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Disability & Society

ISSN: 0968-7599 (Print) 1360-0508 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cdso20

Initial teacher education for inclusion: a review of


the literature

Simoni Symeonidou

To cite this article: Simoni Symeonidou (2017) Initial teacher education for inclusion: a review of
the literature, Disability & Society, 32:3, 401-422, DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2017.1298992

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2017.1298992

Published online: 09 Mar 2017.

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Download by: [Universidad Evangelica de El Salvador] Date: 19 April 2017, At: 12:00
Disability & Society, 2017
VOL. 32, NO. 3, 401–422
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2017.1298992

Initial teacher education for inclusion: a review of the


literature
Simoni Symeonidou
Department of Education, University of Cyprus, Nicosia, Cyprus

ABSTRACT ARTICLE HISTORY


This article presents a review of the literature on initial Received 4 July 2016
teacher education for inclusion published from 2000 to 2014. Accepted 21 February 2017
The analysis uncovers a number of aspects of concern to KEYWORDS
academics, researchers, teacher educators, and policy-makers. Teacher education; inclusion;
Making informed decisions about the design of initial teacher literature review; single
education courses and units of study for inclusion depends unit; content infused; school
upon addressing some fundamental issues (i.e. the legacy placement
of special education, and the challenges faced in different
regions) and making a balanced and informed assessment
of the value of content-infused, single-unit, and school
placement/experience approaches. The article discusses
the implications of this literature review’s findings for future
research.

Points of interest

• This article is concerned with initial teacher education for inclusion.


• The article provides a review of the literature (2000–2014) on this topic.
• The article sheds light on the main theoretical issues raised in the literature.
• The article presents research findings about the impact of three key
approaches.
• The article discusses the implications for future research in the field.

1. Introduction
‘Inclusive education’ is a term now found in international, European Union, and
national policy documents which claim that equal learning opportunities can
be provided in mainstream schools that are prepared to accommodate all stu-
dents regardless of their individual characteristics. Arguably, inclusive education

CONTACT  Simoni Symeonidou  symeonidou.simoni@ucy.ac.cy


© 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
402   S. SYMEONIDOU

incorporates access (e.g. accessible curricula and teaching, accessible schools,


and appropriate technology), quality education (e.g. education that appreciates
individual differences, learning styles, academic levels, etc.), and values (e.g. valu-
ing all students equally, promoting participation, eliminating discrimination, etc.)
(Booth 2009). The emergence in the 1990s of inclusive education as an ideology
that criticizes the exclusion of disabled students through the use of traditional
special education systems has generated a series of debates that place disability
at the centre of the discussion. Perhaps the two most important debates have
taken place with regard to the opposing standpoints of ‘inclusionists’ and ‘special
educationists’ (Allan 2014; Florian 2007), and the abuse of the term ‘inclusion’, which
has been used frequently to describe policies and practices that in fact exclude
disabled children (Slee 2011). Although the initial focus of inclusive education was
on disabled students, a broader interpretation of inclusion emphasizes the need
to provide quality education for a broader range of pupils, including those from
different ethnic, racial, cultural, or linguistic backgrounds (Forlin 2010a).
Teacher educators are continuously exploring ways to make inclusive education
units of study more effective, and at the same time there is ongoing debate about
what components are needed for a successful approach to addressing inclusive
education in teacher preparation courses. Different courses emphasize different
aspects, such as skills and competences, positive attitudes towards inclusion, and
greater contact with people with disabilities (Forlin and Chambers 2011). However,
preparing teachers to adopt an inclusive approach to education involves not only
identifying the components of effective approaches for teacher education, but
also taking into account the situation in a specific country, such as the cultural
context, the historical and political developments in education, and the nature
of the education systems and schools in that country. This endeavour is complex
and challenging. Even when a course or an inclusive education unit of study incor-
porates features believed to be effective, students may graduate with conflicted
views about inclusive education. This may be because the student-teachers were
not adequately supported to develop their own ethical commitment to inclusion
or because the student’s personal views regarding the teacher’s role in educating
students with disabilities conflict with the views embedded in the curriculum or
espoused by teacher educators (Symeonidou and Phtiaka 2009, 2014).
This article reviews the literature published from 2000 to 2014 in order to illu-
minate discussion and decisions concerning teacher education for inclusion, and
to inform future research and practice. The need to conduct this study emerged
from my own engagement in teacher education for inclusion. Over the years, I
have been trying to meet the challenge of making inclusive education units of
study effective (i.e. undergraduate and postgraduate units of study), and I have
collaborated with colleagues in order to help them realize how inclusive educa-
tion ideas are related to the units of study they teach. I have also explored how
student-teachers can develop ethical commitment to inclusive education by com-
bining theoretical ideas of inclusion with pedagogical approaches. In the last few
DISABILITY & SOCIETY   403

