Key Takeaway: In today’s globalized world, it is imperative that all students are able to use their unique voices and actively participate in conversations. In order to foster meaningful participation in the classroom, educators need to develop strong and trusting relationships with their students. Challenging the notion of what it means to be inclusive provides educators with the opportunity to re-imagine modern education by prioritizing relationships and placing human values at the center of the teaching and learning experience. —Taryn McBrayne

“It is essential to place the relationship between the teacher and the student at the core of teaching,” says Ann-Louise Ljungblad (Department of Education and Special Education at University of Gothenburg). Ljungblad shares her study on the theoretical perspective, Pedagogical Relational Teachership (PeRT), to promote trustful teacher-student relationships as a foundation for student participation and inclusion. The author, in conjunction with Biesta (2007),1 proposes that a new type of inclusion, known as “the incalculable,” be introduced into classrooms. 

As the article explains, this form of inclusion emphasizes student “subjectification” (Biesta, 2009)2 by considering “if, when and how students are given opportunities to participate in education and emerge with their own unique voices,” which Ljungblad (2016)3 believes is one of education’s main purposes. 

According to Ljungblad, the PeRT theory provides a third way for students to access knowledge, in addition to traditional individualist and collectivist approaches, whereby the relationship between teacher and student is leveraged. Relational pedagogy, the main component of the PeRT perspective, values relationships, and Ljungblad believes that “learning and knowledge can be seen as a result of relationships.” More specifically, the author explains that it is the relationship between students and their teachers that significantly impacts learning in what is referred to as the “in-between space.”3 Here, Ljungblad explains that, “since meanings are shared and located ‘in-between,’ we have to embrace this gap, and PeRT is a theoretical inclusive perspective that highlights this essential space.” 

To showcase the role of student-teacher relationships in increasing student participation, the author references a self-conducted, micro-ethnographic study in 2016 which surveyed one hundred children ranging in age and physical and intellectual ability.3 The results of this study suggest that “the teachers’ pedagogical tactfulness created space for the students’ unique voices to emerge.” Put simply, the manner in which teachers interacted with their students, namely a “listening and empathetic pedagogical stance,” positively influenced their levels of participation. 

The author outlines three dimensions of the PeRT model in the article: 

Dimension 1 – According to Ljungblad, “PeRT emphasizes a positive rights 

claim for teachers to actively support students,” meaning that acting based on what is in the best interest of the child and what allows them to achieve their potential serves as a way to encourage participation. These “positive rights” stem from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of a Child (CRC) and the Salamanca Statement and Framework for Action on Special Needs Education. 

Dimension 2 – Inspired by Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory model, the PeRT model is multidimensional and “shows how different aspects of relational teachership are closely intertwined, from a micro-level to a macro-level.” Through adopting this model, teachers are challenged to change their teaching practices in order to relate to their students and to embrace student collaboration to best meet their needs. 

Dimension 3 – Shifting from Vygotsky’s Didactic Triangle, the PeRT inspired Relational and Didactic Star emphasizes the importance of relational adaptations in the classroom environment to encourage participation. Although a traditional triangle model “emphasises the purpose, content and methods [of teaching],” Ljunglad suggests that it does not “illuminate the people who participate in the teaching community.” Ljungblad argues that PeRT combines the two pedagogical approaches (didactic and relational), therefore creating potential for “double-meaning making” to occur for students. As the author shares, “these two facets of meaning-making are important when teachers develop relational and didactic adaptations to create accessibility to the content.” 

Ultimately, more studies are needed to further understand the complexities of relational values in inclusive education. However, PeRT is “an invitation to scholars and practitioners to use the multi-relational model as creative

inspiration to seek new knowledge and understanding about participation, accessibility and equity.” It is through positioning the teacher-student relationship at the heart of teaching that all students’ voices can be heard. 

Summarized Article:

Ljungblad, A.L. (2021). Pedagogical Relational Teachership (PeRT) – a multi-relational perspective, International Journal of Inclusive Education, Vol. 25 (7), 860-876. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2019.1581280

Summary by: Taryn McBrayne—Taryn believes in the power of student voice and, through the MARIO Framework, strives to create more opportunities for both educators and students to regularly make use of this power.

