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Charlotte Forster (4893416)

It is well documented that one of the greatest challenges facing teachers in New Zealand is
improving outcomes for priority learners. With reference to relevant literature and research,
critically discuss how classroom teachers can address this challenge.
While New Zealands education system is constructed with the aspiration to provide all students with
an equal opportunity at success (Strathdee, 2013, p. 504), for those students classified as Priority
Learners (hereafter PLs) this opportunity is fictive (ERO, 2012a, p. 4). The persistent challenge for
teachers is to rectify the underachievement of PLs in relation to their non-PL counterparts (Key, 2012,
p. 3). As such this essay will: first, define the term PLs; secondly, delineate some of those strategies
posited as capable of enhancing PL achievement; and finally, critically assess three such strategies, as
they are implemented amongst PL groups.1 This analysis will culminate in presentation of the view
that, while certain strategies contain promise, their implementation cannot be uncareful. Every
strategy, if uncritically advanced, contains the potential to undermine its own aspirations, and thus
those of PLs.
Who are PLs?
PLs are those learners who have typically not experience[ed] success in the New Zealand schooling
system (ERO, 2012a, p. 4). This definition encapsulates: Mori and Pasifika learners, students
originating from low socio-economic circumstances (hereafter low-SES), students with physical or
mental special education needs (hereafter SENs), students that speak English as a second language,
refugee students and gifted and talented students, and any student that requires additional
assistance or differentiated support in their learning (which broadly includes any student struggling
to work at curriculum level for their age) (ERO, 2012a, p. 4; ERO, 2015; Professional Association for
Gifted Education, 2014, p. 1; Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 5).
There are two important points of note, regarding this definition. First, any given PL learner might
subsist across several PL categories - for instance, a significant portion of Mori and Pasifika learners
are also low-SES PLs (Marriot & Sim, 2014, p. 4). Secondly, despite their classification as a whole,
the needs of PLs are diverse some will require no assistance, some short-term assistance, and others
have long-lasting needs (Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 5).Therefore, the circumstance of PLs cannot
be resolved by generic strategy in each instance, teachers must respond to the uniquely calibrated
circumstance of each PL as an individual.
1 While other strategies might also be open to critique, the limitations of this essay necessarily restrict the scope
of critical analysis. As such, those three strategies selected for analysis have been chosen on the basis of their
varied natures, and the unique difficulties which each gives rise to in practice, in order to present a broad sample
of both: techniques to address the needs of PLs, and the issues that arise in the implementation of inclusive
strategies generally. The analysis below should not be understood as exhaustive it is a representative sample
only, intended to act as a microcosmic representation of issues which arise in the teaching of PLs.

Charlotte Forster (4893416)

What are the strategies to ameliorate the educational outcomes of PLs?
The strategies posited as effective in addressing PL needs are numerous. The majority, however, fall
under the umbrella of inclusion a meta-strategy which removes all barriers to students presence,
participation and achievement in education (Ministry of Education, 2012, p. 1), thereby promoting
students sense of belonging, their meaningful participation in schooling, and realisation of their
educational potential (Ministry of Education, 2015, p. 3). The imperative for inclusions enactment is
both legal (Mitchell, 2005, p. 225; Lipsyky & Gartner, 1999, p. 19; Slee, 2001, p. 173), and practical,
since inclusion, when realised across several specific strategies, benefits all students psychosocial
development (see Fisher & Meyer, 2002) and academic achievement (see Karsten et al., 2001; Rouse
& Florian, 2006).
To enact inclusion generally, teachers must promulgate values, behaviour and strategies which:

Support students belonging in the classroom and school;

Reduce exclusive and discriminatory barriers to education;
Positivise difference; and
Place equal value in all individuals (Booth & Ainscow, 2011, p. 11).

