approaches make inclusive education useful. The next section sheds light on how practitioners can minimize barriers to learning and serve learner variability by adopting practical strategies in the teaching components.
Teaching Components. Researchers believe that the establishment of a continuous process of curriculum development can encourage inclusive education (Alquraini, 2012). Commonly, learning goals and lesson planning, intended learning outcomes, teaching methods and instructions, instructional material, and assessments are teaching components or curricula (Biggs, 2003; Felder & Brent, 2005; Meyer et al., 2014; Winter, 2016) that every teacher ought to take into consideration. When adhering to the UDL principles, teachers use/focus on (a) learning goals that include embedded methods (clearly stated, observable, measurable and aligned with the grade-level standards), (b) instructional materials (flexible i.e., scaffolder digital media, format, and text that can be manipulated in different ways by learners’ preferences) to present learning contents, (c) instructional methods, (applying multiple means of engagement, representation and actions) these are “decisions, approaches, procedures, or routines to accelerate learning” and (d) assessment that is “an expression of student learning” (Navok, 2017, para 3, 5) removing construct-irrelevant barriers in assessment through scaffolded instructions and using flexible materials, and providing ways of multiple means of action and expressions (IRIS, 2017).
Learning goals. UDL research shows how learning goals and academic and content learning, social skills and group membership, engagement and class participation, and independent responses in students are linked in both special and general education classrooms (Browder et al., 2008; Dymond et al., 2006; King-Sears et al., 2015; Lieber et al., 2008). UDL researchers emphasize on the pre-service, and the in-service UDL-based teachers’ training in the development of lesson plans for diversity to be achieved in learning and to enhance strategies in the inclusive classroom teaching practices (Goldthwait-Fowles, 2015; Winter, 2016). A substantial amount of research signified the relationship between the teaching components (including learning goals) and teaching approaches to the students’ learning approaches and desired learning outcomes (Felder & Brent, 2005; Mutch‐Jones, Puttick, & Minner, 2012; Timperley & Parr, 2009; Vermunt & Verloop, 1999) and many others. For example, Timperley and Parr (2009) found that precise alignment between lesson aims, mastery criteria, and lesson activities was associated with the in-depth learning approach in students.
Biggs and Tang (2007) stated that the intended learning outcomes are statements, written from the students’ perspective that indicates the level of understanding and performance students are expected to achieve, because of engaging in the teaching and learning experience (p. 55). He suggested that the intended learning outcomes are stated at three levels of goal setting. These levels can be interpreted and applied to the inclusive education to maximize the learning outcomes, such as, (a) at the institutional level (meeting the objectives of the inclusive education by serving learning needs of all learners), (b) the program level (goal setting to meet the grade-level standards and expectations), and (c) the course/subject level (goal-setting aligned to the content standards). Rose and Meyer (2002), however, suggested not to mix up means (the ways of achieving the goals) to the ends (the intended goals) when stating the learning goals in the lesson planning for inclusive classrooms. Salend and Whittaker (2017) distinguished the difference between the goals and objectives. The goals can be individualized for each learner based on their strengths and challenges (IEPs and plans for gifted and talented learners), whereas the objectives may vary in the amount of the content to be learned or taught, the difficulty, level, and pace, and the ways to achieve the goals.
UDL researchers believe in empowering learners in setting their personal learning goals and consider the goal-setting process as an active part of student learning. Further, inclusive education researchers encourage teachers’ reflective practices, collaboration, and consideration of background information of the learners during the process of goals setting and that the goals should be accessible to both the teachers and the students (Alsalem, 2015; Mutch‐Jones et al., 2012; Novak, 2016). When setting learning based on the background information of the students, the students are obligated to take action regardless of their disabilities. Besides, anticipating the possible barriers that can hinder the learning process is an essential component in UDL lesson planning and procedures (Meo, 2008). UDL researchers provide checklists and blueprints to be considered while planning lessons in the inclusive settings to foresee variability and barriers (Garderen & Whittaker, 2006; Novak, 2016; Rose & Meyer, 2002; Salend & Whittaker, 2017). The anticipation practices potentially minimize barriers to cognitive, affective, and physical access to learning by adopting appropriate instructional methods and materials.
Instructional methods and materials. The inclusive education literature reports low efficacy of general education teachers, challenges, stress, the degree of burnout, and perceived inability to meet the needs of diverse learners in the contemporary classrooms (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; Talmor, Reiter*, & Feigin, 2005). There appears, however, a body of research in inclusive pedagogy that accentuates improving teaching and learning experiences and enhancing engagement in diverse classrooms by implementing UDL principles (Katz, 2012, 2013, 2015). Katz (2013), for example, implemented the Three-Block Model in an inclusive Canadian school that was grounded by the UDL approach and synthesized decades of research investigating the critical components of inclusive classrooms. The model improved students’ learning engagement and reduced challenging behavior. For the teachers, it led to improved self-efficacy related to inclusive practices, reduced workload, and enhanced job satisfaction.
UDL research indicates that in the expert teaching and learning system, the desired learning outcomes are strongly related to effective lesson planning that is obtained by anticipating the variability and barriers, then proactively designing instructions by intentionally aligning them to the UDL principles, guidelines, and checkpoints (see Table 3). In their quantitative study, Abell and colleagues (2011) found that UDL-aligned teaching strategies in high school increased positive perception of the classroom environment, meaningful participation, and attitudes of personalization in early adolescent learners. Similarly, in their review, Crevecouer et al. (2014) concluded that the studies related to the UDL guidelines and principles demonstrated active learning experiences, accessible and useful apprenticeship environments, and contextual support for students with and without disabilities. Rao and Tanners (2011) mapped UDL principles across course materials and instructional strategies in a higher education setting and found improved comprehension and engagement in students. Furthermore, in a case study conducted by Ellen MCGuire-Scwartz and Arndt (2007), teachers’ positive perception of applying UDL principles in classroom instructions was related to improvement in students’ literacy skills, i.e., English language, grammar, and spelling. In other words, when the UDL principles are applied in inclusive education, positive results are attained. Likewise, the elementary grades students with learning disabilities improved reading comprehension skills once UDL-based instructional techniques were employed to the story-mapping strategy in the study of Narkon and Wells (2013). Capp (2017) concluded in a meta-analysis that the UDL-aligned studies improve the learning process for all learners. However, more empirical evidence across research designs and varied research populations to maximize the effectiveness of this approach are required.
Incorporating UDL aligned instruction and course restructuring appears to be time-consuming and effortful (Rao et al., 2015; Rao & Tanners, 2011). Rao and colleagues (2015) suggest planning, anticipating a broad range of students, and gradual integration of UD components into the course, i.e., converting text material into Mp3, conversation or speech files using software to create a collection of accessible course material in advance. Similarly, Dymond et al. (2006) suggest redesigning in the summer and collecting and receiving student assessment data so that planning will be active and time-saving.
Besides adhering to UDL guidelines and principles, researchers signify the alignment of teaching instructions with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) as an essential component of the UDL framework (Goldthwait-Fowles, 2015; Novak, 2016). Rao and Meo (2016), however, argued that the language of the CCSS is usually broadly presented without considering how to achieve the objectives stated within it; they illustrated techniques to unwrap the texts using the coding method suggested by Ainsworth (2003) and then developed standard-based lessons by applying UDL guidelines. They, therefore, presented ways to align lessons both to the CCSS and UDL guidelines to ensure content accessibility and easy instructions for the diverse learners in inclusive classrooms, including ESLs.
The significant role of feedback and scaffolded instructions in the inclusive practices is affirmed and has frequently been reported by UDL researchers (Hall et al., 2015). Dalton et al. (2011) noted that electronic corrective feedback was able to offer models and think-aloud input to the reader, but was unable to analyze and collaborate with students with readily available support that could facilitate students’ learning. Teachers cannot use electronic corrective feedback to facilitate students’ learning effectively. The absence of combined feedback (that includes teachers’ face-to-face feedback and instant digital/electronic feedback) resulted in non-significant effects of instructional scaffolding on students’ comprehension. Scaffolded instructions are embedded support systematically provided by the teachers to build on skills based on learners’ background knowledge and experiences. UDL encourages employing scaffolded guidelines, peer tutoring, and a continuous progress monitoring for both teachers and the students in maximizing learning experiences (Dymond et al., 2006; Hall et al., 2015; King-Sears et al., 2015; Mitchell, 2018; Novak, 2016).
Inclusive literature encourages using cooperative teaching practices due to their synergistic effects—learning from each other’s strengths and sharing the workload in contemporary classrooms. Through this, teachers can learn from student’s strengths and weaknesses in a way that they will eventually come up with the learning instructions that favor all students. However, in the study of Tiwari et al. (2015), general education teachers reported that they do not agree with co-teaching practices. Tiwari and colleagues suggest that these discrepancies are due to the lack of content knowledge in the special education teachers’ training and the lack of specialized knowledge and specific strategies for classroom management in general education teachers’ training programs. These gaps can be challenged by exposing in-service general and special education teachers to continuous professional development programs, and by restructuring programs for pre-service teacher candidates. UNESCO (2017) suggests that developing skills and expertise as mainstream teachers should be followed by specialized training — where the definition of specialization should be broadly presented to encounter challenges in diversified classrooms.
In the inclusive education literature, several instructional approaches to lesson planning and delivery appear that widely recognize learning differences and provide a blueprint for the inclusive teaching practices, for instance, Response to Intervention (RtI) (Basham, Israel, et al., 2010), Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS), Differentiated Instructions (DI) (Tomlinson, 2006), and Understanding by Design (UbD) (Wiggins & McTighe, 2001) with an underlying focus on providing developmentally appropriate individualized instructions (Dixon, Yssel, McConnell, & Hardin, 2014; Turner, 2011). There are some debates on commonalities (Goldthwait-Fowles, 2015; Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006) and differences among these approaches and UDL — where the underlying focus of UDL is proactive lesson planning and personalized approach of instruction for all students, regardless of diversity, disability and abilities (Novak, 2017; Novak & Rose, 2016). Nonetheless, some scholars suggest using these approaches in combination with UDL to maximize targeted and individualized literacy support for students with and without disabilities (i.e., Ammons, 2015; Basham, Israel, et al., 2010; Garderen & Whittaker, 2006). The UDL approach is interested in delivering an education that benefits all students regardless of their disabilities.
Within the comprehensive education research, the practices of curriculum adaptation, modification, and accommodations are widely discussed and recognized as interventions for removing barriers and improving learning engagement (Alquraini & Gut, 2012; Alquraini, 2012; Mutch‐Jones et al., 2012). Alquraini and Gut (2012) define curricular adaptations as changing or altering the teaching methods and ways which the course materials are taught; for example, by using multiple forms of presenting learning materials or offering alternative tasks to meet the specific learning goals of the students. Modifications are considered as an interpretation of the learning objectives in the curriculum to make content accessible for diverse learners, whereas, Mutch-Jones and colleagues (2012) define accommodations as “techniques and materials that help students engage in the learning process, complete assignments, and demonstrate their knowledge without altering the level or amount of content students are expected to learn” (p. 1014). UDL researchers endorse these interventions, however, recommend anticipating variability and barriers before starting the actual instruction, rather than retrofitting modifications later in the curriculum as they are considered time-consuming and cause distractions in the teaching and learning process (Capp, 2017; Meyer et al., 2014).
The effectiveness of assistive technology (AT) is established in the inclusive education literature on teaching instructions and materials (Alharbi, 2018; Alquraini & Gut, 2012; Alquraini, 2012). The role of AT is well-recognized specifically by the US federal policies on disabilities (IDEA) (2004), CAST, and UDL in developing literacy and communication skills for students with and without disabilities and removing barriers to learning (Anstead, 2016; King-Sears, 2009; Messinger-Willman & Marino, 2010; Zascavage & Winterman, 2009). Edyburn (2004) states that AT can be defined as an item, equipment, product, or the system(s), acquired commercially or modified/customized, that can be used to increase, maintain, or improve functional skills of the learners. In their review, Alquraini and Gut (2012) identified assistive augmentative and alternative communication, switches, alternative keyboards, and touch screens systems as critical AT components in inclusive education. Within the universally designed instructional frameworks (UDL, UDI, UID), learning in the cloud i.e., synchronous and asynchronous delivery (Novak & Thibodeau, 2016; Parker et al., 2008; Rao et al., 2015; Rao & Tanners, 2011), web browsing networks (Smith & Harvey, 2014), and technology integration (Basham et al., 2010; Kennedy et al., 2014; McMohan et al., 2016), AT is widely spreading as a facilitating agent to flexible teaching and learning for the inclusive settings. It is making work easier for the teachers as far as meeting the needs of the students with and without disabilities is concerned.
The UDL framework deliberates that to achieve the objectives in expert teaching, teachers are needed to reflect on growth mindset, mastery-oriented tasks, sustainability, and organizational support that are acquirable using multi-media projects, software, and provide a digital learning environment to address variability, including linguistic and cultural diversity of the students (Rao, 2015; Rao et al., 2015). The component of flexibility in the AT is particularly essential, specifically for those with physical and cognitive deficiencies, during assessment procedures. The following discussion on assessment sheds light on how the AT facilitates the learning process and expression of learning.
Assessment. Research indicates that students with learning disabilities encounter problems at a cognitive level, such as decoding, reading fluency and comprehension, phonics/word recognition, and vocabulary (Black et al., 2015; Dolan et al., 2005) that are considered barriers to the learning. If these learning barriers are not eradicated via appropriate instructional and assessment techniques, they may impose unintended construct-irrelevant restrictions to the content knowledge and the learning expression (Marino, 2009). For instance, presenting lengthy descriptive questions to students who have reading difficulties and administering a paper-pencil test to the students with motor and physical difficulties (Dolan et al., 2005) are the examples of curricular infirmities. The research suggests the UDL alignment in the assessment procedures (Wilson, 2015), and using multiple assistive tools for accommodations to address roadblocks that minimize engagement and curiosity of learning in students and induce feelings of incompetence, discouragement, and disengagement (Marino et al., 2014). These tools include CAST eReader™ (Dolan et al., 2005) and “alternate format textbooks, test proctoring for students needing extra time for exams, note-taking, tape or digital recorders, [sign language] interpreters, tele-captioning, use of screen readers, and other assistive software on campus or for exams” (Black et al., 2015, p. 6).
In a mixed-method study, Dolan and colleagues (2005) reported that using computer-based text-to-speech read-aloud software during the assessment of the high school students with learning difficulties assisted in reducing construct irrelevancy and improved the students’ test performance. In another study, Wilson (2015) examined the perspectives of eighth-grade students with mild disabilities about the effect of a universally designed computer-based assessment of their math performance. The qualitative analysis revealed that the students’ performance was based on their perceptions about the accessibility of the evaluation instruments. With effective assessment or evaluation assessment, it becomes possible to improve the students’ performance. In other words, students scored high on the assessment techniques that they perceived were accessible to them both physically and cognitively. The findings of this study and others (i.e., Marion et al., 2009; Marino, 2014) allow caution while administering the computer-based assessment in general and inclusive settings due to the mixed reports where mediating/moderating factors should also be considered while interpreting the research findings. Researchers, however, believe that stating clear assessment goals and expectations (Marino et al., 2014) to students and focusing on assessment “as a unit” in a curriculum can reduce test anxiety and increase performance on standardized testing (Novak, 2016, p. 196).
Adelman and Tylor (1994) suggest that “within the context of a personalized learning environment, the goal of assessment should be concerned with eliciting learners’ perceptions of how well teaching and learning environments match both their interests and abilities” (p. 113). Furthermore, Sutton (2003) states that the purpose of evaluation should not be making a final judgment about the students’ performance, instead of considering it as an ongoing progress tracking system to check the efficacy of the lesson plans, goals, and the teaching methods. The students’ performance can be excellent, yet the lesson plans, the teaching methods, and goals are not aligned with the specific needs of the students. Some scholars refer to formative assessment as a diagnostic tool to evaluate the effectiveness of the curricula to re-design teaching and to rectify the existing problem (Mitchell, 2018; Novak, 2016). Formative assessment may include formal and informal ways of evaluation, such as quizzes, classroom observations, presentations, portfolios, and assignments. Summative assessment, on the other hand, is a predetermined collection of challenges to evaluating learners’ levels of understanding the content areas after the accomplishment of a unit or at the end of a semester and is traditionally presented in formal ways under a controlled environment. Regardless of disabilities, the research indicates that students’ level of performance on assessments is based on the teachers’ level of expectations (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968) and effective lesson planning.
In conclusion, the reviewed literature regarding the core components of inclusive education brings forth a criticism on the traditional ways of approaching variability and barrier issues by categorizing individuals with dynamic characteristics in groupings. Thus, the conventional ways of teaching and learning demonstrate flaws in addressing the needs of diverse learners in the inclusive and contemporary education system. In a debate on the congruence and friction between teaching and learning theories, Vermunt and Verloop (1999) concluded that tasks, assignments, and exam questions that teachers give to students often reveal “teachers’ personal styles than students need” (p. 277). Further, in an ethnographic study on expert teachers’ thinking, Moallem (1998) states that the literature indicates a discrepancy between teachers’ favorable attitudes towards instructional design models and failure to systematically use them in classroom practices and that teachers’ personal experiences, previously learned knowledge, and context are the standard explanations.
Winter (2016) suggests that transdisciplinary efforts are required in learning sciences research to teach teachers ways to remove barriers and to create a learning environment accessible for diverse learners, whether disabled or not. These efforts should be made, regardless of “philosophical, methodological, and epistemological differences” in the learning sciences (p. 20). I conclude this discussion by reflecting on the reviewed literature and gaps in the research, theoretical frameworks, and personal assumptions in the next section that collectively develop a conceptual framework for the present study (Maxwell, 2012; Miles & Huberman, 1994).
Reviewed Literature Representing Alignment with UDL Across the Teaching Components. Also, Showing Learners’ Diversity and Effective Practices
|Study||Alignment with UDL
Effective UD practices,
|Lesson Planning||Dymond et al. (2006)||Administered a checklist of questions to the teachers, focusing curriculum, instructional delivery, students’ participation, materials, and assessment. The questions were reflecting course redesigning preferences based on UDL principles.||Qualitative (case study)
101 high school (grade 9-12) students from an inclusive science class with 20% disabilities (LDs, MR, HI, OHI, Pd, vision, and autism), diverse multiethnic (67% W, 24.2% B, 1.2% A, 1.2% H, 2% NA).
|Effective practices: for inclusive settings, the authors suggested “(a) clearly define the roles of the instructors in the classroom so that everyone understands their responsibilities, (b) provide regular training, guidance, and supervision to paraprofessionals, and (c) involve paraprofessionals in the redesign planning process from the very beginning” (p. 300).
|The largest change was reported in materials used and options for student participation and engagement. Students’ predetermined group membership decreased, and the amount of non-task related talking increased. Students with disabilities developed social skills, improved interpersonal relationships, and progress on IEP goals. Students without disabilities showed personal responsibility and enhanced academic scores|
|Browder et al. (2008)||Illustrated operational definitions of three UDL principles and how they applied them in teachers’ training, developing learning materials, and in the individualized task analysis.||Single-subject multiple-probe design across participants
Three elementary students (2 M, 1 F) with Intellectual disabilities from a special education classroom
|Effective practices: the researchers used systematic prompting and feedback for each step of the task analysis to provide step-by-step guidance to the elementary school students with ID.
Learning tools: the authors used UDL and augmentative and alternative communication devices in combination when shared stories were introduced to eliminate the learning barriers.
|All students increased their independent responses after being engaged through task analysis, prompting, and feedback when UDL employed shared stories were presented. Targeted outcomes were foundational such as choosing a book and pointing the desired object in the story|
|Lieber et al. (2008)||In the curriculum development, the authors described UDL principles across the activities and instructional strategies in two core areas, i.e., academic competence and social competence for preschool children with disabilities.|| Mixed method (one group pre-test-post-test and case study) 58 pre-school students 42M, 16 F) with disability (29 SLI,19 DD,1 ED,1 OHI, 1 ID, 1 Autism) and 29 without disabilities, belonged to the multiethnic community (17 H, 6 AA, 29 W, 2 A, three others), of 58 English learners are 24%.
|Effective practices: the authors emphasized two areas during curriculum development. Academic competencies incorporated research-based learning activities of the large group, book reading, and phonics. Social competence included evidence-based practices for promoting positive social skills and conflict management. Additionally, individualization component provided further accommodations to the preschoolers with special needs.||Children showed significant improvement in academic skills (word identification, writing, letter naming, math skills, number series) and a marginally significant improvement in social skills (peer interaction and communication)|
|Discussed how UDL principles were introduced to the teachers and illustrated the inclusion of the principles of the lesson planning through a rubric.||Experimental (pre-test-post-test)
72 Post-sec students from special Ed (2) and Gen Ed(2) classes, 17 M, 55 F, reported ethnicity (60 W, 9 AA, 3 others).
|Effective practices: One-hour UDL-based training to the teachers enabled them to create lesson plans that include UDL-based modifications in the course objectives, materials, procedures, guided practice, independent practice, and assessment for inclusive post-secondary classrooms.||Authors reported that UDL principles do not rely only on the use of technology, instead, even without using it, special and general education teachers can replace traditional instructions with alternative and innovative teaching techniques adhering UDL guidelines|
|Kortering et al. (2008)||Aligned UDL principles in teachers’ PD and in two types of themes that emerged in teacher-created lessons of algebra and biology.||Mixed methods (survey)
290 high school students with and without disabilities (37 LDs, 6 BD, 2 ID, 12 ADD) with ethnic minorities (12%AA, H 4%, A 2% in school A, and 6% in school.
|Effective strategies: teachers developed a set of instructions, learning strategies, and activities that were categorized into two themes, i.e., technology integration-based activities, and new instructional activities. Students reported a firm agreement with the effectiveness of the teachers-created lesson plan.||On the self-reported engagement scale, students reported a high rate of engagement, strong levels of agreement with the effectiveness and satisfaction with the UDL-based instructions as compared to their other academic classes|
|Abell et al. (2011)||Discussed how UDL principles can be generated, presented, and applied at the upper-elementary through high school||Quantitative (survey)
867 grade (5-12) students from 3 schools
|Effective practices: “(1) Personalisation: extent to which individual students are offered opportunities to interact with the teacher, (2) Participation: extent to which students are encouraged to participate, (3) Independence: extent to which students are allowed to make decisions and assume leadership, (4) Investigation: extent of development of inquiry-based skills, and (5) Differentiation: extent to which instruction is differentiated on the basis of ability, learning style, interests, and rate of working” (p. 183).||High school students showed a high perception of personalization and class participation as compared to upper elementary and middle school students. However, no significant differences were found for personalization between upper elementary and middle school students.
