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Employing Student Voices to Enhance Inclusive Learning

Author Bernie Collins & Anne Marie Kavanagh
Abstract Inclusive learning is promoted across a number of teacher education courses as part of the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree. Circle time - a widely employed and popular learning method amongst primary and post-primary teachers is conceptualised as one effective method for facilitating inclusive learning at third level. The current research sought to investigate student teachers' experiences of and attitudes towards this inclusive learning method at the beginning of their teacher education degree course. As teacher educators, we wanted to critically engage with and inform our own conduct and practice of circle time in order to enhance students' experiences of the method and to maximise their possible future use of circle time in their own teaching. The methodology employed was mixed methods, with the use of a self-administered questionnaire distributed to a large group of students and provision for focus group interviews with a small number of students. The research uncovered both positive and negative aspects of students' prior experiences of circle time. Circle time's capacity to facilitate student voice, the sharing of stories and experiences and peer discussion along with positive interpersonal relations were cited as key benefits. However, students did not feel that they were provided with opportunities to participate on an equal basis either with each other or with the facilitating teacher. Students reported that teachers generally determined theme selection and that more confident students frequently dominated group discussions thereby marginalising and silencing less confident students. These findings suggest a need to modify practices in order to promote inclusion, participation and equality of voice. Notwithstanding some negativity however, the majority of student teachers indicated that they would be willing to use the method of circle time at some stage in the future, suggesting that they see a value in it. The implications of these findings are examined in this paper from the perspectives of the authors as they introduce circle time to student teachers. The findings may resonate with other third level practitioners who seek to facilitate inclusive learning as part of their pedagogical approach.
Keywords Inclusive learning; circle time; teacher educators; SPHE; mixed methods inquiry; students? prior experiences.
Published In ICEP Proceedings
Year 2013
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