Additional References:

  1. Biesta, G. (2007). “Don’t Count Me in. Democracy, Education and the Question of Inclusion.” Nordic Studies in Education, Vol. 27 (1), 18–29. 
  2. Biesta, G. (2009). “Good Education in an Age of Measurement. On the Need to Reconnect with the Question of Purpose in Education.” Educational Assessment, Evaluation & Accountability, Vol. 21(1), 33–46. 
  3. Ljungblad, A.L. (2016). Takt och hållning – en relationell studie om det oberäkneliga i matematikundervisningen [Tact and Stance – A Relational Study About the Incalculable in Mathematics Teaching]. PhD diss., Gothenburg Studies in Educational Sciences, 381. Gothenburg: Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis.

Additional Reading: 

Key Takeaway: Mueller illuminates key gaps in the present educational system that inhibits disability identity development; educators, administrators, and school staff should collectively work to counteract the lack of curriculum representation, community, and disabled staff in effectively teaching and empowering learners with special needs.—Emmy Thamakaison

Carlyn O. Mueller (University of Wisconsin) shares her qualitative interview study exploring disability identity development and its relationship to educational experiences. Nine adults with special needs were asked to reflect on their schooling experiences through a semi-structured interview process.

Disability identity is defined as “a sense of self that includes one’s disability and feelings of connection to, or solidarity with, the disability community.”1 It is generally accepted that the development of one’s disability identity is heavily influenced by educational experiences during youthful years; more often than not, those with disabilities are “often positioned such that they are likely (and even encouraged) to reject identifying as disabled”2 during their schooling. 

After the current study’s participants reflected upon their past educational experiences in relation to their disability identities, several unifying patterns emerged: firstly, all of the participants noticed a lack of disability representation in both special education and general education curriculum. 

  • Planned or guided discussions around disabilities were minimal if not nonexistent during their schooling years, as one participant noted, “it did not come up. It wasn’t shown in any of the history, or social studies, or multi-media, or anything else… there’s no word for [disability], no vocabulary.” 
  • Though the relationship between curriculum representation and disability identity may be influenced by extraneous factors (ie. stigma), the participants still implore for “more direct, explicit discussion around disability identity” in the schooling system; representation of disability culture and history may help mitigate negative experiences that are beyond the control of schooling and allow individuals with special needs to relate to themselves and others in the community better. 

Furthermore, the participants recalled a lack of disability community during their education. Connection with fellow individuals with special needs, perceived role models, or simply a sense of membership were often “actively discouraged,” as one participant recalled, “I remember them telling me, ‘…don’t associate with those people [other students with intellectual disabilities]’… even though those people I relate with the most.”

  • Importantly, special education spaces often foster “under-developed” disability communities, with their “segregated nature” and narratives that “there was something fundamentally wrong with their bodies, minds, or ways of being.” 
  • To this end, Mueller calls for the identification, correction, and counteraction of such narratives, as well as opportunities for students to “grow and learn around other children with disabilities”3 in a special education context.

Participants also unanimously agreed that there was a lack of school staff with open relationships with disabilities. Not only does this represent a missed opportunity for student empowerment through role-modelling, it also leads to educators being forced to “make their own assumptions, [which] produces really undesirable outcomes.” One participant states that “I would often get yelled at by some of my teachers when I was doing . . . normal autistic stuff, weird for neurotypicals,” and another recalls, “the special ed system didn’t really prepare me for adulthood in a lot of ways . . . it’s not built by people who understand what it’s really like.” 

  • In mitigating these present outcomes, Mueller suggests including disability history, pride, and community in teacher preparation programs; not only would this prime educators for teaching curricula with disability representation, it would also push teachers to challenge and expand their own beliefs about disabilities and commit to anti-ableist approaches that translate to a classroom setting. 
  • Active efforts to include educators, administrators, and paraprofessionals with disabilities into educational spaces are also vital. These individuals would potentially bring “a unique and powerful set of experiences and insights into the needs of children, youth, and families they serve.”4 

Ultimately, Mueller’s study illuminates gaps in the current general and special education system, in relation to students with disabilities. Through the words of individuals with special needs themselves, Mueller calls for a transformation of services and contexts that shape the disability identities of millions across the globe. Schools should make an active effort to “intentionally strengthen and name disability as an identity experience” so that future students look at the world and see a place for themselves in it.