The authors suggested introducing UDL aligned strategies in early adolescence will increase the positive perception of the classroom environment
|Schelly et al. (2011)||Applied UDL principles in teachers’ training, development of accessible course material, and in developing a survey reflecting students’ perception of the teacher’s use of UDL at the post-sec level.
|Quantitative (one group pre-test-post-test survey)
1,362 students completed pre-survey
1,233 students completed pre and post-survey with reported disabilities 8%.
|Effective strategies: students endorsed reading assignments online, consulting accessible videos, receiving prompt feedback, and supplementing lectures and reading materials with visual aids.
|The study reports that in students’ perceptions, teachers improved in applying UDL-based instructions in the classroom regarding presenting ideas and information, engaging students, and encouraging varied ways of expressing course contents|
|Katz (2013)||Referenced UDL principles in the context of designing the Three-Block Model of UDL that is a set of EBPs in instructions and assessment.
|Mixed Methods (quasi-experiment and observations)
531 students (grade 1-12) from two rural and three urban inclusive schools with 60 multi-languages (20% of students with ESL) with mild to moderate disabilities,
58 educators, class teachers, resource teachers, and school administrators
|Effective practices: the author suggested incorporating EBPs in teachers’ training, such as (understanding by design, differentiated instructions, curriculum integration, inquiry, and assessment for learning).
Instructional tool: in the Three-Block Model of UDL, the author introduced diversity and valuing programs in block one, integrated inclusive instructional practices and EBPs in the second block, and suggested structural methods at the policy level in block three.
|The author reports overall significantly engaged behavior between treatment and control groups in the post-test. No significant differences in the levels of inclusiveness or student autonomy and no significant interaction effects for gender, language, place of birth, and grade. This study, however, does not explicitly address academic achievements|
|Black et al. (2015)||Referenced the application of UDL and UDI-based instructional methods||Qualitative
15 Post-sec students 12 with disabilities (LD, with and without CI, sensory,
psychiatric and MI) and three without disabilities
|Instructions: Based on nine UDI principles and three UDL principles, guidelines and corresponding checkpoints, the article provides a set of instructions to foster UD-based practice in education.
Learning tools: author suggests multiple assistive devices for accommodations, i.e., “alternate format textbooks, test proctoring for students needing extra time for exams, note-taking, tape or digital recorders, [sign language] interpreters, tele- captioning, use of screen readers, and other assistive software on campus or for exams” (p. 6)
|Students’ responses to UDI principles reflect themes, i.e., engagement, self -regulation, optimizing motivation, time management, receiving feedback, physical accommodations, and effective use of counselors on a required basis.
Strong UD aspects in students’ opinion are novel activities, collaborating with other students, and successful learning
|Basham et al. (2010)||Introduced UDL to the preservice teachers, later teachers applied UDL principles to the early childhood classes
|Qualitative (action research)
41 preservice teachers for grades (PreK-3)
|Effective tools: for teachers training, the authors used the educational material for teachers developed by CAST (2002), such as ABAW, to examine potential barriers in the teaching methods and materials. Additionally, exploring the CAST website, software, and readings on UDL.||Study 1: Teachers reported improvements in students’ performance, spelling scores, English language learning, and grammar improvement
Study 2: Teachers commented on enhanced engagement reflections in students
(Digital and Assistive Technology)
|Used UDL principles as the theoretical framework to guide the digital backpack (intervention) used to facilitate technology integration into the curriculum.
|Qualitative (case study: design-based research)
35 high school students from grade (7-11), (13 M,22 F) and 1 participant with LD, among them (27 AA, 1 W)
|Instructional support: the researchers suggested to include any material (digital or otherwise) that provides structural support for the learning experience.
Learning tools: included in the digital backpack were: MacBook Pro and standard Macintosh digital media software, apps of video making, audio editing, web access, camcorder, still camera, iPod, and USB.
|Students with less technology experience were able to do the required project using scaffolded instructions, internalized understanding, and self-regulating strategies. Digital backpacks appeared to engage students in the learning experience and fostered ownership of what and why they were learning|
|Dalton et al.
|Aligned features of online e-text designs (vocabulary and reading comprehension strategy) with UDL principles and applied this intervention with English and bilingual students.||Experimental design (treatment conditions)
106 mono and bilingual students from 5th grade (boys 62, girls 44), EM (68), SEB (21) and others bilingual (17)
|Instructional scaffolding: interactive vocabulary and reading appear effective when combined with a live conversation with the teacher and structured feedback.
Scaffolded digital reading offers embedded instructions for vocabulary and comprehension for bilingual students.
|Both bilingual and monolingual students benefited from digital reading and enhanced vocabulary learning, which did not differentially affect understanding. Elements of metacognition were identified through student responses. Students’ self-regulation and feedback appeared to facilitate learning|
|Rao and Tanners (2011)||Presented UID/UDL principles by mapping them across course elements such as course material and instructional strategies in a higher education course.||Qualitative (case study)
Learners/participants’ information is not reported.
|Instructional strategies: assigned short weekly assignments with instructions and choice of writing a traditional paper or creating a multimedia project
Learning tools: Synchronized (Elluminate Live) and asynchronized (CMS, Voicethread, and e-mail) tools for instructions and interaction were used
|Improved comprehension and engagement in students. UDL inspired post-secondary special education course students, and they took initiatives to apply UDL in their teaching practices|
|Coyne et al. (2012)||Presented UDL principles to align with the features of one of the story e-books used in their study called Literacy by Design (LBD).||Quasi-Experiment
23 grade (K-2) students from inclusive and separate classroom settings with significant ID (DD, ASD, WS, DS. FX, PDD), 16 were verbal.
|Instructional strategies: UDL-based literacy instructions that emphasize reading for understanding and develop contextual reading skills address all aspects of learning development.
Learning tool: The digital scaffolded storybook focuses on “balanced literacy instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension” (p.162).
|Design-based instructional approach with UDL context led to a significantly promising improvement in reading comprehension in the experimental group as compared to the control group|
|Rappolt-Schlichtmann et al. (2013)||Stated UDL principles in the context of developing a Universally Designed Science Notebook (UDSN)
|Mixed methods (experimental and focus groups)
621 4th grade students from 28 classes with ethnicity 35% and disability status 10%
and 22 teachers
|Effective practice: “with strong teaching experience and embedded support for construct-irrelevant skills and strategies, technology can provide consistent gains for a variety of learners” (p. 1223).
Learning tool: UDSN was developed through a process of progressive refinement using design-based research methodology by CAST.
|UDSN appeared equally effective for students regardless of reading skills and motivation levels. Specifically, they identified feedback necessary for self-regulated and persistent learning; motivational levels; age-appropriate challenges; and ownership to enhance academic engagement and achievement|
|Kennedy et al. (2014)||Capitalized UDL principles in Multimedia Design Framework (MDF)- an intervention production checklist- a set of questions to be asked to identify the reasons for integrating specific instructions in the study||Quantitative (quasi-experiment)
141 high school students grade 10 among them 32 students with disabilities (27 LDs, 3BD, 2 ID) and 109 S without D
|Instructional tool: based on multimedia instructions and integrating EBPs, UDL principles, instructional design principles, and Mayer’s (2008, 2009) cognitive theory, Content Acquisition Podcasts (CAPs) for vocabulary instruction was developed for LDs. Features include word consciousness, instructions of word meanings, guided practice and scaffolding, instructions of related terms, keyword mnemonic strategy, and rationale for using a term/concept.
|Students with disabilities (SWD) with CAPs were significantly different from SWD in the comparison group. They learned vocabulary, terms, and concepts faster than the comparison group. However, the author stated to interpret results with caution due to the small sample size and lack of standardized tests.|
|Hall et al. (2015)||Considered UDL principles and CBM (a type of formative assessment) in the development of a web-based tool for reading.
|Experimental design (treatment conditions)
284 middle schools students (grades 6-8), 144 boys, 140 girls from inclusive settings (64 LDs, 8 HC, 8 LDs with ADHD, 3 SLD, 2 MS) among them 66%W, 20% AA, 12% H, 2% Asian and
Gen Ed teachers (7), Special Ed (3)
|Effective practice: teachers’ electronic logs facilitate organizing, analyzing, and monitoring student data.
Learning tool: in a digital learning environment, the authors used a strategic reader tool under curriculum-based measure (CBM) instructions that include three critical components. UDL principles and elements from previous research, teacher-student topical discussion, embedded CBM formative assessment to keep students record.
|Students with LDs gained significantly more reading skills from the strategic reader as compared to the typical students in online conditions.
Technology appeared to facilitate managing teachers’ daily activities, scoring, and analyzing student data. Digital features of reading enabled students to be self-reflective and enhance learning motivation
|King-Sears et al. (2015)||Provided UDL principles followed by the related guidelines and stating 3-5 corresponding checkpoints along with narrating examples from the intervention (IDEAS) used in the study.||Quantitative (pre-post-test and a 4-week follow-up/retention effects)
60 high school students with HID (19, LDs, BD, OHI) and without HID (41)
Special Ed and Gen Ed teachers
|Learning tool: using Camtasia™ software and PowerPoint animations, chemistry lessons-based videos were developed considering self-regulation and independent student learning with fading prompts.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysoVWF0vDQfor Video Clip 5a
|UDL module was not more effective compared to typical instructions in group average per condition. Disaggregated scores show that the Gen Ed group gained more than HID and had a significant interaction effect. HID in the UDL condition learned more than the HID comparison condition. Retention sustained for both groups|
|Rao et al. (2015)||Presented UID/UDL principles by mapping them across course elements such as course material and instructional strategies that they introduced in a higher education online course.||Qualitative (Case study)
77 Post-sec students with diverse age range (52%20-29, 32% 30-39, 10% 40-49,6%50-59) with no reported disabilities
|Effective practices: students prefer to be informed about assignments many weeks in advance of the due date. Information about students’ background knowledge and learning experiences, flexibility in assignments, organizing course contents on a weekly bases are considered effective practices
Instructional tools: Blackboard Collaborate, the web- conferencing system, Voice thread, IRIS UDL training module
|44% students reported the effectiveness of the course redesign, usefulness and engaging way to interact with peers (21.4%), strong feelings of connecting with class fellows (27.1%), effective way of learning from class fellows (39%) and feelings of connection with the instructor (15.3%)|
|McMahon et al. (2016)||A relationship between UDL principles and Augmented Reality (AR) was established to support their study of teaching science vocabulary to college students with ID and autism
|Single-subject multiple-probe design across participants
4 Post-sec students (3 ID, 1 ASD) among them (1 M, 3 F) with age range (19-25)
|Instructional tool: the authors introduced a self-progressing monitor application AR that assimilates a live view of the physical world along with the digital content, i.e., pictures text, audio, and video. This application provides effective instructions to individuals with ID and ASD to teach them identifying food allergies, pedestrian navigation, and matching skills to elementary school children. For their study, the authors used it to teach science vocabulary to students with ID||AR appeared to be effective in improving science vocabulary, defining and labeling knowledge for the new science terms in all post-secondary students with intellectual disabilities|
|Assessment||Dolan et al. (2005)||Referenced UDL in the context of using computer-based text-to-speech (CBT-TTS) read-aloud software during the evaluation of high school students with LDs.
|Mixed methods (quasi-experiment and case study)
10 high school students
in social studies with LDs
|Assessment strategies that reduce construct-irrelevancy can improve the validity of the test results for students
Assessment tool: CBT-TTS was developed using accessible hypertext markup language and CAST eReader™. Students preferred using flexible options (audio test passage, adjusting the font size, and proceeding through the test in any order).
|Results show slightly improved performance on CBT-TTS as compared to PPT. However, students’ performance was significantly improved for long paragraphs on CBT-TTS, and low readers performed higher in comparison with others.|
|Marino (2009)||Illustrated UDL principles and aligned cognitive tool (technology-based science curriculum of a middle school) with the three principles||Mixed method (one group pre-test-post-test)
1,153 Middle school students (grade 6-8) inclusive science classes with 126 students (severe reading difficulties and poor readers), belonging to a group of the multiethnic community (91% W, 1% AA, 5% A, 3% H)
|Effective practice: incorporating technology-based medium for LDs in assessment to reduce content-related barriers in learning. Also, anchored instructions provide a context to use cognitive tools
Learning tools: Astro-engineering room for science students, Alien Rescue by CILAT (2005) is a technology-based astronomy curriculum with embedded UDL principles
|Low ability readers did not benefit from the cognitive tools as compared to the proficient readers, even though they obtained more reading gains (.792 unit increase on post-test) as compared to the proficient readers (.33-unit increase).
The author discusses the effectiveness of cognitive load in students’ comprehension facilitation by accessing supplemental material according to their needs
|Marino et al. (2014)||Mapped science games feature with the selected UDL checkpoints and principles to enhance engagement and learning in students with LDs||Mixed methods (pre-test-post-test and focus groups)
100 students 16 from fifth grade and 84 from seventh- grade with 57 LDs, 41 PR, 23 AR, 2 % ELL
1 fifth-grade and 4 seventh-grade teachers
|Instructional strategies: describing clear course expectations and rubrics to the students. Students prefer and learn more from doing short assignments with a low point value. Timely and in-depth instructor’s feedback increase engagement.
Effective assessment method: authors referred to modeling methods by Timms et al. (2012). ‘Other assessment options include learning progressions in science, learning trajectories in mathematics, developmental continuums in reading, or learning maps’ (p.99).
|The study shows no significant difference from pre-test to post-test between units with UDL aligned and traditional curriculum instructions. They refer to effective assessment methods. However, UDL-aligned curricula increased knowledge transfer between virtual and classroom learning and engagement|
Note. A = Asian; ABAW = A Barrier Analysis Worksheet; ADD = attention deficits disorder; AR = advanced readers ; ASD = autism spectrum disorder; B = Blacks; BD = behavioral disorder, CAST = Center for Applied Special Technology; CD = cognitive disabilities; CI = cognitive impairment; CILAT = Center for Innovative Learning and Assessment Technologies; DD = developmental disability; DS = Down syndrome; EBPs = evidence based practices; ED = emotional disturbance; ELL = English language learners; EM = English monolinguals; ESL = English as second language; FX, Fragile X and pervasive; Gen Ed = general education; H = Hispanic; HC = health conditions; HI = hearing impairment; HID = high incidence disabilities; ID = intellectual difficulties; IDEAS = identify, draw, enter, answer, solve; LDs = learning disabilities; MD = mild disabilities; MR = mild-moderate mental retardation; MS = mobility support, MID = mobility impairment development; NA = Natives Americans; OHI = other health impairment; PD = professional development; PDD = Pervasive developmental disabilities; Pd = physical disabilities; PR = proficient readers; Post-sec ed = post-secondary education; SEB = Spanish-English bilingual; SLD = speech and language difficulties; SLI = speech language impairment; Spe Ed = special education; SWD = students with disabilities; UDI = universal design for instructions; UDL = universal design for learning; UID = universal instructional design; W = Whites; WS = Willi syndrome
The conceptual framework of this study is guided by two learning theories, an extensive literature review, an epistemological position, and personal assumptions (Maxwell, 2012). The learning theories, i.e., Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (Rose & Meyer, 2002) and Constructive Alignment Theory in the teaching system (CATS) (Biggs, 2003; Biggs & Tang, 2007) lay the foundations for this research. These theories complement each other and relate to the major concepts of the study. Adopting the paradigms of constructivist and interpretivist, as Ponterotto (2005) suggested, the philosophy of this research inquiry is situated: (a) within my beliefs and assumptions about ontology that considers the inclusive education as an achievable reality for the educators, and approachable beyond their physical placement for the learners; (b) epistemologically, understanding my positionality of being a knowledgeable researcher and the relationship with the “knower”— the teachers; and (c) our mutual connection to construct the study of knowledge — thus, endorsing the axiological roots of the study; (d) finally, considering the critical role of the rhetorical structure at various levels during the study, i.e., gaining the conceptual comprehension of the underlying phenomena by reviewing the literature, and by examining the language of the participants to explore the truth found within the context and the current educational writings. The teachers’ belief systems and their lived experiences in terms of their everyday practices serve as the proponents of the constructivist-interpretivist approach of the present research (Ponterotto, 2005).
Teachers’ Belief System and the Process of Anticipation and Intentional Alignment. Brown (2005) differentiates the concept of “inclusive thinking and inclusive practices” (p. 256). Inclusive thinking refers to the educators’ internalized beliefs to remove non-essential barriers in the participation of marginalized individuals in the natural learning environment whereas, considers inclusive practices as a product of inclusive thinking, which refers to the actual demonstration of teaching and learning activities, events, and arrangements to ensure inclusive rational/beliefs/ideology. This philosophical trajectory is linked to the teachers’ initial understandings about the inclusive approach. These understandings are created by their personal, traditional, and cultural beliefs and experiences with disabilities and diverse individuals in society. These factors collectively establish a set of pre-determined ideologies that are reflected via teachers’ demonstrations of acceptance, rejection, or neutral attitudes toward inclusive practices. Windschitl (2002) considers the factors mentioned above as teachers’ aspects of intellectual and living experiences that resist the construction of theoretical understanding in their daily practices. Alternatively, teachers interpret their classroom experiences with a pre-established mindset/past experiences, relate their present skills with their background knowledge/experience and then formulate and associate favorable or unfavorable attitudes towards specific practices (i.e., inclusion or disabilities); nevertheless, this is not effective in ensuring that the needs of all students are met. Windschitl named the stated factors as conceptual, pedagogical, cultural, and political dilemmas that are active agents in conceptualizing teachers’ belief systems under a constructivist approach.
Researchers with a constructivist approach to education discussed various types of belief systems that deter effective teaching methodologies, though they are considered essential for inclusive practices. Turner, Christensen, and Meyer (2009), for example, stated two types of beliefs that cause barriers in teaching practices: considering learners and the learning content as “fixed, rather than interactive and malleable” (p. 362). Teachers with fixed or firm beliefs, approach the learning material in transmission way or struggle to fit the learners’ styles and preferences according to teachers’ pace and teaching style. Such beliefs prevent the teacher from adopting new strategies that can be utilized to advance student learning and teacher training activities to achieve positive results. Conversely, teachers with malleable beliefs tend to embrace interactive, flexible, and learning-focused pedagogy. Given these beliefs, teachers either consider the curriculum as “a product” (static or unmodifiable) or as a “dynamic process” (continuous and a collaborative effort of learning for both teachers and the students) (Trigwell & Prosser, 2014, p. 143). Turner and colleagues (2009) found that after transforming their beliefs from stable to malleable, teachers were able to adapt their roles from authoritative figures to facilitators in their classrooms, and they were more mindful of the students’ learning needs.
Within the inclusive education literature, there are three types of belief systems in addition to the medical and social model of disability, i.e., ableism, and pathognomonic and interventionist perspectives (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002; Kilinc, 2018). “Ableism is a set of beliefs that guide cultural and institutional practices, ascribing negative values to individuals with disabilities while deeming able-bodied and able-minded individuals as normal; therefore, superior to their disabled counterparts” (Gabel, 2005; as cited in Kilinc, 2018, p. 9). Klinic explored the placement of the SWD in the inclusive education settings and found that the SWD experienced different forms of exclusion within their classrooms. The author argued that placing students in classes and the level of their learning opportunities were related to the teachers’ preset ideology of ableism and normalcy that determined the possibility of physical and content access for the SWD in an inclusive setting. Students, in Kilinc’s study, who were considered to fit into the “average” or “normal” abilities (in teachers’ perceptions) were included in the learning activities while others faced exclusion within the inclusive settings—hence, the students experienced injustices based on misdistribution of resources and misrecognition of their abilities. The students with disabilities did not have the same privileges as those of students without disabilities. Teachers with a pathognomonic perspective believe in the medical model of disability and do not feel any responsibility for serving students with different learning needs in the classroom (Tiwari et al., 2015). Teachers with the interventionist approach, on the other hand, adopt teaching methodologies similar to the teachers with the malleable ideology discussed earlier (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002).
The above discussion about teachers’ beliefs regarding the learners, learning content, and learning process relates to the teachers’ level of understanding these core concepts; teachers’ general beliefs about these concepts are critical for accepting and adopting an inclusive approach to education. For example, the learners — in terms of dynamic individuals, their ways of internalizing and externalizing learning, along with other types of variability components, including cultural and linguistic diversity, their strengths and weaknesses, and disabilities — thus, recognizing variability. The learning content — as a means to continue designing and creating an available content — consequently, a continuous process of growing and learning new skills. The learning process — as the trajectory of conceptualized inclusive beliefs based on the growth mindset, recognized variability, malleable curricula with advanced planning to remove barriers, and collaborated practices within a classroom context.
UDL researchers usually emphasize the concept of advanced planning or anticipation in teaching practices. Anticipation can be defined as planning that predicts, identifies, and documents the possible variance in learners and barriers that can get in the way of teaching and learning in contemporary classrooms. The concept of anticipation is strongly associated with the teachers’ positive and inclusive belief systems. These systems allow for the readiness to adopt the process of anticipation by recognizing learning differences at the first level, then predicting possible variance, and finally planning lessons and designing curricula keeping variability and barriers in mind. Capp (2017) commented that the change in teachers’ mindsets is essential before adopting the approach of proactively planning for all learners. It is crucial to consider teachers’ general beliefs as a prerequisite to the anticipation process, to identify how teachers think, understand, and perceive variability and barriers in their classrooms and in terms of how they handle students.
Besides serving as a prerequisite to anticipation, teachers’ general beliefs are also considered to be the determinants of the inclusive practices. Practices that are based on intentional planning for addressing variability and removing barriers are the critical components in inclusive education. UDL research emphasizes the alignment of the lesson planning and delivery with the suggested principles, guidelines, and checkpoints. This process of intentional alignment enables teachers to target the students’ recognition, affective, and strategic neurological networks — regardless of variability and disability. Thus, these concepts are multilayered, interact with each other, and are mutually exhaustive (see Figure 2). The present research defines intentional alignment as mindful and proactive planning of the teaching components (learning goals, teaching methods, use of the learning material and assessment procedure), where the lesson plan anticipates and predicts variability and barrier issues, and the teaching components assure that they are in line with the core components of the inclusive practices, including but not limited to UDL guidelines and the state standards.
The cyclical process of the intentional alignment initiates with the general beliefs and is depicted through the language of intentionality in the defined learning goals and lesson plans as a part of the anticipation process. The positive outcomes of the process (i.e., learners’ motivation, engagement, improved literacy skills, and successful inclusion) reconstruct teachers’ beliefs system and regenerate the cycle (see Figure 3). Thus, the cycle expands the concept of integration from the physical placement of the individuals with special needs to their meaningful participation and achievement in learning, both at the academic and social-emotional levels. Lowrey, Hollingshead, and Howery (2017) examined general education teachers’ language around UDL, inclusive classrooms, and intellectual disabilities. Alongside identifying other themes (the language of membership, i.e., belongingness and difference), they explored the language depicting teachers’ intentionality and unintentionality in designing lesson plans and teaching instructions. The language was exhibited through words, phrases, and verbs that represented either teachers’ thoughtful planning or recognizing learning differences and UDL principles, or their indifferent beliefs about UDL practices and disability.