years, my teaching approaches were enriched with material prepared by disabled


people living in the local society.
What is the value of such a review? Over the past decade, researchers and
teacher educators have demonstrated an interest in reconceptualizing teacher
education for inclusion through the development of new courses and units of
study or through the improvement of existing ones, and by trialling innovative
approaches based on a range of theoretical understandings of diversity (see, for
example, Florian 2009; Forlin 2010b, 2011). For teacher educators, a review of the
literature could provide insights into a range of teaching approaches and trends
that are informed by inclusive education theory. For policy-makers, a review could
offer a useful resource to inform decision-making with respect to the introduction
of inclusive education policies and the provision of teacher education that could
best facilitate the implementation of new inclusive education curricula. However,
despite interest in the improvement of teacher education for inclusion, it is a topic
that educators and policy-makers need to invest in further if inclusive education
is to be realized in practice (Forlin 2006, 2010a; Garner 2000). Clearly, disabled
children will benefit the most if the quality of teacher education for inclusion is
improved. This will have a positive impact in relation to their inclusion in the soci-
ety on equal terms with non-disabled people; this being one of the fundamental
aims of this journal.
Why now? A review of initial teacher education for inclusion is important pri-
marily because the ideology of inclusive education is often embraced by the-
orists, researchers, and policy-makers at national and cross-national levels. All
stakeholders face a range of difficulties in finding and implementing effective
ways to transmit the inclusive ideal to teachers. At the national level, each country
is faced with different dilemmas and challenges with regard to teacher education
for inclusion as a result of the distinct features of their national contexts (political,
financial, social, educational, etc.), the outcomes of previous educational policies,
and the expectations created by new policies. At the international level, impor-
tant collective bodies have documented the challenges of teacher education for
inclusion and expressed their commitment to advancing knowledge on the topic.
Article 24 (Education) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
(United Nations 2006) highlights the need to train all teachers and other staff to
support children attending inclusive schools. General Comment No. 4 on Article
24 (United Nations 2016, 17) reports ‘failure to develop inclusive teacher education’
in many countries, and highlights important components of teacher education
for inclusion, such as placing the human rights model of disability at the centre
of any approach. The project Educating Teachers for Children with Disabilities
(United Nations Children’s Fund 2013) provides data to suggest that a significant
percentage of teachers across countries were not educated for inclusion in their
initial teacher education courses, and discusses a range of aspects related to effec-
tive teacher education. The European Disability Strategy 2010–2020 (European
Commission 2010) recognizes the need to train and support professionals working
404   S. SYMEONIDOU

in inclusive education systems. Within this context, the Teacher Education for
Inclusion Project coordinated by the European Agency for Development in Special
Needs Education (2010a, 2010b, 2011) collected and disseminated knowledge,
experience, and research evidence on the nature of meaningful approaches to
initial teacher education for inclusion.
Having outlined the importance of this review of the literature on initial teacher
education for inclusion, it is important to note that teacher education for newly
appointed teachers and in-service teachers is of equal importance, but goes
beyond the scope of this article. The remainder of the article is organized as follows.
Section 2 elaborates on the methodology of the study. Then Section 3 presents the
results. In Section 4, I discuss the results and make suggestions for future research.
Finally, in Section 5, I provide the conclusion.

2. Methodology
The present study aims to identify the main issues and trends in initial teacher
education courses on inclusive education published in the literature during the
period 2000–2014. The focus is on scholarly (peer-reviewed) articles and book
chapters (published in edited collections) written in English that are available as
full texts in electronic databases and that deal with initial teacher education on
inclusive education.
The literature search focused primarily on the Scopus database. The search
included the following keywords: teacher education and special needs, or special
educational needs, or disability, or inclusion, or inclusive education. The search was
limited to keywords found in articles, in the field of Social Sciences and Humanities,
published between 2000 and 2014. This search identified 453 articles, but not all
of them had initial teacher education for inclusion as a main theme. Apart from
the Scopus database, highly influential journals in the field were searched sepa-
rately online (i.e. Teaching and Teacher Education, International Journal of Inclusive
Education, Disability and Society, and Disability Studies Quarterly). Particular atten-
tion was paid to articles published in special issues on teacher education for
inclusion (that is, Florian 2009; Forlin 2011). Articles/chapters from themed edited
volumes were also searched (that is, Booth, Nes, and Stramstad 2003; Forlin 2010b).
Articles by authors who were identified in the collected articles as undertaking
research on initial teacher education for inclusion were also searched individually.
The journal articles and book chapters (hereinafter referred to as papers) were all
read by two researchers – the author and a qualified research assistant – to assess
them for content and quality. As a result, some of them were found to be unsuitable
for the study. For example, a number of articles identified from the search in the
Scopus database referred to in-service teachers’ professional development, teach-
ers’ perspectives on inclusive education, and national inclusive education policies.
In some cases, the authors stated that their paper focused on initial teacher educa-
tion for inclusion, but on reading the paper it became evident that the authors had
DISABILITY & SOCIETY   405

termed a special education approach as inclusive. Such papers were not included
in the analysis. Also, a number of papers referred to preparing teachers to deal with
parents in inclusive education contexts. Although these papers contained impor-
tant information that could inform inclusive education courses in general, they
were not included in the analysis because they were too specific in their content.
After the initial reading stage, the papers were coded independently by the
two researchers for: (a) type of paper (i.e. research paper, theoretical paper); (b)
scope of the paper (i.e. name of country/ies, comparative, international); (c) type
of course or unit of study (i.e. undergraduate, postgraduate, in-service teacher
education, professional development of teacher educators/academics, cross-dis-
ciplinary); (d) target group (i.e. undergraduate student-teachers, postgraduate
student-teachers, in-service teachers, teacher educators/academics, combina-
tions of previous groups); (e) focus of the course or unit of study (e.g. attitudes,
inclusive ideas, impairments, technology in education, classroom management,
curriculum differentiation, etc.); (f ) methods used in the course or unit of study
(e.g. lectures, presentations, case studies, movies, discussions, interviews, research
projects, collaboration with school, self-study, autobiographies, etc.); (g) method-
ology of the study; and (h) results of the study. Codes (c) and (d) included a range
of courses and target groups, because a number of papers reported research on
both undergraduate and postgraduate courses involving both pre-service and
in-service teachers. During coding, further papers were excluded from the analysis
because it became clear that their authors assumed that an international audi-
ence would be familiar with the national structures, policies, university degrees,
and so on under discussion. Where coding could not be completed because part
of the necessary information was unclear, such papers were not included in the
analysis. The exclusion of a number of papers from the study was made upon the
agreement of the two researchers.
Overall, the analysis of the selected papers related to initial teacher education on
inclusion identified two broad thematic areas: the challenges in providing teacher
education for inclusion; and the different approaches employed in teacher edu-
cation for inclusion. In the next section, a representative part of the literature on
both areas is reviewed and discussed. This is followed by some conclusions and
implications for future research in the field.