More specifically, teachers might enact any number of inclusive strategies (hereafter strategies),
the practice of which implicitly realises these aims, such as:

Cooperative Learning (CL), which requires students to work together in small groups
to produce an outcome (Johnson & Johnson, 1994, pp. 1-3) that maximises both individual
and group learning (Medcalf, 1995, p. 11). CL has been demonstrably shown to remove social
barriers to inclusion developing students social skills (Gillies & Boyle, 2010, p. 933) and
capacity to respond to one anothers needs (Gillies, 2003, p. 146), enhancing the classroom
learning environment. Further, by compelling participation in learning (in service to a group
goal) it lifts the achievement of all students (Marzano, 2003; Marzano et al., 2001);

Reciprocal Teaching (RT), which requires students to engage in dialogue with their teacher,
jointly constructing meaning from a text (see Palincsar & Brown, 1984) by summarising its
content, formulating questions, clarifying ambiguities and predicting its events (see Howard,
2004). RT fosters social inclusion by rendering the classroom a supportive space, in which
students come to value one anothers contributions to learning (Stevens, Slavin and Farni,
1991). Further, it supports the learning of all students by promoting metacognitive strategising
(Cohen, 1994) and reading comprehension (Lysynchuk, Pressley, and Vye, 1990), resulting in
a positive effect on achievement of all students (Westra, 2002, p. 51);

Peer Tutoring (PT) which requires a skilled tutor student to enact a cooperative learning
model with a less-skilled tutee student for a task (TKI, 2015). PT fosters social inclusion by
promoting positive relations between peers as they work together to find common language

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and reflect on tutoring processes (Tiwari, 2014, p. 12), and lifts academic achievement by
promoting higher-order thinking skills in both tutor and tutee (see King, 1997) and students
sense of responsibility for academic success (see Mitchem, 2001).
However, while many inclusive strategies are demonstrably effective, such strategies must always be
implemented critically and carefully. The ensuing section will address (using three popular inclusion
strategies as microcosmic examples of wider difficulties in inclusion practice) how the un-careful
implementation of such strategies can undermine the needs of the learners they seek to provide for.
Since such strategies are not generic, but must always be enacted in response to the needs of
individual PLs (ERO, 2015), each strategy will be critically assessed in the context of its application
to a specified group on priority learners in order to demonstrate: first, how such strategies are
applied in practice; and secondly, the difficulties in particularised application.
The First Strategy: The Construction and Effective Implementation of a Culturally Responsive
The New Zealand Curriculum has alienated many PLs (and thereby suppressed their achievement) by
projecting the norms of the dominant, able-bodied, middle-class, Pkeha majority as normative
(Spoonley, 2005, p. 103; Moon, 1999, p. 179; Bell & Carpenter, 1994, p. 129; Disability Rights
Promotion International, 2010, p. 22). Student engagement is crucial to academic success, and
students cannot engage if their identities, knowledge and experiences are maligned in their academic
context (Hanly, 2007, pp. 150-170; see Greenwood & Te Aka, 2009) or if their curriculum lacks
personal meaning (Gay, 2002, p. 106).
The first strategy therefore seeks to ameliorate outcomes for PLs by tasking teachers to enact
responsiveness in the classroom, in constructing and realising a curriculum which:

Appeals to students strengths and interests (as informed by their socio-cultural location and
personal preferences) in other words, rendering learning student-centred (ERO, 2012a, p.

Permits students to theorise that curriculum from their socio-cultural location (ERO, 2012b, p.

Positivises differences, promotes acceptance of diversity, and reveals social structures of
power and oppression by deconstructing societal assumptions (see Apple, 1979), thereby
facilitating praxis for social change (Nygreen, 2011, p. 68).

The Difficulties of Manifesting a Responsive Approach in Practice: The Example of Culturally

Responsive Pedagogy
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (hereafter CRP) is the specific manifestation of this strategy in
response to ethnic minority leaners. It requires teachers to create and implement curricula which

Charlotte Forster (4893416)

attend to students values, strengths and interests, as informed by their cultural location (ERO,
2012a, p. 12). In realising CRP, teachers must: first, develop a culturally diverse knowledge base
informed by understanding of various ethnicities values, learning styles and relational patterns
(Gay, 2002, p. 107); secondly, get to know and care for each student as a culturally-located
individual (MacFarlane et al., 2007, p. 67); and finally, create a culturally responsive learning
community which recognises the needs of each individual (Webb et al., 1993, pp. 33-34).
When realised, CRP should manifest:

A model of dialogic pedagogy, wherein students theorise their education from their socio-

cultural location (Berryman, 2013, p. 129);