Despite many rhetorical discussions on the topic within the UDL research, the concept of intentional alignment has not been inquired yet in the actual teaching practices. However, this concept is widely studied within the constructive alignment paradigm with a slightly different perspective within teaching and learning theories (Biggs, 2003; Biggs & Tang, 2007). Biggs and Tang (2007) stated that the failure in achieving constructive alignment initiated a blame-the-student theory of teaching—that the students are responsible for poor learning outcomes, and the teachers do not own responsibility for the failure—which facilitates power dynamics in the teaching and learning process. The UDL lens considers this process curricular infirmity or a barrier to learning since teachers play a significant role as far as the success of the students is concerned. Based on Biggs’ constructive alignment theory, Trigwell and Prosser (2014) developed a model for curriculum design by identifying qualitative variations in teachers’ intentional alignment between lesson goals and intended learning outcomes. They concluded that teachers who intentionally adopted the student-focused approaches to teaching found that students achieved the desired learning outcomes more, as compared to those teachers who deliberately adopted transfer information using a teacher-focused method that related to a surface approach to learning. In learning style literature, Curry (1999) argues that instructional alignment might account for increasing learning outcomes rather than “matching” instructions and learning styles (p. 54). Congruently, Snow and Lohman’s (1984) concept of systematic matching and mismatching of instructions with learning styles was also considered as a flexible approach to teaching and learning in the complex and changing environment and diverse learning roles of students.
The present study is grounded on some assumptions by considering anticipation and intentional alignment as underlying coexisting phenomena of the core components of inclusive education. The first assumption is that teachers in the general education system do not anticipate variability and barriers. Thus, their practices are not intentionally aligned to meet the needs of the students with and without disabilities. The second assumption is that teachers who have resilient, clear, and in-depth conceptual knowledge and understanding about variability and barriers are more likely to verbally express their experience that increases the likelihood of addressing these issues in their classroom, being more aware and intentional rather than exhibiting automatized practices in their everyday routine. The third assumption is that if teachers practice anticipation and intentional alignment in the general classrooms, general classrooms can be transformed into inclusive settings, regardless of regional and educational variations. The general classroom teachers will begin incorporating inclusive practices in their teaching techniques.
Given the need for research on these topics in the inclusive education literature, specifically within the UDL literature, the present study intends to examine the general education teachers’ anticipation, beliefs, and perspectives on the core components, and intentional alignment across teaching modules. By analyzing and synthesizing the reviewed literature on the inclusive and the general education and the UDL theory, the present research provides a blueprint that is guiding this research and can be used as a roadmap for teachers in general and inclusive settings to improve their practices (see Table 3). The subsequent chapter highlights how the process of data collection and analysis was performed to examine anticipation and intentional alignment.
Universally Designed Blueprint for Anticipation and Intentional Alignment for General and Inclusive Classroom
|Anticipation of Variability||Anticipation of Barriers|
|Individual differences, learning styles, preferences, strategies, motivation, interests, and linguistic, religious, and cultural diversity||Student-related barriers (Medical Model)
(physical, cognitive, affective, behavioral, vulnerability, and exceptionality)
|Environment-oriented barriers (Social Model)
(parents and family, peers, routines, and settings)
|Construct-irrelevant barriers (Curricular Infirmity)
(Instructional, materials, and assessment barriers)
|Intended Learning Goals (expert learning)
Unique to the variate learners
Alignment with the content standards
Clearly defined and distinct from means and ends
Understandable and approachable for the teachers and the students
Declarative (content-based, level of understanding)
|Intentional Alignment in Innovative Learning environment/LRE
|Flexibility||Openness||Access to resources|
|Physical: Combining more than one classes, team-teaching, small groups, considering visual-special (place, space, time) preferences
Practical: Student-oriented and teachers’ facilitating NOT transmitting
|Physical: Fewer walls, opportunities to observe and learn from other students/classes/instructors
Caring, supportive, safe, and distraction-free climate
Practical: Teachers are allowed to open classroom doors for assistance from the school support resources (i.e., psychologists, counselors, resource teacher, nurse), and outsiders (i.e., parents, volunteers, specialists, trainers)
|Physical: Learning common for reading, group work, projects, reflection, educational and low/high-tech assistive technology (i.e., AAC, SWT, AK, TS, audio-video captioning, educational software)
Practical: Teachers’ continuous professional development training on research/evidence-based instructional approaches and assistive technology and regular PLC
|Intentional Alignment in Instructional Methods/Materials|
|Multiple Means of Engagement||Various Means of Representation||Various Means of Action and Expression|
|Options for recruiting interest (choices and autonomy; authenticity; minimizing threats)
Options for sustaining efforts and persistence (understandable and accessible goals; optimizing challenge; fostering collaboration; mastery-oriented feedback)
Options for self-regulation (high expectations; emotional regulation; self-assessment and reflection)
|Options for perceptions (customizing information display; alternative displays for auditory and visual information)
Options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols (clarify vocabulary, symbols, syntax, and structure; support decoding; encourage understanding across languages; multiple media resources; embedded scaffolds)
Options for comprehension (building on background knowledge; spot themes, relationships, and patterns; multiple sensory modalities-based manipulatives; applied skills and experience)
|Options for physical actions (varied methods for navigating learning; assistive technology)
Options for expression and communication (multiple tools and media to compose, construct, present, and communicate)
Options for executive functions (goal and expectation setup; enhance planning and strategies; promote techniques to organize information and resources; cultivating self-progress monitoring skills)
|Alignment in Assessments
Plan authentic assessment keeping intended learning goals, and objectives in mind
Deliberate planning of standard-based diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment considering variability and barriers
Multiple means of engagement (expectation rubrics; choices in paper-pencil and digital assessment; minimizing threats; timely corrective feedback; self-assessments)
Multiple means of representation (optimal language and content access through embedded scaffolds; manipulative sensory access; auditory/visual display of problems)
Multiple means of action and expression (S (show/display), M (make/build), A (act/perform), R (report/write), T (talk/present); self-progress tracking)
|Reflections and Fidelity (Expert teaching)
Reflections about anticipation in lesson planning (inclusive approach and language)
Reflections about obtaining and maintaining intentional alignment across instructional methods and materials
Reflections about sustaining intentional alignment during assessments
Reflections and feedback from the students
Reflections on to what extent variability and barriers were addressed; alignment was achieved, and identifying and building on gaps
Note. AAC = augmentative and alternative communication; AK = alternative keyboard; IEP = Individual Education Plan; ISSP = Individual Student Support Plan; LRE = Least restrictive environment; PLC = Professional Learning Communities; SWT = switches; TS = touch screens
The research in inclusive education reports the need to address the learning differences in today’s diverse classrooms and shows that the emphasis should be given to identifying and eliminating barriers. By adopting a backward approach of inquiry, this study examines the roots of teachers’ practices in their beliefs about the core concepts of variability and barriers, and then evaluates if their methods are aligned with the core inclusive education components found in the literature. The UDL framework and research base address topics related to variability and barriers by focusing on the implementation of the principles, guidelines, and checkpoints; however, the present research explores the perspectives and practices of general education teachers in comprehending, anticipating, and addressing these topics.
Biggs (2003) states that teaching and learning activities should be in line with the same goal to accomplish the desired learning outcomes or being an expert learner, as the UDL framework suggests. In an expert learning system, both the teacher and the student are the learners and need momentum in establishing the equilibrium in the teaching and learning system trajectory. One component in maintaining the balance in the inclusive education system can be practicing the systematic, intentional alignment by anticipating variability and finding ways and effective strategies in eliminating barriers to learning in all teaching components suggested in the literature. Additionally, if teachers practice intentional alignment in the general education settings, their attitudes towards inclusion will be improved, and the teaching practices can be inclusive, regardless of disabilities. The teacher will consider the disabilities of the students as an opportunity to provide a quality education that will meet the needs of all students. This multiple case study is an effort to initiate scholarly discussions around these topics and to explore possibilities of inclusive education in the private international schools in KSA.
The present research defines its objectives as (a) exploring teachers’ beliefs and understanding about the meanings of the concepts “learner variability and barriers to learning” and (b) examining the intentional alignment (teachers’ ways of anticipating, planning, and addressing variability and barriers) across all teaching components (lesson planning and goals, instructional methods, materials and assessment) with the core inclusive practices.
This exploratory and descriptive inquiry is based on “provisional” and “generative” questions, as they are engendering new ideas around teaching and learning theories and will later serve as a focus for data collection (Agee, 2009, p. 433). Primarily, the proposed study addresses two main questions followed by sub-questions:
Q 1. What are the salient themes and patterns of meaning associated with the concepts of learner variability and barriers to learning that emerge from general education teachers’ perspectives and beliefs, and how are the patterns of these concepts linked with each other?
Q 1.1. How do teachers define and understand the term learner variability in the general education classroom setting?
Q 1.2. How do teachers define and understand the term barriers to learning in general education classroom settings?
Q 1.3. Do these two constructs link with each other in the teachers’ perspectives?
Q 2. How do general education teachers anticipate and address variability and barriers in their daily practices, and do they obtain and maintain intentional alignment across all teaching components when addressing variability and barriers?
Q 2.1. How do teachers anticipate variability and barriers while designing a lesson plan and learning goals?
Q 2.2. Do teachers practice intentional alignment in addressing variability and barriers across the teaching components (choice of teaching methods, use of materials, and assessment procedures)?
Given the multipurpose approach of the study, a multiple case study design is selected to enhance a deep comprehension of the understudied issues and to achieve the exploratory and descriptive purposes of this research (Denzin & Lincoln, 2013; Heald, 2016). Miles and Huberman (1994) define cases as “a phenomenon of some sort occurring in a bounded context [is in fact] your unit of analysis” (p. 25). Thus, in this study, the actual phenomenon is exploring and documenting if teachers’ current beliefs and practices in the private international schools of KSA are in line with the core inclusive components identified in the literature. Teachers’ beliefs about variability and barriers (understanding and thinking patterns) and practices (evidence of anticipation and intentional alignment across teaching components) are considered as the unit of analysis that is analyzed via multiple sources of data collection, i.e., interviews, document analysis, and observations.
Since the study intends to examine the links between patterns of meanings linked to the understudied concepts and practices within and across the participant teachers, the teachers are regarded as the case study units within their unique contexts. Thus, the study adopts multiple case-study designs by recruiting participants from varied school districts and classrooms (Baxter & Jack, 2008; Yin, 2003). A case study approach enables investigations within the participants’ context (Baxter & Jack, 2008; Starman, 2013). Thus, the unique context of each case, for example, the classrooms, school districts, or administrative structure, as well as teachers’ personal experiences and practices in each class, are binding the study cases. The definitions provided for the related core concepts underlying the phenomenon of inclusive education are further delimiting the present research. Bowen (2005) states that a formal theory is developed for “a conceptual area of inquiry,” and a substantive theory is designed for “an empirical area of inquiry” (p. 218). Thus, the present research provides empirical data on both conceptual and practical grounds to establish formal and substantive theories; and the methodological approach fits with the constructive-interpretive paradigm that produces substantive-formal theory grounded in the research.
UDL researchers emphasize on the anticipation of variability and barriers in the classroom at the start of a new school session and throughout the year, before launching a new lesson (Novak, 2016; Rao, 2015; Rao et al., 2015; Rao, Smith, & Lowrey, 2017). They promote planning that predicts, identifies, and documents the possible variance in the learners and barriers that can get in the way—thus, endorse intentionality during the process of the lesson and instructional planning. Lowrey and colleagues (2017), for example, analyzed general education teachers’ language during lesson planning that reflected intentionality and inclusiveness, such as anticipating variability, offering many choices, and proactively offering solutions to resolve barriers, across the teaching components. A proactive approach to reducing barriers that can be identified in the descriptions of Lowrey and colleagues’ participants depicts a process starting from imagining the inclusive classroom, such as making student profiles in the start of an academic year, proceeding with providing physical access and ensuring learning access, followed by the lesson planning. They intentionally plan and then deliberately practice what they intended. There appear, however, unintentional descriptions and vocabulary in Lowrey and colleague’s research as well. Adhering to the UDL perspective, the authors disregarded teachers’ statements reflecting their conventional ways of teaching and grouped these thoughts as ‘unintentional’ in the instructional planning. For example: “UDL is just a name of good teaching. We’ve been doing it for years, but now it has a name…” (p. 20). In other words, some teachers used UDL but did not experience any positive outcomes in their teaching.
Nevertheless, its benefits can be attained. The authors’ stance was to consider UDL more different than other good teaching practices (i.e., differential instructions, accommodations, among others) and criticized labeling such practices as part of intentional planning. Nonetheless, inclusive education research supports these practices in the classrooms. Within UDL research, however, some authors recommend the blend of these practices with UDL instructional approaches (i.e., Ammons, 2015; Basham, Israel, et al., 2010; Garderen & Whittaker, 2006) while others emphasize on the differences among these approaches (i.e., Lowrey et al., 2017; Novak, 2016).
The evaluation criteria of the present study are based on the reviewed literature and the KSA context, particularly in consideration of the Eastern region where teachers are not exposed to the UDL paradigm and the inclusive practices yet. The criteria describe parameters to evaluate the “anticipation” and the “intentional alignment” in the present study. The criteria recognize the effective teaching practices outlined by the inclusive literature that are evident in the KSA teachers’ practices but may or may not be implemented as part of the intentional practices during the instructional planning. Regarding alignment, CATS theorists believe that “the alignment is achieved by ensuring that the intended verb in the outcome statement is present in the teaching/learning activity and the assessment task” (Biggs & Tang, 2007, p. 52). CATS researchers evaluate constructive alignment in their studies by focusing on the words, verbs, and phrases depicting teachers’ intentional effort in aligning learning outcomes to the assessment planning (Biggs & Tang, 2007; Trigwell & Prosser, 2014).
As discussed in the conceptual framework of the study, the teachers’ general beliefs about variability and barriers serve as a precursor to the process of anticipation. Similarly, the general ideas and expectations serve as prerequisites to the intentional alignment procedure. Therefore, these relationships are apparent in the criteria of expectation and intentional alignment developed for this study. The requirements for expectation is stated as (a) evaluating participants’ background knowledge, beliefs, and understanding of the concept of variability and barriers, (b) evaluating the terminologies participants used to describe the “anticipation” component such as “expect,” “foresee,” “think,” “assume,” and “reflect” during the interview, and in the document analysis of the lesson plans, and (c) presence and absence of the embedded resources or strategies for English language learners (ELL)/English as a second language (ESL) and differentiation in the lesson planning.
The present research defines intentional alignment as mindful and proactive planning of the teaching components where the lesson plan anticipates and predicts variability and barrier issues; and the teaching methods, use of the learning material, and assessment procedures are in line with the UDL guidelines, state standards, and core components of inclusive practices. The criteria used to evaluate the intentional alignment include (a) analyzing the presence or absence of the “anticipation” component in the data obtained from each case, (b) evaluating the amount of information the participant has provided on alignment and clarity of the relevant concepts, (c) if the criteria (a and b) are met, evaluating the presence or absence of the aligned component through all data resources, and (d) if the criteria (a and b) are not fulfilled, evaluating the overall practices in addressing the variability and barriers in accordance to the beliefs and understanding of the teacher.
Grounded in the previous literature, the present research also developed a universally designed blueprint for anticipation and intentional alignment that is utilized as a benchmark during the data analysis process (see Table 3). Based on this blueprint, the study identifies full, partial, or no evidence for anticipation and alignment in the teaching practices. This comprehensive process of identifying teaching practices guided by teachers’ belief system leads to unveiling the status of inclusive practices in private international schools of KSA—thus, the overreaching goal of the study is achieved.
The literature indicates discussions on the presence of the inclusive practices in private international schools in the Gulf countries and shows a need for investigating such schools to promote inclusive education in the Middle-Eastern region (Weber, 2012; Brown, 2005). Therefore, the teachers’ recruitment was done from two private international school districts located in the Eastern Province of KSA. These are American schools located in KSA, and the school districts have separate accreditations, the board of education, organizational structures, and instructional and curriculum designs, therefore they are considered as different contexts. The participants representing each context, thus, provide a range of information needed for the study to allow broad comparisons and sets of patterns for the understudied concepts (beliefs about variability and barriers, anticipation, and intentional alignment) and the underlying phenomena (inclusive practices).
Purposive sampling is adopted in the selection of these schools because they meet the inclusionary study criteria (i.e., the English language as the core medium of instruction, diverse student population, internationally qualified teachers, and high funded schools), which are components considered as baseline agents to initiate inclusive practices. First, Saudi Aramco Expatriate School (SAES) is a group of schools operating in four Eastern Province communities. Within SAES, more than 2100 students from 62 different nationalities in K3 through grade 9 are currently being served. SAES recruits certified teachers mostly from North America and the USA. However, there are currently no teachers with special education training serving in these schools. The mission statement of the school signifies attracting and retaining workforce, and diversity and inclusion are not apparent in the statement as it states: “Saudi Aramco Expatriate Schools provide each student with an excellent education in support of attracting and retaining an international workforce” (SAES, n.d). They prefer hiring general education teachers with experience in the current program of study for all grade levels. Teachers at SAES are found to be practicing, understanding by design, and differentiating models of instruction (Tomlinson, 2000; Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006). SAES has an 18:1 inclusion ratio for students with mild to moderate levels of learning difficulties. Among SAES, one elementary and one middle school participant teachers are recruited and considered as case study units 1 and 2 in the multiple case study design (Miles & Huberman, 1994).
Second, International School Groups-Dammam (ISG) is part of an American-accredited group of schools focusing on an American curriculum serving more than 1300 multiethnic expatriate student population from Pre-Kindergarten through grade 12. ISG schools are licensed by the Saudi Ministry of Education. ISG schools do not have students with special needs. However, there are students with mild to moderate learning deficiencies, and some programs are offered in English as an Additional Language (EAL), and some afterschool activities. Further details are not available about the types of afterschool activities. ISG-Dammam’s mission statement does not mention inclusion and diversity; it states: “We Inspire Innovation and Compassionate Action.” However, they endorse professional development and aligned practices as reflected through this statement mentioned on the school webpage: “As a school, we are committed to increasing academic rigor by implementing: aligned curriculum, instruction, and assessments through professional collaboration, student agency, literacy, and compassionate action” (ISG-Dammam, 2018). The total number of general education teachers is 115 in the school with no teachers with training in special education. They have multiethnic teachers qualified from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Lebanon. Teachers follow CCSS along with the Columbia Teachers College Writers/Reader workshop and Eureka Math Inquiry base. Teachers recruited from this school are considered as case study units 3 and 4 (one elementary and one middle school teacher).
The lead researcher initially approached these schools by sending e-mails, and later a research agreement for participation in the study had been signed by the school authorities and the researcher (see Appendix A). The proposed study posed no severe ethical problems to the participants; however, before starting data collection, the researchers received REB approval for conducting this research with human participants (see Appendix E). Later, the teachers’ recruitment process was initiated by emailing an informed consent form to the school authorities, who were responsible for sending consent forms to the potential participants to confirm their participation in the study — the form provided information about the purpose and nature of the research. The timeline and procedures of data collection were provided, and permission was requested for the data collection procedure (see Appendix B).
Yin (2003) and Stake (1995) suggest binding the case by defining the boundaries to remain within the achievable objectives of the study (Baxter & Jake, 2008). The present study includes four mathematics teacher participants (grades 5-8) from the general education classroom setting in two separate elementary-middle and elementary-high school systems (Creswell, 2013; Maxwell, 2012). The participating elementary and middle school teachers are the chief sources of information in this study. The literature indicates high differentiated practices at these grade levels because of several students with learning preferences in the classrooms (Heald, 2016). Therefore, the participants provided a rich source of information for the study.
The purposive sampling strategy was adopted in the selection of the teachers to obtain a ‘structured’ set of information on the understudied topics via their voluntary participation (Padgett, 1998, p. 52). Therefore, “manageability” in the selection of sites, “accessibility” of the schools, and “willingness” of the respondents are considered as inclusionary criteria for the sample (Bowen, 2005, p. 217). School administration was preferred in the identification of the potential teachers suitable to the purpose of the study. Later, the purposive sampling strategy was adopted to recruit the participants based on their voluntary participation (Coyne, 1997). Overall, four math teacher participants were recruited, two from SAES (one grade-5 and one grade-8), and two from ISG-Dammam (one grade-5 and one from grade-6). Each participant teacher had more than five years of teaching experience. Data obtained from these participants enabled robust within-and cross-case analyses for the multiple case study design and minimized the validity threats to the study by observing participant triangulation techniques (Baxter & Jack, 2008; Krefting, 1991). Teachers’ qualifications and certification and demographic information were obtained during the interview process.
The REB consent form guaranteed the participants’ rights, i.e., voluntary participation, the right to withdraw from the study anytime, asking questions, and keeping a copy of the transcripts (see Appendix B). Their anonymity and confidentiality were ensured throughout the data collection process and during the dissemination of the data and results in scholarly publications and conferences. Procedures of the data collection were also explained, and permission was requested for audio recording interviews and to collect documents, i.e., lesson plans for the research analysis purposes. Parents of the children for the selected classroom were sent a letter to inform them about the classroom observations activity (see Appendix F). The researcher did not intend to interact with the children directly; therefore, their general responses or behaviors were recorded manually.
Moreover, the participants were guaranteed the safety of the data by providing them with information on the system of data storage. The participants were also informed about the expected benefits of participating in the research. The research participants, context, and settings were well respected, and the physical presence of the researcher caused minimum disruptions. Adopting a role of a “good enough” researcher as recommended by Luttrell (2010) allowed for addressing potential research biases, reflexivity to the research field, and minimizing power dynamics in the data collection process (p. 273).
The lead researchers’ children are enrolled in grades (K.G, 5, and 6) at SAES. The following measures were taken to avoid possible conflict of interest: (a) the school authorities were informed about the placement of the researchers’ children in the school, (b) teachers of the researchers’ children were not approached for participation in this research. The participants of this study were not given monetary compensation for participating in this research. However, their participation in the advancement of knowledge was verbally recognized. The lead researcher visited the schools a few times to meet and contact the research participants to establish rapport and to familiarize themselves with them before the actual data collection process began. This approach was adopted to achieve the quality of disclosure that is essential during the interview and data collection procedure (Myers & Newman, 2007).
Face-to-Face Interviews. Interviews were conducted with the participants using semi-structured open-ended questions (Koro-Ljungberg, Yendol-Hoppey, Smith, & Hayes, 2009; Myers & Newman, 2007). The semi-structured questions investigated the meanings of the understudied concepts regarding teachers’ beliefs and opinions and how they anticipate and address variability and barriers-related issues in their daily practices (see Teachers’ Interview Protocol in Appendix C). The questionnaire protocol was reviewed by an expert in the field of qualitative inquiry to ensure the alignment of the questions with the proposed conceptual framework and research questions of the study (Maxwell, 2012). The questionnaire was piloted with two nonparticipant teachers from SAES to address the ambiguity of the language (Myers & Newman, 2007).
The first few questions were introductory and were kept as closed-ended with entirely written descriptions, while in the questions (5-9), some blanks were kept intentionally to adopt a mirroring technique where appropriate (Myers & Newman, 2007). This technique allows a researcher to focus on the participants’ perspectives and to mirror their language to avoid using the researchers’ language that is sometimes difficult for the research participants to understand. Explicitly, the mirroring technique was utilized in this research to keep a record of the terminologies they preferred to use to describe learner variability. Many probes were added during the interview process to expand on any relevant information or to clarify ambiguous statements. Since the medium of language was English in the participant schools, no Arabic translations were needed for the questionnaire. The interviews were carried out in the English language, during, and after school time as per the convenience and availability of the teachers. The interviews were audio-recorded with prior permission from the participants. The interview length varied from forty-five minutes to one hour except for more than three hours long interview sessions with one of the SAES participant teachers. Once the interview was transcribed verbatim, it was then e-mailed to the participants for member checking that allowed them to review and update their input; this practice facilitated the credibility of the study (Merriam, 2009).