3. Results
3.1.  Challenges in providing teacher education for inclusion
The review of the selected papers identified some challenging issues in the con-
ceptualization, design, implementation, and evaluation of teacher education
for inclusion. These issues are the ideological gap between special and inclusive
education, and the range of challenges faced by inclusive education in different
regions.
406   S. SYMEONIDOU

3.1.1.  Can initial teacher education support inclusive education despite a legacy
of special education?
Although inclusive education now features in national education policies and
university courses across countries, the legacy of the special education approach
is still evident in many national policy documents. It is also present in university
outlines of units of study that describe expected outcomes, suggested literature,
assignments, and so on. Allan (2014, 512) reminds us of the ‘ideological battles’
between the ‘inclusionists’ and the ‘special educationists’ that hinder the move
towards inclusive education. On the assumption that teacher education takes place
in contexts which are ideologically divided (between different teacher educators,
researchers, policy-makers, parents, and teachers), the review of the literature iden-
tified authors who addressed the issue of supporting the emergence of inclusive
approaches despite a legacy of special education as one of the major challenges
of teacher education for inclusion.
A move from special education to an inclusive education approach requires that
the assumptions made in many initial teacher education courses and departments
of education are challenged and changed (Delano, Keefe, and Perner 2009). Some of
the changes entail the development of ‘new structures (departments, faculties etc.),
new courses with changed curricula and new names, new ways of organizing teach-
ing and learning in order to remove barriers for certain groups of students’ (Booth,
Nes, and Stramstad 2003, 3; original emphasis). Teacher educators are key actors in
deciding the content of courses that determine student-teachers’ conceptualization
of inclusion. They need to consider several issues, such as the nature of the course
content, the key skills teachers are expected to acquire, the collaboration between
special and mainstream teacher educators, the partnerships between universities
and schools, the existing legislation, the implementation of inclusion in the com-
munity, and so on (Delano, Keefe, and Perner 2009). However, teacher educators are
often reported to be poorly equipped to promote inclusive education (Forlin and
Nguyet 2010), possibly because of their special education background and their
personal ideology. Even teacher educators who have the requisite skills and are
committed to promoting the principles of inclusive education are faced with respon-
sibilities that appear to be contradictory: (Allan 2003, 142–143; original emphasis)

• How can student teachers be helped to acquire and demonstrate the neces-
sary competences to qualify as a teacher and to understand themselves as in
an inconclusive process of learning about others (Gregoriou 2001)?
• How can student teachers develop as autonomous professionals and learn
to depend on others for support and collaboration?
• How can student teachers be supported in maximizing student achieve-
ment and ensuring inclusivity?
• How can student teachers be helped to understand the features of particular
impairments and avoid disabling individual students with that knowledge?
DISABILITY & SOCIETY   407

• What assistance can be given to student teachers to enable them to deal


with the exclusionary pressures they encounter and avoid becoming embit-
tered or closed to possibilities for inclusivity in the future?

It is argued that the concept of reflective teaching may have a central role to play in
the process of shifting from a special education paradigm to an inclusive education
paradigm. Sharma (2010) proposes a framework of reflective teaching that entails
teachers: evaluating their personal teaching philosophy; employing effective ques-
tioning about their teaching (including questions such as: what happened; Why did
it happen; What are the implications for my practice?); participating in collaborative
problem-solving (working with other teachers and professionals to deconstruct
their practices); and (identifying, evaluating, and using the best evidence-based
practices in the field. Pantic and Florian (2015) suggest that teachers’ agency in
relation to this involves: a sense of purpose (i.e. a commitment to social justice);
competence in an inclusive pedagogical approach, including working collabora-
tively with others; autonomy (i.e. understanding and making use of one’s power
and positioning in relation to other relevant actors; for instance, in understanding
how actors can collectively transform situations of exclusion or the under-achieve-
ment of some learners); and reflexivity (i.e. a capacity to evaluate systematically
their own practices and institutional settings).
Salend (2010) suggests that, given the global transformations of segregated
special educational courses, a framework for evaluating inclusive education
courses is important. His proposed framework covers nine areas of evaluation:
core beliefs related to inclusive education; curriculum units and competencies;
inclusive pedagogical practices and learning activities; field-based experiences;
recruitment and graduation of a diverse pool of pre-service teachers; faculty
diversity; impact on the field; selecting evaluation data collection methods; and
analysing evaluation data. The data collection for the evaluation of courses could
entail the use of surveys, interviews, observations, instructional and course arte-
facts, pre-service teachers’ portfolios, faculty portfolios, reflective journals, rubrics,
and examinations. The author recognizes that the definition and implementation
of inclusive education varies globally, and he suggests that this framework could
be used in a flexible way to reflect the varied contexts of courses, approaches,
and practices.