A curriculum which utilises multicultural resources, and respects the norms and values of all
ethnic groups (Gay, 2000, p. 29). For instance:
o For Pasifika students, by explicitly recognising the diversity of cultures under the
label Pasifika, rather than homogenising them to one unitary culture (see Samu,

Allowing Mori students to express their whanaungatanga by creating communities
in classrooms (and avoiding pepper-potting for the sake of socialisation)(Simon,

1993, p. 31);
A pedagogical approach which values all learning styles (MacFarlane et al, 2007, p. 67). For
instance by;
o Recognising Mori preferences for communal learning consulting with whanau
regarding student learning (Bevan-Brown, 2005, p. 155) or encouraging inter-student

mentoring on a tuakana-teina model (Simon, 1993, p. 22);

Recognising that, for Pasifika students, debate or challenging discourse might be an
uncomfortable prospect, and permitting cooperative learning alternatives (see White,

While CRP is demonstrably effective (see Bishop et al., 2005; Smith, 2002) its implementation must
not be incautious. When uncritically implemented, CRP can undermine its own aims by alienating the
students it seeks to include.
The key tension of CRP arises in the rendering of culture as a curricular matter. Bringing culture to
the classroom by using multicultural resources (Gay, 2000, p. 29) risks reducing culture to
something teachable rendering a nebulous, diverse social construct to a homogenised parade of
unitary customs and traditions (Britzman et al., 1993, p. 189). For Mori knowledge, for instance,
this is an act of symbolic colonisation (see Penetito, 2001) Mori knowledge is part of a wide,
contextual system and the reduction of such knowledge to bite-sized, curricular-relevant chunks does
violence to its holistic structure (Durie, 1983, p. 22). This very outcome has presented in the Physical
Education Curriculum, where the holistic concept Hauora has been reduced to an aspect of wellbeing (see Salter, 2000). In symbolically colonising knowledge, the risk is that the classroom alienates

Charlotte Forster (4893416)

those it tries to engage, replicating historical oppressive forces and wrenching culture from the hands
of its stewards.
Teachers may avoid this difficulty by divesting themselves of the responsibility of transmitting
cultural knowledge, instead calling on students to speak to their own cultures. However, the difficulty
is that inviting this discussion might be equally alienating to some PLs. Bhabba (1994), for instance,
has argued that this dialogic expectation can be perceived as a form of colonial surveillance (p. 192).
Equally, it may be insulting or inappropriate to request such knowledge Jones (1991) has noted that
some Mori knowledge is not available to non-Mori, or must be earned (p. 311), and similarly,
Tupuola (1998) notes that young Samoan women, for instance, ought not to speak of faa Samoa.
Even where students do share, care must be taken to ensure they are not othered for the sake of the
lesson Ricker-Wilson (1998), for instance, notes the resentment that can arise when students are
reduced to objects of a lesson for white students on culture (p. 70). As above, the concern is that
students will be alienated from the classroom by a dialogue that renders them uncomfortable, undoing
the very inclusion CRP attempts to foster.
The Responsive Curricula and Pedagogy Paradox
A further difficulty for responsive curricula is that they are plagued by the central paradox of critical
pedagogy (Nygreen, 2011, p. 61). Responsive Curricula anticipate that students will continue to
operate within the dominant educational framework, even as they simultaneously learn to question the
paradigms that infuse its practice, and understand that curricula still predominantly inform the needs
of the Pkeha, middle-class majority (Banks & Banks, 1995, p.152).
However, the option is always open for students to reject school-based knowledge on the basis that it
enacts power structures which alienate their identities. Equally, even if students buy-in to schoolbased knowledge, by teachers permitting students to privilege local knowledge, the option is open for
students to select approaches which are to the detriment of their own learning. Jones (1991), for
instance, noted in a study of South Auckland schools that low-SES students were liable to resist
critical and dialogic pedagogical approaches (even though those promote higher-level learning) in
preference for less effective technical activities (for instance, copying down notes). The paradox is, if
a teacher is to truly privilege culturally or socially-based knowledge, then they cannot reject this
insistence (to do so is to politically impose ones value system precisely contrary to responsive
pedagogical principles) (Nygreen, 2011, p. 81); however, in failing to reject this knowledge, teachers
risk perverting the outcomes responsive pedagogies anticipate the lifting of achievement of certain
That is not to say, of course, that responsive curricula should not be enacted on this basis. As noted
above, the creation and pedagogical implementation of responsive curricula is crucial to academic
success. Rather, this author cautions against the implementation of this strategy uncritically. Teachers