Document Analysis. Initially, teacher-created written samples of lesson plans were planned to be collected to investigate whether these samples are providing evidence of the teachers’ intentions in anticipating learner variability and planning ways to remove barriers through defined teaching goals. However, several other document sources were also gathered during the process, including CCSS-based lesson planning, assessment sheets, rubrics, effective teaching strategies, students’ active learning reflections, and many others. Therefore, all such documents were found to be essential and considered in the data analysis procedure and making inferences. Documents provide a hidden set of context-rich data resources to elicit meaning, generate understanding, and develop empirical knowledge. They further provide a lead for asking additional questions that were missed initially in follow-up interview sessions (Bowen, 2005). All these methods complement each other by providing rich information and minimizing the error of bias by maintaining data triangulation and corroborating findings across data sets and cases (Denzin & Lincoln, 2013; Jonsen & Jehn, 2009; Krefting, 1991; Patton, 1990). The collection of lesson plans was done after the completion of the interview sessions and before classroom observations.
Classroom Observations. Observations were conducted during class time with the participant teachers to record teachers’ practices in addressing variability issues and instructional strategies in removing barriers to learning through methods, materials, and assessment procedures. The observation method was adopted because it allows rich sources of information to be obtained (Jonsen & Jehn, 2009; Ostrower, 1998). However, the researcher ensured the minimal influence of being an outsider in the natural classroom setting (Creswell, 2013). For example, by assuming a sitting place away from students’ sight to avoid their distracting behavior and by not interrupting verbally and physically during class time. These observations were primarily focusing on teachers’ instructional strategies, teaching methods and materials, and assessment techniques; student observations were also focused in response to the teaching methods. Observations were recorded in the written field notes excel table (see Appendix D) (Bowen, 2005). This observation checklist had been created considering elements of a comprehensive observation suggested by Merriam (1988). These elements include “attention to the setting, participants, activities, and interactions, and frequency and duration of situations” (French, 1994, p. 51). The classroom observations were carried out for 5-7 days with each participant teacher separately. The primary objective was to collect a minute set of information right from the beginning of a new lesson until the day of assessment in each classroom. The data was observed diligently to enrich the analysis procedure for each participant and triangulate the data collection procedures.
Reflexivity. As a lead researcher, a record of biases, reactivity, expectations, emotions, field experiences, and assumptions was kept by reflecting through journaling and mentioning throughout the research planning to data collection via the analysis and interpretation phases (Birks, Chapman, & Francis, 2008). The experience of a lead researcher was particularly significant when encountering the researchers’ positionality at the time of approaching the research sites (Merriam et al., 2001). The private international schools in KSA were hard to approach and collect information due to several challenges at the organizational and community level. A lead researcher’s positionality in SAES as an insider-outsider impacted the decisions of the ways to inquire about the study phenomena. For example, as an insider, being an expat and a mother of young children enrolled in SAES allowed the lead researcher to approach the research field. However, the positionality of being an outsider and being a researcher created obstacles to reaching the relevant information required for the research project from the administration.
Similarly, the positionality factor at the teachers’ level was also apparent at ISG. The positionality of a lead researcher as an outsider hindered the access of more information from the ISG teachers compared to the SAES teachers, as reflected through the analysis of the interviews. However, adopting peer debriefing strategies such as discussions with the supervisor appeared effective in addressing biases and reflectivity that increased trustworthiness in the research (Birks, Chapman, & Francis, 2008). Confidentiality was assured to the participants throughout in the data collection procedure (Cresswell, 2013) and the role of the researchers was an instrument of inquiry (Yeh & Inman, 2007), while the participants were considered as the chief source of knowledge generated during the entire research process (Koro-Ljungberg et al., 2009).
For the multiple case study data analysis and interpretation, strategies recommended by Yeh and Inman (2007) were adopted by focusing on the ethics and rigor throughout the analyses across (a) self—by addressing the roles of the researcher and resolving issues related to the power dynamics and positionality, (b) culture—by making contextual analyses within and across cases, (c) collaborations—by analyzing research relationships, (d) circularity—by examining relations between theory and field experiences, (e) trustworthiness—by ensuring neutrality between the researcher and the participants, and triangulations, and (f) deconstruction—through providing detailed description and discussion of themes (p. 372).
The research question 1 and sub-questions 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 were analyzed by asking question number 4, 5, 10, 11, 16 in the teacher interview protocol. The research question 2 and sub-questions 2.1, 2.2 were analyzed by asking question number 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15 in the protocol through the classroom observations and conducting document analysis. Precisely, for the analysis of the interview transcripts, classroom observation records, vital documents, and journaling—the manual coding procedures recommended by Auerbach and Silverstein (2003), and Ryan and Bernard (2003), the content analysis suggested by Bengtsson (2016), the multiple case narrative techniques suggested by Shkedi (2005), and Glaser and Strauss’s (2017) systematic analysis procedures for qualitative data guided by grounded theory were followed. The process of data analysis is presented below (see Figure 4).
Decontextualization. At the manifest stage-1, the audio recorded interviews were transcribed verbatim by the lead researcher following the transcription rules and strategies recommended by Liamputtong (2011).
At the manifest stage-2, the line to line meaning units was obtained for all datasets, including interview transcriptions, observational datasheets, documents, classroom picture details, and reflexive journaling. This process was obtained independently for all datasets of each participant. The meaning units were rewritten, which facilitated the process of negative case analysis and reduction of unnecessary/irrelevant data.
At the manifest stage-3, the data was coded based on repetitive words/verbs/phrases, considering the keywords in the data relevant to the underlying concepts of the study, by comparing and contrasting, and by searching for missing information—mainly to find out teachers’ understanding about the study concepts i.e., variability and barriers, as well as finding examples, quotations, practices, and experiences of the teachers that could be grouped according to the core research themes i.e., anticipation and intentional alignment. The techniques of pawing by grouping color-coded themes and continuing the process of cutting and sorting the relevant themes were applied until theoretical saturation was obtained (Corbin & Strauss, 1990; Ryan & Bernard, 2003). The same process was done for each source of data for each participant independently. The process of regrouping and refining themes was not limited to the manifest stage; instead it was extended until the last stage of the report writing.
Recontextualization and Categorization. At the latent stage-1, themes obtained from all data sources (interviews, documents, observations, and journaling) were placed in one table to obtain the combined dataset for each participant. This combined data set provided the generic categories of obtained themes. At this level, similar themes were regrouped and condensed to reduce the thematic categories and sub-categories further. Each major thematic category was then assigned a relevant name. Thus, theoretical constructs were obtained. Separate categories were established for grouping different, unique, or unexpected findings.
At the latent stage-2, the relevant theories were revisited, and horizontal and vertical shuffling of the concepts of each participants’ dataset provided consolidated first-order theoretical narratives. These narrative categories were then assigned theoretical descriptions based on the relevant theories and literature. During all data analysis procedures, different qualitative approaches were consulted to ensure the accuracy of the process. The accuracy of the process appeared systematic; however, the process was not linear and required countless data shuffling and back and forth revisions until the final themes and theoretical narratives were achieved.
Compilation and Conceptualization. The latent stage-3 laid the foundations to map the findings in an organized way depicting quotes and evidence from the data set for each participant. The mapping procedure based on the first-order theoretical narratives enabled the researcher to compile and present within-case analysis. The findings obtained at this level are called category-focused narratives that provided a narration of the outcomes in vivo—without the researchers’ interpretations and analysis but borrowing a storytelling feature of the case, thus representing the participant’s voice in the findings (Shkedi, 2005).
In latent stage-4, considering the grounded nature of the research inquiry, the researcher carefully attended to the data and found areas of discoveries; analyses were built on the interpretations of the data, and the findings were then compared to the extant literature and theories. This stage referred to the conceptualization of the understudied concepts and relationships among them. Comparative analysis between the two cases of the same school district based on level 1 (similarities and differences) and level 2 (strengths and challenges) led to the achievement of the cross-case analysis. The same procedure was adopted to achieve the cross-case analysis for the other school district. The final report reflects the comparative analyses between the two school districts—hence, providing in-depth analyses and multidimensional perspectives of the understudied phenomena, presenting a holistic and consolidated picture of the results (Yeh & Inman, 2007).
The study protected the participants’ anonymity by dissociating their names during the coding procedures to ensure confidentiality during data analysis and interpretations. Finally, the use of appropriate language throughout the research writing was confirmed by avoiding biased statements and by acknowledging the study participants’ contribution to the advancement of knowledge (Creswell, 2013). Member checking was acquired twice during the data analysis procedure. First, it was acquired by sending the transcribed interviews to all participants, and second, by sharing the preliminary thematic categorization. Additionally, two Ph.D. graduates served as the auditors of the study and posed critical questions during and after completing the data analysis procedure. This procedure of peer debriefing and feedback led to acquiring a comprehensive set of study findings.
Figure 4. A pictorial view of data analysis and report writing procedures
The findings were validated by maintaining trustworthiness/credibility throughout the research protocols. Thus, confidence in the truth of the findings for the participants and the context of the study were established (Jonsen & Jehn, 2009; Krefting, 1991; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Some strategies for maintaining credibility have been discussed earlier, such as establishing familiarity with the participants, methodological triangulation by adopting multiple sources of data collection and participant triangulation, piloting the questionnaire, member checking, and peer debriefing. Additionally, negative case analysis was ensured by refining themes after initial categorization by revisiting data and confirming that the obtained construct accounted for all instances of the phenomenon in the study (Bowen, 2005; Shenton, 2004). Furthermore, providing a full description of the findings and interpretations of the understudied constructs and phenomena also contributed to the credibility of this research (Maxwell, 2012; Yeh & Inman, 2007).
The dependability that relates to the consistency/confirmability of the research (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) was accomplished by addressing credibility issues, data reconstruction, and thematic categorization during analyses, describing instrument information (interview protocols), and detailed procedures for conducting this research (Krefting, 1991). Applicability refers to transferability in the literature that Guba (1981) describes as the goodness of fit between two contexts. The researchers’ responsibility is to provide sufficient descriptive data to allow for comparisons. Detailed demographic information of the study contexts (schools), participants (teachers), settings (classrooms), data collection procedures, and methodologies are provided to allow transferability. However, generalizations and transferability are currently not the interest of this research (Maxwell, 2012). Instead, the objective is to provide factual accuracy and accurate descriptions of the teachers’ beliefs, meanings, patterns, and practices to obtain descriptive and interpretive validity of the research (Maxwell, 1992).
Nevertheless, the documentation of the current status of inclusive practices in private international schools may allow decisions in policy-making related to inclusive education in the Kingdom at the broader level. Addressing theoretical validity is essential in this research since it is aiming to provide the conceptual foundation for the understudied concepts for future studies; observing these methodologies possibly reduces the chances of falsification in the research (Denzin & Lincoln, 2013; Maxwell, 1992).
There are a few limitations in the methodological procedures that were adopted for the current study. Although, the small number of the case study units/participants provided a rich source of information and chances to make in-depth analyses of the data, caution is advised to the transferability of the present research findings to other grade levels that were not included in this study, and to the teaching practices of the other private international schools running in the Kingdom. Another limitation is that the teachers were the key respondents in this study, and the information inquiring about the inclusive education practices in the school was not gathered from the administrative staff. Thus, the study lacks the administrative viewpoints in the analyses.
Despite making efforts to provide enough details about the teachers’ beliefs and practices, there is a chance that the researcher overlooked some information, or the participant did not provide the information due to memory, lack of information, or school’s restricted disclosure policies. For example, when the teachers were probed about the reasons for the lack of inclusive practices in their schools, most of them were unaware of the school’s policies on inclusive education. There are also possibilities of socially desirable behavior of the teachers during classroom observations. This limitation was addressed by adopting the methodological triangulation technique by collecting data from more than one resource (i.e., documents and interviews).
Regarding the falsification issues and verification bias that might be caused by adopting case-study methodology in terms of the researchers’ perspectives on the investigating phenomenon, situation, and the research process (Starman, 2013). The researcher provided descriptions in the data analysis about addressing verification bias, falsification issues and reducing the chance of misrepresentations in the results by revising the research assumptions, restructuring research questions, providing a detailed description on the data collection and analysis procedures, preparing reflexive journals, conducting face-to-face discussions with the respondents, and probing of the unclear response segments (Starman, 2013). Further, the researcher followed-up by asking follow-up questions to the teachers later during the analysis phase to clarify information and themes that emerged during the coding procedure and ensured member checking procedure. Furthermore, the potential limitations and descriptive and interpretive threats to the research validity were addressed by ensuring the research rigor throughout the data analysis to interpretation procedures.
In sum, this chapter provides a detailed description of the methodological measures, research design, data collection procedures, and the process of data analyses that were obtained from four elementary and middle school math teachers from two different districts. The purpose of this research was to evaluate the current status of inclusive education in the private international schools of the Kingdom. This purpose was achieved by evaluating the general education teachers’ beliefs and understandings about the two core concepts of inclusive education, variability, and barriers and by exploring the connections of their beliefs and perspectives with their teaching practices. General education teachers were also investigated if they anticipate variability and barriers in their daily practices and if their practices are aligned with the core components of inclusive education. For this reason, evaluation criteria were developed for anticipation and alignment components in the teachers’ practices. The confidentiality of the research participants was ensured by following the McGill REB procedures and guidelines. Furthermore, the research rigors were observed to ensure trustworthiness, dependability, and applicability throughout the analyses. The next chapter provides in-depth analyses of the research findings separately for each school district.
The purpose of the research was to discover the general education teachers’ thought processes and beliefs in understanding the meanings of two significant concepts: learner variability and barriers to learning and to analyze their daily teaching practices based on their beliefs and understandings about these concepts. For this purpose to be achieved, it is critical to find out what teachers think, talk, and practice and this section sheds light on the related findings. The research findings in this chapter are presented distinctly for the participants selected from the two different districts: SAES and ISG-Dammam. An assimilated report prepared by pooling all data sources (face-to-face interviews, classroom observations, document analysis, and reflexivity) is presented categorically. First, within-case analyses for all four cases that describe the findings of research questions 1 and 2 are presented. The emphasis at the first stage is provided to present the participants’ voices and terminologies, hence adopting a journalist approach (Shkedi, 2005). Second, the findings of each school district are followed by a cross-case analysis. An analytical approach is adopted for cross-case analysis by providing the researchers’ insights and profound interpretations. This is done at two levels: similarities and differences, and strengths and challenges, across the two cases of each school district, concluding with a juxtaposition of the findings with the theory of UDL and the core components of inclusive education.
Two cases were selected from the SAES district: Katei Heath and Mac Kelvin.
Case 1: Katei Heath. A Canadian national, Katei (pseudonym) acquired her combined Bachelor of Education and teacher’s certification, and Bachelor of Science from the University of Alberta, Edmonton. She pursued her Master of Education degree from the Framingham State University in Boston. Katei has a productive 17 years of science and math teaching experience in Canada, South Korea, and the Middle East. Specifically, in Saudi Arabia, she spent more than nine years working in the schools of SAES located at different locations within the Kingdom. Enthusiastic about teaching math and science, Katei’s only profession throughout her job career was teaching. She is an energetic and passionate teacher and serves as a Grade 5 homeroom teacher, teaching science, social studies, and mathematics. Precisely, her math class with 19 students was selected for data collection. The following section provides information about her ideas and teaching practices exclusively related to the research questions.
Beliefs, Understanding, and Perspectives. The following key question was formed followed by sub-questions to gain deep insight into teachers’ beliefs, understanding, and perceptions about the core concepts variability and barriers. Since the first research question is comprised of three sub-questions, the findings for each sub-question are presented separately
Q 1. What are the salient themes and patterns of meaning associated with the concepts learner variability and barriers to learning that emerge from general education teachers’ perspectives and beliefs, and how are the patterns of these concepts linked with each other?
Q 1.1. How do teachers define and understand the term learner variability in a general education classroom setting?
Q 1.2. How do teachers define and understand the term barriers to learning in general education classroom settings?
Q 1.3. Do these two constructs link with each other in the teachers’ perspectives?
Q 1.1 The concept of learner variability. The findings related to the conceptual understanding of the term learner variability were mainly obtained via the data gathered from a face-to-face interview. The interview lasted for more than three hours and provided rich information based on 1488 lines in the verbatim transcription. Data emerged and was organized in groupings of primary themes, i.e., terminologies used for variability and definition, variability beliefs, and variance types.
- a) Terminologies used for variability and definition. When questioned about the familiarity of the term “learner variability,” Katei responded that she had heard the term and other related terminologies, but the term was not used in everyday conversations at her school to describe the variance in the classroom. However, she preferred to use the term “learner variability” during the interview when asked about her terminology preference by using a “mirroring technique” in the questionnaire (Myers & Newman, 2007). It was also noted that the most frequently occurring terminologies that Katei used throughout her conversation to describe the learners in the classroom were “high performing/slow learners,” “top kids/struggling kids,” “above average/below average,” “high-end kids/low-end kids,” and “average learners.”
The terminology utilized to describe the learning activities were “low-floor” and “high-ceiling” (KH, para. 5, Line. 50). The “low floor” activities are designed in a way that is accessible for students with different backgrounds, language, and reading levels, whereas, the “high-ceiling” activities are not just “restricted only to the higher achieving students” (KH, para. 6, Lines. 58-59) instead, “any learner can access the high ceiling work if given enough time to do and the right instructions” (KH, para. 7, Lines. 61-62).
In her understanding, learner variability means personality and ability differences among the students in a classroom. She defined the term as “some students are above grade level, some are at grade level, and some are below grade level. The classroom varies […] in personality and learner profiles”. Further, she referred to variance as “multiple intelligences and different learning styles” (KH, para. 57, Lines. 1447).
- b) Variability beliefs. Katei believes that “there is variance in the classrooms because learners have not been segregated, courses have not been streamed, and there has been little tracking, if any, in middle school and none until high school” (KH, para. 5, Lines. 45-46). This statement refers to her inclusive thoughts regarding the physical placement of various kinds of learners in one classroom, along with the non-segregated approach in the curriculum. She also believes that every learner has potential and equal ability to learn, it just takes some students longer to get there, and good coaching always helps. Referring to learning styles, she encourages her students to work more on their weaknesses rather than on their strengths; because they will never lose their strengths but will achieve less if their weaknesses remain unaddressed. Further, she encourages students to learn from their mistakes and always try to take advantage of excellent learning opportunities. Katei referred to the growth mindset frequently throughout her discussion. She believes that the principles of the growth mindset assist students in keeping trying and persevering and challenges them to complete their tasks on time. However, she mentioned that there is always a variance between the adoption of a growth mindset theory both in the teachers’ beliefs and the student’s beliefs. She considers the growth mindset a key component of successful learning if both teachers and students genuinely adopt this approach.
- c) Variance types. Continuing her discussion on growth mindset, she mentioned that students’ personal beliefs have substantial effects on their learning. Students vary in their set of beliefs on achievement, homework approaches, perceptions about the math program, and religious beliefs that are unique to the students’ families. Mentioning physical characteristics as another aspect of students’ variance in the classroom, Katei finds differences in the students’ age and maturity levels, reading and language proficiency, and gross motor skills. Besides, being an expat teacher, she observes the variance in the personal experiences of the students and the expat families that are associated with the variations in students’ learning approaches. Examples of these include variance in the length of time expat families are living overseas, variance in the parents’ job structure and the duration of children’s time to stay in their home countries.
The theoretical analysis of the components and themes obtained from Katei’s thought patterns, experiences, understanding, and beliefs regarding the concept of learner variability are presented in the cross-cases analyses.
Q 1.2 The concept of barriers to learning. Katei said, “… the barriers to learning make it impossible or slower for a student to acquire the skills and knowledge, and attitude that they should” (KH, para. 31, Lines. 690-91). She did not, however, expand on the definition of the terminology. The overall analysis of the interview, however, allowed for the identification of different types of barriers that she experienced in her daily teaching practices over the past several years working at international schools. These barriers are grouped into three major themes: cognitive barriers, social barriers, and instructional barriers.
- a) Cognitive barriers. Student-related cognitive barriers that Katei considers hindering the learning process are grouped as maturity levels, reading levels, processing ability, and motor skills. She believes that students of the same age group can vary in their maturity levels to approach learning content and the process of learning. Students with high maturity levels take learning in its literal meaning with high levels of reasoning and are better able to cope with poor teaching strategies. These students internalize more information than students with low levels of maturity who demonstrate slow progress in learning.
Katei considers reading levels as an essential component to progress in learning, meaning advancement in all aspects of reading, including: literal, evaluative, figurative, word comprehension, vocabulary, and background knowledge. She observes that students who focus more on acquiring math skills and put less emphasis on their reading lose their excellent reading skills, which in turn negatively impacts their content learning in all other core subject areas. She believes that although some students catch up with their reading skills later, the critical factor is the students’ concerns about their slow performance that motivates them to put more effort to overcome such barriers to learning.
Processing ability was also mentioned in many different aspects in her speech, including but not limited to the students’ understanding of facts and concepts, the ability to catch up to the pace of classroom activities, paying full attention via focused listening, and memorizing important information. She experienced that many students with low processing skills improve, but good coaching and giving them time to correct their mistakes are essential components required in making them progress gradually.
She considers poor motor skills as a barrier to learning. Katei shared a story of a student that had a problem in writing long paragraphs and precisely writing on the lines. He was always observed as inattentive and detached in the classroom until the day Katei realized that he needed to be referred to the counselor for his gross motor assessment. She believes that that is how obstacles snowball, where one barrier provides room for another barrier to grow. Also, there are problems caused by the social surroundings of the students that are grouped and discussed in the following section.
- b) Social barriers. The environmental barriers category incorporates the following sub-themes: parents as barriers and cultural barriers. The most frequently reported barrier to learning in Katei’s discussion was parents as barriers. There are several aspects of parents that frequently cause barriers in their children’s day to day learning. However, if addressed, these aspects can serve as facilitators in learning. For example, most of the parents provide contradictory approaches to solving math problems to their children that cause the students difficulty in understanding classroom-based and parent-based problem-solving techniques. Such contradictions are because of the change in the curriculum over the years, and parents’ lack of knowledge about the new math programs.
Regarding math homework and practices, parents’ expectations vary — some prefer a more extensive workload while others find the regular workload difficult. Some parents push their children to acquire higher scores on standardized testing even if they are higher than the 84th percentile. Katei suggests that they should feel above average and should not complain. Conversely, some parents do not know how to interpret standardized test scores. If they are guided about the testing scores’ interpretations, they can help to improve their kids’ weaknesses in math areas. These and many other problems caused by parents, hinder students’ learning in the classroom.
Within the theme of cultural barriers, Katei admits that being an Asian is an asset in mathematics. She considers that being a non-Asian is another barrier because the Asian students outperform in math; they get extra coaching and put more emphasis on acquiring advanced math skills. Despite cognitive and social barriers, Katei’s discussion also reveals problems that are grouped under the theme of instructional barriers.