3.1.2.  The range of challenges faced by inclusive education in different regions


A number of theoretical papers that describe teacher education in different coun-
tries refer to the challenges of improving teacher education for inclusion (see, for
example, Ahl and Nilsson [2000] on Sweden, Nimante and Tubele [2010] on Latvia,
Bartolo [2010] on Malta, and Pijl [2010] on the Netherlands). Forlin (2010a) argues
that although some countries base their courses on formal standards for the inclu-
sive teacher, in countries without such standards the nature of the courses depends
on the institution or the instructor. For example, Bartolo (2010) points out that in
408   S. SYMEONIDOU

Malta, although teacher education for inclusion is on the agenda and both teacher
educators and student-teachers feel positive about it, they are still not convinced
that it can be implemented. He also notes that teacher education is a process and
argues that it is necessary to find more effective ways to persuade teachers about
their role in inclusive schools. In the case of the Netherlands, according to Pijl
(2010), undergraduate teacher education does not promote inclusive education
adequately because it relies on the single-unit approach (only one unit of study
of a teacher preparation course covers the issue of inclusive education over one
semester). He suggests that it might be useful to look for ways that are more infor-
mal rather than conventional to prepare student-teachers for this aspect of their
practice, such as learning through doing and learning from colleagues. He points
out the necessity of providing student-teachers with positive experiences about
inclusion so that positive attitudes and self-confidence can be built.
West (2010) argues that it is important to develop context-relevant teacher
education courses so that teachers are equipped to work with students from
culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Ballard (2003) explains that the
cultural context of New Zealand (including the ideology of individualism, culture
of commerce, Maori-colonized indigenous people living in a way that deviates
from the ‘norm’) makes it particularly important to challenge ethnic, gender, and
other forms of discrimination. She suggests that issues of social justice need to
be addressed in teacher education courses. In the case of Norway, according to
Engen (2003), Sami children are considered a linguistic minority but they are not
adequately supported in schools. He argues that the discourse of equity for minor-
ities has been undermined, although it is fundamental for multicultural societies.
He suggests that teacher education courses in Norway need to place emphasis on
teaching minority language students and handling other minority cultural top-
ics. Mittler (2014) suggests that inclusive education in low-income countries is a
challenge, and even though there are examples of successful projects, millions of
disabled children are still excluded from education systems. Examples of successful
teacher education initiatives in those countries seem to target in-service teachers
(Mariga, McConkey, and Myezwa 2014).

3.2.  Different approaches employed in teacher education for inclusion

A substantial number of studies describe how successful or otherwise different


approaches in teacher education are in preparing student-teachers for inclusion.

3.2.1.  Content-infused approaches


The work of Lani Florian and her colleagues is associated with efforts to pro-
mote inclusive education values and approaches in courses, student-teachers,
and teacher educators by employing contextualized research findings to reform
courses of study and the professional development of teacher educators. In par-
ticular, the Inclusive Practice Project, which was implemented at the University of
DISABILITY & SOCIETY   409

Aberdeen in the United Kingdom, focused on reforming the Postgraduate Diploma


of Education. The researchers recorded students’ attitudes and beliefs before and
after the course (Beacham and Rouse 2012), reformed the units of study (Florian
and Linklater 2010; Florian, Young, and Rouse 2010), followed up with graduates,
and explored teacher educators’ engagement with the concept of inclusive peda-
gogy (Florian 2012; Rouse and Florian 2012). According to Florian (2012), the most
innovative aspects of the project were as follows: a theoretical understanding of
inclusion as a process emerged from the research and was shared with teacher
educators within the department; and the course reforms emerged from research
into the teaching practice of experienced teachers. The surveys conducted before
and after the course revealed positive attitudes and beliefs throughout the course,
which were retained during the school experience (Beacham and Rouse 2012;
Rouse and Florian 2012). Florian concludes that as a curricular approach, the
Inclusive Practice Project ‘provides an example of inclusive education as the spine
of professional studies rather than something that is “added-on” to existing teacher
education course content’ (2012, 283).
Although content-infused approaches correspond to the ideology of inclu-
sive education, the review of the literature identified studies which indicate that
content-infused approaches are not necessarily more effective than single-unit
approaches. The findings of Loreman and Earle’s (2007) study in Canada suggest that
the content-infused method does not reduce anxiety about inclusion or negative
sentiments towards disabled people. Also, the results of a survey by Sharma, Forlin,
and Loreman (2008) of a sample of student-teachers based in Australia, Canada, Hong
Kong, and Singapore indicate that the attitudes of students improved regardless of
the approach (content infused or single unit). The researchers conducted pre and
post comparisons of the effect of these two approaches using three scales: Attitudes
Towards Inclusive Education Scale, Interaction with Persons with a Disability (IPD)
scale, and Concerns about Inclusive Education Scale. In another study, Gao and
Mager (2011) followed 216 pre-service teachers in the USA who were enrolled in a
four-year course in which issues of diversity and inclusive education were infused
in all course units of study, activities, and fieldwork. They measured the pre-service
teachers’ efficacy and attitudes towards school diversity throughout the course. The
course entailed, among other activities, supervised field experiences and observa-
tions, which were considered important for students’ engagement with issues of
diversity and inclusion. The researchers found that, overall, the participants’ per-
ceived sense of efficacy showed ‘significant positive associations with their attitudes
towards inclusion and beliefs about socio cultural diversity’ (2011, 92), although
they did not feel confident about teaching children with behavioural difficulties.