Charlotte Forster (4893416)

must be careful to consider whether inclusion, on some occasions, permits students to erect barriers
between themselves and the classroom community. Equally, they must consider to what extent they
are willing to empower local knowledge in the classroom, and whether this requires a strand of
paternalistic intervention. The resolution of these issues remains unsettled, and as such, they are
matters for cautious consideration in each case.
The Second Strategy: The Fostering of Inclusion through the Creation and Maintenance of an
Inclusive Classroom and School Culture
The second strategy is a complement (or perhaps a sub-set) to the first, and emerges on the same
basis. In essence, it effects inclusion as a social and pedagogical matter (as well as a curricular
matter) by constructing a classroom and school environment which removes all barriers to students
comfort, confidence, sense of belonging and social participation the enacted translation of an
inclusive and responsive curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2014, p. 9). In its generic realisation, this
strategy requires teachers and school management to:

Demonstrate caring and support for all students, positivise student difference and openly

value all students (Alton-Lee, 2001, p. iv);

Build community in the classroom by promoting collaboration, cooperative learning and

positive social interactions (Alton-Lee, 2001, p. iv);

Demonstrate that there is no hierarchy of oppressions, and value all students issues equally
(Shin, 2015, p. 18).

In general, this strategy enhances students social skills, and promotes students self-esteem and sense
of belonging the impact of which is a significant lift to academic achievement (see Lam et al.,
2015). However, as with responsive curricula, the enactment of this strategy is problematic in context.
As such, the ensuing section will critically assess how this strategy is implemented in relation to
SENs, as a microcosmic study of its difficulties in wider practice.
The Difficulties of Manifesting am Inclusive Culture in Practice: The Example of SENs
Given the unique needs of SENs, the creation of an inclusive classroom designed to meet their needs
will require specific, targeted realisation of the strategy. In order to include SENs socially, teachers
might take such steps as:

Supporting narratives of disability in the classroom that disrupt norms of disabled persons

as pitiable or lesser (Davis, 1997);

Model a social approach which rejects the medical model of difference (whereby deviations
from the biological norm are perceived as abnormal) and embraces human variation as a
normal outcome (Baglieri & Knopf, 2004, p. 525);

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Encourage positive interactions between SENs and others students (Baglieri & Shapiro, 2012,
p. 170) by setting behavioural standards of civility and respect, such as prohibiting the use of

ableist language (like retarded, crippled and so on) (Shaddock et al., 2007, p. 11);
Viewing SENs as people, rather than by their disability, and valuing their academic

achievements (Smith, Salend & Ryan, 2001, p. 21);

Refuse SEN non-participation in activities, and avoid assuming that participation must always
require assistance (Smith, Salend & Ryan, 2001, p. 21).