- c) Instructional barriers. Considering poor teaching strategies as an instructional barrier, Katei believes that the impact of good teaching on the students’ achievement is not as apparent as the impact of poor teaching on the performance of the students. To some extent, a good student may survive with the poor teaching strategies due to his/her high personal strengths and cognitive functioning, but an average or below average student will not be able to internalize deep learning; thus, the achievement gap will increase and cause more barriers. Therefore, continual reflection on teaching strategies is an essential element for teachers to improve their teaching practices.
Q 1.3 Concept links. When inquired about the relationship between variability and barriers, Katei’s discussion reflected that she considers that the concepts are strongly related to each other. However, she believes that the variance can present barriers if not addressed in a timely fashion, as shown by her statement “I think that you have to find out what the variance is, and find out what the barriers are, and then work on the barriers” (KH, para. 57, Lines. 1465-66). She believes that it is essential to address barriers by preparing teachers for all kinds of learners because the intention is to help everyone improve in the class and to reduce the achievement gap. If the achievement gap is not addressed, it will cause more barriers for the learners, and the cycle continues. She suggests that by preparing for the low-floor and high-ceiling activities along with assistive technology, and by giving choices and working with a growth mindset simultaneously, the teacher is in the best position to address variability and barriers.
In sum, Katei provided rich information around the conceptual understanding of the two core topics of the research questions 1: the salient themes and patterns of the meanings associated with the constructs “learner variability,” “barriers to learning,” and the relationship among them. The in-depth analysis of these findings is provided in the cross-case analysis section. The following section sheds light on the research question 2: the daily teaching practices of Katei.
Daily Teaching Practices. The second question of the study investigates general education teachers’ practices and explores if teachers anticipate variability and barriers and how they address them. The main question consists of two sub-questions; therefore, the findings are provided separately for each sub-question.
Q 2. How do general education teachers anticipate and address variability and barriers in their daily practices, and do they obtain and maintain intentional alignment across all teaching components when addressing variability and barriers?
Q 2.1. How do teachers anticipate variability and barriers while designing a lesson plan and learning goals?
Q 2.2. Do teachers practice intentional alignment in addressing variability and barriers across the teaching components (choice of teaching methods, use of materials, and assessment procedures)?
Q 2.1 Anticipating variability and barriers in the classroom. The present research sets some parameters to evaluate anticipation element in teachers’ practices. The criteria for anticipation is stated as (a) evaluating participants’ background knowledge, beliefs, and understanding of the concept of variability and barriers, (b) evaluating the terminologies participants used to describe the “anticipation” component such as “expect,” “foresee,” “think,” “assume,” and “reflect” during the interview, and in the document analysis of the lesson plans, and (c) presence and absence of the embedded resources or strategies for English language learners (ELL)/English as a second language (ESL) and differentiation in the lesson planning. Although all data resources collectively provided information that is addressed under the topic of anticipation, the lesson plans, and the planning procedure mainly provide vital information on this topic. The information collected through these resources was then documented with the classroom observations.
Lesson planning. To analyze the thought processes essential to the anticipation of variability and barriers during the phase of lesson planning and deciding learning goals, Katei provided lesson plans collectively prepared by the teachers as well as provided by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for grade 5 (Every Day Mathematics, Connect Ed McGraw Hills-unit 5: Operations with Fractions), and some other supporting documents in addition to the interviews. Mainly, three themes were identified under this category: the process of lesson planning, the learning targets and goals, and the embedded resources.
- a) The process of lesson planning: takes place in meetings under the supervision of a math coach that occurs throughout the year. The purpose of such co-planning is to add enrichment activities that are not otherwise suggested by the textbook, to plan for the assessments, to evaluate students’ background knowledge to prepare for the new lesson, and to put all resources and the problem solutions in one place that could be accessible to all teachers. They use the teachers’ edition lesson guide suggested by the CCSS and the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) in their lesson planning.
SIOP is an instructional framework utilized to address the academic needs of English language learners (ELL) and ESL students via purposeful teaching (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2008). SIOP is based on eight components that are collectively considered as a lesson plan: lesson preparation, building background knowledge, comprehensible input, strategies, practice, lesson delivery, and review and assessment.
Upon inquiring if Katei prepares individual lesson plans, she mentioned that she follows CCSS and the teachers’ planner, but she takes personal notes in a notebook, on the whiteboard, and the Power School Learning (PSL) page. PSL is a school portal accessible to parents, teachers, and students. Katei posts important reminders, unfinished tasks, announcements, relevant instructions for specific tasks, common mathematic misconceptions, and activity links specified for ELL students and the entire class. She keeps home-school communication active through frequently posting on the PSL portal.
- b) Learning targets and goals: are found broadly but clearly stated in the CCSS and the teachers’ lesson plan for Unit-5. The goals and contents in the plan depict the instructional process of the targeted lesson, including how students will be able to understand the new math concepts, learn, and practice. The goals written in the CCSS appear to be in line with all teaching components, including the learning material, teaching methods, and assessments. The goals mentioned in the teacher-made lesson plans that are in line with the CCSS do not, however, include descriptions or vocabulary representing the anticipation of variability and expected barriers. The teacher-made lesson plans underscore the LESA model. This model is comprised of the following components: Launch (retrieving background knowledge), Explore (introducing the new content), Summarize (overview of the lesson), and Apply (practicing).
Lesson plans depict differentiated planning (i.e., taking into account readiness, enrichment, and extra practices) for ELL/ESL students, for students on academic support, and those with mixed strengths in the classroom. Teachers receive students’ Tier record cards if they are receiving interventions and accommodations and follow students’ progress in the monthly meetings with the Special Services Team (SST). Some descriptions in Katei’s interview indicate her thoughtful planning to differentiation in the classroom, benefiting different kinds of learners. She mentioned that Everyday Mathematics is a rigorous program. Therefore, teachers plan the lesson in such a way that if some students have difficulty in understanding some concepts at any stage, the students will be able to catch up later, hence a spiral math program. Due to the relationship among many concepts, the spiral features in the math programs provide similar instructions and practice opportunities to the students after passing some time to provide recall opportunities and to build on new learning, based on their background information.
- c) Embedded resources: are apparent in the lesson planning and the standards-based program that encourages teachers to utilize readily available resources designed for each lesson. These include e-presentations, students learning center links, facts workshop games, e-toolkit, professional development resources, home connections, and spiral trackers. The teachers-made lesson plans include hyperlinks to math journals and enrichment activities, including math games and practice.
In sum, the data provide some evidence of anticipation in the lesson planning. An in-depth analysis of anticipation is presented in the cross-case analysis section. Before starting such analysis, it is, however, essential to explore if the general education teachers’ practices are in line with the learning goals and the core components of inclusive education.
Q 2.2 Intentional alignment in addressing variability and barriers. As described earlier, the present research provides criteria to evaluate intentional alignment in teachers’ practices. The criteria state (a) analyzing the presence or absence of the “anticipation” component in the data obtained from each case, (b) evaluating the amount of information the participant has provided on alignment and clarity of the relevant concepts, (c) if the criteria (a and b) are met, evaluating the presence or absence of the aligned component through all data resources, and (d) if the criteria (a and b) are not fulfilled, evaluating the overall practices in addressing the variability and barriers in accordance to the beliefs and understanding of the teacher. Since criteria (a and b) are met therefore, an evaluation was done according to criteria c. Three themes emerged regarding alignment and addressing variability and barrier issues: instructional methods and materials addressing variability, teaching strategies addressing barriers, and assessments.
- a) Instructional methods and materials addressing variability. Methods and materials addressing variability are prominent in Katei’s daily teaching strategies and her use of assistive technology. Katei regularly displays the teacher-made lesson plan daily on the Promethean board to show the students what they are going to learn and how she follows the LESA model on an almost daily basis and stays focused on the planned goals and learning targets. The classroom observation data indicate that her practices are aligned with the stated goals.
Many statements during her interview represent her reflective thoughts regarding her teaching practices with learner variability. For example, she states, “… we have more visual learners in the classroom, do we try to do something different in the class?” (KH, para. 41, Lines. 867-68). She uses various strategies to engage various learners, accessing enrichment activities on the Promethean board, using a document camera to show and explain math problems, encouraging students by recording their live presentations in the classroom and to post them on PSL to encourage their work, using Chrome books for browsing math games, encouraging project-based learning strategy, involving students in engaging group discussions, and making heterogeneous groups of students with mixed strengths.
Katei adopts various techniques to address the learning needs of diverse students. She shared the story of a child who was trying to solve a math problem in a different way that did not match with the correct solution(s). Katei adopted a step by step procedure to resolve the dispute: she encouraged him to attend peer consultation and then recorded the conversation, offered him help, explained the written math rules, and placed them on the classroom wall. Once the issue got resolved, she gave him the authority and responsibility to teach the class and followed up on the issue by giving him reminders and communicating with his parents. Her teaching practices reflect her beliefs about encouraging a growth mindset and learning from mistakes. There is, however, overlap and a rare distinction between the various methods she adopts to address variability, and, in the strategies, she uses to remove the barriers. This might be because the two concepts are closely related, as reflected in the findings of research question 1.3 regarding concept links in her discussion.
- b) Teaching strategies addressing barriers. Intentional alignment of teaching strategies in addressing barriers is somewhat observed in the teachers’ statements and practices. For instance, Katei mentioned that during the co-planning procedure for the math lessons, teachers use CCSS recommended terminologies and instructions and then follow them line-by-line in the class. CCSS emphasizes the differentiation and additional learning support for ELL students. Further, following the LESA model, CCSS encourages students’ engagement in learning mathematical concepts. Besides, based on their planning for students on learning support and interventions suggested by the student support services team, Katei uses multiple ways to present learning tasks and strategies to remove reading and comprehension barriers. She utilizes, for example, pull-out sessions for Leveled Literacy Intervention, employs digital scaffolds, peer feedback, teachers’ corrective feedback, one-on-one instruction, extra support, shows the teachers’ manual to the class using the document camera for students’ self-corrections, and enhances students’ readiness by preparing them ahead for the new concepts and scheduled assessments.
Katei follows and applies the Go to Strategies Inventory (SIOP) to address behavioral and emotional barriers in the classroom. The document analysis shows that the inventory contains seven groups of strategies to address problematic behavior and literacy support in the classroom. Further, Katei administers surveys to collect students’ feedback to improve her teaching practices accordingly. She believes that it is crucial to know the patterns of students’ thinking and learning habits to cater to their individual needs. For this purpose, she encourages her students to post their discussions, comments, concerns, and worries on PSL. This activity helps students reflect on their thinking, and hence learn better. Additionally, it helps the teacher to know their learning patterns. After consulting with parents, students with additional behavioral and emotional issues are directed to the student support services team and the school counselor.
- c) Assessment. Assessment procedures were evaluated using the documents (assessment sheets, self-assessment rubric, adapting assessment for English learners) and triangulated with the interview and observations. The analysis suggests that the formative and summative assessments indicate alignment with the unit goals and objectives prepared by the teachers and CCSS and emphasize students’ academic achievement. Precisely, the process of formative assessment partially aligns with the differentiation goals for the students with multiple needs and strengths; however, summative assessments do not.
Data indicates that formative assessments are done during the ongoing instructional classes and focus on students’ daily progress. Students’ understanding is evaluated by observing their ability to solve, summarize, and explain the math problem using a rubric of “not meeting expectations” and “meeting expectations.” The LESA model assists the teacher in evaluating students’ understanding. She also uses embedded scaffolds, instant corrective feedback, and partner checking to gauge students’ performance on the task. However, a documented record is not maintained for such regular formative assessments.
Summative assessments, on the other hand, are done at the end of the unit and are formally documented. Before summative evaluations, Katei provides students a self-assessment rubric showing a list of the skill sets required for the entire unit across three levels of expertise (can do independently, can do with help, can do and explain). This rubric and the clearly stated expectations facilitate students’ targeted practice in the relevant areas. Traditional paper-pencil based tests are administered, students are provided assessment instructions, and multiple responses are encouraged. Math problems are based on numerical, descriptive, and open-ended responses. Physical placement of the students also changes on the test day, and independent work is strictly monitored. Overall, the process of summative assessments was found to be traditional, with less flexible opportunities for students to express their learning using different options.
In sum, there is evidence supporting Katei’s practices addressing variability and barrier issues. Addressing variability and barriers appear intentional sometimes while automatic other times, and reflect as part of her excellent teaching practices. Her instructional methods, teaching strategies, and use of learning materials are aligned to several components considered core in inclusive education literature, precisely aligned to CCSS-based differential planning for ELL/ESL and diverse learners, along with the use of assistive technology in her classroom. Assessment procedures are, however not fully aligned with the methods suggested by inclusive literature (see blueprint Table 3). Nevertheless, an in-depth examination of intentional alignment concerning Katei’s beliefs and anticipation practices is presented in the sections of cross-case analysis. This process requires examining a second case from the same school district to increase the credibility of the findings.
Case 2: Mac Kalvin. An American national, Mac (pseudonym) acquired his undergraduate degree and teachers’ certification from the University of Washington and a Master’s degree from the University of Hemisphere, USA, in high school math and science program. He was involved in teaching throughout his studies. Inspired by the teaching experiences of his sister in the international school systems around the world, he decided to pursue teaching as his core profession at the US-based international school systems. Mac has 25 years of high school teaching experience in the US, South Korea, Burma, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. Specifically, he spent five years working with SAES in Saudi Arabia. Satisfied with his life as a veteran teacher, Mac is currently serving as a grade 8 math and science teacher at SAES. The following section sheds light on his perspectives around the two core research topics: variability in the classrooms and barriers to learning as well as the two research questions regarding beliefs, understanding, and perceptions, and daily teaching practices.
Beliefs, Understanding, and Perspectives.
Q 1.1 The concept of learners’ variability. To analyze Q 1.1, data was obtained from a line-by-line analysis of the interview transcription based on 805 lines that provide insight into Mac’s ideas, beliefs, and perspectives on variability and the related components. Two themes emerged: terminologies and definitions used for the diverse learner; and beliefs about the variability facets.
- a) Terminologies and definitions used for diverse learners. Once given a choice of using his everyday terminology instead of using “learner variability” during the interview (a mirroring technique), Mac preferred to use the same term and assured his understanding about the given term. He defined variability as “…learner with different aptitudes, different motivation levels …different natural talents, different abilities to focus, and different […] work ethics” (MK, para. 11, Lines. 112-14). Given this definition of variability, he mentioned that the specific terminologies he uses among his colleagues to describe learner variability are “weaker students and strong students” (MK, para. 11, Lines. 115-16). He moved on to defining these terms as “a weaker student will be either someone who would have poor work ethics or someone who struggles with the material or a combination of [both]…” (MK, para. 11, L. 116-17). In contrast, “a strong student will be the one with fantastic work ethics, and even if they do not do well in mathematics-but I know they always work hard, or they can be talented in math or combination of those things” (MK, para. 11, Lines. 118-19). Apart from these terms, he also used “low-end and high-end students’ throughout his interview session.
- b) Beliefs about the variability facets. The data analysis illustrates an intertwined pattern of Mac’s beliefs in describing five variability traits: perseverance, organization, math-ability, attention, and work ethics. He believes that “variability is multifaceted” (MK, para. 12, Line. 129), and all these characteristics may overlap and co-exist.
Perseverance is the most frequently reported characteristic in his interview. He believes in the sheer focus and staying on task until it is accomplished. As an expert teacher, he believes perseverance is the most needed characteristic of the diverse learners and therefore places it at a high value during his daily teaching. For example, he mentioned that in making heterogeneous groups of students, he purposefully includes at least one student with perseverance. This practice helps all group members to stay on the task. Regardless of individual differences, perseverance is essential for all learners.
Organization. Mac believes that organization and perseverance are related and complement each other. He thinks that parents anticipate that organizational ability is already developed, and children in the middle-school automatically develop this characteristic. In his opinion, this ability is related to brain growth, and there are gender differences as well. Girls appear to be more organized than boys, but exceptions exist. He uses many different strategies to keep his students organized.
Math-ability. Over the years, Mac experienced students with innate math-ability who have a real talent, while other students are struggling, and the rest are somewhere in between these two poles.
Attention. Mac expressed that attention, which takes the role of staying focused, relates to perseverance, and work ethic. He believes that the work ethics facet is related to students’ awareness and understanding of how to respond to the assigned task and pay attention. Mac thinks that this ability is not innate, and that students learn, cultivate, and enhance this ability with time and that it is closely related to the maturity facet of variability. However, he believes that if all five characteristics discussed are well placed-they facilitate each other and play a significant role in learning.
Mac’s patterns of understanding and perceiving variability are well established and contribute to the conceptual debate. Before a conceptual discussion on question 1, it is vital to overview Mac’s thoughts on the barriers’ concept.
Q 1.2 The Concept of barriers to learning. Upon inquiring if he ever heard or used the term “barriers to learning,” Mac said, “I have not heard that phrase before, but the way I will define it would be different categories that could be barriers” (MK, para. 34, Lines. 562-65). Two themes emerged as barrier categories: student-related barriers; and teacher-related barriers.
- a) The student-related barriers. This type incorporates physiological and emotional barriers. Mac considers physiological barriers as easy to identify and address. For instance, this category includes students with hearing, visual, or subtle motor deficiencies. On the other hand, emotional barriers are challenging to manage. These barriers include distractibility and behavioral issues that need more time and planning to address.
- b) The teacher-related barriers. These are instructional barriers. Mac believes that students are influenced by both the strengths and weaknesses of the teacher. His reflexive thoughts in identifying his weaknesses are found throughout the interview. He discusses overcoming his shortcomings by enhancing his strengths but mentions that the problems in his personality or teaching strategies, which he is unaware of, that must adversely impact his students. Therefore, he welcomes the adoption of new teaching skills and strategies to overcome teacher-related barriers.
Q-1.3 Concept links. Mac believes that the concept of variability and barriers are related and influence each other, as he says, “I do not believe that they are mutually exclusive” (MK, para. 51, Line. 782). He relates variability facets with the physical maturity of the brain that he believes is responsible for barriers to learning in terms of distractibility and behavioral issues. He, however, emphasizes reducing the teacher-related barriers in addressing variability by enhancing effective teaching strategies. This was reflected through the following statement:
I try to be even-tempered with all of my students with different personalities, so that personality part has never been an issue. I am really accepting of the different kinds of personalities. So, I do try to minimize as many as those barriers to learning as I can that I can perceive, but again I know that there are weaknesses that I have. So, you just try to minimize your weaknesses and try to improve your strengths (MK, para. 39, Lines 639-43).
After discovering Mac’s beliefs, opinions, and understanding of variability and barriers, it is essential to know if these concepts are evident in Mac’s actual teaching practices.
Daily Teaching Practices.
Q 2.1 Anticipating variability and barriers in the classroom. As mentioned earlier, the anticipation component is related to thoughtful planning and predicting variability and barrier issues before starting actual teaching practices in the classroom. Based on the pre-defined criteria, document analysis and the interview were used to evaluate the presence or absence of the anticipation component during the process of Mac’s lesson planning and goal setting procedures.
- a) Lesson planning. Mac provided five plans for 8th-grade math unit-4 from the Teachers’ Lesson Planning Guide (TLPG) that follows CCSS. Besides, he provided the unit book ‘Connect Ed Mathematics’ published by Michigan State University. Mac also provided his handwritten daily planning notes. Mac mentioned that he prefers reflecting on the students’ progress and their learning needs in his day-to-day non-formal style of planning. As shown in his hand-written notes, a planned agenda for the day includes activities, homework details, pending tasks, and essential details regarding the classroom and outside. He emphasizes following the CCSS in his planning and daily practices.
- b) Learning targets and goals. Learning goals that are noticed in the CCSS-based TLPG significantly reflect the process of teaching the required math contents. Specific planning around serving the needs of diverse learners or anticipating learning obstacles, solutions, or differentiation was not evident in TLPG. The components of the LESA model and the unit related key vocabulary for ELL support are, however, found effectively focused on the planning. Mac mentioned that he spends a few weeks to comprehend students’ personalities and learning patterns at the start of a new academic session, as he says “… especially the first six weeks, I take a lot of notices about what makes each student motivated, angry, working in harmony with another partner” (MK, para. 40, Line. 654). These observations and insights are not, however, documented and incorporated in Mac’s lesson plans. A few indications of embedded educational resources were also observed in the teachers’ daily plans; however, no evidence for differentiation was noted.
The data support Mac’s deep conceptual understanding about the variability and barrier concepts, hence criteria a for anticipation was met. However, only a few pieces of evidence are found reflecting anticipation in the lesson plans and planning procedure; therefore, criteria b and c are not fully met. Given his personal beliefs on variability facets and his recognition of barrier categories, it is interesting to note how Mac addresses and eradicates these issues in daily practices.
Q 2.2: Intentional alignment in addressing variability and barriers. The limited evidence of anticipation component in lesson planning did not meet criteria a, for intentional alignment; therefore, further evaluations are based on criteria b and d. Criteria d refers to evaluate Mac’s teaching practices in addressing variability and barriers in his classroom. All data resources are assessed in combination. Broadly, three themes emerged in this category: the instructional methods and materials addressing variability, teaching strategies addressing barriers, and assessment.
- a) Instructional methods and materials addressing variability. Data obtained from the classroom observations support that Mac’s teaching methods are aligned to the LESA model, CCSS-based TLPG, and his notes. Goals and objectives are presented and defined to the students every day. Mac accepts differences in personalities and uses a variety of techniques to serve the needs of various learners by adopting a flexible teaching approach and considering the variability facets. For example, he provides learning styles accommodations by posting online math resources, activities, games, and math problem solutions for students’ self-corrections. He mentioned that this practice aids students to stay on task when they are afraid of making mistakes in the classroom, in absent students, in those who need flexible work schedules, and in those who prefer to learn digitally.
Considering the differences in math-ability, he encourages proactive planning of a sitting arrangement to “cultivate symbiotic relationship” between the weak and strong students (MK, para. 25, Line. 355). Such arrangements encourage low performing students to exhibit their maximum work potential and learn perseverance from each other. He further utilizes a social appraisal strategy to encourage students by displaying their work to the class and sending appraisal emails to their parents. He believes that such strategies work in enhancing students’ work ethic.
To increase students’ engagement, participation, on-task behavior, and attention in the classroom, Mac uses a variety of educational technology and materials. For instance, students are allowed to use their laptops, Smartboard and calculators, and use online math activities like GeoGebra, Kahoot, and Khan Academy. Further, Mac also engages students by using the “staple with me” technique in his class. This is a teaching strategy where students enjoy high group energy and participation by gathering around teachers’ table for short but an engaging discussion. Sometimes, he engages them in traditional lecture-based discussions, paper-pencil or ace activities, and small group discussions.
- b) Teaching strategies addressing barriers. Data appeared supporting Mac’s practices addressing barriers related to timing aspects, settings, and student and teacher-related barriers. He is reflective while planning the daily activities and factors in the time of the class (morning or afternoon) because he thinks that in the morning, students are more focused and prepared to learn, while after lunch, they are excited and distracted. Therefore, he believes that strategies should be adopted accordingly to reduce barriers caused by class timings. Similarly, he prefers to give short breaks during a 90-minute-long math block. He uses movement strategies within and outside the classroom and short breaks to reduce distracted behavior. Physical placement of the students and the classroom organization also minimize barriers. For example, students should be seated next to or close to each other, so that the peer consultation is feasible. Similarly, the placement of the students should be in a way that they could access learning materials. Additionally, using scaffolding strategies during the instructional time, reading aloud, gaining attention before any new command, using background music during the math practice, solving math problems on the board as a group discussion and utilizing peer feedback reduce barriers related to the cognitive access of the curriculum and learning material.