3.2.2.  Single-unit approaches


A substantial proportion of the selected studies were concerned with measur-
ing the impact of one unit of study over one semester, with a focus on inclusive
education.
410   S. SYMEONIDOU

The work by Chris Forlin and her colleagues suggests that single-unit approaches
based on lectures, workshops, and applied activities may have a significant impact
on attitudes of student-teachers towards inclusive education. For example, Forlin
et al. (2009) found that one specific unit of study focusing on how to cater for stu-
dents with diverse abilities in mainstream classes can make a significant difference
to the student-teachers in terms of helping them to develop positive attitudes
to this issue. The researchers analysed the data they collected from an interna-
tional cohort of 603 student-teachers from Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, and
Singapore. The universities in Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore adopted a
single-unit approach to prepare student-teachers to accommodate all learners
in inclusive settings, whereas the Canadian university followed a content-infused
approach. The researchers analysed the student-teachers’ responses by using three
scales (Attitudes Towards Inclusive Education Scale, Interaction with Persons with
a Disability scale, and Concerns about Inclusive Education Scale) and found that
demographic differences such as gender, age, and level of qualification influence
the impact of such units of study. They explain that the results highlight the impor-
tance of differentiating teacher preparation units of study to address the different
characteristics of pre-service teachers.
Although some studies have found that single-unit approaches may have
an impact on students’ knowledge, attitudes, and skills, this may not always be
the case. The study conducted by Chong, Forlin, and Au (2007) in Hong Kong to
investigate the impact of an inclusive education unit of study on the attitudes of
pre-service teachers found that there were no substantial changes in their atti-
tudes. The unit of study entailed lectures on the theoretical and historical back-
ground of inclusive education, strategies for implementing inclusion, and an
incursion activity (to interact with disabled students who visited the university
for a whole day). The researchers conducted pre and post surveys at the beginning
and at the end of the unit of study using three scales (Attitudes Towards Inclusive
Education Scale, Interaction with Persons with a Disability scale, and Concerns
about Inclusive Education Scale). Similarly, Forlin and Chambers (2011) found no
significant differences in attitudes after the completion of a unit on inclusive edu-
cation in Western Australia. The unit of study included lectures, workshops, group
activities, and opportunities for applied experiences (such as the opportunity to
conduct a critique of inclusive programmes in the community, or meet and interact
with a disabled person). The researchers analysed a sample of 67 student-teachers
regarding their preparedness for inclusion by using pre and post tests employing
the Sentiments, Attitudes, and Concerns about Inclusive Education Scale. Their
findings show that such a unit of study may improve student-teachers’ awareness,
but it does not necessarily help them develop positive attitudes towards inclusion
or reduce their stress levels. They suggest that an inclusive education unit of study
needs to provide more opportunities to improve students’ knowledge and skills
for inclusive education.
DISABILITY & SOCIETY   411

Studies on the impact of single-unit approaches identify demographic variables


that influence student-teachers’ attitudes about inclusive education. For example,
as already discussed, Forlin et al. (2009) name several important demographic
factors, including pre-service teachers’ level of qualification, previous education
and teaching experience regarding disabled students, age and gender (the authors
found that these single-unit approaches had more positive effect on younger than
older cohorts, and on the male student-teachers whose attitudes were initially
more negative than those of female student-teachers), and previous conduct with
disabled people. In another survey, Chong, Forlin, and Au (2007) suggest that
compared with their male counterparts female student-teachers in Hong Kong are
more willing to include students who exhibit physical aggression after attending
an inclusive education unit of study. Romi and Leyser (2006), in their study of a
sample of 1115 pre-service teachers from different teacher education colleges in
Israel, highlight the influence of gender and religious differences. In particular,
they found that Arab students, mainly Muslims, are less supportive of inclusive
education compared with Jewish students. Also, female students were found to
be more supportive of inclusion than male students, and they also had higher
self-efficacy scores. However, it is important to note that in their study not all of
the participants had followed a unit of study on inclusive education.
Other studies on single-unit approaches emphasize the importance of collab-
oration between class teachers and special education teachers. Wang and Fitch
(2010) suggest that preparing pre-service teachers for effective co-teaching in
inclusive classrooms prepares both mainstream class teachers and special educa-
tion teachers to build relationships and learn from each other, and thus become
better teachers for all students. They report on the Collaborative Teacher Education
programme in New Jersey, USA, which emphasizes pre-service teachers’ collabo-
ration on assignments and activities in classes and school placements. They also
note that in a survey they conducted in 2007, they found a high level of satisfac-
tion among the graduates of this unit of study compared with other graduates of
traditional initial teacher education courses. Similarly, Van Laarhoven et al. (2006)
report on a unit of study about collaborative teaching in inclusive settings that
was developed as part of a three-semester project entitled Achieving Creative and
Collaborative Educational Preservice Teams (ACCEPT) in Illinois, USA. Pre-service
teachers enrolled for different majors (elementary, secondary, and special edu-
cation) participated in the unit of study. One of the distinct characteristics of the
unit of study was that the materials and activities were designed to achieve major
competences (such as positive attitudes to diversity, knowledge and practices of
collaboration with families, universal design for learning, assistive technologies,
and positive behavioural support). The other two key characteristics were field
experience in an inclusive classroom and voluntary participation. The findings
from the pre and post tests completed by the experimental and control group
suggest that the unit of study had a positive impact on student-teachers’ knowl-
edge, attitudes, and skills in relation to inclusive education.
412   S. SYMEONIDOU