Summarized Article:Mueller, C. O. (2021). “I Didn’t Know People With Disabilities Could Grow Up to Be Adults”: Disability History, Curriculum, and Identity in Special Education. Teacher Education and Special Education: The Journal of the Teacher Education Division of the Council for Exceptional Children, 44(3), 189–205. https://doi.org/10.1177/0888406421996069

Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison — Emmy is a recent high school graduate attending Stanford University and is an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Dunn, D. S., & Burcaw, S. (2013). Disability identity: Exploring narrative accounts of disability. Rehabilitation Psychology, 58(2), 148–157. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031691
  2. Annamma, S. A., Connor, D., & Ferri, B. (2013). Dis/ability critical race studies (DisCrit): theorizing at the intersections of race and dis/ability. Race Ethnicity and Education, 16(1), 1–31. https://doi.org/10.1080/13613324.2012.730511
  3. Linton, S. (1998). Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity. New York University Press.
  4. Council for Exceptional Children. (2016). CEC’s Policy on Educators with Disabilities. Exceptional Children, 82(4), 407–408. https://doi.org/10.1177/0014402916651880

Key Takeaway: Research has indicated that parental training and coaching programmes can be effectively translated into the student’s natural environment. Studies have also provided support for using routines-based models to improve the quality of goals in early intervention/early childhood special education professional training programmes. —Emmy Thamakaison

Sara Movahedazarhouligh (2021) at the University of Northern Colorado shares her systematic review investigating the effectiveness of family-centered practices in naturalistic settings and the early-intervention of such practices in parent training.

The routines-based (RB) family-centered approach was suggested to be functional in naturalistic settings for toddlers with Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or developmental delays. Specifically, using “varied family-identified routines” resulted in “parents [being] more likely to use communication strategies” and “children [being] more likely to use targeted communication skills,” Movahedazarhouligh (2021) quotes Brown & Woods (2015).1

  • Modelling intervention practices and providing parents with opportunities to implement interventions has been reported to correspond with “positive changes in [children’s] communication skills” and results in better unprompted requests in children with ASD and partial hemispherectomies, based on research by Meadan et al. (2013),2 Ingvarsson (2011),3 and Chaabane et al. (2009).4
  • The family-centered approach of problem-solving is suggested to have “contributed to the stability and durability of reductions in challenging behaviour” of young learners in a study by Moes & Frea (2002).5
  • Other family-centered approaches, including written instructions, performance-based feedback, and role-play, have also been suggested to contribute to improvement in aspects such as “children’s independent work skills,” “social interaction,” and “participation in play dates” based on work by Welterin et al. (2012),6 and Jull & Merinda (2011).7

Approaches focusing on RB interventions are also suggested to be beneficial in training programmes for interventionists, as they “improved quality ratings of goals and objectives” and resulted in “professionals’ knowledge, understanding, confidence, and home visiting skills [increasing] from pre to post-intervention.”

The effectiveness of other family-centered approaches other than RB in Early Intervention/Early Childhood Special Education training programmes are yet to be explored in a wider context.

Though further research is needed, there is a “growing body of evidence” that has “validated many of the theoretical links between family-centered approaches . . . and desirable outcomes for families with a child with disability.” Therefore, practices that employ family-centered care and encourage parent-implemented interventions are encouraged as an early intervention for some children with special needs.

Article Summarized: Movahedazarhouligh, S. (2021). Parent-implemented interventions and family-centered service delivery approaches in early intervention and early childhood special education. Early Child Development and Care, 191, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430.2019.1603148

Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison—Emmy is a recent high school graduate attending Stanford University and is an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

1. Brown, J. A., & Woods, J. J. (2015). Effects of a triadic parent-implemented home-based communication intervention for toddlers. Journal of Early Intervention, 37(1), 44–68. doi:10.1177/1053815115589350

2. Meadan, H., Meyer, L. E., Snodgrass, M. R., & Halle, J. W. (2013). Coaching parents of young children with autism in rural areas using internet-based technologies: A pilot program. Rural Special Education Quarterly; Morgantown, 32(3), 3–10.

3. Ingvarsson, E. T. (2011). Parent-implemented mand training: Acquisition of framed manding in a young boy with partial hemispherectomy. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44(1), 205–209. doi:10.1901/jaba.2011.44-205

4. Chaabane, D. B. B., Alber-Morgan, S. R., & DeBar, R. M. (2009). The effects of parent-implemented PECS training on improvisation of mands by children with autism. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 42(3), 671–677.