The teacher initially addresses students with behavioral and emotional problems. Mac adopts different behavior management strategies, for example, pointing their behavior out in the class and referring them to the house logo that endorses respect and integrity. Later, he arranges a one-on-one discussion with them and sets expectations or ask them to fill a form that encourages them to solve their problems or identify their need for help. Sometimes, Mac needs to use the card system. When he warns students with behavioral problems, a yellow card is assigned, while receiving a red card means they need to see the principal. Mac mentioned that they have to learn to support teachers who practice Response to Intervention (RTI) with students with mild learning problems in consultation with the core subject teachers. They arrange to pull out sessions and place students on Tier levels based on their assessment. At the upper middle school level, they do not, however, have many ELL students. Thus, differentiation practices are not so often used in the classrooms.
To minimize teachers-related barriers, Mac adopts a role as a class facilitator rather than presenting himself as an authority figure in his daily teaching. He reflects on his practices and tries to overcome his shortcomings by learning new skills, using educational technology, and being available to the students for extra help. He provides extra support to the students during his lunch hours and after school, amounting to more than eight times a week.
- c) Assessment. Document analysis (self-assessment sheet, study strategies sheet, students’ reflective notes, unit review sheet, and the unit assessment), observations and interview statements depict that variability and barriers are well addressed during the assessment preparation stage, however not much attention is given to these components during the actual assessment process. Also, the assessment procedures are well aligned to the TLPG, but the intentional alignment component is not apparent during the preparation and in the actual assessment procedures.
Mac mentioned that he uses observations, teachers’ insight, and worksheets for the formative assessments, but he rarely documents the formative assessment. His objective is not to grade and rate students; instead, his goal is to assess the students’ progress with time.
Before the summative assessment, Mac gives a point sheet to the students that is attached to the unit review. Points are assigned according to the students’ way of solving the math problem. Further, he asks them to reflect on their best learning approaches and self-evaluate the study strategies that work best for them when preparing for their test. Progress monitoring using a progress dragon technique is another method of self-evaluation that he utilizes. In this technique, he draws a big dragon on the board and presents segments of following mathematical tasks on the dragon’s body. The required tasks are written in these segments, and each students’ name tags are placed around the board. Once a student achieves one level of assigned math task, he comes to the board and place his name tag to that section and proceeds to the next level. That is how students monitor their progress with an engaging learning activity. He also provides an assessment rubric that clearly states expectations. All these strategies help students with various skill sets, strengths, and weaknesses to prepare for the summative assessment. Summative assessments are paper-and-pencil tests that Mac administers in a controlled time and setting traditionally.
In sum, Mac’s daily practices appear to address variability and barrier factors in the classroom; His practices are aligned to CCSS but do not fulfill the full criteria for alignment. However, to explore further, it is critical to compare case findings within the same school district (see Table 1) to make profound interpretations and infer interrelationships or interactions within the underlying research topics.
Cross-case Analysis-SAES. The cross-case analysis for research question 1 is based on the general education teachers’ beliefs, understanding, and perspectives regarding variability and barriers, and analyses for research question 2 are based on their practices in addressing variability and barriers. The analyses designate similar and different approaches of two SAES cases in terms of their ways of interpreting and perceiving the core concepts (see Table 4 for a brief description of the case study findings). Affiliation with the same school district, similar nationalities/culture, and educational backgrounds might account for the similar perspectives among the two cases. The personal experiences and unique context of each case account for the differences of approaches and advance an understanding of the researched concepts. A UDL-based blueprint for anticipation and alignment was prepared that guides cross-case analyses and serves as a roadmap for this research (see Table 3).
Beliefs and understanding. Katei’s variability beliefs, the types she identifies, and the definition she uses reflect her beliefs in a wide range of learners’ personality traits and levels of ability. For example, life experiences and students’ beliefs further shape their personality traits and serve as determinants of their strengths and weaknesses. Katei believes that students bring different experiences and skillsets to the classroom, and the teacher is accountable for understanding and interpreting these variations as suggested by multiple intelligence theory (MIT). The MI theorists (Gardner, 2000; White, 2000) believe that every learner develops and cultivates time and context-oriented talents and skills that are unique to the individual. Katei also recognizes learning styles; and beliefs that the teacher serves as an investigator in identifying students’ learning styles in order to assist in minimizing their weaknesses and increasing their strengths simultaneously. In her opinion, it is vital that personal abilities, such as maturity, reading skills, language proficiency, and motor skills, be considered essential to acquiring new knowledge.
Mac’s definition of variability reflects his understanding that differences in terms of individual traits are positioned differently among different learners. He believes that these characteristics are inherent and develop gradually. Mac’s beliefs that his conceptualization of individual differences drive variability and trait identification. Looking beyond Mac’s approach regarding individual differences, his practices also reveal his beliefs that emphasize students’ learning strategies. Mac provides opportunities for his students to reflect on the learning strategies that best meet their learning needs. Thus, a blend of understanding the individual differences and utilizing learning strategies provides him with ways to adapt teaching methods that are in line with the learners’ needs.
There is consistency in the teachers’ understanding of barriers as they both accentuate the identification of personal and social agents that slow down the learning process and deprive the learners of attaining the intended learning outcomes. Both teachers quoted instances of student-related and social-oriented barriers, yet the emphasis was different in both teachers’ perspectives. Within student-related barriers, Katei, for example, focused on the deficiencies that are considered as potential barriers relate to the learners’ cognitive processing that is responsible for higher-order learning tasks. Mac, on the other hand, pointed out physical and affective barriers that cause hindrance in learning. Regarding instructional barriers, both teachers recognize that poor teaching strategies and teachers’ strengths and weaknesses also cause barriers to learning. Katei further added parents’ and cultural factors as an additional component in the array of social barriers to learning.
The analysis of both cases suggests a typical pattern of perceiving variability and barriers as co-occurring concepts. In Katei’s perspective, identifying variability is pivotal in addressing barriers. For example, she would consider the achievement gap as a barrier that can be addressed by attending variability factors, and if not addressed promptly, can multiply barriers, and the cycle will continue. Recognizing the co-existence of the two concepts, Mac, however, believes that the immaturity facets within an individual (as mentioned above) are responsible for causing barriers. Although, the underlying perspective of both cases is to highlight that the unaddressed variability factors generate barriers, also indicating a strong relationship among them. However, Mac’s discussion reflects his approach of perceiving individual differences as barriers within the person-oriented barriers category.
These findings warrant initiating discussions on this topic within inclusion and a UDL perspective at SAES to endorse variability and individual differences as strengths and not as barriers. This approach potentially leads to the restructuring of the concept of individual differences by adopting an inclusive model to teaching and learning systems at SAES. Shifting the perspective of variability as a norm rather than a barrier in the general classrooms opens the door to anticipate and plan universally for all learners proactively.
Daily teaching practices. The underlying assumption behind research question 2 was to explore if teachers in the general education setting anticipate possible variability and barriers in their classrooms. If they do, then to what extent do they anticipate them, and how does anticipation lead to the intentional alignment. The anticipation component was evaluated according to the criteria defined earlier that value curricula planning in addressing variability and removing barriers. Learning objectives and goals mentioned in the lesson planning of SAES teachers depicted an intentional effort to embed the means of achievement (instructional process and how students will learn and practice new concepts) rather than presenting the intended learning outcomes. The goals are found in line with the CCSS and are shared with the students in the classroom, but differentiation between the outcomes and the means of achieving goals is not apparent.
The collected data from both cases suggest that the process of lesson planning is based on collaboration under the supervision of a math coach. The main objective of this collaborative planning is to ensure that the goals are in line with the CCSS and the learning tasks and enrichment activities are accessible to the teachers. Lesson planning at grade 5 level focuses on the low-floor high-ceiling activities for the diverse learners, ELLs and includes differentiation. The support for ELLs was found in the lesson planning at grade 8 level, differentiation is, however, not in practice at this grade as an instructional framework.
Consistent to the notion suggested by Novak (2016), the document analysis suggests that the SAES standard-based curriculum consists of two types, i.e., content standards requiring understanding and knowledge of the students that are assessed by the verbs “describe”, “explain,” “analyze,” “summarize,” and “discuss,” and method standards that require students to demonstrate that knowledge and assessed verbs “perform,” “write,” “use,” “solve,” and “create.” This analysis concludes that the teachers’ practices are aligned to the CCSS. Moreover, reflections on the instructional methods and learning goals are evident in the data sets for both cases. The data analysis also confirms reflexive teaching practices in SAES participants.
Overall, the criteria a, for evaluating anticipation were met in both participants of SAES, while there were few pieces of evidence of the language depicting teachers’ thoughtful and intentional planning for the activities based on variability and barriers—thus, criteria b was met partially in both cases. Criteria c was met in Katei’s case and was not fulfilled in Mac’s planning. Thus, the overall findings around anticipation remained partially achieved.
One of the assumptions of the present study was that anticipation and intentional alignment components relate to each other, and teachers who practice anticipation during the lesson planning are likely to achieve intentional alignment across curricula. The within-case analysis shows that the anticipation component among SAES teachers is partially achieved. The alignment component also appeared to be more automatic, intuitive, and tactic-based rather than intentional that requires further analysis to explore the strengths and weaknesses in the classroom practices according to the benchmark guiding this analysis (see Table 3).
Overall, the classroom learning environment appeared to be well organized, caring, and supportive. The teachers appeared to be compassionate and paid full attention to the students’ responses and actions. The SAES classes were found to be a blend of a learner-centered and teacher-centered environment with flexible approaches to teaching and learning where the teachers’ role was as classroom facilitators rather than instructors. Moreover, Katei mentioned that the school maintains a record for each students’ assessment data and academic and behavioral progress (i.e., student replacement cards) that they pass on to the next grade’s teacher at the start of the new school year. She prefers not to consult those records unless necessary to avoid possible bias towards the child, especially at the start of the academic year. It is, however, suggested that consulting these records throughout the year can help Katei in identifying and addressing barriers; thus, this practice can facilitate inclusive planning.
Team collaboration (counselors, school psychologists, and math coaches), mutual observations (between classrooms and by keeping classroom recordings), and PLCs (creating a supportive space and building on existing knowledge) and teachers’ roles as catalysts in the classrooms are additional building blocks for inclusion that are already situated at SAES. The SST at SAES is based on the curriculum/instructional specialists, school psychologists, counselors, and the health nurse. However, there is a necessity to recruit teachers specialized in special needs, and paraprofessional staff to advance inclusive practice at an extensive level.
Within the UDL perspective, achieving and maintaining intentional alignment requires additional components in instructional planning. For instance, principles, guidelines, and checkpoints to be focused during the planning through practice phases. Adhering to the UDL perspective, it is essential to see the extent to which the teachers’ practices at SAES demonstrate the UDL approach given their profound experiential knowledge and a wide range of practices.
Utilizing multiple means of engagement as Principle 1 (see Figure 1), teachers at SAES recruit learners’ interest by using various cognitive tools such as educational technology, mathematical games and software, and embedded scaffolds. Further, persistence among the learners is encouraged by group learning tasks and corrected feedback. Self-regulation skills are promoted by clearly stating expectations and rubrics while coping skills are obtained and monitored through SST services, second-step program, and the Go to Strategies Inventory. Furthermore, students are provided with the opportunities for self-assessment through self-check, peer feedback, and aligning their work with the embedded solutions.
Positioning multiple means of representation as Principle 2, the teachers at SAES give the learners choices to complete tasks with multiple modalities of their interest. However, such practices should be adopted frequently to increase students’ participation SAES teachers frequently use mathematical language and symbols and provide support in difficult mathematical vocabulary. Students’ background knowledge is used to build new learning, and students’ expressions of establishing a relationship between the previously learned concepts and new learning are encouraged.
Recognizing multiple means of expression and communication as Principle 3, teachers provide opportunities to showcase their learning in various ways, such as through show and tell, by making digital recordings and sharing, through digital presentations, and project work. These opportunities were however not a part of students’ summative assessment in the math classroom. Nonetheless, the teachers provide progress monitoring and reflective opportunities to the students that enhance their executive functioning.
In sum, considering the background knowledge of the teachers, it is concluded that they have a strong understanding of the core concepts of “variability and barriers.” Given their malleable believes towards student variance and understanding different types of barriers, specifically instructional barriers—teachers’ beliefs overall appeared to be inclusive and flexible in comprehending the differences. Due to their general beliefs, it was found that their daily teaching practices were more flexible in addressing variability and barriers, and the teachers’ roles in the classroom were as facilitators; these are essential factors in inclusive practices. However, it can also be inferred that since these teachers lack experiences with students with special needs and disabilities in general education settings; therefore, their beliefs towards learning differences are inclusive and positive. Alternatively, their general beliefs might be established due to their background teaching and learning experiences in diversified educational and societal systems. Nonetheless, they need discussions on valuing learners’ variability as a means of growth in teaching and improving inclusive practices, regardless of students’ personality traits, vulnerability, and disability.
Teachers’ experiential knowledge and administrative support provide a wide array of opportunities to SAES teachers that appeared to be intuitive in addressing variability and barriers. Therefore, the current practices are comprised of several UDL suggested practices; and are partially aligned with many core components of inclusive education. However, teachers’ existing practices can be advanced from emerging and proficient to expert and distinguished that can serve an array of learners regardless of differences, marginalization, and disabilities. SAES teaching practices are aligned overall to the CCSS. However, the process of anticipation and alignment does not appear intentional, rather tactic-based. Adoption of fully anticipated and intentionally aligned teaching components require system-wide initiatives on inclusive practices that are recommended in the next chapter.
Two cases are selected from ISG-Dammam, Naila Fahad, and Analyn Sylvia.
Case 3: Naila Fahad. Naila was born in India, which is where she acquired her Master’s degree in Mathematics and B.Ed. in teaching and education. Passionate about teaching and learning, Naila had a long history of teaching her siblings, others in the neighborhood, and at the local schools later in her life. She opted to teach as her sole profession and spent three years of teaching in India. This is her 18th year with ISG. At ISG, she has been teaching science, language art, math, and social studies. Specifically, her math class (grade 6) was chosen to collect data for this study.
Beliefs, Understanding, and Perspectives. The line by line analysis of 537 lines from the interview transcription provides information about Naila’s understanding and perception of the core research topics – variability and barriers.
Q 1.1 The concept of learner variability. The term “learner variability” was new to Naila, and she preferred to use “learning styles” and “differentiation in learning” during her interview. She believes that there are students with different skill levels, abilities, and interests in the classroom, and they want to be recognized as different. She believes that almost every student can come to the same solution using different problem-solving skills. Her definition shows her understanding and familiarity with the learning style and differentiation concepts, as she says:
I think it is just a differentiation for me how I distinguish a learner. A learner is distinguished because of his abilities…I can see their style of learning is different…Just not like understanding [that] he is just a kinesthetic learner, or he is this type of learner. So, we are not just categorizing them or labeling them this way (NF, para. 8, Lines. 148-154).
Q 1.2 The concept of barriers to learning. The discussion about barriers to learning with Naila elicited responses that are broadly grouped into three themes: student-related barriers, social barriers, and instructional barriers.
Students who do not comply with the teachers’ instructions and are less disciplined, restless, and non-confining, those who lack motivation, have a comprehension problem or have English language difficulties are some examples stated by Naila throughout her interview that fall under the theme of student-related barriers.
Social barriers, on the other hand, group her ideas that signify the environmental components that cause obstacles to learning. For example, Naila considers that the over usage of technology, if it is not goal-directed (i.e., games), is a barrier for students that keep them distracted for hours and hence, reduces their academic performance. Secondly, she believes parents also cause barriers when they do not control their child’s absences or do not openly share the student’s problems with the teacher and the school counselor. Also, when parents provide conflicting ways to solving math problems that do not match with the classroom instructions given to their children, this causes trouble in learning.
She also considers herself a part of the instructional barriers; when her teaching styles are not matched with students’ learning styles, the students feel they are behind. She mentioned throughout her discussion that she tries to overcome such barriers by adopting various techniques and solutions that are discussed in research question 2.
Q 1.3 The concept links. In Naila’s opinion, the concept of variability and barriers are closely linked and “rarely not related” (NF, para. 35, Line. 492). In response to the question about the concept links, her focus remained on the barriers-related components overall, and the relationship between the two concepts rarely emerged during her discussion. For instance, she mentioned that she has been successful in dealing with the day-to-day problems experienced by students within the general education classroom; however, she rarely experiences serious trouble with the students. She shared a story of two students who had severe emotional and learning difficulties, and they were not able to continue their studies at school. She mentioned that one of them remained always detached and confined to his seat in the classroom. She thinks that despite making her best efforts to improve learning motivation in that student, she felt helpless because there are some problems beyond her capacity to address. She states:
In my classroom he would stay quiet, confined to the seat, because the moment he does not confine himself to a seat, I would ask him a question which he didn’t want to embarrass himself in the presence of the others, so he only used to sit in my classroom occupying a chair but didn’t show any growth. He even did not want to go to the other classes. But in my class, he would sit because I would not bother him; he would not bother me. The moment [?] he won’t even bother others, but he would sit very quietly, not participating, and I could not do anything, you know. Even I may have encouraged him, but he was not showing any inclination to come to the school (NF, para. 35, Lines. 510-513).
This is, however unclear that what strategies Naila used to engage that student in her class and how frequently she offered him opportunities to participate in the learning activities and to access learning content. Additionally, the role of the school counselor is also unclear in this case. These lacking indicate the need for integrated support and services both for the students and for the teacher to address barriers. Given Naila’s understanding, opinions, and essential insight about the two significant concepts of variability and barriers, it is crucial to evaluate in further detail how she addresses variability and barrier issues in her daily practices.
Daily Teaching Practices.
Q 2.1 Anticipating variability and barriers in the classroom. Data obtained from the lesson plans and interviews provided information about the anticipation component that was evaluated using the pre-determined criteria. In response to the variability anticipation probes by the PI, Naila could not provide a satisfactory answer as reflected through the following conversation:
Primary investigator: Okay, so going to the next question. Do you think about addressing variability or different learning styles in your classroom when you prepare lesson plans for the class? I mean, do you consciously think about that child is auditory, for example, or another child is like […] more tactile, for example, so while you are making your lesson plans, do you keep those factors in your mind?
Primary investigator: Right, and then you generate your activities and plan your activities?
Naila: Right, yeah, yeah it is always a thing and we [aw-w] now you saw that this lesson particularly did not demand any manipulatives. Otherwise, all these things are very handy for them. And they are free to use, like it is not even that you have to do this only by this way or that way, even on a test if a child wants to use a manipulative, he can find that.
Primary investigator: Okay, great! So, you do address these things in your [lesson planning]?
Naila: Yeah, and most of our tests are all free responses like you have your style to do your work. Just show how do you justify as an answer to yours like, they are not limited to do this way or do it that way. They are free to do it however they like. But they should confirm that their answer is right (NF, para. 16, Lines. 175-83).
Given the anticipation criteria, i.e., (a) evaluating participants’ background knowledge about the concept of variability and barriers, (b) evaluating the terminologies participants used to describe “anticipation” such as “expect”, “foresee”, “think”, “assume,” and “reflect” during the interview, and in the document analysis, and (c) presence and absence of the embedded resources or strategies for ELL/ESL and differentiation in the lesson planning, the above piece of conversation reflects that the anticipative planning is not a part of Naila’s teaching practice. There were, however, a few times when she mentioned that she keeps students’ common patterns of math errors in mind before Naila starts a lesson or when she prepares them for an assessment: she reminds them to make sure not to repeat those errors.
The document analysis of lesson planning also elicits similar findings of anticipation. The plan that Naila shared is teacher-created CCSS-based lesson planning. The lesson objectives and descriptions are clearly stated according to Module 3 (Eureka Math-grade 6) requirements, for example, students should be able to write and use negative numbers, different direction quantities, give examples, and make connections with the real world. The lesson planner talks about the teaching materials and learning activities but does not provide any information about the formative and summative assessment planning.
Overall, anticipating variability and barriers was not evident in Naila’s lesson planning; therefore, the criteria for anticipation were not fulfilled. However, given her beliefs about variability and barriers, it is interesting to investigate how she addresses such issues in her classroom.
Q 2.2 Intentional alignment in addressing variability and barriers. If identified, anticipation leads the teachers to plan activities according to the learners’ requirements deliberately; thus, intentional alignment is achieved. Based on the previously stated criteria to evaluate the alignment component – the data does not support the criteria a, b, and c, therefore, considering the criteria d, three themes emerged from the interviews, observations, and document analysis: methods and materials addressing variability, teaching strategies addressing barriers, and assessments.
- a) Methods and materials addressing variability. Classroom observations show that Naila’s daily warm-up math activities with the students include when she invites thoughts on interesting math facts and new concepts, linking math concepts with day to day life, and engaging solutions to the math riddles. These activities encourage students to think, discuss, respond, and reflect on their background knowledge, and she slowly guides their comprehension of the required mathematical concepts and computations. She uses various ways to solve mathematical problems and encourages growing thinkers by asking for various solutions, as shown when she said: “we give them liberty to show [their work] the way they want as long as they are able to justify their solutions” (NF, para. 14, Line. 141).
Her practices are sometimes differentiated when she thinks students need this strategy in learning. She shared the stories of two students whom she identified as visual learners. She found a deliberate difference in both students’ math comprehension when she offered visual math learning material to them. Through administering surveys, she receives students’ feedback that helps to improve her teaching strategies and assessment planning and allows her to provide additional support to the students. In the classroom, she encourages group activities guided by peer consultation and feedback, show and tell, and improves students’ work by giving her corrective feedback.
Naila utilizes a smartboard, worksheets, notebooks, and manipulatives in her classroom, and posts homework, extra resources, and learning material on the Google Classroom. Although the school is not following the RTI program, Naila prefers to provide differential instructions to the students according to their interests. She mentioned that sometimes, students are not aware of their preferences, but she tries to cater to their needs. She is utilized to summarizing her lessons at the end of the class as her routine practice. While the LESA model was not found written in the lesson plan, components of this model were noticed during the classroom observations.
Mixed reports were found regarding the placement of students with learning disabilities in the classroom. She mentioned that she never experienced having students with severe learning difficulties in her class. The school provides support services for students with ESL and behavioral problems. ESL support is, however, offered only in the elementary grade levels. In the middle-school, Naila mentioned that she addresses reading problems by practicing read-aloud programs, using reading and re-reading strategies, using dictionaries and doing translations, breaking down vocabulary, and following up their comprehension through the classroom discussion and conducting tests and assessments.
- c) Assessments. The documents (exit ticket and unit assessment sheet) provided by the teacher were analyzed. In addition to her subjective judgments about students’ progress, Naila administered exit tickets every second day a few minutes before the end of class as a type of formative assessment to track students’ learning. She mentioned that this kind of quick paper-pencil assessment technique provides her with timely feedback about her performance and if students are learning the concepts and making progress.