The challenge of infusing ideas developed within the field of disability stud-
ies in single-unit approaches has been the focus of several articles. For example,
Peters and Reid (2009) propose that course units should be designed to combine
the principles of inclusive education and disability studies. An approach they fol-
lowed in teacher education courses in the USA emphasizes the development of
‘skills of resistance’, such as knowledge of counter-hegemonic discourses, skills to
challenge such discourses, critical analysis and self-reflection, and empowerment
of children individually and collectively. They suggest that the advocacy model
for teacher education enables teachers to become more reflective practitioners
who can empower their students and act as their advocates. Another example is
the article by Ware (2008), who reports on the outcome of her approach to the
provision of a mandatory unit of study on special education in the USA in which
she follows a disability studies informed approach. In detailing her approach, she
reflects on the role of activities based on disability art and documentaries. She also
emphasizes the significance of cultural influences on different understandings of
disability. She acknowledges that her approach did not have the same impact on
all student-teachers, although many of them were able to shape clear understand-
ings of disability as a cultural and social construct and they were willing to act as
change agents in their communities.
Other studies exemplify the value of offering opportunities to student-teachers
to interact with people from various backgrounds in order to understand and
appreciate diversity. Carrington and Saggers (2008) embedded service-learning
in a mandatory inclusive education unit of study in Australia, which involved stu-
dent-teachers working in the community. The students were asked to work with
organizations that provided services to a range of people (such as refugee children,
disabled children and adults, etc.). The students reported that their involvement
in service-learning helped them appreciate diversity, different backgrounds, abil-
ities, and needs, and it challenged stereotypes and anxiety about different groups
of people. The result of a survey by Carroll, Forlin, and Jobling (2003) suggest
that there is a change in student-teachers’ attitudes after attending an inclusive
education unit of study with a focus on interaction with disabled people. The
unit consisted of lectures (on theoretical and policy frameworks, inclusive prac-
tice, and classroom management), small-group tutorials to explore the key ideas
raised during the lectures, and opportunities to work and interact with disabled
people through activities in order to overcome feelings of fear, discomfort, and
ignorance. The unit offered many opportunities for interaction with disabled chil-
dren and adults, such as inviting them to give guest lectures, involving them in
the student-teachers’ tutorial groups, and developing a ‘buddy’ system between
student-teachers and disabled children attending the local school. The research-
ers explain that the most noticeable improvement was that the student-teachers
felt less ignorant and did not show pity towards disabled people; they appeared
prepared to focus on the person rather than on the disability. Similarly, Carroll,
Petroff, and Blumberg (2009) describe the experience of student-teachers in the
DISABILITY & SOCIETY   413

USA who participated in a course unit with students with intellectual disabilities,
entitled Great Conversations. They reported that student-teachers benefited from
the interaction with their peers with intellectual disabilities, and many described it
as transformative. Moreover, the student-teachers also ‘indicated a desire to teach
challenging content to all students in the future’ (2009, 362).
A few studies are concerned with the potential of specific instructional strate-
gies to increase student-teachers’ awareness of instructional strategies promoting
inclusive education. For example, a mandatory inclusive education unit of study,
designed by Bain et al. (2009) in Australia, embedded evidence-based practice.
The students were divided into small groups and their education covered four
levels: knowledge and awareness; active experience; continuous application and
feedback; and personal impact. The course combined lectures and workshops in
which student-teachers were expected to develop practical skills and apply them
in the designing of lesson plans which they then used to teach their classmates a
new concept or instructional strategy related to inclusion. The teaching approach
that was the focus of the workshop was also employed as the instructional strategy
used to teach the workshop. For example, if the focus was on collaborative learning
instruction, the group of student-teachers assigned this strategy was expected to
design a lesson plan to teach this concept through its use. The researchers meas-
ured several phases of the unit and found that student-teachers’ achievement was
at or near mastery level.

3.2.3.  Approaches incorporating school placement/experience


The development of partnerships between universities and schools is a challenge
because ‘in most western countries, the problems of effective university-controlled
and largely university-based initial teacher education have been apparent for many
decades’ (McIntyre 2009, 602) and because the real world of school settings may
not be inclusive (Forlin 2010a). Nevertheless, such partnerships are promising
because supporting schools to conceptualize and implement inclusive educa-
tion approaches can be of benefit to both teachers and student-teachers. Some
theoretical articles emphasize the importance of equipping student-teachers with
field experience. Garner (2000, 111) argues that the real-world context of initial
teacher education courses needs to be considered for inclusive education to have
‘value, impact and longevity’. He suggests that educating teachers for inclusion
entails substantial core input in the matter through mandatory units of study
and structured opportunities to experience special/inclusive education, access to
tutors with experience and qualifications, provision of school-based programmes,
and structured input from Special Educational Needs Coordinators and others.
Similarly, Forlin (2010a) argues that teacher education courses which do not con-
sider the provision of authentic and sufficient experiences for teachers during their
initial education are weak in terms of preparing them for inclusion.
A number of studies indicate how partnerships between universities and
schools can be helpful to the improvement of teacher education for inclusion.
414   S. SYMEONIDOU