However, as with CRP, the realisation of these aspirations gives rise to a number of tensions in
practice, which threaten to subvert the strategys intentions. When attempting to create an inclusive
classroom, teachers must be alert to these risks.
First, the dismissal of the medical model must be done carefully, and SENs should not be
normalised wholesale. The risk is, where one attempts to render disability inconsequential (too
normal), it propagates the notion disability does not matter (Stiker, 1997, p. 192). This, in turn,
invisibilises the consequences of disability the costs of living with disability in an ableist world
(Campbell, 2009, p. 24). To sanitise the real-life experiences of SENs in this way is to risk alienating
them from the classroom (Shin, 2015, p. 18), circumscribing their ability to participate and theorise
from their social location a key pillar of an inclusive community.
Equally, teachers should be cautious not to impose normalcy upon SENs against their wishes. For
some SENs, their disability may be a point of pride or difference of which they desire
acknowledgment (Chandler, 2013, p. 77). To impose normalcy (in titling) might be taken as a
symbolic valorisation of able-ness insinuating that SENs ought to desire recognition as normal or
to be assimilated to the mainstream. In this sense, disability is symbolically denigrated in the
classroom alienating those students that fall within its terms.
One way around this difficulty is to promote an alternative model, which shifts the focus from
discussion of whether difference ought to be identified to assuming it should be, and rather altering
the meaning which is brought to bear on difference (Stiker, 1997, p. 12). Teachers should
acknowledge difference, and recognise it is ordinary in the natural course, without suggesting that
this nullifies differences between students, and positivise both ordinariness and difference. This
permits SENs to classify themselves as different if they prefer (avoiding nullification of their
identity), and removes the perjorative insinuations that accrue to disabled labelling.
Secondly, teachers should not impose inclusion so enthusiastically so as to prevent SENs selfselected exclusion or constitution of sub-communities. Wolfensberger (1983), for instance,
specifically notes the value of permitting SENs their own space to develop collective consciousness
it allows such students a sanctuary from society which otherwise pressurises assimilation to the
norm (p. 26), and a safe space to share experiences of ableism (see Watt-Jones, 2002). Practically, this

Charlotte Forster (4893416)

requires teachers to enact an intricate balance, since SENs typically benefit socially from wider
participation in the classroom community (Parker & Asher, 1993; Mannarino, 1978; Bukowski &
Newcomb, 1987). SENs must be given free reign (paternalistic pepper-potting will prove alienating),
but, at the same time, must be made part of the classroom community by compelling wider
socialisation. Whether this tension can be resolved is a complex question, beyond the scope of this
Finally, in subverting norms of disability as pitiable, teachers must be cautious not to impose
bravery in the face of disability as a requirement upon students (Chandler, 2013, p. 77). Such an
approach perpetuates the damaging narrative that the proper way to respond to disability is to
overcome it suggesting that those who do not respond as such are lesser, and thereby denigrating
(and isolating) those students that cannot epitomise this narrative. Instead, teachers must be cautious
to positivise not only differences of SENs from non-SEN students, but positivise differences across
SENs, validating all unique experiences and perspectives.
As such, while the second strategy is demonstrably effective, its practice must be cautious teachers
that act uncritically in its implementation are liable to exclude the very students they seek to include
and thus suppress the benefits of the strategy.
Strategy Three: Practically Realising Inclusion in the Provision of Differentiated Instruction
Inclusion is not merely effected by symbolic acts (Matland, 1995, p. 160); it must also be manifested
practically, through the destruction of barriers to students full participation in the educational task.
Practically, this is fostered by the enactment of the principles of Universal Design for Learning,
which provides that teachers must design instructional materials and activities...[to] allow learning
goals to be achievable by individuals with wide difference in their abilities it applies not only to the
content, but also to the goals, methods, and manner of assessment (Center for Applied Special
Technology, 2010).
This manifests in strategies such as Differentiated Instruction (DI), which seeks to match
instruction to individual learners needs, styles and rates of learning (Stradling & Saunders, 1993, p.
129) in order to maximise students achievement (Landrum & McDuffie, 2010, p. 9), recognising
students are diverse and are not well-served by universalised educational provision (Rebora, 2008).
Teachers can differentiate by varying the curricular content, activities, products (tasks which
demonstrate mastery) or learning environment (Tomlinson, 2015) provided to individual students. In
each category of variation, teachers may differentiate on the basis of students readiness (ability to
perform at curriculum level), fields of interest, or learning style (Tomlinson & Imbeau, 2010).

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The benefits of DI are lauded: it demonstrably stimulates student enthusiasm for learning (Johnsen,
2003), supports the development of a classroom community which accommodates difference (Bosch,
2001) and lifts all students achievement (McQuarrie, McRae, & Stack-Cutler, 2008; Tieso, 2005).
However, as above, DI must be implemented thoughtfully. If realised improperly, it oppresses rather
than buoys student achievement.
For instance, DI risks entrenching inequalities in the classroom by enacting hidden ability grouping.
In differentiating students by readiness level (grouping by ability) and tailoring curricula, products
or activities provided to students to their perceived level (Tomlinson, 2015, p. 75), DI can create a
gap between high and low ability students, by:

Creating an information gap between high ability students (who receive a full curriculum),

and low-ability students, who receive an abrogated curriculum (Westwood, 2001, p. 6); and
Demonstrating lower expectations for low-ability students (in anticipating lesser, or lowerquality, work) which act to supress their achievement (while their peers obtain the benefit of
high expectations) (see Davies, 2000).