The summative assessment is done at the end of the unit as a paper-pencil based unit test. Naila mentioned that teachers typically follow the CCSS directions in summative evaluations, but since students have access to those assessment sheets, she consults different resources to provide students with challenging tasks and to avoid cheating and peer consulting practices. The content analysis of the assessment sheet indicates numerical and descriptive questions, comparing items and open-ended questions requiring a rational approach to solving the problem.
The findings suggest that Naila, as a general classroom teacher, adopts practices that are in line with the CCSS and the lesson objectives stated in the planning. It is not in Naila’s practice to think about students’ needs and preferences, problems, and challenges and then plan her strategies accordingly; therefore, the components of anticipation and intentional alignment are not evident in this case. It is, however, critical to corroborate these findings by exploring another case within the same school.
Case 2: Analyn Sylvia. Analyn is from the Philippines and acquired her bachelor’s degree in computer sciences. She served as a computer engineer for a few years in the Philippines and then joined the teaching profession. She never had a chance to receive a formal teacher’s certification, but she has been attending teaching courses and training in the Philippines during her vacations. She had 12 years of teaching experience and six years of working with ISG. She never thought of teaching as her core profession, but her strong background in mathematics and her relocation to Saudi Arabia drove her to adopt the teaching profession. Currently, she is teaching grade 5 mathematics; this class was selected to collect the data.
Beliefs, Understanding, and Perceptions
Q 1.1 The concept of learners’ variability. Analyn was not familiar with the term “learner variability,” and she preferred to use the term “individual differences.” She believes that thinking about individual differences facilitates her acquisition of new teaching skills, as she says, “It even helps me. It is actually in two ways, I learn from them [students], and they learn from me” (AS, para. 2, Line. 85). She interprets individual differences in terms of variations in the learners’ characteristics, cultural differences, and attitudes, and behaviors. Concerning individual characteristics, she believes that some are “smart and fast learners,” while others are “struggling and slow learners,” and these characteristics are easily identified. She mentioned that the ISG is currently serving students from more than 40 nationalities. Therefore, multicultural differences are also prominent in her class. Differences in attitudes and behaviors were Adalyn’s main concern because she thinks that these differences cause barriers in students’ learning if not addressed promptly. She thinks that students’ behavioral problems relate to age differences. For instance, she had been teaching the upper middle school students, and now while teaching grade 5 students, she observes behavioral barriers that relate to the age differences. These barriers are discussed in the following section.
Q 1.2 The concept of barriers to learning. Analyn understands the concept of barriers in terms of “hindrance to learning” and shares some barriers she encounters every day in her classroom. These examples are grouped into three themes: behavioral barriers and time-related barriers. Firstly, behavioral barriers in Analyn’s perspective are student-related problems in terms of their lack of attention and concentration, distracted behavior, playfulness and immaturity, and discipline issues. Secondly, time-related barriers are grouped into settings barriers — the time factor is significant in learning, and in attaining students’ attention. Students are distracted and show extra energy in Analyn’s math class when they come right after lunch. Similarly, they pay less attention when their class is scheduled right before school dismissal. Alternatively, they are prepared to learn and pay full attention when they come to class in the morning.
Q 1.3 Constructs links. In her opinion, Analyn considers the two concepts, “individual differences” and “hindrance to learning”, as related. The examples she shared reflect her understanding of how to interpret the variability component by known or unknown barriers that the student might be experiencing. She says that many students show differences in learning behaviors as well as differences in dealing with teachers and their peers. These variations are the result of the differences in how they were brought up, domestic problems, and peer pressure and conflicts. Therefore, in her opinion, the two concepts are closely linked.
Daily Teaching Practices.
Q 2.1 Anticipating variability and barriers in the classroom. The anticipation component was assessed in the data obtained through the interview and the document analysis of the lesson plan. During Analyn’s interview, she mentioned that at ISG, teachers meet in PLCs to plan math lessons yearly under the supervision of their math coach. The primary focus is given to the CCSS, and teachers’ suggestions and recommendations are also considered. Given the multiethnic student population at ISG, the teachers often experience problems in following the CCSS. Therefore, they allow modifications in the lesson plans accordingly. This is, however unclear why Analyn and other teachers experience problems in following CCSS in a multiethnic society. This can be inferred that multilingual students might experience English language difficulties in the American curriculum. The content analysis of the lesson plan indicates that it is a brief description of the weekly planning based on the objectives, materials, learning targets, assessment, and homework. Lesson objectives indicate the acquisition of the mathematical skill, and the learning target reflects the process of how to achieve the defined objective.
During the interview, upon probing about the anticipation of variability in lesson planning, Analyn remained unsuccessful in providing a satisfactory answer, as shown in the conversation below:
Primary Investigator: Right, interesting! So, do you think about addressing individual differences when you prepare your lesson plans for your class?
Primary Investigator: [Um] if yes, then what are your thoughts while preparing lesson plans? Do you consider [individual] differences while preparing?… How do things work?
Analyn: I consider, of course, the students; I cannot […], for example… […] make it all difficult, so, I have to consider those two kinds of students, the fast learners, and the slow learners (AS, para. 6, Lines. 136-144).
The content analysis of her responses indicates that she found it difficult to respond within the framework of inquiry. It also shows she plans only thinking about the average level of difficulty for the relevant activities. Similarly, once probed about her thought process regarding removing barriers in her lesson plan, she said that the teachers should be ready to deal with the barriers as they come up, but it is often beyond the teachers’ control to “get rid of them right away” (AS, page. 14, Line. 402). After considering the predefined criteria for evaluating anticipation, this analysis indicates no evidence of anticipation in Analyn’s planning for the learner variability and barriers in her classroom; thus, the criteria for anticipation was not fulfilled.
Q 2.2 Intentional alignment in addressing variability and barriers. Since the presence of the anticipation component is a significant part of intentional alignment criteria described earlier that is not fulfilled in Analyn’s case, this section analyzes how Analyn deals with variability and barriers in everyday practices based on her beliefs (criteria point d). Mainly, three themes were obtained, including methods and materials addressing variability, teaching strategies addressing barriers, and assessments.
- a) Methods and materials addressing variability. As described earlier, Analyn mentioned that due to the cultural and linguistic differences, she makes modifications in the lesson plans adhering to the CCSS. Although, the school offers an ESL program to the English language students. However, Analyn offers ESL support in her classroom as well, for example, using a read-aloud strategy. She also provides repetitive instructions and the problems’ solutions. To avoid boring the other students with her repetition techniques, she provides one-on-one instruction to the students in need. She encourages students to come to the board and show the problems’ solutions; students were observed to be engaged during this activity. However, consistent patterns of students’ participation were also observed. Those who present on the board always present; those who copy and paste solutions rarely present, and those who are disengaged in the classroom are seldom asked to present. These consistent patterns required teachers to assign different and challenging roles to enhance the students’ active participation and multiple learning opportunities. Alternatively, students show deep interest when Analyn presents electronic math challenges using their laptops and educational software such as SEESAW. The teachers’ progress tracking and immediate feedback and self- progress monitoring keep students on task and reduce their distracting behaviors—thus, these strategies help to address barriers in her classroom. However, it is interesting to note further what other strategies she adopts to address the barriers.
Sometimes she finds the mentioned techniques helpful, but there are many times when Analyn feels she needs external support, for example, from the counselor, her supervisor, and in some cases, the principal. The counselor is responsible for providing student support services to those who show consistent behavioral problems in the classroom. Additionally, Analyn finds educational technology as a useful resource to reduce distractions in the classroom and increase on-task behavior. Analyn also reports that occasionally using yoga techniques and her talks with the students as a process of expectation reminders, realizations, and reflections, also have positive outcomes in managing their behavioral issues.
- c) Assessments. Analyn administers bell sheets as a source of the paper-pencil-based formative assessment technique, and sometimes she uses it when students need to improve their grades. A paper-and-pencil end of the unit test is utilized as a summative assessment. Students are placed separately, and independent work is encouraged. The document analysis of the unit test suggests that the breakdown of the obtained marks is based on three components that allow students to perform and reflect on different parts of the questions and solutions such as concepts and procedures, problem-solving, and modeling, reasoning, and communication. This procedure encourages students to use various problem-solving techniques and ways to express their learning and understanding of the paper. Overall, the assessment procedure was aligned with the objectives stated in the lesson plan.
In sum, the findings suggest no evidence of anticipation and intentional alignment in Analyn’s practices; however, her teaching practices are partially aligned to her variability beliefs and conceptual understanding of barriers. There are yet many areas in Analyn’s practice that can be improved by offering training workshops specifically to address distractibility issues in the classroom. In Analyn’s opinion, learning in professional development courses is different from experiencing learner variance in an actual classroom. Given the distinct case findings and within-case analyses, it is interesting to corroborate them by conducting in-depth analyses across both cases of ISG-Dammam district that is presented in the following section.
Understanding and perceptions. The term learner variability was unfamiliar to both ISG teachers, and they chose their preferred terminologies to elucidate the discussion. For example, Naila’s conversation was based on a blend of the concepts of learning styles and individual differences, while Analyn’s understanding of the individual differences was governing her discussion patterns. However, the difference was noticed in the way both explained the concept that reflects their interpretations of the variability component in everyday experiences. Naila, for instance, understands that the differences in learners can be kinesthetic or visual, and not all the learners have the same skill sets. Therefore, their needs should be catered to by using differentiation techniques. She does recognize that students are unique in their abilities and that their differences should be encouraged. Also, she believes that labeling or categorizing practices should not be encouraged based on their learning styles. However, despite endorsing differences, Naila believes in matching teaching styles with students’ learning’ styles, which shows a discrepancy among her ideas and understanding of differentiation and learning style perspective. Analyn, on the other side, expands on the different individual concepts by adding cultural differences along with learners’ attributes and behavior patterns. These findings suggest that the variability concept in ISG participant teachers’ perception integrates components of individual differences, teaching and learning style theories, and cultural diversity.
Both teachers appeared straightforward in their understanding of the barrier concept in terms of being a hindrance and problem to learning. The findings reflect general education teachers’ ways of perceiving barriers within their classroom context and show commonalities and differences across ISG cases. For instance, both teachers appeared reporting student-related barriers that are classified as person-oriented barriers. There were, however, unique findings regarding barriers identification by Naila, who considers parents as barriers, and Analyn, who points out students’ class timings as barriers. Additionally, the teachers recognize instructional styles as barriers and belief that removing instructional barriers in teaching is essential. However, their in-depth understanding of instructional barriers did not appear, and they elicited no further discussion on this topic.
Both teachers believe that variability and barrier concepts are closely related. How these concepts are linked is not, however clearly established in Naila’s discussion. One explanation can be her experiences with the general education setting that might be superseding her thoughts and limiting her to express understanding in relating the two concepts explicitly. The lack of inclusive practices within the general classroom settings led Naila’s thinking that there are barriers beyond her capacity to address. Besides establishing a clear link between variability and barriers, Analyn perceives that variability is sometimes easily interpretable while sometimes is unidentifiable and may be a result of differences in child-rearing practices, or domestic and peer conflicts. Analyn also believes that such unidentifiable barriers are beyond her capacity to address—similar to Naila’s beliefs. These findings indicate that ISG teachers are required skill-based training programs in barrier identification that should offer them classroom management skills in overcoming different barriers in their daily practices.
Daily teaching practices. The predefined criteria signify the language and thought processes of the teachers while preparing lessons and during their instructional planning. Analyn mentioned that the math teachers at IGS collaborate under the supervision of a math coach once a year to plan for the next year. It is not, however, clear that the teachers at ISG also prepare personal notes as an addendum to the yearly planning regularly. It can be stated that limiting lesson planning every year reduces teachers’ access to the emerging and advanced educational resources, thus minimizing chances for establishing an inclusive learning environment and establishing an expert teaching and learning connection to the students.
Distinctly stated goals and objectives are vital in addressing variability and barriers, thus a way to adopt inclusive practices. The document analysis of the lesson planning indicates no such distinction was made; still plans follow CCSS guidelines. Analyn mentioned that given the multiethnic student population in the school, teachers could make modifications in the CCSS-based lesson plans. This is not, however, clear that what kind of modifications are offered and how often—in the classroom. Further discussion on this topic could open the door towards adopting inclusive practices at ISG. The core inclusive practices signify modifications and accommodations according to the cognitive and physical needs of the learners.
Both within and cross-cases analyses indicated no evidence of anticipative components in the lesson planning and teachers’ thought processing. Since the alignment component is based on anticipation, therefore, it is not also apparent in the findings. However, given the conceptual understanding and perceptions about variability and barriers, rich teaching experience, and administrative support and resources, to what extent the teaching practices at ISG address variability and barriers—are significant to analyze. Also, it is essential to see if ISG is incorporating core inclusive components suggested by literature (see Table 3).
The teacher-centered traditional learning environment was observed in the classrooms with little evidence of student-centered approaches. Teachers were observed as having strong content and experiential knowledge in mathematics. Naila’s classroom environment was well-disciplined and organized compared to Analyn’s classroom that seemed to be organized but with multiple distractions. Interestingly, consistent patterns of students’ responses were observed in both classrooms, for example, students who seemed engaged and participated—showed high motivation for learning, and those who were less engaged—showed infrequent participation only with the teacher’s encouragement. These patterns suggest that teachers require deliberate attention to re-engage and recruit students’ interest in using multiple strategies and age-appropriate learning challenges.
Some barriers were noticed in Analyn’s classroom that appeared to impede students’ learning and motivation. For example, affective barriers (students passively observing classroom discussion, being distracted and less focused), presentational barriers (students’ complaints about the low visibility on the boards, inaccessible information due to low volume of the student presenters) (Novak, 2016), settings barriers (loud outdoor noises and distractions). Finally, instructional barriers (long lectures in a monotonous voice, strict verbal commands, poor time and classroom management, contradictions between commands and actions, and marking assessment sheets during the assessment causing distraction among students).
The UDL framework provides solutions to these barriers mentioned above. Affective barriers, for example, can be addressed by providing various ways of engagement to optimize students’ motivation and recruiting interest. This objective could be achieved by fostering collaborative activity, providing scaffolds, and offering choices to pick problems that match students’ interests. Likewise, presentational barriers could be resolved by providing different perceptual options such as using bright colored markers for boards, providing clear and loud verbal descriptions for the work being presented, using multimedia and educational technology to present learning content in multiple ways, and restructuring the physical classroom arrangement to make learning content perceptually accessible. However, controlling outdoor noises and interruptions are suggested to be controlled by the administration to prevent both presentational and settings barriers, and to achieve a distraction-free learning environment.
Identification of these obstacles, including instructional barriers, shows a need to offer UDL-based classroom management training workshops to minimize such impediments that prevent establishing an expert teaching and learning system. These findings indicate that teachers in mainstream education lack training to deal with learners experiencing affective and behavioral barriers. It is suggested that offering in-service training programs can advance their classroom management strategies, show significant improvement in students’ affective and behavioral barriers, and improve teacher-learner interaction.
There appeared some components in ISG teachers’ practices that were somewhat aligned to UDL principles and guidelines. Concerning UDL Principle 1 (see Figure 1) that endorses using multiple means of engaging learners, ISG teachers were found recruiting students’ interest through engaging them in purposeful individual and group discussions, giving full attention to them, and providing timely corrective feedback. However, teaching components to promote persistence and self-regulation were not identified in their classrooms.
Regarding Principle 2 that recommends choices in presenting educational tasks and activities using multiple means of representation, teachers were found presenting visuals using Smartboards, workbooks, manipulatives, and drawing models on the board. Students used laptops and educational software occasionally, and this appeared to be an engaging activity for them. However, it required structured supervision to reduce their off-task behavior. Since teachers are observed with substantial mathematical content knowledge, they provide concepts using appropriate mathematical vocabulary. Teachers place a high value on comprehension through building on students’ background knowledge and relating their learning to daily life experiences.
Regarding Principle 3, which suggests providing multiple means of action and expression, teachers encourage students to use various ways of solving a math problem. However, these choices are only limited to paper-pencil-based activities. Although students were rarely found using the educational technology, it was however noticed that the immediate feedback and progress tracking systems on the online math programs increased students’ motivation and interest in ISG classrooms.
In conclusion, it is stated that the participant teachers’ beliefs in ISG-Dammam about variability are primarily derived from the concepts of individual differences and learning styles. The content analysis of the teachers’ discussion around the conceptual understanding of variability reveals that teachers have surface knowledge about this concept. However, they do recognize differences among students in the classroom. Regarding barriers, teachers mainly highlighted student-related (affective and behavioral) barriers, and both teachers recognized instructional barriers as impeding agents to learning. The relationship between the two concepts was, however, found established only in Analyn’s discussion. These findings suggest a need to initiate discussions around these core topics to build on teachers’ existing conceptual understanding to advance their teaching practices. Since conceptual understanding, anticipation, and intentional alignment components appeared related to each other, teaching practices at ISG-Dammam do not appear to observe anticipation and intentional alignment.
Overall, the teaching practices in ISG-Dammam lack many areas of general beliefs and practices and require targeted training and professional development programs to improve teaching methodologies to meet the diverse learning needs of the students. By taking the findings of both school districts into account, the following chapter talks about the salient features of this research with specific recommendations.
Tabulated Presentation of the Case Studies Findings across the Research Questions
|Case Study Units||School Districts||Thematic Categorization of Q 2
Understanding and Perception
|Thematic Categorization of Q 2
Daily Teaching Practices
|Q 1.1 The concept of learners’ variability||Q 1.2 The concept of barriers to learning||Q 1.3 The concept links||Q 2.1 Anticipating variability and barriers in the classroom||Q 2.2 Intentional alignment in addressing variability and barriers|
|Case 1||Dist. 1||● Terminologies used for variability and definition
● Variability beliefs
● Types of variance in the classroom
|Types of barriers
● Cognitive barriers
(maturity, reading levels, processing ability, poor motor skills)
● Social barriers
(parents and cultural factors)
● Instructional barriers
|● Variability and barriers are strongly related
● Recognizing variability is critical in addressing barriers—a relationship established
● The process of lesson planning
● The learning targets and goals
● The embedded resources
Anticipation partially exists
|● Instructional methods and materials addressing variability
● Teaching strategies addressing barriers
|Dist.1||● Terminologies used for the variate learners and definition
● Beliefs about the variability facets
(perseverance, organization ability, math-ability, attention)
|● Student-related barriers
● Instructional barriers
|● Not mutually exclusive
● Brain growth is responsible for eliminating student-related barriers
● Recognizing variability is essential in reducing teacher-related barriers—a relationship established
● Learning targets and goals
A few evidences of anticipation
|● Instructional methods and materials addressing variability
● Teaching strategies addressing barriers
|Dist. 2||A brief description of the definition and beliefs||● Student-related barriers
(discipline, distraction, motivation, ELL, and comprehension)
● Social barriers
(technology, and parents,
● Instructional barriers
|● The concepts are closely linked
● Relationships are not evident in the discussion
|Anticipation is not evident||● Instructional methods and materials addressing variability
● Teaching strategies addressing barriers
|Case 4 Dist. 2
|A brief description on individual differences (characteristics, cultural differences, attitudes and behavioral)||● Behavioral barriers
● Time-related barriers
|● Concepts are closely linked
● Unidentified differences in learners cause barriers—relationship established
|Anticipation is not evident in the data||● Methods and materials addressing variability
● Teaching strategies addressing barriers,
Note. CCST = Common Core State Standards; DI= Differential Instructions; ELL, English as a Second Language; IE= Inclusive Education
This multi-purpose qualitative research study was designed to explore the beliefs and practices of the general education teachers in the private international schools of Saudi Arabia. The underlying phenomenon of the study was to document if the existing practices of such schools can be grouped under the inclusive education practices identified by the literature. In other words, the goal was to investigate the current level of practices in private international schools to improve inclusive education in the Kingdom. A multi-layered study was designed to achieve these objectives after breaking down the core components of the inclusive education found in the literature in small units to gain a deep insight into the underlying phenomena (inclusive beliefs and practices). These small units were based on the conceptual framework proposed by the present research that identified “anticipation” and “intentional alignment” as primary mechanisms in achieving inclusive practices in the classrooms. Elementary and middle-grade teachers were recruited to assist in collecting data about their beliefs about learner variability in the classroom and barriers to learning. The teachers’ practices were evaluated considering their beliefs, and the presence or absence of anticipation and intentional alignment were evaluated based on the pre-defined criteria in the study. Thus, the overall beliefs and practices are reported that provide a comprehensive overview of the existing practices in two private schools of KSA.
This chapter provides a discussion about the overall findings of the study, highlights practices that are aligned with the core inclusive practices identified by the literature, and describes recommendations to schools and inclusive education policymakers in the Kingdom.
Teachers’ general beliefs and positive attitudes towards learning differences and disabilities are considered core in achieving successful inclusive education (Adhabi, 2018; Avramidis & Norwich, 2002). The present research investigated teachers’ conceptual understanding, beliefs, and perspectives about learner variability and barriers to learning. Regarding the conceptual understanding of learner variability, the overall findings suggest that this term was unfamiliar to most of the teachers. Primarily, the teachers’ understanding of this term was reflected through discussions about the concepts of learning styles and preferences, and individual, personality, and cultural differences. The teachers’ discussion was commonly reflecting these concepts with overlaps and with loose theoretical distinction and specification among these concepts. This trend in interpreting the term learner variability shows that teachers understood this term under the broad umbrella of individual differences and learning styles with shared meanings using their background knowledge. It might be due to the recent addition of these terms (i.e., learner variability and student variance) in the educational literature, specifically to the inclusive literature. Therefore, being general education teachers; teachers were not yet aware of this specific terminology; hence, it was difficult for some of them to incorporate it into their teaching practices.
The analysis of this research data shows that the conceptual understanding of the variability concept in SAES teachers was more established compared to the ISG teachers. The conceptual understanding appeared through SAES teachers’ detailed discussion on the topic and identification of variability facets and variance types in the classrooms. The variability traits that Mac mentioned (i.e., attention, math-ability, perseverance, organization, and work ethics) fall under the four streams in the field of psychology. These streams are considered the significant components of individual differences (i.e., perception, cognitive processes, mental imagery, and personality constructs) (Cassidy*, 2004). Understandings about these components strengthen Mac’s beliefs to encourage and enhance learning strategies of students’ choices that align with their learning preferences. Providing frequent opportunities of learning reflections to the students through written notes and open discussion are a few examples of promoting students’ preferred learning choices in his classroom.
SAES teachers’ beliefs about variability were in line with multiple intelligence theory and growth mindset considering both the student and the teachers’ variables (Dweck, 2015; Gardner, 2000; White, 2000). These approaches led SAES teachers to understand learners and learning differences as malleable agents in the teaching and learning process, as indicated through Katei’s beliefs about variability that reflect her flexible approach in understanding student variance within their unique contexts and needs. These findings are in line with the research indicating that adopting a flexible approach towards the learning process, and the learners are related to adopting the inclusive teaching practices (i.e., Trigwell & Prosser, 2014; Turner, Christensen, & Meyer, 2009). The teaching practices of SAES teachers concerning their beliefs are discussed later on.