A study by Waitoller and Kozleski (2010) reports on the experience of creating


professional learning schools in a state in the USA, in which an academic from a
state university was present in the school once a week to support student-teachers
in inclusive education initiatives. The course entailed placing student-teachers in
such schools from the beginning until the end of their studies. This initial teacher
education course grounded learning in an apprenticeship model that contributes
to the development of student-teachers through identity, culture, learning, and
assessment. The authors argue that despite the complexity of this task, the crea-
tion of ‘professional learning schools’ requires that the faculty members of both
universities and schools learn together about how to move towards the usage
of inclusive approaches. In another qualitative study, Moran (2009) examined
the partnership developed between a university and schools in Northern Ireland
that involved student-teacher placements in schools as part of their Postgraduate
Certificate in Education. The school tutors interviewed agreed that school is a sig-
nificant site for learning about inclusive education and that this experience helps
student-teachers confront their concerns about inclusion-related concepts such
as equality, diversity, and individuality. A large-scale survey conducted in the USA
by Boe, Shin, and Cook (2007) sought to collect information from newly-qualified
teachers about their preparation courses. According to the findings, extensive
teacher preparation in both pedagogy and practice teaching was more effective
than extensive preparation in content knowledge. A study by Rose and Garner
(2010) indicates that student-teachers think highly of school placement because it
helps them appreciate the value of inclusive education. The study was conducted
in England with a cohort of students following a postgraduate course leading to
a master’s degree. The majority of the students were international students from
a wide range of countries who stated that their initial teacher education courses
were not helpful in helping them to understand what inclusive education involved.
Research has suggested that the attitudes, knowledge, and skills of stu-
dent-teachers in relation to inclusion may be influenced by courses or units of
study that include fieldwork. Peebles and Mendaglio (2014) examined the impact
of an inclusive education unit of study that entailed 10 weeks of coursework and
three weeks of field experience in schools in western Canada. During the field
experience, student-teachers worked with and planned for individual learners,
and for small groups of learners. The researchers conducted a survey to record the
student-teachers’ self-efficacy in teaching in inclusive classrooms. They used the
Teacher Efficacy for Inclusive Education scale (Sharma, Loreman, and Forlin 2012)
in three phases (at the start of the coursework, after the coursework, and after the
field experience). After the field experience, the researchers also used the Direct
Experience Questionnaire, developed specifically for the study. According to their
findings, although coursework itself was effective in developing self-efficacy, the
combination of work and field experience ‘improved the participants’ self-efficacy
significantly’.
DISABILITY & SOCIETY   415

However, although field experience is believed to be an element that could


reinforce teacher education courses for inclusion, this may not always the case. A
study by Lancaster and Bain (2007) conducted in Australia suggests that a group
of students who attended an inclusive education unit of study emphasizing class-
room experience and mentoring had the lowest increase in self-efficacy compared
with students who attended a unit of study emphasizing lectures and classroom
experience or lectures only. The researchers conducted pre and post tests using the
Self-Efficacy Toward Future Interaction with People with Disabilities scale (Hickson
1996) to see whether student-teachers benefited from an inclusive education
unit that emphasized different aspects of teacher education. According to the
researchers, although all students’ attitudes improved regardless of the approach,
the greatest improvement was recorded in the group whose unit did not include
an applied experience.
Other studies report on the outcomes of using different approaches during
the student-teachers’ school placement (as part of their undergraduate degree).
Moran (2007) describes a school-based model of initial teacher preparation in
Northern Ireland, where both schools and universities had a shared responsibility
for initial education and inclusion. According to the author, the head teachers and
the Special Educational Needs Coordinators based in the schools believed that stu-
dent-teachers were committed and enthusiastic, and that they were the ‘catalysts’
of inclusion’ (2007, 131). Moreover, the schools valued the cooperation with the
university and asked for the continuation of such approaches. Angelides (2008)
followed 10 students during their school placement for four months in Cyprus,
took notes on their teaching, and discussed it with them. The author’s goal was
to reinforce student-teachers’ positive attitudes towards inclusion by discussing
their teaching practice with them. He found that student-teachers tried to push
inclusion forward by developing positive attitudes towards marginalized students,
encouraging participation of all children, and overcoming barriers to inclusion.

4.  Discussion and suggestions for future research


From the literature reviewed, the main concerns identified as important about
initial teacher education for inclusion are overcoming the legacy of special educa-
tion, and the range of challenges faced by inclusive education in different regions.
Taking on board the continuous struggle to educate for inclusion in contexts
and cultures that take special education for granted, I would argue that many
of the presented challenges are related to the questions that need to be posed
when considering single-unit approaches, content-infused approaches, and school
placement/experience. In particular, the question of how student-teachers can be
helped to learn about different types of impairments without disabling them (Allan
2003) relates to the discussion about the nature of single-unit approaches and con-
tent-infused approaches. The call for reflective teaching on behalf of teacher edu-
cators (Pantic and Florian 2015; Sharma 2010) is also related to these discussions,
416   S. SYMEONIDOU

