Through the eyes of inclusion: an evaluation of video analysis as a reflective tool for student teachers within special education


Source: European Journal of Teacher Education, 43:1, 110-126

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Building on the conceptual framework provided by critical reflections on the current professional development of special education teachers (Allan 2010; EADSNE 2011; Florian 2013; Forlin 2012), this study analyses the use of video as a professional development tool by adopting the theoretical lens of microteaching (Gamoran Sherin 2003) to shed light on the role it can play in modifying student teachers’ attitudes and beliefs with relation to their future activities as teachers (Killoran, Woronko, and Zaretsky 2014; Sharma et al. 2017).

Consequently, the study presented in this article sought to examine:
(1) The special student teachers’ attitudes and beliefs towards inclusive teaching, and whether such attitudes change as a result of attending a specific professional development course on special education teaching;
(2) Whether the analysis of videos in which special student teachers simulate inclusive teaching activities allows the trainees to develop a deeper understanding of their own approach to inclusive education;
(3) To what extent such analysis can produce an effect of positive ‘unfreezing’ with regard to attitudes and beliefs concerning the effectiveness of inclusive teaching.

The research context
The author carried out research during a special teaching course that took place at the University of Bergamo in 2017.
The course ran for one year, encompassing lectures and workshops (525 hours), school internship (225 hours), and a final exam.
The course involved a total of 215 students training to teach in kindergarten (n = 55), primary school (n = 49), lower secondary school (n = 32) and upper secondary school (n = 79). The focus of the course was on developing an inclusive curriculum and individualised support by creating a cooperative and mutually supportive educational setting within the classroom.

The author employed a three-phase mixed methods research design, with quantitative data achieved from questionnaires and qualitative data generated through video analysis.
To probe student teachers attitudes and beliefs about inclusive teaching, the author used an ad-hoc questionnaire created by Beacham and Rouse for the Inclusive Practice Project carried out at the University of Aberdeen (Beacham and Rouse 2012).
A qualitative section was included to allow written comments at the end of the questionnaire.
The author administered the questionnaire to the 215 students at the beginning of the course.
The kindergarten and primary school students (KPS) group subsequently attended the traditional course programme, based on lectures on pedagogical strategies for improving inclusion in the classroom, as well as on workshops where different cases of activities addressed to improve inclusion in kindergarten and primary school were examined and discussed in groups.
The lower and secondary school students (LUS) also attended similar lectures on pedagogical strategies for inclusion in lower and upper secondary school classroom.
Different from the KPS group, the author conducted with the LUS group a series of eight workshops in which some students were filmed while simulating inclusive teaching activities within a class.
At the end of the simulation, participants had ten minutes to write personal reflections about the lesson simulated, and twenty minutes to discuss their views in small groups
In the following workshop the students, divided again into small groups, analysed and commented on the video footage of the simulated lesson.
All analyses related to the simulation were subsequently reviewed in a plenary session with all students, so as to develop shared reflections on the pros and cons of the inclusive strategies employed.
At the end of the course, the author again administered the questionnaire to all students in order to verify any possible modifications to the student teachers initial responses in terms of their attitudes and beliefs regarding inclusive teaching.

Results and discussion
As many researchers underline (Allan 2010; Florian and Rouse 2009), student special teachers seem to unanimously support the principle of students’ right to an inclusive education and to receive individualised support from specialised teachers.
However, when it comes to translating these principles into educational practice, this unanimity evaporates with teachers expressing opposing attitudes in relation to inclusive teaching (Thomas and Loxley 2007).
This inquiry confirmed that such a discrepancy - homogeneous principles but heterogeneous activities - was also present within the specialised course analysed; for this reason, the investigation was focused on the dimensions that resulted in changes to student teachers opinions throughout the course.
Moreover, special attention was paid to the role video analysis carried out during the professional development course can play as a possible vector of change in this respect.
The initial questionnaire highlighted that secondary school student teachers were more sceptical about the actual implementation of inclusive education principles than those from kindergarten and primary school.
The investigation did not set out to perform a strict comparison between the two groups of student teachers using the latter as a control group.
However, the author opted to develop a video analysis workshop with the secondary school student teachers as he deemed it likely that possible variations in attitudes and beliefs among this more ‘reluctant’ group would prove especially valuable in terms of expanding their teaching abilities.
While the student teachers attitudes and beliefs concerning students’ rights remained constant over time, other dimensions more directly related to educational practice, such as the evaluation and organisation of teaching, underwent interesting changes.
It is noteworthy, in particular, how the evaluation of students’ potential, group composition by levels, special needs assistance provided outside/inside the class, and the estimated time necessary to carry out support interventions changed over the course of the professional development course.
Such changes represented a challenge to student teachers original beliefs concerning the inclusive value of their own educational choices.
This process was particularly marked among the student teachers who took part in the activity analysing video footage of simulated lessons during the second part of the course.
Student teachers involved in the video analysis activity were able to identify certain key points of inclusive teaching, which they described in the form of a list of ‘dos & don’ts’. However, it is important to note that the main goal of this activity was not the acquisition and improvement of specific teaching strategies (however useful such strategies may be), but the development of collaboration and a sense of shared understanding among student teachers through systematic joint reflection on teaching activities.
However, this study confirms that we should not underestimate the level of resistance from teachers to innovations in school, especially concerning the sensitive subject of inclusive education.
With regard to the research questions, the author reports that this investigation shows that the special student teachers’ attitudes and beliefs towards inclusive teaching have changed in some aspects as a result of attending a specific professional development course on special education teaching.
This change is more significant for student teachers that take part in the simulation and video analysis of inclusive teaching lessons, as a mean to develop a deeper understanding of their own approach to inclusive education.
As a result, these activities contributed to produce an effect of positive ‘unfreezing’ with regard to attitudes and beliefs concerning the effectiveness of inclusive teaching.
In conclusion, the author notes that this study contributes to expanding our knowledge of the video analysis of simulated lessons as a fruitful strategy to foster a positive change in student teachers’ attitudes and beliefs towards inclusion in school.
His findings suggest that a systematic implementation of this strategy in initial special education would support student teachers in developing a more reflective stance towards inclusive education and, more specifically, would strengthen their ability to transform inclusive principles into everyday activities in school, so help to fill the persistent gap between theory and practices in inclusive education.

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Updated: Oct. 30, 2020