The issue is, if DI is implemented in this way, it widens the gap between high and low-ability students
(typically, PLs), suppressing rather than lifting their achievement. While seemingly a misguided
implementation of the strategy, these uses of DI are recommended across the literature (see Janney &
Snell, 2010; Utley & Mortweet, 1999).
One way around this concern is for teachers to implement flexible grouping strategies in their
classrooms (Tomlinson, 2005, p. 2), whereby group composition is regularly shaken up by changing
membership criteria. For instance, grouping students should by readiness should occur in relation to
specific tasks (rather than by general ability). Students should thus find themselves in different groups
constantly a student working at a high level for literature interpretation tasks, for instance, might
find themselves working at a low level for spelling (Tomlinson, 2005, p. 3). Further, teachers should
also act to group students (and instruct accordingly) based on other factors such as interest and
learning style. If grouping occurs flexibly, this should guard against homogenous grouping. Every
student, rather, should find themselves working at different curriculum levels at various points, and
with a variety of classmates (Tomlinson, 2005, p. 3).
However, the difficulty with this approach is that it presumes students will be sufficiently diverse.
However, this may not be the case. Students of similar abilities tend to cluster in peer groups, and peer
groups tend to experience a homogenisation of interests and learning styles over time (Cairns et al.,
1989; Cairns et al., 2005; Berndt & Keefe, 1992). To this end, even flexible grouping might eventuate
in default groups which vary little even when their membership criteria are changed. As such, students

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of certain abilities might find themselves working with the same peers, even when interest is the
differentiating criterion. In this sense, the prospect of inequalities emerging between groups remains.
The second issue for DI is its potential to impact on students self-efficacy. Self-efficacy levels tend to
act as self-fulfilling prophecies to academic attainment (Gecas, 2004, p. 382). As such, teachers
should seek to maintain all students self-efficacy at high levels. However, the issue is, if some
students are persistently presented with lower-level tasks, curricula and assessments, they might read
this as verbal discouragement of their abilities, and consequently experience low self-efficacy (see
Merina, 1993). Low-ability students, for instance, have been shown to resent the provision of easier
tasks or modified materials (Klinger & Vaughn, 1999).
One might argue that DI is still supportable on the basis that the self-efficacy of low-ability students
would be better served by curricular differentiation if students experience sufficient mastery at lowlevel tasks (Bandura, 1977, p. 194), their self-efficacy would be sufficiently enhanced to counter any
impact of labelling. However, social comparison theory posits that students are inclined to compare
the difficulty of their tasks with available options, and will experience varied mastery benefits to the
extent they perceive their task as difficult (see Battle & Blowers, 1982). To that end, students might
fail to benefit from mastery of low-level tasks sufficient to counter the impact of labelling.
On this basis, DI should be implemented cautiously. Teachers must make the effort to know their
students and respond to suit for instance, teachers should be aware of the diversity of needs amongst
their class, and employ differentiating practices which result in the production of generally
heterogeneous groups and even distribution of knowledge. Similarly, teachers should be aware of the
susceptibility of their students to self-efficacy concerns, and should actively seek to assess students
self-efficacy insofar as possible (utilising indicators such as anxious or depressed behaviours, social
avoidance as indicators of potential low self-efficacy) (Tahmassian & Moghadan, 2011, p. 97).

In Summation
As such, while inclusive strategies have demonstrably worked to raise the achievement of learners
that fit PL profiles, the ongoing challenge for teachers is their effective implementation. As the critical
analysis of selected strategies above demonstrates, teachers must always be cautious to tensions that
can arise in realising inclusion which subvert its aspirations, and thus the achievement of PLs.
Although such strategies are useful, they require further critical attention and development before they
become immune to concern. That, in addition to cautious enactment, is the task of the teacher in
providing for PLs in the long-term.


Charlotte Forster (4893416)