5. Moes, D. R., & Frea, W. D. (2002). Contextualized behavioral support in early intervention for children with autism and their families. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 32(6), 519–533. doi:10.1023/A:1021298729297

6. Welterlin, A., Turner-Brown, L. M., Harris, S., Mesibov, G., & Delmolino, L. (2012). The home teaching program for toddlers with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(9), 1827–1835. doi:10.1007/s10803-011-1419-2

7. Jull, S., & Mirenda, P. (2011). Parents as play date facilitators for preschoolers with autism. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 13(1), 17–30. doi:10.1177/1098300709358111

Key Takeaway: DeVries, Knickenberg, and Trygger report complex relationships between student characteristics (ie. the presence of learning differences), and self-perceived inclusion and academic self-regard. Both the novel and supported results reveal a gap, even in inclusive classes, and the need for educator and administrator-implemented inclusion interventions for at-risk students. – Emmy Thamakaison

Jeffrey DeVries (TU Dortmund University), Margarita Knickenberg (University of Bielefeld), and Maria Trygger (Saltsjöbadens Samskolan) share their cross-sectional study examining the association between student characteristics (gender, grade-level, special-education needs (SEN) status, and self-identified academic difficulties) with academic self-concept and perceptions of socio-emotional inclusion among fifth and eighth-grade students in an inclusion school. Additionally, they test the validity of the Perception of Inclusion Questionnaire (PIQ) in measuring emotional inclusion, social inclusion, and academic self-concept. 

Academic self-concept, or the way an individual regards their academic abilities, has conventionally been believed to be lower among students with SEN (ie. cognitive difficulties, learning disabilities), regardless of their inclusive educational context. DeVries et al. find this is the case not only for students with SEN diagnoses (p = 0.004), but also for students with self-reported difficulties yet no formal diagnoses (p = 0.007).

  • Grade level in combination with gender can significantly influence students’ academic self-concept. Regardless of SEN status, lower levels of self-concept were found for female students in eighth grade compared with that of female students in fifth grade. Male students, however, did not display such differences. 
  • In explaining this decline in academic self-concept, the authors cite “a decrease in maths-specific self-concept” for general female students and “different interactions with teachers and classmates”1 and “self-efficacy”2 for females with SEN. 

In terms of social and emotional inclusion, SEN status and grade were found to play an important role in determining students’ relative levels. 

  • Along with lower levels of academic self-concept, students with SEN diagnoses experienced lower levels of emotional inclusion. This cross-sectional data contradict that of a longitudinal study, which demonstrates a “boost to both emotional inclusion and academic self-concept over time” among students with SEN.3 Taken together, this suggests that “effective techniques” that address “the extent of students’ social inclusion in their classes and emotional wellbeing” may alleviate “the effects of SEN on academic self-concept “ and “emotional inclusion” over time.4,5
  • Similar to students with SEN, students with undiagnosed difficulties experienced lower levels of emotional inclusion. Interestingly, they also reported experiencing reduced social inclusion as well—a finding not seen in the SEN population. DeVries et al. suggest that this may demonstrate the comparable “lack of some inclusive support” for students with undiagnosed difficulties. 
  • Additionally, children in eighth grade reported significantly lower levels of social inclusion (p = 0.041). No significant variations due to gender were found for both social and emotional inclusion. 

Fulfilling one of the main objectives of this study, the authors provided further validation for the PIQ as an effective and easily understood tool; this 3-factor model of social inclusion, emotional inclusion, and academic self-concept was described to “demonstrate good psychometric properties,” which included measurement invariance (the extent to which items measure equivalently across different groups) and reliability. 

Ultimately, DeVries et al.‘s research provides useful insights into the relationship between student characteristics and levels of perceived socio-emotional inclusion, or academic self-concept. Much of these results (ie. students with SEN experiencing lower levels of emotional inclusion and self-concept) are supported by pre-existing research and emphasize the importance of interventions in alleviating some of the effects described above. This study’s finding of children with self-reported difficulties feeling less emotionally and socially included, as well as having a lower academic self-concept, poses some novel implications and questions; though “more research is needed to examine the exact nature and causes of these differences,” educators and administrators should “work to ensure that such at-risk learners feel included within the classroom.” 

Summarized Article:

DeVries, J. M., Knickenberg, M., & Trygger, M. (2021). Academic self-concept, perceptions of inclusion, special needs and gender: evidence from inclusive classes in Sweden. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/08856257.2021.1911523

Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison—Emmy is a recent high school graduate attending Stanford University and is an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.