The variability beliefs of the ISG teachers were primarily based on the learning style theory. Despite influenced by the learning style approach, Nahida mentioned that she did not believe in labeling or categorizing practices based on students’ learning styles since this limits the kind of teaching and learning techniques meant for students with disabilities. These findings are consistent with learning style critics who do not favor confining individuals with dynamic characteristics in distinct groupings (i.e., Reynolds, 1997; Cuthbert, 2005). However, Nahida beliefs in matching teaching styles with students’ learning styles to acquire desired learning outcomes when differential instructions are followed. The research indicates that differentiation practices do not favor matching teaching style with the students’ learning styles, but rather designing instructions according to the needs of the group of learners or individual learner (Curry, 1990; Tomlinson, 2000). Additionally, in the research, the concept of matching teaching styles with students’ learning styles has been widely criticized, and the idea of using multiple teaching strategies with diverse students is encouraged (Curry, 1990; Pritchard, 2013).
Further, the language of membership among general education teachers was analyzed by Lowrey and colleagues (2017). They inferred that the language teachers use in an inclusive classroom setting to describe the students reflect teachers’ predispositions to think of the student as capable or less-able. The present study indicates that the terms participant general education teachers used to describe students, for example, “high-performing, top kid, and high-end students;” and “slow learners, struggling, and low-end” students appeared to differentiate the groups of learners. Focusing more on the language of membership (i.e., students with diverse needs and variance), and then developing a common language of practice, can increase the likelihood of designing activities universally for the class, rather than differentiating students by their skill levels. That is a critical component in creating an inclusive learning environment with a UDL perspective that accommodates all kinds of students, regardless of their disabilities.
All teachers, regardless of the school districts, showed positive beliefs about variability and recognized learning differences. However, understanding and considering learning differences as a source of growth and opportunity to improve teaching and learning is not yet established in the general education teachers’ perspectives, and that is an influential parameter to initiate debates on the inclusive beliefs under the UDL theory within these schools in the Kingdom (Myer et al., 2014; UNESCO, 2017). Further, the analysis indicates a need for teachers’ training to acquire appropriate and targeted skills in identifying and addressing differences and variability in the classrooms.
Barriers to Learning. Congruent with the past literature, all teachers from SAES and ISG mentioned student-related/person-oriented barriers such as cognitive, behavioral, and physical problems that limit their performance in learning (Adelman & Taylor, 1997; Montgomery, 2006; Nelson & Soli, 2000). These barriers reflected mild-to-moderate levels of difficulties, and severe in rare cases in their general classroom settings. However, Katei from SAES district considers barriers in cognitive processing as the main hindrance to learning. This idea is well established in the research that recognizes the role of cognitive processing in the higher-order learning tasks such as metacognition and information integration (Montgomery, 2006; Pritchard, 2013) that are considered core in the learning process.
Regarding behavioral/affective barriers, nearly all teachers believed that these problems relate to the age difference. Based on their teaching experiences within the general education settings, they mentioned that as students grow, learn more, and become mentally mature, their behavioral problems fade away. While these teachers in the general education settings did not experience physical barriers beyond the mild-to-moderate vision and hearing impairment among the students, therefore a limited discussion was elicited on this topic.
Interestingly, all teachers mentioned and realized that poor teaching styles and teachers’ personalities are also barriers to learning—these factors are grouped under “instructional barriers” in this research. These findings are in line to the previous research that identifies barriers related to the teachers’ personality and poor teaching methodologies and suggest removing instructional barriers in teaching (Duffy & Elwood, 2013; Meyer et al., 2014; Potgieter-Groot et al., 2012; Rose & Meyer, 2002). These findings indicate that teachers are aware of instructional barriers, and they do underscore different types of barriers in their daily practices. However, they sometimes consider barriers beyond their capacity to address, as reflected through the findings of ISG participants. Teachers’ responses are congruent to past research that shows how insufficient training of general classroom teachers causes a failure/lack in serving students with affective and behavioral barriers (Potgieter-Groot et al., 2012). Therefore, they need cohesive training workshops to identify the problems caused by these barriers both for the teachers and the learners and how to overcome them by acquiring different skills, management strategies, seeking collaboration, and being resourceful.
The existence of family conflicts is well recognized as barriers to learning in education research (Adelman & Taylor, 1997). However, the present study adds “parents as barriers” from the general education teachers’ perspectives, which is a unique contribution in the array of barrier research. Three out of the four teachers pointed out that parents’ contradicting ways of teaching math to their children cause confusion and misunderstandings and hinder their learning process. Additionally, Analyn and Mac pointed out that the class timings/settings are also found barriers in the general classrooms. They suggested that the administration needs to consider the students’ physical and mental readiness when preparing class schedules for them, specifically for mathematics.
Overall, the concept of barriers to learning was found established among all the participant teachers that reflect their understanding of the concept and its types. However, the term barriers to learning are not frequently used in their day-to-day practices, and due to the mild-moderate nature of the listed barriers, teachers address them as part of their routine work and not by practicing and following additional planning, program, and strategies to address them. Collectively, the behavioral/affective barriers are mentioned frequently, and teachers generally approach to the school counselors/administration to address these types of barriers. Interestingly, a close relationship between the concepts of variability and barriers to learning was identified that initiates further discussions on these topics.
Concept Links. UDL theorists and inclusive education researchers believe in recognizing variability and differences as opportunities to grow in teaching and learning rather than considering them as barriers (Meyer et al., 2014; UNICEF, 2017). Regarding the inquiries about the co-existence of variability and barriers concepts, all teachers agreed that the two concepts are closely related. Three out of four teachers believed that identifying and recognizing variability are essential in addressing the barriers because unaddressed variability factors cause barriers. The cycle continues if not addressed on time, thus causing achievement gaps. It can be inferred that teachers in the general education settings believe that variability—regardless of types (differences, learning styles, preferences), and barriers regardless of types (student-related; environment-oriented; and instructional) and severity (e.g., disability levels)—are co-existing concepts. Variability and barriers should be addressed simultaneously as co-occurring events in the teaching and learning process.
After identifying the multi-dimensional aspects of variability in the past literature
(Cuthbert, 2005; Meyer et al., 2014; Perry, 1985; Pritchard, 2013; Riding & Sadler-Smith, 1997; Tomlinson, 2000), and discovering variability facets and types in the general education teachers’ perspectives, it is inferred that the concept of learner variability carries sponge-like characteristics that absorb many different terminologies, concepts, and facets of individual and learning differences. The concept of learner variability is evolving alongside the evolution of inclusive education itself and moving beyond it to incorporate diversity (multi-ethnicity and multilingual differences) and disability components simultaneously, thus turning into a global movement of social justice in education regardless of geographical and educational policy differences. This finding can inform policymakers to redefine inclusive education as a global movement of social justice and introduce learner variability and barriers to learning as essential components of the definition. Social justice—in terms of recognizing, accommodating, and serving all types of differences under one roof of the classroom with no distinctions and discriminations in providing equal learning opportunities to the learners according to their unique needs.
The components of equity in education, differences, and disabilities are simultaneously discussed in UNESCO (2017) to ensure social justice in education and to discourage any exclusion that SWD experience in the classrooms. A revised definition of inclusive education, recognizing learner variability will endorse all types of individual and learning differences to ensure equity and social justice in education. Nonetheless, social justice in education remains unfulfilled without providing specialized human support (i.e., co-teaching and structured training opportunities) and material resources (i.e., assistive technology) to the teachers alongside continuous progress monitoring to track improvements in their belief systems towards inclusion, inclusive education and inclusive practices. The following discussion highlights teaching practices concerning teachers’ beliefs about variability and barriers.
Anticipation and Intentional Alignment in Practices. The component of anticipation was evaluated by using predefined criteria that emphasized teachers’ background knowledge, beliefs, and understanding about variability and barriers concepts; specific language reflecting teachers’ intentions about designing lessons considering variability and barriers; and finally, seeking pieces of evidence of differential practices and embedded resources in the lesson plans. The criteria remained partially fulfilled in SAES cases and were not fulfilled in ISG cases.
UDL researchers consider differentiating between the lesson goals and the means to achieve the goals is foundational in initiating proactive planning for variability and barriers (CAST, 2018). Likewise, Spencer and Whittaker (2017) accentuate the need for clarity between the learning goals and lesson objectives. Learning goals are unique to the individuals based on his/her needs, while objectives may vary in the amount of content to be taught, level of difficulty, pace, and ways of learning. No such distinctions between the learning goals and lesson objectives were found in the lesson planning of both school district participants. The findings of both school districts suggest that the teachers in general education settings plan lessons and teaching activities considering the average level of students’ abilities in mind, thus consider it an accessible curriculum to all. These findings are contrary to the UDL research that criticizes lesson planning based on average students that creates obstacles to the students on the margins and do not meet the needs of all learners (Meyer et al., 2014; Winter, 2016).
Additionally, within the UDL framework, researchers accentuate lesson planning as a flexible and ongoing procedure of collaboration that allows teachers to be resourceful according to the ever-changing needs of the diverse learners regardless of general, special, and inclusive settings (Meyer et al., 2014). SAES teachers were found frequently meeting with their colleagues to revise math lesson planning during an academic year. ISG teachers, on the other hand, attend annual PLCs for developing yearly-based lesson planning that reduces teachers’ growth in acquiring advanced techniques to enhance teaching methodologies and to present math contents according to the diverse needs of the learners.
The analyses also indicate that the teaching practices of almost all teachers at SAES and ISG were aligned to the CCSS with the main emphasis on the ELLs. These findings are in line with core inclusive practices that endorse lesson planning and instructions aligned to the state standards (Novak, 2016; Rao & Meo, 2016). Brown, Anfara, and Roney (2004) studied the differences between high-performing and low-performing schools and noticed differences in the ways teachers perceived and believed about standards. Teachers in the high-performing schools had curricula aligned to the standards with no exceptions.
The evidence of differential instructions was found only in one case in the SAES district. It was noted that differential instructions were not apparent in the eighth-grade math classroom at SAES. These findings affirm that differentiated practices are frequently found at the elementary school level due to a wide range of students with learning preferences in the classrooms compared to the higher-grade levels (Heald, 2016). At the ISG, although teachers mentioned that they practice differential instructions in their classrooms, but no evidence of differentiation was evident in the lesson planning and teaching practices. Regarding differentiation in assessment and providing various opportunities to showcase students’ learning through multiple options were found lacking in both school districts. Specifically, no such pieces of evidence were found in summative assessment—these assessments were based on traditional paper-pencil test format. These findings show discrepancies with the UDL research base that endorses various means for assessment to reduce construct-irrelevant barriers situated in traditional paper-and-pencil assessment techniques (Black et al., 2015; Dolan et al., 2005).
The relationships were identified between the teachers’ conceptual understanding and their choices of teaching methodologies in addressing variability and barrier issues in the classroom. For example, teachers at SAES appeared having a deep conceptual understanding and flexible beliefs regarding the researched concepts. Further, the teachers were found adopting facilitator roles in their classrooms that are an essential characteristic of inclusive practices and underscored by many researchers (i.e., Adelman & Taylor, 1997; Udvari‐Solner, 1996). Additionally, teachers appeared believing in reflexive teaching that is congruent with the UDL stance that values reflexive teaching and modification of practices to attain the restructured goals (Novak, 2016). Likewise, their everyday teaching practices were more flexible in terms of task presentation and engaging strategies. However, their flexible teaching methodologies were not a part of planning in addressing variability, and barrier issues instead appeared automatic, intuitive, and tactic-based (UNESCO, 2017). Similarly, the criteria for evaluating the intentional alignment of curricula with the core inclusive education components were not fulfilled. Nonetheless, within the UDL framework, it is inferred that the existing practices at SAES can be advanced from emerging and proficient to expert and distinguished in meeting the needs of diverse learners (Novak & Rodriguez, 2018).
Conversely, teachers at ISG appeared having a surface understanding of the concepts of variability and barriers. Though, ISG teachers were found with strong content and experiential knowledge in mathematics and a few pieces of evidence of reflexive teaching. Their teaching practices were, however, found to be more traditional and teacher-centered with little evidence of the student-centered approach (Trigwell & Prosser, 2013). No evidence of anticipation/intentional curricula planning and alignment of practices with the core component of inclusive education were found in the ISG participants.
Collectively, the data support teaching practices in addressing variability and barrier issues in general classrooms according to the teachers’ level of conceptual understanding and beliefs. However, as it was anticipated in the research assumptions, overall, no evidence of anticipation and intentional alignment of the teaching components (planning, teaching methods, materials, and assessment) with the core components of inclusive was noted in the general education teachers’ practices in both school districts. As described earlier, this can also be inferred that the differences between teachers’ general beliefs and understanding about the researched concepts alongside their teaching methodologies reflect differences in their culture and background knowledge. Teachers’ ideology about adopting a particular teaching approach relates to their personal experiences and background information (Moallem, 1998). In this research, teachers belonging to the Western countries depicted more general and malleable beliefs about the under-study concepts; also exhibited flexible teaching methodologies compared to the teachers belonging to the Asian countries.
Given these findings, it can be stated that the teachers in Western society bring inclusive beliefs from their past inclusive experiences. They are more exposed to the inclusive societal and educational structure compared to the Asian countries. Additionally, their exposure with diverse, multiethnic/multilingual communities and acceptance of inclusion in the academic institutions encourage inclusive mindset and flexible beliefs towards education. The Asian countries, specifically, KSA, need to adopt an inclusive mindset at the societal level first in order to promote an inclusive ideology at the teachers’ level. Introducing and implementing inclusive education models from the primary to the post-secondary institutions potentially bring forth change in the teachers’ pre-established mindset and experiences at the grassroots level.
Nonetheless, the present research does not support the claims published in the past that the private international schools in the Middle-East practice inclusive education (Brown, 2005; Weber, 2012). Some practices that can be grouped under the core inclusive components identified in the inclusive literature that reflect the strength of these schools (Messiou & Ainscow, 2015; UNESCO, 2017). However, they need to take further steps in order to adopt and implement inclusive education models within their existing systems.
SAES and ISG are not currently using an inclusive education model in schools, and teachers in these general education settings have no experience working with students with special needs. However, given the school districts’ mandate to students with diverse multiethnic, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, they offer a variety of services and teaching practices to the students to meet their diverse learning needs. Some of these practices are discussed previously in within-case and cross-case analyses, and presented here as an overview, while others have emerged as unique categories from the data. These findings are grouped to document existing practices in SAES and ISG-Dammam per the core components of inclusive education identified in the literature.
Coherent Instructional Program. Many supportive pieces of evidence suggest that the teaching practices at SAES and ISG-Dammam are aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Teachers prepare math lesson plans under the supervision of math coaches using a variety of teaching resources. Teachers have rich content and experiential content knowledge. These practices increase the likelihood of preparing and presenting specified subject matter in an expert way to the diverse learners according to their level of understandings, cognitive abilities, preferences, and interests.
Collaborative Instructional Programs and Flexible Teaching and Learning. Data show SAES teachers use flexible teaching methodologies with structured instructional approaches, such as the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP) framework, differentiated instruction, Go to Strategies Inventory, and the Learning by Design model, to address the academic needs of ELL/ESLs and others in the classroom. Additionally, math teachers provide multiple means of action, expression, and task presentation in daily teaching practices. The Student Support Team provides counseling services to students with behavioral and academic problems. They offer programs based on students’ social-emotional needs as well as a Response to Intervention program for students with learning difficulties. Teachers work in collaboration with the school psychologist, instructional specialists, speech pathologist, and health care nurse. At ISG-Dammam, ELL support is provided to students, and counseling services are also accessible.
Professional Development. The school leadership at SAES offers a variety of learning opportunities regularly throughout the year. Teachers from the same subject and grade levels meet in a weekly professional learning community (PLC) and share effective teaching practices. Then, they gather in monthly PLCs and share solutions to the challenges they experience when applying new teaching strategies. SAES also organizes PD training quarterly to introduce new initiatives or to refine the previously introduced programs. Overall, the PD programs at SAES are well structured. PD in ISG-Dammam is offered twice a year, and the district conducts teaching workshops. Math teachers also meet for lesson planning during the yearly PLCs. Furthermore, teachers are encouraged to go abroad to attend international conferences related to teaching and educational practices.
Learning Environment. The caring learning environment was found in both SAES and ISG-Dammam. The teachers appeared to establish a warm and respectful relationship with the students, and were observed appreciating, encouraging, and being attentive to students’ responses and participation. Overall, a non-traditional student-centered learning environment was found at SAES, and the components of cooperative learning, inquiry-based learning, and embedded instructions were frequently found present (Alquraini & Gut, 2012). The role of the SAES teachers was found as facilitator and moderator in the class (Adelman & Tylor, 1997; Pedersen & Liu, 2003). These findings are consistent with the comprehensive learning environment research were adopting a facilitators’ role has a high value in reducing barriers to learning (Adelman & Taylor, 1997; Udvari‐Solner, 1996). Conversely, a traditional teacher-centered learning environment appeared at ISG-Dammam with some evidence of cooperative learning and embedded instructions (Trigwell & Prosser, 2013). The component of reflexive teaching was, however, found common in the participant teachers of both school districts.
Efficient Use of Resources. Data support that the teachers at SAES effectively and frequently use educational and assistive technology in the classroom. Students are provided with modern digital technology regularly to increase their learning content and 21st-century skills. Moreover, teachers use a variety of educational software and online resources during classroom activities and as assigned homework. Students are provided digital scaffolds, progress monitoring, and feedback systems to increase their learning engagement. The use of assistive technology was also found at ISG-Dammam, yet not frequently. Nonetheless, teachers are used to consulting educational software and online learning material as classroom and homework activities.
High Standards and High Expectations. Since both SAES and ISG-Dammam are academically focused, the math programs in both schools are challenging and place high expectations for the teachers and the learners. Teachers are highly qualified with a vibrant teaching background and content experience, therefore set high standards for learning and their students’ achievement. These high expectations positively impact learners’ academic output and school performance (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968).
In conclusion, besides the teachers’ beliefs and practices in addressing variability and barriers issues in the classroom at both SAES and ISAG-Dammam, the above-stated characteristics are found more or less in place at both schools. The presence of these characteristics indicates that these schools have a strong basis for initiating inclusive education after introducing some modifications and additions to their existing systems to serve students with exceptional learning needs, including disabilities. In order to take the initiative for adopting an inclusive approach in their existing educational practices, these schools will need to be restructured at the administrative level. This study suggests the following methods that can be beneficial in adopting an inclusive education model in these schools.
The role of school principals and leaders is recognized in the educational literature in taking initiatives and introducing educational reforms—they are considered as the gatekeepers of change. Fullan (2007) suggests that significant educational change contains a change in beliefs, teaching styles, and methodologies, which can come about only through the process of teachers’ personal development within their social context. Collectively, all participant teachers from SAES and ISG-Dammam are ready to improve their practices and open towards learning new teaching methodologies to meet the diversified needs of learners in their classrooms. It is recommended that teachers, school leaders, and outside individuals who bring external ideas for inclusive practices should be allowed to collaborate (Ammons, 2015). The present research makes further recommendations to SAES and ISG-Dammam.
It can be inferred that these private international schools in the Kingdom have many components that are considered core in the inclusive education literature. Nonetheless, they require administrative restructuring in adopting an inclusive education model by empowering teachers by introducing the UDL framework and related inclusive approaches in teaching. Once established in inclusive practices, these schools can serve as exemplary academic institutions for the local schools in the Kingdom.
Many efforts are being initiated in the Kingdom to improve inclusive practices in education. Recent studies conducted in KSA illustrates a need for change in the existing system through integrating the UDL approach to general and special education (Al-Assaf, 2017; Alquraini & Rao, 2018a; Alsalem, 2015). Considering the current status of inclusive practices in the Kingdom, the present research makes these recommendations for policymakers based on the reviewed literature and the research findings.
Finally, it is stated that collaborating educational professionals with the education researchers for conducting studies in the field of inclusive education within different regions of KSA is essential. Based on the areas for in-service teachers’ training and PD identified by this research, it is suggested that future research should track the progress and performance of the teachers/school districts after introducing inclusive education programs in the private international schools of KSA. Simultaneously, the efficacy of the UDL-based blueprint prepared for this research can also be evaluated by developing its scoring key and providing free access of the blueprint to the general education teachers during the training workshops and PDs. Lastly, future research can also benefit from the relationships among the understudied concepts and some hypotheses elicited by the conceptual debate in the present research.
The present research was designed to explore the possibilities of inclusive education practices within the private international schools of the Kingdom. Given the complex discourse of inclusive education, this multilayered study adopted a multiple case study design to discover general education teachers’ beliefs, conceptual understanding, and practices in addressing the core concepts “learner variability and barriers to learning.” Simultaneously, the study explored the underlying mechanisms involved in inclusive practices—anticipating for variability and barriers and intentionally aligning teaching components (lesson planning, teaching methods, materials, and assessment) with the core components of inclusive education.
The findings of this study suggest that addressing variability and barriers are related to the teachers’ beliefs and conceptual understanding of these concepts. The general education teachers who revealed deep conceptual understanding and positive and malleable beliefs about variability and barriers were found adopting flexible instructional approaches in addressing variability and barriers compared to the teachers who showed surface levels of understanding these concepts. Further, teachers who adopted flexible teaching strategies were more likely to establish a non-traditional model of teaching and learning in the classroom gaining maximum benefits from educational and technological resources. The study also suggests that the teachers in general education settings do not observe anticipation and intentional alignment across teaching components; instead, their excellent teaching practices appear automatic and intuitive. Further, the study suggests that general education teachers need to advance their existing teaching skills to serve a broad range of students regardless of differences by adopting inclusive models of education.
Within the global perspective, the study informs international education policymakers to revise the definition of inclusive education and incorporate variability and barriers to learning as essential parts of the definition considering inclusion as a movement of social justice. The analysis of the current status of practices in private international schools in KSA suggests that the participating schools are not currently practicing inclusive education models. However, many practices are in line with the core inclusive practices found in the literature, and schools have strong foundations to initiate for the inclusive educational model. This research also provides a set of recommendations to the participant schools that can be beneficial for introducing inclusive practice in these schools.
Opening gates for inclusion in the existing educational institutions in KSA are critical to restructuring teachers’ belief system and then tracking the gradual improvement in their beliefs and understanding about the inclusive approach. Providing an inclusive learning environment in today’s classrooms will facilitate an inclusive mindset in the teachers of the future. Promoting inclusive education based on UDL implementation in KSA is a gradual process of change, and educational communities need to adjust to this change that cannot be attained in isolation. Starting from small changes and involving stakeholders in establishing UDL communities can address the issues related to the school-wide and Kingdom-wide resistance in the implementation of UDL-based curriculum and alternative instructional design (Dymond et al., 2006; Marino et al., 2014). Inter-school collaboration can be a useful tool to promote inclusive education in the Kingdom. Therefore, this study was an attempt to provide a springboard for further discussion on inclusive education in the private international schools of Saudi Arabia.
Our psychology writing team offer a wide range of services which are included but not limited to:
– Psychology Coursework Writing Help
– Psychology Dissertation Writing Service
– Psychology Essay Writing Service
– Psychology Dissertation Help
– Psychology Assignment Writing Service
– Psychology Essay Writers