and leads to the remark that studies about teacher educators do not generally
address teacher educators themselves as variables that influence the outcome of
any approach. The challenge of developing context-relevant courses and units of
study in accordance with the distinct features of different countries (for example,
Bartolo 2010; West 2010) is equally important, as long as these courses do not
perpetuate special education ideas and are evaluated (Salend 2010). More stud-
ies are needed to identify and discuss the distinct features of teacher education
approaches that facilitate or hinder student-teachers’ engagement with inclusive
education, and how this is achieved.
Three main approaches to providing teachers with the skills for inclusive edu-
cation were identified in the review: single-unit approaches, content-infused
approaches, and approaches that incorporate an element of school placement/
experience. In relation to studies on single-unit approaches, the findings are incon-
clusive; single-unit approaches with similar characteristics and content may or
may not have a significant impact in changing student-teachers’ attitudes to inclu-
sive education. In particular, single-unit approaches that consist of lectures and
workshops on the historical, theoretical, and instructional foundations of inclusive
education as well as applied experiences are sometimes reported as efficacious
and sometimes not. Consequently, it is essential to focus on the issue of identifying
effective features and combing them to create effective single-unit approaches. If
there is only one unit of study on inclusive education in a student-teacher’s initial
education course, it is vital for teacher educators to include content in that unit
which promotes effective knowledge, attitudes, and skills for inclusion.
In order to assess the efficacy of single-unit approaches, it would be meaningful
to investigate how student-teachers digest all of the information they receive, step
by step, rather than relying on entry/exit surveys. It might be worthwhile also to
investigate how student-teachers respond to a series of questions that address
the links between the various pieces of information they receive during the unit
of study. In particular: what does the history of special schooling tell us about the
segregating practices followed in a number of mainstream schools today; what
does the history of disabled people’s exclusion tell us about today’s segregating
attitudes and beliefs; how can the theory of inclusive education inform profession-
als trying to be inclusive in school settings that are not 100% inclusive; and how can
instructional approaches for inclusive education be implemented in classes with
different demographic variables (e.g. gender, ethnicity, native language, religion,
disability)? It would be useful also to research how student-teachers conceptualize
and relate to the content of single-unit approaches.
Some such approaches might cover too much content to handle in a single
unit of study, making it difficult for student-teachers to process and relate all of
the relevant information. Moreover, even though single units of study may offer
student-teachers the opportunity for applied experiences, such as interaction with
disabled people, those experiences might not be sufficiently contextualized in
relation to important issues, such as those represented in the aforementioned
DISABILITY & SOCIETY   417

questions. That said, it is important to note that studies into the effectiveness of
single units of study that focus on one aspect of inclusive education only (e.g.
collaboration between class teacher and special teacher, prolonged interaction
with disabled people, or instructional strategies) report a significant impact on
student-teachers’ attitudes or sense of efficacy. There are only a few studies on
single units of study with a focus on ideas emerging from the field of disability
studies (e.g. critical and advocacy skills, disability art as a vehicle to understand
disabled people’s experiences), so their potential in teacher education needs to
be researched further.
In the case of research on the impact of content-infused approaches, there are
fewer studies compared with those on single-unit approaches, and the findings
are not straightforward. The main line of research in relation to content-infused
approaches seems to be the same as for single-unit approaches, namely measur-
ing student-teachers’ attitudes or efficacy before and after attending a course. In
both cases, further research is needed into the distinct elements that make these
approaches successful or unsuccessful, and into the paths that student-teachers
take to developing positive attitudes towards inclusive education and to gain-
ing efficacy in teaching in inclusive settings throughout individual courses. The
Inclusive Practice Project (Rouse and Florian 2012) mentioned earlier is a very
good example of research that takes on board many of the complexities which
may be encountered in reforming a course. It is important to note that because of
the limited amount of research on content-infused approaches, it is still not clear
how content-infused approaches can be designed and implemented in bachelor
degrees that qualify graduates to proceed directly into teaching practice or in
one-year courses that provide teaching certification for those who already hold a
bachelor’s degree in education. Research exploring the elements of such courses
in relation to their impact on student-teachers would be valuable because the
results might shed light on distinct features and approaches that could lead to
more promising outcomes.
As regards the approach of incorporating the school placement/experience,
many researchers have focused on investigating the impact that this approach
can have on student-teachers, whether in the form of a placement as part of a
single unit of study or a longer school experience as part of a bachelor’s degree
course. One important conclusion from the review of the literature is that the
school placement/experience needs to be investigated in the context of existing or
non-existent partnerships between schools and universities. In particular, although
many studies report that student-teachers develop positive attitudes after their
school placement/experience, we cannot ignore research that shows exactly the
opposite. Thus, incorporating school placement in a single unit of study about
inclusive education or having students teach in a school experience phase entails
serious decisions about the choice of schools, and gives teacher educators and
university departments in general the responsibility to develop long-lasting part-
nerships with those schools. Further research could usefully verify the findings and
418   S. SYMEONIDOU

theoretical frameworks of existing studies which show that partnerships between


universities and schools can help to develop inclusive educational practices. There
is also a need for research studies to be more explicit about the processes that are
involved in the development of such partnerships.
Given the issues raised so far, I would argue that the varied conclusions of the
studies analysed confirm the complexity of interpreting research on single-unit
approaches, content-infused approaches, and approaches valuing school
placement/experience.

5. Conclusion
This literature review identified that the legacy of special education and the range
of differences between countries are the main challenges to be considered when
rethinking initial teacher education for inclusion. Furthermore, this review revealed
that a significant number of studies focus on the impact of different approaches
(single-unit approaches, content-infused approaches, and approaches including
school placement/experience) to student-teachers. Although initial teacher edu-
cation for inclusion is an area that has been widely researched, I would argue that
there are still important aspects which have not been addressed adequately. These
include the content of teacher education for inclusion, the process of developing
ethical commitment to inclusion, the quality of partnerships between schools and
universities, the relationships between academics, teachers, and student-teach-
ers, and the process of deconstructing the local context to inform initial teacher
education curricula and teaching. Some of these issues may seem remote from
the central topic of education for inclusion; however, their study may open up
approaches to teacher education for inclusion that facilitate rather than discour-
age student-teachers to see themselves as part of the process of change. Further
research and dialogue on these issues is thus essential.

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.

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