Additional References:

  1. Oga-Baldwin, W. L. Q., & Nakata, Y. (2017). Engagement, gender, and motivation: A predictive model for Japanese young language learners. System, 65, 151–163. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2017.01.011
  2. Huang, C. (2012). Gender differences in academic self-efficacy: a meta-analysis. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 28(1), 1–35. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10212-011-0097-y
  3. DeVries, J. M., Voß, S., & Gebhardt, M. (2018). Do learners with special education needs really feel included? Evidence from the Perception of Inclusion Questionnaire and Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 83, 28–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ridd.2018.07.007
  4. Haeberlin, U., U. Moser, G. Bless, and R. Klaghofer (1989). Questionnaire for Assessing Dimensions of Integration of Students. Integration in Die Schulklasse. Fragebogen Zur Erfassung Von Dimensionen Der Integration Von Schülern FDI 4–6
  5. Hascher, T., and G. Hagenauer (2011). Schulisches Wohlbefinden Im Jugendalter– Verläufe Und Einflussfaktoren. Jahrbuch Jugendforschung: 10, 15–45.

Key Takeaway: High expectations play a vital role in developing future success in students. For learners, frequent educational and vocational discussions with friends, family, and teachers during adolescence can be incredibly important in fostering their aspirations and transforming them into reality. —Emmy Thamakaison

Lynette Vernon (Edith Cowan University) and Catherine Drane (Curtin University) share their retrospective, cross-sectional study examining the association between student characteristics (ie. socio-economic status (SES), gender) alongside discussions with influential figures (ie. family members, friends, teachers) and expectations to attend university, receive vocational/technical education, or go into full-time employment after secondary school.

SES’s contributions to the development of future aspirations have long been debated, in particular, the suggested relationship between lower SES and lower educational and vocational aspirations. Vernon and Drane present their arguments against this as their results revealed that “career and educational aspirations for students, predominantly from low SES background were high” but found that often “the missing element is the knowledge of how to make these aspirations concrete and obtainable.”1 

  • Compared to students with higher SES, those with lower SES tend to engage more frequently in Technical and Further Education (TAFE) and Vocational Education and Training (VET) discussions and less frequently in university discussions. 
  • Students discuss their aspirations with their parents and peers more than their teachers and counsellors. Therefore, it is vital for these high-impact influencers to “have the necessary up-to-date knowledge and skills to provide the relevant information around educational opportunities.” However, parents of students of lower SES may lack the prerequisite knowledge as they may not have experience with university and/or TAFE/VET pathways. Thus, informative parental support and discussions with multiple influencers may be beneficial to maintaining high aspirations. 

Apart from SES, other factors such as gender, academic year level, and first-in-family (to attend university) status are considered “important predictors” for students’ vocational and higher education expectations. 

  • University discussions affected female students more significantly in terms of their expectations to receive higher education.
  • Those with first-in-family statuses engaged in discussions about university more frequently than those whose family members have attended university, indicating “their capabilities of resilience, motivation, and tenacity to explore university pathways.” However, first-in-family status was not associated with TAFE/VET expectations.
  • Vernon and Drane found that year level (grade level) indirectly contributed to the pathways between discussions on university, TAFE-VET, or full-time employment expectations.

Regardless of individual characteristics, frequent discussions about students’ futures allows the maintenance of their aspirations and sets them on the path to reaching their potential. 

  • As one of the main confidantes for a student, parents are encouraged to “provide the reality context for their children around their educational desires” in the discussions. 
  • Teachers remain largely untapped for valuable aspirational discussions. Prioritizing career education in a school setting and promoting teachers as a “positive, knowledgeable, and accessible resource” can therefore go a long way in “empowering [students] to pursue their desired education and career pathways”. 

Ultimately, this research encourages policy-makers, teachers, and influencers to recognize the importance of discussions around educational and vocational pathways. Adolescence is a critical transitional period as students decide what they will pursue beyond secondary school. While individual factors influence future expectations differently, increasing the frequency of quality discussions with influential figures can “provide the opportunity for all students to practice and develop their capacity to aspire and meet their career [and educational] expectations.”

Summarized Article:

Vernon, L., & Drane, C. F. (2021). Influencers: the importance of discussions with parents, teachers and friends to support vocational and university pathways. International Journal of Training Research, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/14480220.2020.1864442

Summary by: Emmy Thamakaison — Emmy is a recent high school graduate attending Stanford University and is an enthusiastic advocate of MARIO Framework.

Research author Lynette Vernon, Ph.D., was involved in the final version of this summary.

Additional References:

  1. St. Clair, R., Kintrea, K., & Houston, M. (2013). Silver bullet or red herring? New evidence on the place of aspirations in education. Oxford Review of Education, 39(6), 719–738. https://doi.org/10.1080/03054985.2013.854201